Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Rude is Better

Since I'm in a bit of a fluster, I am having trouble locating the place that I ought to begin this rant. Perhaps I should remind you again about 空気読めない or kuuki yomenai or being unable to read the air. I wrote about it once here: Heavenly Evil Spirit Maybe I just suck at reading the goddamn air, even though I always thought I had a knack for it in my own country. Tonight I'm plagued by the feeling that I'm really just living in a vaccuum.

I have decided to begin by recounting a recent experience which happened amongst strangers, so I am the least bothered by it. Although, the truth is that this recount is the perfect representation of how experiencing and dealing with differences in culture can become increasingly more difficult to shrug off. I feel like I have continued to deal with the difficulties, but it's hard to figure out whether I am receiving any new knowledge or understanding rather than only accumulating more and more examples of how things are just fucked up.

So last weekend I accompanied my new buddy, James, and my even newer buddy, Melissa to a couple of the gay men bars in Shizuoka. The two of them had gone to these bars the previous weekend, so they were familiar with us when we entered the door. We were welcomed by the "mama-san" which is what the women of straight Snack Bars are usually called, who entertain their male guests. So, at the gay bars, there is also a mama-san. Anyway, Mama-san welcomed us kindly, took our orders, and after a short while, we began to mingle. By the end of the night, at four in the morning, we were sitting amidst 5 Japanese guys who could barely speak English in a full-fledged conversation about to whom they had lost their virginity. In Japan, a virgin male is called a "cherry boy", so the way they phrased losing their virginity was "when they broke their cherry".

Everyone was laughing, having a good time and when we left everyone was smiling and waving. We departed from the bar rather drunkenly, cursing the soft rain while we galavanted the empty streets in search of a cab back to James' apartment. The next morning, we talked about how the last two trips to the gay bars, the first in Hamamatsu and the second in Shizuoka, had been so fun and refreshing. We spoke about how friendly and open-minded they seemed, willingly and comfortably able to make comversation with gaijin, happy and in a good mood. It was fantastic, we thought. I had even discussed my surprise and admiration for these new friends to my other friends who had not joined us that evening, telling them that they've gotta come to the friendliest place in Shizuoka.

Two days later, I felt like a fool. I was chatting on the phone with James, as he talked of his adventures the next night that he decided to go visit the bars. He began by saying, "I think it might be awhile since I take chicks to the bar again." I, at first, assumed he meant because he could spend more time talking to the locals rather than chatting with his gaijin friends, but he went on. He told me that a new guy who could speak English fluently, told him that it is not customary, or even allowed to have women in male gay bars in Japan. He went on to say that many of the customers, even some of those we had spent hours chatting seemingly happily with, complained to Mama-san that there were women in the bars. My response was nonchalant, "ah, too bad because it was actually fun. What a shame", then my thoughts and our conversation floated into a new topic.

It wasn't until today, after another experience I had with a co-worker from school, that I thought again about what I had learned over the weekend. I feel like my relationships with certain people at school are slowly disintegrating. I'm not sure what the cause is, or whether they were ever so solid in the first place. But, it's definitely causing me to become more sensitive to the little things. I shouldn't give details, as this blog of mine IS public, but it generally revolves around people smiling with their mouths as their eyes show something different, then later, only to learn that there was a complaint about whatever the topic was that was smiled about. I don't know how many times I have uttered the phrase "but if you don't like this, I can change it and try something else. What do you think?" That's my standard answer when I see those eyes with the strange, seemingly insincere smile.

So when I thought more about the gay bar situation, I thought, "ya, you know, Japan IS pretty backdated in the eyes of Westerners concerning woman's role in society, gender, and sexuality in general. So, I definitely understand the rules of the bar and why they have been erected". Yes, I understand the rules, but I don't understand why were weren't just shoo-ed out of the bar in the first place. Why didn't they just say "no women allowed" when we all walked in together? Why did they sit and chat it up with us for hours, smiling, pretending to have a good time with us, when they were only later to complain that it made them feel uncomfortable. Seriously, what the fuck?

