Monday, 16 December 2013

Showbiz!

Stay in Japan long enough, and eventually you will be asked to appear on TV. It's practically a given. You might be approached at a festival, to be seen basking in the local culture, or perhaps cornered in the street and solicited for a reaction on some current event of which you have no knowledge; there are many paths to glory. There's just something newsworthy about a foreign face, regardless of how irrelevant the person may be to the actual topic at hand. Some have even managed to parley a handful of bit parts into moderately successful careers. I, unfortunately, did not.

(So far!)

But I did get the opportunity to dance like a twat. The director of the International Office sent out a mass e-mail letting us know that they'd been contacted by a television company in Oosaka, and did anybody want to appear on TV? An initial meeting was set for whoever wanted to go, and a couple of weeks later we met with two AD's in the dormitory lobby. Each was in his mid-20's, but were otherwise polar opposites; one was well-dressed, straight-laced, and clean-cut, while his partner, who seemed to be the more dominant of the two, arrived wearing a leather jacket, with several days' growth on his face, and spoke in a nonstop stream of inappropriate comments. They could have been in a buddy comedy. You could make a TV show about these guys making TV shows.

They each sat down in the tatami room and we went in for pre-interviews one-on-one, except for Anarchy in the UK and his little gang, who went in together. They refused my offer to interpret with an air of deep indignation, perhaps momentarily forgetting that none of them spoke Japanese. Whatever. Do whatever you want. 

As my own interview progressed, a theme quickly became apparent. These guys were clearly not looking for swooning and adulation. They didn't want to hear about what a wonderful country we'd stumbled upon and how orgasmic our everyday lives were. They asked questions like: What problems have you faced here? What negative stereotypes have you faced from Japanese people? What do you find the weirdest or most troubling about Japan? That, and a disturbing number of uncomfortably detailed questions about my previous relationships with Japanese girls. When I translated for a grateful Australzealand (who actually does speak Japanese somewhat passably), as soon as the guy found out she has a Japanese fiancee, he took that ball and raaaaan with it. All in all, I wasn't surprised.

If you are unfamiliar with the country, you might reasonably assume that we as foreigners were consulted in order to purvey a unique viewpoint, to share an outside perspective and thus cast our surroundings in a new light for those who had grown up with them. In this case you would be mistaken. If you're from Hate Japan, you will no doubt contend that its inhabitants have long since secretly acknowledged its backwardness and inferiority, and are desperately hoping to have their shortcomings revealed by a knowledgeable and benevolently dictatorial Westerner. In this case you need to open your eyes, and perhaps also never speak ever again. On the other hand, if you imagine that foreigners in the media are used primarily for comedy purposes and absurdity value, you are hitting a little closer to the truth.

With all this in mind, let us add one more wrinkle: They were trying to make a show. Smiles and happy days are all well and good but they don't make for good TV. They needed a little tension. Something to resolve, or at least reflect on. I didn't like it, but I understood, so I gave them some of my misgivings – I think most of it hinged on my being constantly “othered” by the Japanese, even those who know me. One quote that the inappropriate guy quite liked, and asked me to use for the recording, was a very energetic, wild-eyed, “I'm not weird because I'm foreign, I'm weird because I'm me!” (「変なのは外人じゃなくて俺や!」).  We got word soon after that we had been selected as one of four participating schools. Another couple of weeks later, the segments were decided upon.

*Australzealand would visit her fiancee's parents up in Aomori or wherever the hell it was, somewhere up north anyway.
*Anarchy in the UK had confessed he couldn't slurp noodles, so the Korean guy and the Spanish guy would teach him.
*Taiwan and the French girl would cosplay.
*Everyone would also do a talking segment.

Take a hard look at this list and tell me you can't figure out what's going on here. In one, we've got a Japanese guy marrying an older foreign woman. In another, we've got silly foreigners who can't comprehend our Japanese ways. And in the other, we've got hot young foreign girls dressing up. Good TV? You bet!

I was among those who made the final cut and would do the talking segment, at least, and on the day of shooting I came home after school to find the lobby now ensconced by solid temporary barriers, presumably for acoustic and lighting reasons. A crew of at least thirty PD's, AD's, set directors, costume designers, those people who stand around with clipboards looking busy while not appearing to do any actual work, and sound technicians buzzed around making final preparations. The rough AD from before caught sight of me and sent me to wait upstairs, where the Korean guy was already hanging out.

Correctly predicting that we would probably not start until at least ten or fifteen minutes after we were scheduled to, I suggested that we talk about something, anything, to warm up. He was remarkably indifferent to the whole process, but I wanted to make sure I got my Japanese up to speed, so that if I couldn't be eloquent I at least wouldn't go on television sounding shittier than I actually was. Eventually more of us floated in, and finally, they started calling us downstairs to have at it. I was first up.

AD: Ok, when I give you this signal, I want you to walk down the hallway, go in from the side, and you'll see...something there. So go up and you can start. Just answer the questions, and try to talk about the stuff we went over before. Wanting to be accepted by the Japanese, those things.
Rude Boy: I'm guessing the interviewer is going to lead me through it pretty well, anyway.
AD: That's right.
Rude Boy: Sounds good.
AD: You don't seem nervous.
Rude Boy: I've been on TV before in Canada.

After another five minutes or so, everything went deathly quiet. The AD gave me the signal, and, trying to pretend I was not surrounded by a massive crowd, I walked into the lobby, expecting to find somebody seated at one of the tables, and...was disappointed, as I seemed to have walked into an empty room. Then I noticed a big rokujizou set up against the far wall, so, trying not to appear overly confused, started to approagahhh there's a guy in there.

Oh geez, now he's talking to me.

He's awfully loud.

As I later learned, this old man was a fairly famous comedian from Oosaka, but as that's not a scene I am particularly given to follow I was not familiar with him. My friends oohed at his name, though. Anyway, harshly aware of the fact that I was holding on a conversation with an anthropomorphic rock, I gave one of the more embarrassing performances of my life, which is to say, I danced to AKB. While singing. Well, what could I do? We were discussing karaoke as a good way to break cultural barriers, he asked what I could sing, and I happened to know the dance. And I did it for a broadcast audience of 23 million.

I was also in my socks, and so slipped and fell after like five seconds. The clean-cut AD laughed audibly.

In actual fact, this entire venture was scripted, a result of me and the AD discussing different gimmicks I could bust out. The conversation didn't go exactly as planned, but I tried to weave my most important talking points in. There was a slight problem in that he used the funny voice popular with that brand of Oosaka comics, making it hard for me to understand him, and his ears were covered by his helmet, making it hard for him to understand me. We managed to work all my major points in, though. Of course there was no way to know, in the moment, whether it was going to be funny or not. There is the problem of not being able to see how it will look once edited, but there was also the fact that everybody else in the room was doing their best to remain absolutely silent, so I had no feedback. The rough AD assured with me a laugh that it had been funny, though. I certainly hoped so. I do have my pride and dignity but I'd far, far rather be ridiculous than boring.

Everybody gathered in that same lobby when the time came to watch the broadcast, but I was a little too embarrassed, so I did something else. Which turned out to be just as well, because the planned forty-minute full episode had been cannibalized into a series of ten-minute segments. The first was the main one, however. And yet nearly all of it had been cut. “But I got on,” Anarchy in the UK assured us without irony, as though we would be genuinely relieved by this news, “so that's the important part.”

So can you guess which part ended up being the focus of the programme? Come on, guess.

It was Taiwan and the French girl's cosplay thing. Of course it was. They dressed them in junior high school uniforms. You can't not use that. Over the course of the next few weeks they re-aired those parts along with chopped-up versions of the others.


