Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Another go at it from the frozen belly of Beijing.

It's quite cold here these days, but the weather has been brilliantly clear and crisp with bright sunshine shining radiantly down the past few days. It's a nice way to start the day. Through the window, everything looks sparkingly tranquil. If only it were a picture. It hasn't snowed since I last mentioned, but it has only proceeded to get colder and icier. It won't last forever.

Christmas came and went in China. Angela, Paola (visiting from Japan for the holidays) and me had our celebrations here. Our families had their celebrations where they were. This year was particularly memorable for a variety of reasons, not all of which I'll mention...

We didn't do anything so unusual; spent the afternoon walking around the frozen park known as The Summer Palace (on Monday, one of my students said, "but it's not Summer!"), ate a nice dinner with fresh brewed beer and sausage at a German restaurant packed with foreigners and Chinese alike, rode a glass elevator to an over-priced bar at the top of a hotel, and enjoyed additional conversation and spirits at The Hidden Tree.

Now, back to work here for a few days until New Year's Eve. We enjoy a four-day vacation for the New Year covering Friday of this week and Monday of the following week, which is fantastic. We're planning to get out to The Great Wall this weekend, but we don't yet know what we're going to do for New Year's Eve. We're not staying at the apartment, that's for sure. Perhaps, we'll know more in a few days...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Wow, the weather is icy cold here now. One of my coworkers asked me if I had ever lived in weather this cold and I told her I hadn't, which is true. I don't really have any adequate shoes for this kind of slippery-slidy-snowy weather, but I suppose I'll have to purchase some in the next few weeks. We're between three and eight degress below zero every day on the Celsius scale, if you must know. Do your own math if you live in the US.

Snow again today, and not just a light dusting. When I woke up this morning, everything was covered with snow. In fact, it was snowing when I woke up and snowed lightly all through the day. It was a nice theme for the day which, as we approach Christmas, even in China, feels right.

The principal and some of the other officials of the school in which I work had a banquet for all of the foreign teachers yesterday evening, and it was quite good. My five coworkers and me are not the only English teachers at my school. There is also another English department, which doesn't use the Carden Method. I don't know what or how they teach, but I assume they prepare their students to pass the English assessment tests. Anyway, we all received small representations of Chinese Opera masks and nice cards as gifts. It was a wonderful gesture and they have made us all feel welcome since we have arrived.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It snowed today! Instead of going to the store to finish my Christmas shopping, I came straight home to tell you about it.

I was happily surprised when I left the apartment this morning and noticed small flakes coming down. I wasn't quite sure if it was drizzle or snow, at first, but then I looked around and noticed that nothing was wet. It was the real deal. My spirits instantly lifted. I had been waiting for it for many weeks, but the weather had only turned really cold over the past week.

It snowed all morning and it was all my kids could talk about when they came to class. The campus and all the trees and everything had a nice thin layer of snow. There was enough snow that the kids could have a snowball fight after class, on their way to the cafeteria for lunch.

Most of the snow melted in the heavily traveled places, the sidewalks, stairs and walkways, but there was still lots of snow on the fields and trees around the school. The janitors, perhaps 30 of them, actually came out and swept the huge courtyard in front of the school. They used brooms that were made of a bunch of thin branches tied together, which made the work seem more time-consuming than it actually should have been. I guess they're not quite hip to snow shovels here, yet.

One of my Chinese coworkers asked me if I had ever seen snow before. I laughed and told him that it snows in California. It's funny that most people have the impression that California is hot all year round.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Trying for a quick-fast update. Still fighting the web, finicky browsers and China, but I will win. I keep trying, anyway.

Trying to tie-up all of my Christmas loose ends, which also involves sending Christmas gifts in a timely manner so that they arrive in the states before Christmas. At the moment, things don't look too good, but I have supreme confidence in the postal system, even if I am in China and even if it is Christmas. At least, we have a Christmas tree in our apartment, which adds a nice touch of cheer to our place.

Trying to do Christmas shopping for Angela, and a few other friends here, in a place where I can't speak with anyone, find anything or get anywhere without massive assisstance.

Trying to recover from a cold that wrung me out yesterday. Another malady in a long line of minor, but annoying, annoyances which have hampered my physical well-being.

Trying to get this posted before Angela gets home from work.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Went to part of an Michelangelo Antonioni film festival last week. He is an Italian director, very old now, but still alive. The movies which weren't in English, and there were a couple, were subtitled so I could watch them without trouble. Two movies on Thursday evening, two movies on Friday evening, three short films Saturday morning, one film Saturday night and, finally, two on Sunday evening. One of the films, shot in Africa, showcased Jack Nicholson in, perhaps, his first starring role, which was interesting.

The coup de grĂ¢ce of the festival was a three part documentary about China, Chung Kuo, commissioned by the Chinese government in the early seventies. Following the completion of the movie, it was banned here and only shown for this first time in China as part of this festival. Needless to say, we felt like it was a special treat to be watching this movie here.

The theater was packed on Saturday evening, which generated a nice bit of energy about the movie we were going to watch. The film was a genuine look at China and, in particular, Beijing, during the cultural revolution, although there were lengthy segments about a couple other provinces, including Shanghai. The entire first part of the documentary was about Beijing, capturing the lives of young and old alike.

The movie, among other parts of daily life for the Chinese, showed a live birth, further complicated by a caesarean, in which the mother was utilizing acupuncture as the anesthetic for the procedure. Two long metal needles, at least one foot long, were inserted along the places where the incision was to be made. The audience was writhing. After insertion, wires were connected to the ends of the needles and electricity was administered. Everything seemed to go according to plan and the baby seemed fine and healthy. This was one of the more striking images in the documentary.

Some other notable images: a woman at a medical clinic in a small village making cotton balls by hand, tearing of small pieces of cotton from a large sheet, balling them up, and throwing them into another receptacle; school children exercising and singing political songs in the morning; a Navy battleship, filmed, as the narrator said, illegally; farmers bringing their produce to market on the river; a tea house in Shanghai for party representatives and their guests; simply the massive influence of Mao Tse Tung, which is still strong today.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Some mundane chatter for your eyes.

Thanksgiving came and went here without much hoopla. Angela and me celebrated by having a nice dinner together after taking in a free movie at the Italian Embassy. My coworkers and I also celebrated together. Our boss took us all out to a seafood feast, and a good time was had by all. I also got a poker game going last weekend with some of my coworkers, which I always try to get started wherever I may be. You might say it was a post-Thanksgiving celebration. I think we're going to try and play a game once a month.

My life is returning to normal after a misunderstanding at work a few weeks ago (which resulted in my 3rd-grade class receiving a new Chinese assistant), and as my slow recovery from a strange rash or infection on my face continues. I haven't shaved in about three weeks! Needless to say, I'm happy about these improvements, which had increased the level of stress in my life immeasureably, especially as I had been, concurrently, covering classes for my coworker who had missed nearly three weeks of work with a back or spine ailment. She returned to work on Monday and everything in the office is getting back to normal, as well.

It has been foggy all week, progressively foggier each day, so far, and quite cold now. I'm waiting to catch a cold, as that's just the kind of luck I seem to dredge up. Some people have been talking about snow, but we have yet to see any. Who knows when it will arrive.

On the writing front, I was concerned that none of my work had been accepted by any publications since I had moved to China. The sad, often unrewarding, process of a poet, schlepping work to various unknown editors. Upping the amount of work I submit does not guarantee better results. There's just too much research involved. I send about six batches of poems (4-6 poems in each batch) to publications each month, but my rate of acceptance had dropped to nil. I had some work accepted recently, though, which will be published over the next few months, revitalizing my spirits somewhat. Stayed tuned for updates. My main focus over the next few months is to complete some book-length collections of poems and begin shopping them around for serious publishers who will pay me. If you know any, you know how to get in touch...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I've given up my novella writing project, Cat Got Your Tongue, for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I simply don't have time to keep up with my daily word count. An unusual amount of stress in other areas of my life, has also knocked my health around a bit and I just need to cool off for a while. I don't want to spend all of my free time writing, which was what was happening, and there are, occasionally, more important things to do. At least, I'm satisfied with my effort. Perhaps, next year, I will try again.

Otherwise, not much out of the ordinary happening here. A coworker said that snow was expected here, but the weather has been fairly mild over the past week. A little windy today, but nothing out of the ordinary. I'll write again when I have something more worthwhile to reveal.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

I eat lunch at my school five days a week. The food is placed on a long table near the kitchen, buffet style, and we all serve ourselves. It's not bad, there's a nice variety and, at least, I don't have to prepare it. All of the teachers eat in one section, separated by large swinging doors, while the students eat in a different section.

The fare is nearly the same each day, although on Thursdays we usually have baozi (pronounced bow-dza), a large filled dumpling we eat with vinegar and pickled vegetables, and a really nice garlic-y fried rice. There's enough choices on the other days to make different decisions about what to eat each day. I don't mind. We always have some kind of bread, flat, fried bread, or the white Chinese bread, which looks like uncooked dough, and sliced apples. If I get to the cafeteria early enough, I'm just happy to get some slices of cucumber, which usually runs out by the end of the lunch period.

