Thursday, June 30, 2005

Japan, the trip

I just returned from an eleven day trip to Japan. I want to describe my trip here, but I want to begin by both apologizing to and thanking all of the Japanese. I'm sorry for arriving to your country knowing only 25 phrases in Japanese, only a few of which I manage to utter because I was so mortified by the snickers at my horrible pronounciation. I am so grateful to all of the waiters, hotel management, subway passengers, and other makeshift guides who helped me with their far superior English.

With only a limited understanding of Japan, I would fragment my description of it into three categories; Japan, Japanouveau, and Japamerika.

The Japan portion is just like one would expect from Japan. I didn't spend a day in Japan without seeing a shrine, going to a castle, or passing by a serene garden. I saw men and women in Kimonos everywhere, from the Tokyo Metro to the sleepy oceanside city of Kamakura. I ate a lot of sushi. I ate a lot of rice. I ate a lot of chewy noodles served in fishy, salty broths garnished with algae, raw eggs, fatty pork, and fish cakes. After a while, I just called them "weird noodles." I learned how to bow. I walked the cobblestone streets of cities that had been cities for over a thousand years, rather than just the modest hundred or so of my native town.

Japanouveau consists of Pachinko arcades, huge outdoor video screens, Karaoke bars, 9 story shopping malls, little cars, and teenagers dressed as french maids with bad eye makeup or as aged surfers with orange skin and grey hair. Everywhere in Japanouveau it was loud, but not with loud voices but with loud music, loud pachinko sirens, loud annoucers, and loud traffic. Japanouveau wore me out the most of the three categories, and I always had a shell-shocked feeling after visiting it.

The part that I found the most entertaining was Japamerika where there are facets of American culture that have been swallowed, digested, and vomited into the Japanese landscape. This was most easily seen in chain stores. Japan is home not only to McDonald's and Starbucks, but also a suprising large number of other America-based companies. I spotted Circle-K, AM PM Mini Marts, TGIF's, Denny's, Baskin Robbins, Wendy's, Haagan Dazs, and Tully's Coffee. While they were annoying at first, I came to find they had their own endearing qualities. In an effort to avoid weird noodles for at least one meal, I went to the Denny's only to find the American "Grand Slam Breakfast Menu" had simply become the "Grand Menu" in Japan. They served weird noodles, sushi, spaghetti, bubble tea, french toast, pancakes, and ice cream. The Baskin Robbins had flavors such as Melon Musk, Temptation Island, and Popping Shower, in addition to the Jamoka Almond Fudge and Vanilla I'd expected. Haagan Dazs offered both Green Tea and Red Bean ice creams.

My three categories aside, what I loved most about Japan was the toast. The bread was thick-sliced, lightly toasted, and wonderfully chewy with a crust much thinner than I'd had with American breads. Sometimes it was buttered, sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes it was served with jams, sometimes it wasn't. But it was always good.

I'm trying to recover from my trip by doing very American things. Right now, I'm drinking a glass of milk while roasting a chicken. I'm sweating in my 1000 square foot house that sits among acres and acres of 4 foot tall corn stalks that had barely germinated when I left. I'm also talking to people. Being unable to speak Japanese in Japan took away one of my favorite pastimes, talking to random strangers. Random strangers have the potential to become friends, to pass along or inspire stories, and just make the day more interesting.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Vacation Malaise

This always happens when I take some time away from GradShitTownVille. In the last few days of my vacation, I start to feel the depression that comes with living there. I start to think of plans that will keep me from going back. I plead with that sick person inside my head that has the drive and the need to get the PhD. Maybe I will quit grad school and open a self-serve dog wash like I have always wanted. Maybe my advisor wouldn't mind if I worked remotely for the last few years of my prison sentence. Maybe I could be a waitress at the restaurant next to the hotel where I am staying in Osaka.

I realize it's futile. She is such a stubborn bitch.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Going home

I'll be here for a while. Then I'll be here. Back soon.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Turn and face the strain.

I walked over to the all-night sandwich shop tonight between network simulations. Admittedly, it was midnight, but campus is relatively safe as there are generally people around. On my way to the shop, I was approached by one of the few panhandlers GradShitTownVille can support. It was apparent from his reaction to me that I was a little startled and anxious by his approach. He tried to be reassuring that he was cool, I was cool, and everything was cool. On the way back from the shop, two drunken frat boys asked me "Ain't that right baby? Hey, where you going?" as I ran across the street to make the light.

Two weeks ago, I would have just said, "No. Sorry" to the panhandler and been on my way without any worry. Two weeks ago, I would have said something snotty to the drunken frat boys. Instead, I was just afraid. The creepy guy and his creepy letter have stuck with me. I'm unwilling to walk my dog after twilight. I am on edge when I'm alone in my house, triple-checking that I've locked my door, a horrible sequel to "As Good As It Gets." It is my hope that this is not a permanent change, just a period of unease until I recover from the invasion.

I will not travel through this life in fear.

I'm not resisting this change because of an unwillingness to change. Certainly I've changed in my lifetime. Change has happened for many reasons. In some cases, I changed because I got smarter. I learned more. I understood better what I need and want from life. Six years ago, I thought I needed the nice car, the perfectly decorated house, and the high-paying job. Now, I know I just need a job I like, friends I love, and enough money to buy cute shoes, dilapidated furniture, and airline tickets.

My tastes have changed with age. Ten years ago, given a bowl of Hershey Miniatures, I'd always go for the Krackel. Now, I reach for the Special Dark. I've put down my Stephen King novels and replaced them with Nick Hornby, Douglas Coupland, and Annie Ernaux. I used to read Discover magazine. Now I read Bitch.

In other cases, I changed because I got hurt and there was no way to regain the person that I was before the hurt. Sometimes, the hurt and its accompanying change are obvious. As a kid, I fell out of a radio-flyer wagon while speeding down a hill, and I still have the scar. I fell out of a ski-lift in 1996, and I still walk a little funny as a result, falling down stairs when my knee gives. Sometimes the change takes time. The changes that came from the hurt of the years-old cruelities of the last boyfriend continue to trickle into my persona. I'm not as kind anymore. I'm not as giving. I'm not as trusting. People have to go through a series of interviews, paperwork, and mock exercises before I hug them.

Recently, I've discovered how much greater is my fear of commitment. My dearest love mentioned the m-word the other night telling me an awkward (but funny) story about his mom, and I got angry. Who was this woman who said, "How dare you mention that word!" That wasn't me. Or, it wasn't the me that was before the hurt. At some point, the hurt won't be hurt anymore. It will be a memory. It will be a story or a patch on a quilt. I will emerge not unscathed, but with a new scar, shiny and pink. I will accept the change and the woman I've become.

But I will not accept this woman who is afraid. She must go. Now.