Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Earthquake! A story I rarely tell...

Yesterday, the LA area was hit by an earthquake. I haven't experienced one in a long time, and the 5.4 magnitude would seem to be strong enough to scare many, but it wouldn't cause much damage except to old structures and outdated infrastructure. Indeed, except for the items falling off store shelves, the damage I saw on TV was mostly limited to old unreinforced brick walls and the water lines in older areas in town, like City Terrace. I'm not trying to make light of the situation. I'm just glad that nothing catastrophic happened.

Born and raised in California, I have had my share of earth moving experiences. The first big one I felt was the Sylmar earthquake of 1971, which was a 6.6 magnitude jolt. It woke me from bed and many things from my shelf fell to the floor. We called school and good ol' Loyola High School said there would be classes as scheduled, but when I got there I was told to go home as they found cracks all over the old main building and city engineers needed to inspect the building before they'd allow anyone in it. Finally, our tax dollars at work, my dad had said.

SF quake opposite side

I also lived through the big one in San Fransisco. Actually, the epicenter was closer to Santa Cruz and is known as the Loma Prieta Quake. This is closer to where I was at Stanford, and it was humungous. My then-wife had gone the pick up our daughter from daycare when the 7.1 quake struck and she told me that cars parked on the street literally rose and fell in waves. My sister lived in the Divisadero section of San Fransisco, a landfill area created for the 1915 World's Fair. As you probably know, landfill reacts like quicksand in a major earthquake and many of the homes in the area were utterly destroyed. I went to pick up my sister and it looked like a war zone. I remember going with her to an evacuation center at a local elementary school to find out the status of her flat. We walked over the sidewalk that had buckled everywhere, and walked by classrooms in which the elderly apparently in shock were lying in army cots or sitting, eating bologna sandwiches distributed by the Red Cross. My sister received a yellow card, meaning that the status of her building had yet to be determined--this was three days after the quake. Fortunately, her apartment was deemed safe, but it took three weeks until she was finally able to move back in, and even then she had no water and electricity.

As for me? Well, you sports fans will remember that it was the opening day of the World Series and I was getting ready to watch the first pitch. I had the beer chilled, and got the chips out. And not wanting to have to run to the bathroom between innings, I decided to take a dump right before the game. So there I was, sitting on the can on the second floor of our student housing residence--it was like a mini-faux-townhouse--and the place jumped up and down with a jolt, then started rocking left and right. Not to get detailed, but I was only halfway finished and I didn't know what the fuck to do. I heard books falling and dishes crashing to the floor--Shit! Was that the Doritos?!?. I opened the door to the bathroom and from the throne, I could see the ceiling lamp that hung above the staircase landing swinging like a pendulum in a 90 degree arc. I was in panic mode, trying to think of a course of action--What should I do!--but all I could do was think, Fuck. Is this how I'm gonna die? Taking a shit? They're gonna dig through the rubble and find my body with my pants bunched around my ankles?!? Fuck, what a way to die!

Then it stopped. The walls did not come tumbling down. The floor did not collapse. And I survived with my dignity intact: Ass wiped, pants pulled up. Whew!

FYI: I often embellish my personal stories for "dramatic" (read: humorous) effect but this story is pretty much exactly as I remember it.

Woo hoo!! Sales Tax Holiday

Just a reminder to those who live near me: This weekend is Virginia's Back to School Sales Tax Holiday. It is three days designated for residences--and visitors, I would presume--to purchase Back to School necessities tax free.

The Commonwealth of Virginia enacted in 2007 a Sales Tax Holiday to help residents--like me--who need certain items for specific contingencies--like me--but need a little financial break--LIKE ME. There are three holidays: in May for Emergency Preparedness specifically targeted at hurricane preparedness, August for School Supplies, and October for Energy Conservation.

The holiday for this weekend targets all things related to school including paper, pens and other school necessities, and clothing. Everything is not tax exemption. It is limited to those items that are commonly considered necessities, so school supplies are limited to certain products that are less than $30. No, you cannot buy a computer or printer sales tax free. In fact, most items computer-related are not exempt, even paper and toner. Grrr.... Time to write to our delegate.

Better, however, is the clothes tax exemption. Clothes are also limited: Items must cost less than $100 and does not include helmets, cleats, and other non-academic related clothing like prom dresses. But everything else is okay. Last year, I bought Sketcher athletic shoes, shirts, and jeans. In fact, I finished virtually all my Christmas shopping that weekend.

Virginia's non-food sales tax is 5%, so after buying hundreds of dollars Christmas presents I saves a few pennies, which M an I promptly spent on beer after a hard day of shopping. It was our way of contributing to the economy. Money has to circulate for the economy to be effective for everyone.

Anyway, this Saturday I'm off to the Outlet at Leesburg. I have my credit card in the freezer right now. Last years, it got swiped so much that it actually got hot... and thinner by about 0.7 microns.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Unexpected encounters II

Back in 1972, my grandparents informed my mother that they were willing to have me come to Japan for the first time in an attempt to nurture a relationship that was on again, off again, due to the physical distance between us. Back in the 1970s, going to and from Japan was not an inexpensive journey, and my siblings and I rarely saw our grandparents. In fact, the first and only time I had seen them until I became an adult was in the summer of 1968, when I was 12 years old, in Zurich, of all places. But in the summer of 1972, I had already been working at a Japanese confectionary in J-Town for about two months, and I enjoyed it so much that I didn't want to quit. I convinced my mother that my sister should go in my stead and that, in fact, she was the better candidate to "meet the grandparents" as she was much more studious and therefore more highly valued as a grandchild in the eyes of the grandparents. My mother bought into it, and I was free to continue my adventure in J-Town enveloped in an excitingly new environment at a Japanese confectionary shop, the place where I first started to break out of my Good Lil' Oriental Boy shell and learned that I didn't have to live up to the expectations of my parents and my JA school/church circles, a process that I detail in a rather long yet still incomplete autobiography-post. One person I got to know at the sweet shop was SJK, a guy who didn't even work there.

I used to work six days a week after school, 5 PM to 9 PM, 10 PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and SJK used to drop by the store almost everyday after his work at some government job. He usually arrived having already had a drink or two at a bar near his office, then moseying on down to J-Town around 6-ish after the day crew had gone home. The first few times I saw him, I couldn't figure out who he was. He'd just walk in and say "Hi," sit at the soda counter with his half-lit cigar and start reading the newspaper or commence small talk with the owner, Mrs. H, or my work colleague, Billy. Nobody bothered to introduce me to him; he just seemed to be an evening fixture--the counter glass gets wiped down, the store front lights get turned on, and SJK walks in to visit. As the new guy on the job, it wasn't my place to inquire in depth or detail, but after a whle SJK revealed enough of himself for me to piece together who he was.

