Sunday, July 31, 2011

11 hours left in Japan.

My scheduled departure from Fukuoka to Seoul is 16:45 and it is currently about 5:30 a.m. I am making excellent headway as far as packing and apartment preparation goes - I might even be able to sleep for a couple hours. This is my second all-nighter in a row and I suspect I will sleep like a dead baby most of the flight home.

I don't have feelings obviously but if I had to use emotionally based language to describe what's going on, I'd say it's a kind of deep sadness not dissimilar to how it feels the few days after a breakup. I have been purposely overstimulating myself with booze and lack of rest so that I can hide behind it (and look awful in all the photos).

There's something incredibly moving and awe-inspiring about watching the sun rise. I have grown to associate it with a successful night out, with a tinge of sadness that it's over. I guess the three year long wild night that was my time in Japan is seeing the sun rise.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Funemployed

That's me. Funemployed. This morning I went to the immigration office and downgraded my visa from a 3 year working visa to "temporary visitor." I packed up my things from my desk at school and at 4:30 this afternoon was escorted out the door by a hodge-podge group of teachers and a few students (there was hardly anyone in the building).

I came home and had a nice big cathartic cry, something I haven't done at all during the entire process of farewells and goodbyes. It's been overwhelming and surreal, and a large part of me is fighting the inevitable huge changes that lie ahead. I still have a couple days left in Japan so I'm going to enjoy myself and look forward and spend my time with the folks I care about.

Above all else I am dreading the loss of my social circle that revolves around Oldies. I went there for dinner last night - Miho made me a chimichanga - and we sat listening to the '80s satellite radio channel, uncomfortably skirting around the issue of me leaving. She is a dear friend, a sister, and possibly the kindest person I've ever met. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't fuck around pretending to care about people. I know of course we will see each other in the future and stay in touch, but it's not the same when I can't walk 20 minutes down the street to say hey.

Two lives, one heart, we all knew it was gonna be hard.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Farewell speech

How are you? I say "I'm fine" but to be perfectly honest, I am very sad. It's been three years and my time here is coming to a close. I cannot fathom that on the 31st of this month, I will be back in New York.

My time here has been interesting and full of unique, one-of-a-kind experiences. I really enjoyed teaching English classes. I also relished the opportunities I had to talk with students and teachers outside of class and work. Everyone here has been so helpful, and I have learned many things. Before I came to Japan, I was nervous at the prospect of living in a foreign country. However, once I got here, everyone welcomed me with great kindness.

I was surprised at how truly generous the people in Japan, particularly Chikuhou, are. I have never experienced this degree of kindness in my life, and this was probably the greatest culture shock of all. I do, however, believe that people across cultures are fundamentally the same. Generosity and selflessness are virtues that anyone can possess. It is simply a choice you make.

You may not have donated a million yen to charity or personally saved a dying man's life, but there are many everyday situations in which human kindness shows. I often see you out and about eschewing selfishness in favor of altruism and helping others. You are helping a blind man find a seat on the train, staying up late consoling a friend who is upset, and bringing vegetables from the family garden to share with your coworkers.

I don't care what your priorities are. Perhaps you love to speak English and are interested in living abroad. Maybe you're not the academic type and prefer sports or music. Whatever. The important thing is that you live your life as a good person and show love and kindness in your own way. I wish you all the best in whatever you choose to do.

Not surprisingly, it will be considerably harder for me to leave Japan than it was to move here. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all the students, teachers and staff who looked after me and welcomed me so warmly into my beloved Japanese life. Because of you, I have grown to truly identify as part of the community at school and in town. It will be impossible to walk away without feeling great sorrow. I have two lives, but I only have one heart. I will miss you deeply, but I know we will persevere and keep on living. Life is short so please give it your all. Thank you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

One month of contract left


Life is too short not to eat cold noodle soup on a hot summer day.

I can't believe the end is so near. More on this when I don't feel like the walking dead.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Adventures in pictures


Jinkosai festival in Tagawa, May 21 - Chris got pulled into the river.


Shinsaibashi, Osaka - guy passed out on the floor near a slot machine in a capsule hotel common area.