All of us bring our own dishes with which to eat. My employer, Ms. Wang, provided all of us foreign teachers with small stainless steel pots, similar to a kind of camping cookware, and it has a real militaristic feeling to it, using dishes like that. After eating my fill, everyone washes their dishes in the sink at the back of the cafeteria. Generally, after washing their dishes, they put a little water in the clean dish, drink a bit, swish it around in their mouths, and then spit it out into the sink. It's a way to clean their mouths after eating. Most of the teachers store their dishes on various shelves which line the walls of the cafeteria, but I usually take mine back to my office and store it in my locker. I've heard stories about someone's dishes getting moved.

Most of the teachers use a spoon with which to eat their lunches. I use chopsticks because I don't have a spoon. Also, none of the Chinese people drink anything while they eat lunch. At least, not in the sense that we do in America, drinking water or soda or something else. Usually, at the end of the meal, they drink a kind of tasteless rice porridge from a small bowl, which serves as a kind of beverage.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Social activity increased over the past week. Angela and me were bordering a depressive state with our relatively mundane existence, devoid of much else aside from our commitments to work and each other, but we came out of it. We had been finding it difficult to make friends and build a life here, but these things take time. The oncoming cold weather, which is every day windier and colder, and the prospect of staying inside for increasingly prolonged periods, wasn't doing much for attitudes, either. In any case, we braved the weather and our exhaustion to get out of the house this week, the highlight of which was a party thrown by one of Angela's coworkers on Saturday night.

A handful of Italians, a Brazilian woman, a Spanish dude, and three Chinese people comprised our party, and we met at Ivana's new apartment to partake in a dinner of fresh gnocchi and pizza which she was to prepare for us. Fabulous. Really nice to have great, fresh Italian food, especially when someone else was preparing it. Antonello, a photographer from Naples, made the pizza, and Ivana made everything else, which included salad, babaganoush (a Mediterranean dip made from eggplants), and a variety of desserts. We purchased a bottle of wine to bring to the party, although the bag broke on the way also breaking the bottle of wine, which had slipped to the pavement. As it turns out, there was plenty of beer and the wine wasn't missed.

Earlier in the week, I had met Angela after work for dinner, and we purchased eight or nine new books, perhaps doubling our library here. We enjoyed a nice dinner of Chinese dumplings and won ton soup. We met Ivana and Adelaide the next evening for dinner at the same restaurant.

On Friday night, I dragged Angela to a bookstore/bistro, The Bookworm, to watch a presentation about The Boxer Rebellion, which neither of us knew anything about. The place was packed and we were some of the last latecomers to get in to share a table with some folks so we could eat. Having come straight from our jobs, we were quite hungry. The presentation was mildly interesting, including a Q & A session with author Adam Williams who was promoting his book, The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure, and the food was good. Both of us were happy to find the place, as it was a unique environment. The walls lined with books of all sorts and we discovered that they regularly hosted discussions and other events. Following the discussion, we left and enjoyed a beer at The Hidden Tree, one of Beijing's oldest ex-pat bars boasting a fine assortment of imported beer and a wood-fired oven for cooking pizza!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Nothing extraordinarily stimulating to report stop.
Just the regular machine of the job working stop.
No really good e-mail to read stop.
Every day a kind of unintense fog all over Beijing stop.
I thought it was pollution for weeks stop.
Part of it is pollution stop.
I try to spend all of my free time writing stop.
All of my energy going toward one thing even when I'm eating or sitting on the toilet or waiting for Angela to return stop.
When she gets home we are going to make dinner stop.
I eat regularly and well stop.
I find myself wondering when it is going to rain stop.
Fighting a slow-drip in the back of my throat or an almost-cold or I don't know what to call it for five or six days now stop.
Still tender from diarrhea weekend at the mercy of Beijing seafood and a turbulent stomach stop.
Writing like a mad freak almost two hours every day stop.
Thinking about it when I'm not doing it stop.
Thinking about not writing poetry or is the other thing poetry stop.
Will you be able to keep up with all of it stop.
I don't know how I finished and started another novel over the weekend stop.
I don't know how I watched all of the Star Wars movies last week and got anything else done stop.
It's how I feel stop.
Like a telegraph stop.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Briefly, which is better than none at all, you can now view the e-novel in progress, tentatively titled: Cat Got Your Tongue. It's a little silly but I'll see how far I can take it by the end of November. Wish me luck! Currently, after three days of writing and charting my progress, I'm spending about two solid hours writing each day to churn out 1600+ words. I'm happy with that pace, but I don't know if I can continue to find that time.

On a China aside, we've been here three months, Angela and me, and we both have had numerous offers for work or other engaging and stimulating, as well as lucrative, opportunities. Fantastic! We have discovered more opporutnities in three months than we did in two years in Japan! Of course, the opportunities are in teaching and education, which is not everyone's cup of tea. Speaking of which, mine's cold now...

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Today marks one year of blogging here. I'm averaging a little more than five posts per month. I expect to improve on that number during the next 12 months, especially as I try to appeal to my growing fan base. *coughs*

I've probably been blogging for about four or five years in different locations. Sadly, none of the previous posts are available. I may be able to dig them out of some cyber blackhole, but it's just not a crucial task for me.

I have lots of projects planned for the next twelve months, one of which is to write 50,000 words online next month for National Novel Writing month. I will post a link here when I settle on an idea so you can check my progress. I still have a little more than 24 hours to nail down a topic and secure webspace to post it. I'm not sure if I have the time to do it, but it's worth a try. It's simply a contest about the power of a deadline as there are no other rewards for my effort.

Talk to you soon.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Went to Yunmeng Shan National Forest Park on Saturday. The trip was arranged by my school for the teachers and their guests. Angela went with me and we had a great time walking along the mountain paths. We were skeptical, at first, about the intensity of the adventure, but as the day unfolded, we quickly dispelled those thoughts. Apparently, my school occasionally hosted trips of this sort, which I thought was a nice benefit.

Originally, the trip coordinators were taken aback when we accepted their invitation to join them. They thought they wouldn't know how to take care of or communicate with us if something happened, but I did my best to reassure them that we would be fine and, eventually, they relented. Perhaps, they were simply extending the polite gesture, but how could we pass up an opportunity to do some sightseeing? They were going to provide us lunch and we didn't even have to plan anything ourselves! We just had to get ourselves out of bed and onto the bus by 7 AM.

Here we are gathering at the front gate of the school. I didn't expect such a large turnout, but there were well over 100 people to fill four tour buses, Angela and me the only non-Chinese among them. At some point, unidentifiable by me aside from the obvious general motion of the group, everyone started taking their "lunches," plastic bags piled in large plastic bins near the gate, and moved to board the buses. We did the same and found seats next to three of the assistants who work in my department. We were ready to go!

On the journey there, a full two-hour drive, we thought we saw part of The Great Wall, which I have yet to personally visit, but we never checked our facts. I don't know what else it could have been, though. I began to realize, as the bus climbed ever higher along the winding road, that we weren't just going to a city park. We were heading for somewhere deeper among the great rock peaks and crags that were beginning to form a gorge around us. We crossed a river and continued climbing.

After arriving at what must have been the entrance of the park, we mulled around the buses for a few minutes and then slowly began filing up a long flight of steps. It was a crisp, clear mid-October morning with lots of sun, but not too cold. The mountains were really beautiful, lots of unusual rock formations, the trail was not too strenuous, and we could still see what was left of the fall colors on the trees.

Near the end of the long main path, along which many other paths and resting places branched off, we came to a small village. We thought it was a nice place to rest and enjoy some of the lunch we had taken with us. Two donkeys munched some grass nearby. Our lunch bags contained two bottles of water, two rolls (one filled with sweet bean paste), two tangerines, a pouch of spicy mustard root, and a stick of what I called a pork snack, which was a soft hotdog-like sausage. I thought all of it was quite good, although Angela was not too fond of the rolls. We added sunflower seeds, which we purchased from the restaurant in the village, and relaxed under the great trees that were all around.

Eventually, making our way back to the entrance, we stopped to enjoy a beer before boarding the bus again for the return trip. We'd had a fantastic time on the mountain walk and were happy that we'd done it. The bus finally left, but after about 30 minutes, it pulled over to the side of the road near an apple orchard. We were getting off the bus to go pick apples!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Ambience...

Fluorescent windows stretch to infinity and the orange lights of the city shine up into the sky, bright holes and well-ordered eyelets in the blackening evening. The moon is an orange smile in the sky tonight, setting slowly and fading. That Cheshire grin looking down on me again in my 16th-floor wonderland apartment where I blow smoke through the screen. "It's me," it seems to say through its teeth.

The street looks orange from the lights and everything is filtered through the dust and pollution which continues to create the new illusion of Beijing for the world and, at least, for the time being, for me. The indefatigueable noise of traffic and reconstruction dulling another cold senseless night waiting for my love to return.

Monday, October 18, 2004

I really enjoy my job, teaching elementary school in Beijing, and finally got around to taking a few pictures of the campus and my kids to share with the nonexistent masses who will never find me. For those of you who do return here to check me out, keep up the good work.

