August 30, 2005

It Will Be September Soon

It was in winter, last year,
the fog sagged over the campus,
we walked through the soundless grove,
nothing remained visible except you.

You, my friend, looked at me through the mist,
which has now passed and given way to the sun and sky.
We left the grove and walked out across a field,
our sneakers muddy in the dewy grass.

I must admit I cannot see myself in myself.
I could not seek the sky, it was not there.
Were I to build wings and fly above the motionless brume
I would not see any more than what it was I left.

You have been gone for a long time,
and everytime I remember your voice's soft, echoless pitch,
the smell of dead eucalptus leaves and anise caught in the air,
the roar of the bus in which I watched you leave that morning,

I fall back into the season that creeps in
like the early fog that leaves, but looks back.
If I could not see you still, I would never be able to see
that I can see today.

August 26, 2005

Late August

I find myself in August, 26. This month has flashed before me in an instant, an apparition that was here and then not here. Wakayama is still suffering from the late-summer lassitude which drags its feet in the post-matsuri ennui. Could this be a repetition of something said before? Japan is hot and humid during the summer, yes. The forty or so children in the classroom stare vacantly at their desks, sometimes--Praise the Lord!--at me. Yesterday a kid named Kohei had a conversation with me in front of the whole class (transcribed quite accurately):

"Kohei, what is your answer for number four?"
"Kohei, your answer for number four..."
"Kohei, number four...your answer..."
"Number F-O-U-R...your answer...your KOTAE..." [Japanese slipping out]
(Hand holding up four fingers) "Number FOUR! ANSWER...READ..." [pantomime of someone reading]
"Eh? Wakaran..."

So now I head into a long day of classes with junior high school students, coffee in hand and donughts already consumed. Next installment, pictures from the calligraphy club's exhibition...

August 20, 2005

Examining the Cultural Divide, or Hung Out to Dry

Revisiting the past two weeks of being back in Berkeley, I have found through much introspection (this done while hanging seemingly endless loads of laundry on my 7th floor balcony) that there is much to think about. But what is there to say?

In the States, I was asked of my experience, "What is Japan like?" or "How was Japan?" as if this experience sizes with that of seeing the newest production of Thorton Wilder's "Our Town." Granted these questions are safe conversation starters, and show signs of caring about the fact that I am still alive even while not present, I find the project of answering them to even the slightest degree of vividness to be immeasurably complex. The twenty hour plane trip, with a four hour layover in Hong Kong, highlights the difficulty in "bridging" the two cultures. It would be one long bridge...

So, to start off, let's start with the first meal of the day. Breakfast. Back at home I often eat something like this (photo courtesy of Albany's most delectable and indelibly retro eatery, The Royal Cafe):

Of course the breakfast that followed this brilliantly-baked scone and coffee, a Greek egg white scramble, was worth a thousand pictures (all of which are witheld due to photographer's hunger and said breakfast's unbearably warm, appetizing smell). Now I am back in Japan, and though the traditional breakfast foods here offer much in terms of fighting colon cancer, they lack in certain transcendental qualities of the American breakfast, i.e. tastiness, hardiness, texture, and just plain (or with raisins) goodness:

For those of you who are new to this type of food, it is called natto, which has now become a dietary staple for me in Japan. I look at all the spiderweb-like goop, the snotty residue that sticks to the beans, to one's chopsticks, one's chin, and one's napkin, and think that this must be the culinary equivalent of the Tao--a continuous substance that runs through all of life, interfusing everything it touches. Tell me it doesn't look like the food of the Gods...Go ahead, tell me...

After breakfast has been consumed and the appropriate cleanup processes enacted, I ride my bike for 30 minutes through the 32 degree (Celsius) Wakayaman humidity across the Kii River to a new shopping mall, wherein lies my second source of pleasure for the day: foreign beer. At home, this little expedition of mine means very little, or perhaps sounds a tad absurd. This is not your 3 minute drive to Beverages and More for a six pack of anything brewed on the face of this earth. I am talking about my sense of worth in the world (read: Wakayama) here, folks: Corona, Bass, Chimay, Grolsch, Leffe, and more--all priced outrageously high. Biking home through the Kii River's stubborn headwinds (it seems that all wind in Japan blows directly against the path of the determined gaijin) with 30$ worth of beer (just enough to get drunk) in a plastic bag, I negotiate every turn, bump (there are many), and reckless taxi driver as I make my way home through the streets of Wakayama. The bottles clink a heavy, full-of-beer-don't-break-me kind of sound. I make it home, sopping with sweat, my hand shaking from holding the heavy bag of beer in my right hand the whole way, and now it's time to shower.

