31 March 2008

Love policy

I don't know what your policy on saying 'I love you' every day to your partner or domestic partner is, but Yoko and I just don't have one. We try to get around to saying it a couple of times a year, but you get busy.

The last time I saw E and M, they asked me about it and as I had not seen Yoko in a about ten days, I waxed sentimental. We really missed each each other — this and that. So, upon returning, I demanded that Yoko start telling me that she loved me every day.

Yoko, being the who she is, finds this no trouble at all and sometimes says I love you several times a day now, so as to not have to say it for the next couple of days. Sort of like an I love you reserve, but me being the busy person that I am, I felt it was easier just to write it on a piece of paper, pin it up on the wall, and point to it whenever either of us feel the need for affirmation of our love.

28 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Wrap-Up

The trip to Laos was a success of sorts, although not in the way I intended or expected. The next time I come on this trip, I'll prepare for the crowd a little better and know what to expect. I'm actually hoping that next year I'll be able to spend a week in Thailand with habitat for humanity, then have a week of conferences in Vietnam, and then a week in Laos, hopefully with the baby and wife hanging out on the Laos leg. We'll see. I still don't feel 100% and that probably is coloring the way I see things...  Maybe in a couple of weeks I'll have a better feel for it.

It occurs to me that in a couple of years, maybe ten or so, the main Japanese export is going to be confused, rich Japanese tourists, going to various countries and getting more and more confused, only to return to Japan with suitcases full of overpriced, airport chocolate and one or two stories that ignore the most interesting parts of the trip. One of the teachers on our trip said that he expected Japan to become sort of like Asia's Switzerland. Lots of money, lots of passiveness. I don't know about that. For me, Asia is anchored in Japan because I am anchored in Japan and my first experience with anything Asian was in Japan. But with the growth of China and with China gobbling up resources all over, what will be left of Japan... It's something to consider, but not for me to solve.

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 10

It's three in the morning and I am at Starbucks in the Bangkok Airport feeling not so well. The bus trip was 12 hours, very bumpy, kids peeing in bottles, no toilet, but cheap and local.

Now, I am enjoying the wireless Internet and staying close to the toilet. Some people think there is no god, but I say, I went 12 hours on a bus without a toilet, and didn't have to poop in a plastic bag. Richard Dawkins, you don't know shit about nothing.

27 March 2008

Laotian in Motion, Day 9

I'm out of Laos and back in Thailand. One of the things that I have learned again and something I heard a couple of years back is that traveling teaches you to trust people. Of course, being careful is important, always important, but you have to trust people to get on the right bus or get in a taxi. I had a couple of moments of cost-benefit analysis today when I agreed to have someone take me over the border and to the bus station for about $7.50. As these things happen, it worked out quite well. I got my bus ticket and am headed back to Bangkok around 2:30 to arrive there in the middle of the night. The bus ticket was much, much cheaper than I thought it was going to be, leading me to believe that I might be traveling at a slightly lower class than I would like to. Twelve hours is only 12 hours, right?

I also left my suitcase at the station as the person who sold me the ticket promised to watch it. Cost- benefit. I could lose all my cheap clothes and my suitcase, but most likely it will be there when I get back, well-protected.

I think the other thing that I learn as I travel is to worry less and not expect the worst. Some people are out to get you, but most are out to eat dinner and get dinner for their families. If you're kind and careful, things will work out.

My presentations went worse than I thought they should have, but I learned a lot about myself as a presenter and some of the things I need to improve. I didn't really know my audience or my time frame and that made it hard to prepare. I think at least one woman got something out of one of my talks. And I think I might have landed a real lectureship at a real Japanese university starting in the next couple of years. I'm not holding my breath, but I think the network I've built over the last two and half years may finally be paying off.

Internet is much smoother in Thailand. I could talk to Yoko, whom I miss.

26 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 8

I'm working now, which is far less interesting than the earlier part of my trip. Students have been good, but my presentations had to be about twice as long as I thought they were going to be. I did an hour and half this morning and another three hours tonight and then I will hopefully be on a bus or tuk-tuk or train or airplane or taxi to Bangkok sometime before Friday morning when I head back to Japan. We'll see if any of that works out as is planned.

24 March 2008

DMX enlightens us all

Apparently, DMX is not familiar with Barack Obama:
Are you following the presidential race?
Not at all.

You’re not? You know there’s a Black guy running, Barack Obama and then there’s Hillary Clinton.
His name is Barack?!

Barack Obama, yeah.

What the fuck is a Barack?! Barack Obama. Where he from, Africa?

Yeah, his dad is from Kenya.
Barack Obama?