SJK was a nisei who spoke Japanese relatively fluently--bera bera as he would say--and served in the 442 during World War II. He was a medic and used to tell me how he hated it, because he always felt like the red cross on his helmet was a bull's eye. He enjoyed drinking in the neighborhood which he did virtually every weekday night before he came to the store and after he left around 7 PM. He was very familiar with Mrs. H, her daughter, KZ (the legal owner), and nephew, Mikey. He was very familiar with Mrs. H and her daughter, KZ, and nephew, Mikey, but I am to this day uncertain of how his relationship with the sweet shop started.

Over the years, I got to know him fairly well. Indeed, he was one of my more corrupting influences--mind you, I mean that in the most affectionate of terms. He would occasionally take me to his favorite watering hole, the bar at Horikawa Restaurant. Over Jack Daniels on the rocks with a glass of water, he would talk about girls, his work sometimes, then more about girls and finally about girls. He loved women but was not married and proud of it. He told me once that he'd never get married because, as he put it, "That'd be stupid." He had his friends and his bourbon and he needed little else. He would often bitch about how the bar girls at Eigiku or Kawafuku would get too cozy in and attempt to sweet talk him into leaving large tips, but if you saw him at the bars, you'd never kow that he had any complaints. He'd be talking with them, laughing and giggling until 9 PM, when poof he'd vanish. He had work early the next morning and would always leave promptly, although it took me a while to get used to his disappearing act. Unless you were a faithful drinking buddy of his--which we became after a few years--he would never tell you he was leaving. One minute he'd be there, the next he'd be gone.

But in the summer of 1972, I had not yet gotten to know him that well. All I knew was that he visited almost every evening to say "hi" before he went drinking around J-Town. Much to my chagrin, Billy decided to quit early in the summer--I had developed quite a crush on her and had been following her around the store like a puppy dog wagging its tail. But more seriously, summer was a busy stretch for the store--in J-Town, tourist season--so without my senpai (elder, more experienced work/classmate), I had to focus on learning my duties which involved, among other things, serving customers, stocking trays of rice cakes, mopping the floor and closing shop. It was not particularly hard work, and it did give me the glorious opportunity to learn Japanese. But it kept my attention from the more extraneous happenings around me. By August, I had learned the ropes fairly well, and was able to take care of business without supervision. I had become familiar with my fellow workers and the regular customers, and was able to tell the difference between them and the frequent visitors who just dropped by to chat. During this time, SJK's visits increasingly became infrequent. He told me that the tourist were hogging up all the prime bars stools--SJK rarely sat at a booth or table... come to think of it, neither do I. So he went drinking elsewhere with his buddies. By the time Nisei Week arrived in August, he had stopped coming completely.

I hardly noticed, the store was so busy.

Nisei Week was a large celebration for the Japanese American community that actually lasted two weeks. There were exhibitions and parties, as well as a Miss Nisei Week Pageant. The finale was a weekend carnival and on on the climactic Sunday, a parade featuring Obon dancing, JA pioneers, local politicians and of course Miss Nisei Week and her court. Parade day was so crowded, that you couldn't walk a straight line anywhere in town, and during the parade, the crowd on the sidewalk was so thick you could barely walk through--which actually gave us a break from making non-stop sno-cones. It was a pretty big deal for the community and the tourists flocked to J-Town, a few short blocks from downtown and the civic center. It was definitley good for for Japanese American pride and a sense of community, and it was certainly good for business in J-Town. But not for guys like SJK. It wasn't surprising I had not seen him at all during Nisei Week.

When things wound down a few days after the parade, my sister returned from Japan. I learned that I had made the right choice to stay in LA. Grandma is nice, but perhaps too unfamiliar with American kids. She was very controlling and demanding, and my sister rebelled in Japan. My mother was rather upset at the whole ordeal--which I hardly noticed since I was too involved in my first part time job--and my sister ended up spending quite a bit of her time with our aunt in Hiroshima rather than with grandma in Tokyo. Sis discussed in detail the horrific standards and demands placed on her and I felt like I had dodged a bullet--I was a young seventeen and rarin' to learn to be my own person, away from the demands of my own parents and the enormous expectations on a good little Japanese American boy. I certainly didn't need to be with Grandma. But after Sis gave me the lowdown, she changed the topic and told me of someone she met on the plane who knew me.

"Me? You met someone who knows me?!?"

"Yeah, a Japanese guy was sitting next to me. He started drinking and was talking to me, asking me questions about what I do and where I live. He asked me if I go to J-town, and I said 'no' of course, but I said you worked there. He asked where, and I said at the sweet shop, and he said he went there all the time, and that he knew you. It was kind of creepy, like he was trying to pick me up."

I thought about my friends who might have gone to Japan but couldn't think of anyone, let alone someone old enough to drink. "I don't know anyone who went to Japan."

"He said he knows you really well."

"By name?"


I swore I didn't know who she was talking about. I kept thinking that it was some random dude, maybe? A customer, maybe? I had no idea, but my sister was not attacked and she did not seem particualrly traumatized by the encoutner so I left it at that. The next day I went to work and around 6 PM, SJK walks in for the first time in a long time, sits at the soda fountain counter and points his cigar at me.

"Hey, Ray, your sister's pretty good looking. What happened to you?"

I learned that SJK went to Japan annually to see his relatives in Hiroshima. According to Mrs. H, he went every August for a couple of weeks, right during Nisei Week. Did someone not think to tell me this? Not that it would have done any good. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Tell my sister to avoid being assigned a seat next to someone who drinks Jack Daniels on her flight back from Japan? Seriously, what were the odds of that happening?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Unexpected encounters

Have you ever encountered someone you haven't seen in a while at the most unexpected place? When M came home from Japan last month, she ran into the grandmother of one of students/clients at Narita airport. Actually, she didn't really run into her. M had forgotten to fill out some kind of form for the ANA and they had been paging her throughout the airport. Apparently the grandmother heard the name and deduced that they were going to be on the same plane home. Can you imagine M's surprise when the grandmother came up to her in flight? Hi. Long time no see. I'm the kind who would have freaked out.

This seems to occur frequently within the "Japan" community--and probably in other Asian communities as well? I don't necessarily mean Japanese Americans either. I have had students--who are not necessarily of Japanese heritage--who have met classmates randomly in Roppongi or Ginza in Tokyo. I met a student of mine from UCLA at a hardware store in Tokyo once. That was really weird. I even met a former elementary school-mate and boy scout patrol member on a bus in Mitaka. It was was really random so we celebrated by doing what most people do in Japan when they meet an old buddy: Get shit faced.

I had gone to visit a girl I used to date in Mitaka--near Kichijouchi--but she wasn't home so felt rather rather sad. As I sat in the bus to the station on my way home, some called to me in English.

"Ray? Is that you?"

"JU? Woah1 What are you doing here?"

"I'm a ryuakusei at ICU."

"Man, I haven't seen you since when? Boy scouts? Karate?"

"About six years, I guess, huh."

"Man, no shit." Kinda lonely about not being able to see an old flame, I thought it would be fun to hang with JU, who was a couple of years younger than me. He was in the same patrol--the Firebirds--in our Boy Scout troop and we also took Shotokan Karate together at our church. "So what you doing now? Got a date? Going to work?"

