Times roll and companions depart, to a distant country...

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Times roll and companions depart, to a distant country will my heart fly while my body remains behind. Can I break free? Will I soar? This a year with decreased luck but belief in my own two hands. To be a builder, or a king; no a pauper, but not one who begs but one who finds his own small fortune in peace. To the river I will go fishing; to make a boat and to sail, down to the river but a raft, a stream running to the open sea. With the breath of dead winter at my back, I’ll find clear waters and kingdoms ahead.

Memories of Green

diodes burst and life expires. current discharges into an open circuit, and the glow fades slowly, a dimming breath of bulb-lit eyes, so damp with three hundred days’ worth of dreaming. rain slips, through fingers, moisture lost in windy asphalt. cold tarmac, slow death on overdue credit long since spent. break and fall.

That’s the name of the final level in Rad...

Last Seaside Running

That’s the name of the final level in Rad Racer. One night in Lambeth I actually made it all the way to that last, near impossible level, but after a couple of tries the continue code failed and I resigned myself to using the level select. I thought this was functionally the same as playing all the way through, but unfortunately upon beating the racing juggernaut, I was not rewarded with the ending. A romantic story nonetheless.

Kawasaki is the eighth designated city area of Japan. For the longest time I thought it was just a motorcycle company that made an appropriately named product, the Ninja. But, it’s actually an industrial town, full of factories, warehouses, and other artificial sprawl that has done a good job of paving over anything green or colorful, in a wide swath between Tokyo and Yokohama. But for me, it’s beautiful and touching, so much the passive quarry of Tokyo’s blue collar dollars and sense. Cracked cement, smoke-stained overpasses, and street upon street of casually hung power lines over streets bristling with errant brown grass.

When I first came to Tokyo, I started living in the heart of the city right away, and so for some time everything I knew was built on neon and ever-flowing yen. To get away and see a place wider than it is taller, without something incredibly interesting every ten meters, was like being swept away to another world or a prologue to a famous story. Across a river and ten minutes by express from Shinagawa, it was black poetry for me.

Kawasaki acquired half its personality from a girl. I may never have gone if her apartment wasn’t there, though it was only a short time from when we first started dating until I’d mapped and rated all possible routes between my house, hers, and the office. It was quiet living, in a different way from Sendagaya. It felt more tangible, more dirt and denim; there were bicycles with training wheels pushed into narrow alleys between beat, slowly rusting clothing stores and bawdy pachinko parlors. Freight trains were just as common as commuters, and the sun was almost always behind the clouds, looking down on sagging rooftops that I awoke to nearly every Saturday and Sunday at two p.m. The dearth of cicadas and greenery made it more human, more modern, a perhaps more poorly-lit reflection of Tokyo, one like an illegitimate child that was frequently passed over in conversation.

So much of my time was spent there doing exactly what I could not manage anywhere else: nothing. Riding bicycles to the river and drinking beers barefoot on the bank, or venturing farther west to the peninsula and farmland, for potatoes or chill beaches. Buying cheap designer spectacles in Yokohama, or sulking in a pitch black Irish pub after naval harbour fireworks. Days after days on that lumpy, broken down sofa bed, listening to the sounds of dinner being prepared in a five square-foot kitchen, a fluffy comforter pulled up to my drowsy eyes hanging delicately off the corner of the laundry line.

We watched old anime’ and you smoked, little hand in big hand stumbling together home from Yamakashi near closing. Over a year’s worth of tired, sweet, watery romance, so beat and worn like my spirits. It’s gone, and so are you, but I won’t see a day where I don’t think of it and smile.

Those are all only memories now, and I have no more chance to relive them. Yes, maybe, next season or the one after that. But it’s like the greatest championship team. After losing in the semifinals, everyone takes the offseason alone to think about what went wrong. The fans will cheer for it, and the media will fantasize, but getting everyone together like that again is going to be a lot tougher than anyone wants to admit.

In a particular movie favored by Brandon and I,...

2005, year in review

In a particular movie favored by Brandon and I, a wary and cool Minnie Driver speaks of assessing the status of one’s life:

Everybody’s coming back to take stock of their lives. You know what I say? Leave your livestock alone.

At the time of course she was talking about her ten year high school reunion, but I think it can apply to most any sort of premeditated (ha) reflection. Still, 2005 is over and for no reason other than the fact that listing what I’ve done with my time makes it feel slower, here it is:

In 2005 I hoped (though not explicitly resolved to) find a quiet heart, and be at peace with myself, treating those in my life with great respect. I also aspired to get in better shape, eat healthy, drink less, and grow in one art form.