Did I ever appear? I have no idea. But none of my friends mentioned seeing me, so perhaps not.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Things I missed

I imagine I've made it pretty clear that not only would I rather be in Japan right now, I'd rather have never left. In fact I hardly ever shut up about it, on this blog or anywhere else. But there's nothing to be gained from idle negativity, so as long as I'm here, I might as well avail myself of the Canadian experience. Here are a few things I missed while I was in Japan and am now enjoying again, in no particular order. Well, they are in a particular order. They're in the order I thought of them. It's just that the order is meaningless.

Jugs

Living abroad ain't what it used to be. Nowadays Facebook and Skype effortlessly keep us connected with the people we love. Before my time, it was a more trying affair. Ten years ago, there was the less dynamic but still reliable method of e-mail, although you had to be sitting at an actual computer in order to use it. Prior to that it was all expensive long-distance phone calls, snail mail, and desperate hopes. Go back far enough and moving to another country was a months-long journey that you might not even survive, and undertaking it meant you'd never see your friends and family ever again.

Really, I'm grateful that I was able to chat with Jugs on an almost daily basis through the Miracle of the Internet, but now I get to see her face-to-face at least weekly. I've met great people in Japan, both Japanese and non-Japanese, and I hope that never ends, but Jugs and I, and my other Canadian friends, have a long history, and we know each other back to front, and that's hard to beat. She's interested in Japan, too, so I hope to one day show her a bit of it.

Tim Horton's

Have you ever tried Tim Horton's hot chocolate? According to my page statistics, if you're reading this blog you're most likely American, so probably not, in which case you're missing out. Actually I hear there's Tim Horton'ses in like Vermont now or something, so maybe some enterprising businessperson will open a franchise in Oosaka. They also make good sandwiches. Speaking of which...

Subway

Japanese Subway is good, but it just doesn't measure up to what they've got over here, where the bread is softer and has more options, the pricing model isn't idiotic, and they have bottomless fountain drinks. And the subs are just tastier.

Real cheese

Oh my God, have you tried to buy cheese in Japan? Again, statistically, you haven't. Well it's not fun. Because there isn't any. At least none that's good. You might be able to find something at an organic grocer or a co-op but that's always a pain and what you can find still isn't that great. I guess I shouldn't be surprised though, cheese doesn't exactly figure heavily into Japanese cuisine, and me complaining about it is like a Japanese person complaining about the difficulty of finding decent seaweed in Canada. Though come to think of it, that is a very legitimate complaint. Ah, but now we're getting into a totally different post.

Christmas

This one startled me. I mean there were things I anticipated missing (Jugs), and things I didn't (cheese), but I outright hate the Christmas season and the way it's shoved down our throats for two months straight. I'm just grateful that Halloween is a thing because it forms a hard barrier against the increasingly early starting gun, but even that is starting to crumble. In the future, the entire year will be Christmas season, and that will be a glorious time because it will have finally lost all meaning and we can all stop caring about it. It's such a saccharine, stupid holiday anyway. Not the birth of Christ, that part's cool and all. But all this stupidity about “the true meaning of Christmas” and “come on, it's Christmas” and all of that can go straight to hell. Guh.

As I mentioned around this time last year, though, I kind of ended up forlorn at the complete lack of Christmas cheer in Kyouto. Setting aside that it's a completely different holiday in Japan (couples rather than families), there was just nothing. A few lights and stuff, yeah, but no music, no real sense of anticipation, no atmosphere whatsoever. Yet oddly, though I was happy to be free of it, I was sad for its absence. That whole block ended up feeling so empty, even though it was quite as exciting as any other month in Japan, just because I was used to expecting something extra. Also, for some weird reason I have a strange fondness for bad Christmas movies, so lately I've been getting my fill of those on TV.

All of that said, with December now underway I have little doubt that my seething rage will soon reassert itself.

Snow

Of course this is integral for a good Christmas atmosphere, but snow is also great just on its own terms. You can roll around in the snow and make snow angels, or roll snow around in other snow and make snowmen, or go around smashing other people's snowmen, or construct complex snow forts from which to wage snowball fights and then get pissed off when you start losing and start facewashing everybody and dumping snow down their backs and so on. Those are rites of passage for every young Canadian. Good luck doing any of that south of Hokkaidou, though. A couple centimetres may accumulate overnight, but the ensuing sun will melt it all within hours.

News

Sure, you can seek stuff out on the Internet and stay informed about what's going on wherever you came from. Thing is, I get all my news passively, by listening to the people around me. This is also generally how I find out about assignment due dates and impending exams so it is quite a useful skill. Still, having little to no idea what was going on over in Canada made me feel disconcertingly disconnected, despite the fact that I had no desire to even be connected.

Paper towels

Japanese public bathrooms often don't have anything to dry your hands with. Weird, eh?

Skateboarders

Ok, this is actually just one I remembered from my high school days, which of course is when skateboarders were an everyday sight because the hardcore kids skateboarded around during every moment, and then years later the best of them all got sponsorships and appeared in movies and made all their parents and teachers feel awfully stupid. Skate culture is very different in Japan; although you have a few who might try to emulate the Western style, those are mainly the people who are already on the fringes of polite society anyway. Instead it's a more “legitimate” kind of thing, with most of the action occurring in large indoor skate parks rather than the streets. This affects the image of skateboarding and skaters themselves, so there's not quite the same view of skaters as rebels. Consequently, there aren't so many rebels who are inspired to take up skateboarding, which then means that skateboarding doesn't take on the same rebellious overtones, and you see how this starts to loop. I don't know if that's a good thing or not (my inner child screams conformity but my inner corporate drone shrugs legitimacy), but it was always nice to just be walking down the sidewalk and spot some kid kickflipping over a cinder block.

Poutine

For the Canadian impaired, poutine is a Quebecois dish of French fries buried in a mountain of gravy and cheese curds. For some reason, it hasn't caught on in Japan yet.

Peanut butter cups

You can find almost any American candy bar in Japan, but not Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, my favourite. Why that should be, I have no idea. Maybe peanut butter is still a bit of a foreign concept to the Japanese? That wouldn't surprise me. It is a strange idea if you think about it.

Driving

I love driving. Loooooove driving. Top five favourite things to do, easy. I read about driving. I daydream in class about driving. I play video games that involve driving. I research techniques for driving. First time I got behind the wheel of a car I was like aw yeah this feels so riiiiight. I really don't know how I went without for a year. Fortunately next time I should not be under any constraints as to operating motor vehicles – which the university condescendingly claimed was for “safety” but which was obviously actually about their insurance – so I should be good to go as long as I pass the road test. Oh, I'll blog about it. Never fear.

Things being easy

This, then, is the one that ties everything else together. To be honest, I didn't even notice that this was something I missed until I was back in Canada, because everything I did having some extra layer of complication had just become my normal. Ordering at a restaurant? Better get a headstart on perusing the menu, and possibly ask what some stuff is. Filling out a simple document? We're gonna need somebody to look it over for mistakes and also maybe read it to us. Need to ask directions because we're lost? Well, are we sure we're lost? If we keep going this way just a couple more blocks do you think we might figure it out? Ok, well should we ask that guy over there? Let's ask that—ok, well, he obviously was in a rush, what about this grandmother? Oh God, what dialect is that? But it is Japanese, right? How can we end this conversation as quickly as possible? If we just thank her and walk away will she stop? How far do we have to go to keep her from realising we don't know what she said?