What the fuck?! That ain’t no fuckin’ name, yo. That ain’t that nigga’s name. You can’t be serious. Barack Obama. Get the fuck outta here.

You’re telling me you haven’t heard about him before.
I ain’t really paying much attention.

I mean, it’s pretty big if a Black…
Wow, Barack! The nigga’s name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain’t his fuckin’ name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, “Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit” [laughs] “That ain’t your fuckin’ name.” Your momma ain’t name you no damn Barack.

So you’re not following the race. You can’t vote right?

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 6

I am just about ready for the conference to start. I think I came about one day too early as I have already seen everything there is to see in Vientiane, watched CNN through ten or eleven loops. Walked everywhere. Eaten at a ton of different places. There's really nothing left for me to do. I wish I could find a place where the wireless Internet service I paid for will work too, but it's been down since I got here.

I miss my wife and baby.

23 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 5

My scooter riding went fabulously, down the Mekong until I turned off onto a road leading through the rice paddies. I stopped to take pictures several times, but I mostly just rode and rode, feeling free of just about everything.

Laos is a good place to vacation if you ever have the yen (and I mean yen in the Kerouac sense here, not money) to come Asia. Vientiane is almost embarrassingly tourist friendly. You need it, you can get it. And there are hippies everywhere. And everything smells like incense. When I first got here, I thought the incense smell was this German guy with dreads that I had just met and who I travelled by tuk-tuk with to the city. Nope. It's everything.

The best thing that happened today was when I went to a cafe and ordered fried rice and chicken and what I was given was not really what I had expected. Well, I took a bite to find that I had been given fish, so I called the waitress over and she, realizing that it was not for me, but the French couple at another table, brought the dish that I had already eaten part of over to their table. The French couple was very caught up in a conversation about their camcorder that they didn't notice that I had eaten part of their dinner and dug in. Not wanting to cause any trouble, I didn't say anything.

The guy who initially got me interested in the organization that I am here with (and is also, incidentally the founder of the group) is dying of cancer. We had the most fabulous conversation in Bangladesh when we were there about faith and traveling and the meaning of life. We had only met a couple of times, but he is probably one of the ten most influential people in my life, right up there with that guy I met a few years ago who was biking across Asia. Bill, when he passes, will be deeply missed, but he can rest in peace knowing that he had given the best to life and touched a great many of people in a great many places.

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 5

Now, to rent a motorbike and ride up and down the Mekong River.

22 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 4

A weird, weird world we live in where I can sit in an open air cafe on a street in Vientiane and video conference with my wife and baby in Japan. While tuk-tuks fly by and the staff looks on. This little netbook I bought is incredible. Three people have already asked about it since I sat down, not including the people from the shop.

I walked around all day — just walked and walked and walked. It was wonderful. I saw so many things. Took pictures which are loading now and will be up later, maybe but probably not. The Internet only works on the street, which I suppose is fine.

One shot from Bangkok is up now.

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 4

I'm now settled in the right hotel, in the right place. This hotel is much nicer than the other one, although there is still no Internet access. I think I will be able to go now to a cafe that has WiFi and if you are reading this and all my other entries then I have succeeded. If not, well then I have failed.

Vientiane is a nice place although very touristy. Lots of white people running around. I was able to sit out and drink some very good cappuccino though, so I am happy about that. Everything you could possibly need is here. I think I am going to be able to get a bus back to Bangkok too, one that will get me back in time to catch my flight, at least in theory. I don't want to get stuck for another day in Bangkok and have to spend a bunch of money to change my flight. 

Other than that, I suppose I should be working a little more on my presentations, but I'm lazy and am going to go sightseeing instead.

21 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 3

The overnight train was ten hours late, which means I spent ten hours more than I had to on a train that was already going to be thirteen hours. I feel like shit; I'm so dirty. I met the nicest Germans and we were going to have dinner together and then I lost them.

Laos is awesome so far. I got a nice hotel room, even though it is a little expensive. I'm going to get supplies. I tired to post my posts from the train, but the Internet doesn't like my Open Office document.

I think I'm starting to feel tired now.

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 3

The sleeper train, a great idea in theory, works out less well when there is an accident on the tracks and the train is delayed indefinitely. At first, it was two hours, then three to five hours. I finally just went to sleep and when I woke up at five in the morning, we still hadn't left yet. While I lay awake thinking to myself about maybe just bailing and taking the bus, the train started to move. We are now going to be in Nong Khai sometime around 6 in the evening, about nine hours later than planned. This is fine, I suppose. I should be at the hotel by nine in the evening. The hotel is right in the middle of the city and has air-conditioning and cable. We'll see if it lives up to my high expectations.

