The bloggings of an Upstate NY-born Tokyoite. Now with 20% more verbosity!

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

If only every day could be just like today.

Today was awesome. I got up and went to the gym at 9:45, right when it opened. I pushed myself to do as much as I could and got out at 11:00. I made some a green pepper and garlic omelette with bacon for breakfast, and then went to Shinjuku for F.I.D. practice. To those who don't remember (or never read my older posts), here is a recap:

-F.I.D. is a band I'm in. It used to be all girls, but through several strokes of luck I was able to take the place of the previous guitarist.

-For family reasons, the drummer has been out for almost a year

-Today was my first practice with the drummer - before it had always been me, the bass player and singer practicing to a tape, which was lame but we had no choice.

Roughly 9 months ago, I met the drummer Tomoko and bassist Kanako for the first time. Since then my Japanese has of course gotten significantly better, so communication during practice wasn't much of a problem. The real struggle was in certain music terms like "measure" and "3/4 timing." But regardless, Tomoko played amazing. It was everything I hoped it would be, us 3 jamming out tunes almost perfect on the first try, which is really something considering I've barely practiced them in 3 or 4 months (although I learned them by heart then) and Tomo hadn't hit anything but a practice pad in almost a year! We also wrote 2 songs. I'm so freakin' excited about writing more and playing shows. We all get along and have that chemistry that is necessary for a band - I've seen it flow before, and this is definitely going to be something good.

After that, we all got caught unawares by Japan's sneaky rainy season. It had been sunny and beautiful this morning, and turned sloshy and wet by the time we left the practice studio around 4. We all got pretty soaked, and me and Kana were off to do our language exchange, as we've done every week for almost 6 months now. She's taking the TOEIC next month - that's the big English exam which, if you nail a good score on it, can get you an awesome, good-paying job. It also haunts Japanese people's nightmares, I'm sure. Much like the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) does for me.

Anyway, the wind and rain picked up severely, and we shared one cheap umbrella, both of us with guitars on our backs. Kana's bass unfortunately got a bit damp, turns out my case is soft but water-proof though. We had a good lesson and I've almost half finished with my current Japanese grammar book, which is good progress. I also read some Eyeshield 21 (Japanese American Football manga) on the train. And I'm now totally exhausted.

I really wish everyday could be spent working out, jamming, and studying. As cool as my job usually is, I'm really here to learn, not to teach English. So I feel obligated to make the most of my free time.

Speaking of studying, I started a new blog that will make absolutely no sense to 99% of you out there (only if you're an avid student of Japanese). It's about using spatial memory tricks to group Japanese characters with the same reading together and learn them all at once. Many of these groups range from 10-characters to 50 or 60, all with the exact same pronunciation - Japanese is full of homonyms. Have I lost you yet? It's kind of cool though, because I'm using something some dude on the internet invented called the movie method, where you take one movie to mean one pronunciation, and associate each character with a scene or aspect of the movie. It sounds totally convoluted, but actually works! And is a great excuse to watch a movie. I'm working on doing this with Gran Torino now - that was probably the best movie I saw all last year compared to the Wrestler.

While I was writing this my Mother called, and I got to talk with her, my Aunt and my cousin for a bit. I miss you all! My mother also wrote a beautiful piece about her some recent struggles in her life, maybe I will link in the future. Most moving thing I've heard in a while. As far as heroes go, I think Moms are far under-rated.

Mr T. thinks so too:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's like you never knew

Recently, I've had the pleasure of hanging out with and talking a few really nice and interesting women.

One of them is involved in some kind of psycho-analysis doctorate, the other is looking to enter a law school in America. These are people I feel some kind of connection with, and can talk to with ease. One of them recently finished school in America and has been here a year - she has inherited a kind of American-attitude that has made relating to her coworkers and peers difficult. The problem is that, in the Japanese business setting, you aren't supposed to say you don't understand. You aren't supposed to disagree with your superiors. There are so many stifling social boundaries that you would never notice as strange growing up here, but which seem bewildering when juxtaposed to the Western World. Both of the people I chatted with actually experienced this kind of problem recently, and it pushes me to wonder what kind of effects living here will have on me, and how I will come to see my own country and it's culture.

"I've finally met someone normal," one said. It was nice to hear that.