My high school's culture festival; during the "Fashion Show" component some jock boys put on bunny ears and pleated skirts in homage to AKB48, a festering bedsore of a girl group slowly eating Japan's pop culture world.


Holly and Walter, about to embark on an epic donut eating adventure mere minutes after we all ate a whole pizza each.


The musicians at the last Oldies concert. The finality of having played there for the last time left a big spiderweb crack on the windshield of my heart.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I'm going home!

Bought my one-way ticket home last night. Korean Air via Seoul to JFK, KE085. It was a truly underwhelming experience and I was in a foul mood when I purchased it. July 31st it is, love it, hate it. I naturally feel both emotions at warp level intensity.

LOVE:
Happy reunion with my folks.
Better selection at supermarkets.
Able to start fresh and prepare for the Big Move to Austin.
English everywhere.
Wearing clothes with a "S" in the size tag.
Makeup, daily goods etc are cheaper.
Driving my car.
Hanging out with old friends and rekindling my social life.
Better coffee with free refills.
Delicious salads.
Pleasant summer weather as opposed to oppressive heat and humidity.

HATE:
Fat unhealthy people with entitlement complexes.
Getting stared at and objectified in public by men.
Crappy and sparse public transit/sidewalks.
Dealing with the rift that 3 years has inevitably placed between me and old friends.
People are spawning and/or have spawned and I hate babies.
Having to deal with the "designated driver" question if I want to go out for drinks.
Gas is $4/gallon and the car only gets 18 mpg.
Sharing living space with people for the foreseeable future.
Looking a bit different as opposed to fitting in 100% lookswise.
Not having a super secure job that pays well.
Missing my Japanese friends, people I've met, and way of life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fruits



...nope




...yessssss.


I'm talking about citrus fruits in all their Vitamin C-rich glory. Perhaps later there will be an addendum about why Japanese grapes suck, but for now please enjoy my candid reviews of ten citrus fruits you can find here.

#1. DEKOPON デコポン
Dekopon are the best goddamn fruit in the entire world. They look like smallish oranges and usually have a nipple-like protrusion on the top, and are the result of the engineered mating of kiyomi (mikan + orange) and ponkan ("Chinese honey orange," in fact a tangerine relative). Grown almost exclusively in Japan, dekopon are extremely sweet and seedless. Apparently dekopon were introduced to U.S. markets just this year under the name "sumo."

#2. MIKAN みかん
Possibly the most well-known of the J-citrus fruits, mikan are called "satsuma" or "seedless mandarin" in the West. They are sweet and delicate, easy to peel, and while not always seedless it is rare for a mikan to contain more than a couple. Mikan are by far the most popular Japanese domestic citrus fruit, accounting for more than half of the cultivation areas in the country.

#3. IYOKAN いよかん
The iyokan is garbage. The flesh is dry and bears little if any flavor, and it's certainly not sweet. I don't know why it's the second most widely produced citrus fruit in Japan; it's like a crappy grapefruit that wants to be an orange. Oh well, the more you know!

#4. AMANATSU 甘夏
Grown mainly in Kumamoto and Ehime, amanatsu is a step above iyokan but just barely. It peels easily and doesn't make too much of a mess, but each fruit (marginally smaller than a grapefruit) contains ~30 seeds, which makes it a laborious process to eat fresh.

#5. YUZU ゆず
For whatever reason, yuzu skin and juice comprise an extremely popular flavoring agent, but the fruit is almost never eaten fresh. Salad dressing, dipping sauce for stewed meat, hard liquor, dessert sauces, vinegar, hot beverages...few winter foods escape the distinctive, zesty tartness of yuzu. I'm not a proponent but apparently a whole lot of Japanese people would disagree.

#6. JUICY FRUIT ジューシーフルーツ
I have no idea what a "juicy fruit" is called in English. I'd compare it to a large grapefruit with pale yellow flesh. The flavor is slightly sour but overall sweet. When ripe it peels very easily, and it definitely lives up to its name - have a hand towel or napkin handy to clean up the inevitable mess.