"No, I was just going to go to the station and do some shopping."

"Screw that. Let's go to Shinjuku and get a drink. My treat."

"Yeah, alright!"

Well, we went to Shinjuku and work our way to Takadanobaba, and found a small dive outside the station. We ate lightly but imbibed rather heavily in o-sake. I think we finished more than a bottle (one bottle = 1.8 liters)... I think. I don't really remember much after reaching the bottom of the first bottle. What I do recall is paying 18,000 yen--pretty hefty for 24 years ago--and helping my friend throw up onto the tracks from the platform of the Chuo line. I sorta recall being warned by someone to take care of him as he seemed pretty bad off. I was pretty drunk, but I guess I can "appear" more sober... Anyway, I couldn't send him back to school in this condition, so I brought him home... much to the displeasure of my cousin. Hahaha. He was really put out. Alvin is a really square dude; naive as naive gets--even in Tokyo--and he couldn't wait to call Australia to report to my grandparents. All i could do was put my friend in a futon and let him sleep it off. Next morning, I wake up to find my cousn gone to school. I wake up with JU and he's still groggy as hell, but he insisted that he had to go back to school, so I went with him as far as Mitaka Station to make sure he got on the right bus.

But the funniest random meeting I know didn't involve me. Well, at least not directly.

Cont'd next post.

Query: Have you ever encounter someone you haven't seen in ages in the most unexpected places?

Thursday, July 24, 2008



Given the content of the previous post, I can't figure out why I rented the DVD, Ratatouille. It's a Pixar animation about a rat that finds his way from the countryside to the City of Lights and becomes--get this--a chef at a famous restaurant. Ugh. Rats shit where they eat, and this one is cooking in the restaurant? There are a couple of scenes when there were dozens of rats in one shot crawling through the kitchen pantry. I think M almost fainted.

What was I thinking?

They should have shown the rats shitting around the kitchen, then having the droppings get people sick. That, at the very least, would have been a public service to educate kids that rats are not cute furry little animals but disease carrying vermin.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wildlife: Not for animal lovers

Living in Northern Virginia, in a suburb of Washington DC, has it good side and it's bad. It is, to be a sure, beautiful country. When I first visited DC, I came on a business trip from Japan. I had imagined Virginia as a rural land of tobacco, plantations and a bunch of hayseeds. Boy, was I ever wrong. The taxi ride from Dulles International to the city revealed a country that was quite arboreal. There was no mistaking the suburban housing, the office buildings and shopping centers, but it was beautifully arranged, mixed in unobtrusively with the natural greenery of the area.

When I landed my current teaching gig in DC a few years later, I knew I wanted to live and commute from Virginia. A lot of people prefer to live in the city, but most of these people are the true hayseeds. I was born and raised in LA, lived near San Fransisco for three years, and in Tokyo off and on for about ten years. I know metropolitan when I see it, and DC is not metropolitan. It has its monuments and its government buildings, but the city is basically dead by 12 midnight. Yes, Georgetown is rockin' 'til the wee hours, especially on the weekends, but Georgetown is to DC what Westwood is to LA, a fun dynamic college town within the city proper.

Of course, Virginia is not very metropolitan either. But it doesn't pretend to be. The bars close at 12 midnight, there are lots of police on the road making it a rather secure area, and young men and women I do not know will greet me with a "Good afternoon, sir" when I walk by them on local streets. Yes, Virginia is a part of the south, nice and quaint, but as I said, it doesn't pretend to be urbane, which is all nice and comfy for M and me, with one exception.


I live near the Vienna Metro station, in a community of townhouses that is next to a county park, the same park where Robert Hanssen, an FBI counterintelligence agent, made drop-offs to Russian spies. But this not the kind of wildlife that bothers me. This area is chock-full of critters, from deer and possums to cardinals and blue jays. And in general they stay on their side of the street. Except for squirrels. I have come to view them as rats with furry tails. They climb on our roof, chew on the ledges and drain pipes and even made a hole into our attic causing hundreds of dollars of damage. Grrrr.... No feeding the squirrels, please.

Field mice are also an issue. They usually stay in the field, but when they smell food--like when young people in the neighborhood have parties and don't clean up after themselves as well as they should--they will come to investigate. And, man they know how to find a hole. I found mice droppings in our basement next to the washing machine recently. M wanted them out immediately, of course--you never know what disease rodents might harbor--but when I suggested traps, she wanted humane traps, one where we could catch the critter and release it safely back to the woods in the park. I tried to convince M that mice are smart and persistent, and that the only good mouse were dead one, but she wouldn't hear of it. First I plugged up every hole and crack I could find inside the walls and outside. I used a thing called Great Stuff that is a foam-like compound that sprays from a can, expands and hardens to a consistency that feels like really hard styrofoam. I had hoped that the mice traveled in and out of the house and that I had sealed them out, but I still found fresh mice droppings the next day. In fact, there seemed to be more than before. Ugh! I wondered if I had trapped the mice in by sealing the holes, a thought I soon confirmed when I caught my first glimpse of a mouse scurrying away from a hole I had sealed when I turned on the basement light. It was probably trying to find the original hole. mouse trap

So we went to buy a humane trap at Home Depot that trapped mice in an enclosure from which they cannot escape. Or so the box said. I found out the next day that a little peanut butter--as the instructions explained--will quickly attract a mouse, but the trap door was another story. It was tossed to the side as if the mouse was taunting us--Hah! You think this puny door is gonna keep me in? This mouse checked in but it still checked out of this little rodent motel.

Convinced that I was right, M relented and I set up four small snap traps baited with chunky peanut butter in the basement along the walls where the mouse or mice were obviously travelling. M was lamenting a bit, but I assured her that it was either them or us. And since we pay the mortgage, it was them. The very next morning I found three very dead mice. M was having a fit, so I quickly wrapped the mice in sheets and sheets of newspaper, shoved them into a plastic bag, then into a plastic bag, and then finally into a plastic bag, which I then tossed into the garbage can. I must have washed my hands for about eight minutes. The good news is that I have not seen another set of mice droppings since--its been almost a week--so I think we are rid of our rodent problem for the time being.

Unfortunately, M is now developing a relationship with a rabbit that visits our backyard every morning and late afternoon. I don't think its a wild hare, but rather an escaped pet, for it's too fat to have grown in the woods. She feeds it lettuce, cabbage and the occasional carrot. Some days, she will feed it a variety spring greens, including arugula and basil. It's no wonder that Pyonkichi--yes, M has given it a name--keeps coming back. On a hot day like today, it was stretched out like Cleopatra in our backyard, relaxing after a fine meal of greens. Pyonkichi is obviously getting very comfortable. I keep telling M to stop feeding it because it will start leaving pellets around our yard, and the vegetables she leaves out will only attract a new set of unwanted critters. She acts as though I can no longer speak Japanese.