So before you go getting any ideas dear lurker/friend/family member, I'm not planning to immediately date/marry/procreate with any of the aforementioned people. Although it does beg the question about what my "love life" is like? Well, non-existent at the moment, and to be honest it's a relief. It's a bit personal and I usually avoid talking about it in a public blog like this, but I feel that being single here is liberating. The freedom is awesome, almost in the traditional sense of the word. I don't have anyone else, any other huge X factor or unpredictable aspect controlling my life. I like having this control, and someone even said to me: "being single and living in a foreign country is the best." And from where I stand now, I have to agree. Not being tied down makes everything so much easier, and it is making this an excellent first experience of living away from home for me. So, for now, no girlfriend, but I'll most likely post if such an extraordinary event does come to pass. (or if the moon crashes into the sun, whichever comes first)

Speaking of women, I got to hang out with my band-mates last Sunday. It's actually the first time I've been to a Japanese person's apartment, and it was really cool seeing Kana (my bass player) in her element: huge stacks of CDs everywhere (probably over 500), tons of VHS tapes and a really eclectic mix of music. Everything from Misery Index to Saves the Day to old New York Hardcore compilations. So freakin' cool. We hung out and listened to music and just chilled and drank and ate most of the day, along with Makiko and some other friends who stopped by, and it felt like being at home again, in a strange way.

In Japan, people don't "hang out" at home as much. I feel like even small get togethers are less common, because apartments can be so small, and walls so thin...and complaints so annoying. But this was so reminiscent of some apartment in Albany, just hanging out and enjoying a Sunday. Totally chill, and we didn't have to go to some smokey bar or loud annyoing club (lord I despise clubs) just to chill.

And, speaking of F.I.D., T H I S S U N D A Y is my first practice with Tomoko (the drummer who has been M.I.A. since I first joined the band due to her recent newborn), and I am pumped. I haven't practiced guitar as much as I should have lately, but I feel confident that we will click. My creative energy with music is kind of comparable to not peeing for several days: When you let it go, man does it come out strong and feel good (sorry for the crudeness of that one or if you are eating). I really only know how to write rhythmic tunes with a drummer, so I'm looking forward to a good jam session. It's really one of the best highs there is, playing music with friends.

So, what else. I took an excursion - a sojourn, an expedition if you will - to Shinagawa to go to the annoying Immigration Office. Visa renewals and all that. But, it looks as if everything will go through smoothly, and I managed to get it down in about 3 hours on my day off (the office is almost an hour away by train), though sadly missing a good Japanese class. Instead of taking a bus to the obscure location from the train station I saved a few bones and strolled through the warehouse district. The location is just... weird, for lack of a better word. Everything is put together strangely in this country. It's like somebody gave a toddler a multi-trillion dollar lego set and let him go at it, putting skyscrapers next to temples next to apartment buildings next to shipping docks. Unreal. And it smelled pretty bad over there, by the factories and the river. Kind of like those desolate areas between Rensselaer and East Greenbush back home, that no one would ever go to except for work. Sulfury.

I think that's about everything.... working 4 straight 6 day weeks next month, so expect sparse posting. My momentum with this blog has slowed but my desire to write hasn't wained a bit. I'll fill it in as I feel is necessary. Until next time peoples.

"If you can dream it you can be it"

"When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming a part of that person's life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

p.s. Instead of trying to cleverly weave it in, here's something I forgot to add: I was strung out on caffeine last night after my first Starbucks in literally months (I rarely drink coffee, and thought the hot cocoa was safe - pure folly!) and as a result couldn't sleep until roughly 3am. But I dutifully got up at 8:30 to get to my first Chinese lesson on time. My teacher is really cool, and we're doing a language exchange. Perhaps the neatest thing is that she is from China, but has lived here 15 years, so she speaks very fluent Japanese (with an interesting Chinese accent). Compare that to her broken English, and just what she's comfortable with, and my lesson is as a result given mostly in Japanese. So it's like two birds with one stone. She's started coaching me through pronunciations today and honestly it was fun and interesting, even though I feel like an ass making the ü sound. (it's like blowing into a flute that's not there and half-grimacing with your face at the same time) In case you didn't know, Japanese has, I think, 70-something phonetic sounds, pretty low compared to English. Mainland Chinese has over 400.

