18 September 2005
Fields of Gold
Spent the day in the countryside: the parental home in Imaichi. The rice is being harvested and the fields are a golden yellow. Dragonflies are in abundance. I wanted to go hiking today but I had to do some work for my old university in Korea. I get paid for it, at least.
The second chapter in Taxi Stories is now ready. Check it out.
13 September 2005
What's Going on Here?
The biggest news in America at this time is Hurricane Katrina. There has been a lot of death and misery, and many will suffer for some time to come. My heart goes out to the American South.
But there's something I have trouble with. Before I begin my rant, I want to make it clear that I am in no way attempting to denigrate the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Nor am I trying to suggest that they should not receive all the aid that is their due.
But...why is it that when I visit certain websites (such as Amazon.com), I am being asked to make a donation to the Red Cross? Why can't America, the richest country in the world, furnish the homeless with "critical necessities" (in Amazon's words)? Why does the government need the help of NGOs? We're talking about a country with the largest military budget in the world. I remember reading that a lot of Louisana's National Guard had been sent to Iraq. Does this sound like imperial overstretch or what? An empire that is currently involved in two overseas wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) cannot even take care of its own. My question for you is this: If the U.S. government can't even mobilize adequately in the aftermath of a moderately serious disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, what will happen when (sorry to say, but it's most likely a matter of "when" as opposed to "if") a terrorist strike destroys a major city? Obviously, the U.S. has a long way to go in terms of disaster preparation.
My other problem with the online request for aid has to do with my repugnance for the human "cliff mentality." The cliff mentality is my term for how humans act in the face of danger. We tend not to worry about things until we're on the edge of the metaphorical bluff. A lot of people in Asia have been sick and hungry for a long time. They were sick and hungry before the tsunami struck earlier this year. Yet it took a giant wave to catalyze an international aid drive.
Would a 25-year-old person suddenly get up and decide that he intends to drive his car off a cliff at the age of 65? (Start smoking in your twenties, and you may indeed wind up dead in your sixties. Two of my former high school teachers—I graduated in 1991—have already died from smoking-related cancers.) If the answer is no, then why do we engage in such risky behaviors as smoking?
If nothing else, the cliff mentality demonstrates how dim human long-term vision can be. I'm tired of the fact that it takes a crisis to galvanize people. This particular weakness of ours may in fact be our undoing.
12 September 2005
The Randomness of it All
Yesterday we went to a furniture store and picked out a computer desk to have delivered to our place. The part of the desk on which the computer will rest is the right height, about 65 cm, so that will make life very easy on my hands and shoulders.
Thus, we're one step closer to having a working computer station at home. No, we still don't have the Net, yet. When I asked one of my students why Net access is so sporadic in Japan, he replied that the government never effectively promoted the wiring of the nation. It was quite the opposite case in Korea, where the Net is darn near ubiquitous. Another student told me that the relative paucity of Internet access can also be explained by the omnipotence of Japanese cellular phones. In Japan, cell phones seem to serve as social lifelines. High school girls and boys can be seen cycling back home after a day's lessons, their faces all the while glued to the tiny mobile monitors. Yeah, you have to watch you don't get creamed.
As usual, there's plenty in my head to blog about. On my way into work today, I took the usual riverside route. Watching baby fish swim against the current, I thought again about the appalling randomness of the universe. Isn't it funny how all the natural beauty of this world was created entirely randomly? Natural selection works by favoring mutations (that is, genetic aberrations). If a given species of organisms is living in a tropical climate, and the weather gradually starts to get colder, an organism that happens (just happens) to be born with a resistance to chills will be better able to pass on its genes to the next generation. The evolution of every species has been shaped this way: by climate, by geography, by the availability of food, and by the presence of predators and other dangers. Life itself, then, is wholly based on the concept of aberration. Put another way, aberration and randomness are intrinsic to life. This concept is especially galling to a large portion of humanity, who cannot imagine a universe based on no other ordering concept than randomness. The vast majority of mankind desperately needs to believe there is a purpose to life. How could such wondrous, thinking, self-conscious beings as ourselves be born into a wonderful world, only to die from accident, disease, or old age? Herein lies the genesis of religion.
Most intelligent people have grasped the paradox of being an organism. For an intelligent person to be deeply religious must require a serious act of doublethink.
Some lighter news. Milo and Mickey have begun to make vocalizations. Of course, they've been using their vocal cords since the day they came into this world: in a word, they cry. But now they've started to coo and goo. Very cute. See ya.
29 August 2005
OK, well, part of me doesn't want to complain about this, but the other part of me does.