I feel that as I become more aware and increasingly more sensitive to this element of Japanese culture, I am simultaneously trying to combat feelings of annoyance because I don't want to close myself off from people just because of differences. On the same hand, I do recognize that I also have kept negative thoughts and opinions locked away in my head, only to complain about it later to another trusted friend, while never considering the consequences of how rude it could be constrewn as being if those opinions were to ever be blown into the air for others to read. I have also partaken in hypocritical behavior, which has now spurred me to try to pay attention to how and when, and to try to cease these actions.

I don't know what I should do, or what I should think. Whenever I try to discuss it with other like-minded gaijin, it ends up turning into a bitch fest that doesn't seem to have any positive result besides blowing off steam. That's not really what I need, I'm able to let my steam out without complaining to others, though it is nice to have someone listen to the stories once in awhile.

However, what I wish for is someone to help me in the search for a way to figure out how to make people understand that it is more hurtful to find out someone is pretending to like you, faking their smiles and laughter than to just have someone flat out ignore you or say, "hey, i don't want to talk to you" or "I don't want you around me". The sentiment is the same, but at least the latter doesn't allow you to build your hopes up that you might be making a real connection with someone, only to later learn that it was fake. The fake politeness seems to be nice, but in reality, it is so goddamn rude. I am not interested in changing this, nor do I think I can, I just want to figure out a way to explain that sometimes rude is just better.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Another Thought on English Education in Japan

Three weeks ago, I grew appalled by how my third year students did not understand my English when I spoke the words "noun", "verb", "adjective". Even when I tried using the words "meishi", "doushi" and "keiyoshi", these seniors at an advanced level high school did not know how to identify them within simple sentences written not only i English, but even in simple Japanese.

Luckily, I am given the freedom to create this class' curriculum, thereby immediately changing course from how to argue and make a speech to how to diagram simple sentences.

I began by defining the 5 easiest parts of a sentence to identify: subject, nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Next week, I plan to teach them prepositions and prepositional phrases. By separating each of these by colored chalk and writing simple sentences on the board, we've been spending the last couple weeks of repeatedly underlining all the words in simple sentences in different colored chalk.

Loud cries of "eeeeeeeeeee?" could be heard when I informed them that "could have seen" is all one verb form. Same thing when I told them that "a" and "the" are really just adjectives given the special name "articles". I am making them memorize that adjectives only describe nouns, while adverbs can describe other adverbs, adjectives and verbs. As they grasp the distinctions of which words are which, they have become remarkably good at drawing the adjective arrows towards the noun in which they describe, just as how they've now become able to draw the arrows from the adverb to what it describes.

I wish that I would have known earlier that basic grammar such as this is ignored by the typical curriculum made by the Japanese English teachers, as well as ignored in college entrance exams. Now, i can better understand why my students seem to have little confidence in being able to construct their own sentences. Sure, they are masters at vocabulary and memorizing sentence structures, but when it comes down to making their own sentences, they tend to freeze up.

Another topic that I've been focusing on lately during these grammar lessons is learning how to correctly tell the difference between adjectives such as "excited" and "exciting". There are so many of these, which even my English teachers commonly misuse. The distinction that I've decided to make isn't foolproof, but it has helped clarify about eighty percent of the confusion.

For example....students commonly make mistakes in saying "I'm exciting" when they mean to say "I'm excited". In Japanese, the distinction is made between "wakuwaku suru" and "wakuwaku saseru". The difference lying in whether the feeling is being sent out or sent in. These types of adjectives are extremely difficult for them to distinguish.

The explanation that I have begun using goes like this.

Excited-Exciting, Disgusted-Disgusting, Confused-Confusing, Surprised-Surprising

Making a list of these types of adjectives is recommended. After that, separate "ED" and "ING"

I told them that:

-ED is people adjectives
-ING is a thING adjective----notice ING is in the word "thing"

He is excited about the party.---------ED, people----he
The party is exciting for him---------ING, thing---the party

After multiple examples and exercises, they become experts at making the distinction. Of course, this rule isn't fool-proof, as we native English speakers are aware of. "He" can be "exciting" even if "he" isn't a thing.

