Thursday, June 29, 2006

...In honor of...

Corny Alert: This is the most ridiculous post ever, but if you've ever loved an object more than yourself, you will probably shed a tear.

As you may or may not know, I get attached to material objects easily. I experience a lot of anxiety when I think about separating with something that has been with me through thick and thin, but I'm always surprised at how quickly I get over it (like 15 seconds). I'm not sure why this is -- maybe I had a favorite blankey when I was little and it was wrenched from my innocent grasp, forever scarring me and making everything a woobie-by-proxy. Furthermore, being devoid of any religious beliefs to speak of, I am a little bit superstitious. Well, I take that back. I'm really superstitious, and people messing with an important object of mine is an instant freak-out-button pusher, and I tend to react in totally visceral, irrational ways that really surprise myself. While my rational mind knows it's all bullshit, having a lucky [item] makes me feel at ease somehow, and forgetting lucky objects makes me nauseous.

That being said, I've decided to retire my red hat, aka Mr Boushi (pronounced Bo+Shi with a long "o" sound). In just about every picture since 2002, I've had a red hat on my head. I thought it would be best to write him a letter expressing my gratitude. Here goes.

We've been through a lot together. While I used to sport a USA Rowing hat in college, upon graduation and joining the Marines, I went hatless for a long time when in civilian clothes. But when I saw you at the Kadena BX in Okinawa, I knew we were meant for each other.

As you know better than anyone else on the planet, Mr Boushi, I have a tiny head, so finding a hat that fits me well is a challenge. Either way, I've used you and abused you, and while it will be impossible to replace you, I've found two candidates who should be able to make up for some of the luck you've given me.

You've been with me in all over Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Guam, off the coast of Iwo Jima, England, Vienna, Thailand, Dubai, and most importantly Afghanistan. People would ask me, "Why don't you wash your filthy hat?" While such an insipid question ought not be dignified with an answer, my response was always, "I derive my power from my hat, like Sampson's hair," but we both know the truth. I could no more wash the grit, filth, and experiences of the past 4 years from you any more than I could cleanse myself of it. It's what we are. You contain remnants of cheap Kin booze, salt from the Pacific ocean, and sand from Herat, Wardak, Bamiyan, Konduz, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Kandahar, and more than anywhere else, Kabul. This is what we are made of, and anyone who was there with us understands why washing that away is completely out of the question.

While I don't like the idea of retiring you, I want to be able to keep you around while you still resemble a hat. The front of your bill is getting a little thread-bare, and I don't want to wreck you should I require your services again in a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency situation. I know that people won't recognize me without you perched atop my grape, but that's just fine. While you are no longer on top of my head, you will forever be....on top of my heart.

- P

OK, so maybe that was a little extreme and completely retarded, but he's been a good hat, and how could I retire him without giving him proper honors? I mean, people enshrine stupid shit all the time, so why can't I enshrine my hat?? I'm not sure where I'll put him. Maybe I'll make a little butsudan for him. It'll be called a boushidan. He's not dead, though. He's just retired.

Old Boushis never die,
They just fade away.

Someone famous said that.

We even had a little retirement ceremony earlier. Pass the torch, Mr Boushi, pass the torch.

Not a dry eye in the house.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Diggity-Dizzle Two-Four-Tizzle

Well, 8 years ago a friend of mine and I embarked on a little adventure. Here's how it began.

My junior year of college I spent in Japan, and that summer I went to USMC OCS. I didn't really see myself fitting the mold of a USMC occifer, so I did my obligated 7 weeks and hopped on a plane back to Iowa, where I sat around the rest of the summer and drank an unhealthy amount of coca-cola before my senior year started.

Before I knew it, I was getting ready for finals, graduation time was around the corner, and suffice it to say that recruiters weren't banging on my door to headhunt the skills I acquired double majoring in Anthropology and Asian Language and Literature. I thought about teaching English in Japan, though I knew I'd hate it and didn't want to get marooned in the Japanese countryside singing "old McDonald Had a Farm" to a buncha Japanese hilljacks, so I thought of my other alternatives.

