Tuesday, May 17, 2016

shake and think

We just had another earthquake shaker here in Tokyo. It happened while on the train. First one person's warning alarm went off, and then the train was filled with a chorus of phones warning to seek cover. They happen a lot, but incidentally I forgot to turn off my "fail safe blog" and it posted just around that time too. It made me think about what would happen if that had been the big one that they say is coming to Tokyo someday? What will be the words I leave here in this digital space. Odd thought. I'm blabbering I guess though.

Summer is coming early this year. It is already hot and humid and it's not even June yet. It's gonna be a scorcher. I don't really have much to say, but I'm trying to get back into blogging my life. One step at a time. These are my footprints in the sand.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

blabbering

It's morning, riding the train in a just-woke-up fog, suddenly I think I'm going the wrong way and wonder what day it is, I slip out my phone and glance at the cracked display. Like watching a slow motion video of blast waves erupt from a bomb, my meta-mind watches as first the thought TREE DAY in an abstract non-word way hits the edges of my mind because of the visual meaning of the Chinese characters burning bright white on the display, next my native language comes booming in THURSDAY THURSDAY THURSDAY and finally like the fading echo of thunder in the distance, the Japanese reading of the characters slide into my mind before it all fades into the torrent of thoughts I had cooking in my mind. This is every day, every moment, as a non-native speaker living overseas I guess. I wake up with foreign words still wet on my lips from dreams of jumbled places plastered with placid phrases. I catch myself thinking in Japanese, but as a non-native it is a broken strange twisted contortion of the "real" thing. Even speaking, I am a flickering shadow of what should be said in Japanese by a person of my age. Living life as a non-native in a faraway land is like that, your identity contorted and controlled by an evolving pile of words that will never equal the shape or colour of your native tongue, and yet this broken twisted contorted chunks of meaning become (gradually without a concentrated effort) comfortable inside the caverns of the mind. It becomes easy to speak, to think, to hate and to love inside a shriveled mesh of thoughts. There comes a point when words are just words, and all of that falls away when you look carefully inside deep enough; you can see beyond that tangled maze to a mind pulsing with emotions and concepts deeper than any phrase could ever attempt to express.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

past-present paradox

I was at the airport, a sunny day in Seattle. I was about ready to go to Japan for the very first time, I was going to spend a summer there that would quite literally change my life. I hadn't seen my own father for a long time, but for some reason that I can't remember now, he met me at the airport. Maybe he sensed this was the start of a lifelong journey, I'm not sure. He gave me a small pack of single use film cameras as a parting gift. This was before digital cameras were main stream, before most people carried around cellphones with cameras and video built in. This was the ancient almost pre-digital past. Shortly after arriving in Japan, I broke my glasses. Film cameras could only snap a few quick random shots, but they are my eyes from that time. The sharp reality of light captured in a small plastic lens. Someday I'll find time to write more about that first time in Japan, but this is not that time. Recently I found the old random snap shots I took of the neighborhood I was staying in. In 2014 (yes, I've been very slow to use this blog) I went back and tried to recreate the shots I had taken well over a decade before.

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Welcome to Takatsu Station in rural Kanagawa prefecture. This is where I spent the summer of 2000. This was my first overseas journey, and I hadn't saved a lot of money. In fact, I had a total budget of about 500 yen a day. (That's about USD$5.) So I mostly walked around the neighborhood and enjoyed summer life. The hotel behind the station is exactly the same, but the station building itself was completely rebuilt.

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Exiting the station, and walking to the left I looked for the fire-station. It was completely changed. It was a weird feeling, kind of what I suppose it feels like to step into an alternate reality. I had walked this street countless times, the old fire-station tower was burned in my mind. But it was nowhere to be found. The white pole and manhole were still there though.

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I turned around and went to the right of the station, I think hoping to somehow find something that I could recognize. This street was made from recycled tires (thats what those flecks are) and I remember being fascinated by it. Without glasses and quite illiterate, traveling around my neighborhood had been quite an adventure. The first time I found this old street I had felt like I had discovered a new area in my domain. Almost nothing was left. The sign board on the right and the green overhang on the building remain though, existing in both of these realities.

