Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The blog is finished. Thanks for reading whatever you read. I hope you laughed or at least muttered something to yourself. E-mail me if you feel like it. Be good and visit Japan. It's a fine country.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ambiguous Episodes Feat. People I'll Never See Again

 July 30, 2012
Da Nang, Vietnam

Pt. I: The Enduring Menace of We, Colonizers

The concierge at the front desk of the Sun River Hotel was a minikin middle-aged woman wearing a dichromatic Ao Dai silk tunic. It was around 2300h and her teeth were yellow and her face was bright and when I asked for her opinion on a nearby bar that my cab driver had championed, she said the bar was called Bamboo Bar and it was open late. She unfolded a map, tapping a specific point on it with two fingers. She took my luggage and smiled sadly when I admitted to having paid the cabbie eight bucks for a ride from the airport. The hotel’s windows were agape. Rusted-out rotating fans shuddered and buzzed.

Walking the western bank of Han River, the water seemed semi-solid. Across the surface small-scale oil slicks merged and dissevered and drifted toward the South China Sea. A stonewall delimited the sidewalk and dropped vertically down maybe two meters into black water. Corpulent rats pressed themselves into the crook where sidewalk met stonewall and they sauntered more than they scurried. Motorbike traffic was heavy and northbound. The city sounded like an orchestra of engines and smelled like smoked meat and sunburnt coral.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Miseducation of Ratna, Ken and Kumi: A Textbook Investigation Pt. 5

 Note: When I left Japan, I brought three of my school’s English textbooks with me. This will be the last time I analyze a specific chapter/activity/page from them. For the first four installments of this running segment and some basic information on the New Crown English Textbook Series, please refer to my earlier posts.

Pt. 5: Ken Colonizes England
Chapter Title: “A letter from the UK”
From: New Crown Series, Volume 1, pgs. 88-89.
Chapter’s Theme: This chapter consists of a single “hand-written” missive. It was mailed to Ken by an English-girl-we’ve-never-met-before named Mary. Apparently they are pen-pals. I thought pen-pals were extinct. Whatever. Mary and Ken write letters to each other. In this letter Mary answers Ken’s inquiries about life in England.
Graphics: An animated depiction of Mary composing a letter. A drawing of a rabbit-in-a-coat eating carrots. A photograph of sheep exiting a stone shanty. A photograph of an old mansion. A photograph of a sign championing “Old Harry Rocks” (I’m choosing to leave that alone). An animated depiction of Ken reading a letter and grinning like a devious little ass-face. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

When Japanese People Ruminate: Pt. 3

Welcome to the final, brief installment of When Japanese People Ruminate. If you aren’t familiar with this recurring segment, please refer to my previous, similarly titled posts. Again, these are all authentic quotes provided by actual Japanese students. And again, in italics, I’ve included the rejoinders I always thought but never said.

1)  Classroom AssignmentWrite a few sentences describing what you did yesterday.

“I dug hole. I like digging holes. I saw larva. I was caught in the rain. It a sharp and long rain. I went home at once.

(I admire your gumption, Kanako. Digging holes isn’t a conventional hobby but you enjoy it so screw what other people think. Yesterday you dug a hole because digging holes makes you happy. Good for you. But wait a second. You found larva? Do you mean lava? “Larva” isn’t everyday vocabulary, even for native English speakers. You either meant to write lava or you took the time to look-up a very specialized word.

Dictionary.com defines larva as: the immature, wingless, feeding stage of an insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis.  

So i.e. you dug up a nest of slimy, undeveloped insects? That’s gross and a little worrisome. Except I just remembered that in Southern Nagano people eat various kinds of larva, including bee and grasshopper. Harvesting bug fetuses must be a legitimate profession around here. So maybe you were just being industrious. Maybe your family figured that since you spend all your free time digging holes anyway, you might as well collect some larva while you’re at it. I mean that’s still weird, but not as weird as believing you unearthed a genuine geological phenomenon. Unless you really did discover an underground lava reservoir, in which case it’s a good thing it started raining. Also by the way, you have some really good prose here. A sharp and long rain. That’s quality imagery. You should probably quit digging up embryonic beetles and focus on writing. You know, launch a blog or something. That’s where the real money is.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Series of Inconsequential Anecdotes: Pt. 3

Pt. 3: Playing Games Makes Friends

Mid July, 2011: I was a passenger in Paul’s car, driving east. Ben was in the backseat and we were listening to an Italian pop-song and eating non-perishable snacks loaded with complex-carbohydrates. It was a fine summer day but everyone had on long underwear and heavy-duty boots. Paul and Ben, two British boys, were returning to England soon and they wanted to symbolically overmaster Japan before they left. We were going to climb Mt. Fuji.

