11 09 2008

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to earthquakes. I suppose by living in a place like this your entire life, you’d get used to them, but even so I don’t understand how the entire world as you know it shaking around can feel normal. Everyone here is so jaded; I’m pretty sure I’m the only one running away from telephone poles and hiding under tables.  One of my coworkers slept through a 4.7.  I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night!

Today’s earthquake was a 4.something in my region, but it definitely felt like the worst one we’ve had (worse than the 5.something a couple months ago). Thankfully I’m fine, and nothing is broken in my house (well, a case with tacks in it shattered, which was a pain in the ass to clean up). You can’t help but wonder though: if the epicenter had been 100km north or west, or heck, even 50km, this would be an entirely different post. I could be sitting in a pile of rubble. Or under a tsunami.

The worst part, though, is the roller coaster/wave-pool effect. For the entire day, I kept thinking there was another earthquake, or the wind would cause my windows to make a noise like they do during the quake, and I would have to check things like pull cords for lights or keychains on a rack to see if they were moving to tell if it was really an earthquake. This happened maybe ten or fifteen times. And of course, once or twice there actually was an aftershock.

You learn in intro psych that the most addictive reinforcement strategy is a random positive one.  i.e. you receive something (confirmation of an earthquake) for an action (looking at a keychain) on a random schedule. That’s how people get addicted to gambling. Am I going to get addicted to checking my house to see if it’s moving?  Yikes.  Talk about neurosis.

at least there's plenty of information


pictures i owe you from the marathon

30 08 2008
Pictures from my trip to Tokyo for the 2008 Tokyo Marathon.  Did I write about how I ran that?  Well, I did.

total blackout

13 07 2008

I wasn’t scared of the dark until I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of the X-files. A blackout here means the entire city is without electricity.

I often go for drives in the mountains just to get away from the light of this town, but oddly now that the light is gone I find it a little terrifying.  And despite having power now, it’s somehow harder to hear the frogs in the rice paddies—the train station has some loud-ass generator (though what it’s powering is beyond me since everything is still dark) next to my window.  Besides the lightning the only light in town now is the eerie glow of the very-rare emergency light and the three drivers on the road.

In an admittedly melodramatic way, this feels totally post-apocalyptic.  I went driving around and it’s like one of those ghost towns from a movie.  There are absolutely no people (which is actually no different than usual) and you can only see what your headlights cast a beam on.  It’s a very weird shift of perception.  Even weirder is that tonight is what this town could be like for real in 15 or 20 years at the rate the population is decreasing.

I’m not really scared of the dark, but there’s this weird sense of human inferiority in this situation.  The fact that we have constant light is a sort of triumph of humanity, right?  Where’s there’s light, there’s life.  The irony is that when all of the lights are off, it’s scarier being the one holding the light because it reveals everything that can’t be seen.

Where are big, brave Mulder and Scully when you need them?

when deer attack

23 05 2008

I’ve reached a point of stagnation with my cultural adaptation.  I think it’s mostly a language thing, but I basically spent the last four hours in a car on the way to eat with the other junior high school teachers, sitting quietly and zoning out to different things that we drove past.  Maybe it’s just one of those nights where nothing makes sense, but I didn’t understand any of what was said except a few sentences here and there.

In the past Japanese people I was at parties with would make a special effort to ensure that I felt included, and while I still get the occasional question about life in America (which I usually don’t understand and thus can’t answer), it’s more likely that they just assume that my Japanese has somehow gone from piecemeal to fluency overnight, are taken aback when I don’t understand something, and then give up.

Someone pointed out that it’s actually a skill in itself, speaking to foreign people in your own language too.  I try not to change my English too much in the classroom, but in day-to-day conversations, I certainly do.  I’m also almost positive that the Japanese people that I understand the easiest, speak to me differently than they do to their friends.

Anyway, this recent feeling of exclusion topped with the other events of the night—ditching taiko to go with the junior high teachers, being in a car that hits a deer on the way to restaurant and the two-hour aftermath thereof, finally getting to the restaurant and being stared at by people at another table—hasn’t left me in the best of moods.

I’m sure this’ll pass, just like every other funk I get into.  It’s just a pain in the ass that as the capstone of an otherwise great week, I once again feel like the black sheep.  Well, I am, but that’s beside the point.

