Monday, July 30, 2007

giving saruman salmonella

a single tiny fly has been making the same lazy circle for the last hour, and i'm content because i have nothing but time to sit here and watch it. the dishwasher is spouting steam and light is filtering in, illuminating plaster walls and wood floors. for the first time in a long time i feel chilly, deliciously chilly. i'm in berkeley, california, and japan is sweating away without me. no enormous spiders or mukade will make surprising appearances, and for that alone, i'm happy.
my first impression yesterday was how amazing the air smelled...i think they call it fresh. we drove on dingy freeways narrarated by grafitti, in a regular-sized car, to a park with grass. i was startled by all the blue eyes i saw, struggled not to order food in japanese, and was stunned by the enormous ball of goat cheese included with my salad. no one was smoking in the restaurant either.
as we drove past second hand stores and hippie shops, i had a flash of ease with my own culture because like it or not, i know it. we underestimate how comforting it is to know what to expect or where to find something. on the other hand, though, i feel dumbfounded by the sudden diversity, my own alien impulses, and...and the English everywhere.
last night i wrapped myself in a sheet straight out of the dryer and thought, "japan doesn't know what it's missing!" i slept well and dreamed about trying to poison an evil wizard from lord of the rings with undercooked garlic chicken. i think it's going to be an interesting trip.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

level up!

with my recent acquisition of a car, an oven, and a successful match of girl vs. window, i think i deserve some end-of-round bonus points. level up, baby!
the short version of the window story is: ask for help to get something simple like window screens, wait three months, go through some bureaucracy, wait another month, pay a hundred dollars, and then (in a final battle of wits) try to figure out how to get them into the barred windows. in a moment of brilliance, i did figure out the puzzle (thanks for the skills, backspin) and now i have fresh bugless air!

the oven is one of those magical contraptions that microwaves, bakes, and toasts in one. far superior to my burn-it-up Easy Bake type oven.

i have also quite literally gotten higher, or should i say taller in my first pair of adult high heels. i'm nearing thirty; it was about time. they're even comfortable on my old skateboard injury ankle.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

masters of the universe™

today smells like high summer. not exhausted, wilted summer, but the beginning of the real thing. the cicadas are still practicing, winding up and winding down, but the quiet will soon be destroyed by their endless piercing song, making the trees scream evilly. that's one of my first memories of my new home: angry, inpenetrable forest hanging over the road. now i know the forests become friendlier as the year wears on, and i see them as beautiful in their own unfamiliar way.
this was a notable week because i finally got my little engine-powered rollerskate, my car. i drove it back from a city two hours to the north, through the winding mountain roads that make me sick when i'm not driving, but guess what, i was! we arrived in kumano about ten, and i was beat but satisfied. it's actually really surreal to have my freedom again. i can go to the 24 hour market, i can pick up anything or anyone, and i can do it with air conditioning! yesterday i took my first drive alone, just to the bank, and it was like being a new driver all over again, but it was oh-so-amazing too. i flew by my students on bikes and smiled to myself. they can't see me, and yes, it's a relief. i drove kara and i to shingu for yakiniku, and we went shopping. like He-Man and She-Ra, I HAVE THE POWER!
as a final celebration of this year, kara, allison, and i went to osaka last weekend. it was the first time i had been there since my first visit to japan in 2001! we had planned on staying at a nice capsule hotel, but sadly all the ones we know that take women were full. i'll have to return in order to experience (and share about) that. we went to den-den town (den is short for denki, meaning electronic), the gamer nerd's paradise with old school/new school nintendo, busty manga heroines, and lots of glazed stares. yep, i'm a little bit of a nerd, so i enjoyed all the toys. there was even a sucker dispenser that's like gambling: you put your money in and then push a button to stop at the number of suckers you win. i got four!
for lunch we had, sweet deprivation, mexican food! every one of us was speechless in the presence of cheese and sour cream.
kara retired for the evening with her new super mario game, and allison and i got dolled up for a night on the town. do you know how long it's been since i really danced? at least a year! simply unacceptable. i wore a tube top as a skirt and a top made of shirt fiber that dissolves more and more each time i wash it. we were barely a block down the street before a cute japanese guy told us, "it's on me!" he wasn't creepy, so i harassed him back, and he laughed and stumbled on. a girl in his group noticed we were looking at a map and pointed us in the right direction of the bar we were looking for. the bar was cinquecentos, my heart's delight, a martini bar! the whole menu is 500 yen (only about $4.15), and as soon as we walked in, i felt welcomed and comfortable. it was a good mix of locals and foreigners, and the drinks were delicious. the cute bilingual boys behind the bar (one with an attractive brogue) were dancing and chatting, they seemed fun and real, and there wasn't a leering creep in sight. i wanted to be a local just so i could go back there more often.