In Canada, everything is so damn simple. I can skim whole pages at a glance, out of the corner of my eye, from across the room. I already have a mental map detailing the location of every shop, landmark and shortcut I could ever need. In any given group I'm usually the strongest speaker of the lingua franca, not the weakest – unless, that is, I'm with my Japanese friends, in which case I'm still the most knowledgeable and am to be relied on for interpretation. But most significantly, things just make sense in a way that they don't quite do in Japan. They're set up according to a system of heuristics and algorithms I was raised on, to the point that I can navigate my day-to-day affairs mostly on reflex. An easy life isn't necessarily a good life or even a happy one, but for the moment, it's one in which I'm willing to indulge.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Finding Diagon Alley

There's a Subway restaurant on one of the short little pedestrian streets that cut back and forth between Kawaramachi and Shinkyougoku. I visited so often the staff learned my order. Japanese Subway isn't quite as good as Canadian, I'm sorry to say, but it's still hard to beat a delicious hot sandwich. Plus, it was located directly across from a Rainbow Karaoke, where we went the night I met Seven and Hyeong, so while I ate I liked to amuse myself by watching the incredibly obnoxious promo video loop constantly.
It's just one of a dozen or so places I took to frequenting in the downtown core area. By the time my year of study abroad was coming to a close, I knew the place pretty well. The broad strokes, at least. Here's a place to buy beer. Here's a place to eat cheaply. Here's a place where you can buy books, and for some reason also clothing. I had a good understanding of where all the little oft-ignored shrines were tucked away. I knew where the karaoke places and the convenience stores were (at intervals of every ten and two steps, respectively).

This is why it was such a start to glance down a gap between two buildings and realise – whoa, there's a couple of people walking around back there. Where are they...? Wait wait, there's more of them! Are they – is there a bunch of cool stuff back there?

As soon as I stepped through – it was really like a doorway – I realised what I'd stumbled upon. There was a whole goddamned town back here! A whole network of thoroughfares and switchbacks, wide enough to drive a car through! Not that you'd want to; you'd forever be getting stuck behind slow walkers. It was a decidedly pedestrian affair, couples, families, old dudes, young girls, everybody just going about their business. I found out that Round1 has a parking lot behind it. OPA has a whole other storefront I never knew about, and it's every bit as ostentatious as the one on the street. There were cafes, a small bar, funky expensive clothing stores, and what might have been a lawyer's office. Or possibly a yakuza branch office; it's hard to tell at a glance in Japan.

As I wound my way around, I realised that I'd seen some of this stuff before, passing between the aforementioned streets. But it had never occurred to me to look any farther; like a hopeless Muggle, I'd been totally unaware of the Diagon Alley that was just out of sight, teeming with life and interest, if you only knew where it was. And really, it's utterly amazing that I never discovered it earlier. Perhaps some of you are reading this and marveling at my density, because you found it on your very first sweep through downtown. But I was amazed that even after a year and a half, Kyouto could still be hiding some secrets right in my territory.


It's one of the (many) reasons I love cities, actually. I'm an extrovert in the truest sense of the word, drawing energy from the people around me, so the more of them there are, the happier I am. Sobriety and mental elbow room be damned! Give me a crowd. Nature and serenity? Get some concrete and glass in there! Likewise, you can talk to me all day about familiarity and sometimes wanting to go where everybody knows your name, but I'd rather have dynamism. A city is like a lover – so complex and so deep, you could know them for a lifetime and still have more to learn.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Gypsy and the Hobo

President: I couldn't find any flapper stuff that I liked, so now I'm being Joan from Mad Men.
Rude Boy: What?! I wanted to be a 1920s gangster!
President: Be one of the Mad Men.
Rude Boy: But...wouldn't that just be me in a suit?
President: You could also wear a snazzy hat.

Two years ago I was a cowboy, and everybody ended up asking me whether or not that was my costume. And that really made me have to reflect on the degree to which I've alienated my friends and family with my weirdness, when I dress up as a fucking cowboy on Halloween and they ask if it's a costume or just how I decided to dress that day. I was anticipating similar results for my Don Draper, since, again, really it was just me in nicer clothes, and with very well-styled hair (courtesy of Jugs). I'm sure it didn't help that I'd done a dry run of a possible jacket exactly one week prior, so a lot of people probably just thought I was trying to start Formal Thursdays.

I really tried to get the look down, though. Grey suit, thin lapels. Narrow black tie, white shirt, white pocket square. But for the full effect, I would really have to master Don's mannerisms. I surmised that the easiest way to do that would be to get rat-assed by 11 am and try to keep that going for the rest of the day, so I kept a full flask in the inside pocket. In the other I placed a stainless steel Zippo lighter, so that I would be ready should any pretty young thing require a light, even though I don't smoke myself. I also printed out a photo of Don and put in my wallet, mostly for my Japanese friends, who probably wouldn't know the character, but also in case anybody tried to start arguing with me that I'd gotten one of the details wrong. I didn't have an appropriate hat in my collection and there was the problem that Don is 200 pounds of pure fat and muscle and I barely crest 120 most days, but know what, fuck it.

I woke up to a pic of Udon, in a maid costume, grinning at the camera and curtseying coquettishly. I pretty much came instantly. We still aren't dating, of course – just leaving that option on the table for whenever I make it back home – but you know, benefits. President and I had History together first thing, and I must say we looked quite a pair. Unsurprisingly, the teacher was our biggest fan. “You look like you just stepped out of the 60s!” he exclaimed appreciatively. In mid-lecture, a loud, metallic bang emitted from my pocket, drawing more attention than I'd have liked. Later inspection confirmed that it had suddenly expanded, I guess because I'd filled it too far, so that was my physics lab for the day. Fortunately I was able to pop it back into place.

Now there is an organization on my campus, staffed by two paid employees and bolstered by volunteers, whose job is exclusively to run fun events for international students. Stuff like, say, horseback riding, which is very Canadian and something not a lot of people outside Canada have done, or a wine-tasting tour of the Valley. If you ask me their biggest and best event of the year is their Halloween Party, and it's fucking awesome. It's held in this giant conference room and it's dry but there's like free pop and a ton of snacks and it's all dark and everybody is in costume and yelling at each other and the girls are all dressed extremely slutty because duh it's Halloween and there's like a haunted house and a pumpkin-carving competition and you know a dance floor and then afterwards the festivities continue at the campus pub. Also, international students everywhere. I think one of my main gripes with Canada is that there aren't nearly enough Asians, not nearly as many as in Asia at any rate, but it seems like there's a bit of a spike this semester. You know how it is, there's a natural rise and fall to registration rates. Anyway back in 2009 I was literally the only domestic student at the party, and now, four years later, domestic students going has become just like a thing. Coincidence? Yes, but I still front-ran the trend.

So that sort of started off a tradition for me of Halloween being rad. 2009 I hooked up with a Japanese exchange student. 2010 I started dating a Japanese exchange student. 2011 nothing happened and I moaned about it interminably. 2012 Seven and her friends took me to Butterfly. Would 2013 cement the pattern of two on, one off?! I daren't even dream.

When I arrived back on campus after going for food, President informed me that the handful of Japanese Club members had all gone off trick-or-treating, and would not be accompanying us. “I guess they're just all too cool for us,” she said. On the one hand, I guess if they're not going out at the same time as little kids, and if they've actually put effort into their costumes – well, ok. Fine. On the other hand, what the actual fuck? You motherfuckers are in your goddamn 20s. Seriously. It just strikes me as so fucking disrespectful and childish, far more childish, in fact, than an actual child going trick-or-treating, because actual children are supposed to go trick-or-treating. Am I the only one who thinks that by the time you hit high school, you should be well and truly done with this shit? I get that there's a dead period where kid stuff is boring but adult stuff is off-limits or difficult to access, but when you're in fucking college, there is other stuff for you to do. Jesus.