The school is quite nice, which makes it enjoyable to go there everyday, and the kids usually make the job fun. Here's a picture of the entrance to the campus. I work in that building on the left with the large silver orb (observatory?) atop it. Those are actually two of my co-workers, Carol and Maile, walking through the gate on their way to prepare for their morning classes.

Every morning, the kids line up around campus to do their morning exercise, which is akin to a dance routine or light aerobics, accompanied by music. It's as close as they get to a recess of any kind. You can see them here, with their arms extended, mid-routine, wearing their various uniforms of which these are only a few examples. The younger kids stand in front of the school here, while the older kids line up on the basketball courts behind the school.

Although they can play after lunch for a short while, and occasionally at other times, there isn't a playground like you would find in American schools and they don't have scheduled recesses. During my lessons, we have short breaks in which the kids are fed fruit or sweet bread, and usually they find something to do in the hallway. The more studious of them will write or draw on the blackboard.

As I have bad days now and again, but some of my students also have bad days. Zack, which is his English name, shown here, didn't get off to a very good start on this day, but eventually relinquished his grip on the pole and came back to class. All of our students have Western names, which I find strange, but so be it. It's easier than having to butcher their Chinese names, I suppose.

Generally, things go fairly smoothly, as you can see from this picture of my studious third-graders, working hard at their desks. Chinese kids are about the same as American kids. You can also see that my class is not that big. One of the benefits of working at a private school where we are teaching an experimental English program.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Last night, Jean Michel Jarre played a concert in The Forbidden City which, I heard, was an invitation only gig. The concert was being broadcast live on giant video screens in a few other locations throughout Beijing, as well as on local television. Me, Angela and a few of my coworkers made our way to one of the locations to observe the free broadcast. It was a reason to get out in the city, take in some free entertainment, and check out something new.

Not really knowing what to expect, I was surprised to enjoy the music so much, which one might classify as ambient. The show and visual choreography were amazing. The set was quite a spectacle, especially behind the backdrop of the Forbidden City. Displaying large cones, orbs and cubes around the back of the stage, these geometric shapes were used as video screens for complementary imagery displaying various colors, dragons, weather patterns, fireworks, French painting and many other things.

My favorite part of the show, and something I had never seen before, occurred when he, by blocking a laser light, created various tones, which he could modulate by vacillating his hand in the beam of light. I was impressed and, even if it was a stunt, that's what he's supposed to do. Entertain. There was no question about it.

After finishing his set, he hopped into the sidecar of a motorcycle and made his way to Tiananmen Square where he gave an encore performance to the crowd that had assembled there: these folks who weren't the privileged spectators granted permission to witness the show from within the storied walls of The Forbidden City. As we were within a subway station of the encore performance, we decided to try to make our way to his new location. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the show had ended. We weren't too disappointed and made our way to a nearby watering hole to water ourselves a bit before returning to our apartments.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Well, my vacation is over and it's back to work again today. I'm not ready for it to end, but I suppose that's always the case. They have a strange policy here regarding vacations. For example, we have to work this weekend, rather than keeping our normal days off. It's a way to make up some of the time we missed during the vacation. From what I hear, from some of the people who live in my building, most Chinese will be working this weekend, also. Eight days off and now eight days on.

Angela and I went out for dinner yesterday evening, which was perhaps our way of celebrating the end of my vacation (Angela had to work all week as she doesn't work for a Chinese company). We had a nice dinner near Tiananmen Square and then took a stroll through some of the sidestreets in the area where many vendors sell typical Chinese souvenirs. Sitting down to enjoy a beer, many young Chinese people started talking to us (Angela's Chinese is quite good) and we were temporarily a popular showcase in their little Avenue.

It's really difficult to travel within the city, especially because we don't live so close to the city center. We have to transfer from a bus to the subway and, like yesterday evening, another subway line, the entire trip totaling about one hour. The time it takes and the transfers we make are not so problematic, but the people themselves make it very difficult. Whenever there is a line for anything, like buying a ticket or waiting to get on the bus, there is simply no order. All people shove their way forward or cut in front of each other whenever possible.

It's quite frustrating. It makes me want to act the same way, but I am trying to be a decent human being, a good American, a good representative of my country, which is, unfortunately, in dire need of proper representatives. I can't let that rude behavior rub off on me so I never force my way onto the bus or cut in front of another person to buy my subway tickets. Blame it on good parenting. I'm not above wielding an angry expression and positing a few choice expletives in rugged situations. Even if the Chinese people don't understand my English, I'm sure they understand my tone.

Friday, October 01, 2004

I have a vacation from work now, missing Thursday and Friday of this week, as well as all of next week, to observe the mid-Autumn or Moon Festival, celebrating the season, and National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Earlier this week, red and yellow flowers appeared along the side of our apartment building, which I recently learned symbolize the events.

It's a nice break from my first month of uninterrupted teaching. I don't think I have another long holiday until Spring Festival, when we will have, at least, three weeks of vacation. Unfortunately, Angela, having started a new job during the past week, has to work during the holiday so we won't be going anywhere unusual, although we had tentatively planned to travel. "Mooncake" day, as my students called it in English, occurred on the day preceding the mid-Autumn Festival, which also corresponded with the full moon. Many people distribute the sweet cakes, filled with figs, dates, bean paste, eggs and other things, as gifts.

A student's parents had given my boss tickets to a magic show at Capital Stadium, which she gave to me, Angela and two of my other coworkers, Maile and Carol. It was a nice opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. We attended the performance with little expectation, and it was what you might expect from a magic show. Lots of sleight of hand, silk scarves, playing cards and levitating women. The performance showcased magicians from around the world and there were many entertaining acts, particularly the couple from Spain, in which a demon crawled out of a man's chest. Also, our seats were quite good.

I believe our highlight of the evening came after we left the stadium and went to find something to eat. In considering one of two restaurants that we had discovered a few blocks from the stadium, we noticed a few magicians entering one. Angela noticed the Argentinian magician, whose performance we liked the best, told him so, and he responded by raising his arms and smiling. Upon looking inside the restaurant, we noticed that many of the magicians from the show were all eating together and it was surprising, but nice, to see them in their street clothes.

Monday, September 27, 2004

On Friday night, Angela noticed the red squares with characters for good fortune on either side of the entrance to our building, and she commented that there would be a wedding the next day. It happened a few weeks ago in the building next to ours, but we couldn't see any of the goings on. We could only hear the firecrackers. As this event would occur in our own building, we thought we would do our best to watch when the time came.

On Saturday morning, while we were enjoying our coffee, we heard the firecrackers and quickly ran to our window. Great long red strips of firecrackers had been placed on both sides of the entrance to the parking area and were lit at the arrival of the newlyweds. More firecrackers were going off outside the entrance to our building, where the revelers and family members were congregating. Angela told me that the firecrackers were lit to scare away bad spirits.

A black limosine followed by a number of other shiny black cars entered and stopped outside the entrace to our building while the remaining firecrackers exploded. The newlyweds emerged and some of the attendant celebrators, holding large red mini-bazookas, attacked the couple by firing their salvos of confetti and streamers upon them. The bride had a bouquet of orange flowers, which I thought unusual, but they were otherwise wearing what you would expect. The groom in a tuxedo and the bride in a white wedding dress. After a few moments of celebration, the groom lifted his bride and carried her up the steps and into the building where they were lost from our sight.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Sill fighting, on a daily basis, unusual internet activity.

It would be easy to blame it on China, but I won't. I'll just say that there are unexplainable barriers to our daily ease of use of the cybermedium. Often, pages simply don't load, which is frustrating. Sometimes, pages take longer to load than you might expect to wait if you were using a dial-up connection, but we're supposedly broadband. Some pages load quickly, some don't load at all. Pages appear, but the objects are broken, incomplete or in disarray. I've ruled out problems with my increasingly aging laptop, as I've given it a thorough once-over and I've reinstalled the software in question, such as those always suspicious Microsoft products. We've just come to accept it as the new increasingly fickle nature of the internet.

This kind of unresponsive surfing has turned the internet into the cybertedium, hearkening the days of booting the computer and then leaving to make a cup of coffee while the geekbox clicked and whirred to life, although now we're waiting for the websites to materialize.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

My friend, Dave, called this my "blotter," rather than blog, which I approve of completely. One of two people who read me with something close to regularity so he can call it what he likes. It's a nice description of the writing process for me in this medium, anyway. I suppose anything is better than "diary," which would probably turn the stomach of any of the other self-prophesying cyber-writers out there. I'm just tickled that he mentioned it at all.

Nice, charming, blue-eyed, nigh cloudless, fairy-tale weather upon the city today. At least it seems so from the bedroom window where I sit, pajama-clad, impervious to the actual conditions of the world. I say this because the weather had turned cold.

Last evening, after nearly a week of rainy-ish and hazy weather, Angela and I decided, while we were literally chilling on the roof of an outdoor Thai restaurant near the lake in Houhai (the food a nice change of pace from our usual neighborhood sidewalk fare as well as a nice spicey complement to the cooling weather), that Summer had left and it would continue to get progressively colder.

The rain was nice, though, if only because it felt like it washed, if only temporarily, the dust and exhaust-layered world with which we have become so accustomed. Things smelled fresher, even if it was colder and my shoes got wet.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Beijing. City of smells.

