Hey, folks, I hope you don’t mind if I take a break from my wackadilly Japanese adventures to bring you a little rambling about the Christmas season. Longtime fans will recall there was no Christmas rambling last year, as I was still embroiled in recounting my Vancouver adventures. My stars, that seems so long ago now. One year ago, I was still in shock at the biggest trip I had ever taken in my life, which was a measly hour-and-a-half flight to the coast. Now, I live and work in a foreign country, and I take it all as the norm. Sadly, there are some things I have to learn to live without. For example, there are no Cool Ranch Doritos in Japan. So, as I write this, I’m munching on my sister’s Christmas gift…a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. I guess the one thing that you can appreciate about being in a foreign country is that you become cheap to shop for.
Just because of my situation, I’m not expecting a lot of gifts this year. My parents have hinted that I may be getting the super duper DVD gift set version of Spider-Man shipped to me. Six months ago, they also hinted that I’d be getting a digital camera for my farewell gift. As I’m still waiting for the camera, I’m not holding my breath for Spider-Man. But I understand the situation. Having just shipped my parents’ gift home, I know it costs a lot to ship things. I hope they get their gift in time. Apparently, the gift I got them can’t be sent through regular mail, so in order to get into the mail, I had to lie on the customs form. I’m only in trouble if some alert customs official shakes the box and says, “Hey! This doesn’t sound like a book!”
When it comes to gifts for the rest of my family, I took an easy way out. I just sent the money home to Mom and said, “OK, now buy this for sister, buy this for brother and sister-in-law, and get this for the niece and nephew.” I’m still planning on sending them all tacky Japanese souvenirs, maybe in the new year sometime.
It really doesn’t feel like Christmas right now. There’s no snow on the ground here in Kumagaya. We had a snowfall a few weeks ago, but it made headlines as it was a “rare December snowfall.” It only lasted for a day, too. No houses are decorated with Christmas lights. In Japan, Christmas has more of the status of a Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day. It’s just not as big a deal. Bright and early on December 25, will I be opening presents? Nope! I’ll be hauling my butt out of bed to get to work on time.
Work at Christmas is going to be unusual, mainly because of what I’ll be doing on Christmas. A few weeks ago, we had a farewell party for one of my fellow foreign teachers, and my boss convinced me to get up and sing a couple of Christmas songs. That went over well, and so I started beginning my classes by leading the class in a rousing round of Jingle Bells or We Wish You a Merry Christmas. My boss, being 1/3 Ferengi, started thinking, “Well, how can we make money off of Mark’s Christmas spirit?” So, for the week of Christmas, I will be teaching a class of Christmas songs. For 40 minutes, we’ll do nothing but sit around as I drill the lyrics to Frosty the Snowman into your head. When my boss first proposed this to me, I agreed with enthusiasm! Why not? Spend 40 minutes, singing, goofing around, having a good time, let’s do it! The boss made up flyers, and that’s when I learned the horrible truth: these “lessons” will cost you ¥1800. (About $20 CDN.) I can’t help but think of this and say, “What a rip-off!” Makes me kind of glad that only one person has signed up.
Oh, and while this is going on, I can no longer lead my other classes in a Christmas sing-a-long. I can’t give it away for free, after all. Just another example of a good idea corrupted by the marketing people.
But then, things started looking up at work. I got a nice boost to my ego. I mentioned that foreign teacher who recently left. Well, quite a few of the teenage girls we teach had a crush on him, so at his farewell party, he was swarmed by teenagers who wanted a picture with him. Made me a little jealous, but such is life. Here we are now, about two weeks later, and it’s the last Saturday before Christmas. And what happens? Two teenage girls that I teach cautiously approach me after class and humbly present Christmas cards for me. I was tickled pink. I was elated. I was excited. I was Sally Field at the Oscars: “You like me! You really like me!” I was looking over the second one. It was this beautiful little handmade card. Of course, I wanted to confirm it was handmade, so I looked up and asked the first person I saw, “Did you make this yourself,” at which she responded, “I didn’t make it, she did,” and she pointed to the girl next to her. I thanked the wrong person. Never did I go from such a massive ego trip to a massive wave of self-loathing. I think the proper term for men who perform faux paus like that is, “insensitive prick.”
For some reason, right now, I’m thinking of Bryan Singer, director of such fine films as The Usual Suspects and X-Men. I remember when X-Men was originally scheduled to come out in the holiday season of 2000. Singer was all excited because he had this vision of X-Men movie posters all across North America giving the release date, “X-mas, 2000.” I remember, upon sharing this tale with Chuck, he said, “Why didn’t they think of that for the X-Files movie?”
Where was I? Oh, yeah. New year’s resolutions. I hope you’re enjoying this long, meandering rambling about my life, because if I’m successful, they’ll soon be a thing of the past. I don’t like how the column here is starting to be dismissed as just another online journal, so I’m going to start working to make it less journal-like, and more…I don’t know what. All I know is I want to bitch about my life less. There are more stories in this world than my own.
Anyway, this is my reflection on the holiday season, this year 2002. It’s 2 AM right now and I want to go to bed. And besides, I’m out of Cool Ranch Doritos. I’ve been told that there’s a store in Tokyo that sells them, called Sony Plaza. I’m going to have to go and find it someday. Sounds like the origins of another wackidilly Japanese adventure. Merry Christmas, y’all, and y’all have a good night.