Sure, I quit OCS like a big pussy, but I still wanted to be a Marine. Maybe they were right. Maybe I should have stayed there and just finished it, but I was pretty tired of it and I had been back in the USA for 3 weeks before going there. Culture shock. And again, I didn't see how I could be an officer without having spent a single day in the fleet and not knowing my ass from a hole in the ground. But I was still impressed with the enlisted platoon sgts and sgt instructors there. They dazzled me with their professionalism and bearing; they were everything a Marine should be, and I wanted to be like them. I thought about this a lot as I continued my senior year.

As you might already know, I was on the collegiate rowing team and had morning practices. My aforementioned friend, Mr Brando, was working as a waiter and may or may not have been taking classes (I don't remember). The only time we really had to hang out was after he got off work at about 11:30, at which time he would come pick me up, we'd go to Perkins, eat a Tremendous 12, and he'd drive me home at about 2am so I could get a few hours of sleep before practice in the morning (I was cutting weight to be 160lbs in the Spring, so the T-12 was my only caloric indulgence).

Anyway, one night in about April Brando drove up in his truck, I hopped in, and I started a conversation along these lines:

Me: So, hey, I was thinkin. I don't have any job prospects, and, well, you're waitin tables.. You wanna join the Marines? I figured you could go to the reserves, get some money for college, and I could go active. It'll be fun.

Brando: (pause)

Me: (pause)

Brando: You just don't wanna let 'em getcha. You wanna finish what you started.

Me: Maybe. But I thought it would be fun if we both joined.

So we drove to Perkins without saying too much more, went in, and Brando waited in the lobby while I went and took a squirt. I came back and Brando was sittin there, looking at the floor. When I walked up he simply said:

I have butterflies right now just thinkin' about it. I'm gonna do it. Let's do it.

There it was, and Brando started the gears in motion while I finished up school. I guess it wasn't really a hard sell afterall.

The reason I bring this up is because, even though it was "official" at the beginning of the month, today marks my (and Brando's, for that matter) complete separation from the military. While people typically join for 4 or 5 or 6 years or whatever, everyone really joins for 8 That may come as a surprise to some who are poor listeners and like to sign sheets of paper without understanding what things mean, but everyone who joins does it for 8 years. Typically, like when there isn't a war going on, you do your 4 or 5 active years and nothing happens, but if the Uncle Sam wants, he can call you up for those remaining years should he see fit to. During the remaining years of the contract you do not get paid, but then again you have no military obligations. (People like calling this the "backdoor draft", but that's ridiculous. Do people who work over time on salaries call it "slavery"? ...That's a discussion for another time.)

So yeah. If you had a time machine right now and went back 8 years ago and arrived right next to the San Diego Airport, you would find the 2 of us wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. In any case, maybe joining was a combination of joblessness, "getting back" at the guys at Quantico for making me second guess myself, or whatever, but in any case I don't regret anything I've done since I joined (though admittedly there have been moments where I wondered otherwise), Either way, I can now officially say I've "done my time," and am released from any and all obligations.

So here's the highly anticipated arrival of my updated DD214. Those of you who know what that is, feel free to join in the toast. =)

Monday, June 19, 2006

...Your mom likes cheap furniture...

As I'm sure you already know, IKEA opened up a store in Chiba, Japan, just this year. Now I knew IKEA was, for lack of a better term, the WalMart of cheap Swedish furniture, but I wasn't really prepared for all that the IKEA experience had to offer.

The day began with us arriving at the wrong station. We went to Nishi-Funabashi (west Funabashi) station, but IKEA is at Minami-Funabashi (south Funabashi). I told the Miss'z to ask the station guy where the store was, to which responded, "Why do I always have to ask? You ask. Quit being a pussy."

Yeah, she actually said the word "pussy".

So I asked the guy and he set us straight.