When we had settled into our apartment, we noticed a strong smell coming from our bathroom. Now, it's not the kind of strong smell that you would naturally associate with a bathroom, although it was definately from the same family of scents. Our bathroom has a drain in the floor which emits the foul odor. The room next to the bathroom, where the washing machine sits, has a drain of the same type. The smell is not present during the day, but at night, it seems to act up. Roger, the ex-husband of my boss, suggested putting damp towels over the drains. My coworker, Carol, mentioned that their were no traps in the pipes, which allowed the noxious fumes to waft at leisure. Anyhow, we're still fighting it.

Outside the apartment, at the end of each hallway, just past the elevators, there is an outdoor balcony where we put our trash as the need arises. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, we may be lucky enough to catch a hint of what everyone on our floor had eaten on the day before. The location of the trash balcony is the same on every floor, which happens to be directly above the front entrance to our building.

It's really not as exagerratingly bad as I'm making it sound, nor is it so far from the truth.

Out in the world around our apartment building, we are surrounded by construction, massive high-rise construction projects, which seem to keep a constant cloud of dust circulating in the air. You get used to it. It's also pleasing to think that when the construction is completed, the neighborhood could possibly be quite nice. Take a stroll to the vegetable market, which houses vendors of many other types of goods, as well as many small restaurants, and enjoy the potpourri of animal, vegetable and mineral odors.

You learned, in my previous post, that I have a personal driver. As he is a smoker, there is often the smell of cigaret smoke in the car, which is not pleasing to all. The ride to school and back, completed during morning and evening rush hours, also carries its attendant smells. As you would expect, the profusion of exhaust is ripe and nauseating as we swim through the stop-and-go traffic. It's not rare to see a three-wheeled vehicle or truck belching smoke as it rambles down the road.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

I have a personal driver here. He takes me to work in the morning and takes me home in the evening. He also takes me grocery shopping on Friday afternoon. It's nice. My boss said she was responsible for my well-being here, which is fine by me, thus the personal escort. It sure beats scrabbling for the bus every day. And the traffic here is terrible.

The first driver, Mr. Nan, only shuttled me around to training meetings and such before I started working. He smiles often, flashing his gold and tobacco smile at me in the back seat, but otherwise doesn't say much. One time, he picked me up and took me across the street to eat lunch, but I thought that was a little excessive. Out on the open stretch of road that leads to my school, he has a habit of shifting into fifth gear after getting up to about 10mph, which makes the van rattle tremendously.

Once the semester began Mr. Gau took over. Mr. Gau (I don't know if that's a correct representation of his name, but it's as close as my phonetic ragamuffin Chinese gets me) is the second driver I've had, and he's trying to learn English. He references his phrasebook on a daily basis. He can say "see you tomorrow" as good as any native speaker, but after that we're rolling dice. He offers me cigarettes every morning.

Whatever unique characteristics the two drivers possess, they both have one in common. They lean on the horn as much as possible. Try honking at a bus in America and see how far you get. Never fear! What's a horn for, if not to sound off. Let folks know you're coming!

They both honk when they arrive at my building, even though I live on the 16th floor. They honk for no reason, which scares me. They honk at the cars in front of us when we're stop-and-go in morning or evening traffic, and they honk when we pass people walking or riding their bikes along the side of the road. As a matter of fact, almost every driver in this town seems to use the horn in the car as often as possible, which is a nice complement to the alarm clock ringing in the morning...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

It seems I haven't had the time to do any serious writing lately, but I'm trying to get back on track. Since my job has started, teaching English to 3rd and 4th grade Chinese boarding school students, I've been preoccupied with learning the Carden Method and preparing my lessons. Fortunately, the kids are great and I enjoy the work, which is pleasantly challenging. It's good to be working again after almost three months of vacation.

On an aside, if you're still after me about foiling your terrorist activities in a previous post, this post has narrowed your possibilities for locating my whereabouts quite a bit. Although you may be able to waltz into countries like America and Spain, China may pose more of a challenge. The school is quite well guarded, the front gate being monitored by a uniformed gentleman who stands under an umbrella. He wears athletic shoes which, I'm guessing, are easier to run in then boots.

Moving away from the workplace, here's a nice picture from our balcony, which not only demonstrates the amount of construction happening all around us, but also the height at which we live. The air is very dusty, but it's an otherwise nice, safe, developing neighborhood with many cheap restaurants and a nice vegetable market nearby.

We're not too close to the hot nightspots, but we don't seek that kind of entertainment too often. Hopefully, I can get to a poetry reading tonight. I want to get involved in some kind of literary performance activity while I'm here, but I just haven't found the time to begin the necessary research yet. The information I have may also be outdated. I suppose it's not the best place to read Poetry in English, but I'm going to try it. I met a Chinese sculptor last night, a friend of one of my coworkers, who may perhaps know some folks who dabble with the word. As you know, I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

All's well with the blind posting methodology from China I'm embracing. I can't see what I'm doing, but it's not as bad as I thought. I suppose it forces me to pay more attention in my first drafts...

Check out the new poem by Anthony Liccione in Wieldy. I've published a number of poems by folks with Italian names, which is nice, but not entirely intentional. I don't know why it happens, or where they find me, but I like it.

Angela started looking for a job today on the computer. It wasn't such a positive experience for her, although she found a number of additional possibilities for me. I started my teacher training today, which involved watching six hours of DVD headshot with some Powerpoint mixed in. This activity is scheduled to occur two more times over the next two days, with the format remaining exactly the same. It's a little uncomfortable in desks and chairs designed for Chinese elementary school kids, but at least we get a break for lunch.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

OK, that works. Sometimes, I can post from the Blogger.com website but sometimes I can't. In any case, after I post a message, I can't view the page. You should still be able to happily read me from your wherever whereabouts.

I'm not sure how long the websites have been blocked, but it seems China has also blocked some articles about their censorship of blogs. Do your own research. I'm not going to be passing out flyers in Tiananmen Square, a nice place to fly a kite, but it's a little annoying. I guess I can deal with it for a year.

Testing

Apparently, posting to this website is a censored activity. I hoping I can
send a message from this source...

Friday, August 20, 2004

OK. I'm back.

We arrived, Angela and I, in Beijing without incident and have been taking care of loose-ends since we arrived. I finally have a dedicated connection to the internet, which means I can start posting my posts again with more regularity.

I won't say anything special about Beijing now. I don't have much time to write today, but expect something within the next few days or so. We're having a great time adjusting to our new life. I'm actually nursing back to health from a nasty cold I picked up a few days ago, but I think I should be 100% tomorrow.

Friday, August 06, 2004

I have a new poem in The Surface. The link to the poem is handily located on your left. Take a look and let me know what you think. It is part of a longer poem.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Right now, I'm a living poetry. That's about the best way describe it. The food, the lifestyle, the history, the people. Getting to know my future family and learning Italian at a breakneck pace. My father, in another part of this country with my mother, sending me phrasebook messages from some internet cafe.

I don't do too much here, though. Every day, wandering Puglia with Angela, driving around in her sister's Fiat. Going to the ocean to swim as much as possible, which is not enough for Angela. (She doesn't like it when I talk about her.) I snuck away to plot off some ramblings for the dedicated few who find me every now and then.

About three more weeks of intensive cultural training and vacationing here and then it's off to China. Maybe I can write you again.

Buona giornata!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Haven't been around much lately. Spending six relaxing weeks in Italy before Angela and me move to China. I'll give you more information when I get a chance. Right now, I don't have much time to spend in front of a computer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I have a poem in the Tin Lustre Mobile. The link to the poem is handily located in my list at the left.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Spent a great Monday and Tuesday with my friend and coworker, Steve, on Mount Koya or Koya-san as it is referred to here. So close to Osaka (a few hours South by train), I continue to be inspired by the many beautiful places I've visited in Japan. I won't attempt to recreate many of the other descriptions of that place, which can be found you know where.

We wondered if we would be able to get there, departing for our adventure knowing that a typhoon was fast approaching. I heard some word-of-mouth news from someone in the office that trains from Kyoto had been cancelled. In fact, while we were walking to the train station, it began to sprinkle and the sky was well bruised, indicating more impressive damage would be forthcoming. I had an umbrella and it was raining steadily by the time our train left.

Raining solidly amid gusting winds, we reached our destination and were a short ride from the center of town, where we would negotiate lodgings in a temple. Smoking outside the station and contemplating our plan of action, I quickly realized how ineffective my umbrella would be and decided to purchase a rain poncho to keep my clothes dry.

At the tourist information center, we had no trouble finding a place to stay. There aren't many tourists on Monday, especially when a typhoon is brewing. I expected to have to sleep in some kind of medieval Japanese dungeon or something, but the lodgings were typical for a Japanese inn. After eating some lunch and resting a bit, we decided to take advantage of what appeared to be a pause in the nasty weather.