Later, though, I started to think that maybe this is also symptomatic of a change in Club as a whole. Their reasons for not wanting to go to the party? It's hot, and loud, and crowded, and “not that fun.” Fuck yeah it's hot, and loud, and crowded, and it's a ton of fun. Or at least I've always thought so, and President obviously likes it. But we aren't in charge anymore, and the new people might just be catering to a bit of a different taste, same as a political party undergoes shifts in tone over the years, as situations change and, just as importantly, new leadership steps in. I'm free to furrow my brow and brandish my cane, but that's just the way it is.

It transpired that getting in required a student card, which makes sense in retrospect, but I threw mine in a drawer when I left Canada and never bothered to put it back in my wallet. Luckily I knew some of the people there and talked my way in. This, boys and girls, is why we are friendly and professional with every single person we meet. Once inside we hung out near the food, chatting and waiting for more people to show up. I did have my eye out for a particular target, a girl I'd been priming throughout the preceding week.

Rude Boy: I have her LINE but I can't use it without Wi-Fi. I don't even have her phone number. God, what if it's too dark to see and I never find her? It'll be like fucking How I Met Your Mother.
President: “Kids, your mother was at that party...”

Fortunately, I managed to catch her, and we agreed to do the whole haunted house thing together. She went off to gather her friends but when she came back she was alone, because they were all “too scared.” Did they beg off in order to get us alone together? It's possible. We stood in line for a good half-hour, I kept her smiling and laughing, listened more than I talked, asked questions and delivered compliments, and managed not to be cringe-worthily awkward, so I was pretty much at the top of my game on that front. Inside the house, she did not, at any point, cling to me in terror, nor hide behind me for protection, nor pull me aside for a quickie in the corner of the mad scientist's lab, but at least she seemed to enjoy herself.

So I thought I was doing pretty well, except she fucked off not long after and I kind of didn't see her much for the rest of the night. Ok, I thought, either she's not that into me or I'm just not her main focus during probably the only “real” Halloween party she'll ever experience, either of which is obviously fine. I fell in with some other Japanese people, I chatted, I danced, turns out it's hard to dance in a suit while weighed down by a loaded flask. Thing is, before I lost her we agreed to go to the campus pub together (like, together in a group) afterwards, but she ended up going to a friend's birthday party – BUT before she left she specifically came and apologized and then told me that she's always free, so I could hit her up whenever. Did she just invite me to ask her out on a date? Maybe! Either way it was a fun time, so eh, let's just go ahead and call the night a success.

At 10 o'clock, as the first venue was winding down and people were trying to sort out their 2jikais, Akiba, my oldest Japanese friend, spontaneously appeared, done up in full drag with a Phantom of the Opera mask. It was...really quite something, although the breasts were suspiciously large for a Japanese woman. The majority of people there were being indecisive twits, so four of us broke off, piled into my friend's van, and drove to a pub a few blocks away.

Girl: Are you a good driver?
Akiba: No problem.
(begins backing up with one tire over a median, nearly wheels into a parked car)
Rude Boy: Who the hell gave you a license?
Girl: That.
Akiba: This is safe driving.

One of the girls was dressed as Haruhi. I actually saw her at the Orientation, and pretty much assumed she was Japanese, but had been too intimidated to introduce myself. Silly in retrospect, I could have just complimented her costume, confirmed her national origins, and bingo, conversation. Anyway, she turned out to be really nice. Admiring Akiba's getup, she recalled having gone to some kind of guys-only otaku event at a cafe: “I wore my friend's clothes and bound my chest and went in and nobody questioned it, and the whole time people talked to me like one of the guys and I got treated like a guy. It was weird. And interesting.” The other girl was adorable and from Nagoya, so me and her Oosaka friend made fun of her for not being from Oosaka.

I hadn't anticipated being at this particular pub, with these exact members, or so few of them, but it ended up being great. Akiba I've known for a good six years now, and it's always good to reconnect every so often. And sitting with two cute girls, I could hardly complain anyway. I'm overloaded with coursework this semester and it's starting to get exhausting, and it's only about to get worse. I needed this. Reminds me what I've been fighting for this whole time.


“Japanese people are great,” I said.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

I have the package

Shortly before I temporarily left Japan, I shipped a big box of stuff to Canada. The postman came right to the dorm for his regular deliveries, helped me fill out the form, and departed with my stuff crooked under his arm. Five years ago, at the conclusion of my high school exchange, I sent a couple of packages as well...but it was a very emotional time, and I couldn't bring myself to open them at first, because I felt like in some way it would officially signal the end to a time I'd treasured. And then days turned into months and then it was just kind of a thing.

Today I opened all three. I barely remembered what I put in the one I shipped two months ago, never mind five years.

 Ok then, U-Pack. What have you got for me?
 Pokemon, the jinbei from English Club, some books, more Pokemon. All right, sure.
 Ah! FF for Jugs, Tales for Goku. Picked these up at Kyouto Animate. They were well-received.
 Here I have tried to arrange my Pokemon charms into the shape of Japan, their positioning corresponding to the region they represent. As you can see, I failed.

Enough of that. Time to jump into nostalgia in the worst way.
 It looks like I stuffed as many papers as possible anywhere they would fit. Right on top are the slightly crumpled lyrics to a song my class did for a contest. In Japanese high schools, you stick with your homeroom class, and the teachers come to you. Obviously this means that a Japanese high school student has nowhere near the course choice or autonomy of a Western one, but the main advantage is that the class becomes a family, and I really mean that. My class was the best part of my previous stay. It was full of wonderful, energetic, kind people who were not only quick to welcome me into the fold, but continually proved their willingness to help me survive in the school and not only endure but actively help cultivate my tottering and unsure Japanese.

Homeroom classes do a lot of activities together, one of which was a...I don't know what you'd call it. A singing contest, is what it was anyway. The more proactive students selected a few songs, we narrowed it down to two, thought up a little skit, and then competed with the other classes in our year. I gather it was a nationwide competition so the winners must have advanced to the intramurals and so on. We didn't win, but practising with everybody is one of my fondest memories from that time. This video from 1rittoru no Namida should give you an idea what it was like. As you can see we performed a half-English, half-Japanese rendition of “A Whole New World” from Disney's Aladdin. I can still recite parts of the Japanese lyrics from memory. My class also did “Oh Happy Day” but I wasn't part of that group. Remember that one pretty well too, though.
 On the first day we were required to do a test. Looking back I have no idea what the point of that was, since everybody there had already written an entrance examination, but I guess it was just to assess our abilities. Of course I was hopelessly lost, and though my teacher said I should ask if I wasn't sure what to do, I didn't want to take up time that would be better spent on my classmates, who, unlike me, were actually expected to perform somewhat acceptably.