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Finally! About 10 minutes from the station, there is a pedestrian bridge that offers a good view of the area. I would sometimes go up there and watch time evaporate in the summer heat (there used to always be a young homeless man sleeping on a cardboard mat there too). This view was almost the same. Proof that I was in the same universe, I suppose.

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I had never seen a Japanese summer festival. I thought then, and still think now, the portable-shrines look a lot like the arc of the covenant. Looking at my past picture now, I was startled to think about the age of the young boy in the red hat now. It's quite believable that he has settled down now and started a family. Dear red hat boy, I hope you had a good childhood.

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I'm not quite sure why I took this picture. I suppose it was the sudden down pour of rain on a hot humid summer day. I still enjoy the smell of the rainy season in Japan. Big fat drops of water smashing into hot asphalt. The thundering sound of a million little cloud-droplets, thundering with a warm intensity. I still enjoy walking around in the summer rains. This building still remained how it was, but you'll see that now someone has tried to take off the gold lettering. If you look closely you'll see that the shapes of the letters, resembling what they looked like in 2000, still remains. I guess that's a bit like how our memories work. Time takes most of it away, hides the past in a layer of misremembered slosh, but somehow the imprint of past events lingers on in us. Our past marks us and shapes who we become. I suppose now I have to go back again around 2025 and see if anything remains. Maybe, if I look hard enough, I can find the boy in the red hat next time.

Monday, May 19, 2014

life force

You ever have that feeling after you cut yourself by accident and realize you are looking down at your own Life. Blood is what pumps through your body keeping you alive, of course. But it is all too easy to go about your day and forget about how mortal you are. Blood to dust, we are existing for only a quick blink of the cosmic eye. Its weird to imagine this body, this bionic machine, breaking down and some day failing to work anymore. I don't know what I'm trying to say, though. Memento Mori.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

hello wayward soul

I've been quite delinquent in the blogging department, but I'm not ready to let laziness swallow up my journal of thoughts. Oh no, not yet! I always feel like I should push something up here for future me to look back at, but I'm never sure what to go with. Fragments are all that remains between when I updated last and where I am now... what comes to me now is going down to Shimane for new years and going out over to Nikko a few months ago. Hot springs on both occasions. Maybe I'll write about it in a later entry. For now I'm just trying to get back into the groove of writing my thoughts out. Here I go, forward, next, here I come!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

travel juice

Random people coming up and trying to talk to me in heavily contorted English... A man walks into a subway with a big boombox and starts playing a cheesy popsong while trying to sell CDs to the passengers who all don't even notice him... People taking crap from me and moving it around to "help" me without asking... Noisy, noisy, noisy... Food so spicy it adds fire to your brain cells... Yup, that's right, I'm back in South Korea. I'm only here in beach-city Busan for a few days.

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It's fascinating how traveling can stimulate your creative juices. One moment you are living your day to day life like a zombie, the next you are in a new place and everything stimulates an urge to describe.

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I'm sitting on the sunny beach in Busan, watching time evaporate. A strange old man comes up to me holding a large open bottle of beer, a paper cup and some chips. "Hey drink some." he says in Korean, I surprise myself by still understanding some Korean. None the less I'm not about to drink from this mystery bottle. I ignore him, but he keeps pushing. "No way!" I say in Korea. He pushes a little more, but I just repeat myself, and finally say "Thanks..." when he shoves off happily, clearly already intoxicated. Later I walk past him passed out on the beach in a corner, hardly moving, embraced by the blinding blur of his vice.