To be honest, I give 2005 a three out of ten for personal growth. No, I’ll give me a four. I eat a lot more soy-based products than I ever have, and have even mastered natto (fermented soy beans with a rancid smell). What this means is the protein I was lacking from not eating (expensive and quite often sickeningly prepared) meat, since I came to Japan, is close (but not enough) to being in balance with a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the increased crude soy intake, I’ve gotten significantly better at cardiovascular health, though not through any great effort of discipline and initiative, but just by the nature of my (often negative) neuroses. It’s no secret that I hate spending more than the bare minimum amount of money and time on nearly everything, so I got lucky when my company moved to someplace in the heart of Tokyo. I now commute a simple twenty-five minute ride from my house that is cheaper _and_ faster by bicycle than subway. It’s not incredibly laborious though, so my quads are only mildly toned. My body fat is down to record levels, however.

Unfortunately, financially and emotionally I didn’t improve much at all (one might say I regressed in the former thanks to exchange and interest rates). Despite constant penny-pinching, I still have less than seven thousand dollars of cash on hand and am nowhere near to accelerating my seventeen year crawl out of my college loans. So much for the power of a graduate degree. Additionally, I got trashed and humiliated myself three times, one incurring a concussion and having my Nintendo DS run over in the process. However, to my credit my casual (read: any) drinking has become almost non-existent during the past three months, but this again may be fiscally and climate-motivated.

Still, the worst I suppose has to be my apparent lack of spiritual and emotional growth. I’m still bitter and depressed about much of the state of my professional life, and am sinking deeper into a rut of resignation and hopelessness. I haven’t gotten better at a damn thing artistically since moving to Japan, in fact I’d go so far as to say that I’ve gotten worse. My photography sucks and I’m lazy, and I make excuses to myself about my computer being slow and my equipment inferior. I also have had a MicroKORG for 2.5 years and haven’?t done jack shit with it. My gardening has not improved either, it was a very bad year for harvest thanks to trash trees and vines blocking my sun and an insect infestation on my mustard greens. The only redeeming thing whatsoever about me is an unexpected advance scholastically. I started studying French and read half a dozen books on Japan, as well as several novels. I failed miserably, however, in setting up a plan for Japanese language accreditation (ni-kyu).

Now that I’m done complaining about how much I suck, here’s the things I did bit by bit to make my life interesting…

Spring
I attended a dousoukai (high school reunion) in February and met a few interesting people. I went so far as two interviews with Komatsu electronics, and very briefly considered relocation to Hiratsuka. I attended the annual Game Developer’s Conference for the fourth time, and got to have lunch with Michelle and make amends with Amy. I also suffered a minor breakdown from project-related stress and cried on Randy Pausch’s shoulder.

Summer
I went to the beach about HALF A DOZEN TIMES, heavily favoring Enoshima on the Odakyu Line. I was wont to enjoy one of the simpler pleasures in life and fall asleep happily drunk after lunch under an oversized umbrella. I also made it to the remote island Oshima, place of exile for the great Japanese warrior Tametomo. Being a great fan of tradition, I camped out thirteen hours in thirty degree-plus heat to hold a seat for the annual Sumidagawa fireworks.

On my delayed Golden Week break, I hitchhiked to Sendai in Miyagi-ken and camped out by the Hirose river in lieu of an overseas vacation. I got to carry a large omikoshi at Yushima with my new friends from the dousoukai. In early August, I spent my belated obon holiday by going to a rave in Yamanashi prefecture and met some new people there while volunteering. I did considerable research in bicycles, though I still haven’t bought one, despite firm knowledge that I want a full size Miyata 1000.

I also believe I won a friendly competition with a fellow baseball enthusiast by attending four (Japanese) major league games, all rooting for the Swallows.

Fall
I helped sell vegetables at the Honmachi bazaar for a second year, as well as provide security for the children’s omikoshi at the end of summer festival.

I kept my Christmas tree from the last holiday alive all year, as well as a fledgling pineapple plant Michelle got for me in Hong Kong.

Winter
I made it out of the country for recreation once by visiting Seoul for New Year’s and met some nice people there, and learned to appreciate kimchi. I got to see my best friend and supporter Rodney four times, and was a little sad to find out that he is moving to Singapore for a few years to work on research.

I suppose the biggest thing of all that happened this year was that I went back for my best friend Brandon’s wedding, even though I still haven’t written about it properly (procrastination to do it “right” at its best). Since it’s already late and I have photos to sort, I’m going to pass the buck at least one more time. (You have to give me credit for transcribing all this backlog though!)

This has been an inordinately stressful week for...