I'm now hoping some mice will show up so she'll realize the problems of feeding animals that don't belong to us. Well, almost hoping...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer rerun: Escalator etiquette

I went to campus recently and experienced again something I wrote about previously. I was going to provide a link but couldn't find the original post on Xanga. Then I remembered that I posted it elsewhere when I had gone on hiatus due to some issues that arose about my online identity. Technically, it is not a Xanga "repost", but it's still a rerun as I'm sure some of you may have read it previously. And yet here it is because, well... it's just plain disgusting.

I went to work today as I always do. I take the train into town, and for me it is an easy commute. I lived in Japan for a number of years and now truly appreciate mass transportation: no wear and tear on the car, lower insurance premiums, no headaches of sitting in a car stuck in a two-lane parking lot (route 66). A five minute skip from my house to the station, 25 minutes on the Metro to DC, then a 3 minute walk to my office. Not a hard commute at all.

Now, I usually run a little late, what my friends used to call JST (Japan Standard Time) which means about 20 minutes later than everyone else. As a result, I always end up running to the station and walking up and down the escalators. Which brings me to my point: There is such a thing as escalator etiquette. In DC, anyway. The standard unwritten rule is "stand to the right, pass to the left." When I'm with Mus... uh, I mean, the wifey--geez, now that I think of it, what should I call her now?--anyway, when we're on the escalator, we will usually stand behind each other to allow others to walk up to our left. But when I'm by myself, I am the one passing to the left. Many out-of-towners are unfamiliar with this rule and I usually don't say anything. I just stop behind them unless I'm really late: "Excuse, I'd need to get through." I have had people roll their eyes. "Look, Herman. They're all show-offs, walking up escalators." Or, "Geez, what's his rush?" I want to say something like, Look Harriette, not all of us are on vacation. But I usually think better of it, and just ignore them. Another basic rule is to take the elevator when you are lugging around a large suitcase or stroller or bicycle. Not only does it block the entire width, it is can be dangerous trying to balance something oversized on the steps of the escalator.

But the one rule of etiqutte that everyone must absolutely follow was ignored today, by a middle aged man walking up the escalator in front of me. He obviously didn't realize that one must never, absolutely never fart on the escalator. Walking up the escalator as I usually do, my face is around butt level of the person ahead of me. I get the first whiff... Oh man! Who cut the cheese! But I'm caught in no-man's land. I want to avoid this malodorous chunk of air--man! my nose hair was curling--but I can't step to the right, as the people who are not walking upstairs are standing on every step. I can't just stop because there are others walking up behind me. Even worse, I can't help but think that the person behind me probably thinks I cut the cheese! I wanted to turn around and appeal, It's not me! Ugh, I hate it when people are so inconsiderate...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dude! Are you serious?!?

There's a summer reality show on ABC on Tuesday evenings called, I Survived a Japanese Game Show. I was looking forward to watching this, but as usual I forgot about it. Fortunately I was able to watch the full episodes online. It's a show where contestants go to Japan and participate in a Japanese-like game show, competing in teams to do ridiculous stunts for the chance to win $250,000. The stunts are funny, particularly for Americans as they are fairly unique, like crashing into a wall in a velcro suit to simulate a bug being squashed on a windshield, riding a tricycle on a conveyor belt whose speed is controlled by team mates pedalling bicycles, and becoming a human crane game trying to pick up large stuffed animals. What makes this a reality show is that one person from the losing side is sent home. Team mates conspire aginst each other to remain in Japan and continue to compete for the cash. Drama, drama, drama.

The Japanese game show is called "Maji de" which translates as "Are you serious?!?" In the show, they translate it as "you must be crazy" but mine is the correct one. This is not surprising as a lot of the subtitles are also mistranslated, probably to avoid insulting too many of the American viewers. Of course, it is not a real show. It was made up by Japanese specifically for this reality show, revealing all the crazy ideas they have had over the years. While this may seem fun for Americans, it is rather passe in the eyes of most Japanese. Velcro suits? They were doing that before I came to DC back in 1996. They have another show called Wipeout, which is a knock off of Takeshi's Castle, where contestants brave an obstacle course of water hazards, punching boxing gloves and large rubber balls.

What is fascinating is the difference in approach by each "culture". In Japan, most of these shows allow a large number of contestants. Takeshi's Castle starts out at least one hundred contestants, but when a contestant fails at a stunt, he or she is immediately disqualified and sent packing. In the US version, they can fall in the mud and splash into the water, but they can still continue in the competion in an attempt to qualify either by not being voted out (Survived) or recording a good time (Wipeout). In other words, the Japanese contestant competes against the obstacle--man against a fixed goal, like climbing Mt. Fuji. Conversely, the US contestants plays against one another--man proving he is better than his fellow man. This means, of course, that in the US version, there is always a winner. In the Japanese version, there are times when there is no winner, suggesting once again that in the US, it is the goal, the destination that is important, whereas in Japan, it is the journey. Sorta.

The last leg of Wipeout is held at night with spotlights and flames illuminating the course. This is similar to my favorite obstacle course show, Sasuke, which is aired twice a year as a special in Japan. Sasuke is the name of a famous ninja and so is aired in the US on G4 under the name of Ninja Warrior. The good thing about this is that instead of Americanizing it by changing the rules and contestants, they air it as is, mostly in Japanese with subtitles. However, it is heavily editted to focus on the best or funniest contestants, and divided into segments to show in 30 minute broadcasts. The original is a single three to four hour special. In Ninja Warrior, contestants--beginning with a field of 100--try to complete four incredibly difficult obstacle courses. The contestants include Japanese comedians, firemen, a gas station attendant, as well as former and current Olympic athletes--including US gymnast Paul Hamm twice. In the ten years of this show, only two have completed the course, one of them twice, Nagano Makoto, a fisherman from Miyazaki prefecture, who stands all of 5'4". The reason for this is because every competition is more difficult than the one held half a year earlier. Another major factor is that no one can test run the course first. It is do or die. If your foot or hand even touches the murky muddy water or if you step out of bounds for even a second, you are eliminated. This seems to be in step with the legend of Sasuke, for a real ninja would have only one chance at any given obstacle himself. Can you imagine crossing a span of 15 feet by clinging to a curtain? Or crossing on a ledge using only your fingertips?!? And the ledge is broken into three sections of different heights so you have to swing yourself over to reach the next ledge... again, on your fingertips. Everytime they introduce a new obstacle, I just sit back and mutter, Dude, are you serious?!? The video below is an example of a level three in the 13th competition. The twentieth is the most recent and all shows are repeated over and over on G4.

They even have one for women now, called Kunoichi, where there is more focus on speed and balance rather than forearm and shoulder strength.

Now I don't know whch is a better approach, the US pitting contestant against contestant, or the Japanese way of contestant against the course/obstacle/time. Both are interesting and fun to watch, but I must say I prefer the Japanese way. Even if there are often no winners, you know that the contestants gave it their all. They can't point fingers at each other for their failures, and it even allows for comraderie as they root for each other to do well since they are not in competition with each other.

