Wednesday, December 03, 2008

i have this under control?

as most of you know, i teach all of my classes with partner teachers who speak both english and japanese. i am the "native speaker." most of the time i trade off with the other teacher during the class, sometimes bearing most of the responsibility for the lesson, but i have never started class without the other teacher present. last week, however, one of the teachers i work with was occupied by some crisis when our class was supposed to begin. he waved me towards the door and told me to go ahead to class. i thought he would just be absent for a minute or two, but when he didn't come, i figured i should start class. silence fell over the room as i faced them, and i said the word i had heard hundreds of times, hajimemashou? "Let's begin." The question in my voice broke the tension, and everyone laughed. They rose, we bowed, and I started class alone for the first time. It felt good!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

autumn, and i wanted to return to this wonderful place in kyoto i realized i never wrote about. during my first year, thanks to the magnificent sam and fiona, we saw the cherry blossoms in kyoto and stayed in a traditional merchant house, called machiya. it's one of the coolest places i've ever stayed. the mansion is mazelike and has many cool surprises, usually discovered when crawling around, feeling every corner in search of each room's three or four well-hidden light switches (one will be in a cabinet, one on the ceiling, and one outside the room). there are at least fourteen rooms, too, so turning off the 40 lights is practically a full-time job.
i assembled twelve friends and we gathered at the machiya for a november weekend. brian and i had to take off work early friday (since we live the farthest away) in order to check in on time. in celebration, we bought some beers and had a lovely afternoon drinking and knitting on the train!

when we arrived, a young man who spoke english met us there in order to go over the rules (and where to find the light switches!). when he mentioned he had lived in the US, i asked where and was surprised to hear it was seattle. i told him i had lived just south, in tacoma. he was like, "actually. tacoma is where i lived too." the coincidences got weirder. we both studied painting in tacoma at the same time! we both lived downtown. finally i said, "i lived near the Grand Cinema," and he said, "so you must have known the Kickstand Cafe?" of course i did. suddenly, the six years since folded up like an accordion, and the memory of his face surfaced. i had met him before, just once, in that cafe in tacoma!! he had even given me a japanese fashion magazine, which i still have!

one by one, people arrived on buses and trains, and we took a "family picture" in the dining room.

we scattered through the house, exploring. each room is beautiful, and several of the rooms surround inner gardens open to the sky, separated by only paper shoji doors. the bathrooms each have a cedarwood bathtub, the absolute best material a bath could be made of. the wood is never cold like ceramic or steel, so you settle in with no shock of cold against your skin. it's marvelous. (a picture of that coming soon)
we made futon angels, and then talked late into the night.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


one lucky day in autumn is my school's ensoku or "excursion." each class goes somewhere as a group. last year i enjoyed playing in the park with the third-years, but this year the teachers worked extra hard, and we got to go to a theme park! on a weekday! for free! it was ridiculous! ;D
the only hard part was getting up at 5:30, but the morning was beautiful. we set off in seven buses (one homeroom per bus) for the long drive. it was the only time i've gotten to experience the (uniquely japanese?) feeling of the homeroom as a close-knit family. usually they have the same homeroom all three years of high school, so they really know each other well. the atmosphere was festive and kids moved freely around chatting an joking with each other, taking pictures of their classmates who had fallen asleep, and sharing snacks.
i talked a lot with hiroshi and yukimasa in the seat behind me because i know them pretty well. they sang a cappella songs, some in "english." one such song was Stand By Me, but instead of starting the chorus with 'Darlin' Darlin',' yukimasa burst into song with, "Stalin! Stalin!"

i also told them about Cold Stone Creamery, since they have one at the mall near the theme park. i told them they could choose their own base ice cream flavor, select the ingredients they want inside, and make their very own custom flavor of ice cream. stunned by the breadth of choice, but willing to give it a go, yukimasa pantomimed obama and said with conviction, "Yes we can!"

we pulled up in the shadow of the Steel Dragon, the 1st longest and 5th tallest roller coaster in the world! holy crap! it was amazing. i have never lived anywhere near an amusement park, so it was an awesome sight. even more amazing, i was flirting with the idea of riding it! weird, since i'm the type who would usually flat out refuse and go ride the merry-go-round instead. generally i do not like feeling like i'm going to die. i do not want to know what it's like to fall out of a skyscraper. call me crazy.
the weather was perfect, and the park was virtually empty when we arrived. the kids were given the freedom to do as they pleased, and i set off with two teachers to explore the park. i knew if i didn't grab that faint desire to try a roller coaster quickly, it would disappear and i would feel disappointed in myself. after getting a smashing view of the entire park from the ferris wheel, naoko and i lined up for the White Cyclone, a beautiful wooden coaster. it was my first real roller coaster ever.
i wondered if i would scream; screaming seems to take a lot of energy to muster. we climbed the first hill slowly and passed the ominous "Do Not Stand Up" sign, and the rest is history. we plunged down the clackety wooden hill so quickly and got so much lift that i was sure we were going to rip right off the tracks. my screams came effortlessly. the ride was thrilling to the end because the supports keep you from really seeing what's coming next. several times you cross into the structure itself, and it feels like you're going to lose your head in the beams. my legs were shaking as we headed out of the ride, but it was way exhilarating! the only question was: did i have enough guts left for the big one?

we meandered slowly to the base of the huge Steel Dragon. i needed some time to gather my wits, and i wanted to watch the ride from below first. the first hill is the biggest one. the Steel Dragon drops you more than 30 stories at 95 mph! i was on the brink of just walking away, but i knew it was my only chance to go with my students and not have to wait in any lines, so we took the plunge. the climb is slow enough (almost a minute of suspense) to get a good view and get really scared. naoko kept saying how high it was, and i said nothing at all. they get you to the very top and stop the ride for a few seconds so you have to face the ground before hurling towards it. i think it was one of the most terrifying things i've ever experienced! after the first two drops, i knew the worst part was over, so i enjoyed the rest of the twists without fear. thankfully that was when they snap the picture, so i had a huge smile of relief.

the view from the bottom:

and from the top: (Lewis Boeve's photo)

Monday, November 03, 2008

my 15 minutes of flame

due to the form-fitting and english-only nature of my real halloween costume ("Arms Race," see below), for school i once again donned the lolita garb for a new crop of freshmen. dressing up in this extreme fashion for school always makes me a bit nervous because it requires total commitment, and it's such a production! would the new principal flip? this year i skipped the fake hair since my own hair is long enough to curl, which made my day a little bit easier, but as i clomped down the hill in swishing skirts, be-ribboned within an inch of my life, i felt that familiar shot of adrenaline in preparation for the crazed havoc to come.
the other teachers, at least, must be used to my antics by now because there were only a few curious stares, and after i said "happy halloween" in the staff room, everyone chuckled and went back to their work. i went to class as usual, looking insane (but cute) since halloween isn't celebrated in japan. my third year students, who have had me all three years, weren't shocked, but one boy told me i was a dangerous beauty.
the first years weren't so blasé; they were all open-mouthed and squealing, and as soon as class adjourned, i was surrounded by frantic packs of them, camera phones blazing, shouting my name like the paparazzi to look their way. it spread like wildfire down the hallway as friends dragged other friends over to see what all the commotion was about. one girl was even following me down the hallway taking a video; it was crazy! i tried to capture some candid reactions, but i had some difficulty pointing my camera the right way. here's a short video of the tops of their heads.

later some third year boys came to visit, and i offered to take a picture with them, and they practically dove into the shot. i love the resulting photo; we look so classy!

i just realized i never posted last year's picture, so here it is too.

