When the road before you splits in two, take the third path. – Neelix, from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager.
When you come across an intersection, you are invariably faced with a decision. You will stand in the middle of that intersection, and you will find yourself facing one of four choices: north, south, east, or west. I have been facing that decision a lot lately. I’ve been in Japan for a little over a month now, and I’m finding no greater pleasure in just coming to an intersection, wondering which way to go, and seeing what I’ll find in that direction. The vast majority of my weekends to date have been spent roaming the streets of Kumagaya, asking myself the same question: north, south, east, or west? At least, this is what I’d be asking, if those words didn’t lose all meaning for me.
Continue reading Walkabout Japan
Several columns back, I said that there’s only one thing worse than a narc. A narc who does it for minimum wage. What is it that can inspire such loyalty towards a company? What is it that gives someone such devotion to a faceless corporation that they will lie for it, kill for it, die for it, and even enforce its inane policies on us simple customers? What about a faceless corporation will make people go in day after day after day to work hours on end? Do they hope to make a difference? Do they hope that those highest up on the chain will notice them? Or is it just the product of an outdated work ethic? I find myself pondering these questions as of late, as I recently did something that I swore against.
Continue reading Company Man
I don’t like bugs. By “don’t like,” I mean they make me run screaming like a little girl. I don’t know how this fear began. I was OK for most of my childhood. I don’t have any traumatic experiences involving bee stings when I was 8 years old or anything like that. I think it all began in early 1991, when my mother rented a little movie called Arachnophobia. You ever see this one? About swarms of killer spiders on the loose in a small town? The ads called it a “thrill-omedy,” so Mom rented it thinking it would be a scare comedy along the lines of Ghostbusters. But it was more “thrill” than “omedy” and I was covering my eyes during the climactic battle with the two foot long lead spider. From that day forth, I was afraid of spiders. As time went on, the fear grew, and now all bugs scare me. Well, there are some limits. I mean, ants and mosquitoes are OK. The way I see it, I don’t fear creepy crawly things as long as they are smaller than my big toe. When they’re as big as my foot, well then, I have a problem.
Continue reading Buggy
Here it is! The first column I’m writing in Japan! My week of training is over, and I still have one more day before I get into the classroom proper. Some would say that this time should be best spent working; hammering out those first few lesson plans. But it’s just been far too long since I’ve put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as I guess I should start saying). It was such a lovely day, that I didn’t want to be doing this cooped up in my hotel room. So, I packed up the laptop, and this is coming to you from under a tree in park in downtown Kumagaya. I’ve been in Japan for little over a week now, in which I’ve been constantly on the move and the company has been cramming everything that they think there is to know about teaching into my brain. With life being as chaotic as that, I find myself once again craving something simple: constancy.
Continue reading Universal Constants
I have now begun teaching at my school, and one of my fellow foreign teachers is marvelling at what I have been doing. More, what I have not been doing. I haven’t been asking questions. I have yet to have at least one question about living in Japan. The truth is I really don’t have any questions. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. What is there to question? This may seem all fine and logical now that I have an apartment and money rolling in, but when I think back, I really have never had any questions.
Continue reading The Goal
When my sister was backpacking across Europe, she had the good fortune of staying with a friend of hers in England. This friend was an exchange student back in their high school days. This friend of my sister’s looked at my sister and said, “All of England is open to you! Where do you want to go in England? What do you want to see?” My sister had one very clear goal, and she told this to her friend. My sister wanted to see Stonehenge. This puzzled her friend. She had never been to Stonehenge, and thus didn’t know where it is. Her friend pulled out a map, found Stonehenge, followed the winding roads back to her home, and made a startling discovery. Stonehenge was just 10 minutes away. When my sister was telling me this story, I was agog. How could you live just 10 minutes from Stonehenge and not know it? How could you live just 10 minutes from Stonehenge and never go?
Continue reading Festival
Chuck’s going through a phase right now. It’s called “Angry Young Man” (although he likes to call it “being a responsible human being”). I’m familiar with it. I went through it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though this phase is bad. It just means that every once in a while, Chuck will send me some article on how many children Disney employs in sweatshops to make Mickey Mouse ears, how much rainforest McDonald’s knocks down to raise beef cattle, and just the latest evil doings of Wal-Mart. “Angry Young Man” is the belief that you can make a difference, and I’m sure Chuck gets distressed whenever we have one of the follow-up conversations to the latest article he’s sent me.
Continue reading One Voice
July 7, 2002. It’s my 25th birthday. I’m twenty-krunking-five. I had been dreading this birthday for a long time. 25 is supposed to be the age when you have it all figured out. This is when you’ve finished school, have a plan in place, and are ready to begin your life. And where am I? I’m alone, in a tiny little apartment in Japan. No goal. No plan. I just exist. Do I have a girlfriend? Never have, no prospects on the horizon. Do I have any friends at all? Yes, but they are all so far away. This is the one thing I was dreading the most about being in Japan. I have reached the age, but I am truly and completely alone.
Continue reading The Age