I have taken over the classes of a recently departed teacher (who, interestingly, has gone to Korea to be with his Korean wife—sort of the reverse of my situation). One of these classes takes place Wednesday and Friday mornings out at the Honda R&D Center in Haga Industrial Park. Last week, even though I hopped in my car at the early hour of 6:30, it took me 70 minutes to travel the fourteen kilometers to Honda. As you might have guessed, my ass was sitting in bumper-to-bumper most of that time. I ended up arriving ten minutes late for my class, which began at 7:30. Afterwards, I heard that the traffic was especially bad due to the rain, but still...
The thing that bothered me the most, however, was the fact that I was supposed to be teaching a class, but only one warm body showed up. Originally seven warm bodies, the class has now dwindled to one conscientious member. Like my boss said, he deserves to be taught, and he's a really nice guy. No offense intended to my conscientious student, but situations like this really make me feel like I'm wasting my time. (One thing that ate away at me when I was at Sookmyung Women's University was the fact that the students were the same as these vanished Honda workers: apathetic, passive, and lacking in perseverance.)
Work means more to me than bringing home a paycheck. I want to feel like I'm contributing to the world. I want to help people. Which is one reason why I recently decided to sponsor a young girl in Guatemala. A mere US$18 a month takes care of her nutrition, medical, dental, and education. Now that's accomplishing something. If I were independently wealthy, I would help out a lot of poor people. For example, I'd head to Nigeria and open a factory-cum-dormitory, whose primary purpose would not be turning a profit but providing the workers with dignity, a living wage, and safe and decent working conditions.
Although I think Windows is a crummy product, I have to say that I admire the philanthropic work of Bill Gates.
Here are some photos of the twins. The snaps are about a month old, and the twins look much skinnier than they are now. In the earliest photos I posted, Mickey and Milo look almost skeletal; now they boast double chins.
Milo on the Left, Mickey on the Right
Milo with the Beaming Parental-units-in-law
24 August 2005
A Pernicious Pastime
My friends Kay, William, and Carolyn from Vancouver have been asking for more "twins news." Lately, for the past three days or so, Milo has taken to flipping over onto his front. We always put him down on his back (the safest position), but he soon starts to turn himself over. He moves his limbs back and forth—hey! he's learning to crawl!—but he doesn't actually go anywhere. While he flails about, he whimpers quite a bit. This is not real crying (e.g., due to hunger, indigestion, a wet diaper, or a need to be held); it seems more like self-exploration. It's hilarious to watch.
There's so much baby activity to log and record that it's hard to keep up. Managing all the digital photos, digital videos, and so on takes a lot of time. Plus, I've been having some trouble getting the photos to print with the correct dimensions.
Pachinko parlors, which are smoky dens filled with noisy Japanese slot machines, are a pernicious influence on the population. Pachinko is a particularly nasty form of gambling, and you hear all sorts of bad stories about it. My student personally knew not one, but two men who had heart attacks and died while playing pachinko. In both cases, they'd probably been playing too long and were too wound up. I don't think all the tobacco smoke helped either.
Well, it's time to mosey on home. I have to drive over to my student's house. Holly is the eleven-year-old daughter of an American father and a Japanese mother.
22 August 2005
Another week has rolled around. It seems like Old Man Summer is getting ready to pass the torch to Old Man Fall. At least, the crickets have begun to chirp. That's a definite sign of late summer. I hope I can get a couple more hikes in before the leaves begin to turn.
This morning I went to the can to brush my teeth...only to find that the wifey was washing her underwear in the sink. So I had to spit and rinse in the kitchen sink. So it goes.
What I wanted to write about today was some memories from Grade 4. Back then I attended Shaughnessy (hard for us kids to spell!) Elementary School in Vancouver. One of my friends was called Mark Longpre. This kid seemed pretty well off, because he had two or three life-size arcade games in his den. Does the monochrome game called Asteroids ring a bell? You have to remember, this was back in 1981 or so, when video games were in their infancy. Don't knock the early games; we thought they were a wonder.
Anyway, the thing about Mark is that whenever he handed in homework or a test, his last name always came back circled in red, with the word "Longprey" written above it. You see, our teacher (was it Mrs. Henderson?) had got it in her head that she knew better than Mark how to spell his surname. "I know how to spell my own name," he protested—but to no avail.
Sometime during that same year, I remember hanging out with Mark in the playground. We were fairly good pals. In the playground there was a boy, maybe a shy kid who no one liked, playing on one of the rides. Mark went up to him and then started spitting on him. The kid was spinning around on this circular contraption and every time he came into range Mark let go a volley of spittle (not sputum, mind you—our lungs were clean then). For some reason, the kid didn't seem to react. "He doesn't care!" Longprey explained in a jocular tone. I myself was somewhat amused at the situation, until Mark suddenly tired of his present target and started expectorating on me. That was not funny. I cared. Why did you suddenly morph into an asshole that spits on your own pals, Mark?