Query: Which would you prefer? Contestant vs. contestant? Or all contestants fighting individually against a common foe (or themselves)?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When learning Japanese

The other day, I wrote about my my eye surgery when I was in Japan. The Greatest_Pip left a comment that suggested that he thought my English was pretty good for a guy who had been in the US for 12 years--since 1996. Haha, I'd like to take a bow, but I had to tell him that basically my English is as good as anyone who was born, raised and educated in the US. Which elicited the following:

Wow, that's pretty awesome. How long did it take you to become fluent in Japanese? Do you already spend enough time in a week teaching Japanese to not want to give tips in your free time?

Actually, yes, I do spend a enough time in a week teaching. But tips on Xanga are free, mostly because they are not that big of a deal, are mostly common-sensical, and advice means nothing if the recipient won't heed it. I wish there was something magic potion, or a hidden incantation. But the bottom line is simple: passion, diligence and determination.

Of course, these three apply to anything you may endeavor to do, but with regard to Japanese, you have to have a passion for the language. It is fun enough, and today maybe even cool enough, to dabble in it. Anime and Wii has ensured the Japanese language a place in the hierarchy of US pop culture. The title sensei, which some whom I have met here on Xanga call me--oh I miss ya' SleepingCutie!--is fairly ubiquitous. But I was shocked that many knew the word tanuki (badger-dog) from a game--was it Mario? But a passion for anime or games does not equal a passion for Japanese language. It is not as hard most people will have you believe, but it is significantly different enough to make people throw their hands in the air in frustration. So it takes a passion for the language to compel to to continue where others have given up. I love Japanese. The language is, to me, sonorous and expressive. And so contextual. Sometimes all you have to say is are (that), and the listener will know exactly what you mean. Or you can say, in the appropriate context, Watashi wa hanba-ga- desu (I am a hamburger), and the person taking your order will say thank you for your order without a snicker. I find these situations interesting and compelling, which stokes my passion for the language.

Now I said that it is not as hard as some make it out to be, but that means it isn't complicated. It doesn't mean you don't have to study, or that you'll pick it up eventually just by living in Japan. It takes study. And lots of it. Kanji is a good example. One character can have one meaning but different readings depending on its context. 女 (woman) has a Japanese reading, onna, which is simply the application of the indigenous pronunciation of the concept to the written term imported from China. When paired with other kanji to represent concepts imported from China, it can be read differently, as in 女性 josei (female) and 女房 nyoubou (wife, lady), The different pronunciations are simply a reflection of when these terms were imported to Japan, i.e. which Chinese Dynasty. The fact that there are different pronunciations is a cultural-historical phenomenon, and one simply needs to memorize the different words. And memorization is not complicated; it's just a matter of diligence. Some may find the idea of different pronunciations depending on context to be ridiculous, but it is no different in English. Take the string of roman letters: "ough". If you place different consonants around it, you get a different pronunciation for "ough"--cough, dough, though, thought, through. I think Ricky Ricardo had a hell of a time with this in I Love Lucy. He just had to memorize the different pronunciations.

Finally, there is determination, which is in many ways a compbination of the first two. You simply can't give up. You have to be determined to learn this. And you have to understand that this is a lifelong love affair. I have been studying Japanese for over 35 years, and I'm still studying. Am I fluent. I guess sorta, but I don't know what fluent really means. Japanese is simply too vast and too deep to master completely. Even the Japanese haven't mastered it. Come to think of it, I know a lot of Americans who have yet to master English. I'd bet you've met some, too.

There are strategies to implement that could ensure retention and mastery of the different aspects of Japanese learing, but that will be for another day, if there is any interest. Just make sure you bring your checkbook. J/K J/K J/K...

Query: So how many of you knew what a tanuki is?

Monday, July 14, 2008

When naming your kid...

Paul, David, Dennis, Steven, Kevin, Bill, Richard. These are nice All-American names. Indeed, these are the names of my classmates as I was growing up in LA in the 1960s at a Japanese missionary school where all the students had an ethnic make up of at least one-quarter Japanese. While illegal--and immoral--by today's standards, up until the 70s, restricting admission based on race was not an issue. In fact, we might have considered it affirmative and empowering. Back in the early 20th century. there was a strong resistance and hatred toward Japanese immigration. This sentiment reached its peak with Executive Order 9066 when all Japanese and their US born offsprings living on the West Coast were required to move inland or be incarcerated in detention camps. Faced with a society and government that showed little love for them, it was comforting for Japanese Americans to go to a school where they could study without fear of discrimination.

Still, by the 1950s and 60s, after WWII, these sentiments had subsided if only to a modest degree. Second generation Japanese Americans--replete with memories of government mandated incarceration--felt compelled to show their patriotism in any way they could. This, of course, is a major reason why most Japanese American baby boomers speak little to no Japanese. Is there a more obvious and plainly recognizable validation of one's alien affiliations than language? Japanese American's looked like the enemy--be it Japanese, Korean or even Vietnamese--so every other element of their existence leaned toward emphasizing their Americanism.

This even extended to names, which is why my friends had great All-American names. Some didn't even have Japanese middle names. Not that this is good or bad. I am simply setting up a story of my own name... which is, as I think about it into this third paragraph, rather ridiculous, because I have no intention of revealing my real name--even though many of you already know what it is. Please don't shout it out. I call myself Ray Kanzaki here, but the name is more classically European, a name that is very rare in the US. Indeed, it would be more closely associated with a name like Maximillian or Raymunde, than Bill or Paul.

Now some may say that Max or Ray is a fine name, and maybe even a cool one, but in the 1960s in a sea of classmates with names like John, David and Steven, a Maximillian or a Raymunde not only stood out, but would be the target of endless teasing. I used to lament my name. Interestingly, that is not even my first name. Unlike my classmates whose Japanese name, if they had one, was a middle name, my first name was Japanese: Taro 太郎, which is a typical name given to the first born son because it virtually means "first son". (Okay, okay, for you Japanophiles out there, I realize that Taro literally means the "rich/thick/large son", but in use it means the "first born son" because it is synonymous with the aspirations a parent places in a first born.) The bottom line is that the name is totally vanilla and lacks imagination.

Why did you give me that name? I asked my mother. And the answer was pretty straight forward. As an immigrant from Japan, my mother knew little of the ways of the US. In Japan, after you give birth to a baby, you have about one month to register its birth with the local public records office. So most parents look at there baby after its born, consider its gender and maybe its looks and "personality" to come up with a name that is then registered in what would be the Japanese version of a birth certificate. This is what was in my mother's mind as she was being wheelchaired out of LA's Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights back in 1955. Imagine her shock and discombobulation when the nurse told her that she couldn't be released until they had a name for the birth certificate. In such a confused state, she was bound to make a fatal mistake.

And she did. She turned to my father for help.

"What'll we do? We need a first and middle name?"