#7. BUNTAN 文旦
In English, buntan are "Chinese grapefruit" or "pomelo." In Japan, they are expensive gift fruit. They're big, pale yellow things with thick skin that requires a knife (or really sturdy stiletto nails) to peel. Once you get inside, you are rewarded with dryish flesh chock full of seeds. You've already worked so hard to get in there that you go through the effort to remove the seeds and convince yourself that the bitter tartness is luxurious.

#8. MINNEOLA ミンネオーラ
The minneola is a tangerine hybrid of Floridan descent but has made its way onto the shelves at supermarkets everywhere, replacing the winter staples mikan and dekopon. Like dekopon, minneola have a nub/nipple/bump, but they are thin-skinned and so juicy that it's rare for them to survive peeling without dripping everywhere. The juice is very sweet, but they fall apart too easily and leave you wishing you had a mikan or dekopon instead.

#9. SUN FRUIT/SUN QUEEN サンフルーツ/サンクイーン
Another popular import from Florida, these are referred to as "Seminole fruit" in English. They bear resemblance to Minneola but are much seedier and more expensive. It is an exercise in futility to sit there pulling 5 teeny tiny seeds out of each wedge of a messy little thing barely the size of a Clementine.

#10. U.S. IMPORTED NAVEL ORANGES/RUBY RED GRAPEFRUITS
As you might expect. Usually California grown. The age old argument/local pride joke is that California oranges are for eatin' and Florida ones are for juicin'.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'm a Laura!

Today, a sunny Sunday, my talented friend Laura G came over to my house in Tagawa. We ate apples and oatmeal and made joyful noise on violin, ukelele and melodica, practicing our cheeky covers setlist for a Japan tsunami relief concert next month. It was so great to have another person to bounce ideas and harmonies off of. Music and friendship - they add meaning to my life. Noteworthy: today also marked my very first daytime visitor to my house in three years of living here. Three YEARS, one daytime visitor. No one ever wants to come out here since I'm so far removed from the hustle and bustle of "things to do" and "civilization." I'm glad somebody finally did.

Too bad our roads are forking so soon, or else we'd get a ton of shirts printed saying "The Lauras." I refuse to let this go.

Laura blogs at Ichigone, by the by.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Make it so

Walter and I have recently become completely obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are planning on attending the world's largest Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in the summer. I want to learn some Klingon.

What is happening?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Shortlisted!

The JET application process is a big fat multi-tiered layer cake of bureaucracy and paper pushing, and it all culminates the day results are released. Applicants are placed in one of three categories: (A) Shortlisted aka "Welcome to Japan;" (B) Rejected aka "You fail;" or (C) Alternated aka "We're going to drag out the waiting game indefinitely, welcome to hell." I got a message at a JET-related website (which I may or may not have nearly 26,000 posts on...) a couple days back from someone whose cover letter essay I proofread back in December announcing excitedly that he had been shortlisted. Great job, slugger!

I can't believe it's been three years since I received notice of my applicant status. Like 9/11 or my first clubbing experience in Berlin, that moment is burned into my brain all flashbulb-like. I was at Pizzeria Uno of all places with my best friend and this Chinese dude who was explaining that Shanghai girls uniformly fall all over themselves when he walks into a room (unlikely). Got a phone call from Walter saying JET applicant results were out. He was alternated so I was nearly certain I had either been alternated or rejected, but after having him check my email, it turns out I had been shortlisted! I was beside myself with excitement but naturally had to downplay it so as not to rub salt in his gaping wounds. The minute I hung up the phone I yelled "I'M GOING TO JAPAN, OH MY GOOOODDDDD" in an uncharacteristically girly squeal, and my friends were happy for me.

Walter ended up being upgraded from alternate status a couple weeks before I left the United States. Prior to this great news there had been crying and stressing over the possibility of a future, and it was always lurking there shitting on my parade. Similarly to the "shortlisted!" phone call, I remember it perfectly. I was driving to the bar with a friend and nearly swerved off the road when he broke the news over the phone. Just another excellent notch on my already-charmed life. I celebrated a lot and probably shouldn't have driven home from the bar that night.

It's really fun to think about all this, now that I've got just over three months left in Japan and the next big mystery is imminent. Why is it so much easier to wax nostalgic over the past or to fantasize far into the future than to concentrate on the present?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dead dandelions


There's nothing sadder than when you pick flowers and come home at the end of the day and they're all wilted and sad looking. Still, even dead flowers bring life!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The cutest!