I think that was probably the end of our friendship.
16 August 2005
Shake, Rattle, and Roll
Yes, there was an earthquake today. One of my students said it registered a 4.0 on the Richter scale. It was quite a strange one. The quake was protracted, about 10 or 15 seconds, and it felt like I was riding a ship on a rolling sea. It was a very slow, leisurely, side-to-side motion—but it was not at all pleasant. It almost made me feel seasick.
One thing I like about quakes is that they remind you about your place in the world. We humans are fond of illusions. We think driving is safer than flying, because we believe that we have a good chance at avoiding an accident when we're behind the wheel (as opposed to when we're strapped into a sardine-size seat). Until a quake hits, we like to think the ground under our feet is solid. We forget that the Earth is merely a grain of sand on the universal beach, just a forlorn globe spinning in a vast, black, nothingness. We forget (and want to forget) how fragile life is.
I said before that I wanted to record unusual stories I heard in class. Today my student told me that he used to ride a motorcycle, but that he quit because he had an accident. What was the cause of the accident? He fell asleep while riding and crashed into a tree. Now how can you fall asleep while riding? That would be like falling asleep while hiking up Namsan.
As all good English teachers know, culture is embedded in language. The English saying "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" calls up images of our unsanitary Medieval past. In Japan, they have a cool expression that means "fire someone from a job." They say, "cubi-ni suru," which literally means "to decapitate." To me, this expression shows how the culture of the Samurai still survives in modern Japanese, even though the Japanese don't go around chopping off heads anymore. At least, not every day they don't. But if you're walking down a dark alley late at night, beware the intoxicated sarariman.
12 August 2005
Last Day in Imaichi
Today is the last day at the parental home. Tomorrow we'll be back in the city. The father-in-law and I went hiking today, on a mountain called Nantaisan. I enjoyed seeing all the trees and greenery. Greenery is something Utsunomiya is short on.
The skin on my big toe just split open. Yay! Since moving to Asia several years ago, I've had a constant case of athlete's foot (the humidity again?). I know, I know. It's an extremely minor thing. I should count my lucky stars that I'm not a landmine victim. Still, everything is relative, right? When a friend of yours is upset because of (what you consider) some minor complaint, you migt think it would make her feel better by pointing out that she's better off than a lot of other people. You might think that she should feel lucky she doesn't live in North Korea under Kim Jong Il. But people generally don't like these kind of comparisons, no matter how true they are. Everything's relative, and one's own ego is paramount.
Babies wail. They cry constantly. That's what they're good at. When they first come home from the hospital, you stop what you're doing as soon as they start crying. But you soon realize that this is unsustainable behavior. Adults, after all, need to eat too. Add to that list showering, defecation, oral hygiene (thank you, Kevin), and so on. Parents have to learn to balance their own needs against those of their babies. It can't be total self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, what this means is sometimes you just have to let your babies cry while you do your thing. Especially when you have two of them. While typing this blog, I felt bad for Mickey, who was crying and wanted to be picked up (he needed a burping, as it turned out). I felt bad for not picking him up. But bloody hell, I need to write!
So when you have kids, it's an interesting case of ego vs. ego, different than that of the husband-wife relationship. Just so you think I'm not totally selfish, these days I am almost never able to enjoy a meal from start to finish without having to rise from my chair.
The ironic thing about having kids is that sex is clearly conducive to having littluns, but littluns are totally inimical to having sex. So, yeah, I am sex deprived. My wife feels quite sexless these days because she's in breastfeeding mode. She tells the kids, "Oppai seijin-ga yatte kite!" ("An alien breast has arrived!"). If your loved one is or has been pregnant, you will understand what "alien breast" means. The transformation is shocking.
I'm back after a 20-minute infant interruption and after squeezing a solidified (the humidity again?) "stick-type" instant coffee (contains "cream," sugar, and coffee) into my cup. The coffee is a year old so maybe that explains its solidified state. Anyway, you see, I have to do most things in a rush to get anything done. Even now, Milo is whimpering, poor thing. But if I always attended to the kids, I'd never get a chance to blog about them.
...Back again after five minutes. It turns out Milo was hungry. But he just had 110 ml. about two hours ago. They usually sleep for three hours after a big feeding.