we finally slipped off our stools and headed to the club, joule, a maze of stairwells with a dark mass of people heaving to the house music. in seconds we had wound our way near the front and joined in the sweaty, flashing light and motion. i danced to be young again. i danced to forget i'm a teacher. i danced to remember who i am in the context of the world. i danced for sheer exhileration. we spent our drink tickets wisely on water and stuck closely together. eventually we were manhandled by some forward japanese chaps (there's a first time for everything), but we shoved them away and they didn't return. finally at the brazen hour of 4:30 (even i was shocked!) we tripped home. only in japan can two ladies walk home undisturbed before dawn on the city streets. yes mama, i was still keeping an eye out. needless to say, we had a very quiet trip home the next day.
osaka is also home to this eye-catching love hotel, rose lips. euphemistic? you decide.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

一年 (ichinen: one year)

i woke in a small bit of terror last night when i could have sworn i heard someone whisper, "now!"
now what? i tensed for something to happen, but nothing did.
i think it was actually some wierd sound escaping from my own mouth, but i lay plastered to my bed for a few moments until i felt safe, then i got up and had myself a drink of water. lately i haven't had the same beautiful sleep i was enjoying here for so long, and as a result, i'm a slave to my afternoon nap. i don't mean i take a nap; a nap takes me. i wake up and realize i fell for it again. yesterday i was reading after school and was fighting really hard because i had to meet with my supervisor a little bit later in the evening. it was all i could do not to drop the book and pass out before it hit the floor. today i was lucky enough to finish the book before i went under.
it's shocking, but i'm heading home for a little visit in under two weeks, in fact, it's only 11 days away. last time, i surprised even myself by bowing to other drivers whilst in my car (typical in japan but absolutely hilarious to my mother), bowing to someone who let me cross the street in front of their car (quizzical looks), and feeling completely incapable of walking on my mom's white carpet without taking off my shoes.
on august first, i'll have been in japan for a full, round year. this morning i looked through kate t. williamson's A Year In Japan, which i haven't gone through in some time, and i realized i knew personally about each of the little topics she artfully presents. it's the same old story: seriously!? a whole year has passed since i threw up in the bathroom of a posh hotel because i was so scared of my total life change? a whole year of firsts. four seasons of crafting a home from the remembered and the fresh, eating weird things like squid crackers and shaved ice with azuki beans and condensed milk, getting naked with my fellow teachers as a matter of course, and falling head over heels for my students.
i'm just glad i have another.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

the girl vs. the elements--round one *clang*

last year, all typhoons turned before they reached our "hang loose" hand-shaped prefecture, but this year we're starting off the season with a bang. or more of a "BANG BANG BANG."

friday i was in for my first typhoon. not keen on spending it alone in my palace, i crossed my fingers that i'd be able to make it up to tsu to hang with my soon-to-be-missed marina. taking a cue from my neighbors, i pulled the metal window armor over my windows for the first time...truly creepy. i have a decent view of the tracks, and trains seemed to still be passing pretty much on time, in spite of torrential rain, so i bundled up my backpack and headed out on my bicycle for my second bath of the day. without a raincoat (i refuse to buy one that's not cute), i was drenched in seconds but not cold. it just looked like i had taken a dip with all my clothes on, and even i had difficulty pretending nothing was awry as i bought my ticket. i'm still not capable of riding a bike and holding a backpack, purse, and umbrella, but soon i will have the must-have accessory of the season: a car. i pulled out a towel and dried myself off a little, so at least my pants weren't dripping on the bench. the woman i sat next to smiled kindly when i sat down (somewhat rare), so i relaxed. we sat in silence for a while, until a pigeon all fluffed up started taking a bath in the water between train tracks. it made us laugh, and that seemed a good time to strike up a conversation. the woman and her husband inquired comfortably about my trip and my family.
*aside* being in japan has enhanced my expectation of modesty. that means, though i remain modest as i have always been, the lack of skin i see among the general population has heightened my sensitivity to it. when my male students are literally standing in their boxers changing from their PE clothes in the classroom! after class has started!, i am much more shocked than i would have been in ol' sexy america. this carries over to physical contact. good, real hugs are not common after high school, i'd say, and once when i went to hug a friend goodbye she literally asked me why! so for better or worse, i generally don't expect much human contact on a daily basis.
older women seem less prudish and space conscious, but i was still surprised when this darling lady sitting next to me, after only a few sentenced exchanged, reached over and warmly patted my wet leg, asking if i was cold. she and her husband (mr. and mrs. murata, i learned) kept me appraised of how many minutes late the train was going to be: 24, 27, 30...we kept waiting. she opened her purse and took out some tiny mandarins and a few crackers and gave them to me. her husband, upon learning that i was an only child, far from my family, said earnestly with a pantomime to enhance his words, "your parents' heart break."
when it seemed our time was getting short, i asked them if i could take a picture, my parkbench angels. right before we went our separate ways on the train, the woman clasped my hand fervently like she wanted very much to communicate her care and protectiveness to me; i was touched.

after two wet, air-conditioned hours on the train, i was properly cold--truly surprising in the middle of july, so i hobbled through the rain to marina's house to dry out. as we tucked into bed later, we heard creepy air raid-sounding sirens, warning of the oncoming cloud of doom, but we woke the next morning disappointed by the general lack of storm. we didn't even hear a strong gust, thought my girls in the south said the storm was loud and pummeled their apartment with wind.

