Thursday, March 27, 2008

strange but true, shocking secrets revealed

i used to be funnier.
oh, that's not the secret. i just read back through some of my older posts, and i'm disturbed that lately my writing hasn't been up to my own standards. this is something i've been exploring, and i had an emotional crisis and breakthrough in the space of a week. nothing like tears to water the soil for a new beginning. and perfect timing; it's gorgeous outside!

well anyway. here are a few things i've learned about those sharply-dressed, brisk-walking paradox-makers we call the japanese.
disclaimer: i am uncomfortable, even in jest, making generalizations about an entire people, but suffice it to say that overwhelmingly i've found these things to be true in my particular town. when i say "they," i do not mean to make a huge chasm of otherness, but simply to point out some things that are funny and seem odd from my perspective. without further ado...

-+- they don't refrigerate eggs in the grocery store.
-+- they wear face masks to prevent the inhalation or exhalation of contagions, yet even when they aren't wearing masks, they will cough and sneeze all over [you] without covering their mouths!
-+- they change into special bathroom slippers, presumably to keep bathroom germs confined to the bathroom, yet i swear, they do not wash their hands after using the toilet!
ok, it seemed like there were more, but that's all i can think of for now. you guys can contribute any i forgot about...

speaking of toilets, the one at school recently got a makeover. this is like the answer to a billion unspoken prayers. the bathroom itself is still frigid, but now the one western-style toilet has a heated seat, yeah baby! also, to prevent the constant flushing to mask bathroom noises, each stall now has a coveted sound princess.

the control center for our new butt spa. and you thought toilets were simple! here are two different control panels that do exactly the same things: wash the front, wash the back, dry, flush. believe me, the only button i tried was "flush" but it didn't work! wail! what's the point of a butt spa if the flush button doesn't work and you still have to turn all the way around to push the handle; that's not relaxing!
i'm sure you have a burning desire to know exactly what the sound princess acutally sounds like, so here's a video.

what do you think? adequately watery? do you have to go now?
even though the bathroom overhaul included the installation of brand new soap dispensers, guess what? no soap!

spring fever

i found out this morning that springplum has linked to my blog, for which i am always thankful, and i believe it's the first time from a perfect stranger: thank you! now i feel the need to write something new in case someone new actually *gasp* reads this.

day 5 of spring break. i have 7 more hours to sit at school getting numb-butt, and then it's weekend again, YAY! last weekend i took a much-needed trip to the big city. irish sam, as he's called in these parts, had, over deafening bar noise, told me about an edvard munch show in kobe, and we decided to go. since i divorced my paints about two years ago, i haven't spent much time looking at art, and i sorely needed it.
i travelled to kobe alone. i guess i'm growing! six months ago i wouldn't have dreamed of travelling in japan alone. i adore riding trains in japan, but i detest lugging overnight bags around. how is it that no one else ever has luggage on the subway!? ok, it's not true, but somehow they make it look a lot more graceful, like they've packed their satchels with balloons. baggage makes my already persistent feeling of being in the way even more vivid, so when we passed osaka castle park, alight with spring sun--perfect weather to spread out under a tree and read for a bit--i didn't dash for the door but thought too hard about it and then the opportunity was past. i could have gone back, sure, but i also wanted to GET RID of my bags, so i went onward. i guess my spontaneity is a little rusty.
the suited young man sitting next to me smelled like mangoes and medical supplies.

i checked into my favorite hotel chain, the toyoko inn.

i opted against the advertised massage, as i had no desire to have my legs crushed by a giant fist.