"Okay, um, let's see..." My father was just as perplexed as mother. When I first heard this story, I imagined a nurse, arms crossed, drumming her fingers. "He's the first born son," he said as if no one had yet realized it. "Yeah, that's it. How about Taro. We'll just change the character for 郎 (ro) to 朗 (ro) to match his Godfather's name."

Mother was in no condition to protest, so they let the nurse know the first name they came up with, and she duly noted it as my first name.

And for that other name?

"I came up with the first one," father said relieved, "Why don't you come up with an English name."

"I don't know anything about American names," mother protested, and again she turned to father.

"Most of my friends are Japanese so I don't know any good names either. Hmmm..." He thought about it for a while, but soon turned to mother with that all-knowing grin of his. "Remember the priest who married us in Kyoto?"

"Father Raymunde?"

"Yes! I don't think I've ever heard anyone besides him with that name. Wouldn't that be a great name for our son? Taro Raymunde. Kinda rolls off your tongue, no?" father said in a voice that betrayed his confidence as a senryu teacher.

Mother wouldn't dream of arguing the rhythmical value of these two names, so she nodded to the nurse and she inserted the name of a priest as my middle name. My mother was finally free to go home.

Now, I've heard of parents thinking about the perfect name for their child, some agonizing for weeks if not months. But according to mother, the above episode took less than ten minutes--A whole eight or nine minutes to come up with a name that would torment me throughout elementary school. Still, I'm not complaining. These days, the name serves me very well. In a sea of colleagues with names like John, Peter and Richard, the name Raymunde stands out. But if you prefer, just call me Ray.

Query: Got a story about your name?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summer Rerun: The Yakuza and the Wimp

In the previous post, I had a little fun at the expense of an innocent passerby--I do not assign any ulterior motive to his actions. Well, in the interest of fairness and openness, I should reveal that I too have had my own embarrassing moments when I did not realize with whom I was speaking.

A few years ago, I wrote about bathing at onsen, Japanese hot springs, and SammyStorm left a comment about men in tatoos, which led to the following, a slightly edited excerpt of a post from April 2004.

SammyStorm: The first time I went to a sento, I saw a guy with tattoos all over his body, and you know what that means. But for some reason I wasn't really embarassed about being naked, but as you said, I couldn't get used to the really HOT water.

O-man: Yeah, the water can be REALLY hot. But body tattoo, yeah, that's scary. Tattoos equal yakuza... But I was hoping for someone to make this exact comment... the perfect segue.

Around 1992, when I was working at a thinktank in Tokyo, our section went to an onsen (hot spring) for our annual summer retreat. I love Japanese companies. They really know how to relieve stress. Here, in the States, a retreat by a company usually involves seminars on how to make the company better. Well, at this retreat, all we did was drink, eat and drink more to get drunk. I'd like to say we debauched, but we were a rather saintly group...

On our way home, our director told us there was one more onsen he wanted to go to. It was further in the mountains and we had to backtrack a bit, but he insisted it was a great place... and who were we to go against our boss? So we went to this little hole-in-the-wall of an onsen. It wasn't dirty, but it was old and--for lack of a better word--rustic.

Well, as our boss had promised, it was a nice onsen. Hot, intimate and comfy. Back then, I wore glasses instead of contacts and in the onsen, they would fog up, so I usually left my glasses in my clothing basket and entered the bathing area with only a strategically positioned tenugui--the long cotton Japanese hand towel--and a significantly diminished visual acuity.

So I'm chatting with a colleague in the small bathing area when I smell cigarette smoke. Now I'm no prude, and at the time I too smoked as well. But there is a time and place for everything, so I was rather pissed that someone would be ruining my enjoyment of the onsen with tobacco. I squinted my eyes and look around and saw a skinny guy with a dark towel over his shoulder sitting at the edge of the bathing pool taking long deliberate drags on his cigarettes.

I decided that I should tell him nicely but firmly that there's a sign that says "No Smoking" and that he's screwing it up for everybody else.

So I get up, walk over and sit myself right next to him, dangling my feet in the hot water like him. I turn to him as nonchalantly as possible and was about to speak my mind when I noticed that it wasn't a towel hanging over his shoulder. In fact, it wasn't any kind of cloth at all. It was a tattoo. *Gulp*

おい、何だ "Yeah? Whaddya want?" he asked in an annoyed tone.

いい湯ですね "Nice bath, isn't it," I managed in a voice about an octive higher than usual.

I got up, walked back to my friend, and enjoyed the rest of my bath, relieved in the thought that I would go home with nothing injured but my pride.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Man or woman

I just read a post by California Gal about her son. She posted a photo of her son and asked if he looked like a girl. He's a cute looking kid but still looks like a boy to me. But then, maybe non-Asians can't readily see the gender difference in Asians? They need other cues like clothing, cosmetics, or voice. This reminded me of an embarrassed look I received a few months back.

It was February in Virginia. As usual, I was running late to school. I had just taken a shower, thrown on my clothes and gather my stuff for the day. The day was sunny and bright, but cuttingly cold with a brisk breeze, so I threw on my knee-length parka, wrapped a wool muffler around my neck and put on my sunglasses. I didn't have time to dry my shoulder length hair so instead of putting it in a pony tail and risk letting it get all smelly, I did as I usually do: I let it air dry.

The walk to the Metro is a short seven minutes, and with the wind blowing, my hair was drying rather nicely despite the cold. As I was about to enter the Metro station, a rather big burly black dude abruptly approached me, as if to ask me something.

When I stopped, he asked, "Hey, babe, you gotta light?"

Okay, I'm not that skinny, but I guess a long puffy parka can seem to hide a girlish figure. My sunglasses perhaps would disguise the fact that I was not wearing make-up. Still... Babe? *sigh* So with my long hair flowing in the breeze, I responded:

His eyes grew large, and all he could do was sputter, "uh, oh, uh, okay," and he walked away, face looking rather flushed. Dude, I thought, I swear I didn't mean to embarrass you.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Corneal Scarring, Part II

I have this incurable habit of going off on a tangent. Many of my students know this and seem to gleefully lead me astray in class with unrelated questions to minimize actual study time. I want to say that I realize what they're doing but allow them to do so anyway as way to give them an academic break and relieve the day-in and day-out stress of college life just a bit. Unfortunately, the reality is that I just like to talk and simply lose track of my thoughts. My inability to stay on topic is apparent here as well.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, my cornea....


"Perhaps I had been fooling myself all along. I mean, I had come to terms with my lack of depth perception, but the adjustments in the brain more than made up for the visual acuity I needed to function in everyday life. I felt that I was able to enjoy anything and everything life had to offer. I was wrong. But, hey!--and maybe I'm just trying to rationalize my situation--3D is not the end all of life. It just seemed like it would be a little more fun.Unfortunately, it turned out that my vision affected more than my enjoyment of 3D effects. So I had an operation."