after school i changed into my other costume and drove up to matsusaka for the halloween party with the other JETs. i was SO surprised people didn't catch on right away, but everyone appreciated the work i put into customizing the dress, sewing the hands, etc. i even won a prize for most original, high five! ;)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


tuesday of midterms week. i sit and waste time while everyone else bustles around with thick bundles of tests bound through a corner hole with brown twine. the students head home (hallelujah half-days) before lunch and then we all have many hours to kill.
one of the pleasures of test time is that i can leave for lunch, so i walked to the bank today in the sunlight. the air felt like it was made of watercolor. it didn't exactly smell like the ocean, but it was a watery freshness that i've only experienced near the ocean. faintly i smelled old man cologne, the comforting smell of someone's father or grandfather, then maple syrup. i am surprised by my own reflection in a newly-cleaned window; its grimness betrays the heavy thoughts settled under my enjoyment of the day. i resolve to let those things melt and try to relax my expression.
two new, brightly-colored posters with children's faces are hung at waist-level on a grey wall. i marvel that they are undefaced and will likely remain that way, in spite of the hundreds of high schoolers who pass by them every day. japan is a different animal. even i am slightly tempted to moustache the posters, but i restrain the impulse.
on my way back, i stop to watch the baby minnows. the shallow water is so thick with them that it looks ropey and twists around itself. when i look up again, an old man is also looking down at them from a footbridge. my brief refreshment over, i expect the rest of the day to be mundane and tiresome, as most afternoons are past 2:30, when time officially stops.
however, i am surprised by the news that a teacher of qigong (i know, what?) is giving a workshop in the kendo room of the school. i have just eaten and am feeling lazy. i don't want to do martial arts or try to keep up in japanese, so i plan to give it a miss.
...but, my friend michiko wants to see what they're doing and i want to see the kendo room. we decide to 見るだけ (only look) and traipse up to the room. of course, when they see us peering in, they make place for us in the circle, and suddenly i am not so thrilled we came. with little ceremony (on second thought, maybe we missed that part since we were 15 minutes late), we are partnered up (i'm with michiko, since she can translate for me) and we begin...massage! if i had known it was going to be massage, i would have been the first in the door. i mean, this is japan; i haven't had any real physical contact in like two years!
as i look around at the faces of the attendees, i am stunned by who chose to come; our principal and vice-principal, mr. okuji (who i swore hated me for a year but who i eventually learned was just a "traditional japanese man" and whom i now adore), the nurse! there are men and women of all ages, and everyone looks ridiculously game, even giddy! it is a surprising sense of intimacy, looking around at my fellow teachers in their workout gear and 5-toed socks, ready to learn how to relax. even more surprising, no one balks at the men and women paired together, everyone blithely cooperates. there's plenty of laughter, and i'm shaking my head at this new facet of my coworkers.
we do shoulder and arm massages, feet, and legs. everyone looks at me to make sure i understand, mimicking the movements and contributing words until the whole room is focused on me and i blurt in japanese, "gotcha!" and everyone laughs. little do they know how much practice i have, but they all seem endearingly naive to the benefits of massage. i swear, most of them have never had one because they seem utterly surprised at how good it feels!
michiko is the quietest i've ever seen her (she's a little high-strung), and her eyes are glassy. i ask if she's ok and all she can say is 気持ちいい, "feels good." we all leave with big smiles on our faces, which in japanese is ニコニコ (niko-niko). best day at the office, ever.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

my chunky darling

have you ever tried dyeing your hair with a cow pie?
well i have.
my mom, the hairdresser, recently told me about some findings that a certain chemical in black hair dyes causes cancer. that isn't a huge leap in my mind; i mean they are chemicals, and one of the last things i want is a higher risk of cancer. she and i both dye our hair black, and we were both looking for an alternate solution. i bought the only black, chemical-free henna dye i could find before i headed back from the US this summer. a few days ago i gave it a shot.

what a monuMENTAL waste of time and energy. not only do you have to let the henna enjoy its coffee and news for three hours before you apply it, you can't use ANY metal instruments, bowls, clips, spoons, or even look at something metal the whole time. what's more, it smelled suffocatingly grassy, and it was the color and texture of a warm cow pie. delightful.

when it was finally time for the henna to crack its knuckles and get to work, i divided my hair off and started slopping the stuff on. it was thick and fibrous. chunks fell freely as i tried to work the thick stuff into my hair. i added water until it was the right texture, but it was still difficult getting it to adhere. i finally gave up on the chunks and just did the best i could to evenly apply it. THEN it began to drip. and drip. and drip. i couldn't keep up with the chunks flying and the drips snaking down my face, shoulders, and back.

i finally got the provided plastic bag around it, but then came the next ridiculous step--keeping it hot for twenty minutes or more. i was trying to aim the hairdryer into the plastic bag without melting it, prevent the drips from overflowing (not easy when the bag inflated from the hairdryer) and keep my hair warm enough to actually work. fail!
i finally got fed up and just wanted the filthy stuff OFF my head, screw the dye job. my hair was now nappy and disgusting and pretty water repellant. it took at least four washes to pry the plant bits off of my scalp.
in the end, my entire bathroom looked like it had been dive-bombed with dung, and i smelled like a feed lot for a week!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


it's a grey monday, and the air smells like toasted marshmallows and campfire. the temperature dropped twenty degrees this weekend, and the mornings are stirred with chill. the air is drying up in the woodsmoke. i smiled to myself as i took the rubbish up to the bin this morning because i love fall even though it freezes into winter. at least i have my clear windows now!
the walls of my house are patrolled endlessly by tiny jumping spiders. last year i would have put them outside, but this year i don't care anymore. they are one of the least offensive arachnids i've encountered: too small to look horrible, they don't spin webs, and they do a funny little flex with their facial feelers which makes them look like tiny boxers preparing to scrap. i leave them alone to catch the other bugs. me and the spiders. i've been soo lucky this year and have only seen one (one!) mukade, and i'm hoping to keep it that way as long as possible.
saturday was a brilliant, sunny, chilly day--my favorite kind. i got up early and danced around the house in the sun. it was the kind of morning you want to do the crossword over coffee with your darling, full of fresh air and light. i like that "darling" is a word that has become synonymous with "boyfriend" in japan. friday i was asked, "darling imasuka?" i couldn't help smiling, but the answer was still, no, i don't have a darling. that's the same boy, who instead of saying, "joke! joke!" like most of my kids when they say something untrue, blurted out, "it's fiction!"
this year i have been really working on the ankle i injured several years ago in a skateboarding wreck. i want the mobility and strength back, so i've been running and stretching, running and stretching. i'm amazed what a difference it's made. it still aches, but i don't get foot cramps when i point my toes and faux-ballet around the room. i've been doing that a lot lately.
the barbecue/onsen party was interesting. after 45 hellish minutes in the back of a van on a narrow, twisy road that would make any sane person green, i emerged on shaky legs and stood forlornly in the forest. was it really worth it? mr. sugar turned to me and smiled in the faint light, "hi lauren."
the group was intimate by normal party standards, just nine people. we stood around some rustic picnic tables, and everyone rustled into action. i didn't know what to help with, so when someone brought a bench, i sat. soon there was fire and food. i was on the corner by mr. sugar. i marveled at his quiet conversation, that he seemed content to talk to me about pancakes. he was quietly, gently attentive. another beer, more vegetables, even noticing when i had bits of corn cob and pepper stems in my bowl and offering a place to discard them. i understand him less as time goes on, but i loved those sweet moments.
finally, just before the girls headed off to the onsen, kuma-san looked up with a rascally smile and told me there was a "konyoku," a bath where men and women could bathe together, and he pointed right at me and mr. sugar! in the midst of the translation, i didn't really have time to respond, and after a pause, mr. sugar spoke up in what i supposed at the time was a proxy response for me, "no thank you!" later, though, i wondered if that was really for himself, which made me a tiny bit sad.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the mongrel cat came home, holding half a head