We hadn't eaten all day, so we took advantage of the enormous cafeteria found within, featuring various culinary delights. I had the large portion of Swedish Meatballs, while she had some salmon. I don't like salmon, but when I tried it I found it to be decidedly non-revolting, which means it was probably pretty good (if you're into eating sea creatures). I think the best way to describe the food at IKEA is:

Really good airplane food.

That's all I could think of. After washing it down with melon soda, we went into the main store.

Apparently it's the same everywhere, but the store is more like a museum. A museum featuring couches and cheap do-dads, complete with I think there's some kind of deal there where the more screaming children you bring, you get a 10% discount. Does your kid have ADHD? 5% more. Are you totally unconcerned with what your children are doing/indifferent to their safety? 20% off!! I can't believe that more children are not seriously injured there. They should have a sign outside that says this:

Anyway, at each display/station, they have a picture of the designer, who is a young, hip Swede with one thing on his/her mind: Particle board. Something like this:

Then there would be a little bio, something like this:

Lars began working at IKEA in 1995 after burning down the LEGO factory he was working at in his hometown of Älmhult. His hobbies include windsurfing, gourmet cooking, badminton, and södömy.

They don't really have those descriptions, but they should.

Speaking of Sodomites, get a load of this:

Of all the things to be against, they pick IKEA? Self proclaimed "elite designers"??? Huh...

In any case, if I had a bunch of kids and wanted a way to get out of the house, entertain them, and lose them among a throng of screaming banshees, IKEA would be first on my list. I might even be able to pick up a pre-fab chaise lounge in the process. However, for the record, the probability of me ever going back there?

Very low

And now for my quote of the weekend:

Me: Hen na eigo shika narattenai (that means You're learning nothing but weird English.)

Her (Without missing a beat, verbatim): Your Mom likes hen na eigo.

I guess I'll take full responsibility for that one.

Oh, and here's a .gif movie I must add (thanks 'gantor):

Monday, June 12, 2006

Easy Peasy Japanesey?

Stand by for some rambling.

Conversation of the Weekend, with the miss'z, about her dog, named Robin:

This is a picture of my dog, Robin.

Robin eh?

Yeah. He's a boy, but I named him Robin.

Robin Williams is a boy.

Hmm, That's true.. Anyway, Robin is really smart.

Dogs aren't smart, we just think they are because if they were humans, they'd appear to be doing smart things. Things that we would want them to do.. In English we say it's to "anthropomorphize". I don't know how to say that in Japanese, but it's give something non-human human features..

Oh, I see. But Robin's really smart though.


He masturbates.

He does? Like humping people's legs?

No, with his paws. He puts his paws between his legs and does it, like this. *pantomime*

Wow, that's pretty neat. And this makes him smart?


Interesting.. Well if that's the scale we're using to determine intelligence, then I am the smartest person on the planet.

I don't know what's cooler -- that I found a girl that thinks shit like that is funny no matter how much I say it, or that the ease at which this conversation happened is the result of four years of college, a fuck load of studying, and thousands upon thousands of dollars spent at bars.. The worst part is that even after all that studying and nuking brain cells, I am still borderline illiterate in Japanese. Being "literate" in Japanese is really tricky though, because even though I know a word, I won't know what it looks like, i,e. I don't know what every word that I know looks like. There is a large disparity between the meanings of the words in my head and how they're written. In some contexts I can rock out and read just fine, and in others I'm totally lost. It sucks, and I simply can't be bothered to try and improve my abilities.

That's right, I'm just that lazy. If I could read everything, I wouldn't be able to say "something something" when reading out loud, which is fun for me. "nantoka nantoka nantoka...." Or better yet, to purposefully mis-read a word and say something really dirty, then act outraged and call the person a pervert when they ask me if I just said [whatever dirty word].