Of course I was able to do the English section with no problems, even without being able to read the instructions, but the rest was impossible. I barely attempted the Kokugo. I was later placed in a Math class since that's pretty much the same in every language, but not only is Canadian Mathematical pedagogy woefully inadequate, I was pretty damn horrible at even that.
Hey, somebody check this and tell me if my math's correct. It probably isn't. On another page I adorably wrote “FOIL” in the margin, as if it was too abstract and complex an idea to hold in my head without having it in front of me.
 A, uh, pamphlet that's been scrawled all over with marker and shot to hell with a hole-punch. I can no longer recall its origin but it clearly must have meant a great deal to me at the time. Jesus but I'm a sentimental bastard, aren't I?
 I didn't spend every class with my class, as it happens. Some of them, like Kokugo, would have been too far beyond me, and the school's administrators thought (as did I) that it would be beneficial to experience a wide range of topics and classroom settings. So, for four blocks a week, I would trek over to some other class and sit down with them. One was Sekaishi, with a class that I always felt I would have loved to have been a part of every bit as much as I did my own, if it had shaken out that way. Hero of another story and all that. This paper was clearly from my Nihonshi class, where I first learned the word “bakufu.” There were a couple of girls in that class who sat near me that I always enjoyed talking to. They were hot.
 Whoooooakay then. No, I wasn't foisting my nationalist pride on everyone around me. These were supposed to be gifts. Obviously I didn't end up distributing them all, but they're good to have.
 Hey, I remember buying this! Seems I had halfway decent taste in high school. Still in ok condition, too. Never did know who DJ Honda was, though.
 ...yeah ok.
 Oh, right. I used to be kind of a nerd.
 Ah, Hagaren! Book-Off has always been good to me.
 They don't quite jive with the rest of the collection, though.
 An...empty plastic bag. Seriously, what the fuck was wrong with me?
 Aha! Cardcaptor Sakura was what I was using for reading practise back in the day, and it was every bit as difficult for me then as 1Q84 is now. However, I never quite completed my collection. Each volume, you see, was originally packaged with a bookmark in the form of a Clow Card. My ambition was to obtain a complete set of Clow Cards, so I always vowed to gather the rest whenever I returned to Japan. Unfortunately, since I refused to open up the box and check I had no idea which ones I was still missing, so I couldn't do it this time. Guess that just means I have to get back as quickly as possible.
 Actually, as you can see I was tantalizingly close to getting them all. Damn!
 A T-shirt, which I bought in 2008, that celebrates the Rolling Stones tour of 1981-82, which I was unable to attend because I was too busy not having been born yet.
Aaaaand here's all the Gundams I acquired over the course of a semester (along with two other still unbuilt ones that I bought in Canada). I seem to have packed them first and then jammed everything else in around them. In total, it looks like I bought twelve. I'd often arrange and rearrange them on my bed or a table, simply admiring them, glowing with pride every time another machine or two joined their ranks. Yes that's both a regular and Char Custom Zaku, and yes that's two versions of Freedom. Shut up.

I find it really rather unbelievable that I ever thought that this was a good use of money, or that I'd be able to find space in my room for them, or, most of all, that I'd ever, ever have the time to build all these fucking things. Amazing how priorities change.

There is one thing I didn't find amongst this clusterfuck. Over those five months, I kept an incredibly dense journal, filled with reams of completely unnecessary detail, that I'd hoped might turn up. The fact that it did not means that I felt it was precious enough to carry it with me in my backpack, and that it is most likely now lodged deep in some other box, in the bowels of my parents' basement, possibly on another plane of reality. If I ever come across it again, or just get the itch to reminisce, I'll share some of the stories from that period – and there are some good ones. For now, I hope you've enjoyed the snippets. Looking through this stuff has given me some perspective on my most recent ryuugaku, as in a lot of ways, they were really very similar: Joyous, painful, thrilling, and ultimately transformative. That is, everything a ryuugaku should be.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A Kind of Homecoming

There have been all the expected changes. New buildings have been thrown up as if overnight. Partially completed community initiatives are now farther along. Zellers has transformed into Target. Improvements and expansions have been made to my university. Television shows have all progressed another season, so I have a lot more material to enjoy of the few that I watch. And apparently we've stopped using pennies. I find the whole concept utterly baffling and have to pause for like twenty minutes every time a price comes up as like $9.57 or whatever, totally unsure what I'm supposed to pay. Never mind that the numbers are all ridiculously small and I'm not even sure what things should cost.

My uncle asked: “So, are you happy to be home?”

What a weird-ass question! And I don't just mean the “home” thing. I don't expect most people to understand what Japan means to me, that as far as I'm concerned I'm only visiting Canada, or how deeply it irks me when people imply that Japan isn't my home. That part I get. But what the hell good can come of that question? Yes. God am I glad to be home. Japan was awful. What a waste of a year of my life. Or, and this one is closer to the truth: No. I need to get back. I hate it here.

When I arrived at my parents house, I breathed a heavy sigh. I don't want to be here. And as much as I want to be in Japan, I want to not be in Canada nearly as badly. Even if it were a place I had no interest in, like Stockholm or something, at least it'd be an adventure, an experience, and a chance to learn something new. Rather than rediscovering it, I'm finding that my hometown, and all the places I used to frequent, are all too familiar. The only way I've kept from lapsing into full-on Reverse Culture Shock Mode is by reminding myself that if I work hard and play it right, this will be only a stopover, and I'll be on my way soon enough.

For the first few days, I tried to keep a low profile. It worked reasonably well. Oh, I was spotted at once – President saw me walking past her Starbucks, trying to be incognito, my very first day out. But every time I encountered someone I asked them not to tell, so I got to see startled reactions over and over again, which was basically all I wanted. Just hanging out, doing stuff, what are you talking about, I've been here the whole time.

I dropped in on a couple of the Japanese restaurants I used to frequent and reconnected with the staff. Everybody was very excited to see me. Shit, it's like I never left. How the hell has it been a year? They were all at my farewell parties and I remember those so clearly.

More importantly, although I missed out on volunteering for my beloved International Orientation, I at least managed to swing an invitation to the Welcome Lunch, where I touched base with a few of the new Japanese students.

Rude Boy: So I was just talking with a few of them, and I thought, I'm really enjoying this conversation, but there are a lot more students floating around, I really ought to go and introduce myself so that they at least know who I am, and what Club is. And then I realised...
President: “I don't have to do this anymore.”
Rude Boy: Exactly! So I just stood there with them and kept right on chatting like I had no other responsibilities!
President: Isn't it nice?

No longer Japanese Club executives in any official capacity, she and I will both be dialing back our contributions from here on in. For one thing, I already sweat, bled, and cried for this club, and I feel I've earned the right to let someone else take over the heavy lifting. Who knows, maybe I'll even get to relax and enjoy an event. Not that running them wasn't enjoyable, itself, but it was tough work, rushing the fuck around and making sure everything was in place and providing social lubrication and watching the clock and being prepared, at any moment, to throw out the entire plan and craft something new on the spot to ensure people were enjoying themselves.

Certainly I'm not going to excuse myself entirely. Where before I likened myself to a former President of the United States receiving daily CIA briefings (that is, wistfully keeping an eye on Club through its Facebook feed), now I more think of myself as a retired Hells Angels chapter president. I'll have no official association with the organization and may not even be involved in its day-to-day activities, but I'll still show my face occasionally, attend and help with events, provide mentorship, order a hit on my cousin's abusive boyfriend, whatever. And I'm happy to do translation or interpretation, seeing as I'm the only one who can. President has adopted basically the exact same attitude.

President: I mean, Club is still my baby—
Rude Boy: Our baby, President.
President: Right, our baby, and he's gradu—he? She? Is it a girl?
Rude Boy: She's definitely a girl.
President: She's graduated high school, she's ready to go off to college, and now it's time to let go...
Rude Boy: Like, we'll still be there for her when she needs us, but we've gotta, like...
President: Let her out into the world, she has to learn for herself now, make her own mistakes...
Rude Boy: Exactly.
President: Learn to survive on her own.

To paraphrase Ezio Auditore del Firenze: “I built this Club to last...with, or without me.” Unlike President, I don't have every confidence that the new people will do a good job (well, definitely not as good a job as we did. Obviously!), but what the fuck do I know, I haven't even been around for the last year. Maybe they'll do awesome. I mean I certainly hope so. It doesn't matter either way; they were the ones who stepped up, the membership ratified their succession, and now the pirate ship is theirs to either steer towards fortune and glory or mismanage straight into a lethal encounter with some shoals.