"Happy Doll" sundae from Baskin Robbins, with "Easter Party" flavor ice cream.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Checking in

As I write this, my mom is cooking a sweet potato at my apartment while I'm at work. On Monday she cleaned the kitchen unexpectedly while I was gone. I like having someone to come home to and hang out with, and I'll be pretty bummed when she leaves tomorrow. We did a lot of traveling and there are a lot of photos to back up this claim, which I will show you soon. I've been better, but I've been a WHOLE lot worse in these past few weeks. Perhaps the onset of spring is making life easier, or perhaps it's that I have decided to quit dieting and start living. Realizing that if something doesn't change I will be both huge and looking at a full-blown binge eating disorder helps, of course. You can only start from where you are, and your friends will still love you even if you weigh a thousand pounds. I suppose this is my public declaration that I am going to be nice to me. It's about time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Admiring the Japanese spirit

By now you've followed the heck out of Kyodo and BBC and Al-Jazeera. As fits the "charmed life" model perfectly, Fukuoka is almost entirely unaffected by the disaster at large. Unlike Kanto and Tohoku areas, we have electricity 24 hours a day, no earthquakes/aftershocks shaking us several times daily, our grocery stores have food on the shelves, and gas stations are operating normally. It is incredibly surreal, and if I believed in survivor guilt I would be feeling it. I don't, though. Instead, I intend to celebrate my own life doubly in thanks that it has been spared.

Today I gave blood. Tomorrow, payday, I will put forward a sizeable chunk of my paycheck toward the relief donation campaign my school is running. I won't waste electricity and I won't stockpile or hoard bottled water or batteries. Life marches on.

That's what I like about the Japanese. Unlike my countrymen who dwell lingeringly on tragedy in a very masturbatory and selfish way, the Japanese accept what befalls them and work together to move beyond it. Their powerful stoicism and strength has reappeared, easily forgotten in a sea of effeminate man-babies, a frustrating educational system and suicide-inducing workaholic corporate culture. Some people misinterpret the "perseverance" attitude as disrespect, but I understand it more as a refusal to break under pressure. In this perseverance I see unmeasurable bravery and pride. No one is running away.

Except the French of course. What's with that?!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tiny Dancing Man

This motherfucker is seriously about eighty years old. He hangs out all day long on clear weekend days in the park behind Solaria Stage in Tenjin, Fukuoka, with a boom box and creepy props like this clown mask and a variety of brightly colored gloves. He owns those shiny pants in more than just hot pink I'm told, and he is actually a really bad dancer with little to no sense of rhythm. I'm so glad you don't need a license to street perform in Fukuoka.



Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Cafe" music and パリ syndrome

In Japan, "café" is its own music genre, and it is 99% either chilled-out bossa nova or some sort of quaint take on a French chanson. Essentially, all that is domestic and adorable is equated to France here. There are not enough fingers and toes on all the polydactyl cats in Asia to count the number of twee trinkets, clothing shops, kitchen accessory shops, notebooks, stickers, etc etc etc ad nauseum that boast meaningless French. I don't know what you would call it...with English it's Engrish. Furansuçais?

Either way, it doesn't take a genius to work out that Japan has a boner for France - ah, excusez-moi, "boner" is rather inaccurate - perhaps a giddy wetting of the vaginal walls in preparation for getting boned on tour packages to the French capital. I have done a little traveling in France - been groped and offered cocaine in alleys by its nationals, sipped wine in spectacular vineyards on a beautiful summer day, smoked Gauloises and downed strong coffee, taken that tedious day trip to Monaco - all those things you do in France should you find yourself there. There is romance everywhere and it is a magical place - the Japanese got that right. But it hits a lot of Feudal Nipponese tourists a bit hard when they actually put themselves on a plane to CDG.