Monday, July 16, 2007

book bender

on my traipse down the hill this morning, i saw a snake. it was big--probably the biggest one i've ever seen in "the wild." luckily for my Rad Teacher Image, i saw it in plenty of time so as not to squeal and/or throw myself inadvertently into the rushing water of the ditch. i don't hate snakes, especially harmless ones, but they do startle. being unfamiliar with the flora and fauna of this country, i wasn't certain of its poisonous-ness, so i watched sharply from my vantage point as it swam a bit, and then came to rest directly in my path. in an effort to hurry it along, i stomped my feet noisily in parceltongue with the message, "move your skinny butt so i can get to school." i'm sure i look like a crazed mime every morning with all the weird waving, ducking and now stomping i do, but it's all in an effort to avoid walking face-first into spiderwebs. i keep my hand up, arm out like i'm keeping the sun out of my eyes but it's really my Scout Arm, cutting through cobwebs like the prow of a boat. when the sun's not out, it's a useless masquerade, but then my slow, deliberate web-chopping motions probably defeat that anyway.
once at school (and now free of classes), i settled into a reading bender. the girl who's mother once said, "sometimes i wish you would just watch tv because it's so impossible to get your attention when you're reading," has been deprived of english books for almost a year now, and i recently learned that the english selection at the Mie public library is admirable in both quantity and breadth. today i've been stuck in a book like a burr in fur, almost physically unable to separate myself from the pages. i still write every morning, but i've noticed my vocabulary slipping as i lose my english to make room for japanese. that's what they call it, losing your english. i hope, for the sake of my future as a writer, we're only playing hide and seek.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

the road to autonomy

here's me walking the course before my test

i've been thinking lately about my experience in japan as a minority. i realize i'm a well-treated and celebrified minority, due to the current vogue of american culture, but i still get stared at and gasped at and treated like a child. in a country as monocultural (at least at first glance) as japan, i am part of the virtually illiterate minority. sure, i can buy groceries or a train ticket, but i can't do much of anything else without help. i still can't make a reservation at a restaurant, talk to my bank about a mysterious transaction, or take a driving lesson without it being a big ordeal. what would only be about driving for a japanese person is about overcoming everything else first (how to get there in the middle of a school day when the train stop is much too far and i can't read a bus schedule?) before i can even start trying to figure out what the instructor is saying enough to learn something. it feels like a battle. i've gained a much deeper appreciation of what you miss when you don't speak the native language. it makes me think of immigrants in america--all they're up against and how much courage that takes!--to be away from your homeland, missing your family and the familiar, speaking the language like a three-year-old, and hoping no one takes advantage of your ignorance.
but back to driving. i've been living a small-scale existence without a vehicle. i don't go many places after dark, i have to abide by the infrequent trains, and i can't buy more than one bottle of tea or juice at the grocery store unless i want to give myself a heart attack on the ride back. i had lots of fun last summer trying to get weird items home on my bike, but nothing rivals the comfort and convenience of a car when it's pouring outside, you're sick, and all you want is to buy some cold medicine and go to bed without riding for thirty minutes, getting soaked to the skin, and having a small emotional breakdown when the closest pharmacy is sold out of what you need...not that that's ever happened to me. but it would suck.
so maybe you don't realize why i'm still on about my new driver's license, but this is why. i endured three months of having other people make appointments for me at a facility three hours away ($100 round trip), taking three different vacation days to go there for 1. submitting documents 2. a 10-question true or false written test that you'd have to be dumb to fail 3. the final performance art piece that is called the "practical" test on a closed course with no other traffic. you fail if you chew gum. you fail if you wear sandals. you fail if you don't execute the 18 instances of using the blinker exactly at the right time every time. i bribed a japanese-speaking friend to go with me once, i stayed up till midnight once so i could call the colorado DMV and get the professional evasive-government run-around for an hour which nearly ended in me putting a hit out on each of the three unhelpful persons with which i had to speak. finally the truth came out--they don't even keep the records before seven years ago, so NO ONE has the record i needed, nor would they write anything to that effect on DMV paper. i got to deal with the worst of two countries' bureaucracies. but finally, finally, i jumped through all the rings and they found me worthy of my own freedom.
in two short weeks, i will own a little white piece of heaven car, and i'm hoping to once again feel more like the me i know, the autono-me.

independence day

well after months of preparation, well-wishes, self pep talks, and prayers...i got my japanese driver's license!

you are not supposed to smile, which i knew, but i didn't even realize she had taken the picture, which is why i look so unenthused. i had just been at the license office for 5 straight hours, so i was a little tired. but don't let the look fool you, i was INCREDIBLY HAPPY! and i still am.

Monday, July 02, 2007


i just lost the entire post i've labored over for three hours.
i'm sad.