Good timing, bad food

This has been an inordinately stressful week for me. Though I only worked Thursday and Friday, I spent Tuesday and Wednesday loathing myself for squandering my rare time off playing Final Fantasy V and sleeping. I just can’t relax without feeling guilty. This was a wonderful overture to the pressure of having to squeeze as much progress into Friday’s build so our publisher could let us go to Seijin no Ni (Coming of Age Day) in peace. Of course even as I write now, I’m feeling guilty for my lack of progress and making notes to myself in the margins about vertex colors and lighting.

But that’s that. The real boulder to crawl over this weekend is a weird stomach virus that’s hit and set me back about three hours on the day’s plans. I didn’t eat lunch (or anything) until 5:00 Friday, having some heavy soy-based food with zoni, udon noodles, tofu, and tofu byproducts. I don’t think that could have been bad because I had it Thursday night as well. The only other things I had all day Friday was some bad edamame at an izakaya when I met V after work. That’s what I thought. , that maybe I brought this on myself. The end result being intense pain in my stomach, moving to my intestines. This prompted X number of trips to the bathroom to purge and little sleep. Being an engineer, I am wont to compare all things to machines and systems, so all I could think was how much I wanted some gas cleaner to flush out my system. I meant to get up and leave the house around seven or eight, but it took a hell of an effort to get up at all and through a series of well-timed transfers got the last non-smoking sea of the 12:58 Nozomi for Hakata. I even have an electrical outlet behind me to charge my dying PowerShot battery while I ride.

There has been a ridiculous amount of snow this year in Japan. Stronger than usual winds are blowing from mainland Asia and record amounts of precipitation have been causing trouble all through the mountains.

Maybe it’s a strong will, or maybe just stubbornness, but I have it fixed in my mind that more than sixty percent of most illnesses are mental/emotional in nature, and that through controlled thought, I can regular the flow of positive haling in my body. When I was sixteen I had surgery on my chest, where my sternum was broken and my rib bones repositioned to prevent the corkscrewing action against my internal organs. I had to have massive amounts of anesthesia to put me out, and morphine to numb the pain afterwards. I am particularly fond of the apothecary’s music in Quest for Glory 3, as well as the “Time Circuits” from Chrono Trigger. When I am in pain or trying to sever the superficial conscious bond with my body, I play the music in my head, and focus on the image of ions breathily assuaging my pain and washing away foreign contaminants from my blood stream.

There is snow now outside my window. Snow is general all over Japan, especially in the mountains on the western side of the island. Snow in rice fields, snow on buildings, white majesty rich in a silent world. How I long to wander out there, wading crunches through quiet tableaus of rural humility; to walk in snow in sleep and forget of time, of how I make it a noose around my chapped neck. Where are houses? When are friends? Can I wrap myself in enough wisdom to soothe the reddened cracks in my weary face? Let me stop to stop and release, closing doors and letting go. No longer a frenzied dash but a long, slow, exhale into contented anonymity.

* * *

For whatever reason, yesterday’s upset stomach generated into something far worse, and I ended up losing a wonderful lunch at Katsukura before bed later that evening at Rodney’s house. In the process I lost the medicine I’d taken and any fluids that I’d collected earlier, and for the net results I spent hours shivering, tossing and unable to sleep. Fortunately it seems a night (and day) of sleep did me a world of good as I’m much better now and only tired. I’d like to think that’s a good show of my strong immune system, but the truth is it’s probably mostly a good number of hours under the kotatsu and in the care of the Berry family. Eventually my idle conscience outweighed my fatigue and we went to the new U-Town shopping plaza at Hikaridai by bus. The peach for me though, was walking back the way I used to ride from work at ATR. Rodney and I got to watch the sunset over the Yamadagawa and I found a bamboo practice sword. After a light dinner of okaiyuu and chicken soup, I somehow managed to watch four episodes of Farscape without dozing off. That’s a testament to how interesting the show is.

Now I’m in bed and comfortable again, listening to Star Ocean symphonics and doing what I do best: thinking about life and not really coming to any sort of actionable conclusion. Though I’m sure nothing will come of it, sitting by the extreme empty quiet of idle rivers and rice fields makes me wonder when will I really start the life I’ve been dreaming of? Or am I living it now? Is this really it?