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On the ferry over here, I was happy to notice that a lot of the staff could now speak Japanese, compared to my first time on that boat 8 years ago. Or at least they did at first, but it seemed to dissipate the closer we got to Korea. At first they helped me and explained things in Japanese quite a bit. But as the minutes rolled us closer to Korea, I couldn't find any staff who could speak proficient English or Japanese. It's as if the Japanese speaking staff went into hiding as we approached Korea... I'm standing at a counter on the ferry, filling out some customs forms ahead of time. An old man, who holds himself like a Japanese man, comes up and is clearly confused. I hand him a form and say "These are the forms for Japanese people." and he says "Thanks, but I'm a Japan born Korean." and I say, "Oh these are the forms for Japan born Koreans." and he smiles and thanks me. I should work on the ferry.

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I had a few more memories the next day, but instead of adding them to a new blog I'll just add them here.

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I met a German guy at the hostel, and started walking around with him downtown. We went to a fish market and had some great grilled fish. He also tried living octopus. (I didn't, because it's expensive.) After the fish market, he wanted to go to an amazingly designed theater but we got lost. I stopped a random Korean lady and said in Korean "Excuse me, do you speak English?" and she said "Uhm.. no not really." and so just in case I said in Korean "Do you speak Japanese?" and she switched to Japanese and said "Sure, how can I help you?" and I proceeded to have a clear conversation with her about directions. She was using the wrong register often, but other than that, she was quite good at Japanese. She pulled out a Japanese map and showed us where to go. She then gave us the map. I couldn't help but wonder why she had a give-awayable map written in Japanese in her purse.

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I go into a market and see a zipper tie that looked nice. The salesman comes up and offers it at three times the price of what I bought them for in Seoul. I know I hadn't been back in Korea for awhile so prices might have changed a bit but my instinct told me it was a "tourist price". So I said "You crazy?" in Korean. And got ready to leave the shop. He took that as bargaining and dropped the price in half, which confirmed it was just a "tourist price" originally but at that moment the local cultural demands to bargain just bugged me so I kept trying to leave the shop, and so he dropped the price yet again but I was already heading out kind of annoyed. At the end of a long market hallway, I found a little old lady in a booth with nice looking ties. She offered me one at a little too expensive of a price, but she was nice about it. She took the time to take them all down and show them to me and discuss each one in a Korean/English mix, she told me what she thought would match me, and everything. I decided I should just buy one. As I turned to leave after buying a flowery one, she said in Korean, "Wait a minute." and went behind her counter to grab a can. She said "Coca-cola" and handed it to me. It was a can of a local brand energy drink, not coke, but it was still nice of her to share.

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That's it for now, just thought I would capture a few moments on here before they fade away.

Friday, June 21, 2013

episode of the surreal

A few days ago, I got dressed for work and walked out on to the stairs in front of my place. Immediately my eyes land on some guy at the base of the stairs. He was filming the stairs and mailboxes with a small black HD camera. This seemed so odd and out of place. I looked down at him and said sternly but politely, "What are you filming?" in Japanese. He didnt answer. He pointed his camera down  but just looked icily at me quietly... So I said "Explain yourself!" A little more harshly, but he didnt reply. And so I yelled "Hey, you want me to call the cops?" He kept looking up and just said quietly "Call 'em..." and I found that quite creepy. On the other hand, I had to jump on the train to work and I didn't have time to call the cops--- if I did, I would have to give a statement and everything that would make me late for work.  I didn't know a good route, so I just got noisy; yelling at him to get lost or I'd call the landlord. Seething seemed to change in  his attitude and he quietly came up the stairs and hissed in a strange husky voice "it's a video shoot" and then went down the stairs again. I swore at him but i had no choice---I left for work. But that wasn't the end of the story.