Nonetheless, once they become used to the rule, I think it becomes okay to explain the exceptions. Hopefully they will learn to distinguish between the two, almost as if naturally.

Lastly, I have been setting up a kind of "office hours" type thing before the midterm and final exam. I compose a very minor section of the listening portion of their test that covers the material they were supposedly to have learned during TT classes. On the last week of team teaching class before a big test, I have announced a special lunch-time review session where I basically go over exactly what I contribute to the big test. It's a bit of a freebie time where I basically tell them what they need to know in order to get a full mark on my small contribution to the test. The review session has only drawn about ten to twenty students, yet it has steadily grown. Besides that, it gains you points in the eyes of your JTEs that you are committed to helping your students become better test takers.

I wish I had learned these things earlier. I may have been a far better teacher had I done so.

Las Reinas

So yesterday, I rented and watched Elizabeth: The Golden Age, while today I indulged in the Sofia Coppola movie I've been wanting to rent for the past month, Marie Antoinette. Of course, both of these movies focus more on their love lives than the political problems of their day.

Unfortunately, my European historical knowledge is so limited that both movies taught me something about the wars of those eras. In Elizabeth's case, England's disapproval of the Holy Wars headed by the Spanish and the interesting defeat of the Spanish Armada. When watching how crudely people spoke on invading and warring upon each other in God's name, it felt so reminiscent of the ridiculous wars we are fighting in this age.

Then, how the debt and depression in France caused by the Seven Years War, which eventually was blamed on Marie Antoinette's royal spending caused France to revolt against the monarchy. While mostly focusing on fashion and cool indie music from the Eighties, Coppola's Marie Antoinette film did manage to impart some interesting tidbits that can definitely be applicable to the polital and economical problems between the superpower countries of today.

One of the reasons that I am so uninterested in politics and economy is because I feel powerless and insignificant to affect its improvement, nonetheless even minorly change it. Therefore, I revel in my shameful apathy and cover my eyes and ears to everything shouting out its existence.

But, even still, I am not a moron. I may be willfully uninformed, and shamefully evasive...but that doesn't mean that I ultimately don't know or care about the constant, exponential growth toward social meltdown once the "precious" resources we're fighting over become depleted.

My brother will be sent to Iraq in November. Suddenly, I have become a bit more stricken with concern over my country's retarded sense of internationalism. However, I haven't any idea what to do. I don't believe that peace activism really works. I don't believe fear can be lifted, and I certainly don't believe change will come soon.

Honestly, I wish I did. But if those lame movies taught me anything these last two nights, it is that the collective unconscious of man has traveled the same roads for so many years, that the wild nature off in the distance is much too frightening for the masses to follow into.

I wonder if you can believe me when I say that I wish I could believed otherwise.

Skirting around my Pride

I lied when I said that I had never failed a test before coming to Japan. In fact, I failed two of my favorite classes during my freshman year at UC Berkeley. Upon graduating as one of the top five from my college preparatory Catholic high school, I boastfully chose four of most difficult freshman courses offered at my new college. Cleverly regarded as weeder classes, Calculus One B and Chemistry were two of the most challenging things that I had attempted thus far. Throughout the semester, the difficulty of the classes was far superior to anything I had experienced in my lame ass high school classes where I easily passed most tests with minimal study.

However, these classes at Berkeley opened a whole new playing field of difficulty for me. These classes required me to sit through lecture confused as fuck, barely able to even take notes for I slowly began to realize that my previous experience in these fields were positively rudimentary compared to what others of my caliber were used to. I remember that early summer week vividly--as I was a Spring I ditched the two final exams which a passing grade was dependent upon passing. I sat in my dark room, drinking white wine and listening to the Cure's Disinegration album while I watched the clock mark the passing of time that embodied my exam period. I felt a sense of urgent disappointment, yet drowned it out with alcohol and phone conversations with a friend from home.