A problem with language learning in the advanced stages is this: What to learn next? After you've got the grammar and whatnot out of the way, all you can do is refine your grammar and learn idioms and vocabulary. I had someone explain it to me like this in college:

The first two years of language learning is like walking down a hallway with doors every so often. You come to a door, open it, learn the stuff, and continue down the hallway, learning whatever is behind the doors. However, once you reach the end of the hallway, you open the door and you have a huge, vast wasteland. From there on out you wander the linguistic wasteland learning stuff with no direction and wondering when it's all gonna end.

The wasteland is rough, because all you do is read newspapers or articles, trying to decide which obscure words to retain and which ones you'll never see again. You spend 10 minutes trying to figure out a word that ends up being totally inconsequential, then skip a word that you think is unimportant, and soon realize that the entire article is hinged upon its meaning.

As a student in Japan it was funny -- we'd learn a specific group of words, then go out to the bars and engage people in conversations about stuff like population densities, famine, political bullshit, etc, and then be completely stumped on something simple like explaining how to make a bed or make a dish of food.

"Um, cut the vegetables and the meat. Then you cook em. Yeah. I can't explain it but I know how to do it."

"Well, I'm not sure verb you use to throw the sheet on or put on a pillow cover."

Bottom line: It never ends, and the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. Some days you feel really good, like you've figured the language out, and then the next day you feel like a complete retard and don't understand anything.

I'm hoping that it'll just happen -- one day I'll be able to fly through a book or a newspaper, no problem.

But any student of Japanese knows that this is a complete pipe-dream, though I find my vocabulary swelling little by little, usually with words that I don't really need to know.

Word on the street is that it doesn't get any better -- people who are like 10 times better than me get that look on their face; the look that says "I don't fucking know, and I can't be bothered with this."

That's OK though; I'm content with what I know, and I do try to figure new stuff out. I've heard that taking on freelance translation jobs helps a lot, but I don't really want to be on someone else's clock/have to worry about a deadline.

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining -- again, I'm happy with my Japanese ability -- I can do pretty much anything I want to do, get in arguments with women and lose them just as well as I could in English, etc.. Still, one problem being a foreigner speaking Japanese is that your Japanese abilities are often viewed as a parlor trick rather than something to be taken seriously. In more out of the way places it's hard to engage people in a conversation other than where you learned Japanese and how you learned it, like it's some mystical and impossible thing, along with using chopsticks. Just taking care of business can be difficult sometimes, because often times Japanese people see a foreigner, don't listen to what they're saying, and only respond with,
"Sorry, no English."

"I know. I'm speaking Japanese."

"Oh! Sorry, what can I do for you?"

Or, like I said before, you play linguistic tennis, where they refuse to speak anything back to you but broken English. It makes it hard to get things done sometimes.

Still, it's about small victories. In the greater scheme of things, do we really need to be having conversations about anything other than chihuahuas named Robin that display their superior intellect by masturbating like a human?

No...I didn't think so either.

Study hard, now..

Monday, June 05, 2006


Allow me to be a culturally insensitive barbarian for a moment.

I'm cool with most of the stuff that Japanese folks do, and I'm usually not one to become irritated by little things.

One thing that does irritate me, however, is when people take little customs too far and impose them on me when they don't need to be imposed.

In the same way that I become border-line enraged when someone tells me to take my hat off, my stomach turns when I'm told, in a public place in Japan by a Japanese person, to please take my shoes off.

Now, entering someone's house is fine. I'm cool with that. Everyone in Japan does it, and I suppose there are good reasons for it, and it makes for a clean house. The following are some instances of the shoe taboo pissing me off:

  • A dressing room

    I was in a dressing room yesterday putting on a shirt when some worker stuck her head in and asked me to take off my shoes. I've got an idea -- wait for me to get out and don't look at me when I'm fucking changing. I think I'll go back there commando with some breakaway pants. After I go into the dressing room I'll quickly shed the pants and assume a sumo squat until she sticks her head in there again.

  • That'll learn 'er.

    Or maybe I'll do the African Aardvark Dance, sans underwear.