Our destination was the famous cemetery and a hike through the surrounding mountains. The gentleman at the entrance of the cemetery suggested that it wouldn't be safe to continue. The storm had increased to a higher pitch than anything I had yet witnessed in Japan, and we paused to reconsider the continuation of our adventure. We had invested too much energy to turn back, and decided to venture forth despite the warnings. We looked at it as a challenge. It was that or go back to our temple and drink beer in our room for the rest of the rainy day, which wasn't too appealing. Aside from that, everything is closed on Mondays, except for the convenience store, which really didn't offer too much in the way of entertainment.

The cemetery was impressive. It was a little intimidating to walk along the deserted stone paths, strewn with the giant fallen limbs of the cedar and pine trees that surrounded the cemetery, but eventually, it seemed that the storm died and we could walk in a slight drizzle without the fear of getting knocked senseless by a falling branch. Perhaps the mountains were protecting us from the wind. Perhaps Buddha was smiling on us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Finally finished this e-book, Geek (PDF), if you feel inclined to take a look.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

It doesn't bother me that Japanese people ignore me. In a city as inundated with English teachers from abroad as it is with convenience stores, fast food restaurants and language schools, I'm not exactly an unusual sight these days. Anyway, I believe they think it's polite to ignore me, and that's acceptable. I stopped worrying long ago that not everyone could recognize my greatness, even if I was brimming with it. It is much easier to get something accomplished when I don't have to worry about my approval rating, which has, at various times, been a distraction.

What does bother me, and really only as a curiosity, is that other foreigners (mostly of the male variety) don't notice me, don't acknowledge me when we pass in a shop, on the street or subway. We ignore each other or, at least, they ignore me. Perhaps, I have misguided perceptions about the aura that surrounds me, but I generally try to make eye-contact when I see someone like me. My gaze is rarely returned. Sometimes, our eyes meet, but the other person usually continues on seemingly unaffected or simply looks back toward the ground. I suppose, as with the Japanese, it's fairly common to see foreigners in random places and that's, as I mentioned above, nothing special in itself. Still, Japan is not our native country and we share the common experience of being here out of our element. I expect friendly human accord.

I was much more naive about it when I first arrived here, assuming others like myself would greet, say hello, nod or otherwise acknowledge me, but I guess people are really just the same anywhere you go. They only care about themselves.

I still haven't gotten over it and, after two years slanging English, I'm still conducting my informal eye-contact experiments wherever my adventures lead me. Recently, while watching a couple of foreign dudes chat up some lovely Japanese lasses on the train, I settled on a theory about why it occurs. They know I know they're just here to steal Japanese women, especially susceptible, I hear, to our blue-eyed variety. It's that or they just love raw fish.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

In the past few weeks, I've received some unusual e-mail. E-mail that would suggest I am luckier than I otherwise consider myself, depending upon how you look at it. I've included excerpts from the unusual messages, which I suspect as being from terrorist sources, which is serious, although I could just be paranoid. You decide...
Sir,
It is my pleasure to write you after much considerations I can not be able to see you face to face at first. Being the first son of my father late prince mathew Konan from Zulu in republic of South Africa. My father was a limited liability cocoa and gold merchant in South Africa before his untimely death. After his business trip to Abidjan Cote d'Ivoire, to negociate on a cocoa business a week after he came mother by unknown assassins . which my mother died , instantly, but my father died after five days in hospital on that faithful afternoon. I didn't know that my father was going to leave me after I had lost my mother . But before he gave up the ghost , it was as if he know he was going to die . He my father,may his soul rest in perfect peace ) disclose to me that he deposited $ 18.5 ( eighteen million five hundred thousand dollars ) in security and safe deposit company in Abidjan , Cote d'Ivoire.

That the money was meant for his cocoa business he wanted to invest in Abidjan , Cote d'Ivoire through, according to my father he deposited the money in a trunk box, but declared it as ivory , and family belonging for the security reasons. He single handed me the key of the box and certificate of deposit and agreement certificate , and instructed me to seek for a foreign assistant who will help me to move it out from the security and safe deposit company for a life time investment abroad . Now , I have succeeded in locating the security and safe deposit company here in Abidjan , Cote d'Ivoire and also I confirmed the item with most honest and confidentiality. Now I am soliciting for your assistance to help me lift this money out from Abidjan to your account abroad so that we should invest it in any lucrative business in your country , strictly in your advice , because this is my only hope in life.

As I am awaiting anxiously to hear from you so that we can discuss the modalities of this transaction . I have mapped out for you 15% of the total fund which stands for your commission for presenting a foreign bank account where the money will be transferred to and more so you shall benefit 5% of the monthly total interest of the said venture.

Is "Zulu" a place? Heh. I'm not an expert. The grammar is particularly entertaining, although i don't expect perfection. This message now rests quietly in my Trash, gathering e-dust. If I help him move the money, will the assassins who killed his father on the above mentioned "faithful" day come after me? You're not laughing yet? Dare you mock my credibility, my vast influence? Read on...
I am Philip Kabali, Personal Assistant to President Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia. As you may know he has recently stepped down from power and is presently in assylum in Nigeria. The purpose of my letter is to ask if you can render the assistance requested and to bring to bear my present position and the very need for true and solicited help with respect to Ex President Taylor. View these websites (1, 2) carefully. Your assistance is needed in the sense that some funds derived from Diamond sales during his tenure needs to be transferred/moved from its present location to a place or an account that you may hopefully provide or arrange. The reason for this is that plans are underway to confiscate not only his known fixed assets but also liquid assets. I have been mandated to seek and find a reliable person, based overseas, that is disposed in helping to secure some or all of the funds in question. If you are that person, do respond to this letter.

Unfortunately, I am too busy these days to get involved. The incentive in this letter, none, wasn't as appealing, but I consider all proposals, especially when they include the best interests of our higher powers, as the next message reveals...
My condition is really deteriorating and is quite obvious that I may not live for long still keeping much faith in the Lord, My late husband was killed during ethnic-religious clashes between Muslims and Christians in Kano,the Northern part of Nigeria.

We had a son who was also killed in the same cold war. My late husband was very wealthy and after his death, I inherited all his business Entitlement and wealth. My personal physician told me that I may not live for more than six months.

Consequent upon this, I have therefore decided to commit the bulk of this my entitlement to The Lord's Charity and Mission work in America, Europe, Asian and the entire Globe.

This in no doubt is a big task in Africa where there is strigent monetary regulations . I selected your Church after visiting the website for this purpose and prayed over it.

I am willing to donate the sum of $10,400,000.000 (TEN MILLION FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND)US Dollars to Hiv-Aids Patients Rehabilitation and Other Health related cases and Church/Ministry for the development of evangelism and also as aids for the less privileged in your area abroad.

Yes, worshippers. Welcome to the church of Bob. I think this offer will help us get off the ground. Coming soon! Finally, the most telling message...
On a routine inspection I discovered a dormant domiciliary account with a BAL. Of 36,000,000 (Thirty Six Million USD) on further discreet investigation, I also discovered that the account holder has long since passed away (dead) leaving no beneficiary tothe account. The bank will approve this money to any foreigner because the former operator of the a/c is a foreigner and from Iraq in particular and I am certainly sure that he is dead, and nobody will come again for the claim of this money A foreigner can only claim this money with legal claims to theaccount Holder; therefore I need your cooperation in this transaction.

I will provide the necessary information needed in order to claim this money, But you will need to open an account where this can be transferred. If interested send your private Telephone No. And Fax number including full details of the account to be used for the Deposit I wish for utmost confidentiality in handling this transaction as my job and the future of my family would be jeopardized if it were breached.

I want to assure you that the transaction is without risk if due process is followed accordingly. Finally,I will give you 25% for your corporation.

25% for my "corporation?" I'm not sure if the Church of Bob qualifies as such, yet. Actually, we're not making any profit whatsoever, but if you are so inclined to further the righteous cause, personal checks are accepted.

Monday, June 07, 2004

I have a new poem at Sidereality. The link to the poem is handily located in my list at the left. Otherwise, follow this one and dig around for a while. You might find it interesting if you've never checked out any online literary magazines.

I also have a poem in a new magazine from India called Leaves, but you may have to purchase a copy of the magazine to read it. I'm sure they wouldn't mind your business!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I went to Tottori last week for a couple days with Paola, my roommate. A prefecture North of Osaka on The Japan Sea famous for, at least, the location of the Japanese desert. We rode a bus for about three hours in the morning to get there. I took pictures to prove my adventure. Although I don't have any pictures of the bus, I have some nice pictures of some Japanese students from Himeji who fearlessly introduced themselves to us amid bouts of tug-of-war.

I thought it was a beautiful place, and surprisingly deserted for an attraction, albeit a natural one, which was not a temple or an amusement park or something with more obvious return or souvenir value. Among the many possible activities to choose from, we could have ridden a camel or paid to just sit on one, neither of which we attempted. We did climb to the top of that massive dune in the picture and down to the beach on the other side. The water was blue, beautifully calm and brimming with a type of jellyfish neither of us had ever seen. The weather was spectacular on that, our first day, but rained us out of Dodge on the following day, although not until after we had climbed to a temple on Mt. Daisen in the pouring downpour.