Another thing that is clamoring for my attention is Lanky Bird. I found Lanky Bird, so named because of his long-legged appearance and clumsiness, sitting in the middle of the road (on the yellow line) about two weeks ago. I jumped out of my car and took him home.* He's constantly hungry and wants to be fed every twenty minutes. We'll leave him with Shiho's parents, who were gracious enough to offer their assistance. I hope they'll help Lanky Bird return to the wild. Here's a pic, and I'm going offline soon. Famished bird needs to be fed! Bye!
Oh, one more thing about the humidity. Sometimes I think the best way to deal with it is to give up trying to feel normal. Don't worry if your entire skin feels like a licked lollypop, there's nothing to be done about it.
* Things tend to happen in threes, as my wife likes to say. I've come to the assistance of three birds this year; it is truly the Year of the Bird. Oh, by the way, we have four finches, one dad and three offspring. Well, sister (Blacky) and brother (identity unknown, as there are two) have mated incestuously and produced multiple eggs. Bbobbi likes to keep the eggs warm at night, but someone (or someones) keeps ejecting eggs from the nest. What a world it is.
11 August 2005
My wife and I have been at each others' throats a lot recently. The past two days, however, have been peaceful. Part of the problem is simply the god-awful weather. A hot, humid climate makes one irascible, as Spike Lee showed in Do the Right Thing.
When my wife is being unreasonable, the best thing to do is either remain silent, or kowtow to her will and go along with her. (I'm not implying that I'm blameless; she often suffers the brunt of my passive-aggressive behavior. I'd be the first to agree, as well, that just like it takes two to tango, it takes two to argue.) There are times, though, when I'm simply not willing to kowtow, as when my wife blames me for something I didn't do—"Why did you turn the air conditioning back on?" (when I hadn't).
The other day saw some funny dialogs. At three in the afternoon, we were getting ready to go to the mall, and Shiho was irate, and hurrying me to get out of the house. I hate to be hurried, though, especially when it's not for something urgent. I thus admonished her, "Stop pressuring me! I don't need this! Why are you so stressed out? Relax!" She then proceeded to get even angrier, and rejoined, "Oh! You're giving me pressure by telling me that I'm pressuring you!" Ain't married life a treat?
I've been wondering...do women approach the concept of logic differently? Sometimes my wife seems to confuse cause and effect. On that same day, when I asked her why she was angry at me, she cited the consequence of her anger as opposed to the stimulus. I know this sounds murky, but I had caught her in a perfect contradiction. I just wish I could remember the exact situation. I need to work more on my recall.
Ain't married life a treat? To all you would-be husbands out there, enjoy your lonely-but-free bachelor existence.
10 August 2005
OK, so I finally got my laptop hooked up to the Net. It'll only be for a couple days or so, as we're staying at the parents-in-law's pad for part of our summer vacation.
The kids are doing great. Mickey is having a breast right now. My wife has named him minitanku (Mini Tank), because of the way he downs so much fluid. Like a gasoline truck filling up at the refinery. (Ouch! my right hand is tingling sharply.) We have nicknamed Milo bītsu (Beet) because his face turns red when he's hungry or otherwise upset.
Anyhow, there's so much to write and never enough time or energy to write it. Even now, after only three minutes online, this fucking keyboard is causing me aches and pains. Part of this has to do with the ergonomics of the "desk" I'm using (I'm kneeling on the floor and typing on the dinner table). But goddammit, I am sick of fucking keyboards. As you can see, I need to swear today. My frustration stems from the fact that my hands and shoulders, which start to hurt soon after I begin typing, simply cannot keep pace with my intellectual production.
I'm so full of ideas. Commonly enough for me, a lot of my ideas come to me while I'm walking, working, eating, or otherwise thus engaged. It's at those moments that I wish I could transfer my thoughts directly to my blog. To me, the keyboard, far from being an intermediary, is rather something that gets in the way of me transferring my thoughts to written form. Unfortunately, during the time lag between the production of my thoughts and my arrival at a keyboard (rare these days), ideas are lost...
The weather here is so bloody humid. Being a whitey (albeit a Jewish one), I must have something like double or treble the sweat glands of a Japanese. They simply don't sweat as much as I do. The least movement (e.g., making the bed) or additional heat (e.g., holding an adorable infant) causes me to break out in perspiration. Add to that the maddening insect bites you get here in the countryside (just by standing in the grass for a few seconds), and you have a recipe for instant frustration. It's funny how the weather so influences our comfort level. It's a continuing source of fascination to me how the way our bodies feel dictates our emotions. I mean, if I were just a brain in a box, I would be able to stream my thoughts onto my blog in an uninterrupted flow, unperturbed by the intense humidity. Right? Goddammit, how do people here go about in suits in the summer? Like I said, they simply have fewer sweat glands. Or if that's not it, what is it? You tell me.