Still, the train isn't bad at all. I was able to sleep with no problem except that the light never went off. I was able to cat nap all morning long and when I finally got out of my pod around noon, the trip was more than half over.

The toilet on the train is great. It's just a hole in the floor. Luckily I haven't had to take full advantage of the facilities, but if I do, I assume there will be some disaster.

The roads out the window here look pretty good actually. Definitely rideable. I ordered lunch a while ago, but still nothing. As this is Day Three of the tour, I am waiting for Day Four for the pain to begin. The pain and the frequent use of the hole in the floor.

From my conversation with Jim yesterday and last week with Neal, I have been thinking about wealth distribution and how it is one of the most chronic problems in the world. We can see it on a world level. We can see it on a nation state level. We can see it at a state or provincial level. We can see it at a city level. As much as we can, we want to keep the poor and rich separated. Or the rich want to stay separated from the poor.

I think probably the last thing that Jay-Z wants you to think when you are listening to 'Takeover' from the Blueprint is, 'Hey, it's been a while since I listened to Illmatic.'

20 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 2

No time. Bangkok Train station. Great day. Good food. Overnight to Laos. More later.

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 2: Waiting for Dinner

I went out like I had promised to meet Jim, friend of Internet friend Scott Hodge. Jim, whose last name I never caught, works with bar girls (and generally 'the poor') in Bangkok. Our conversation was really fabulous and wide-ranging. I thought the most interesting thing he had to say had to do with the fact that the poor, whether it be in Bangkok or the inner-city of Chicago, are all basically struggling with the same sorts of problems, lots of them emotional and habitual. The problem with the poor is not that they don't have any money, it's that they don't have the tools to get and sustain money. Some of those problems are met through people from the outside giving money, but for the most part, the poor need to learn the skills required for money gathering and retention. The bad habits that get families way down in a hole need to be met before you start talking about getting stable employment...

Somewhere in there are also my thoughts, maybe not all Jim's. But he is one of the real deal Christians that I have a lot of respect for.

The other interesting that came up in our conversation is that everyone thinks they are doing the right thing, whatever it is that they are doing. Whether you are sleeping with a prostitute or whatever, we all think we are doing the right thing.

Now, I am at a huge mall, one of the places that makes me feel like Thailand is Disneyland. You can get anything you could ever want here. I got pizza because it's hard to get cheap pizza in Japan. I suppose I should be eating more on the street, but you win some and you lose some.

I saw a couple of good movies on the way over — 90% of American Gangster and about 95% of Michael Clayton (JAL's movie viewing system was invented by a group of monkeys typing on keyboards, and not the kind that wrote Moby Dick). Really fabulous movies about some of the real problems in the world. American Gangster was a really good mob film, complete with good moral teaching and racial reconciliation. You won't get that from The Godfather. I still haven't seen the end of Michael Clayton and am hoping to be able to either catch it on the way back or buy it bootlegged at one of these places on the street.

I miss my wife and child and this is not good as I have about 8 days left to go. There was a little girl at the house that Jim runs that reminded me a little of Naomi. She wanted to play, I think. Naomi wants to play all the time. She has the most fabulous sense of humor. I like how she has like variant laughs depending on how amused she is. She's really a trip. I'm a lucky man.

Now, overnight to Laos. The sleeper car will be slept. I guarantee it.

Laotian in Motion Tour: Day 1

I'm now safely in Bangkok. A lot has changed in two and half years. It's like Walt Disney World here now. It's bizarre. When I came here the first time, I was bowled over by how foreign it was. Now everything looks new. We'll find out tomorrow if it's just the facade. but for now, green curry on the street.

19 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 1

On the plane, I am surrounded by old Japanese men who will not respect my space. I hate that. I was able to choose my own seat and chose the aisle seat so that I can stretch out my legs, at least a little bit. Before we took off, there was this ridiculous video about, you guessed it, the safety of JAL airplanes. You know you are riding on a Japanese airline when there is a five minute presentation on the test that the plane inspectors must take before they can become plane inspectors. Safety, if you have not been told, is more important than just about anything. I am happy to get out of Japan again.

The little netbook I bought has earned itself on this trip so far. Like it. Love it. Well, I suppose I don't like the battery so much. The battery isn't so hot. Why is it that companies always say that a battery will last like 50% longer than I ever experience. Am I using it wrong? We'll see if it works when I do the presentations on it.

