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

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What can you see from your window?

Every week when I work in Shinjuku, I find it fills me with a certain kind of rage. I spend the day by going to Iidabashi for my 2 hour Japanese lesson, and follow that up by going directly to work. A full day, which leaves me satisfied but somewhat fatigued. And the masses, inside and out, do something to the natural state of the human mind. The people's mentalities and the general coldness to everyone they don't know in this kind of big city really strikes a darkness of the heart I'd never experienced before my time in Japan.

I can't assume whoever is reading this knows anything about these places, so allow me to explain: Shinjuku is home to the busiest train station in the world, and a veritable center of the megalopolis known as Tokyo. It's busy, always. Walking through there means becoming part of a mess of people moving in every conceivable direction; pure organized chaos. When I get off work nigh on 9:30, the drunken businessmen vibe is in full effect as well. And it all just piles up. Perhaps listening to grind metal isn't helping the situation, but it feels so appropriate to the madness hidden behind the neon beauty of the city.

Suffice it to say living as close as I do to any city feels like a temporary thing. It couldn't last, it would drive anyone with a soul crazy, I think.

...that's a dark start isn't it? Kind of prose-y though. My attempt at a description of the feeling of walking through the streets of Shinjuku, even if it only happens 2 or 3 times a week, thank god. It feels like a little piece of my soul is stripped away every time I cross those anonymous masses, being scratched and clawed at by the empty aura of the stone metropolis, struggling to-

Yea that's enough of that.

**

Last Sunday was one of the best days I've had in a while. I did the following things:

11-1pm. Listening practice test for the upcoming JLPT (11 DAYS AWAY) with a nice Spanish girl named Lydia. Got a 50%, which is around my average. Hey, listening to Japanese is tough! Thankfully this is a smaller portion of the overall test grade than the other parts I do better at.

1-4. Special 3 hour band practice, busted ass to get there on time (through the dark torrents of Shinjuku once again) Fun practice, they always are. Laughed and wrote and played and replayed and corrected and played again and felt exhausted and poured it all into the instrument. Yea.

5-7. Did the language exchange thing with Kana (friend/bassist) and did surprisingly well with Japanese grammar points. I can feel the pieces falling into place.

8ish. Arrived in Shibuya - the trendiest, most over-glorified crowded sack of amorphous blobs of people (which deserves its own post) I've ever seen - went to see my student Toshi's band play. He had given me a free ticket so I thought what the hell, it'd be rude not to go! I was pretty wrecked at this point, but managed to find the venue which I realized I had visited last year. Despite this, It is a bit of a tuck away building on an imaginary "street," above a Harley Davidson shop on a seedy-looking corner.

I had timed it to come just in time for Toshi's band, the "Super Sonic Monkeys," since I knew it would be an all day fest of amateur bands which I could not sit through. Although when I arrived, the act finishing up was quite entertaining. Some lady in her 40s/50s in go-go boots and white vinyl doing a ridiculous dance alongside to a male-backed ensemble of beardless ZZ TOP wannabes in trench coats and Leapord jackets with a fairly cute Japanese girl as a singer. The guitarists were doing all kinds of lewd rock moves. There was a saxophonist too, but everything jumbled together and didn't sound particularly good. Visually 10/10, musically 4/10. Wish I had my camera for that one!

Super Sonic Monkeys were pretty good for a band that does popular covers. The did the whole guitarist/bassist harmony thing quite well, covering Blink 182 and Green Day and the like. They even had a fan club, a gaggle of girls which I thought was pretty amusing. Am I playing the wrong kind of music? (don't answer that)

After the show the whole group - groupies, friends, band and myself - went to an Izakaya (Japanese-style restaurant/bar) they had reserved. Really brilliant, as them there U.K. people like to say. I had a lot of fun. And besides meeting some new friends - who said they want to "go go to Ben's Live!" - I realized that my Japanese hasn't improved at all.

It has TRANSCENDED.

I have had my head buried so deep in difficult everything that I didn't even realize my comprehension of daily conversation (and ability to communicate) has soared since the last time I'd attended this kind of social event with a bunch of Japanese people, maybe a few months prior. I communicated smoothly with several people almost no problem. It felt good. I can't do the whole night justice, let me just finish with saying it was fun.

