Tag Archives: class

Must swim three times

I am surrounded by men, women, antsy kids, Jessy, and television screens in a multi-floor building as nice as a hotel. I’m near Shin-Kobe station, and on the third floor of this big place, where a man has hung a little plastic card around my neck that says Guest. In a tiny room adorned with what I can only classify as “exotic brick-a-brac” we watch the television screens together. It’s a live broadcast from an area near Mount Fuji. Highlights: man screams and shoots an arrow into a bush which is then lit on fire, man chops at the air with a sword to cleanse it from barriers to self-realization, old lady wearing little hat does hand motions while holding tiny sticks, which are then tossed into the fire. Together the people chant around me in a language I cannot understand, a situation I figure I should be more used to than I am by now. I am attending a special Buddhist service as a visiting member of the Shinnyo-en school, which literally means “Borderless Garden of Truth.” As believers we seek the awareness of the self through meditation and Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Am I a believer? What’s there to believe but that I am or am not? I figure in general it’s harder to not believe in stuff than it is to believe. After temple I buy a bag of chickpeas because we’re gonna make some hummus this week.

Japan is currently doing what it is it does, gearing up in much the same way as it did last year for the full arrival of fall. Though fall is technically officially here it’s still occasionally warm enough for people to get the wrong idea, and until the light scarves and jackets come out I hesitate to wave the flag. My true barometer is merely the appearance of special food products and fall-themed drinks, which haven’t really started popping up yet in any great numbers. I did spot new Cup Noodle flavors today, Beef Stew and Cream Stew, which I guess are kind of fall-y, but these seem to be some sort of microwave-requiring things which is just a bunch of crap. To be perfectly frank I myself am dreading the end of fall, which is slightly preventing me from enjoying it now: in the middle of December I’ll likely be embarking on a grueling couple-dozen hour journey across the ocean and back to the rolling plains of Iowa to spend the holidays, my first trip back to home soil since I arrived here. I am “not fond” of flying, which means it is my least favorite thing in the entire world except maybe getting stabbed.

Speaking of favorite things I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of my existential angst is not that I don’t have enough free time, but merely that I like too many things. My pesky nook e-reader has done precisely what I intended: made acquiring books so painless and reading so simple that it is my new default activity for my morning and evening commute. I read nine books in September, and the PSP and DS weep, because they want attention too. I will not even start in on the home activities, which command not only the time there but often the television. The result of all this is that I am forced to choose one of my hobbies at a time and I never get too far with any of them. It’s good to have options, I guess, but it means it just takes twice as long to do what I want. There is no point to these ramblings, just a sort of reminiscent defeatism: remember when you were 16, had no social life or significant obligations, had virtually nothing other to do than play games, and did so most veritably? If only I could go back in time and relive the same late November snow day for years and years.

Speaking of years, I ran the numbers the other day and figured out that since I’ve lived here for fourteen months and had the equivalent of about two months where I taught no classes, I’ve essentially taught twelve months of about fifteen classes a week. If you add it all up that comes to seven-hundred-and-eighty classes that I’ve taught now, which at least outnumbers the Nomadays, N-Sider articles, and every journal entry, poem, and story I’ve ever written, combined, in number (though just barely). What else have I even done 780 times this year? I’ve only woken up about 432 times. I suppose I’ve had at least 780 meals since arriving. Have I eaten popcorn 780 times in my life? Have I watched over 780 movies? Surely I’ve played over 780 video games since the age of ten or so.

At any rate I encourage you to run your own numbers, to become shockingly aware of the time we spend, without concrete markers, doing what it is we do.

Yet another thing that I’ve been doing lately is attending Japanese classes, which is enjoyable in that I am actually learning more concretely how to communicate with the people who literally surround me every single day. These skills also assist me with things like navigating the internet and securing exciting products from various websites, products which excitingly get to compete with everything else that I do for my attention.