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day 1

I'm at Narita, and there is a free Internet cafe. The trip is going well so far, but I've really done nothing. I found a slightly cheaper and shorter way to get to Narita, saving me about 500 meters of walking, 15 or 20 mins and 100 yen. You have to take what you can get.

18 March 2008

Laotian in Motion Tour, Day -1

I'm getting my stuff together, packing up, printing out. I'm looking forward to getting out of the country, getting back on the road where I really belong, I think. Ideally, every three months, I have to leave Japan. It's been about nine now and I'm feeling edgy. Green curry in Seam Reap. A long train ride at night. Crossing the border early in the morning. Taxis. Dirty places, poor people. You don't get this stuff in Japan. In Japan, everything is wrapped in plastic. In Thailand, the machine gears grind. Bangkok, as described when I first traveled there in 2005, is a dizzy, kinetic city, full of sin and potential.

I am going to meet a friend of my Internet friend Scott Hodge, a guy whose family works with people in the sex industry in Bangkok. We're going to have lunch on Thursday. I'm sure I'll come back with plenty of thoughts. And then on to Laos where I will give this presentation and two others.

17 March 2008

Rains, Pours

I was late for a class today. I'm never late for classes. I could have sworn the class started at 1:30. This is the last time I try to help someone out. The very last time.

Got another good haircut.

Yoko is going to Kochi while I am in Laos. This makes less stress for both of us and maybe for the baby too, because while I am in Laos and Yoko is in Kochi, the baby will hang out in the closet, where she likes i

On Dan's recommendation, just watched all of Curb Your Enthusiasm's sixth season. It was fantastic, bu I should be working on my presentations. I am not.

Went running and thought about a lot of stuff.

16 March 2008

Stephen has a weekend of the flesh, reflects

This weekend., which began innocently enough as I blogged using stolen wi-fi yesterday, further descended into mayhem as I went out to E's party and had a very good time. Being older now, I think I know my limits a little better as far as the booze go and I've gotten more comfortable having more to drink than I would in the past. The result last night was a really, really good time that involved great conversations about:
  • England and where the best place to live there is,
  • God and whether or not God is real,
  • Japan and how to stay here for 20 years,
  • Halliburton and whether or not Dick Cheney was having me followed,
  • Obama and how honesty is the best policy,
  • the USA economy and how we really need to bottom out to get back into shape, and
  • the baby and how cute she is.
I really didn't drink that much because I remember everything from the night perfectly well, I didn't do anything that was embarrassing (I mean more than normal), and I didn't get sick. It was just really good fun. And I rode the train home at 11:34, perfectly content.

Waking up was easier to do than it should have been and we went to church and then to a party for Yoko's co-worker who is going home in the next couple of weeks. Yoko's co-workers are cool cats, quite possibly the coolest cats in Japan. They treat me like a normal person, not an English teacher, not a foreigner. Just another guy. After that, we grabbed coffee and headed out to S and T's house for an Irish party. And here the plot thickens.

I brought my cheap netbook to show S because he was interested in checking it out. We were clicking around trying to make the Internets hum and somehow Windows Media Player came up and in the window was the name of a file that was terribly, terribly terrible: including the words Japanese and Lesbians. Oh, I said, does that say what I think it says? To which S answered, Yes, and promptly shut the window explaining that sometimes WMP can download things without our knowledge, basically trying to bail me out.

I fell under a huge cloud of  'Oh fuck...' thinking that although I had never knowingly downloaded that particular file, I can imagine that I had some sort of hand in it one way or the other. But that feeling, if you've ever had it, of whatever your darkest thought or action in the last three months or so being laid right out there... well, it's sort of like being naked. S, of course, is probably the best person for this to happen in front of, but still, I had the profound feeling of, 'Yeah, that's something that I would much rather have kept hidden.'

Guilt is crippling, and I know that my guilt is always run, not by what I've done, but what've I done that I've managed to hide. Obviously, I've blogged about porn a lot, so that's shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but suddenly confronting it in this sort of situation is really awful.

Yoko and I had a great talk about it on the way home because I felt like I had to, the moment it happened, tell her. The Japanese and the American (especially the American Fundamentalist Christian seed from which I sprang) look at porn in totally different ways, evidenced first in our uses of words. I chose the word 問題 or problem, and Yoko used the word 興味or interest in talking about men using porn. For the Japanese person, saying you looked at porn is sort of like saying you had too much to drink: people chuckle and could really care less. The seed I sprang from says that porn is about as bad as it gets, and every porn movie you have seen equals one time you have had sex with a complete stranger. Upon telling Yoko about the situation, she laughed and said, So everybody laughed when they saw it? You can see the trouble in my conflicted heart.