Back in 1993, as I was working on my dissertation, I would get severe headaches. My eyes would tire easily and I came to realize that I was actually reading texts with only my left eye. Indeed, following the cursor on a computer while editing large portions of texts with only one eye was neither an easy nor a comfortable task. Doctors told me the only way to fix the problem was to get a cornea transplant. I did not like the idea of going under the knife, but the headaches were becoming intolerable so I was willing to confront the issue with an open mind. But of course, nothing is easy. There was a waiting list, and for me a rather long one at that. Since I had one functioning eye, I would perpetually be pushed back--those who could not see through either cornea due to injury, age or illness were always bumped up to the front of the line. I was told the wait would be about three years.

However, one doctor offered another solution--laser surgery. The procedure was called excimer laser surgery, and was being carried out on an experimental basis under the auspices of Japan's Ministry of Health. They were looking for appropriate candidates for trial laser surgeries and I was a good guinea pig since I only needed one eye done--in other words, I guess, if they screwed up the surgery I'd still be able to function. The good news was that the trials had been going on for about a year without any notable issues, and the procedure itself would be cost free. I'd only pay for basic hospital visit co-payments and post-op pharmaceuticals. This sounded like a plan to me, so I agreed and I was sent to Juntendo University Hospital in Tokyo.

I initially went through a battery of tests: they gave me a physical exam as well as visual tests to determine the health of my eye. I have to admit I found the experience very interesting. Since the alphabet is not the standard writing form in Japan, the eye chart is a bit different as you might imagine. There are a variety of charts in Japan, some using the Japanese syllabary, others using a combination of numbers and alphabet. But I was particularly stumped by the broken circle chart. You tell the tester where the break is: left, right, top, bottom left, top right, etc. When vision is blurred, it is virtually impossible to tell where the break in the circle is.

Another thing about the Japanese medical system is the waiting. At a local clinic in Japan, there is no such thing as an appointment. You go in, hand your health insurance card to the receptionist and wait... If you're lucky, you'll get seen within half an hour. If not, then you wait... and wait... and wait. Fortunately, at a major university hospital, they actually have appointments. I was skeptical on my first visit to meet the doctor who would perform the surgery, but after handing my insurance card to the receptionist, they called my name in about five minutes. そうこなくちゃ! Now this is what I'm talkin' about, I thought. They instructed me to go to the next room where... there were more people waiting. Yikes! I sat myself down, glad I had brought a manga just in case. In about 40 minutes--I was almost finished with the manga--they called my name. Whew! I was led into a dim hallway that had cushioned benches lining one side and doorways to small examination rooms lining the other. And yes, there were more patients sitting on the benches waiting! Aargh! I finally figured out the strategy. By moving you from room to room, they create the illusion of movement, of getting closer to your appointment. I finished the manga and decided that next time I should bring a novel. I closed my eyes to rest, maybe even to doze off. Kanzaki-san, Please step in to see Dr. Murakami. It had taken almost an hour and a half to see the doctor. I had many subsequent visits to this hospital, but I learned that this first visit was relatively quick. I can still recall having a 1:30 appointment and after exams and waiting--again--for prescriptions dispensed by the doctor, I'd be lucky to leave by 4 o'clock. The shortest wait was always at the cashiers window. That will be 1500 yen please. I wonder why...

The Surgery

After the preliminary exams checking my fitness for the procedure, I was set to have surgery. You can understand how nervous I was. Today, Lasik eye surgery is ubiquitous and seemingly mundane, but back in 1993 I found nothing mundane about a laser that would cut a thin layer off the surface of my cornea. Japan is notorious for babying its patients. In the US, women who give birth to a child without any complications are regularly sent home on the very same day, but in Japan, a one week stay is not unusual. So I was shocked to learn that mine was an outpatient procedure--Check in, then check out after the operation if there were no complications. I guess free surgery meant free surgery.

I was led into the operation room, but it looked more like an empty conference room. It was clean but did not comfort me with the sense of sterility or competence that an actual operating room would convey. There was no heart monitor. No IV stands ready for action. None of the trappings of ER or Chicago Hope or even Dr. Kildaire. Only an operating table, a tray with utensils, three or four computer screens and a humongous laser machine with overhead lighting. Besides the doctor and a nurse, there were three suits monitoring the computers--were they government people monitoring the operation? Representatives of the laser machine company, to make sure the laser operated properly? When I think about it now, I should have asked more aggressively who everyone in the room was. Instead, I just lied down on the table as instructed, like any good guinea pig would. While the nurse put a patch over my left eye, the doctor forced open the eyelids of my right eye to place a ring directly onto it to prevent my eyelids from closing should I get the urge to blink during surgery. He then put some eye drops in my eye to desensitize it. Local anesthesia? I asked. Yes, it should be more than enough.

How exciting, I moaned beneath my breath.

A few moments later, I felt a sting in my eye. Did you feel that? The doctor asked. Hell, yeah! I wanted to growl back, but I just nodded. Apparently, he poked the side of my eye with a probe to see if the anesthesia had kicked in. He added some more drops in my eye and five minutes later I felt the same sting again. Before he could ask I told him firmly, Yes, I can still feel it.

"Do you drink lot of sake?" The doctor asked.

"Uh, yeah. Why?"

"Well, often, heavy drinkers need a larger dose."

Great, I thought. Who knew I had developed a resistance to anesthesia.

After a while, a red light lit up above my eye. Look directly at the red light and don't move your head, he instructed me. Ah, they're getting ready to start, I thought when I suddenly smelled the unmistakable odor of hair burning. What the...

The surgery had begun. Unbeknownst to me, the doctor had prodded my eye again, but since I didn't react, he figured I was fully anesthetized. Personally, I wish he had asked.

For what seemed like about fifteen minutes, I saw a beam of light slowly scan my eye left to right, then right to left as the doctor peeled off layers a fraction of a micron thick from my cornea. And all the while, it smelled like my hair was burning. I was an awful odor.

Fortunately, there was no pain. The laser and red light went off, and the doctor taped some gauze over the eye. I then followed him to his office where he gave me instructions to come back the next morning and a prescription for pain killers. I told him that they eye didn't hurt at all. He smiled and told me get the pain killers anyway. I soon found out why.

As I waited for my prescription in the cavernous main lobby of the hospital, my eyes began to sting. I finally got the medicine, and decided to take a dose immediately. It didn't take away the pain immediately, but I was confident that it would eventually take effect on the way home. However, at the Ochanomizu station, the eye began to hurt something awful. Tears flowed down my cheek and the eye patch was soon soaked. In pain, I clenched my right eye shut as I tried to navigate my way through the rush hour throng from the platform to the train with my one good eye. I barely was able to change trains at Shinjuku to get onto the Keio line home. By the time I got to Nagayama station, about an hour and fifteen minutes after leaving the hospital, I was in so much pain I had to grip the handrail with all my might as I descended the staircase leading out of the station, pausing every few steps to muster my strength and will myself further. I thought I was going to die.

