31 July 2008
Okay, but why am I supposed to vote for McCain?
Free wifi at Freshness burger?
There are two sides to Stephen:
There is the side that wins a competitive scholarship worth over $200,000 to work with the best scholar in his field in Europe.
Then there is the Stephen who has to go boom-boom real bad and drops his wallet in the McDonald's toilet stall and doesn't notice. The same Stephen that lost his cell phone outside his girlfriend's (now wife's) apartment. And lost his plane tickets because he was too worried about the Cuban cigars he was illegally taking into the States.
The first Stephen really needs to talk to the other one about attention to detail. There is nothing worse than having to tell a cop how long you were in the toilet. I don't know, five minutes? Ten? And why do I think I lost it there? Well, I mean, my pants were around my ankles. Seems like the most likely chance for it to fall out. Yes, of course I washed my hands.
My wallet was returned. I would like to thank all the Japanese people, the whole Japanese nation, for this. Seriously, if ever there were a reason to be proud of a your country, this would be it. People's first instinct is to give back rather than take.
Here's what we know:
- at 7:15, I bought a tall cafe latte at Starbucks and I am sure at this point that I had my wallet. I recall putting it in my pocket after I paid.
- At 8:45, Greg and Erik and I went to the bank in Bandai, then to Yodobashi, then all the way to the bank in Furumachi, and then back to Bandai.
- By then it was 9:45, and Greg and Erik left in Greg's car. I, feeling the very, very strong urge of nature, stood outside of LoveLa (the shopping center) waiting for it to open at 10:00 so I could relieve myself.
- At 9:50, I decided I wasn't going to make it and went to McDonald's. In the stall at McDonald's, I put my sunglasses down and thought, I need to remember to take those.
- 9:55, feeling much better, I exited McDonald's and road my motorbike about 5 km before thinking, you know, I wonder if I have my wallet. I often have this sense and it is usually just in my bag. So I stopped my bike and realized it wasn't in my bag. Thinking it probably fell out in the bathroom, I went back to McDonalds. As I was going into the restaurant, a guy seemed to see me from inside and the run out, and when he rounded the corner (I could see him through the windows), he started walking again. Not convinced this had anything to do with me, I asked at the counter. No wallet. I checked the bathroom. They checked the bathroom. Nothing.
- At 10:20, I went to the police box to see if anyone has returned it and they had nothing.
In Japan, you get really, really used to not worrying about stuff like this. Indeed, there is a high likelihood that my wallet will be returned in the next couple of days with all the cash in it. None of the credit cards have been used. But there is still some chance that this guy I saw had it, took the cash, and then threw the wallet away. Or somebody else.
o I spent my afternoon on the phone with credit card companies and banks and the DMV, trying to piece everything back together with my shitty Japanese. Everyone is so helpful, but the process of getting a new credit card will take ten days. New bank card is 14 days. New Foreigner Registration Card is 14 days. The Drivers license I can get immediately, but it is 4000 yen.
The wallet is really all that I want back. It was gift from Yoko's parents. It is the first real nice wallet I had (seen in this picture). The cash I had in the wallet (about 8000 yen) would be nice, but not needed. I actually had to get a new cash card and foreigner registration card anyway, so the only thing I am wasting money on is the drivers license and the credit card.
The best conversation I had with someone today was on the phone with the DMV:
Me: Oh yes, hello, my name is Stephen Pihlaja and I lost my wallet this morning and it had my drivers license in it, so I need to talk to someone about getting a new one.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, of course.
DMV Guy 1: Oh wait, are you a foreigner?
Me: Uh, yes, yes I am.
DMV Guy 1: Can you hold on a minute?
DMV Guy 2: This is DMV Guy 2, can I help you?
Me: Oh yes, hello, my name is Stephen Pihlaja and I lost my wallet this morning and it had my drivers license in it, so I need to talk to someone about getting a new one.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, of course. What country are you from?
Me: I'm an American. (pause) But I just lost my drivers license so I need to replace it.
DMV Guy 1: You lost it? Your American license?
Me: No, no, my Japanese one.
DMV Guy 1: You have a JAPANESE license. Yes, then it's very easy. Did you lose it in America?
Me: No, no, I lost it this morning. (pause) In Niigata City. In Bandai.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, of course. (explains rules, hours, etc.)
Me: Thanks so much.
DMV Guy 1: So are you in America now?
Me: No! I'm in Japan. I'm calling from Shibata. I live in Japan.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, very good then you can come tomorrow.
Finally, not one to really put to much stock in perminitions (I believed for quite some time when I lived in Fukuoka that I was about to die in an accident) I put this out for what it's worth: Last week, just last week right around the time my Japanese visa came through and it looked like my paperwork was going to work out and nobody was going to try to stick me for my paper, I thought to myself, You know, I bet something stupid happens now like I lose my wallet. I gotta be careful.