i browsed two versions of a brochure: one for men who obviously love blue, and one for women who surely love pink,

i looked out the window,

and then i headed out unfettered to explore kobe and find dinner. having no clue where to go and feeling tired and perfectly happy with a cheap dinner and some hours to myself, i did a tour of family marts (there were four within sight!) for dinner, and then settled into a starbucks. starbucks and i have a turbulent past. for one, i wore the green apron myself, and though i loved the people i worked with, i despised the corporate coffee atmosphere (and product) so i avoid them with a vengeance in the states. however, for all my fellow coffee snobs, i have had some of the most divine foam in all my life from starbucks in japan. they can make a good cappuccino, which is all i ask.
i wandered the streets for a while, feeling more or less perfectly safe. that is, until a foreign guy i had passed on the street followed me to a dark stairwell and chose there to ask me if i knew where to find an internet cafe. i said sorry, no, and kept walking. "oh, so you're not from around here either?" "uh, no." "well, do you have some time to hang out then?" "no." he obviously picked up on my blaring get away from me body language, because his next comment was, "don't be scared!" and then he told me his name was james. well, sorry james, don't stop me in a dark stairwell and i might be more willing to chat. is it betrayal to feel much more suspicious of foreign guys than the general popluation of japanese guys?

the next morning sam and (a different) james found me, and we went to see munch. turns out i don' much care for munch. if only it had been schiele or even klimt...ah well. the most exciting part of the museum for me was the stairs.

james left us in osaka, and sam and i chattered like children about macs and music. it's been a long time since someone has comandeered my ears and shared music with me that i actually liked. we wandered the streets of silent neon and loud crowds with his ipod giving shape to my steps. but i was getting tired; we had several hours to waste before meeting jamie for dinner, and how on earth were we going to find someplace to sit down and have a drink when it was too early for the bars? the answer is always karaoke! it was exactly what i needed: a drink, a padded booth, and a microphone. we sang our guts out for two hours and then filled them with mexican food.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the half-life of humiliation

i had meant to write about this back in december, but as things did not develop as i hoped, i was feeling less than excited to share until, of course, i came up with a catchy title.
every december, most companies and schools throw large year-end parties for their employees. the party is called bonenkai, literally a party to forget the year (and a party to forget the party itself too, as you'll see later). at my school, they're overnight affairs that do not include spouses.

this is the one social event of the entire year where most people let themselves drink too much, and naughty behavior is forgiven. this is one of my favorite nights of the year because many people will spend every other day avoiding me like a cancerous rat, but finally, after enough tiny beers, they will get up the nerve to chat.
we were a little late, so we arrived after the speeches and were able to dig right in. not bad! after many people had refilled my beer glass, and i had reciprocated, we had the challenging Drunk Bingo in Japanese Numbers. then we all circulated and chatted and drank. i ended up at a table with the famous mr. M and another man, i'll call him mr. wisteria. mr. wisteria and i had never talked. i thought he was interesting, but he doesn't hang out with the other young teachers, and i imagined his english was not good. but mr. m skittered off, and suddenly we were talking! his english was much better than i guessed, he was asking me questions, and i was enjoying myself immensely. we made a few jokes, and he mentioned wishing to practice english more. i had many burning questions of my own, but alas, suddenly the party ended, and he was compelled to help out some very inebriated companions. just as he left the room i swear he said, "see you at shinbashi (a restaurant)...i hope..."
well! how nice.
after that, me and the two office girls took a cab to a karaoke bar and i had my first really great time at karaoke. i was extremely sad to have to leave after only an hour, but the onsen at the hotel was going to close, and we all definitely needed a bath. the place was really beautiful too, with outdoor pools, and the air temperature was perfect for soaking.
thinking i was on good ground with mr. wisteria, and wishing to encourage future conversation, i left a little note in his mailbox before i left for christmas just saying i had a good time and would love to talk sometime. apparently this = marriage proposal if i can gather anything from his behavior since then. when i returned from the states, i was thrust through a time warp into middle school when boys who liked you ran screaming, or at best, pulled your hair and snapped your bra.
we locked eyes uncomfortably, and after that, things only got worse. when we met in a doorway, he actually fell all over himself to get out of my way in the style of a frightened rabbit being pummeled with red hot spoons. after such a nice conversation, to cause such hysterical agitation stings a little. it was like he had no recollection at all of our nice talk. i don't care if he's gay or has a girlfriend; i just honestly wanted to talk to someone new. but i forgot men and women are not friends here.
so now it's been over three months, and what i want to know is when will this feeling of bewilderment and awkwardness fade? how long is the half-life of humiliation!?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