Back in the big O now to continue the monotonous countdown to my departure. 16 working days, 29 days until I board a plane and 30 days until I can see Angela! Everything seems monotonous when you're waiting for a vacation. Every day is a new opportunity to recalculate the remaining moments left until Angela and me reunite in Rome. Unfortunately, the weather has been typically wet lately, and colder than you might expect for this time of year, although I don't mind working when the weather is bad. Paola, informed me that the rainy season started a few days ago so I guess I'm in for a few more nasty days before I leave.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Moving to Osaka helped me reign in my life in many ways. One way in particular, was to cure me of my need to consume baseball.

Before I came to Japan, I used to be a much bigger baseball fan. A long time San Francisco Giants supporter, I would listen to or watch games as often as possible, attend maybe a dozen each season or BBQ and put a few back with the boys while watching one. The days and free moments following games were spent in preparation. I would read the various articles in the sports sections, pore over box scores and statistics in the newspaper or on the computer and argue with my baseball friends, while simultaneously sucking in as much sporstalk radio as I could stomach. I wouldn't say baseball was my life, but it was an impressive feature in it.

Since I've been in Osaka, I've lost much of my interest, partly due to the lack of options to watch or listen to good old Major League Baseball (MLB). The New York Yankees (NYY) and the Seattle Mariners are often shown on television here, but they just aren't my teams. I could pay to listen to audio or video broadcasts, which normally air when I'm sleeping, but then it just becomes something that, as my father would say, "nickels and dimes you to death," and I'm trying to cut-back on those costs. Sometimes, when I'm writing e-mail or doing other work at my computer, I follow a game using Gameday, a kind of 2-D computer representation of the games in progress, but if you think watching baseball is slow already, you've never experienced it on the internet. The time difference, which is 16 or 17 hours depending upon which part of the year it is, doesn't help either.

It's certainly not due to the lack of baseball in Japan, which is nearly manic about the sport. Osaka hosts two teams: The Hanshin Tigers (who won their division last season and played in the Japan championship series, coincidentally sporting uniforms which resemble those worn by the NYY) and the Kintetsu Buffaloes, who are generally viewed by the masses as a second-class team but, for the past few seasons, wielded one of the league's most powerful hitters.

Whatever the reason for my waning interest, I won't completely forget baseball. I simply don't have the time in an afternoon to kill a few hours watching a game. I never even turn my TV on, aside from the fact that everything on it is in Japanese. Nonetheless, I spent too much time over the years studying the game to forget about it completely; buying baseball cards, playing little league, scrabbling for autographs and foul-balls, attending games, throwing baseball parties. I have quite a few strong memories from baseball, which relate to different parts of my life, and that's a good thing.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I hate when other people e-mail:

5. Christmas blasts. You know those long letters that some people write at the end of the year and send to every person in their address books. Even worse, printing out the letters and enclosing them within Christmas cards. One of those cards with a picture of their whole family taken when they were at some beach resort last Summer. Lick a stamp on that and help keep the post office in business for another year.

4. Uni-paragraph messages. Have some style, damnit! At least, have mercy on my eyesight. It's not exactly easy to read a never-ending paragraph in this format, which is your boring life story since last Christmas because you were too busy to write me at any other time during the year.

3. A list of people who received the message. In theory, the idea of a paper trail is nice. Who cares about the e-paper trail. I certainly don't care who is in your address book AND I don't want to scroll through 2000 names before I get to the joke, which doesn't make me laugh anyway, but I'm gullible because you're a family member and I feel guilty. Learn how to delete information that is just stupid or useless. Aside from that, I don't exactly feel special. I don't feel like you really cared and took the time to write me a message even though the message said that someone was thinking about me and that I should also continue to forward it or my luck will end.

2. Forwarded jokes. And they don't even make me chuckle once quietly to myself when no one is looking. And someone already sent it to me two years ago. Nearly falls in the Junk-mail category, except it's done with more loving care by family members and the like.

1. Junk-mail. Are there foolproof filters out there? I thought I was fairly clever about it, but one thing or another always backfires. Something always gets accidentally dumped in my trash, so I always have to dig through my garbage e-mail to make sure the one message I received this year from my long lost friend from college who was only writing because he changed his e-mail address and was blasting everyone in his address book doesn't get thrown away.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

For a nation that prides itself on its sense of peace and propriety, the Japanese love their noise.

I wrote once before about the music that can be heard in a multitude of places throughout Japan, some of it difficult to classify as music, but I'm not talking about that, generally, attention-grabbing sound. I'm talking about just plain noise. Walk into almost any place of business here and the staff shouts "irasshaimase!" Try to say this word as fast as possible and you can reach a close proximity to the Japanese version. I've become quite good at mimicking shop clerks and izakaya staff.

The subway stations are noisy places, as you might expect, but I think they do it bigger here. Not only are there little chimed tunes announcing the arrival of a train, which is stylish, if you fancy such things, but there are also buzzers that sound when the doors are about to close. Once on board, the magic lady-voice of the train spews the next destination, which may be a key transfer station, in both Japanese and English.

In front of large department stores or near major arcade or shopping areas, there are perhaps a dozen people shouting at passers-by. They want you to come into their restaurants or karaoke bars, many holding large signs, passing out flyers or tissue or augmenting their voices with megaphones.

Pachinko parlors may be some of the noisiest places on the planet. Imagine hundreds of tiny steel balls flying around in a vertical pinball machine chock full of metal pins to bounce against. Mix this incessance with ear-splitting house music, cartoon voices and music from the video displays (which double as a simultaneously operating slot-machine), and the real voices of the MCs rising above the din to announce the current big players, and you have an experience that leaves you numb long after leaving, yet some people play the game for hours on end. It's the right approach to running a casino, though.

Aside from that, it's a fine Spring day with the rain drowning out even the sound of the traffic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

It's embarrassing to be an American these days. If you've been reading the newspapers and e-rags or the other internet chatter from your e-friends and whatever, it's easy to see what I'm talking about. Some of my students, daily, ask me what I think about Iraq, but I just don't understand the scandal. Is there a noble way to rectify that situation? It has turned into the greatest sadomasochistic circus freak show on Earth, starring the rebel Iraqi lion tamers and the Bungling Bros., Rumsfeld & Abu Ghraib military nitwits. Is it possible to say "oops" and leave quietly, like the Spanish who are currently withdrawing their troops?

I don't usually touch such hot topics so directly, preferring to take a more aloof stance about my political bravado, but I've been saddened by the events in that country. In my current circles, politics is just a topic best avoided in mixed company, especially when that mix is international in nature. I can't imagine ever being able to say "I told you so" about any of the Iraq crap, which is about the only motivation my untrained eye can see for our initial presence there. Good luck, America.

I've been sitting on this post for a few days now, waffling about whether I should reveal it or not. Well, there you have it. It will be conveniently buried in my archive in a few weeks.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Happy Mother's Day to those of you who are distinguished as such! It was a rainy grey morning in Osaka today when I rode my bicycle home. It's not raining now, as usually happens after I arrive home, but the sky is still grey.

I'm too tired to write anything exciting. Sometimes the words just don't allow it. I've been working too much and I'm just trying to make it to my weekend. If I don't force myself to stop sitting in front of this computer, I could end up staring blankly at the same words for another hour.

I'm going to call my mom and then go to sleep.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I've been away for a few days, our last dash before Angela leaves on Thursday, vacationing on Shikoku, so I haven't updated with the usual regularity. I won't write much today, as we're going to her sayonara party in a few hours, but I just wanted to catch y'all up as I might not get another chance for a few more days.

Transportation costs are one of the most expensive parts of living in Japan. There are many options, most of them privately owned, but none of them are cheap. We saved some money when we were traveling in Shikoku by hitchhiking, which I highly recommend if you get out of the major cities and time is not an issue. Not a bad idea in one of the safest places to live in the world.

We never waited more than five minutes for a ride, most people taking us to our exact destinations. One couple even going as far as finding us lodgings for the night when we were in the middle of nowhere. Hitchhiking is also one of the best ways to meet Japanese people who are otherwise more reserved in the daily workaday world. Armed with a few expressions and, most importantly, the names of our destinations, we muddled our way through most conversations, met many people and had a great time.

Shikoku became my favorite place in Japan, particularly the small island of Shodoshima off the Northeast coast of Shikoku, which can only be reached by ferry. The people were especially friendly and helpful while we were there. We also found a cheap place to spend the night, Dutch Pancake Camping, which rented us a tent and sleeping bags.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

There is fashion in language as in everything else. I admit I may not be the best example of that fashion, but I have my style and that's enough. Take it or leave it.

Context is important. In my younger days as a writer, really just a poetaster daubing poemlets about any number of whims in a little notebook I carried everywhere, I decided to create a website in which I would write a weekly article, much like this. The only real punctuation I used, as it was a reflection of my attempt to capture some kind of feeling of continuation, was the ellipsis. An ellipsis, for those of you who may not know, is three periods in succession... made famous by such writers as Herb Caen... that's as far back as my memory goes... and my memory ain't so good. You have the internet. Do your own research.

Anyway, after a year or so, I simply got bored by the ellipsis, the use of which was really an offshoot of my poetic practices (don't laugh), even though I didn't, often, use any punctuation at all in my own poetry. If I was going to use any punctuation, though, it had to be the ellipsis! Oh, beauteous grammatical mark! On the website, though, it was just too hard to create the continuous drip of writing I was after, and I started to think it was stupid. So I killed that idea. I really just wanted to present a more professional image to my audience, which was is and perhaps will be almost no one. Punctuate that!