Granddad is cuddling Mickey right now. Before the twins were born, granddad told me he'd have to buy them a nice present. In a moment of misty-eyed emotion, I responded that the only present he had to give them was kicking the nicotine habit. In fact, I added that I'd pay him 10,000 yen (somewhere around $100 for practical purposes) for every month he continued to remain a non-smoker. I figured that the best present he could give them was a live granddad. As it turns out, he didn't quit. Good for my pocketbook (that was a rash bet on my part), but bad for him and the twins.
By the way, a great antidote to the hot weather is to use one of those "scrubbing towels" (common in Korea) in the shower. You use them for exfoliation. They're like loofahs, only they're quite a bit harsher. Yeah! OK, so you start with a warm shower but then finish with an ice-cold rinse. If you're a guy, you know you've done a good job when your shriveled scrotal sac has retreated high into your body cavity. (If you're a gal, well, I don't know; write in and tell me.) After your shower, set the air conditioner to "Glacial" and kick back with an ice-cold glass of something or other.
Plan to blog more actively in the next few days. Ciao.
1 August 2005
Hot and Humid
Kevin recently wrote in to tell me, among other things, that it's "hot and humid as fucking hell" in Korea. That pretty much describes the situation here in Tochigi Prefecture, too. It actually seems to get more humid after sunset. Bring on the air conditioning.
My friend Kevin is lucky because, living as he does at the university dorm, he doesn't have to pay a thin dime for utilities. Over here in Japan, though, gas, electricity, and even cold water are expensive as a sonofabitch.
One good thing about being an English teacher is that you hear some pretty interesting stories from your students. I wish I had been more diligent about remembering or recording them when I was in Korea. Here's one I recently heard from my Japanese student. To paraphrase, "My wife never drives on rainy days or after dark. So she doesn't know how to use the windshield wipers or the headlights."
I need to make a collection of these stories. Feel free to send in your own. I heard one about a female Korean university student who couldn't leave her hasukjip until her brother or father came over and shooed away the cat that was skulking around the entrance.
I recently learned we will have to wait another two months to get Internet access. It's time for lunch. Ciao.
19 July 2005
When I was a teenager, I used to share the bathroom with my sister. Sometime in my mid to late teens, good ol' sis became a vegetarian. The thing was, she got really high and mighty about it. In a voice saturated with disgust, she ejaculated, "Why are you always using the bathroom? I can't stand you pooing in there and filling the whole room with the smell of disgusting, rotting meat!"
Life has a funny sense of humor sometimes. You see, apart from being snobby, my sister thought, quite literally, that her shit didn't stink. No offense to sis, who has since moderated her views substantially. I just had to recount that anecdote.
Still waiting for the Net at home. In Japan, it takes several weeks just to get Internet service set up. Score another point for Japanese efficiency. Because I can only use the computer at work, I try to stay off it as much as possible. It kills my hands. Chowder.
11 July 2005
Last week I wrote about the irony of Tochigi National Hospital having a store that sells tobacco. In line with that, I have come up with a business plan of my own. If I ever start up my own dental practice, I'll be sure to buy lotsa stock in Hersheys, Mars, Nestle, Coca Cola and so on. Whaddya think?
The wife has been really grumpy and irritable lately. The best thing for me to do is just to be patient and not answer back. She's getting substantially less sleep than I am, which may seem unfair. But after last week's experience, I am determined not to go to work a zombie. In addition to her lack of sleep, she's also suffering from hormonal imbalances. That was what my mom suggested.
Gotta run. Class in five.
7 July 2005
I Want a Cell Phone about as Much as I Want a Hole in My Head
Korea was the first chapter in my Asian experience; Japan is the second. One thing I am determined not to do here in the Ring of Fire is purchase a cell phone. I owned two in Korea and I felt they caused me a lot of hassle and anxiety, from having to check all the time to see if people called you, to recharging the batteries, to switching the gizmo to vibration mode, and to worrying about electromagnetic discharges. Thus, in Japan, I will happily go without. People I know, however, are already telling me I need one. I most assuredly do not.
The twins are doing just fine. The trick is getting them to bed before three in the morning. I went to class yesterday on three hours sleep, and man was I zonked! I was the walking dead, the living dead; I was on my feet and even that didn't stop me from almost falling asleep. While we're on the subject, do you know anything about
Used the company car again today. Again, terrible driving. Here I was, waiting at a stoplight to make a right turn (the equivalent of a left turn in the U.S.), cautiously watching the oncoming traffic pass—I didn't think it was safe to go—when the asshole waiting behind me made a pre-emptive strike and took the turn first. Absolutely assholish of that person, don'tcha think?