last night i had some bizarre dreams, bizarre like i used to have. bizarre like i have something going on in my head again. the first part was some older man in my life trying to marry me off to another older man who i only slightly knew. i started protesting, "but he's much too old!" and the man told me that "it doesn't matter to God." i'm sure it would matter to God that i didn't love him, though! my mom seemed to support this marrying-off thing. i was like, "but i'd much prefer a guy like joe," (an estimable friend from my real past, who ironically i dreamed years ago that i couldn't marry). their answer was, "but you don't know anyone else like joe."
part two we get to the serious stuff. i was over at a friend's house and discovered she had a face that looked just like mine, my "extra" face in a square aluminum pan. she gave it to me to care for. it was just the front half of my head, though i still had my own. it was heavier than i expected, and the back was open and exposed and vulnerable. i suppose that's how you attach it to your head if you need it... the poor thing looked hot and feverish, and i wondered how long it could survive like that. i put it in some cool water and soon it looked much better. it didn't look as feverish, and the lips were just a little chapped. i carried it away with me. i felt protective tenderness for it, but how do you care for just a face?
part three: i still lived in japan, so i wasn't familiar with many people. one of my friends died. her body was wrapped in plastic, and since there was no one else to respectfully treat her remains, i put her in a wheelbarrow and walked a long way through early winter streets to the cemetery, so i could bury her body. when i arrived, i realized i had forgotten a shovel. sigh. but then i ran into my friend sadye, and she had a shovel. i could see there were some bugs inside the plastic on the top of my friend's wool coat, and i was loath to see my friend's body touched by them when we put her in the ground.

that's it. i wasn't as disturbed by these dreams as i could have been. i was more grateful for them, because at least they're imaginative. what is my heart trying to tell me? the strongest thing i felt when i woke up was the need to start loving my face with the rest of me. i've always been happy with my body and displeased with my face. long and skinny with an under bite and too much chin, poor skin when i was younger, swampy eyes. but in my dream i was like, "it's a good face. and what's more, it's my face. who's going to care for if i'm not?"
i know, deeep. but it's true.

i was a little jumpy in my sleep due to a late-night nerds candy fix. sugar before bed, not a good idea. (oh the connotations that statement now reeks with!) i woke up when someone walked by my window about 4am, and then again several more times until my alarm finally went off. urgh. then i fretted over my lack of money and went to school.

when i got to school, i barely had a moment before a young teacher came down to invite me to a yakiniku/onsen party this evening. she began to list the people coming. the second person she mentioned was of the sucrose persuasion, so it was decided, of course i would go!
i recently got some information passed to me from one of the office girls that at the most recent enkai, she overheard an older man known as "kuma-san" (mr. bear) who was observing me talk with mr. sugar comment, "they look like they get along well. maybe they should get married." it happens to be kuma-san who told the teacher to invite me tonight. what's he playing at? it's probably nothing, but it's an unusual time for a party, so i am excited.

last week i was in the middle of composing a deflated post called "now sugar-free." it started, "it seems my last giddy post about mr. sugar was my last giddy post about mr. sugar." he almost visibly, physically ignored me for a month after our happy, comfortable baseball lesson. one day when we came face-to-face and i started to say hello, he gave me a look like he was drowning. i just kept walking. i mean, who does that!? it was just a hello. the next day when we passed, i gave him the stinkeye. maybe it was a subtle stinkeye, but it was still there. that night, i had a good cry and started to feel better. i embraced the idea that i can't force anything and don't want to waste time feeling sorry over some guy who can't pull it together enough to figure out if he likes me.
the very next day, dressed in a slate blue shirt that was dead sexy against his dark skin (sorry, it's a fact), i looked up to find him waving from across the room. what is it with that wave!? it gets me every time. i waited several minutes and then went over and we talked for a bit. it settled me on many levels. i guess it is unlikely we will be anything more than sometimes friends, but i feel better about that since then. it felt less final than the drown-face.

one of the things i told him was that i have decided to take the JLPT, a japanese language test. finally, i have started setting some goals. having this to work toward has made a huge difference in my life. i have also been feeling like it's time to write my book, i finally have something to say again. my voice comes in fits and starts, but like a temperamental fountain pen, it's getting stronger the more i scratch it across the paper.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

home again home again, jiggety jig

when i boarded the plane to fly home this summer, i was staggered by how close together the seats were back in regular price land. not first class, business, or even "economy plus," the seats were unbelievably crammed. now you have to pay extra just so your legs won't fall asleep! i've made this flight several times by now, and i was certain this was a new low. i even checked the air and light panels above to see if they had just moved the seats back a few notches to fit more people in! when i sat down, my knees actually touched the seat in front of me until i took out the magazines in the seat pocket. it was going to be a long flight.
four hours later i decided, as i stared at the "moving" map of our progress across the ocean while waiting for another movie to start, that this is a special form of torture. it's like being forced to watch the slowest download in the world. ooh, a whole 12% complete! only 640 hours to go!
mt. fuji

but home was still there when i arrived.
i had this fear as a child that i would go on a trip and return a few days later, only to find my family long gone and everything changed because i had really been gone 30 years. i also feared at one point that my mom had been replaced with a very convincing double who would eventually kidnap me and replace me too, but that was because of Get Smart. thank you Nick at Nite.
so i've not been living in the US for two years now. that is apparently how long it takes to completely lose the ability to cope with bad customer service. without fail i leave the nagoya airport feeling peaceful and respected as a customer, and arrive in san francisco to be dismantled by the security personnel screaming in my docile face to "MAKE TWO LINES!!" or something like that. i wonder what it must be like to have never experienced america and have that be your introduction to it! are we really that unruly? after 15 hours of travel, does it really take all of your lung power to get me in a line? i would have done anything for the promise of a face cloth or extra deodorant.

ahh, america! the country where my hair looks good.

perplexing service people, a favorite pastime...

...second only to trying genghis khan-flavored caramels. i kid you not. actually, the meat and onion caramels were pretty good, like a tiny little willy wonka meal.

ugh. i will try to ignore how gross i feel right now and write this, because there are many little things to talk about, and i haven't really been getting them up lately.
so, in my never ending quest to make grammatically perfect japanese sentences (yeah right), or at least ones that aren't complete gibberish, i was preparing to ask the old man of ye corner office supply store what colors of plastic tape he had. was it nan iro, nani iro, donna iro? i cross-referenced my handy online dictionary to see if the combination of characters meant something other than what i hoped to say. nani is used all the time and means "what," and iro means "color." this was the result:

(nani) 何 【なに; なん】 (int,n) (1) what; (pref) (2) (なん) how many (some counter); (col) euph. for genitals or sex


(iro) 色 【いろ】 (n) (1) colour; color; (2) sensuality; lust; (adj-f) (3) various

what!? so i could conceivably be saying "what color?" or "genital sensuality!" you can see the kind of danger that awaits me around every corner.

i often order books on because japan still believes you will pay Cash On Delivery shipments. i order the books i want, and when they deliver them to my school, i pay the delivery guy. just like a pizza! the one thing i always forget is that they call me a few minutes before they deliver to let me know they're coming. usually i miss the call because i'm in class, but last time i heard my phone ring and answered. a mistake? maybe. the guy said some LOONG something about who he was (i guess?), but i heard the word "amazon," so i figured it out. he paused. i said a very tentative (if you had looked up the word tentative, this would've been the example) hai...
it seems like all people ever say on the phone in japan is hai. people have entire conversations made of the word hai! this seemed to be an acceptable answer, so he said something else, even longer!
and paused.
i tried another tenuous, hai..... he continued! what on earth could he possibly be telling me about a single book delivery!? another pause.
this time it was more of a hai? i was losing faith that we would ever reach a conclusion. i was going to be trapped on the phone forever, understanding nothing, blindly agreeing. finally he said something i did understand, so i got to say with conviction, sou desu. "that's true." and then i got to hang up.