Meanwhile, the ellipsis had snuck into much of the other informal writing I did. E-mail, for example, or vile hand-written *gasp* notes to my roommates. I think it's fine in those forums, which is largely used for cuff responses to my friends, family and what-else. Nonetheless, I have used e-mail successfully to apply for jobs and submit writing to various publications, which requires a semblance of professionalism.

Recently, a farty old poetry goat publicly chastised my lack of standardized punctuation in my posts on an online forum. I was a little perturbed that he raised his hackles about the way I express myself, especially as we were both, supposedly, creative writers, and take some license with language as a rule. Now, I simply won't go to the website anymore or support that kind of nonsense. I could understand it if I were writing a press release or something more official, but he was criticising my personal method of conveying my thoughts in a workshop, which really doesn't matter, especially as they were written to another person. Nothing on the site was listed about correct form in a criticism, and there are really more important things to rub the wrong way than how someone communicates.

Why is this so important to me? It's not the first time I ruffled some feathers in this manner, but I recently read an article about a new book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. I didn't read the book, but she apparently ruminates about the demise of punctuation. Not a new concept for anyone who has watched communication trends brought about by computers, but one that got me all riled. The fashionable will continue to dominate popular culture, whether it be in a semiconductor or a semicolon, so who cares if punctuations is dying. I prefer to think of it as evolution. Besidest that, styles always come back.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Japanese women are quite concerned with fashion. It's a kind of hybrid passion wavering between traditional Japanese aesthetic and America brand name or, as the Japanese say, "brand goods" materialism. On any given afternoon, it's not unusual to see any number of women showing off the same Burberry, Coach or Gucci handbags or other merchandise. Nor is it difficult to find a Japanese woman looking at a mirror, applying her makeup on the subway or rouging her cheeks in the park on a sweltering, humid afternoon. Having lived here for a few years now, it's a bit difficult to understand if the same mania exists in the states or whether it's really just a Japanese phenomenon.

Louis Vuitton has taken a particularly firm grip on the Japanese, selling merchandise which appeals to both sexes. I've seen so many briefcases, datebooks and wallets in the hands of men who pluck and shave their eyebrows more than women, I wouldn't be surprised if every male in Japan owned something with the familiar brown patterns.

And Japanese men aren't far behind their biological opposites in their portrayal of what is fashionable. It's not uncommon to see men wearing the latest designer labels and sporting the newest briefcases, bags and shades. Their hairstyles rival the women they parade around with in the subways. I call it Anime hair, which resembles the characters in many of the popular comic books (Manga) the men addictively read.

I live in, perhaps, the alternative fashion capital of Japan. The fashion in Osaka, famous for its unique sense of style, some might describe as willy-nilly. Some ensembles are simply impossible to describe accurately.

The magazine stands, the harbingers of fashion as much as anime, are lined shoulder-to-shoulder with Japanese, everyone thumbing through the glossiest issues of the month. It's the Japanese answer to reading. Many will stand for hours just perusing the thousands of periodicals on the rack, a kind of self-inflicted torture for the cool. As someone who has tried for years to obscure the sources of my own personal fashion from the rest of the world, I might be obsessing over these cultural habits. I could also just be wrong.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Spring has sprung in Osaka, and it has been nice enough to parade around in a t-shirt recently. This may be my favorite time of the year. Of course, in Japan, as Spring continues to bloom on us, that means it's time for cherry blossom viewing, known as Hanami among the natives. The combination of trees blossoming and weather nicening creates the perfect reason to BBQ or just stroll through parks admiring the delicate change of the seasons. I say Hanami as though it were an English word, and it's true that us non-natives call it by the Japanese name, but it's just the best way to describe it. We have incorporated this and many other words from our host's language into our own blend of the most malleable language on the planet.

I remember my first Spring in Osaka, gullibly asking a then veteran employee at my office if he had gotten a chance to do any blossom viewing. He responded by saying that I hadn't been here long enough and that, after doing it once, it was all the same. I didn't share his opinion and have since gone blossom viewing many times. It's particularly appealing at night, when all of the crowds have dispersed and the trees are only the quiet spirits of the park, the pink and white canopy of blossoms a kind of ethereal, ghostly light with the moon.

Unfortunately, my current work schedule doesn't allow me to enjoy the Spring, the sun and blossoms as much as I would like to these days, working during the wee hours and sleeping at the others, but I still get in my licks when I have to. I managed to attend two late morning Hanami parties over the past week. It's a good excuse to drink beer at 8:30 AM.

Friday, April 09, 2004

The internet is fantastic. I've added some new features to the site this week. You should start seeing some pictures now, the first of which I've added to a post from a few weeks ago. My attempt to make the site a bit more colorful. It's not award-winning photography, but it should add some meat to my otherwise dreary self-indulgence.

It was not very easy, either. As I use free e-mail and free web hosting, I have no storage space on the web to reference pictures. I had to find a free place to store photographs to which I could also link from the website. Some free storage sites don't allow remote linking! After a few hours and three or four failures, I finally settled on Bravenet.

I also dropped a hit counter into the sidebar just to appease my curiosity and love of statistics.

I will begin to make the text more dynamic by including more links, the first of which is included above in this post. Now that I don't use a WYSIWYG editor, I'm having to learn bits of HTML that I otherwise ignored in the past. It probably won't interest you much if you're looking for my poems.

Speaking of which, I should, in the near future, be adding links to some e-books I'm self-publishing with my own, as of yet, unnamed publishing house. There you have it. Laugh if you must.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

I wanted to write something for April Fool's Day, but I didn't have the energy then. A few days ago, I started working the graveyard shift. 11PM until 7:30AM. Yes, in Japan, people study English around the clock. My job is like an English convenience store for language.

I haven't quite completely adjusted to the time change yet, but it gets easier every day. Going to work when everyone else is going home, and coming home when everyone else is going to work means that there's always a seat on the subway, which is nice after a long night of shoveling introductions and idioms.

Caffeine is beginning to take a toll on me, too. I need to reduce my doses, which, in recent excess, just makes me a miserable teeth-grinder. I imagine that habit will taper off as my biological clock realigns itself and it starts feeling natural to awaken with the moon. Not a bad prospect for a poet, I suppose. I can think of less poetic ways to start my day.

I haven't worked out all the impending alterations to my personal life that such a change induces, but that's a work in progress, as always. A temporary alteration, at least until my great escape in July, to put a few more yen in my pocket.

Now, sleep calls.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Osaka's annual Sumo tournament ended yesterday. The champion wrestler, Asashouryu, a Mongolian who is about half the size of the largest wrestlers, was undefeated in the contest. Someone told me he hadn't lost any of his last 30 bouts, which seems quite impressive.

Typical for Gaijins, we purchased the cheapest tickets, standing area nose-bleeds, and then looked for unoccupied tatami (straw mat) seats to better view the bouts in more comfort and closeness. Unoccupied seats are easy to spot. The tatami, by the placement of cushions, is divided into seats, further separated into groups of four seats with raised metal bars, comprising a kind of group box seat. If someone buys one of these boxes, the ushers place cups for tea on a small tray inside the barred area, thus indicating that the area is reserved. We simply looked for seats where there were no tea cups and made ourselves at home.

If you can afford a box seat, you get lots of goodies. When guests arrive, they are brought a warm pot of tea to drink. Shortly afterwards, an usher arrives to take orders. The spectators in each box receive a bento (a traditional japanese lunch box), beer or sake, and some Sumo souvenirs. As we didn't pay for the luxury, I'm not entirely sure what else is included. Fortunately, scavengers that we were, we were able to snatch some unopened bentos and beer at the end of the contest, after most of those in attendance had dispersed. Enough, in fact, to feed and drink all six of us that evening!

Sumo is a great Japanese sport. We just don't have anything like it in America. There are quite a few foreign wrestlers, also. I'm not sure about the ratio of foreign to native wrestlers, but there's enough to notice that it's a significant number. I think the previous champion, Akebono, was Hawaiian. I can't help wondering what the Japanese think of so many foreigners playing and dominating their sport.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Nothing weighty to buzz in with this entry. I had some time on my hands, by virtue of an extra day off this week, and thought I would spend my time by wisely updating this version of my mind, although it's not all I accomplished today. The rest was almost entirely domestic or just plain unmentionable.

You might think, by reading some of my previous blogs, that Japan was a wasted, modernized, over-laden volcanic rock with nothing more than all of the allure of a cockroach-infested electronica where the people are excessively polite or rude depending upon how you look at them, but that's just not true.

Yesterday, Angela and me went to Ise, which revived our interest in Japan. Ise was a beautiful place on the edge of a National Park and the Ocean. Two of Japan's most esteemed Shinto Shrines are located in Ise. Apparently, there is a mirror housed inside one shrine that only The Emperor can view. Everyday riffraff, like me, and Japanese rabble can only walk to the entrance to pray or throw money on a white sheet which, I suppose, makes it easier to gather. The walk is quite nice, though, winding along a maze of trails, most of them roped off in such a way that you can only go in one direction, through quite large, clean and well-manicured forests. I believe the monks come out at night, and by the light of the moon or the electronic sensors, pick up fallen pine needles. A monk or guardian monk or something broke away from his sacred text and, with gestures, indicated that we couldn't take pictures, but we had already captured the sacred image. This is my vote for signs in English, after all, it is the world's language.