For lunch it was a peanut butter and jelly sando-weechi, a pear, and some beer. Boring, yes. Then off to the gym for some bench press and a conversation in Japanese about San Francisco's weather, the American diet, and the more "unmentionable" gym topics of conversation that I am glad I don't understand completely.

At night, I decided to get fancy as well as beef up on protein. Tofu steaks batter-fried with shrimp and teriyaki glaze, kimchee and chicken breast stir fry, salad, rice, many beers, and naturally natto! Then for desert, it was my 5$ bottle of Chimay and a wonderful, air-conditioned evening. I read a bit of "On the Road" (almost off that road) and a page or two from "The Oxford History of Christianity." That was my first day back in Japan.

On Monday, I am back at school with these kids... V ( ^ ^ ) V

If only every day could be spent camping, or at least in a lodging in some vast wilderness. I would go there. It would be lovely...

August 17, 2005

Berkeley Review

Now I am looking back at my recent stay in Berkeley. Last night I woke up at some ungodly hour yelling and slamming a door at someone, but I cannnot remember if this really happened or if it was a dream. Never again can I stay at this home where I have lived for too long already.

The dense San Francisco fog is lifted from the Berkeley hills as if the day's hands pulled slowly, effortlessly at cords, raising the morning's thick, wooly, grey curtains. Now these curtains have disappeared and there is a stage. I do not know what will happen on it. I do not expect much--some people eating lunch. They are family. Talking to each other in words that evade all things important, their exchange will lead them to no new understanding of themselves or their relationship to each other. After that lunch will be over, they will all sigh with relief and go back to their reliable shadow, their huddled existence in an office, a room, or place where no one is. I will be back on an island thousands of miles away from here, and I will still be in this one life of mine. I cannot seem to lie to other people, nor can I tell them the truth. If there is such a thing as a truth that springs forth from a lie, than maybe my words are honest.

Being "confused" means to put together, or fuse, incoherent or resistant elements of experience. I am certainly confused now, though it is nothing new. I am used to it, and I am used by it. There are two worlds that I am equally in, though in completely different orientations. Before I claimed to have one life, but that could in fact easily multiply, or be divided, or be subtracted from. Whatever the equation, I am still only in this overwhelmingly intense situation, and I must change myself accordingly.

The coffee's caffeine has died off now. My brain goes back to idling as I gaze out the window. There is a reddish-brown squirrel hopping from the oak tree to the metal post. Another one is looking for food among the fallen leaves. There are already so many fallen leaves in Berkeley. Perhaps all year round there are leaves on the ground in this city. It is perpetually Fall. That doesn't mean much. The same smells come back to me every time I revisit Berkeley in late summer--hot dogs, eucalyptus, rotting food and fragrant gardens. Whenever I am back, I smell these and I forget about my future. Than I am back in myself, paying my parking ticket, shitting in the bathroom at Zachary's Pizza, having inane conversations with people I don't really know, and being somewhat unsettled by things that shouldn't matter. I shouldn't care so much, but I do.

Ok, now it's time to head across the Bay Bridge for "Lunch in the City." No sex. I will be back in Wakayama the day after tomorrow, losing a day in the process...Goodbye August 17, 2005! I wish I could have met you, but I trust that you were a lovely day...

Time to get back to Sakon Biru, my cozy homestead, and Eigo no Jugyo! Ingurishu Kurasu! I am getting a running start, Wakayama, get ready to catch me when I jump across the water!

I am losing a lot of things now, perfecting this one art.

August 14, 2005

Broken Flowers & Such

I am sitting down for a moment here in the basement of my parent's home after reading in the coffee shop for a few hours. I read a beautiful piece of writing in The Sun called "501 Minutes to Christ" by Poe Ballantine. After I finished reading, I went to Indian Rock to see Berkeley, the bay beyond it, the city across the bay, everything shrouded by a thin, yellowish fog, and nothing visible beyond that. I am hungover after a night of stiff drinks and vapid conversation with old friends, their new lawyer friends, and somewhat cute bartenders who could care less about my circuitous, uninteresting prattle. Upstairs my parents are engaged in a heated verbal scuffle about a light bulb. The sound they make is like that of the cats and racoons fighting late at night underneath the backyard's dying cedar tree. For perhaps the first four or so days I thought that twelve days was not enough time in Berkeley. But now on day eight, I know that I need to get out soon.