Did other people who have spent time abroad in equally homogenous cultures (do they exist?) find themselves feeling this way?  Like tired of always being the odd one out?  Or have any other points of view on the matter?  Do share.

hello america

22 04 2008

Thinking about my two-week vacation to America is fucking with my head more than I thought it would.  About a week ago, I was swearing off my job about how boring it was, and how I had no friends in my town blah blah blah cry me a river.  And now, all of a sudden, I’m a perky as a percolator.  What happened?

Well, honestly nothing.  I’m not doing any more or less work at school (well, today I had to grade the first years’ handwriting assignments and save a student from a nose bleed of epic proportions).  Last weekend was plain Jane—I met up with friends and watched It (not scary!).  I’m not running any more or less than usual.  So my conclusion is that it has to be the fact that I’m flying home tomorrow.  For a VACATION.  Time off.  No plans (OK, minimal plans).  No work.  No studying.  No linguistic crises.  Staring at other people instead of being stared at.

But, it’s not like I planned this trip home on Monday.  I’ve had it in the works for months now, so I guess the only difference is its proximity.  The time is nigh.  I must pack.  I must print my tickets.  I must GET MONEY FROM THE ATM OF DOOM.

The irony of it though, is that now that my spirits are lifted (because of the trip?), I’m feeling energetic at work and thus a little guilty for leaving while things are on the upswing.  Rather than the usual of just being different, I feel like I’m making a difference (especially with my first year students who have just started learning English).  I suppose this is a good thing; at least I won’t be dreading my return and staying for another 14 months after that.

On a slightly related topic—if you’re someone I’ve lost contact with and you want to meet up during my break, just email me and I’ll try to work out a time.  I’ll be in the United States in various States (of the union) and states (of mind) from April 24th to May 8th.

blogging about tv.

14 04 2008

In case you ever wondered what watching Japanese TV was like, let me take you through the last bit of channel surfing I just did.

I started watching something innocuous—a game show where they have a giant screen in front of the contestants projecting their “opponents:” a giant shackled wooly mammoth, a panda armed with nunchucks, and a T-Rex that shoots sword-wielding fireballs.  And the questions?  Well, things like, reading really difficult kanji and translating REALLY easy English words.  I think ALTs all over the country let out collective sighs when the conestant couldn’t translate the word 銀行 (ginkou, “bank”), but instead just said “I think so too” over and over.  At least I won’t feel so bad about not making English professors out of these kids.

Then I caught a few minutes of a show where famous male actors went on dates with unknowing regulars and acted like total assholes until the women broke up with them in a fantastic shower of spilled drinks, thrown purses and slaps.

Next there was a show where women stopped other random women on the street and told them what was wrong with their outfits.  No makeovers, no free shopping sprees—just what was wrong.

Then there was this other game show where the contestants were on a treadmill, and every question another contestant answered, the non-answerers’ treadmills’ speed would increase.  Well, until they couldn’t take it and fell on their face.

Now the members of SMAP (J-Pop phenom) have cooked for young ice skating superstar Mao Asada, and in return have been put on a machine that spins at the same speed she spins during her triples.  There’s a lot of screaming, but no vomit yet.  I’m watching and waiting.  Oh wait.  Now they’re hiding in fear trying to play against Japan’s Olympic table tennis superstar, Ai Fukuhara.  They’ve also managed to offend her coach by nicknaming him nikuman (“meat dumpling”).

But the winner for the night?  An hour-long program (well, I couldn’t honestly watch for more than a few seconds between other channels) about EAR CLEANING.  Proper tools.  Proper technique.  Frequency.  Depth.  Unassisted or assisted by your wife.  For an hour.  WTF?

I usually live these days not thinking about where I am, but night like this remind me that I am totally in Japan.  Totally.

random, old newspaper clippings

13 04 2008

I lied. These aren’t random at all.

Front page of the Hidaka Shimbun

I managed to make the front page of the local (3 page) paper.

Can you read it?

Hidaka shimbun. This time I got sub-prefectural coverage.

Page 28 of the prefectural newspaper

Page 28 of the Hokkaido newspaper. Who knew running a marathon was such a big deal?