There’s a bakery on the basement level of the Sogo department store and it’s called Donq, a name that you might expect to be the only Donq-sounding place of business in Kobe but in fact there are two others: Don Quihote (shortened colloquially to just Donki) and Bikkuri Donkey, a restaurant which literally translated means SURPRISE DONKEY. It is a hamburger steak restaurant, and scarily I enjoy eating there, perhaps because I enjoy the taste of donkey when I am expecting something that is not donkey. Anyway I have been enjoying going to Donq and buying baguettes lately, really delicious crispy-crusted bread with chewy, stretchy crumb. Last night after work I got one and had a big hunk of it eaten before I even finished walking home, then assembled a chicken breast sandwich with it and some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some Cookies’ barbecue sauce, a bottle of which I brought over here last year and which I still steadfastly am working at using up. I think it will take a lot of chicken sandwiches. The moral of this story is that I love Donq.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– My psychotic Japanese cat, who sometimes believes so fervently that the little stuffed mouse is stalking him that he’ll take one swat at it and run away so fast that his feet cannot provide enough traction to prevent him from sliding sideways into the wall like an out-of-control racecar
– A trip down memory lane at my soon-moving pal Jools’ place, during which I laid eyes upon 6+ years of gaming goodies, including but not limited to an unopened case of Cowboy Bebop gashapon figures, Morrigan and Lilith bookends (these came home with me), a variety of Japanese DS games, a couple Club Nintendo prizes from 2004, multiple variations of special peripheral controllers used to simulate shaking/strumming/beating/dancing, and a stack of Edge magazines that found their way into my apartment somehow
– My new favorite donburi place, where I can slide a bill into the machine, press two buttons, and be given an ice-cold draft beer and a big bowl of rice topped with thick slices of juicy fire-grilled skirt steak, lettuce, and spicy sauce for about nine bucks (you can also get grilled dark meat chicken or Korean beef)
– One of my teachers here at the night school, or more specifically the huge plastic bag full of green and red peppers and eggplant that he dumped out over next to the computer, which he grew on his farm and has extra of, and the resulting pile of vegetables, of which I am going to take, bring home, and nom
– A beverage I drank during a break, which said “hot cake flavor,” and was indeed a sweet, milky drink that tasted like a cross between drinking pancake syrup and cereal milk
– There’s a special red Nintendo DSi coming out for the Mario 25th anniversary, and the first I heard about it was seeing a video advertisement on the LCD screen mounted to the back of the cash register while I bought a melon soda at 7-11
END OF CURIOSITIES

I always manage to get through it all but I’m so tired today that I’ve almost fallen asleep at my desk twice. The bad news is that since it’s my late day I won’t even be teaching for another three hours, and I likely won’t be home for another six. Tapping my foot isn’t really doing it and I already ate my two string cheeses and drank my soda. I took a little stroll down the hall to the restroom too, just to see if I might snap out it. No luck! If I have the energy once I’m out of here, I am buying the nicest beer a handful of change will get me, and sucking it down as I breathe in the wind on the way to Kosoku-Nagata and home.

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The mute appeal to sympathy for our decay

I wrote an essay last week for the high school’s English journal, where my pieces are frequently accompanied by a silly bishounen pretty-boy manga-style drawing of myself, done, I presume, by some commissioned student. The teacher before me had one of her too, and they are both too caricaturely spot-on to be stock illustrations, unless someone’s got a folder titled “goofy gaijin clip-art” sitting around on a hard drive somewhere. In the essay I talk about how invigorating it is that summer, that bitch, is finally gone, and how nice it is to be able to breathe the crisp air again, and how I really love not losing 5% of my body weight in sweat every time I walk to work. I do not know if anyone read it, but I told them this is their chance for a fresh start! A chance to take a nice deep pull on that grassy breeze and re-evaluate their lives! So I did it, and things are mostly the same, but with minor adjustments. For example, the other day I got rid of nearly all the non-jeans clothes I came here with, cut for big wide western boys instead of slim Japanese boys, and noticed how 92% of my wardrobe is now comprised specifically of clothes to be worn to work. Then I decided I want a good kitchen knife, and conned Jessy into asking me what I wanted for my birthday so I could tell her the exact model number and specifications of the knife. Then I ate potato chips. That doesn’t have anything to do with the essay.

Anyway, it’s all true! My favorite time of year is finally starting to show its head and good god is it ever overdue. A couple days outside of October and we were finally able to put the air conditioner off (for good?) about a week ago, opting to just keep the sliding doors open. Our increasingly brave feline also enjoys the change, and it allows him to plop down and stare longingly out through the screen doors at the pigeons, which I am sure he dreams of brutally, mercilessly murdering. This makes us fast friends by default, though he has taken to rubbing and brushing and head-nuzzling at all opportunities he has anyway in case I didn’t get the picture. The other day when I was achieving a 90% completion rate on Space Invaders Infinity Extreme my eyes fogged over and I dreamt again of catching one of those birds and tying it up, only this time I would put it in a cardboard box and then drop the cat in and close the lid and treat what happened in there as our little secret, our dirty evil secret don’t tell your mother or father this is just between us and it feels so nice.

And how about that cat. In about a month’s time he’s gone from refusing to emerge from the couch at all to coming out when beckoned to coming out at the sound of shaking food, to just staying out unless he’s sleeping during the day. Things he is talented at: laser-focusing on every rug in the house and messing them up, eating all his food within seconds, losing his toys, licking toes, getting in the way of your feet while you walk so that you accidentally step on/kick him, refusing to sit still for two goddamned seconds so I can take a picture of him with my slow cell-phone camera. I worry sometimes about the decision we made to adopt this Kiki, because I, unlike Jessica, sometimes think about the future, and the enormous day-long plane ride in the cargo hold that he’ll need to endure, and the ways we’ll need to care for him as we transition back to life in the States ourselves. But those things, like most things, can be overcome, and for now it’s nice to have our occasionally psychotic and always loveable magic cat prowling the apartment.