The aftermath

When I got home, my then-wife asked rather cheerfully how it was. どうだった? I didn't even answer her. I just walked passed her to the bedroom, pulled out the futon and lied down exhausted. I remember having asked her if she would accompany me to the hospital, especially since it was an outpatient procedure. Indeed, the doctor and nurse asked me why I had come alone. I couldn't remember why she didn't, but it didn't matter at that point. All I wanted to do was go to sleep.

The next morning, the pain was still there, but it had subsided considerably. My then-wife said she'd go with me to the appointment, but I told her not to bother at this point. もう、今さらついて来なくていいよ。 She insisted and came anyway, although I basically ignored her. (Yes, I could be a jerk, I guess.) I had changed the gauze patch two or three times at home, but because of the pain, my eyelids remained tightly closed. But, as I rode the orange Chuo line to the hospital, I noticed that the pain was almost bearable, and somewhere between Yotsuya and Suidoubashi, I decided to see what I could see. As I looked out the window of the train, I gently peeled up the gauze and slowly opened my eye.

I was shocked.

Although it was an overcast day, the autumn leaves never looked so bright, so yellow and red. Even the gray condominiums and office buildings in the background shone oddly brighter. Even stranger, they seemed deformed.The edges framing the structures seemed to stand out in relief. Parts of some buildings seemed to bulge toward me. It was the effect of the new curvature of my cornea, but I concluded at the time that it was my first view of Tokyo in 3D. And that was as good a reason as any. It just all seemed so beautiful.

Ultimately, I had to apply steroids daily to prevent the "wound" from trying to heal itself--or something like that. And for three years, I was fine. Indeed, I felt smarter. Is it me, or is my dissertation coming along more smoothly? I began to wonder if reading text with both eyes--i.e. gathering information through two portals each connected to its opposite cerebral hemisphere--increases cognitive ability? Does comprehension improve when data is retrieved directly through my right eye which is connected to the left, more analytical side of the brain? Well, it sure seemed like it. By 1996, I had finished my dissertation, received my Ph.D., landed a gig on my first go-round on the job market, and started teaching here in Washington DC in the Fall semester of the same year. Sadly, I had trouble getting a prescription from local doctors for the medication I needed. All the documentation I had of the surgery was in Japanese and doctors here--perhaps afraid of being sued--were reluctant to prescribe pharmeceuticals for procedures that they themselves did not perform, or that was based on documentation they could not read for themselves.

Without the steroids, the cornea slowly repaired itself and now I'm left with scar tissue that is larger than the original scar. Which brings me back to my original dilemma: Whether or not to get a corneal transplant. I've lived with this condition for so long, I really don't see the point in it anymore. But I would, just once, like to experience a 3D movie the way it was meant to be experienced. I never did get the chance.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Random thought fully disclosed

Okay, in the interest of honesty, I must confess. I chickened out. I didn't go to the National Mall. The forecast and my past experiences told me to stay home and watch TV. Yes, M expressed her, um... disappointment. and I kept a nervous eye on the dry sidewalk all afternoon. *gulp*

Thankfully, around 5:30 PM, a half hour before the scheduled concert, it began to rain steadily. It didn't pour down like a storm, and there were no bursts of thunder as forecast, but the rain was steady enough for about an hour that I am sure we would have had a very uncomfortable time on the Mall. Now, if I was a young whipper snapper, like most of you--and young means anyone under 42--then the rain would have meant little. But a fifty-something and bad weather are not a good match.

Never fear, however, for I have promised M that we'd go on a picnic on the Mall next weekend. We'll probably go to a museum or two, and I may again go to the Japanese American Memorial dedicated to the 442 in search of my cousins name. So if you see a Riceball waddling along the Smithsonian, be sure to say "Hi." Don't be shy like Senorita, who saw me in the Metro in DC but didn't ask me if I was me until she left a comment on my blog. I don't bite, I swear. I'll even say "Hi" back.

Another thought: It has been fun writing regular posts again. I had forgotten how therapeutic it could be. It allows me to lose myself in my thoughts, and it is much more productive than watching J-drama, although I'd be a liar if I said I had completely stopped watching them.

I must say, however, that a lot of the people I used to be in touch with through Xanga have either stopped or postponed blogging; or have moved on to other sites beyond my reach. When I look at my subscribers list, many of their names are still there, apparently receiving my posts by email. I wonder if they still get them? I'm just curious. How about a comment just to say "Hi, I'm still reading." Haahahaaha. How narcissistic of me.

Oh well... I've been going through my own subscription list. I've canceled a few, especially those that say--So-and-so's site has been shut down by its owner. That would be a pretty good reason to unsubscribe, no? But there are others who look dead in the water, but I am reluctant to unsubscribe to people like jpblkgirl, or detachable, or eechim, or bane vixen, or paikey poo, or Hattori Hanzo, or mattblue, or those days or vannessa, or nefarious_hatter. There are more, I'm sure, and if I didn't list you its because it just slipped my mind. These were good people who alway brought a smile to my face. I wonder what they're doing these days?

Friday, July 04, 2008

4th of July

paul giamatti as john adamsToday is the 232nd year of our nation, the 232nd year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I kinda pre-celebrated by watching the HBO special John Adams. I don't get HBO but it went to DVD a couple of weeks ago and I devoured all seven hour long episodes in a few days. I thought it was very good, although I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of historical movies, and I mean historical. I'm not much for new history, like 9/11. That isn't history to me; it's recent news.

In any event, I found John Adams quite entertaining and I was rather surprised to see Paul Giamatti actually pull it off. I have to admit I was skeptical. My image of Giamatti is closer to his character in American Splendor and Sideways. Although perhaps I shouldn't have sold him so short after his performance in Cinderella Man, although it was a supporting role. So if you are into US history and you enjoy watching the History Channel, then perhaps you will like this one too.

I also want to go to the National Mall today to watch the Capital Fourth, which includes a free concert and a fireworks display. I've gone three times before, but everytime--and I mean everytime--there was a thunderstorm and we end up not watching the entire event. Indeed, two years ago, the thunderstorm was so bad, it was rumored that the concert was cancelled. So we went home, I turned on the TV and guess what? The concert was on PBS. *sigh* I think God doesn't want us to watch it.

Scattered T-Storms
Precip 50%
Wind: WSW 7 mph
Max. Humidity: 61%
UV Index: 8 Very High
Sunrise: 5:49 AM ET
Avg. High: 86°F
Record High: 97°F (2002

Tomorrows forecast is also calling for thunderstorms according to; 50% chance of precipitation. But I think we will try to brave it anyway. I know it's old school, but I wanna watch Huey Lewis and the News. And I wanna beat the odds one of these days, although I doubt I'll be successful. Maybe we should wear clothes that dries off easily, which would mean no jeans, but I don't think I have any pants except for blue jeans. It's like a part of my everyday uniform. I even teach in jeans. Yes, I'm a very dress-down teacher.

Then again, if it looks like it will be too much to bear, I bought some safe and sane fireworks to light up in front of our house. It's nothing compared to the fireworks on the Mall, but it'll do if I don't wanna get drenched.

Everyone enjoy a safe and fun 4th of July.