The next day I took a much needed rest, studied and watched Apocalypse Now! for the first time. The Redux version in fact, over 3 hours long. Heck of a movie, I like the specks of Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad that the director mixed in with a Vietnam-themed war movie. And I find myself saying "the horror... the HORROR" whenever the opportunity arises.

**

One more thing. This English teaching shtick. I realized in college that the beauty of studying English - despite its lacking somewhat in the practicality department, at least in my case and in the States - was that a good command of language can be universally applied to almost any field. If you are well spoken, or well written, this bleeds into so many different careers and facets of human life. My job now, it's not glamorous, it can be redundant, but I'm always working with real people. Talking with people one inevitably forms connections with them, of interest, curiosity, disdain, friendship, warmth, familiarity, etc. etc. I am able to learn so much from them, it has become an enduring strategy of mine to find something interesting in even the most ordinary or seemingly-dull persona. I can learn about Japan, or the culture, or get an unfair look at what this person's life is like while at the same time doing what I do very effectively. It is in fact my job to ask questions that border on personally intrusive ("Do you live alone?" is listed as an opening discussion question in certain books). The empowerment of it all gets some people drunk, I think. I want to believe I take full advantage of this position by gleaning what I can, while of course doing my job to the utmost of my ability and helping those who truly want to improve. Not everyone takes this kind of job that seriously, but I can't help it. I'm an all or nothing type. If I don't give a shit, I don't give a shit, but if I care at all, it's like I yanked the cork out of the Hooker Dam once I get involved. So I put my heart into it, and sometimes I get really amazing, intangible things back.

Or the occasional - but slowly becoming weekly - bag of delicious potato-salad bread, raisin loaf and other sundry bakery items from Junko. You are like my provisional Japanese Mom, THANK YOU ALTHOUGH YOU WILL NEVER READ THIS.

This clunkily segues into my last bit, the title. It comes from one sleepy new student's attempt to be creative today. In response to "Ask about my apartment," she asked me: "What can you see from your window?" I said I can see snoopy and woodstock in a window from my window, and several other buildings, but that's pretty much it. However, in the cogs of this thing we call a brain, this question struck me as so deep, so unintentionally profound and deep. How much does my viewpoint control my perspective? Where does the vision stop and the imagination begin?

What can you see from your window?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm inside your computer

Decided to do a VLOG, video blog, was kind of restless and sleepy at the time so forgive my state, however it's a wrapup of what's going on now. Some old info, some new, and what's it going to be like to re-enter my home country, I wonder...


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nothing to say? Say it anyway!

I greatly enjoy sitting in my underwear and participating in solitary activities (studying, reading wikipedia, listening to music) in my one room apartment. The walls are scaly and paper-thin, but I have do have two windows. And although the sun-absorption turns it into an oven in the summer, it provides me with some great "natural heating" when it starts to get cold, like right now. I'm looking at my "business jacket," and it's got more wrinkles than a part time eldery bag-lady at the local grocery store, but ya know what? I think I'll wear it to work today anyway. I never cared much for outer appearances.

I spent 5 hours studying, reading, and also did some song-writing trying to bang out another F.I.D. number today. Our time is limited - not that it ever wasn't - but as usual I'm being far too hard on myself, wondering if this riff fits the style, or is congruent enough, or will please old fans. This is something entirely new for me: Writing music for a band that has a fanbase. I'm doing my best, and the girls like it, and it's a departure from the first CD for sure, but I feel like in essence (and with 3/4 the same members, even though the old guitarist spear-headed most of the material) it's the same band. I can't wait to play a live show again, it's one of those addictions I can never quit. A kind of elation no drug can give, girls can't do it either, although their kind of elation is nice too.

And, to finish, I'm realizing how lucky I am to be surrounded by some amazing people in my life, be they co-workers or students. I'm so glad I have a job that forces me to interact with people when I tend to steer away from it, as I've garnered some amazing opportunities from it. More about them later.