  • Restaurants

    Sometimes in Japan (in "traditional" restaurants), people must take off their shoes. I wouldn't mind this so much I guess, but whenever I go to these places I always end up wearing boots, and I take forever to take them off and put them on because I am not as accustomed to the speedy removal of footwear like my Japanese counterparts. So basically I'm a big bitch and get irritated at stupid shit.

  • The Gym

    Thankfully, I have never had to work out at a Japanese gym. Aside from incredibly high memberships ($200 "registration fee" and usually around $120 a month), they have a thing for the shoe taboo. Patrons are not allowed to wear the same shoes in the gym that they wore to the gym. The only time I set foot in a gym was to check it out cuz I was thinking about getting a membership, and I got to walk around in a pair of stupid looking slippers. I guess that didn't bother me as much as the gym staff's reaction to me attempting to enter the gym in my shoes.

    Japanese people are generally pretty laid back and non-responsive about stuff, but in the rare instance that I've seen a Japanese person flip out, at least 3 have been for shoe violations, and 2 have been directed at me specifically.

    The first time was from my host mother. I did a home-stay as a student in Japan, and my host mother was a complete bitch. I was 19 years old, had never really been that far away from my parents, and here I was in Japan for the first time ever. After being in Nagoya for a total of about 1 hour, I walked into the genkan of the house, and being the wide-eyed, not-wanting-to-offend, younger and more naive version of myself, I took off my shoes like a good little gaijin.

    Then I touched the outside part of the genkan, i,e. the area at the bottom of the steps, with my socked foot....and my host mother flipped....the fuck....out.....

    She just started going off in Japanese. After 20 hours or whatever of traveling and a shaky foundation in Japanese, I had no idea what grievous rule I had violated, then she broke into English and explained what I had done.

  • You don't touch the outside part of the house when you take your shoes off, asshole.

    After I got my heart rate under control and was assured that the culture police weren't gonna come and arrest me, I went to my new room and cried myself to sleep.

    One time I forgot something in my room when I was late for school after I had my shoes on, and I crawled through the house on my hands and knees, carefully elevating my feet from the surface of the house floor, so that they wouldn't touch.

    If my host mom had seen this, she would have gone completely bonkers...

    What a bitch she was. She eventually gave up on my uncivilized ass, because she pretended that I didn't exist for the last 6 months I was there.


    So I guess my point is that a traumatizing event(s) early in my development here led to me getting irritated every so often at the inconvenience of having to take off my shoes. Or maybe my feet smell like death and I don't feel like wrecking anyone's night. Maybe I wouldn't mind taking my shoes off if I wasn't told to take them off in such a patronizing tone (everytime a foreigner slips up on some cultural mistake here, they're corrected as if this is their first day in country), nor would I care about taking them off if there were a really good reason to take them off. A dressing room? Who the fuck cares? The gym!?!? I should get a membership at a gym just to show them what a huge mess I can make out by running on the treadmill, then take a 2 flush dump without flushing.

    In the shower.

    Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see the sign that said I couldn't take a crap in the shower. In our culture, it is OK. You should be more accommodating.

    That's part of being American though, I think. I talked about it with Brando when he was in Japan. Everywhere you go in Japan, something or someone is telling you to do something. In the States, if someone tells you to do something for no reason, we have a tendency to do the opposite because, well, fuck them, they're not the boss of me. In Japan, it's almost the opposite. If someone isn't constantly telling them to do something, it's chaos. What does this have to do with shoes? I don't know, I'm rambling, it's Monday, and I had a shoe-filled weekend.

    I guess I have kutsubyou.

    Shoe sickness.

    ps. I've been wanting to do this for a while, so here it is. I did it using nothing but Microsoft Paint's cut 'n' paste function, which is why it looks unblended, but it turned out pretty good given the fact that paint doesn't have a blend or smudge tool. =)

    pps. I don't advocate the beheading of anyone. I just advocate absurd photo edits, so don't get all mad.

    ppps. Tomorrow is 6/6/6