I have this theory about driving. First, some background. It's pretty clear that every place on Earth has its own "driving culture," by which I mean most drivers in a given area share certain habits, tendencies, or ideas about driving etiquette. For example, my Australian friend told me that it's really rude to use your klaxon in Australia—you only honk when absolutely necessary. In Vancouver, Canada, it's the norm to stop to let pedestrians cross, even when they aren't at a crosswalk. In Seoul, if someone honks at you because you screwed up, just raise your hand, palm outwards, in a sign of contrition, and all is then forgiven; the middle finger is a rare bird in Korea. There's lots to say; a book about driving culture would make for an entertaining read.
Well, my theory about driving culture holds that driving cultures are infectious. That is, when you move to a new place, you both consciously and unconsciously start to drive like your fellow inhabitants, sometimes to your delight, and sometimes to your chagrin. Here's a case in point. The other day, crusing down a single lane road on which I usually travel fast, I suddenly found myself behind a driver doing a miserable 30 mph. I got really frustrated. I decided to smoke 'em, passing the sucker at a cool 55 mph, even though that meant crossing the double yellow line. Definitely something I didn't do before. Looks like I'm infected! If anyone believes in my theory about infectious driving cultures, I'd be pleased to hear from you.
A little while ago I told a colleague how I thought Japanese workers, especially those in the service industry, were inefficient. She asked me for examples. Here goes. Today at the supermarket, I needed some oatmeal. It was a huge place, and I figured I could save time by asking an employee to show me the Quaker. I thus approached a young female who I saw stocking the shelves. The result? Zombie-like with a bovine, glassy-eyed stare, she wandered the aisles for five minutes, ultimately coming up empty handed. I eventually found the oatmeal myself, after which I showed it to the filly and remarked (politely), "I found it. Couldn't you have just checked on the store computer?" "Sorry, I don't know," was the only response. At the checkout a few minutes later, the cashier was unable to get the scanner to register the bar code on a case of sports drink. Instead of calling on the intercom for a price check, she physically left the checkout, grabbed a single bottle of the drink off the shelves, came back, scanned the bottle, and proceeded to multiply the price by six. "Next step, rocket science" (a quote from Twin Peaks). Finally, I was at a restaurant two weeks ago, and when I went to pay for my meal I pulled out my credit card. Halfway through the transaction, the clerk was unable to continue, needing further instruction in the ways of plastic. She left the till open and marched to the back of the restaurant, some 20 feet away. Seeing as how no one was around, I coulda robbed 'em blind. Somebody would have then been out of a job.
It's time to go home and work out. Take care, eh? Or, as a Korean might say, "Be careful not to catch a cold."
30 June 2005
A Sound Business Strategy
At the hospital Shiho stayed at until recently, they have a little convenience store. On my first visit, I was surprised to learn that the store sells smokes. Yes folks, tobacco. I figure it's sound strategical planning on the part of hospital management. You see, the hospital is helping to create future customers. The guy who picked up a pack of smokes today will be back in 20-30 years, except at that time he'll be in a wheelchair with his very own portable oxygen supply and a hole in his trachea. Now that's what I call customer loyalty.
I was also curious to note that the hospital convenience store sells the manga-cum-soft porn magazines that are ubiquitous in Japan. You can see guys reading these esteemed publications in public places; there ain't the least shame about it. You can even find copies left behind on the subway, just like you can find previously-thumbed newspapers on the Seoul metro.
One more thing about the hospital: I saw a lot of patients with broken bones whose recuperative stays appeared to last days or even stretch into weeks. Back home, I thought that if you break an arm or a leg, you get sent home to convalesce as soon as the cast is put on, and you only go back to get the cast removed. Compared to Western institutions, it's evident that Japanese hospitals have very different notions of productivity.
Daily life is going quite well. The twins are healthy and happy. And ravenous. For most of the day, both of them want to be fed about every two to three hours, after which they usually go to bed.
Milo badly wants to be held after a feeding. He usually can't sleep right after nursing unless one of us picks him up and rocks him. It's a joy to do.
Mickey doesn't usually clamor to be held after nursing. But he often stays awake for an hour or more, wide-eyed, constantly stretching and moving his limbs, and making little contended baby grunts and groans. In addition, Mickey has a strange schedule at night. Whereas Milo wants a feeding about 9:00 p.m. and then sleeps until 12:00 a.m. or so, Mickey insists on three small feedings: a first helping at 10:00, seconds at 11:00, and dessert at 12:00. My wife doesn't really get to relax until after midnight. Boy are her mammary glands in demand.