I came home and read an email from that land-lord's daughter. Apparently the creepy guy was an undercover police office, and he was looking for an illegal immigrant that had been hiding in my neighbor's house. My neighbor is a legal Chinese resident in Japan, but his "girlfriend" was a "lady of the night" that had been stealing money out of customers wallets and other devious things. Apparently the police were undercover trying to prove she actually was living there. I almost blew their cover by yelling at them. They arrested her now though, so that's the end of that odd story.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

missing thoughts

I have used diaries since I was a little kid. Feet up on the table, my words flowing horribly misspelled on to the colorful pages. Somewhere along the line (about 10 years ago, actually) that went digital. Type type here, type type there. Slowly chronicling the unfolding of my own personal mysteries. Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying I've been a delinquent chronicler. If one doesn't leave foot prints, no one knows you passed that way. I need to start thinking that my words, however useless they might feel to me, are my footprints in time. Life is the beach, time is the waves, and each time I pause and update my journal I'm leaving a small impression in the wet sand. Sounds a bit useless when you put it that way I suppose, but I don't mean it in a futile way. In any case, I hope to be a more active blogger again but only time will tell...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

in Basho's shadow

yagate shinu
keshiki wa miezu
semi no koe
(やがて死ぬ
けしきは見えず
蝉の声)
in the end, they die
without seeing the landscape
cicada sounds

I've been a Basho fan for quite some time. Not really an expert but the knowledge of a few of his beautiful mind-bubble poems (otherwise known as haiku, that's my bad translation above of one of my favorite summer ones, so any mistranslation is my fault) always clung to bits of my mind somewhere in the subconscious dusk between awareness and eternal oblivion. I think I first read Basho in college, a poem that I've tried to find since. The image is still framed in my mind (morning dew/pine trees/serenity) but sadly the words are gone. That's the brilliance of Basho though I suppose, he packaged up little images of nature, from his hikes in the Japanese Wilderness, and passed them down to us. I suppose this is a bit like praising Shakespeare, noting a man considered great is like bringing a pebble to a mountain and saying you increased the height. None the less, life brought me down to the Yamanaka area of Ishikawa last week. Basho also walked these roads, but literally 100s of years before. His ghost was smeared against a collection of buildings and society, his footprints lost in the echo chamber of Time. None the less, as I walked down the side of a rural river with a friend from college, talking about the futility of life, I couldn't help but think of the Banana Shack poet and his push against the layers and layers of years between me and him. Wanting or not, his shadow had been burnt against the wall of the cave so to speak. I felt like a thin gust of wind examining a rock, my life blowing past in a rush of transparent gusto, noticed by few, least of all this stone locked in the unreal past.





Thursday, May 10, 2012

spirals of erratic energy

I'm reading an odd post-scifi book right now (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu) and the main character is a time travel repairman. As he goes through time repairing broken time machines he ages at a normal temporal rate. At the same time, he sometimes takes a "vacation" from his job while his own machine is repaired. He always returns to the same place, slightly ahead in time to avoid paradoxes. He commented that his whole life from the front desk clerk's point of view would be over a few weeks at most. Between visits he ages 10 or 15 years but for the clerk it's just the next day. In a remote way, that's the way I feel when visiting family. For me life and time is flowing at a constant rate, but there are huge gaps between when I see them each time. It's as if in a day they have aged 5 years and I can feel the weight of time clearer than when lost in the maze of a day to day life of repetition.


As you can guess, my mother and sister came to visit me a month or so ago. There's no way I can currently find the time to sit down chronologically and write down every event, so I'll provide a few random event fragments here as a sort of mental bookmark.


Walking in a thin rain. Wooden arches in Meiji shrine, the crunch of the wide path. Quiet misty veil. Casually conversing with mother and sister, shrouded in bright yellow umbrellas.


Dinner in a dark restaurant. Kayo joins us. I'm wearing a vibrant tie-dyed shirt. Inner dialog is fascinated by her similarities to my mother. Sister wants to try some sake, I recommend one by its name alone: circle of the moon. Giblets soup, reminds me of my youth. My sister grew up differently, can't appreciate it. Warm food, still cold night.


Long train ride. Swaying in the sun. My landlord is with us. Rope way up a sharp cliff. Lunch boxes on the top, breath taking view. Millions of stairs to reach an ancient Buddha. Inner dialog is worried its too many stairs for mother, didn't remember that many stairs. Stairs. Stairs. Giant sitting stone Buddha. Peaceful and touristy. Landlord leaves. Stairs stairs stairs. Another giant Buddha, standing in silence.