In between visits to the two shrines, Mother Nature did her best to dampen our spirits by raining, but we were determined to make the best of our journey, which was a two-hour train ride from Osaka. We were rewarded for our persistence, as the rain eventually passed by and the sun came out. On our way to second Shrine, we passed through a large old-style shopping area, which was packed with Japanese people eating, talking and making merry. Lots of old buildings and fish on a stick and the like. We were in time to witness the final performance of a Japanese drum quintet, which actually included a bamboo flute player.

Finally, having enough of wooden fences that surrounded the prize shrines and bansai shrubs, we caught a bus to the Ocean. We stopped to view the "Wedded Rocks." Two rocks in the ocean, one big and one not so, with a braided rope lassoed between them. It symbolizes a married couple with a strong bond, and we thought it was apropriate as we're planning our own marriage now. Next stop, Shikoku Island.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

St. Patrick's Day in Osaka. I wore green socks. I'm not Irish. I never did anything in America on this holiday, which always seems to fall on a weekday, but Angela and some other Italians wanted to drink green beer, and we decided to make our way to Japan's oldest Irish pub, Murphy's, to swill a pint or two after work. I never tried green beer, either, so it seemed like a reasonable quest. Unfortunately, the bar was out of green beer or the tap was broken, and we settled for black beer which, although not my favorite choice, seemed the right alternative on this occasion.

When asking a friend of mine if he was going to join us, Patrick, whom the Italians insisted must go out on his "name day," responded by telling me that, aside from the fact that he wasn't Irish, he wasn't thrilled about going to a crowded bar where the music would suck. I had similar feelings, preferring quieter places where one could actually sit and relax. The music didn't matter so much, but I envisioned rhapsodic Irish folk music ad infinitum among colliding pint glasses.

In making our way to the pub, none of us knew exactly where it was, we saw three of our female coworkers, arm in arm in arm, walking at a brisk pace, holding drinks, and singing loudly. As they were going in our same direction, we knew we were on the right track and consented to follow the drunk, singing, Irish girls.

The bar was packed. I wasn't surprised to hear American music inside, although there were Irish songs mixed in, too, which started the entire bar singing. Actually, a song by The Doors got me thinking, again, about who the greatest American rock and roll band of all time was, which was a continuation of a conversation I had had with a coworker a few days prior.

Monday, March 08, 2004

There's a world of variety among the toilets you can find in Japan. I never thought a visit to the commode could offer so much, but it has been an education.

First off, for the truly scornful breed of you, the cherished piss-pot is not even necessary. You can whip it out and throw it down wherever you happen to feel the yellow-eyed need. It's not uncommon to see a Japanese man staring at a wall, or simply the unsuspecting passers by, while holding himself. I'm glad to see tradition rear its head, even when there appears to be a lack of a head readily available.

Moving to more discreet methods of disposal. It's not hard to find those upright urinals built into or onto walls in restaurant or office bathrooms, perhaps more common in modern buildings. In many bars and older buildings, the urinal is a flat receptacle, like a mini wall-urinal, built into the floor. Sort of a fancy hole in the ground. I've never used one for anything more complicated than urination, being unpracticed at the other and fearing my own clumsiness. I haven't come across any of those trough-style urinals that you can find at many coliseums or sports arenas in the states. Also, many public bathrooms just don't have doors. It's not unusual to pass by a park and check the package of anyone who might be taking advantage of such a handy lavatory. So much for discretion.

Now, you can find the "Western-style" toilets, like those porcelain jobbers that we have in the states, in many places. We have one in our apartment, for example. In a gadget nation like Japan, they have, of course, improved upon it. Many "Western-style" toilets here include a control panel! Imagine flying a spaceshit while unloading your cargo. One button keeps the seat warm, which is a great feature during the Winter. It's hard to say what the other buttons do. Fortunately, I can't read much Japanese, but many of the icons on the toilet's dashboard are quite telling, as well as useful to the illiterate.

Recently, I discovered a new model. Upon entering a stall, I was pleased to discover that someone had, I thought, placed a paper seat cover on the seat and then, for whatever reason, left. I was happy about not having to touch anything else and went about my business. Anyway, having made use of a public repository and then flushing away the seat cover, a new paper seat cover emerged from what looked like a printer attached to the back of the toilet. This was an invention to marvel!

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Well, February was a productive month, blog-wise, as this is my fifth post of the month. Hooray for leap-years! And my posts have been longer in recent weeks. I guess I'm not as constipated as I was when I started punching out whatever rolled off the tip of my mind. At leat one person read my last post, aside from myself. It doesn't get me down, though. I've been writing poetry for years that no one reads. I guess I need to hype it more, my poetry and my blog. Look for me in an e-zine near you.

What's new? Yesterday, Angela and me went plum blossom viewing at Osaka Castle with about one million other Osakans. I missed plum blossom viewing last year, only catching the tail-end of cherry blossoms while drinking a midnight beer with my roommate after work one evening, so I didn't want to miss this season. The weather was ripe for it, clear skies and bright sunshine, and we didn't have anything better to do with our Saturday afternoon. Aside from that, I always try to immerse myself in Japanese-ish activity whenever possible. At least, those activities that I can understand. Especially, when it doesn't cost anything. It's my way of blending in or feeling Japanese, and observing beautiful things is not solely a Japanese passion.

Seriously, I believe blossom viewing is a fine way to spend an afternoon, and nobody does it better than the Japanese. The air smells wonderful, which is not easy to say about most places in Osaka, and almost everyone seems to be in high spirits while they wander along the dirt paths considering the white, pink and red emblazoned trees. An old woman in a purple kimono laid out a bunch of props and a cassette player, and started dancing, waving her fan, for those of us who had chosen to spend our afternoon at the base of the castle walls and the whims of nature. The wind kicked-up and we walked back to the station in a snow of late Valentine petals.

It rained hard and steady this morning, probably knocking off all of the fragile blossoms that we had observed yesterday. Such is the life of a blossom, subject to the extremities of the season. I thought it was a good day to work, which is what I did. More blossoms will appear in a few days, though. The last of the plums and the late-bloomers will emerge and fade, and then we will begin to prepare for the awakening of the cherry trees as the weather warms and turns Spring.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Someone in my office, a woman (if you were questioning my sources), said that Japan was 'Communism gone horribly wrong.' I may be paraphrasing, but it's not incredibly inaccurate, if I do say so myself. The woman also happened to be from New Zealand, if that further clarifies the situation in your mind. I don't know if I agree with her off-cuff remark, although it made me laugh, but I will add that the Japanese love singing and songs in general.

You've heard of Karaoke. You can play your favorite songs, sans the original vocals, and sing along with them. If you don't know the lyrics, you can sing along by following the words as they appear on a TV screen, which generally accompanies this activity, perched atop a large machine. They are kind of alternative music videos for budding vocalists or amateur time-killers. Mix in all of your friends, a lot of beer, and a score for accuracy, and you have hours of fun. I've done this with a group of Italians, who all sing every song as loud as possible, and it was quite fun. It sounds like Democracy.

Many of the crosswalks in this city play a short musical tune, Japanese-y sounding, when it's safe to cross the street. It's a musical greeting card kind of sound that's not very appealing if you have to listen to it more than every so often, but I suppose they don't want you standing around enjoying the wistful tunes when you should be quickly getting out of the way of traffic. Many schools and offices play little melodies when it's the beginning of the day or lunchtime or I don't know what. The office building across from my apartment complex always plays a twinkly version of "Yesterday" by The Beatles, and then all the workers come outside and exercise or something. The gas trucks play a little chorus of children singing as they go around the block. Late at night, like after midnight, a really old Japanese man wheels a wooden-cart through the streets selling ramen to the late-drinking salarymen, who come out from pissing behind shrubs to purchase hot bowls of noodles. All the while, a high-pitched tape-recorded singing continues, looped from a loudspeaker attached to the cart, alerting anyone within a one-mile radius, including anyone who may be soundly dreaming, that noodles are nearby.

In my office, at the beginning and end of every lesson, a likeness of Big Ben rings throughout the office. I'm actually not sure if it's an accurate representation of the chime that famous clock in Europe makes, not having heard it myself, but some of my coworkers said as much and that's good enough for me. And besides, it sounds European distorted through the speakers sixteen times each day.

When I first met Angela, we were serenaded weekly by the garbage trucks in the morning, which played little musical passages when they rumbled through her neighborhood. Different garbage trucks play different songs, and they come in many colors, as well. Perhaps the songs correspond to the colors or to the neighborhoods. We never figured it out, but we eventually dubbed one song as "our" song, and we have since learned to whistle the tune. It reminded me of something the ice-cream truck would play when I was a kid, bumbling through my neighborhood in the afternoon.

Is it Communism? It's hard to say.