The truth is that I think it's sort of in the middle of that. I told Yoko that my goal in life is to strive to be someone who doesn't look at pornography because I think it does bad things to thoughts about women, sex, and normalcy) but isn't all destroyed if I should happen to. The Internet is always humming, full of Japanese lesbians doing all sorts of embarrassing things — should I get snagged here and there, I want to recognize that it isn't healthy, but that it's also human nature. We, like Hillary Clinton, have to dust ourselves off and have another go of it.

I got emotional finally as I talked about Naomi and how I want her to see me. I don't want her to know that I am a moral failure. I don't want her to ever see me as anything but completely and steadfastly committed to Yoko. But the truth is much, much more complicated and I hope as we move on in life I am able to explain that to her as I can. Of course, if her love for me and her family is modeled after Yoko's love for me and her family, I think we're going to be okay.

So I would encourage you to all go now: Clear all your caches and reboot your computer, thinking, What will I do if this comes out tomorrow?

15 March 2008


Apparently there is wi-fi in the air near my local family eatery. And here I am, enjoying the heck out of it.

I am in the city for a bit of a 'going away' party for my good friend E who is now returning to the Americas, where he is originally from. In Japan, you have a lot of this: Foreigners coming and going and coming. You're always saying goodbye to someone. Because of my marriage, I don't get as much of a chance to hang out with the foreigners and E is probably the last that I will be really good friends with in Niigata, although I'm sure to meet more foreigners at my new job. And I'm sure to be good friends with some of them.

The Bose in-ear headphones are great, but they are uncomfortable sometimes.

14 March 2008


Yoko is at a graduation ceremony and the baby is asleep on my back and I'm cooking flatbread. A perfect time to comment on prostitution. It's illegal. I don't really care one way or the other but it got me thinking about the logic of this: pornography is legal. Pornography happens when one person pays two other people to have sex. Doesn't this seems a bit silly? Why don't all the would be prostitutes set up porno companies? Then they can sell parts in porn movies, not sex.

I burnt my flatbread.

My trip to Laos, which briefly looked to be avoiding 12 hours on the train, is still going to happen with the train ride I think. I mean, what's the worst that can happen. Plus, I may be able to bounce over to Cambodia or Vietnam, depending on prices and time.

I successfully put the baby on the bed without waking her up.

10 March 2008

Throwing my vote away

It's official: If Obama wins the most elected delegates and the popular vote, but Hillary Clinton is the nominee, I'm jumping ship.

07 March 2008

U of Leeds

I got an official letter from the University of Leeds today with an ID number and a due date for my thesis. The money is still troubling. If I get a studentship, but no stipend, and Yoko and I both work the allowed twenty hours a week, we will be about $7,000 short a year. If I get the stipend, and I can work, we will be in the black about $4,000. So more and more waiting.

This, that

We are settling into our new apartment and one day I'll put up some pictures. Until then, you'll have to imagine it.I can see the mountains from my seat here. Living in Shibata is very nice in that we can walk pretty much anywhere we need to. The supermarket, the train station, the home store. Last night, I walked home from my class at the community center here that I have had for a year now. I started walking home, and when passing a street, I noticed that I was very close to the old Shibata Castle, which was lit up, reflecting in the moat with four  swans. I walked around it.

The studentship that I am competing for doesn't automatically include a stipend. It's available, but limited, meaning more competition, less likelihood. That said, I got another exasperated e-mail from the Department asking for my transcripts.

For my trip to Laos, one presentation is at 90%, one is at 84% and one is at 13%. I've been told that a taxi from the border of Thailand to Laos is only ¥1000.

04 March 2008

Laos presentations

I'm trying to build a look for my presentations in Laos. I am going to use the Impact font with a little bit of size manipulation to make my point. I'm also going to do about 3 times as many slides as I did in Bangladesh so I can use bigger fonts for a more basic presentation.

01 March 2008

Moving on Up Tour, Day 1

We are moved in and I have no pictures because I'm lazy. We have the Internet.

Something for my Japan-only crowd

But a witless cynic is someone devoid of insight who claims to be able to mine humour in holding Japan up to Western standards and finding it lacking. This kind of person is a keen online aggregator of stories about sexual inadequacy or amusing spelling errors in Japan. A reasonably sane person should be done with this stage in the first six months.

Holy Cow.

From Leeds:

We are currently recommending that you be considered for an ORSAS award (full scholarship and stipend) by the University. We have had 12 or so (applications) in the School of Education alone, which we have recommended 4 (yours being 1). There are 18 in total available throughout the whole of the University, beyond that I do not know.

One more rung up the ladder.