As everyone knows, life is replete with difficult decisions. To that effect, I'll close with a quote from Van Halen:
You got Allah in the East;
You got Jesus in the West;
Christ, what's a man to do?
27 June 2005
The title of today's blog makes no allusion to Harold Pinter's postmodernist play of the same name. Rather, it refers to the twins finally coming home. They came home on the 26th, Sunday. Yay!
In Japanese, they have a word, tai'in suru, which means "to come home from the hospital." The existence of this word illustrates one of the conceptual challenges in learning an Eastern language. It's quite a brain boost to be able to make use of such words; the process probably does a lot for building interneuron connections.�@Sometimes when I'm speaking English, I find myself wishing I could use Korean words at certain times. Even when there are English equivalents, the Korean word just seems to fit better.
In a related vein, when I taught English in Korea, I often found myself bashing my head against a conceptual wall. I noticed that a lot of my students couldn't grasp the fact that culture and language are inextricably intertwined, which means that there are sometimes no English equivalents for certain Korean words. For instance, Koreans, who are steeped in hierarchical Confucian precepts, most notably the idea of deep respect for one's elders, refer to their older university schoolmates as "seniors" (seonbae) and the younger ones as "juniors" (hubae). Even a difference of one year is important. The younger person must use respectful language and gestures, the rewards being acknowledgement, good-natured condescension, and perhaps an occasional snack or meal on the senior. My students at Sookmyung were frustrated when I told them to abandon the terms "senior" and "junior." They seemed at a loss when I told them that the more egalitarian-minded Americans just say "my friend at university." Which leads me to one of the first principles of learning a foreign language: "If you really want to learn English," I told my students, "you have to become American (or Australian, or whatever). You have to think like an American, like the same things Americans do, and look at life the same way Americans do." Many young'uns at Sookmyung, however, were quite unwilling or unable to take this step. To their eternal detriment.
You know you've been in Korea too long when you're about to write the name of a Westerner in red, but you hesitate or feel that it's wrong.
So the twins are home. The best thing in the world is holding my babies in my arms (one at a time). It's a lot of work taking care of two. My weekend went like this: housework, eat, take care of twins, housework, eat, take care of twins, shower, eat, work out, take care of twins, sleep, get up, housework, eat, take care of twins. We're settling into a routine.
Time to wrap this up. Goodnight all.
23 June 2005
The drivers in this city are terrible. Oncoming drivers cross the center line simply out of sloppiness; double parking is ubiquitous; people completing a turn almost never stay in the lane they started from; in short, a lot of people have their heads up their asses. As an aside, here's an example of irony for you. Despite the Nipponese emphasis on safety, you see a hell of a lot of mothers holding their babies in their laps while the daddies drive. Slam on the brakes and kiss that baby goodbye, woman. Pure unadulterated idiocy.
Anyhow, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best driver myself. My attention sometimes wanders—"Hey, look how green that rice paddy is!" However, my coordination is excellent and my skills are in top shape. I used to be quite a bad driver because I took too many risks, but now I play it pretty safe. I'm sure age has something to do with this change. Anyway, driving is and always has been a very messy endeavor. Just think of all the aggravation, road rage, injuries, and deaths. Life is simpler without having to sit behind the wheel. My job, though, requires me to drive. Although I live in a city of several hundred thousand souls, the public transportation is simply inadequate.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach English to engineers at a plant named KOBELCO (Kobe Steel). However, this plant, located in Moka City (café mocha, eh?), produces ultra-thin aluminum, like the kind used in aluminum cans. On each day, there are eight students scheduled to appear for a half hour of one-on-one tutoring. Today, as on previous days, two students were absent, which meant I got paid to stretch, study Japanese, and sit in an air-conditioned room for an hour. As my friend Kevin knows, the best case employment scenario is to scratch your balls and get paid for it.
As they do every year in June, the chestnut trees are once again offering the world their semen-scented bloom. Feel free to enjoy their golden luster. Just don't inhale.<BR>;
21 June 2005
I took a nap the other day on our new tatami. I was too tired to drag out the futon, so I simply placed a pillow under my head and lay on the tatami. They felt nice and cool. When I woke up, I noticed that I had drooled all over my pillow and the straw mats. "No problem," I thought, "I drool all the time while slumbering." I wiped up the slobbery mess and went into the kitchen to whip something up. The next day, however, I noticed to my consternation that there were two dark little stains on the tatami. Hmm, beware: tatami appear to stain quite easily. Just wait until the twins come home; you ain't seen nothing yet.