So yes, I have failed before. Twice.

However, since I have come to this country, I have yet again experienced the uncomfortable realization that I am yet again underqualified to keep up with the status quo. Upon trying to take a language test of which I tried my hardest to study and master, I failed. And now, yet again, as I just recently attempted for my third try....I failed my driver's test. Please keep in mind that I have been driving since I was sixteen. That's thirteen years now. In California, my driving record is flawless, which is surprising considering how many nights I drove home under the influence of severe amounts of alcohol. Despite my ability to operate a motor vehicle even in the condition of drunkenness, I still have not been able to successfully pass the Japanese Driver's license test.

I was fully warned that life would be hard for me in Japan. However, nothing yet has been so successful in stripping me of my feeling of adulthood than living in this country. Here, I can barely read, barely write, barely speak....and yet, I love it and have not made any plan to leave.

Who am I?

This is who........a pic of my third failure on the Shizuoka driving course.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How I feel Today in Song

Dark Come Soon by Tegan and Sara

Dark, you can't come soon enough for me
Saved, from one more day of misery
Everything I love
Get back for me now
Everyone I love
I need you now
Don't forget a million miles for me
Safe and another day passed by me
Everything I love
Get back for me now
Everyone I love
I need you now
Come on,
I lied I lied to me too
(so what?)
Come on,
I lied I lied to me too
(so what?)
Hold out for the ones you know will love you
Hide out from the ones you know will love you
You, you too
Go to the edge and barely there
To make my move, I'm almost there
Everything I say I say to me first
Everything I do I do to me first
So what, I lied I lied to me too
(so what?)
So what, I lied I lied to me too
Hold out for the ones you know will love you
Hide out from the ones you know will love you
You, you too
Dark you can't come soon enough for me

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Down Under

Last night, I walked by the Hamamatsu bar, Down Under, a local gaijin bar that has recently become overtaken by the Brazilians. However, the Brazilian explosion is not really my point today. As I was walking past, I was suddenly in a fit of laughter. I was bombarded with a series of mental image memories of my brother's first wife's bachelorette party in Vegas.

Against the wishes of everyone, my mother purchased a pack of tickets to the Las Vegas Show "Thunder from Down Under". The drinks were very expensive, but soon after the show started, we decided that this show could not be sat thru sober, so Jenna and I went and had a couple shots at the bar, and continued to watch in awe of how creepily middle-aged women behave at these shows. We soon began to feel a little guilty that our nay-saying faces began to put a damper on my mom's evening. She had been so excited for all the girls to have fun together. So, after a couple more trips to the bar, we decided to join in the utter ridiculousness of the evening, and go join the massive crowd of ladies hugging the stage hoping for one of the dancers to throw his shirt at them.

I love those strange moments when my ridiculous life lived comes back to haunt me.

Friday, September 05, 2008

How I feel Today in Song form

The KKK took my Baby Away by The Ramones

She went away for the holidays
Said she's going to L.A.
But she never got there
She never got there
She never got there, they say

The KKK took my baby away
They took her away
Away from me
The KKK took my baby away
They took her away
Away from me

Now I don't know
Where my baby can be
They took her from me
They took her from me
I don't know
Where my baby can be
They took her from me
They took her from me

Ring me, ring me ring me
Up the President
And find out
Where my baby went
Ring me, ring me, ring me
Up the FBI
And find out if
My baby's alive
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Scenes from Tokyo

Izakaya inside Shinagawa station. After a long train ride to Tokyo, I like to refresh with a beer as I watch the other solo beer drinkers trying to forget their work troubles.

Wandering around Takeshita street in Harajuku can entertain the tiny Lewis Carroll inside of us all.

You can never be sure what you'll find during an afternoon stroll in Yoyogi park. This guy paints scenes from his audience as he sweatily dances to the boombox he's got strapped across his chest.

The Gyoza stand around the block from Advocates in Nichome is a delicious midnight snack.