Ok seriously, you guys, don't fuck up my pirate ship. Worked on her for years. I will fucking murder your face right off if you so much as scratch the paint on this pirate ship. Be home by 11.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Gaijin Tales! Wrapping up

I accrue Gaijin Tales anecdotes gradually and throw them up on the blog when I have a bunch. I've maintained a fairly consistent schedule of doing one every 2-3 months, but that doesn't always have much to do with when a particular story took place, as I often remember and then write down things that happened long before. Keep that in mind as you read what will be the last Gaijin Tales for a while.

*

Rude Boy: three strangers in two days have treated me like a normal human being!
Jugs: Nice!

*

Insufferable Dumbass, listen to me. You're not taking on an enemy army. You're not fleeing the cops. You're not even performing a complex and sensitive science experiment. You're making dinner. Calm the fuck down.

*

On my last visit to the Pokemon Centre, during Deranged Dave's stay, I picked up a few more Pikachus. Until that point I'd actually assumed there was only a set for the respective city of each store; I was dead wrong. It may have been limited sale, but anyway, I picked up some representatives for Kyouto, Koube, and Nara. The Kyouto one was Pikachu wearing a Shinsengumi uniform! Only, this raises the question of whether or not I now have to collect every single one produced.

Um. Let's say no.

Then Mother Russia went on vacation and brought me back an Okinawa charm as a present. It's Eevee, which is different from the rest of the set...but it's from Mother Russia, so who cares. :3

*

One thing I've noticed about drilling Korean vocabulary is how useful it is to see the hanja. It seems that Korea still uses traditional characters, but obviously I can still read them for meaning even if I can't write them. This is quite helpful for remembering not only the pronunciation of many words (such as seonbae, a direct cognate from 先輩), but even the words themselves; “desk,” for example, is chaeksang, which is fine and all, but much easier to call to mind if you know that is written 册床、i.e. a “book-bed.”

This raises a question: I would assume that most beginning English-language Korean textbooks don't show the hanja, since it would be meaningless for most, so how the hell are you supposed to learn all these words? I guess it's just rote memorization, which, admittedly, I had to do to learn both the equivalent Japanese words and their kanji, but I sure am glad I don't have to start from zero again.

*

For a while there, every time I would go to 7-11, Cologne would ask where I was headed. Rather than simply answer him, like a normal human being, I would always say “Your mom's house.” This continued until finally one day he asked me: “So, do you wanna make a trip to my mom's house?”

Somehow we managed to get everybody, both English- and Japanese-speaking, to start calling it “Cologne's mom's house.” We're going to Cologne's mom's house, I wonder if they sell that at Cologne's mom's house, etc.

Yeah, it's one nonstop party in this dorm.

*

I just realised that my World of Philosophy class is a huge confluence of a bunch of otherwise unrelated spheres of my life, as I have now seen that my classmates include three girls from English Club, a guy from English Club, a guy from my Enjoyably Study Korean, and one of the girls who works at Cologne's mom's house.

*

Cologne to Tiny Chinese Girl: So on Thursday, just shower after you eat takoyaki!

*

Japanese teacher: I teach Japanese language to foreigners, of course, and I also teach Japanese students how to be Japanese language teachers. And I guess the main difference is, when I ask foreigners if they understand, they all yell “Yes!!” and scare the living daylights out of me. And when I ask the Japanese students if they understand, I get silence...and then I ask again, and if I'm lucky, I get (nods slightly).

*

Politics teacher: You treat this classroom like it's an extension of your living room!
Rude Boy: Makes sense, I treat the living room like an extension of my bedroom.
Everyone who lives with me: (laughs mirthlessly)

*

Mother Russia: i don't think i can go, i popped an inlay so i have to go to the dentist
Rude Boy: omfg are you ok???!!!
Mother Russia: thanks...yeah it's fine as long as i don't bite anything...best diet i've ever had, haha

*

I've won a lot of nice things from the periodic draws at Cologne's mom's house, but I also once won a little bottle of this absolutely vile-looking old guy energy drink that no one in the history of the world has ever wanted.

Two days in a row.

*

Rude Boy: Why do you feel the need to write your name all over every single thing I own? Fucking look at this shit...my textbooks, my homework, my computer, my arm...what, are you fucking marking your property or something?
Mother Russia: Hahahaha, I'm like a dog!
Rude Boy: Then I go to read my fucking book one day and I find this! (Indicates bookmark, which she pulled out of the book, placed on top, and wrote “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!” upon next to a picture of a smirking pig.)
Mother Russia: Hahaha! Did you find your page again?
Rude Boy: Yes, because I remembered the number for some reason.
Mother Russia: Oh. Damn.

*

After watching like 25 episodes of Sailor Moon in three days, my way of speaking became extremely girly for the next several.

*

President: U drunk?
President: Lol
Rude Boy: maybe
Rude Boy: but not as drunk as you're about to be

*

Rude Boy: Jesus! It wasn't raining at all when I left the house.
Clerk at Cologne's mom's house: That's right. It wasn't raining up until just a little while ago, yes?
Rude Boy: Yeah. Man, I didn't even bring an umbrella.
Clerk: (to second, older clerk) Oh, there was an umbrella, wasn't there?
Second clerk: There was! (runs to the back)
Clerk: There may be an umbrella that someone forgot at the store.

There was, and they gave it to me. This is why I love 7-11 service. Also: Bullshitting with strangers 1, shyness 0.

*

Insufferable Dumbass: (to family over Skype) Yup, I think I lost the Speech Contest because I was meant to be a soccer referee.
Anarchy in the UK: (under breath) No, you lost the Speech Contest because you're awful.

*

Mother Russia: (pauses movie, removes headphones) Is this enjoyable for you?
Drunk Rude Boy: Kinda yeah.
Mother Russia: You can't even hear!
Drunk Rude Boy: (intentionally overselling) Just being with you is fun enough!
Mother Russia: Wow. Barf.

*

Rude Boy: What's Stonehenge actually like? I imagine it being like surrounded by city now, like that thing in the middle of Mecca.
Anarchy in the UK: No, it's in the middle of a giant field...that's actually so big the army uses it to blow things up.

*

Insufferable Dumbass: A lot of the people in this house don't speak well English.

*

I saw a girl walking down the street, carrying an entire door. Couldn't even decide if that seemed strange or not.

*

Lithuania: Do you know this site? It's like, for finding pen pals.
Rude Boy: A fucking website for finding pen pals? That's...that's like teleporting to the train station!

*

Cologne: I don't know if I want to go there, I hear it's just a bunch of Germans.
Rude Boy: You should totally go. You're great at German.
Cologne: But I don't really feel the need to practise.

*

At YVR I recognized a girl I'd sat near at Incheon.


A few days later, I saw her at my university.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A touch of typhoon

Rude Boy: You and I haven't had a class together since like spring 2011.
President: Wow. Sounds like a bad omen.
Rude Boy: Mm?
President: Spring 2011...?
Rude Boy: Oh. Shit. Well...I'll just withdraw if it looks like anything bad's about to happen.

I guess I'd better get on that.

If you're not aware, a typhoon hit large parts of Kyouto, Shiga, Hyougo, Ayamane, and also apparently Toukyo, though much less directly. Kyouto and Shiga seem to have been the worst-hit, being inundated with powerful rains and flooding. I sort of shrugged it off at first – typhoon, big deal. It happens. But then I was cruising Facebook and I saw this picture:

Yeah, I flagrantly ganked this from a stranger's FB feed. Sue me. Actually no, don't.
If you live in Kyouto, you should recognize this spot. Or maybe not; it took me a good ten seconds. That's Sanjou Oohashi in the background, Sanjo Keihan Eki further in the background, and, directly in front of us, a pedestrian footbridge. It's one of the most popular meetup and hangout spots in the city, and I was pulling through there once a week at bare minimum.