my last story of the day is how to be lazy and solve problems with your digital camera. i always have my camera with me, always. i've gotten into the habit of taking pictures of anything i find amusing, to share with you later (see the vibrating worm video below).
i was at the home store to buy a shelf for my shower room. i found the shelf i wanted, but it was cheaper than i remembered. i realized they had replaced the old price tag with a new one, cool, a discount! but i have often found that these "new" prices don't get rung up correctly (and without the ability to really explain, i usually let it slide), so for the hell of it, i took a picture of the shelf with the new price tag. when i got to the front, sure enough, the old price came up. i was like, wait. then i showed the guy the picture. ha! he called someone to check on the price and finished ringing up my other stuff. then we stood there awkwardly, and i could just imagine him thinking, "why on earth--? how did she--?" and i just stood there and quietly smirked. and then i got my discount.

and here is some fun...there has been a massive hatch of these caterpillars all over town, and i discovered they will writhe around or vibrate if you blow on them, and i think it's dead hilarious.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

break out

we've had a sudden outbreak of grey weather; today was like day ten of unflinching dark skies. i don't mind actual rain, but this was beginning to remind me of those endless, dull tacoma days where rain happens at some point every day, but mostly it just hangs over you like guilt.
i decided to go for a run in the misting morning. i got a sluggish start on the sea wall and passed a few old couples crotcheting along with umbrellas. soon the ipod music entered my bloodstream, though, and i was picking my feet up with a little more enthusiasm.
i haven't really been setting goals for myself the last few years, and that's starting to bother me. i should be doing many things: studying japanese, planning my future, planning my lessons. i thought maybe i should try to run for twenty minutes without stopping. might as well start now. for someone with asthma, that can be easier said than done, but it's much easier at sea level. i had a go at it.
the air was heavy and smelled raw and spicy, like kimchi. hawks hovered overhead. before i really even felt like i had settled into my rhythm, i thought i could spot the foggy, distant end of the sea wall looking...a lot less distant. perhaps i could make it all the way to the end without stopping! pretty amazing, considering i used to run on the sea wall last year and wouldn't even make it to the end. i did make it, and then i walked the entire way back, which took forever. hips aching and soaked with sweat and rain, i passed the old man i had run by at first. he gave me a sunny smile and encouraged me to ganbaru (persevere) as he pantomimed running. i loved that.
inspired by the smell of the air, i ate kimchi with my brunch, and finally the sun made an appearance.
one benefit of the rain is some summer days that masquerade as cool, so my impulse to knit kicked in super early, and i'm half done with a pair of mittens. i also made some winter miso soup tonight (potato and chinese cabbage), and it was delicious.

school starts tomorrow, SIGHHHH, but i also managed to not procrastinate all weekend, so now i have time to watch tv and knit some more. later!

Friday, August 22, 2008

the hypochondriac is IN

well it seems my challenge this year is to not freak out every time i have a little health problem. last night, for instance, i removed my contact lenses and my left eye was blurry. i blinked many times, but the blur wouldn't move or change. i washed my eye repeatedly; no change. so i got all tense and gaspy and worried about the other eye, viruses, blindness, etc. when i woke up, it was fine.
i wish i could say that this is an anomaly, but ever since i came to japan and feared for my life during a surprise asthma attack my second week here, with no phone, knowing no japanese, and having no transportation...i've been a lot more stressed about my health. it doesn't help to know that the medical care in this area of japan is not exactly competitive or cutting edge.
last weekend the problem was my toenail, which was getting ingrown and infected due to some shoes i will never wear again, ever...maybe (well, they're really cute shoes). anyway, it was a holiday and i was hoping to leave it be, but it was getting red, white and weird-looking, and hey, i don't wanna go septic on the weekend. the office lady was really worried too, and she basically annoyed me into going to see her friend the doctor. he was kindly-gruff and a little too eager with the "you want me to cut it?"
"no! i do not want you to cut it! do i have a choice?"
he sighed and sat back, "well, i'll just give you some antibiotics then," clearly disappointed!
but what i realized when i got home and had already taken the first pill, i'm allergic to a certain antibiotic, and he didn't ask me if i had any medication allergies. oh no! Girl Dies From Common Antibiotic; Office Lady Plagued With Guilt, "I made her go to the doctor!" turn page for story.
but guess what? i lived.
i've just never been on such a hair-trigger for panic.
other things i've had this year: a whole day of a rushing sound in one ear, unexplained dizziness, strange impressions on my skin in the morning (bugs laying eggs in my arm? no, just sleeping on a button), CLEM the friendly fatty tumor, and a TSS scare.
i am just so much fun!

i will leave you with this dinosaur comic:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

getting schooled

today was my date with the business end of a baseball. i thought it was supposed to be Easy, Happy, Fun Time with the eminent mr. sugar, but he informed me that one of the students would be teaching me how to pitch. hunh!? i didn't understand why he wouldn't take the chance himself, but since i dearly love the student who'd be teaching me, i felt in, full of anxiety and adrenaline OK. i mean, i didn't really want to face my humiliation in front of a team who practices from dawn to dark on a daily basis.

every year on my birthday, i choose a new theme for the year. this year's theme is More Risks. in other words, i need to stop imagining possible failures and just try things, follow my heart, let go of control. this was a very good exercise of that principle if nothing more. i kept reminding myself that i have zero experience in baseball; i am a baseball baby. i haven't learned to walk or talk, so i can't expect to just be good at it. i have never played more than a game or two of long-forgotten P.E. softball, and i certainly never pitched. the only thing i used to do, which motivated this great baseball education, was to throw the ball as high and straight into the air as i could and then catch it. i wasn't too bad at catching, but one missed ball nearly knocked me senseless on the front lawn. actually throwing to someone is an entirely different thing. a harder thing.

in preparation for this event, i retired to the sports park yesterday for a nerve-busting workout. i had been feeling pretty wound up for several days anyway, so some hard running in an un-airconditioned! gym was just what i needed? is airconditioning for losers?? turn it ON, people. it doesn't cost that much. this is like the hottest place in the world.
anyway, after that i sheepishly shuffled over to an empty field and tried my hand at pitching, based on some internet pointers. i was a giant bag of crap at pitching. it was less throwing the ball than disgusting the ball so much that it was desperate to fly in any direction to get away from me. about 85 percent of the balls went too far left, 5 percent went straight into the ground, and the remaining 10 percent went approximately where i wanted. i won't say i didn't improve. there were one or two pitches that may have been considered good if they hadn't been vastly accidental. that day didn't do much to alleviate my nerves for the next, but at least i managed not to hurt myself too badly. *stretch-stretch*
then it started to pour. in seconds, all the random people who had been milling around the area were under eaves, and i laughed madly from the center of the field. it felt amazing! the rain pelted down and soaked me utterly. i jumped and danced and did handstands and brushed the hair and mascara out of my eyes, and kept throwing. it lightened my heart and eased my body. it reminded me who i am. it reminded me that in a culture where i often feel confused and excluded because i look different and can't speak eloquently, i am still myself. my essence is in tact, and that more than anything gave me courage for today.

so today my name was called by mr. sugar, and we made our way to the field.
nervous? yes. ready?