パリ/Pari/Paris is every Japanese woman's fantastic candyland of love, and you can't go anywhere in the city without running into gaggles of J-ladies carrying hazardously wide open shopping bags draped over one arm. With so many beautiful buildings, quaint cafés, and incredible shopping and style, the appeal is a no-brainer. About a million Japanese visit Paris in a given year. Unfortunately, as with any enormous city built on tourism and political unrest, there are obstacles that get in the way of Japan's vision of perfect bossa-nova France - sexual harassment, a sizable crime rate, racial and ethnic tension between immigrant groups, bums upchucking on Le Métro, graffiti (heavens, no), etc.

I know this was all over the news five years ago, but as I see it, no modifications in the Japanese attitude toward "café" lifestyle and tacking French onto everything have been made. So I'll leave you with a link to an article describing "Paris syndrome," which basically amounts to "Japanese people going insane from culture shock because their dream visions of Paris have been shattered." It doesn't take a whole lot to make people go crazy here judging by the country's suicide rate, and Paris syndrome doesn't surprise me at all.

(...This all came up because I'm thinking I'd like to go to France again soon. Japan has infected me. I just downloaded half a GB of Putumayo world music albums.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A slice of home


My usual Japan order:
Six inch turkey on wheat bread, toasted, with egg, lettuce, tomato, green peppers, onions, pickles, jalapeño peppers, and mustard.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Awaken



"Awaken" as a word always reminds me of Metalocalypse, particularly of Mustakrakish the Lake Troll.


But awakening is pretty much exactly how I've been feeling over the past few days, as if I had just been dormant and lackluster for those couple cold winter months. I put on five pounds and now I'm taking them off, I feel motivated to do my hair and put on Outfits with a capital O, and overall life just seems pretty awesome. I've got things to do before I leave Japan, and I've got lots of things to do once I get back to America.


I'm stuck in this really funny place between wanting to savor the rest of my time here and just hurry up and get back and re-start my "new" life. It's unbelievable how easily and rapidly you accumulate plans and obligations; every weekend for the next month and a half has been spoken for in some capacity or another. I have concerts to play/attend lined up for every weekend from this Friday through the end of March; my mom is visiting Japan for two weeks during spring holidays, I have a road race to train for in early April, and there's a big gathering in Nagoya the weekend after the race. With all these things to be planning and thinking about, I am still just sitting around watching videos of people eating fried butter at the Texas State Fair and daydreaming about America.


America really isn't that great, but I've built it up in my mind as some kind of wonderland. Nothing makes you love home like living away from it, I guess. Obesity epidemic, tipping culture, culture of unjustified entitlement and all, I have to admit I feel a bit proud of the big honking eagle on my passport. Now if only I could get a nifty burgundy/purple European Union passport too...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Saladface

Mizuna (水菜), Cheddar cheese, Borlotti beans, Sultana raisins, fresh strawberries, and sesame oil as dressing.
A+.




Thursday, February 10, 2011

To The Motherland!

Well would you look at the time! I'm off to Seoul this afternoon for two full days and three nights of mayhem with a few of my friends living in Japan. None of us have achieved any level of proficiency in Korean; I can barely read hangul and I think I might be the only one who has bothered to learn any emergency phrases ("Dog meat soup, please" - "Bosintang juseyo").

This doesn't feel like any kind of pilgrimage or identity-searching journey though. It's just a long weekend adventuring in a new place with friends. I'm not sure whether to feel sadness at the lack of emotional/personal weight of this trip or to feel relieved that I am just going to eat Pizza Hut and muck around enjoying myself. We are staying at a hostel that shares a building with Dunkin Donuts. My to-eat list for Seoul is quite optimistic and involves a lot of meals-squeezed-between-meals.

1.) Bosintang (dog meat soup)
2.) Pizza Hut
3.) Dunkin Donuts
4.) Korean BBQ with galbi (beef) and samgyeopsal (fatty pork)
5.) Dakgalbi (spicy chicken mixed with veggies and rice cakes)
6.) Tteokbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce)
7.) Mandu (dumplings)
8.) Japchae (cellophane noodles)
9.) Jajangmyeong (Chinese black bean noodles)
10.) Samgyetang (chicken stuffed with rice and dates)