Why am I learning Chinese you may ask? Well, why is the sky blue? I just felt like it was overdue, I don't know why. I love Asian languages and Chinese characters.

As a result of my lack of sleep and need to work, I did the Japanese "plop-at-a-table-and-powernap" strategy and it worked quite well, helping me to survive a day with 3 hours of kids classes. I have one really cute little girl in the class whose only motivation in playing the games today was that I'd give her a piece of my orange after class. "Orenji Orenji!" She kept exclaiming randomly. Sometimes the little things make me happy for no good reason at all.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I'm writing you all to inform you that I have nothing to say

My wit feels duller than a spoon at the moment, and I don't have anything particularly funny to say. Fighting a bit of a bug but I'm starting to see the light. Normal business as usual, I'm about to have curry and rice for lunch for the 5th day in a row. Life is good.

That is all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

@#$% the police.... subheader: The World at Large

Seriously guys, @#$% 'em. One of my dearest relatives has been caught in a clear case of entrapment by the coppers back home (who have nothing productive to do in Hudson, apparently) for selling a 6 pack of beer to a minor. Even though said-minor looked much older, and was obviously sent in by the cops to catch somebody unawares. It is really lame and I can only hope this turns out to be for the best in the end... But I have a good feeling things will be OK.

So what's new with me, you ask with those bloodshot eyes staring down the screen? Well, not too much. I've been thinking about my visit back home in Christmas (despite it being 6 months away) and how cool it will be to hang out with my friends again. But then again, how I really only have a few people outside of my family I even miss, as pretentious as that may sound. There are loads of acquaintances and people whose company I do enjoy, but as far as people I really know, or who really know me, there aren't so many I'm afraid. It's the same out here, except with a slight twist... I know loads of cool people, but really my closest friends are my band-mates, I think. They understand me and see part of me most others don't.

Before I go any further, I'd like to express a small concern. I'm afraid this is all coming off as self-centered or pretentious. I had some guy spamming my comments a few months back saying something like "this is the most self-obsessed shit I've ever read." Well, in his defense, he was probably right. I do care a lot about myself, however, if you don't care about yourself, you're either lying or have serious emotional issues. Or drug problems. I write a lot in this blog to try and make sense out of what's going on and to put things in perspective. It's my second reason for writing, next to letting the folks and friends (and fiends) back home know what I'm up to. And the mysterious internet lurkers who account for more than half the traffic to this site...

But I digress. That was a kind of disclaimer, in other words I'm fully aware I'm writing self-centered stuff. It is my blog after all, so if you don't care about me, you're more than welcome to read something else. No offense taken here! I honestly rarely read other people's personal blogs (more news and opinion-column stuff) with the few exceptions on the right of the page here.

So about my friends. I have some good ones here, mostly lots of cool acquaintances and people who are genuinely worth knowing, but I'm not that close with them. Then there is the aforementioned, twist. That is the beauty of the teacher-student relationship: I feel very close to lots of my students in a kind of distant way I've never experienced before. It's cause methinks is that I meet them through my job, and our common ground is usually just the English language. Of course there's more to life than words, and I've had some amazing discussions, and have had the pleasure of meeting some cool punk rock kids, very awesome Japanese versions of Soccer-Moms, politically-charged types (a rare event out here) and just plain weird yet awesome people. Meeting cool people is in fact one of the biggest rewards of this kind of job, as I've come to see it thus far. But even my most regular students, or the ones I've hung out with outside of class - one who is a skater and lived in california for a few years, really cool dude, comes to mind - don't really know me outside of my shell. Outside of my work persona and my happy mask. I do let pieces of myself through, and definitely express my opinions when the time is right, but more often than not it's a lot of glossy, empty smiling. Wait, maybe not empty. That's not the right word. I take pleasure in what I do, and I enjoy encouraging my students and trying to make something so hard as English fun for them, but so much of my energy, my expressions, my personality is somewhat forced or greatly different from my personality when I'm in normal-mode, instead of teacher-mode. I feel like anyone who calls him or herself a teacher has experienced this kind of self-transformation and these sorts of ubiquitous yet ambiguous relationships. What does it all mean, and will I ever know any of these people after the job is in the past?