he let me choose my glove and ball. i shook my head in embarassment at the five guys sitting around who would be witnessing thegirl getting schooled in baseball. the boy who was supposed to teach me was nowhere in sight. mr. sugar stepped up to the plate, har har har har har. i think he was surprised to find i had never played any sport ever, least of all baseball. i could see NOVICE register in his eyes. he thought i had more experience.

in very respectable english, he explained stance and grip. we tried a few. they were weak. my body just didn't know when to let go. it was a lot to think about, too. at least i didn't have any problems catching the return balls. he told me a few more shoulders should rotate at the same time; my hips should follow that same movement; i should look straight at him to aim. they were a little better, but i was getting bogged down in the explanation. then we found the magic formula; he taught me the wind up, and we did it together like mr. miyagi and the karate kid. snap! the next pitches were momentously easier to throw and went farther and straighter. it was a tremendous transformation (in my humble opinion). that's what a good teacher can do. mr. sugar was gentle and patient and encouraging, which is funny since he's known as a hard-ass coach and teacher. i pitched for an hour, determined to keep trying even after i got tired and sore. he traded off with several boys on the team who seemed to enjoy playing with me. they were really sweet too, those dear baseball boys. more and more of the team arrived and greeted me in stunned english when they registered my presence.
when i looked at the time, i was shocked to find i was having so much fun that i had completely missed lunch! i hadn't noticed even once how hungry i was. mr. sugar and i sat down and rested for a bit and talked easily. he said i couldn't throw at all when i started that day (no argument there), and by the end i was a good pitcher. he said i should join their team. haha. i said i'd need to practice batting next if that was the case. it was amazing to be in that space, relaxed in the dirt with the boys all around, a place that has felt secret and closed off from me since i came here. as we walked back across the field, talking, smiling, i couldn't help but stand a little taller as i slipped even more back into the me i used to know, and it fit like a glove. ;)

oh, but getting off a sweaty shirt and sports bra with two weak, sore arms proved to be the surprise challenge of the day.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

i guess i'll die another day

well, (thank God!) Clem has been groped and prodded by numerous doctors, sonogramed, and it seems he will be with me for the time being. with the liability so many health professionals must feel, it seems they will scarcely say anything definite, but the surgeon who ordered the ultrasound vaguely supposed Clem is a harmless fatty tumor (i know, gross). that was the best of all the options, though, so it will do. the most wonderful people in the whole experience were the sonogram techs and the radiologist (i guess it isn't a crime to be a radiologist and have a personality). they were all puzzled by the elusive, invisible Clem, but they said it didn't look like a hernia (certain surgery averted) and it wasn't a lymph gland (read: not cancer). phew. the radiologist (whose name was Dr. Rohren--curiously close to what i'm called in japan) went to grade school in japan when he was a child! so cool! he was the person who really made me feel reassured.
it was the first sonogram i'd ever had, and it was kind of exciting and oddly relaxing at the same time. the gel they put on my stomach was warm, and it was so weird to watch the hollow oceans and dark echoes of my guts. it really does look like deep underwater, with strands of light.
anyway, thank you so much! it looks as though i really will be able to return to japan on time, for which i am profoundly grateful. now i just have to wait for the medical bills to come flooding in.

Monday, July 28, 2008

the visitor

well, something is awry in my guts. it's a lump in my abdomen that i've named Clem. Clem has been with me for at least several months, and mostly hasn't given my much trouble. tomorrow i'm hoping to find out more about Clem's nature and what we can do about him.
dear Lord, please kill Clem. without surgery. please let him not be serious trouble. please let me be able to return to japan in two weeks, healthy. i realize you are not bound by my limited imagination for solutions. amen.
if you're the praying type, hit me with your best shot. thanks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

the longest movie never made

so i promised to tell you the whole story. i'll try not to belabor you with the infinite details, as i have done to the people i've already told aloud (sorry friends, the Great Minutia Catcher has to unload somewhere). some of this story you may already know. if you need to catch up, search for "wisteria" in my blog and read the previous entries.
so this is the story of a boy and thegirl. it's the slowest story ever told. if it were a movie, you would have given up watching hours ago, called your friend to say "never rent that movie Thegirl Meets Mr. Sugar, 'cause i only made it halfway through the first disk, and nothing happened. why does everyone think slow movies are so artistic!?" and your friend would say, "well, i did like Lost In Translation, and it was slow," and you'd reply, "oh, i liked that too, but this is totally different. how on earth did this movie ever get made!?" then you would have drunk some herbal tea and gone to bed. but this is my life, a movie i'm part of, and i have the time to sit around and see what happens.
[after the initial meeting/four months of awkwardness/slow reconnection]
as the year wore on, every enkai gave me a better opportunity to talk with mr. sugar. it seemed like we both welcomed the chance, and slowly i was getting to know him. we could even have a little casual conversation at school, only for a moment, but it felt more comfortable.
finally, about two weeks ago we had another enkai. this time i was determined to find out something real. i wasn't sure what, exactly, but something. i finally made my way over to his table in the confusion of tipsy, boisterous teachers. we started to talk. we were only interrupted when his very drunk friend spied us chatting and pointed suddenly across the table with a friendly, accusatory finger and blurted, "HE'S SINGLE! HE'S NICE GUY!"
i had found my something real. not hiding a wife or girlfriend at home, mr. sugar is single (and i'd like to presume for the moment, heterosexual). ending the night with several vague promises to do things together (or at least in the vicinity of one another), i glowed home. but would the next day prove to be that ice-water wake-up call? enkai promises are often forgotten or ignored embarrassedly in the daylight hours.
within seconds of the 8:30am bell, mr. sugar had placed a brand new baseball in my hand--a promise that i had completely forgotten! he had said he would give me a baseball with our school name on it, and he did. (he's the baseball coach, see?) grabbing the moment of fulfilled promise, i asked if he would be able to teach me some kanji. he agreed.
i was a mess of adrenaline and hard heartbeats waiting for our first kanji lesson. for the next hour, i jumped when anyone came near my desk and felt positively silly for doing so. i finally realized he wasn’t coming, so i relaxed. then i looked up and there he was. “sorry.” he had been too busy with baseball practice. i waited for him to dash off, but he didn’t; he stayed. along with my best friend teacher, we talked and laughed for the next hour and a half! at school! sober! finally, i was too hungry to stay any longer. he asked if i had time to try our lesson early the next week. of course!
our first lesson was exhausting! we were trying so hard, and neither of us really had a clear direction. i kept up as well as i could, but finally i told him to please write the finished character and then teach me how to write it. we started getting the hang of it. after an hour and a half of that, we sat back and just talked. he stayed at my desk until i headed out for lunch. we met again the next day. this time we talked a whole lot more than we studied. i learned about his family and friends, we harassed each other, and at long last i felt like i had met the real mr. sugar.
but...i was set to fly home in two days. a three-week interruption, WHY NOW!? on the morning of my last day, he brought me the sweets i wrote about in my last post. that felt like the most concrete sign that something had truly changed. no longer afraid to speak to me at school, he had sat for hours at my desk that week in full view of everyone. his little food present was the nicest goodbye, and it was completely unexpected. i’m not fooling myself into believing this means anything specific, just that after all this time, he feels some sort of friendship with me. for now that is enough. i hope when i return to japan, what little momentum we gained is not lost. i hope he misses me a little.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

victory is mine saith the Lord. and, uh, i'm saying it too.