I am definitely in denial that Seoul is going to be colder than Berlin, which felt as if it bordered on absolute zero outside. I will regret my poor choices in socks and appropriate layers. I suppose I will have to drown my discomfort in hot soup, preferably with dog meat floating in it. Part of me associates eating dog with revenge against all the stupid dogs who have jumped on me, licked my face and hands, scared the crap out of me by barking at me while I walk in the dark, or in recent cases chased me snarling viciously while I run. It also marks a departure from the Western mindset that dogs are somehow precious and not fit for human consumption. Meat is meat; if I could eat babies, I would.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Motherland, in a few images

Seoul was an incredible blur of obscene overeating (like 6000 calories a day), blinding neon, pushy crowds, delicious and stylish people, and whirlwind sightseeing. I probably got to eat fewer than one third of the items on my to-eat list. As predicted, the amount of time we were there was just enough to infect us all with the burning urge to get back to Korea ASAP.

I think these photos are pretty well representative of our adventure.





Friday, February 4, 2011

Hey



Been trying to meet you...

I've fallen in love with yet another song. Going to do my best to do justice to the guitar bends via a borrowed violin at tomorrow's friendly jam session.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I love my pee colored sweater

Yes, I do. The elbow patches are without a doubt my favorite part - they somehow add tons of personality to what is otherwise an unflattering item of clothing that adds about ten pounds. I got the monster baby on clearance at Zara. The grey pants are from TRIAL which I lovingly refer to as "the Wal-Mart." I slipped and fell on ice today and ripped a hole in the left knee, but it's hardly noticeable. The boots were on super final clearance at the mall tonight for only ¥1000. My kitchen is so fucking messy and my head is in a weird place as I am finishing up Day 4 of cutting out candy/sweets after basically binge eating over the weekend.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

AMS?


Snapped a paparazzi shot of the lead guitarist in local rock legend Sinnocular at a tram stop this morning. He probably knew what was going on. That's what you get for being famous - Sinnocular are not only featured on the cover of this month's "Fukuoka Now" magazine, but an interview with the band as well as preview footage and concert dates are on the front page of the Fukuoka Now website!

I was so excited about Austin. I still am excited about Austin. But there is a new layer of possibility, and it's famous for pancakes, legal vice, and outspoken anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders. If I do in fact require everlasting culture shock and stressful acclamation to new countries and funny foreign languages to course through my veins at all times, chasing my man to the Netherlands with no visas, job leads or Dutch language skills could certainly satisfy.

I picked out that jacket and bought it for him. I wish someone would hire me to play paper dolls with rock bands. I'd be a great and much needed help.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Initiating a breakup.

I think Austin is going to win. I really love the idea of it and no matter what, there will be more going on there than there is in Albany, NY.

Not that there's anything wrong with "The 518," "The ToC," or "Smallbany" (a modest sampling of its many monikers) - on the contrary, I really loved growing up there and I had loads of nice friends, a great nuclear family with a big house with a great park literally in my backyard. Since Albany is the capital of New York State, there were internships to be had at the state offices downtown, some music festivals, and smatterings of interesting nightlife.

I suppose I realized I'd outgrown my pond a bit when I went home to visit last summer and felt like I had managed to do everything there was to do in the area in two weeks. Most of my friends from childhood are married, engaged, parents, soon-to-be parents, or otherwise domesticated. Some moved to other cities and states, and quite a few more simply grew boring and useless to me. My parents hate the high cost of living and the snowy winters. I found the lack of Thai restaurants indicative of many things.

(Universities and colleges in America are ranked informally by their percentages of Jewish and Asian students - the higher the percentages, the more expensive and competitive the school. I use a similar system to rate cities. Cities with lots of Thai restaurants have lots of arts-conscious 20-somethings who have passports. People like me. Albany has no well-known Thai restaurants and only a small handful of Indian places. Manhattan/Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Boston have at least eight of each on every block.)

Walter will be coming to Austin too. There we intend to recreate our present perfectly betsu-betsu (separate, individual) lifestyle - each keeping our own apartments and doing our own things, forming our own circles while having loads of adventures together. Our relationship and our bond seems unshakeable today, but if for some reason we don't make it as a couple, it's not like there's any shortage of cute single people around. Austin is consistently ranked as one of the best U.S. cities for young singles. Single girls make good girlfriends. Everybody wins.