Paul’s car was a full-sized sedan and it comfortably navigated the serpentine, mountain roads. As we entered Yamanashi Prefecture, the highway tapered dramatically and Paul braked whenever an oncoming vehicle came. There was a short metallic guardrail that was scarred and bruised and bent and it did nothing to soothe Paul, who was intimidated by such things as fast-moving machines and sheer precipices. Ben and I teased Paul and did not acknowledge our own apprehension.

For the past month my adult conversation class had been advising me weekly on how to surmount the many obstacles I would encounter en route to Mt. Fuji’s summit. Bring a walking stick for when my legs tired. Ascend slowly to avoid altitude sickness. Strap a headlamp to my skull for night-vision. Wear layers and more layers underneath those layers. Load up on lightweight, revitalizing grub. Arrive early. Carry a Japanese-English dictionary. Be prepared to fail.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Miseducation of Ratna, Ken and Kumi: A Textbook Investigation Pts. 3 & 4

Note: When I left Japan, I brought three of my school’s English textbooks with me. Every now and then I analyze a specific chapter/activity/page from them. For the first two installments of this running segment and some basic information on the New Crown English Textbook Series, please refer to my previous posts. In this entry I’ll examine two short pages from two separate volumes.

Pt. 3: Lutwidge Dodgson Should Have Seen This Coming
Chapter Title: “Alice and Humpty”
From: New Crown Series, Volume 1, page 95.
Chapter’s Theme: This story narrates how Alice goes to Wonderland and then meets/torments Humpty Dumpty. Yep. That’s the plot. It’s like an acid trip that makes you confront all sorts of latent sexual issues. I will assay the first page of this three-page story.
Graphics: A rabbit is wearing a plaid pea coat and holding an umbrella and he’s staring at his pocket watch and hotfooting it through some lemongrass. He must be a British rabbit. A puerile, redheaded maid/child slave hovers midair in a kitchen. She seems like a negligent maid/child slave because, again, she's hovering. A group portrait of: a fat-faced cat sitting on a tree, the same redheaded maid/child slave dancing by herself, A dwarf with a Christmas scarf and a top hat offering the maid/child slave some tea, a concussed bunny holding a tea pot, Humpty Dumpty looking down malevolently from his perch on a wall.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Series of Inconsequential Anecdotes: Pt. 2

Pt 2: Did I Just Fall in Love with a Stripper?

Early Winter, 2011: My father and uncle came from New York to Tokyo for unrelated business stuff. They had not discussed or coordinated their synchronous trips and they don’t endorse anything bigger than coincidence so they didn’t give a damn. They’ve been doing unrelated business stuff in Japan for over thirty years and this had happened before. A routine was established. They would encounter each other in the lobby of Hotel Okura, the hotel where they both always stayed. They would smile and shrug, just like they do when they encounter each other on the C train in Manhattan. During the subsequent week they would attend to unrelated business stuff during the day and in the evenings they would dine with Japanese family members and then drink vodka together in the hotel’s dimly-lit, very expensive bar. Neither would have the time to visit me in Toyooka.

A few weeks before departing New York, my father invited me to meet him in Tokyo for a long weekend. I used two vacation days and did not pay for my hotel room. The bus ride took about four hours.

It was a warm afternoon when I arrived at the entrance of Hotel Okura’s Main Building. My uncle was waiting for me there. He welcomed me into the main lobby and introduced me to a pair of women working the information desk. The women bowed excessively and repeated my name and I was flattered and baffled and I felt spoiled. The lobby had a grandiose chandelier suspended at its midpoint and the chandelier was like a giant beehive made of Japanese bonbori lanterns.