july: something is blooming near my house that smells like honeycomb, and i sniff the air deeply on my way to and from work every day. i've never been able to discover where the smell originates, as there are only verdant green plants everywhere and no visible flowers other than things i know, like hydrangeas. the cicadas are getting in some practice, and there are still pools of cooler, unhumid air swirling around that make the heat feel ok. they finally turned the air conditioner on at school, too. when the days are not oppressive with pre (or post) rainstorm mugginess, i really love this time of year.
in summer, japan takes on the character most alien to my own experience of nature--(due to my upbringing in the dry mountains and desert)--the character of jungle, that is. vines plummet with new growth off of lights and electrical lines, grabbing for my hair, oranges fatten on the trees, and it becomes more and more difficult to breathe the heavy air. it's like trying to aspirate honey. but it's exciting. i never know what i'll see every day, from a black and white striped beetle (like this morning) to a brilliant white egret in the canal (this afternoon.) and the first mukade of the season, which i've been waiting for and subsequently killed.

but that's just the setting to this story. i look forward to telling it all to you soon, but i'm afraid i must pack now to visit home, so it will have to wait a bit longer. it starts with a girl and a boy and a chirstmas party chat. after seven long months underground (when i thought it must be dead), it has finally began producing some interesting fruit: a baseball!
what was the first word i saw when i unwrapped that baseball (after 'Made In China')?


this morning, a bright-eyed mr. sugar (formerly known to you as mr. wisteria), rather than nodding to me professionally or not at all, as is typical, came over to my desk, mouthed "good morning" and waved a cute little wave. he then brought me sweets as a present! you may not think this is a big deal. but it is a BIG DEAL. just believe me. i'll explain later.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

what's with today today?

today[1] marks the beginning of something not nearly as exciting as Shark Week, but it takes just as's Termite Week! warm weather and big rains are ideal conditions for colonizing termites who climb through the screens into my house, drop their wings, and wriggle disgustingly over every surface. thankfully the first big rain week this year was interrupted by some sunny days, so many hopefuls were discouraged from their mission. i've learned termites must maintain contact with some source of water. now they're getting almost too big to fit through my screens.
flying termites do not bite, small consolation when you wake up with them crawling on you in bed. in my endless saga of insect infestations, this is just one more chapter i've grown accustomed to. encouragingly there are faaar fewer than last year before the exterminators came, but like last year, of course, they emerged the one weekend i had company coming. since they are able to squeeze through the screens during a time when the heat of summer has truly begun, Termite Week has now also begun to symbolize Air Conditioner Week too, as closing the windows makes it unbearably hot.

ok, it isn't really "today" anymore, it was two weeks ago that i started this, but "two weeks ago" doesn't have the same sense of immediacy. and the termites are still doing their thing, so it's still relevant.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

speaking of butter

this is one of the reasons i think my mom should come to japan...precut butter slices! my mom loves to freeze food, cut it into slices, or divide it into individual servings. many years ago, i was going to make grape juice popsicle cubes for summer, so i turned a full ice tray over into the sink. as i ran some hot water over the cubes, instead of melting, they began to turn white and solid!! what the...!? she had frozen egg whites into individual servings!
i've seen her slice a Snickers bar into slices and enjoy every one slowly. she never needs very much of a treat because she makes it last insanely long. that's perfect for japan! small treats in abundance!

another reason she should visit is something called annindoufu. i've been in japan two years, and i've only just discovered it. though it doesn't look like much, it's paradise in a plastic cup. imagine the smoothest, not-too-sweet, almond-flavored panna cotta, and you're getting close. a kind of tofu pudding flavored with apricot seed oil, it is my current obsession.

and finally...clothes that fit tiny people! when i was young, i wanted to be as tall as my mom because she seemed taller than most of her women friends. when i outgrew her by three inches, i realized just how tiny she really is! she's also thin with narrow shoulders...the perfect body type to find ample wardrobe choices in japan.

hmm...not to mention the joys of japan's cleanliness stratosphere. like me, my mom could truly appreciate how spotless every hotel room surface is, since she's the one who raised me with such a keen eye and hunger for the immaculate. in fact, the japanese word for beautiful, kireii, also means clean. beauty = clean. mama, this country was made for us!

naughty dandelion

i just thought this was cute, especially when the little girl gets kind of, "this was fun, but sheesh, so much work!" i feel that way sometimes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

occam's razor

i'm having one of those weeks where you hear a phrase or concept for the first time in ages, and then you keep hearing about it from completely different sources. in this case it's occam's razor. i don't have anything to say about occam's razor, but everyone else seems to. and i like the word razor.

today was the kind of day we all need from time to time. an awesome day. thanks to kjersten, i am completely obsessed with a japanese tv show called Hana Yori Dango. it's a very affecting love story about hot, rich, high school guys and a scrappy, lovable "poor" girl named tsukushi. caught up in the "love is in the tv air" mood, i decided last night to dress up for school today.
i twisted my hair up into barrettes when it was wet and slept my way to curly hair, old school. then i fluffed it a bit, put on a dress i've worn to school several times before, and threw on some gaudy fake pearls that came with one of my lolita dresses.
the result: RIOTS. i caused a scene in every room i entered today! i had boys hiding around corners yelling "CUTE!" and showing their thumbs-up while peeking. they're in high school for heaven's sake. i had girls dragging their friends down the halls from other classes to gawk at me, and even the teachers had to pick their jaws off the floor. i must look like craaaap most days if that's all it takes to blow them away. however, the dress was also red, definitely shocking next to the black and navy uniforms. naoko told me i looked like fireworks! one junior boy, takeki (or "lauren's brother" as he asked to be called in class!) made me pinkie swear i would return to japan after visiting home this summer. i loved every minute of it.
it was also like magic juice for my most difficult class (largely full of rugby boys) who were the most docile i've ever seen today. the tides seem to be turning in that class, finally. i like to believe i'm winning them over, but it could be that they're maturing on their own. either way, it's nice to see some of the rude boys actually paying attention and asking me for help. they'll turn into sweethearts yet.
to be honest, i dressed up partially to prove to everyone that i can be cute, but especially to remind one mr. sugar that i have some sass. he looks painfully good every day (i definitely don't remember him dressing up every single day last year), and i'm tired of feeling tired and dull by comparison. take that oh-hot-one-who-always-understands-my-english-but-doesn't-have-the-guts-to-talk-to-me-anywhere-but-at-parties! ha!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

all is not lost

i keep suddenly remembering random pictures and documents forever lodged in the guts of my broken hard drive, and then consciously letting go of them emotionally.
and then miraculously finding them elsewhere!
one of the pictures i was sorry to never be able to revisit was that of my self-portrait just seconds before my very first class.
this is how i felt:

you'll notice i'm wearing a white shirt, in the calm, dead center of a heat hurricane, humidity at like a thousand percent, with my nerves to top it off. i essentially stepped out of the air conditioned office and swam to the fourth floor. as class wore on, i was sweating so much that my shirt became less and less appropriate. my own ill-timed wet t-shirt contest. as sean joked later, "they came for class, but they stayed for the show." that shirt has been hanging in my closet ever since.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Great Butter Famine of '08

that's right. japan is out of butter. butter.
i was wondering what was happening! the last several times i've gone to the store, i wondered why i couldn't find it. i just figured they moved it. but no, they're just out. i don't understand all the circumstances (something to do with russia's willingness to pay more for butter, and a glut of dairy in hokkaido several years ago leading to disposal of the means to make more, aka, cows) but the bottom line is less fun on my baked potatoes and no more scones.
i admit, i was tickled when i first heard--who could imagine such a ridiculous shortage? to most, butter is an important but not vital ingredient. the fact that it probably heralds more dire shortages is disconcerting, though.
apparently a teacher at my school got wind of this problem early and stockpiled a big supply before the stores were out. i wonder if she'll start a basement butter business for those hard-up bakers?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

the new face of horror

friday i was checking the progress of my potted herbs. supposedly mint is an ant-deterrent, so it was strange that they were still crawling all over my seeding cilantro (which is in the same pot as the mint and rosemary), but it didn't seem like a big deal. i put out an ant poison trap to control the problem. however, when i read that ants can clear the way for other pests, i decided to investigate a bit more closely. cue fascinated horror.
you know those scenes in One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Poisonwood Bible where babies are devoured by fire ants? it was like that. when i lifted up the herb pot to see underneath, i found the cement black with live ant bodies. they poured out of the pot's hole in glittering, crawling waves. i wanted to hurl. then i wasted them with an entire can of freeze spray until there was nothing moving.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

five facts about the girl

1. i'm attracted to guys with big heads. this accounts in part for my attraction to many famous men like gerard way, billy corgan, vincent d 'onofrio, and non-famous men like the starer (you know who you are) and x-charlie. perhaps it's an innate need to balance my long skinny head with a broad one.
the smell of engine oil and gasoline on a man's clothes can stop me in my tracks. it's definitely a turn-on. and why share this news with the world? why not? i like knowing specific personal details about other people.