My parents will probably move to the area too, since as I mentioned they are not fans of winter and in their mid-sixties are becoming a bit fragile for heavy-duty shoveling on a steep driveway in icy conditions. Dad's from rural Tennessee and Mom's from Dee-troit; they're both already sort of out of their elements in suburban upstate New York. Austin is still Texas, but compared to other major cities it seems, on all accounts, more foreigner-friendly, at least toward atheist liberal types. I've been doing some research; housing is affordable compared to NY and they should be able to find a tiny house or condo near downtown to grow old in.

In the past, my breakups with boyfriends have all been fairly straightforward, like ripping off a Band-Aid that was sort of falling off already anyway. I think saying "smell ya later" to my hometown will be like that, too. I'm ready for change and coming off of a three-year stint abroad, if I don't immediately flood my senses with more excitement and change, I'll wilt like a corsage after prom night. I'm so excited for this.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oysters

On Saturday I went to an oyster festival in Mojiko. I'm not sure if this is peak oyster season or what the cause for celebration was, but it was definitely my first time being around oysters at any capacity. Unforgettable and delicious they were, and naturally no event in Japan (or anywhere on earth) is complete without a plush mascot.





Thursday, January 20, 2011

Starting the day off right



My buddy John Redcorn came to town for dinner last night. We sat at Joyfull (the Japanese equivalent to Denny's) for a few hours completely engrossed in various conversations about life, living, seeing the world, whatever. He convinced me to move to Texas with promises of deep fried butter and beer at the Texas State Fair. He also surprised me with a wonderful souvenir from his recent trip to Vietnam: a coffee maker and 200g of ground coffee!

I'd describe Vietnamese coffee as some strange middle ground between espresso and Turkish coffee. It's potent for sure but not the super-creamy concentrated consistency of espresso, yet its texture and flavor is distinctly different from Turkish, and it is drunk with condensed milk for sweetness. I'd never had proper Vietnamese coffee before today, but so far this might be my favorite subgenre of coffee - and that's just made at my own clumsy hand using months-old sweetened condensed milk!

Needless to say, upon this joyous news I drowned the sorrows of this week's emotional hell (special woman time + the misery of nicotine withdrawal + readjusting to normal diet) in delicious thick coffee with liberal squirts of sugary condensed milk. Tittering and grinning ear to ear with pride at how cool my little coffee maker is, the entire mood of my day was saved. I will look back on January 20, 2011 fondly for all eternity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eating my way through Germany

In chronological order, these are a few of the Facebook status updates I made on my trip.

12/28 (midday): having a gigantic breakfast with like five different kinds of cheese prepared for me, sitting around listening to reggae, and there is a picture of a topless asian chick scotch taped to the toilet. life isnt easy in germany!

12/28 (night):
Today: french fries with mayo, giant piece of cake, western style sushi, dark chocolate spread on bread with Brie, and I bought a wheel of goat cheese. Got a KONNICHIWA from an employee at a sword/weapon shop too but I shouldn't be surprised.

12/29 (morning): I would talk about all the cool things I have been doing but honestly I can't think of any. Just eating bread and cheese 5 meals a day.

12/29 (afternoon): Yesterday was pretty good. Pizza, chocolate twice, a giant taco thing, a tuna melt with onion rings at an American diner, beer, red wine, absinthe, and mead straight from the bottle. Oh and a giant bowl of pasta with salad right before bed

12/30 (afternoon): officially splitting buttons on a dress that fit perfectly yesterday. brunch today: chocolate spread, Brie, aubergine cream cheese, hot mustard, jam, sun dried tomatoes, cucumber, dill, fried tofu, clementine orange, espresso, and approximately an entire loaf of bread. and yes it is 3:30 pm

12/31 (morning):
Heute gehe ich nach BERLIN!!! Was kann ich essen da?!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure: Where Do I Go?

Gadling.com: Top 10 Travel Spots in the United States

You know, out of the places on this list I've only been to three. I've been to far more interesting cities, towns and mountain ranges that didn't make the top ten list, but the fact remains that I ain't seen nothin' when it comes to my own country. Since I'm not recontracting to work another year in Japan this means I'm going back to the U.S. in August. Rather than just staying in the Albany/Capital region of New York forever, I intend to relocate somewhere new - preferably somewhere with less snow and lower living expenses. There are so many options. Where am I supposed to begin? I guess making a list of considerations has been overdue. Here are five so far.