"Now you see me, and now I am a shadow" - Small Brown Bike / Casket Lottery

Monday, November 9, 2009

Come back, kid!

Last night I drank a souped up energy cocktail drink from the conbini (convenience store) full of ginseng and various extracts I couldn't recognize, most likely from the deepest regions of the congo and it seemed to do something good. I stopped taking the codeine and other prescription stuff this morning, I tried buying some over the counter cough medicine (Benadryl is illegal here) but the one that was the "least sleep-inducing" according to the pharmacist/cashier put me into nap mode after a few hours. I won't be taking any more of that too soon. I was at least able to come back to some semblance of a normal day, and although I'm not 100%, I'm back to functional, and that's good enough for right now.

I took the 15-minute train into town to meet some students for a lesson a popular cheap Italian place, ate some pizza and made 4000 yen (roughly $40) talking about dogs for an hour. Good racket. More important I made it through without feeling like trash, as it was a kind of test before going back into full on work. My week is busy and starts tomorrow.

1 week without the gym. First time since April. My muscles are pissed at me (especially my back) and my whole body feels really neglected. I'll try tomorrow morning.... we'll see. The physically drained feeling is still lingerning however.

I've been listening to a great reading of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" by Jack Finney, and while it isn't the best book it's some fun, pulpy, character-driven sci fi that has helped get me through this rut of a sick week. I'm just starting "No Longer Human" by Osamu Dazai, a best-selling Japanese novel even today, by an author who killed himself in 1947. It's a lot like the first emo before there was a word for emo however. "Woe is me I can't relate to anyone my life is pain etc. etc." I'm reading through trying to find the appeal, and I want to stop but it's mysteriously addicting....

Thoughts: being sick and stuck on my own in this little room with too much free time led to my usual over-philosophizing about life and the universe and my mediocre position therein and about my prospective career and my childhood and my possible days as an old man and how we all have to die some time, it's just a matter of when. I'd rather go backwards, not forwards. Regress into a child, de-age until I was a sperm and an egg and subatomic particles and disappear. It'd be a really original way to go.

See, this is why I keep myself occupied. Can't think freely for too long.

Countdown to home: 34 days.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Posting from the bottom

Dear internet-

Hello, how are out? I'm not so good. I've been sick for the past few days. Just on the tailend of a holiday weekend, I managed to catch a really nasty cold - congestion, splitting headache, ears ringing, fever, the whole shabbang. It feels like years since I've been sick like this. Since I was afraid it might be swine flu, I decided a prompt visit to the hospital was in order. To say I was nervous is correct, but thanks to my good buddy google maps (whose father google may turn into or already be Big Brother according to this guy) I found the closest general hospital. I always knew there was a plethora of clinics (small Dr.'s offices, often specialists) in my town, I never realized that a 5 minute walk in another direction from the train station would bring me to a legitimate general hospital.

Oh, but before that I had to hit up the chiropractor, because I'd strained my back trying to use that stupid exercise wheel again! I felt like the floor of a taxi cab but made my back-massage appointment, trudged down the road and went through the motions at the hospital, receiving a test for the dreaded swine flu.

The results? Tune in next week to find out!

Many foreigners have to seek out English-speaking doctors which is not only a hassle, requires traveling but will probably be more expensive, even in Tokyo. Despite how bad I felt I was at least happy that my Japanese was far along enough I could fill out forms and speak with the nurses, doctors and pharmacy people with little to no trouble. However, when asked about whether or not I wanted to take the Swine Flu test I heard a word I was unfamiliar with, some fancy medical way of asking if I wanted to "receive the test." Not knowing this one word apparently convinced the nurse to go the "bull by the horns" route and she tilted my nose back and shoved a cotton swab really, really far up it with like no warning. I felt like Shwarzenegger in Total Recall, when he gets the tracking device removed from his nose.

Shudder.

OK, I didn't have swine flu (quickest week of your life). However I have turned into a strange cross between the invisible man and a zombie. I'm approaching my third day of sick leave, and have been playing Grand Theft Auto 4 to pass the time, since anything that takes much thought or concentration really hurts my head.

Incapacitated on the Island,

-Ben