Gathering with old students, and a few good friends. The awkward gaps in conversation between people that don't know each other. Eat chicken sticks. Mother crosses my personal boundaries and this leads to anger and discussion, late night angst and another day.


A parade of wonderful friends juxtaposed against the existence of my family members existing in Japan. Faces, places.


Hot springs with Taro. Kayo, mother, sister went their own way. Me and taro bathe, time seeps back, crawling out of his eyes and seeping out of his mouth in stories from before. Rain pours down. I lay down in the rain naked, body hot from the water pool. Cold rain bathes me for a moment, it acts as a shapeless embrace. The day ends with a somewhat failed attempt to see mount Fuji, surrounded by clouds, lost in a haze. 


Late at night conspiring with my sister to surprise my mother. Which leads to a moment of the three of us pressed in a crowd of people staring at a giant pink phallus object named Elisabeth. The Chinese ladies behind me hold on to my shoulders for support, I think about how Japanese people wouldn't do that. Phalluses everywhere. Foreigners too. Later a random wander leads us accidentally into the parade. We watch from the side, on someone's steps. After that we eat cheap yakitori chicken on sticks, as we stand in the eternal sunshine of happy memories.

Friday, February 17, 2012

haute cusine


So I've always heard rumors of "hidden pubs" in downtown Tokyo. Little places that only those with connections can find. The idea is quite intriguing, but I don't usually go out on my own and if I do it's usually somewhere cheap. When I'm with my friends we usually end up in a chain-shop, or somewhere not too hard to find. But a friend asked me to go try a Japanese pub in Shibuya tonight, and so I thought "Well, you only live once." and on an impulse headed out to find it.

I don't want to be google searched (but if you can read Japanese or use your noggin you can figure it out) so I won't write the name of the place, but that's all I had, the name of the place. It was written with on an archaic character, and that set the tone of the place. Intentionally esoteric and difficult. Japanese style haute cuisine, if you will. So I google search a map with the name and it is close to the exit so I walk there, and there is nothing but the lifeless front of a windowless building, with no door. I think I must be in the wrong spot, so I walk up and down some more. Nothing. I stop by a shoe shop and ask the nice young lady for directions. She says that it is next door (based on the address) and I told her I already looked there. She says "I think the entrance is around back." so I wander some more, but the way around back is blocked by a high fence. I ask another fashion shop near the back for directions. They confirm it should be right there. By now I am getting suspicious, so I ask if they have ever heard of it. They say of course, everyone talks about it. But they won't give me more details, I almost feel like they are intentionally holding information back. I wander some more. There is a chain-pub man standing near the faceless building trying to scoop up customers for his chain. I break down and ask him. He glances around (I swear!) and then says, go in the building next to it, and then turn right, go in the small door. Very odd directions, but I take his advice. The building next to it is a dirty old building with small fashion shops. I walk to the back of the building and see a small thumb size sign that says the name of the shop with no arrow. Next to it on the right is a rickety path (it's on the second floor) leading to the other building, on the other side of the path there is a small brown door that is only about chest height. I fumble with it, trying to open it, it's heavy and I'm not sure if it is even unlocked, all that even labels the place is the small thumb size sign (above) that is old and worn.