1.) Austin, Texas.
+The only city in TX with a considerable number of Democrats and Thai food places. Job market OK considering. Warm weather, little snow. Lots of young people and artistic types. Friendly to country and cowboys. There is a decent airport. Living costs reasonable compared to Northeast.
-Far removed from pretty much everywhere else in the country. TX is flat and plains-y, a stark contrast to the woods and mountains I'm used to. Rich Tex-Mex food means it will be extremely difficult not to get fat. I'd need a car to get around.

2.) Boston, Massachusetts.
+Near home, visiting the folks would be super easy. Lovely city and I already have a lot of friends and acquaintances there. Great public transportation means I wouldn't need a car. Lots of young people, great restaurants and entertainment. New England is familiar.
-Cold snowy winters. High MA income tax. Rent and other costs of living very high, would need to share living space. Completely urban environment may be off-putting and overwhelming due to competitiveness.

3.) Knoxville, Tennessee.
+A change of pace from the Northeast. Family all over town. Comparable size to where I grew up. Proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Decent if not great arts scene. The airport is OK. Cheap cost of living, could probably afford my own place.
-Southeast means lots of conservatives and other people who non-ironically voted for Mike Huckabee. College football dominates everything. More sheltered worldview than bigger cities. Would need a car to get around.

4.) Tucson, Arizona.
+Definitely no need to worry about shoveling snow in winter. Beautiful surroundings and lots of outdoor recreation. Active arts/nightlife/entertainment/music scene. Airport is fine. Cost of living reasonable though not especially cheap. Good food.
-So hot in summer that I could die if my A/C unit breaks. Would need a car. Would also need to learn Spanish to be an ideal job candidate. Somewhat isolated from the rest of the country. Currently host to a whole load of political and racial tensions that may take a while to clear.

5.) Los Angeles, California.
+Ideal climate and weather. I already know lots of people there. Unbeatable restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. Excellent international airport. Proximity to beach, desert and mountain hiking. I would have no trouble keeping weight off.
-Very expensive to live in; would need roommates, car, and connections. Cutthroat competition for everything, possibly very isolating environment. Rampant eating disorders. Traffic and pollution a real concern. CA income tax very high.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Arctic Chill

Lately it's been cold here in Tagawa. Not so cold that it's hazardous to step outside or anything like that, but just relentlessly unpleasant. The temperature hovers around freezing, and if we're lucky it's ten degrees warmer inside.

I believe I've voiced complaints in years prior about the Japanese lack of effective heating in homes, schools and offices, but every year it's such an all-pervading onslaught of discomfort that being cold becomes the only thing I can think about. Every night I fill a 2 liter bottle with boiling water and place it in my bed where my feet are supposed to go, and every night I squirm around for at least half an hour trying to get my feet warm. Every day at work I hover over a kerosene stove cursing Japan and the weather gods in an effort to warm up freezing fingers. Students pop their heads into the staffroom and exclaim "It's warm!" because the hallways are even colder. Teachers come and go, every other phrase uttered: "It's cold!"

What bothers me about this isn't the cold itself. It's the fact that even though insulation and double-paned windows and central heating are a very tangible reality that has been adopted by countries with much smaller economies, the vast majority of Japan just won't do it. Instead they've come up with temporary solutions like kotatsu, a heated table you sit underneath, and kerosene heaters that require you to crack open a window. Sitting under a kotatsu is great and all but wouldn't it be nicer if you didn't need one at all?

I suppose this rage has been inspired by my recent trip to Germany. Germany, like Japan, suffered great losses during the Second World War, and was at least partially rebuilt with American funding. They're both well off financially but Japan is slightly richer. The cost of living seems comparable, and the people in both nations are infamously rigid and workaholic. Both have cold snowy winters and warm summers. They're not so different. So why is it that the Germans get to be warm indoors all winter long while the Japanese refuse to adopt modern comforts?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011