Yesterday I watched Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers," which was, as expected, very good and also a bit unfulfilling. His films always intimate the sense of experiencing something very deep and beautiful within the very human mystery of living in this present age, but they remain intimations, being films, of something that must be experienced, not observed. I liked the ending of "Broken Flowers," even though most of the audience at Shattuck Cinema sighed confused sighs and stood awkwardly to leave with puzzled looks on their faces. Recently I have thought a lot about my life in the same vein as Don Johnston's pseudo-Buddhist epiphany, which I won't spoil (deflower) for all you who have yet to see the film (I am not sure how many of my multitudinous readership plan to watch "Broken Flowers"). All in all, I am taking my days like the ending, and beginning, of one of Theodore Roethke's most famous villanelles:

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

August 11, 2005


Tonight the A's won. That doesn't mean anything to my few friends in Japan, and it means very little to me. But I had non-Japanese beer, a high carbo dinner, and well almost forgot about the whirlwind of ideas and sentiments floating around inside of me.

Tomorrow I will have Thai food with some friends I have missed for a long time. I remember the best evening of my life spend with one of them, and I wonder if seeing her will bring back that unbearable nostalgia that I have just managed to bear lately.


August 10, 2005

Day Five

About halfway through with my visit. Had a real American (i.e. Berkeleyan) breakfast today with homefries, toast, eggs, sausage, even sour scream on the side. One of the many pleasures of home that I will never find in Japan--a place that serves good, hearty breakfast. Next it was time to raid the bookstores--I found myself pillaging both Moe's and Cody's on Telegraph Ave. (for non-Berkeleyans to whom this means nothing, these are probably the two best bookstores in Berkeley), then out for an excursion on the UC campus. So many beautiful women go to this school, and I suddenly got tearfully nostalgic about the yesteryore of my collegiate glory (ok, it wasn't all that glorious considering I spent most of my days in an immobile position at a cafe reading books of poetry and literary criticism and not getting to know the aformentioned thousands of thousands of intelligent and beautiful girls at UC Berkeley). Bought a pair of shoes that fit me with no problem on my size.

I am thinking about what I can bring back, not materially, but psychologically and/or spiritually. Every time I come back to Berkeley, I want to leave right away after the first three days, then the rhythm of life here slowly sinks in and I feel again a pull to my home more deeply than my strong but indistinct attraction to life in Japan. Maybe I am still learning about why I like Japan (I cannot yet give a complete, clear answer to those here who ask me the ridiculous question of "Which place do you like more?"). In the case of Berkeley, I know why I love it, but that reason has lost a solid grounding with the present situation. Things, places, and people have changed and will change, and for this I must rediscover, or reinvent, my connection to home. I do not by any means mean the house where my parents live--for that, I have come to know very acutely, is no longer my home. I mean this area, some people call it the "Bay Area" (being by a Bay), which calls to me from a voice in the deepest parts of me. I cannot hear what it is saying or why it is saying it, but although I am sure as hell looking forward to going back to Japan for another year, I know that I will be unhappy in the long run if I stay there forevermore.

This has been a BIG ramble, I know. I will now cut this posting off, as there is still sun outside on this crisp, beautiful, tranquil Berkeley evening. Time for drinks with a friend from UC, which means talk about poetry, existentialism, psychoanalysis, and of course the less abstract things that we all take part in on a daily basis. Enough already, I set out into the current. Whoosh!!...

August 07, 2005

Back in Berkeley

Day one and a half of Berkeley. Feel like taking a nap already, though it is only 8:00pm. Will have to survive a family outing at the not-so-local steakhouse (20 min. drive) before I can sleep a deep, deep sleep. But things have been strange, sometimes lonely and sometimes wonderful so far...

Friday, Dad forgot where the car was parked in the airport lot. Had to scour the many rows of SUVs and non-Japanese cars for half an hour before we spotted the old station wagon, covered with various bumper stickers from my college days. After that I went home, then back out for a burrito and coffee, not so easy on the stomach. Found a show by local jazz legends Will Bernard and Peter Apfelbaum at Berkeley's famous hippy dance spot, Ashkenaz. Blown away by good music, drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap, watching 50 something hippies in pseudo-Native American garb do riotously funny dance moves on the broad, empty dance floor, so I knew I was back in Berkeley. Somethings do not change, at least not so quickly as others.

Today I saw Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There were strong overtones of Michael Jackson in Willy Wonka's sickly and jaded-childhood character, which made for a darker, more interesting, but maybe less sympathetic portrayal of the legendary confection wizard. Maybe I am darker and less sympathetic, I do not know. Then in the late afternoon, as the fog rolled in across the San Francisco Bay, I had a few pints at the local pub, talked with a 66 year old bi-polar architect who is on Depricode, which also made me feel quite wholly in Berkeley. Now I am at home, awaiting a greasy and stomach-troubling dinner with the family, checking my email for no reason and hoping that I will motivate myself to do things and go places while back here. I have wheels--four now instead of two--so I should get a move on.

More touching, shocking, and boring details of my stay to be posted later. Keep posted. Oyasumi, world...