In the midst of this, I am packing boxes and realizing that 32 kg is a lot more than I thought.
30 July 2008
Matsuhama Church: Party #2
When: Sunday, July 27th after church
Where: New church building, Tayuhama, Niigata City
Who: Church members
Backstory: There is no place more weighted with meaning for me in Niigata than Matsuhama church. It is one of the first places I went when I came here. It is right in the neighborhood I (then we) lived in for almost four years. I met Yoko there. I was engaged there. The pastor married us. Despite all that, I have recently been feeling out of place there (well, I mean more than usual) given my lack of belief and interest in anything Christian and feel rather detached whenever I find myself there. I also wrote about this party earlier and I was dreading it for what I thought would be long, boring speeches and needless drama. It was, in the end, nothing like I expected and I was surprised at how hard it was to say goodbye to these people who, as I said in my little speech at the end of the party, were really our family in Niigata. I even thought I might tear up when I was talking.
Food: Spaghetti and hamburgers and rice and watermelon.
Things learned: In her speech, Yoko said the most profound thing about her life the last couple of years--something I had totally missed. She said that when she came to Niigata, she had to come as a student and her title of sensei (which is a word of respect and honor) was lost in that process. And then she married me and lost her last name in that process. And then she had Naomi and lost her full name in that process because now she is primarily Naomi's mother. And now, as she goes to England, she will lose her language. She wondered, in front of the group, what would be left of her or who she would be in England--that she was happy to be blessed, but sad at the same time.
I, in my hurried preparations to get everything done, had missed this and watching her talk, I remembered the Yoko I fell in love with three years ago and how much older and more weathered we had become in such a short time. I am disappointed in myself for not seeing it. It reminded me that moving forward is never easy or without cost and for as good as this move is, it is not perfect and it is not going to be easy for all of us. And although I guess I knew that going into the process, hearing her say it so eloquently makes me much, much more cautious.
Old men and Beer: Party #1
29 July 2008
I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my dreams, but after finally watching that Randy Pausch lecture, I've been thinking about dreams I have had throughout the years. You have probably already seen the video, but if you haven't, I'll put it in the bottom of this post.
When I was a child, I wanted to be an archeologist. This was, I suspect, heavily influenced by Indiana Jones, but even when I talked about, I was quick to tell people that I understood archaeologists spent most of their time in the library and that was fine by me. It's what I wanted, I said. I suppose what I really wanted was to be intelligent, or at least perceived as intelligent.
I also wanted to be a writer.
When I went to college, I had three very clear objectives. I wanted to be in the college literary journal, Catch. I wanted my own office in the library. And I wanted to graduate Magna cum Laude.
When I came to Japan (or in the first couple of years of coming to Japan), I dreamed of learning Japanese and working at a university.
Now, I suppose I really only want to publish a book on a respectable press. I suppose I want to publish two books: one of fiction and one of non-fiction.
For what it's worth, I don't think dreams are especially useful and would rather just spend my life saying yes to whatever comes my way. Stephen Colbert said that at a commencement at Knox a couple of years ago. You need to say yes as often and as much as you can. And I think Randy Pausch probably agreed.
28 July 2008
27 July 2008
White, teenage Americans bring salvation to Ikebukuro through cheap sales tactics and misunderstanding
As I was walking to buy dinner, I saw a couple of guys holding signs that said, 'Free 5 Minute English' and I thought, 'Well, that's a clever way to pick up private students. I wonder if it works.' I kept walking and noticed that there were many, many more young, bright-eyed Caucasians holding the same signs and shouting, 'Free 5 minute English!' Several of them were wearing Texas college t-shirts and I deduced after watching them that they were likely a church group. Having been a part of these sorts of things myself (ie. shitty street theater, street 'evangelism', English education for the Lord, etc), I feel like the signs are pretty telling (although I couldn't say for sure). Sitting at the bus stop, I watched them interact with people and thought about how misguided and arrogant and ignorant the whole thing was.
Japanese religious practice is an enigma to the West I think and being unable to understand it, they are quick to pronounce it non-existent. Most fundies (or the kind I spent most of my time trying to be and hanging out with in high school) have one understanding of religion: It is a personal relationship with God that is expressed in going to church, feeling God's leading in your life, feeling God when you sing songs, feeling bad about bad things you think you've done, and telling other people that they should do the same thing you're doing. There is a strong emphasis on what you feel, what you believe, and what sort of religious things you do or don't do (did you pray today, did you read the Bible...)