We left him alone for a day last weekend to go with a group of friends to Universal Studios Japan, a hop/skip/shuttle train/staircase away from Kobe over in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan is sort of horrifying as an American because it is done up to look like some bizarrely idyllic America itself, which is one of the major draws to Japanese tourists. I tried to imagine what something like “Hello Kitty World Minneapolis” would look like, but couldn’t stop thinking of the other Japanese amusement park I had recently attended for the third time, Costco. In the spirit of this situation I decided to kick off the morning by eating a chicken sandwich from Lawson and downing it with an 8:15 AM Asahi Super Dry (which I casually referred to as “vitamin B,” my finest hour). PROTIP: The B stands for beer.

It had been over a year since I had seen a traditional red stop sign, but they’re everywhere in USJ, lining the fake streets where there is no traffic, and where I felt paranoid walking because I was afraid the non-existent cars would run me over. At one point I saw an honest to goodness blue United States Postal Service mailbox beside a fake store; the lid was welded shut. Even our sort-of-bartender at the sort-of-Irish pub Finnegan’s was cut from the American mold: born in Bangladesh, speaking conversational Japanese, and using his naturally-accented English but strange phrasing on us, he offered us green beer (in September) to go with our plate of beef stew. Accompaniments: four green beans, three potato wedges. Across the street was a hot dog cart and Spiderman’s ride. In the middle of the park Peter Pan and Wendy floated around with wires, and then I sat in a fake DeLorean while Japanese-dubbed Christopher Lloyd screamed to me that I needed to stop “Biffu! Biiiiiffuuu!” My friend thought that later in the day I was just screaming “beef” for fun even though I was impersonating Japanese Doc Brown. At the end we watched scenes from the early 1990s movie Backdraft, with videos featuring director’s commentary from a dubbed Richie Cunningham, and then an enormous million-lightbulb freak parade happened. It was a weird day.

Though the weather is getting nice again, my schedule is unfortunately unable to say the same things about itself. I am now bogged down with obligations, owing in no small part to the resumption of my Japanese language classes, which I was first told I didn’t get into, and then was later told I did get into. That means I lose Monday night and Thursday night every week for the negligible benefit of a two hour language class, with Wednesday night always gobbled by my night school, giving me Tuesday night and Friday night free (conveniently, the very same two nights that Jessy has her own Japanese lessons). This virtually ensures that we will rarely, if ever, see each other, and is a blessing for the continued sanity of us both.

RETURN OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW
– My new Nintendo Game and Watch, which is a reproduction of a 30-year-old electronic toy, and which Nintendo had made by the actual guy who made the original, working from only original units and virtually no documentation, and which I love
– A new orange beverage I got at the Daily Yamazaki called “Morning Rescue,” which I figured contained vitamins and stuff, but which I didn’t read closely enough to see that it actually contains ukon, an anti-hangover drink, and which I believe has caused the people around me to believe I may be drunk, which I kinda wish I was
– A promotional video for the new video game Dead Rising 2, which consists of a somewhat weird-faced woman wearing a bikini and sitting on a yoga ball while playing the game and bouncing up and down, the camera doing wild zoom shots on her cleavage instead of the actual game the video means to promote
– I’ve been to not-my-favorite ramen place several times recently for their tomato ramen, while my favorite place, with WILD BOAR COUNTRY RAMEN and a frozen lychee, remains neglected, and I need to change this immediately
– The old-ass NEC laptop on the desk next to me, which looks really, really old, and which, merely sitting there idle, sounds like an electric pencil sharpener
– Fucking McDonald’s, which has still not brought back the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi sandwich, and which I am going to get very mad at unless they do it soon
– Sofmap clearing out a lot of their old PS1 games, which means that yesterday for fifty yen each I got Cool Boarders, Bust-A-Move, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Parasite Eve all in immaculate condition
– My Japanese PS1 game collection in general, on which I have not spent more than a dollar for any individual game, and now numbers fifteen titles
– A new fashion trend among dolled-up young Japanese ladies, which involves hanging a fox tail from your belt loop regardless of whether you are a professional trapper of wild game or not
THIS HAS BEEN CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOW

On Friday it’s my school’s sports day, a bizarre and confusing event in which participation, like English education, is compulsory for all students. They grunt and slave together through a variety of strange events and then a class is rewarded for their crushing victory. Though not officially compulsory for me, this marks the second year now that I’ve been asked to run in a relay race with other teachers. As with last time my only real prayer is that I manage to find a good seat in the right place, enjoy watching the events of the day, and most importantly don’t fall down when I am running. Dear lifeforce just keep those feet pushing off the ground and don’t get overanxious. I don’t even care if I slow the whole damned group just keep my face off the gravel please. And when I am done, I will drink beer, and it will be delicious, and it will be the weekend, and I will try yet again to light my goddamned coals.

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