By the way, for the first month we had the new mats, the whole apartment smelled like grass. A pretty cool experience. You ought to try it sometime. Come get an apartment in Japan and buy yourself some new tatami.
Here are some more photos of the boys. Today they are officially two weeks old!
Me and Mickey (or "Mickey and I" for the grammar Nazis among us)
Shiho and Milo
Have a good night, everyone. As an ad from Hyundai Department Store (Seoul, Korea) might read, "Dream of Baby."
17 June 2005
Japan is the only country I know of where the person doing you a favor says thank you. The other day, I went inside a Starbucks to ask directions, and the young lady whose assistance I sought came out of the store to show me the way. I hadn't even bought anything. And to top it off, she said arigato gozaimasu. Even though she was the one helping me!
Mickey and Milo are doing well. Milo is still in his incubator, but I have been able to hold Mickey a lot. Yesterday he was very hungry for breast milk, and kept moving his mouth over my arm and chest. "Looking for a tit, are we?" I mused. Being rather deficient in that regard, I passed Mickey over to the wife. According to the schedule, the wife and twins will be coming home next Wednesday. Yay! That will mean an end to weeks of living alone. Nowadays, I keenly remember how lonely I felt before I met Shiho.
More on Japanese bureaucracy. We most of us enjoy rants, don't we? OK, so I came to Japan with only a couple months left on my international driver's license; it's expiring on the 24th of this month. With that in mind, I realized I definately [sic] need to acquire a Japanese driver's license. Being a Canadian, I was told that all I have to do is take a quick eye test, submit some photos, and then presto—a license with kanji on it. (The poor Americans, for some reason, have to start entirely from scratch, which means they need to undergo the humiliation of the written test, road test, and so on.) However, some bureaucratic misfit threw (gleefully, I surmise) a spanner in the works.
It turns out that I cannot get a license here because I need proof that I have been driving for longer than three months. (If I don't obtain this proof, I'll be handed a license with restrictions such as a one year prohibition from driving at night.) Here are the problems. First of all, it doesn't say on Canadian licenses when the license was first issued (as opposed to the issue date of the renewal license). Second of all, I renewed my Canadian license in March of 2004, but I left the country a few days later—which means there's no proof that I possess sufficient driving experience.
Hmm...I do have a Korean driver's license, and I lived in Korea after it was issued, so there's the proof of driving experience. But it'll take City Hall 10 days to translate the Korean license (as opposed to one day for a Canadian license), and by that time my international permit will have expired. Now don't we just love friggin' bureaucracy?
13 June 2005
The Island Nation
The twins are doing quite well. I've been visiting them whenever I can. Cradling your child in your arms is the best thing in the world. After my wife finished nursing Mickey yesterday, she put him back to bed, saying that we had to go because "baby visiting hours" were over. (Those rules again.) But Mickey had begun to cry, and I instinctively picked him up; when I did, he stopped right away. 4;We have to go," my wife admonished, worried about the nurses and their schedules. I gently informed her and the nurses that holding my baby for a couple minutes wouldn't do anyone any harm. Those of you who know me well are aware that I've never been overly rule bound.
Here's a little about life in Japan vs. life in Korea:
- Over here, I can say seki as much as I want without swearing. (In Korean, saeggi is a big-time insult; in Japanese, seki, which sounds very similar, simply means "seat.") Kevin, if you're reading this, ask one your students who knows Japanese how to say the Korean word gyeol-seok hada (to be absent) in the Nipponese tongue.
- I still have to dodge cars, as a lot of the sidestreets are sidewalk-poor.
- And I have to dodge secondhand smoke in a major way. Smoking is pervasive in Japanese restaurants. You can even smoke in department store eateries. Koreans, on the other hand, tend to smoke only when they're quaffing intoxicants (in other words, the place you go to eat lunch isn't filled with smoke).
- I've got to learn to adapt to an entirely different cultural mindset, especially when it comes to politeness. In order to survive in Korea, I had to learn to be brusque and forceful in many social situations (boarding the subway, standing in line, dealing with a grumpy taxi driver or a crusty sales clerk). Forcefulness was necessary to get what you want. Here in Japan, though, the vast majority of people are polite. Picture then, if you will, me transplanted in Japan with my peninsular mindset, stomping on proverbial anthills and riding roughshod over the indigenous sensibilities. When I first got here, I had a hell of a lot of things to get done, and I was impatient with all the fancy social trimmings (such as the way some clerks count out your change with painful fastidiousness). I'm more or less settled now, and I've cooled down quite a bit. I'm learning. And I'm adapting. Everything will work out fine.
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