the quietest day of the year, or: unbreak my heart

the time has come to say goodbye to the third years; graduation was saturday. with all the friendships i've made this year i knew it would be really hard on me, and it was! a large part of the difficulty is knowing i may never see or speak to them again; i'm not very good at never. i had a lot of satisfying goodbyes, though, and one last chance to take pictures.
the ceremony itself was much different than mine in high school; short and sweet. each student's name is called and he or she stands up and bows to the principal. diplomas are not handed to each student, and there is no clapping. supposedly only the mothers make an effort to come. one of my favorite students scandalized the entire auditorium when instead of answering "hai" when his name was called (apparently the only acceptable response other than silence), he answered, "hai~~~chu!" which is a kind of taffy candy. the number of gasps and murmurs that circled through the room made me snicker. it seemed like a pretty harmless kind of rebellion to me. he was forced to submit, though. they repeated his name until he answered satisfactorily. i wanted to clap him on the back and say, "come to america. you'll do well there." of course, maybe that's why japan remains so safe; rebellion is not tolerated unless it falls neatly within the boundaries of acceptable deviations.

just a few of the allstars

me and the girls

me and misa

me and hakuma (of the, er, haichu fiasco)

mizuki and the basketball club

me and takayuki

after four hours of last goodbyes, i crawled home emotionally spent.

seemingly every single day of the year there are students coming and going tirelessly from the school. band practice, sports practice, extra studying, or just hanging out with friends, from dawn on the weekends to hours after dark weekdays, there are always sounds emenating from the school. the day after graduation was so utterly without sound, it was like time caught and held its breath all day. i felt alone in a hollow world, but it was good to have that silence to let my bittersweet mood ebb away naturally. later in the day, feeling lonely and needing some sun, i drove to a park to sit out and read. what i didn't expect was how packed the park would be. melancholy doesn't mix well with happy kids playing ball with their dads.
i settled down on the edge as far out of the way as possible, but i felt as silly and out of place as a sad clown. the sun couldn't dissolve the chilly breeze either, so after thirty minutes i crept away.

happily, i have many dear second years to keep me company next year, and some spunky first years too. one such fellow, after announcing several times that he loves me, filled out his final one-on-one "job interview" sheet with answers that really surprised me (note, he asked me if they were ok, and i said sure). i wondered if he would have the guts to say them to my face when the time came...and he did! i play the interviewer and the student is obviously the interviewee. read on:

notice my next line is, "that's good to hear." at this point we both lost it and started laughing. finally he got up to leave and reached out to shake my hand, but he used his left hand, and i was boggled for a moment (after all, i've gotten used to driving on the left side of the road). i recovered and explained we always shake with right hands, and with one final, "i love you," he slipped back into the classroom.
thank you, sweet boy. it made my day.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


today in my profound boredom i took a quiz to see what kind of dog breed would be ideal for me. on my eventual return to the states, i have a dream of finally committing myself to an animal. a cat is more likely, but i'm sure i'd also enjoy the companionship of the right kind of dog. i know there are some funny names of crossed breeds out there, but as i scanned the list, it got more and more ridiculous:
muggin (muggle dog?), dorkie (that's not very nice), havamalt (coffee blend?), peke-a-tese (that's almost a stripper name), and of course xoloitzcuintle (prescription medecation?).
but wait! there's more: schnocker, english boodle, eskapoo, foodle?? pekepoo, poovanese, pugapoo, schnoodle?? snorkie, torkie, weeranarian, poogle!?
are we sure we're not just making a silly poem about someone's nose?