2. i'm left-handed, and i harbor no small amount of lefty pride. being left-handed broadcasts a predisposition for creative ideas and good style without saying anything at all. is that going too far? ;) i always notice when actors on TV use their left hands, including Simpsons characters. consequently, vincent d'onofrio, michael stipe, and my new favorite big-headed rocker, david cook, are left-handed.
not long ago, the left hand was considered evil and deviant in japan and america alike. however, now all the japanese kids know the term "southpaw" for some bizarre reason.

3. i don't like drinking cold drinks out of mugs. the textures are wrong together; somehow the cold beverage makes me uncomfortably aware of the thickness of the lip of the cup in my mouth and any irregularities therein.

4. my favorite songs are, without fail, the ones whose titles i hate most. this is a pickle. being an unabashed word nerd, i have visceral reactions to words and would really prefer to like the songs whose titles i find clever or beguiling. however i usually listen to those songs and find them inane or banal, whereas the songs with lame names rock a lot harder. additionally, no matter how much i love an artist, i can't listen to songs, even ironic songs, that have lyrics i find painfully corny such as Nanny Nanny Boo Boo (shudder) by le tigre and Teenage Love Song by rilo kiley, which prominently features the word "dissed" (convulsion).

5. i still think of colors in terms of their crayola crayon names from my childhood...midnight blue, plum, cornflower, cadet blue, thistle, salmon pink, carnation pink, goldenrod, raw umber, burnt sienna...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

they stood up for love

happily i didn't lose this photo The Day The Hard Drive Died because it was saved on my blog, so i will happily post it now. when a subway ad stops me cold...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

i slept like crap for my butterflies

well, i might as well put this in here while it's still fresh and before it's ruined by the disappointment that characterizes these situations usually. last night i went out to dinner, yakiniku to be exact. once kara or i has suggested yakiniku, there's pretty much nothing that can get in our way of having it. when we got inside the restaurant, i saw a very cute teacher who worked at my school last year, but has since been transferred. i thought maybe he was sent very far away, so i was happy to see he was still in town. i waved to him and his group. kara and i sat down and began our meal, and i heard my name several times, which was somewhat curious. it seemed to go beyond, "that was a girl i worked with last year." he also tried looking over at us a few times, but i kept kara in my line of sight so i wouldn't be distracted.
we finished our meal and got up to leave. i went over to their table to say goodbye, and i asked if they were all friends. they said yes, they were on a volleyball team together. everyone was a little flushed from the beer. i asked where he worked now and he said a junior high in the next town. i was like, "well, great, see you later." i got up to leave and put my shoes on, but they called me back over. i paused and he rushed over with his phone. he was like, "can i have your number, is that ok?" i was like, "sure," so i pulled out my phone...thinking we would be sitting there figuring out what numbers and mail addresses to send and how, but he just took my phone from me and typed his number into it and then called his own phone so it would log my number. then he gave my phone back in a whirl, shook my hand, and said something about next time.
even when he was first coming over to me, i didn't think anything of it, but the fact that he seemed so nervous and in a rush to get my number (in front of his friends) gave me a big shot of adrenaline, and i walked out on shaky legs.
be what it may--for all i know he wants english tutoring or another volleyball team member (i am tall)--i was completely thrilled by the moment. it's rare that anyone makes any overtures at ALL, so to feel even for a flash that he had a crush on me was totally worth it.
the adrenaline took way too long to wear off, and i slept like crap.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

consider me your cautionary tale

unlike the first time i had computer troubles, there was no happy ending to this week's story. my computer froze with no warning, i turned it off to reboot, and that was the moment i kissed all of my data goodbye. like a paranoid, antisocial hermit crab, my hard drive disappeared in a dark corner and refused to be found no matter how i jiggled and pried, coaxed and bribed, and implored its maker.
in the apple store, naka broke the news to me simply and gently, "your hardo-doribe is broken. all your data is gone. i'm sorry." i had prepared myself for that and i nodded. however, facing the actual loss of everything, the abduction of my memories, the evaporation of my pictures, work, and history into lost 1s and 0s, suuuuucked. in starbucks, over a weird chicken salad sandwich laced with legumes, i couldn't hold back tears.
hilariously, i have been vigilant in backing up my downloaded television, so i may have to recreate every work file i've made in the last two years and retake all 400 pictures of my students, but at least i can watch Law & Order when i'm done. i have been trying to have a "barn's burnt down, now i can see the stars," attitude about this, but my eyes are still adjusting. i don't feel nearly as pathetic as i did this weekend, and that's largely due to the good company i enjoyed in the aftermath. i met some good people at fern's house, and they allowed me to talk too much and make them laugh, which i needed to take my mind off winkie's demise. another immeasurable relief is that blinkie, my ipod, is healthy, so my 30GB of music are safe for the moment. that's the only thing keeping me from madness as the hours after work stretch out in a cacophony of silence.
i have had the opportunity to re-examine how i was spending my time and consider how much more productive i could be if i didn't spend most of it watching youtube. i picked up the lace knitting i haven't gotten around to for months, started an immense book, and have given some serious thought to making some art again. as i am still down one computer until next weekend, we will see how fruitful i continue to be and if the direction of my life changes for the better. but in the meantime, say these words with me, "hard copy, back it up, save to the web."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

nerds hit rock bottom

yesterday i received the first installment of my Foreign Buyer's Club order, so in an effort to have a special celebratory american-foods-only lunchtime, i opened the nerds candy i have been saving for the past five months. slight problem. the box isn't airtight, and it's clear the nerds are not what they used to be. a far cry from the glossy, crunchy explosions of concentrated sweet-tartness i love so well, they are dull, puffy, soft, and splotchy like a hollywood starlet after five years of hard drugs and anti-depressants. at least my amy's organic burrito was magnificent and deliciously americany. i also ordered some palmolive dish soap, which actually Cuts That Freaking Grease, just like it says. i've gotten used to it, but the dish soap here is mostly useless. now it's like my birthday every day--clean dishes!