Japanese religious practice, and Buddhism as I understand it, is based in a completely different worldview with all its own traps and advantages. The big one that people who are trying to convince Japanese to become Christians miss is that you do not become a Buddhist. Conversion is not a part of the worldview--you don't need to become what you already are. Moreover, the basis of Christian belief is that you need saving; the basis of Buddhism is that you are already enlightened, you just need to realize it. And in Japanese culture belief in one thing does not rule out another. So to say to a Japanese person, what do you believe is sort of a ridiculous question. They are what they are. For a Japanese person to convert to Christian faith, they need to have their culture dismantled first.
Belief, as a fundy, Western Christian understands it, is not a part of a Japanese person's life, I think. A person in the West often things of death and fears it--the average Japanese young person doesn't think of death at all. Instead, Japanese religious practice, it was explained to me once, can be seen in the passing of two bicycles on a sidewalk. The two riders are not paying attention, almost hit one another, but do not, and they continue on their way without getting angry because they did not hit.
The fundy Christians come to Japan to tell, to instruct, and to try to shape behaviour they have no understanding of. The 16 year old giving the 'free' English lesson knows it all already: his belief is the only true one and this 45 year old Japanese businessman that he is talking to just doesn't get it. They only know enough about the culture to complete their two week trip, go home to their mega-church, show a powerpoint, have the sort-of (or in my case very) long haired kid lead everyone in singing, and talk about the one conversation they had where someone seemed to 'really be thinking about what we were saying.'
Fortunately for the Japanese, most of them are smart enough not to be duped and will take the five minute English lesson and listen politely to whatever else they are told. There was a teacher at Meikun who had kept a religious tract he had been given because he said throwing it away would be bad luck. He, of course, wouldn't read it, but he kept it so no one would be angry with him. And I suppose that is something the youth group could put in their powerpoint presentation. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
26 July 2008
I should also say that I guess maybe this shouldn't have been published and by putting it up myself, I am violating Obama's privacy too. Sorry Obama. But I think it is such a telling notes because it seems so genuine and immediate. His first prayer is for protection, not of the State of Israel or world peace or whatever, but of his family and himself. I wonder how much that weighs on them... I thought for most of last week that I thought he might get popped when he was overseas. It all seems very much from the heart. And that is another reason I support Obama.
25 July 2008
24 July 2008
22 July 2008
It also sort of blows because I was on a real blogging roll and Monday was going to be one of my best days for traffic, ever. Now? Now look at me.
But don't worry, things will be back up and running in no time. I assure you.
21 July 2008
20 July 2008
19 July 2008
18 July 2008
17 July 2008
a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man.
15 July 2008
14 July 2008
- What goes
- What gets given away
- What gets sold
- What gets thrown away
There is a half category which is stuff I can leave in the apartment for the next teacher, but given that I am skating on thin ice at school already, I don't really want to bring up this category with my supervisor as she might think that I am just looking for another way to screw the school (which, of course, I'm not).
My room at home, when I left five years ago, was a museum of sorts, but the worst kind of museum: a museum to my first real failed relationship. I had saved everything: notes, poems written on napkins, brochures of places we had been. I remember how hard it was to throw it all away, how every piece in the collection was a good memory turned bad and how heavy a napkin with the words 'Always ****' felt. It took me a while to go through it.
Now, my room at home is still filled with shit that I should sort. Like my mother called the other day and asked, 'What do you want me to do with your typewriters?' Ah yes, my typewriters. I had bought like six typewriters in college because they were cheap and I liked how they looked. How about my parka from college? How about this? How about that?
Today I pawned a ton of our shit at the local 'Hard Off' (don't laugh) including most of the things in my purgatory category. We got about 5800 yen, which isn't bad. It was mostly from Yoko's old CD's. My boots and bindings sold for 300 yen. 300 yen was all they are worth?
Which brings me to an ending: all of our things, at one point or another, fall into two categories: what we need and what we don't. Moving on the cheap just accelerates that realizations and makes you wonder, Why did I ever buy this thing in the first place? Now as we start over again, maybe we can remember all this before we start acquiring it again.
13 July 2008
She said goodnight as she turned out the lights on his heart. Not quite all the way off, but it was pretty close. His heart has a dimmer switch, but she broke it. If you were watching closely and you could see the exact moment she moved it from bright shimmering orb to a small, dull, dying reflection of his pain. It was right after she said, We need to talk. He had donned his best pair of corduroy slacks, hoping she might notice, but he doesn't think she did. At least she didn't say she did and she normally comments about these things. She dropped the words like an atom bomb and now he's sitting in his walk-in closet crying like a baby.