The door slides open. Inside is a smooth rock step leading up into a small room, a Japanese Pub entrance. Beyond the entrance there is a small Pub counter and in the distance I can faintly make out stairs to the dinner tables. There is a door man. He looks at me smooth as ice, and just as cold, he says (in Japanese) "Do you have a reservation?" as soon as I have ducked into the entrance. I'm kind of caught off guard. And although the place had the initial feel of a cheap neighborhood pub, there was an undercurrent of sophisticated expensive elusiveness buzzing in the air. I was kind of surprised, so I just stammered out, "uhm.. uh.. no.. just 1 person, don't have any reservations at all." I could feel the unwelcome ice emanating from him. This place really seemed out of my league, part of me wanted to turn and run. But I had come this far, I decided to see where things would go. "In that case, I'm sorry." he said coldly. "We are quite busy tonight, and all our seats are all taken." I looked behind him, half of the counter was empty. I had gotten this brush off before, especially at places that don't like to serve foreign customers. In this case though, it might have been more just the exclusiveness of the establishment. Also, I glanced around, and all the other customers seemed to be in suits and nice outfits, I was wearing a casual sweater. Maybe I was under-dressed, but it's not like I could change right there in the entrance. "OK, I'll wait, how long will the wait be?" He seemed surprised, his eye kind of flinched. "The wait will be over 3 hours, sir." I nodded, "OK, I'll wait." This time his reaction was clear, he looked at me like I wasn't getting the hint he was clearly trying to give me. He switched to thick accented English "Waito, 3 ha-our-s, OK?" I nodded and confirmed. He wasnt getting rid of me that easy. He called over his manager, who gave me the story about being busy and having a long wait and a seat not being open until well after 9:00. (It was about 6:00 when I entered the shop.) I said I was fine, and I could wait, or I could just make a reservation and come back again that evening when it was free. He hesitated, which logically didn't make sense since the only claimed problem was the lack of reservation. I said, "I just heard about this place from a friend, so I wanted to come try it for myself and see what it's like. Or is it like 'get lost if you don't have a reservation?' or something?" trying to call his bluff. It worked. He made a decision. He said, "The next reservation for the far right counter seat isn't for another 40 minutes, so if you want to sit down and try something, please come this way." I was in!

I was nervous from all the haggling just to get a seat, and so I accidentally didn't take my shoes off fast enough, looked like an idiot foreigner but sat down and tried to work on the elaborately printed hand written menu. The manager pointed out one of the waiters, and said, "He speaks good English, talk with him." even though we had been speaking in Japanese until that point. I didn't want to ruin the hospitality, so I nervously tried to order in English, but the guy wasn't ready for it, so I switched to a English-Japanese mix. He asked what are you drinking, so I stammered out "uhm... do you have plum sake?" and he seemed to scoff at my choice. I decided it would be better to get one of the more fancy label sakes, even though I know nothing about sake. I changed my order to one I had tried before, and ordered one dish from the menu. It was flame seared raw fish slices. They gave a complimentary salad. The food was most excellent, and the service flawless. I even thought I saw my friend's husband across the counter, but the place seemed kind of reserved like a chapel so I didn't call out to him. I ate my food, made a little small talk with the designated waiter. And then, partly because I hadnt brought enough money for that pricy place and also because they said they had a reservation for that seat (though not sure it was true) I quickly asked for the bill. The staff member shook my hand and, in English, asked me to come back. For a place seemingly so hostile to outsiders he was quite insistent on speaking English.

The food was quite delicious, and the experience was exciting and new. Life in Tokyo land.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

rinse and repeat

Repetition is a fact of life. Repetition is part of the art and beauty of the cycle of life. But sometimes I want to break free and see life from an exochronic point of view. I believe exochronic is a made up word, and I read once that schizophrenics like to use made up words so I suppose I should be worried about that. But for what I am trying to express I can't find a word in English, so I just coined one. What I mean is that I strive to sometimes see my life external to time, a point of view unchained from the grim reaper. It is a bit hard to extract your thoughtstream from the flow of time though.

Another thing I have been thinking about is books. I have started reading a lot of books recently because of the convenience of reading ebooks on my smartphone. I've noticed an odd behavioral habit. I first started to notice with a paper book, named (if translated) Yellow Eyed Fish. I read through the book and suddenly slowed at the last few chapters. And even though I loved the book I suddenly couldn't bring myself to read more than a few pages at a time. I thought maybe it was because it was in a second language. But I have been reading endless English books on my phone with often the same pattern. I think now it's because I don't want to exit the mental cacoon constructed by the reading of each book. I don't usually reread books, and once I'm done, I'm done. All the thoughts with that book pulled out and put on a mental bookshelf. I think I am reluctant to leave behind the fascinating worlds of some books and so I am reluctant to finish each story.

 
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