Monday, May 19, 2008

my secret path

i love finding secret places. since i was a little girl, i've always loved looking for places to hide, not because i am afraid of being pursued, but maybe because my ultimate desire is to be found, searched for and found, by the right person. that's why i love that line in The Cure's A Night Like This, "i'm coming to find you if it takes me all night;" i love to be looked for, and hiding also makes me feel protected and intimate with the space that surrounds me.
when i was in high school theater, i would sometimes slip behind the expansive and sometimes rickety sets, into tight corners of darkness that smelled like sawdust and paint and old curtains just to listen for a while, just to see if anyone would miss me. i can fit into places people think no one would go. it's like being held securely. for someone with as much nervous energy as i have, it makes me feel calm and anchored in a way i normally don't.
i knew it would take time to uncover the secret places in my town, but i've kept my eyes open for them. imagine my surprise, then, when i heard a rumor that a trail behind my own house led to a boulder overlooking the town. i had to find out. i also love a good lookout. what i believed was a trail to someone's house (as i could see a gate at the top of some steep stairs) was in fact the head of that very trail. there were some houses there, once, but the gate is the only thing that hasn't fallen to ruin.

one saturday morning curiosity overtook me. i didn't even change out of my pajamas, but edged up the trail, body tense in anticipation of what i'd find. honestly i was ready to turn back at any moment if i came across too many cobwebs or snakes, but nothing spooked me, so i kept going.

at the top of a steep climb, the trail met a narrow road which led to a wider trail and a mobile phone tower...romantic. past that, though, the trail narrowed to a jungly trek following the ridge. it became clear that the view must be pretty spectacular, only the foliage was too high to get a glimpse.
i finally reached a crack in the base of a huge boulder with a knotted rope hanging down. i figured climbing it would lead to the view i sought, but i also had gone pretty far in my pajamas, and i would prefer to do any climbing with a companion in case there were troubles, so i called it a day.

several weeks later, i convinced kino to join me, and he invited a few other new teachers, so mayumi came too.
we stopped at the first place where the trail opens a bit. i planned to return alone to sunbathe here until a teacher mentioned that dangerous wild boars roam these woods.

we climbed out of the darkness and into the sun. coming up over the top of the rock, the world fell away in the most spectacular panorama of my town i've ever seen.

to the right, mountains.

to the left, open sea.

the view from below.

i feel like i've uncovered a key feature of my neighborhood, and it only took two years.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

the turbot is ill-smelling

i have several excellent resources i use for translating my students' japanese into english, and this year i asked them to write down one word or phrase they would like to be able to say in english. the results i got were incredibly varied and interesting, some funny, some personal, and in the process of researching the best way to say them in english, i learned a ton.
one of those resources is an online translator widget by Systran. far from perfect, it at least helps me get a rough sense of long sentences, as it usually translates verb tenses correctly. however, occasionally the resulting english sentence is completely random and hilarious, hence the title of this post.
for those who care, my other resources are Jim Breen's invaluable and exhaustive online dictionary, this kanji dictionary for my Nintendo DS, and the internet at large.

now a sample of those things my high school students have a burning desire to say:
old-person smell
cumulus floccus cloud
rhinoceros beetle
three rolls of belly fat
once-in-a-lifetime encounter
when i close my eyes i can still see you on the back of my eyelids.

karei kusai
hitsuji gumo
kabuto mushi
ichigo ichie
meo tojireba mabuta no urani wa kimi ga iru.

definitely entertaining, and i have loads more to translate!
next are a few of the myriad things that have been making me snicker lately.

the worksheet awards:

generally japan is innocent to the history and implications of this statement.

a little too honest?

notice the last topic is food

a t-shirt in tokyo

the R/L distinction is a hard one for many japanese people, which is why this honey is for my yogult.

rain boots: manly condoms for your feet. grab your mandom!

this is my kitchen hand towel. normally placid rilakkuma (who is by definition relaxed) looks quite cross after an unintentional smudge of chocolate gave him a new eyebrow.

man i hate it when that happens! the last thing i need is a bunch of baby hands running around getting all grabby.

i don't know why, but i found this completely hilarious at the time. maybe they'll come in handy when my hand starts breeding again.

and finally, the most recent crack-up catalyst. bone marrow!? for invalids!? gross.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

rear view mirror

ah, 4:25-4:27 pm. the crucial moments when my peaked motivation to work out loses the match against an aggressive desire to curl up with some hot cocoa. the cocoa wins again.
this week marked the first Wednesday of Endless Exhastion. i haven't had a day of four classes since my first year here, and then i was just trying to keep my head from spinning off. now i'm supposed to make a more meaningful contribution, and i'm working under some very suspect leadership. yesterday i realized the head teacher, who was making master copies of my worsheet for the other teachers, had copied it with my post-it notes to him still covering it! way to go. the fact that he didn't realize it was more disturbing.

the day started off good with a quiet but attentive third year class. these precious young adults were freshman during my first year, so it's like we've grown up together. now they're chic and sleek and ready to rock. it was downhill from there.
a few teachers i work with still struggle with the difficult "r" versus "l" decision when spelling english words and end up writing stuff like "crass member" on the seating chart and expect me not to take that as an innuendo. my students' papers were interesting too, as they always are. i got "i have a god named popo" for the dyslexic or possibly heretical prize of the day. one student told me he has a pretty おしり (butt), and since one boy wouldn't fill out sentences about himself, i wrote on his paper, "my behavior is not good," and "i am girl-crazy," which he then had to read to the class for the game. fun times!
after that class, i was so exhausted i practically fell headfirst into my lunch...and i still had half a day to go.
the rest of the week wrapped up quickly, and on friday afternoon i got to join a japanese painting a student! though watercolor is not my strongest medium, it felt amazing to get my hands dirty again. i am now an official member of the class and must answer roll call with, "hai!"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

it's getting drafty in here

well, the internet at school is messed up, meaning i may or may not be able to post this, and there doesn't seem to be any option for adding pictures. not really sure what's going on with the old information superhighway, but i just found out from the surprised look on my partner teacher's face that she wasn't expecting me in our lesson, so i officially have nothing to do for the rest of the day, lucky!
consequently, i have way too many drafts of incomplete entries languishing on the outskirts of my consciousness, so i'm trying to get around to them.

bad news of my week:
i guess i accidentally rented a movie for less than one full day, somehow. that means when i turned it in the next day it was already late. not a good deal. this bothered me immensely because i had a sneaking suspicion that the emphatic clerk was trying to warn me about something, but i couldn't understand him. then i turned in the movie as usual, and hours later received a call from probably the same clerk that my video had been late. the poor guy--the conversation was positively monosyllabic on my end as i tried to wade through the polite language and get to the bottom line. i answered in confused grunts and random english words that floated uselessly in the air like invisible balloons.
the bottom line: he wanted 260 yen for his trouble.

crocs threaten to single-handedly ruin the fashion sense of japan. i have seen hot twenty-something men in full, fabulous, cutting-edge suits wearing ORANGE crocs not once but twice this week. i don't care how comfortable they are, people, they make your feet look blobby and cartoon-sized. ugly! ugly! ugly!

i have a cold sore. i guess the stress of not teaching for four blissful weeks is getting to me.

good news of the week:
i looked up how to say "yesterday i turned in a video late." so when i returned to the rental store, i looked like an old pro with the late fees, and i had a spectacularly simple interaction with a different clerk who collected the fee, and (for once) i didn't look like an ass.

i planted a mini herb garden and some flowers. rosemary for stew, cilantro for mexican food, mint for mojitos. carnations for the smell, and black pennie nemophila because i've never seen such an exquisitely simple black flower. now i just need some basil.

my new friendship with kino, which might have been reduced to enkai-only behavior, seems to be going somewhere. i mean, the guy is like a new breed entirely. i honestly have never met a japanese guy like him. i am floored by how completely unintimidated he is of me. finally some guts! finally someone i can harass. :) on a similar note, me and mr. wisteria have a nice daily dance around the elephant in the staff room. at least the jumping away from me is over, and he seems to be going out of his way to be cordial. just yesterday he kindly told me i should wait inside the office for my fellow teacher and to please take a seat and relax. he's good at being attentive, but i fear i will never see anything more of who he is. shame.