It's difficult to describe, now, what I felt in the moment I saw that photo, and over the following day. Of course at that time I was a little more uncertain of the situation. Last I read, only eight people have died, several of them rather elderly, and the news reporting all seemed to focus on evacuation efforts and property damage rather than loss of human life. But without being there, I had no way of knowing what things were actually like on the ground. I couldn't read the mood, and know whether Kyoutoites were bonding and powering through or despondent over the destruction. Most of all, I felt like I should be there. Not even that I should be doing something to help, just like I should be in the thick of with everybody. I didn't have any information, I couldn't do anything to help, maybe there wasn't even anything to do, and I felt thoroughly cut down to size.

I thought: Can forces of nature stop destroying my adopted homeland now.

And also: Please God, don't let this be a day that we remember for years.

Because I still recall with great clarity exactly what I was doing when I found out about the Touhoku Earthquake. Hell, I remember every detail that came for the next month, because of everything we were all doing. I didn't want this time to be like that. Let it wash away like so much water, a non-lethal non-event.

Of course I feel a little silly saying this now, knowing as I do that everything was pretty much ok. Udon is fine. Shiga is fine, English Club people are fine. But there was about a 48-hour period there where I was checking in and nobody was responding, which, rationality aside (they're busy, they might not have power, some people suck at texting), had me concerned.

It's weird that this typhoon could be even a fraction as affecting as Touhoku was, despite being a grain of sand in comparison to a beach, just because it's a place that I know well, and have developed a certain affection for (even though I still maintain that Kyouto is kind of shitty). I wondered if this is what it feels like to live in New York, and be watching a movie, and have it depicting scenes in places you could walk to from where you're currently sitting watching the movie. Actually, you probably get used to it.


So I tried to imagine my Canadian hometown undergoing a similar crisis. Try as I might, I couldn't make it real. Because these things could never happen to you, right?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lonesome Road

As soon as Udon sees me off, I'm alone. From here on out, it's all strangers and solitude. I'm riding to Umeda, but instead of the excitement I would normally feel at a day or night of fun ahead, I just feel drained. Fuck it. Here we go. I really am leaving Japan. Well. Fuck.

I get hung up at Umeda because I fail to realise that I need to make my transfer at Oosaka, and spend over an hour wandering around like an idiot, but it's so hot and I am so goddamn tired, I just kind of go with it. Important point is, at no time do I feel nervous. Concerned, yes, but it's all purely intellectual. I've grown.

I'm riding the express but do not realise that there's an additional cost associated with this until a guy comes around to check my ticket. He addresses me in Japanese and does not bat an eye when I speak it back to him, I pay the difference and he gives me a ticket, and I slump back against the wall, not at all embarrassed about having made a mistake. The train pauses for a while for seemingly no reason; the old ladies near me speculate that it's either regular maintenance or a suicide. One of the two. I reach my station and disembark. I have to say, it has been my experience that carting luggage around the major transit centres is no big thing, but as you wind away into the local stations it becomes increasingly burdensome, in this case requiring a series of confused elevator rides just to reach the opposite platform.

Easily locating my hotel, I have a lengthy and detailed conversation with the guy at the front, and not once does he remark on the unprecedented multitasking of my speaking Japanese while being foreign. I appreciate the compliments, I really do – but from time to time it's nice to have my ability to communicate in the language of the country I live in not be pointed out like it's a fucking UFO sighting. I head to 7-11 to print off my electronic ticket, which seems to contradict the whole “electronic” idea, but I accomplish the deed while barely paying attention. I am so in control.

It's late and the train ride took hours. But I've arrived! At least now I can relax. Well, I've misplaced my fucking cell phone charger, but nothing I can do for the moment. Fortunately, Jugs is online, so my final sad, lonely evening doesn't devolve into a totally self-congratulatory emo wankfest. But then...

[5:56:13 AM] Rude Boy: OH WOULD YOU FUCK RIGHT OFF. the documents i printed at 7-11 i now cant fucking find
[5:56:46 AM] Rude Boy: WHAT
[5:56:47 AM] Rude Boy: THE FUCK
[5:57:57 AM] Jugs: :c
[5:58:29 AM] Rude Boy: im leaving japan
[5:58:34 AM] Rude Boy: im leaving a lot of things
[5:58:47 AM] Jugs: bb, i can' even imagine how hard this is for you
[5:58:53 AM] Rude Boy: i am so. incredibly. fucking. tired.
[5:59:07 AM] Jugs: but i can promise you lots of hugs in canada
[5:59:27 AM] Rude Boy: it is SO MOTHERUFCKING HOT JUST FUCK RIGHT THE FUCK OFF THREE MONTHS LAREADY SERIOUSLY FUCK. OFF. JUST FUCK. OFF. no more plz. no more of this fucking heat. i am so fucking tired
[5:59:46 AM] Rude Boy: i cant even
[5:59:48 AM] Rude Boy: i cant do this.
[5:59:57 AM] Rude Boy: i am actually just
[6:00:02 AM] Rude Boy: WHJERE THE FUCK ARE MY DOCUMENTs
[6:00:47 AM] Jugs: you totally can do this
[6:01:18 AM] Rude Boy: i actually am almost breaking down right now
[6:01:33 AM] Jugs: you not being able to do it isn't even an option in anyway
[6:02:05 AM] Rude Boy: it is so fucking hot
[6:02:07 AM] Rude Boy: where are my documents?
[6:02:11 AM] Rude Boy: where?
[6:02:13 AM] Rude Boy: where? :(
[6:02:17 AM] Rude Boy: where are my fucking documents? :(

So far I've concealed my emotions, but that one little thing has made me snap. Thankfully, Jugs is an awesome person and stays online to talk me through it even though it's already morning in Canada. And I do eventually find the fucking things, thank fuck. Unfortunately, I can't reply to the message that Udon has almost certainly sent. I feel pretty bad about that.

In the morning, I catch the shuttle to Kankuu. From this point forward, the idea that I might speak anything other than English does not occur to anyone for the rest of my life. At Immigration, an old man punches a hole through my gaijin card, but then he gives it back, an unexpected souvenir.

I'm staring down the barrel of 25 hours of continuous travel; a duo of pointlessly long stopovers have conspired to try and make me kill myself. More than anything else right now, I wish for a companion. Not even to help me work out my complicated transfers and baggage dickings-around; it's cool, I will do all of the thinking, I will make all of the decisions. I will be the grizzled world traveller. It's only that it's going to be fucking boring. I want someone to bullshit with. Seriously, I'll take almost anybody. I'd even take a particularly calm and astute child at this point. Well, maybe not Insufferable Dumbass. I'd leave him at home. It defeats the purpose to bring someone who will make the trip feel even longer.

At Incheon, I find that I'm actually remembering many of the areas I passed through the first time around. Is this what it's like to be a capable, experienced international plane person? I'm sorely tempted by the “Experience Korea” souvenirs, but decide that it's a little tacky to buy something from an airport gift shop without ever having actually seen the country. Maybe if Korea still sparkled...
An Indian guy about to begin studying in Canada gets cornered by one of the dumbest people I have ever heard words slough out of. He asks how long he's lived in Korea (five hours), and why he didn't go visit the ocean if he had so much time between flights (are you...really?). He then inquires as to why he didn't just take a flight directly from Mumbai to Vancouver, all at once demonstrating that he knows absolutely nothing about international travel, or geography, or humanity, or the laws of physics. I try to bury myself in the book that I started reading at YVR a year ago – The Sun Also Rises, turns out it's pretty great – but his exuberance bores itself straight into my brain. Oh hey! Looks like I did bring Insufferable Dumbass with me! I am finally saved when he convinces the Indian guy to go line up for the plane shortly after it arrives at the airport. Eventually I follow in their wake. Some guy has tried to take my window seat. Haha, no.