12 July 2008
true lovers in each happening of their hearts
live longer than all which and every who;
despite what fear denies,what hope asserts,
what falsest both disprove by proving true
(all doubts,all certainties,as villains strive
and heroes through the mere mind's poor pretend
-grim comics of duration:only love
immortally occurs beyond the mind)
such a forever is love's any now
and her each here is such an everywhere,
even more true would truest lovers grow
if out of midnight dropped more suns than are
(yes;and if time should ask into his was
all shall,their eyes would never miss a yes)
-e. e. cummings
10 July 2008
09 July 2008
Things are quiet though as I only have three or four days left in the semester and then a couple of seminars I am working at/ organizing during the rest of the summer. I am going to do several seminars at Yoko's university on writing abstracts for academic journals in English and maybe a couple of one-week English courses. This will be a little difficult as I imagine I will have to do the abstract writing course in Japanese, and I haven't really lectured in Japanese for an extended period of time. But it will be good practice. It should bring in the yen though, which is growing weaker by the hour against the GBP.
08 July 2008
07 July 2008
When I came to Japan, I famously had two bags and my guitar. One of the bags had about 15 hangers in it. Hangers, I thought, would be very important when I touched down and needed to look good and not wrinkled before our guests. I wasn't sure if I would be able to buy them easily.
This time is much the opposite. Everything gets thrown out: we'll get it there, whatever it is. We are making plans to live life without a car, a choice that will make aspects of our life difficult, but will ultimately allow us to survive as I suspect the cost of gasoline will continue to increase and we could quickly get to a point that we are insuring a car that we can never use anyway. This means we have to find a place close to shopping and relatively close to the school, but I don't suspect that will be that much of a problem. I have seen a couple of nice places near the city centre that are not too expensive. We are going to do one bedroom instead of two, I think. Try to start out small and figure out what we can and can't live without before buying anything.
The university is giving us very little help in getting over which is something I suspected would be the case. The U of Leeds and Birmingham both have very elaborate programs for helping international students with housing and bus routes all mapped out. The OU being so small is really not equppied for that. You'll just have to figure it out, it seems. Do your best and hope that you aren't taken advantage of or whatever.
Still, I am trying to take in Japan for the time I have left here. Look at things a little longer than I usually would and savor what it is I think I will miss. We are going to see Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya in our swing down south, so I should be able to at least have those memories to access when people ask what Japan is like. I can say that I have been all over, seen a lot of it.
06 July 2008
Well, I was coming back from immigration yesterday, over the Matsuhama bridge where Yoko and I used to live. I spent three years living in the same small apartment in Matsuhama, and though it was drafty and old and small and poorly equipped for family life, it was home. As I rode my motorbike across the bridge, I felt myself reaching back to last year in my mind and wishing to go back, at least to that place that was in the city and surrounded by everything I knew. My current apartment has been filled with bad vibes for the last month, something I suspected, but hoped wouldn't happen, if London ever ended up working out.
There are only two months left and this place will quickly become one that I forget, a bump in the rode on the way to somewhere bigger, wider, better. But Matsuhama, and this bridge in particular, will always be in my heart--running in the snow, with no future, and then engaged, and then married and then pregnant and then with Naomi. All of those things came to me in those three rooms, filled with light and always condensed and condensing. I already miss it.
05 July 2008
04 July 2008
The guys at immigration are actually not that bad. They seem to know what they're doing more than the people at the city office. The people at the city office are notoriously bad. So bad, in fact, that Yoko has had negative things to say about them. Maybe bad is the wrong word. Incompetent is maybe better. They aren't rude or mean or anything.
02 July 2008
- Last week, I decided to get a new passport (to assure that I would be able to get long term visas in Britain and Japan), so I sent in my old one and an application for a new one to the US embassy. Given the new world order we live in, now passports have to be printed in the States, so mine should be coming back sometime in the next two weeks.
- After I get my new passport, I have to go to Japanese immigration and get my old visa moved to my new passport and, hopefully, apply for my new visa all at the same time. I have had to renew my marriage visa every year, bringing in the same documents for the last three years and paying about 100USD.
- After making that application, I will go down first to the US embassy to have our Japanese marriage certificate certified. Then we will go over to the British embassy with this certified document and with my new passport and old Japanese visa and apply for a student visa for myself and student dependent visas for the ladies. We have to have our fingerprints taken and give the embassy our passports and about 600USD.
- Three weeks later or so our passports should return to Shibata with our British visas and then I will be able to go to the Japanese immigration office and get my new Japanese visa added to my new passport.
- After all that, I have to to the city office in Shibata and update all my information and then back again to inform them that I am leaving the country.
- Then I die.
I really have only myself to blame. Everybody in Japan runs around self-important in their neckties, slacks, and lack of innovative thinking. My polo shirt/ slacks combo isn't even coming close by this standard. Well I'm through looking the part of middle management in some dumb US cubicle job. I'm going back to school, where I was truly myself and where I can truly be myself again, with a focus on ideas and publishing and writing. And I couldn't be happier.