That's my rant and thoughts for today. In other news, the buff 60-yet-40-looking ponytail brodude from the gym (remember him? When I first met the guy he was arguing with his other gymrat buddy about whether or not I was Eastern European, way back in fall I think) corrected the way I was doing curls and some other exercises, and after modestly receiving his gracious advice, I can't lift as much but my form has greatly improved. My wrists are getting much stronger, and something so simple as that can help me with the everyday, like computing, writing and such.

Thanks brodude.

"You're not in this all alone
Just look around and you'll see
The answer's right before your eyes
I'm here for you and you for me
It's hard to open up
Just try and you'll see
That true friends will always be there." - Sick of it All

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dirty doctors, fond farewells

About 2 weeks ago I ordered a back-support pillow since I have terrible posture. It doesn't help that I'm still recovering from pulling a muscle in my back a month or so ago. I ordered it through the local clinic, and the nice doctor who usually does the work was cool enough to suggest it. I've been busy however, and wasn't able to stop in and pick it up. So yesterday, on my way home, what do I see but a man in white scrubs (and those silly plastic clogs, I think) chasing me down the street. I told him I was busy and would pick it up later. That was yesterday, and tonight on my way home from work, I noticed that his shop door was open. So I checked in to see if it was OK (even though business hours were long over), and all I could see was an arm from someone laying horizontally on the floor, swinging in what must of been a bizarre "hello." The dude laying on the floor (the doctor's assistant) proceeded to say my black tie was cool, and the odd couple seemed really stoked to have a foreigner walk into their office at night.... and they'd obviously been drinking, although they were doing paperwork at the same time. Oh Japan!

It's such a right phenomenon, I don't think I will ever get used to it. My very existence, being a foreigner in Japan, makes some people ecstatic (without any effort on my part) or fearful (double-checking their locked doors at night). I either appear 10x cooler than I really am, or a big scary monster. I get the former vibe more often, honestly. I mean I can't read people's minds, and even though the difference between a cold, mean stare and a kind, curious stare should be simple enough to differentiate, the infamous Japanese "passive stare" as my friend Nicholas called it, is quite ambiguous. For instance, the other day I was doing sit ups at the gym and the tatttoo on my leg (located above my knee) was showing a bit. An older guy next to me just sat there and stared at me for a good solid minute or two. At the same gym, I was doing a back-bridge on the mat and this younger fellow walking by just gawks at me like a deer in headlights. Sometimes when I sit next to people on the train, they are just enamored/revolted by my being there. It's really hard to tell what they're thinkinh, so I just kind of respond in the same passive manner they utilize so much. Fire with fire, and all that. Best not to think too much about any of it and just let it ride anyway.

So I saw a good friend of mine off yesterday, and it was a bittersweet departure. Bitter since I no longer have a cool neighbor who'll play Black Flag and Rage Against the Machine at 8:30am, sweet since, uh... I got a desk in my room now? But of course I'd rather keep my neighbor than some hunk of wood. I'll miss ya Nicholas, get back here soon!

Oh, and the best part: my room is such a mess from me being tremendously busy all month (I've been working 6 day weeks and usually spending almost my entire day off taking lessons/studying), that I have a desk plopped in the middle of my room. I gotta "play tetris" with the place so to speak to get it to fit snugly somewhere. But not until next weekend!

Also, it's officially "Rainy Season" here in Japan, so the incredible humidity can make things go moldy, as my friend and classmate the British Mum of 20 yrs. expatriate-status recently informed me, so washing up, airing out and putting away my possessions will be crucial to not incurring the wrath of said mold. As Shane, my other classmate put it: "last year I got mold on things I didn't know could get moldy, like my leather bag." We'll see how it turns out!

And in other (non-dramatic) news, I'm really into "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" for the DS at the moment, and am reading Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." I don't really have a good reason for either, so I'll just leave it at that. I'm exhausted, good night!

"I don't want you to be alone down there to be alone down there to be alone" - Modest Mouse

"Remain steadfast. Awwwwww Perseverance! Crushing all opposition, discipline and determination" - Hatebreed.


P.S. In my post-work drowsiness I almost forgot the best part: TOMOKO (F.I.D.'s original drummer, who had a baby about 4 months back) is coming back to the band! We can start practicing! I can start jamming with a Japanese drummer who loves Suffocation! We'll play some shows this year! I'M SO EXCITED!!!!!!!!