I watch Iron Man 3. It's bad.

Setting right my mistake of nearly a year ago, I order the bibimbap. The flight attendant asks if I've ever “tried” it before, which seems a little condescending, but how is she to know that I'm not a moron. Good luck I didn't pick JAL. I'd Kansai-ben their ears off and then we'd ALL feel awkward. Still though, you take everything they give you and mix it together, it's not fucking hard. The meal is quite tasty. In my experience, Asian food survives the transition to “airplane food” most intact out of any cuisine.

I watch a Chinese movie called “Finding Mr. Right.” It's surprisingly good! It's about a young Chinese woman who goes to America to have her sugar daddy's baby so that the government doesn't force her to abort it, but then she meets people there and plot ensues. You should watch it. Also the main girl is gorgeous.

All the Korean movies are action movies and supernatural thrillers. Why can't I just watch a silly romanticomedy? I want to learn “You had me at hello,” not “Make him an offer he can't refuse.” The only Japanese movie heavily involves dogs, so that's out, too. Luckily I'm tired. My strategy was to stay awake as long as possible in order to sleep as deeply as possible, because I know that once I fully wake I'll pretty much stay that way. Time to make out with the cabin!

I stir from my slumber and crack the window. Still dark outside the plane. The moon is reflected against the wing, and I crane my neck to peer up at it. This high in the atmosphere, there's little between us but space. Crazy.

When I wake again, the people beside me are eating breakfast. A small sign has been attached to the seat in front of me: “While you were resting, we were unable to serve you. Please let our service staff know your preference.” It earns points for saying “resting” rather than sleeping, but then immediately loses them all by making it sound like I'm causing problems for them. How about “It is our policy not to disturb passengers while they are resting. Our staff would be happy to serve you at your convenience.” See, I could totally be in marketing. A guy comes by and asks me for my choice, with an attitude suggesting that his job would be so much easier if it weren't for all these fucking people trying to fly to places. His pronunciation is frankly terrible and the only option I understand is “omelette” so I take that even though I know it will be an abomination. I can't finish it.

Then I'm in Canada again, somehow. White people everywhere. Negotiating yet another labyrinth of signage, and then Immigration – I don't like the bullpen style of YVR. Kansai and Incheon are a little clearer and more streamlined. They've installed a new “electronic border guard” system since I was last here. Did you guys know about this? You scan your passport and then your paperwork, greatly speeding up the process and, presumably, lowering the airport's overhead (no pun intended). An automated female voice even warns me that border services will have some questions for me.

A young, blonde woman frowns at my customs paperwork and, not unkindly, asks, “You have unaccompanied baggage with you?”

Well, no, ma'am. If I had it with me, it would be accompanied baggage.

Anyway, I end up getting a customs receipt so that I won't have to pay tax at the post office (as what I'm importing is within my exemption), so it turns out that it pays not to lie to the government. Very, very occasionally.


At Tim Horton's, I fumble with the coins, barely recognizing them.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Final 10 seconds

I feel low. Empty. In a few short hours I will leave the dorm, and this time tomorrow I'll be on a plane. I wonder if this is what a person feels on the morning of their execution: Resolute in my hopelessness, resigned to the fact that one way or another, it's all over now. I've done everything I can. I've spent a year of my life, incurred massive debt, and I'll probably never know for certain if there was any meaning or value to any of it.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Chinese hookers off the streets of Koube. I watched drunk gyaaru glittering in the morning light near Kiyamachi. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

I never got to see Udon. We were going to meet one more time, but she got called into work at the last minute. I was crushed. Can't be helped though. We'll see where we're both at next time I'm in town. Whenever that is...

Jesus, it's been a whole year already? Christ, it's only been a year?

I wonder what they'll say about me, when I get back. I barely recognize the person I was when I got here. I've always felt I was a confident person, and a patient one, but that's only gotten stronger. I've gained new skills, of course, and – well, I hope my Japanese has improved, anyway. My curiosity has in no way lessened, but I no longer feel anxious when I don't understand every little detail. I've gotten better at asking for help.

There's nothing left now. I slowly finish the last of my packing. Begin to tidy mine and Cologne's room, taking my time about it. I am so very sad. I--

Holy shit a message from Udon.

“Well, I'm free this afternoon (lol)”

Holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit.

I kick into high gear. Oh god. Room check, we have to get ready for it right fucking now. Udon confirms that she is available until 4. It's goddamn 1:30. Ok. Ok ok ok. Toss that shit right the fuck into the suitcase. Shove it in good. It's all crumpled and fucked up! Never mind. Vacuum. Jesus Christ fuck cocks gotta run up and down the fucking hallways and oh god damn it there are no vacuum bags have to run to the first floor and borrow their vacuum. Vacuum vacuum vacuum when did our room get so many corners. Cologne woke up obviously and now he's showering, please oh god oh please for once in your life don't take an eternity in there. Ok ok shove the rest of my clothes in. Um, backpack! Electronics! Ok hopefully that's everything. What if it's not?? Fuck it. Gotta take a chance every once in a while. Can't live your life cloistered in your fucking library. Check all the drawers oh fuck right off I forgot some stuff oh fuck it don't even look just throw the whole pile into the garbage. Oh good he's out of the bathroom ok vacuum the bathroom ok is that good enough? Yeah I'm saying that's good enough. Ask to do my room check two hours early; luck out and get the go-ahead. Dormitory lady pronounces room is spotless. Please god faster. Need to surrender keycard and room keys. It is so fucking hot out and I'm so tired my hands are shaking so bad I can't even slip the key off the ring oh fucking finally there we go.

And...we're done?

I skitter back upstairs. Mother Russia isn't in; I will probably never see her again. Goodbye Lithuania! Goodbye French! Goodbye Tiny Korean Girl! Goodbye Korean guy! Goodbye Cologne! Goodbye assistants! Oh fuck that's right – I hurriedly entrust a bag of coffee, one final parting gift for Mother Russia, to one of the assistants. A few people, startled and confused by my leaving ahead of schedule, rush downstairs to see me off, wondering what could have precipitated my haste.

“Take care of Mother Russia,” I request of the dorm staff.

And I'm off and running down the driveway, suitcase rumbling ridiculously in my wake.

I'd envisioned this moment a hundred times, but it never looked like this. Sometimes it included one pensive, final walkabout of the dormitory; perhaps a ceremonial final usage of the keycard that had made so many midnight 7-11 runs possible; and most definitely an overly long, possibly wailed set of goodbyes. Not so here. In a way, it's actually better. I'm afforded a clean break. At the train station, the tears claw at my throat and beg to be released. I ignore them.

I've rushed like fucking nobody's business. And at 3:20, I finally meet up with Udon.

I'm exhausted and incoherent and I look like shit but she doesn't even mind. We sit in Starbucks and we talk until 4:30, when she finally admits that she really does have to get to work. Of course I wish we could have spent more time together, but it's just about the perfect length of time for a goodbye. We have a lot of fun. We have a fairly frank conversation about what might happen between us when I come back to Japan, and although a million things can happen in even six months (the absolute minimum time I'll be away), we leave the door open.

I do realise that I'm kind of fixating on a girl that I've only actually met three times, but there is something there. There is definitely something there. If we'd met in, say, March, I'm positive we'd be dating by now. But then, even such a short time ago, I was a completely different person, so – although I don't believe in any conspiracy of God or “the Universe” meddling in human relationships – in a way perhaps it had to happen now.


As we're walking to Hankyuu Kawaramachi so she can see me off, I realise that she is the last person I'll see this year. How fitting, I remark. She laughs. It's really just about the best sendoff I could have hoped for.