Towards That Gate

people happy
satisfaction of work from my own hands
a night of rest without guilt or regret
work without time squandered or waster.
motivation and confidence to complete any stage of any task I’m given.
freedom not to feel burdened by the limits of my lifestyle
to travel
to do things varied with my mind and my body
to live healthily both physically and mentally
to treat my friends with care and respect
to feel loved and valued

* * *

I want a cat, but I am allergic to cats.
What a shame…

* * *

Land song, town song

Open before me, panoramic 360 degrees
fields to house to fields to mountains
mie and osaka, place far away and near,
the kizugawa and a nation of slowly developing surburbia
cars and doors and concrete steps past turnstyles
a cuddle and some TV, catch ball and character goods
but the boys’ll chase each other down the streets all the same,
be they made of asphalt or dirt.
but dirt is what we long for, those of us with over-oxidized lives.
too many monitors, too many beepings. maybe it’s silly escapist nonsense or maybe watered down industrial parklife, but too many somethings make the mind heavy and the limbs weak.
extreme sports low carb diets and everyone tuned into whatever must-see TV has the nation captivated.
so far we’ve not really stayed in touch.

dumb
play
lap, lap, leave me alone?
musicals acting crayons clean paste construction paper clean carpets blankets cheerios sunlight grass on bare feet dad spackling painting room s wallpaper lawn mowers gasoline combustion engines simple and tidy.

but the things that were important to me.
raves. camping. football on the couch. playing football outside. books and learning. classes and problem sets. the satisfaction of completing something cleanly and properly and turning it in.
road trips the open highway, own time 70 and left lane.

I don’t think my writing can get much more Spartan. After this I’ll just stop thinking?

kendo
akibo
piano
history
soccer
cooking
gardening

It’s not often that you leave your home airport...

Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig…

It’s not often that you leave your home airport at half-past eleven. But that’s what being less than a thousand miles from your destination gives you. I counted the stamps in my passport and I’ve now been in and out of Japan nine times. I know the procedure so well, that most of the time I can get from the jetway to the train in under fifteen minutes. I just zip past the moving walkways, into the Japanese citizens’ line at immigration, and politely declare nothing at customs. Then it’s down two flights of stairs onto the limited express Keisei line to Yawata, where I snake down to the Toei Shinjuku subway line for transfer, and that takes me all the way home.

Every time I come back I’m more and more aware of how Japan is right for me. Every other place just doesn’t fit. The streets are clean. The people are quiet. The old ladies working at the platform bubble effusive warmth. There is omnipresent standard of custom and etiquette. Things are structured and things are done well; custom, tradition, and order. It’s peace for my nerves. I almost never have to worry about being solicited. And the trains are always on time!

South Korea was nice though. On all but one occasion the food was very, very good. However, the air quality was disappointing and unfortunately any comparisons to Tokyo were unwarranted. On Tuesday when the forecast was cloudless, the sky was still obscured in haze, and the sun only a muted beacon under a heavy film of wax paper. The people were generally quite nice though, in ways uncommon to Japan. Twice I lucked out when someone pointed out that I had dropped a scarf or a glove. The shop girls were also generally quite affable and amicable. Those who spoke English were quite impressive as well. I’m not sure what is different about the education system in Korea, but the pronunciation and fluidity of their speech was remarkable. I think I’m a quite inclined to visit again as there was a lot I wanted to accomplish. It’s too bad, though, that people don’t ride bicycles very much, and that the subway system is flawed and inefficient.

All in all, it was a nice trip, and quite affordable. If the plane ticket had been off-season it would have been even better. My boarding was about eleven dollars a day, and getting to and form the airport sixteen. No meal was more than four dollars, each including a full set of savory side dishes (nearly all containing kimchi). I got a sweater and a comfortable pair of pants for nine dollars apiece, and all souvenirs were under twenty. I think I have a over a hundred dollars in won left, which sets the total trip expenses with airfare at under eight hundred US dollars. Pretty thrifty for overseas. Maybe I should have bought that lamp.

I want more energy. I think if I tweak my diet and exercise more, I might be able to not need to sleep in on weekends. Either that or quit sitting front of the computer for 13 hours a day. What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round? is quite possibly Michael Nesmith’s lyrical opus.

There is a new variety of pain brewing in my shoulders...

Backaches and bellyaches about society

There is a new variety of pain brewing in my shoulders. It is most undoubtedly from carrying X kilograms of cameras and tripod on top of an already burdensome full-length wool coat and three sweaters. I have walked the streets of downtown Seoul for roughly thirty hours of the last forty eight, and my eyes are beginning to grow heavy with pedestrian underpasses and kimchi. Of course, there is much left to experience. The city is over eight million people and the better part of a millennium old. There is little majesty here, but that is to be expected of a commercial metropolis I suppose. It’s easily cheaper than Tokyo food- and clothes- wise, though by both this is sans brand names. But for a utilitarian such as myself, this is hardly worth begrudging. There are many mirrors, in stations and stores, and they are often used, though I’ve noticed far more men than women frequenting them.

Seoul is at times equally as decadent and grand as Tokyo, but often much more hectic and haphazardly managed. Like the other mainland Asia cites that I’ve visited, there are vast amounts of trash scattered along over the streets and alleyways, and there is no public respect for cleanliness. Much like Shanghai, even the new construction and arcades are quickly soiled, often during the process of their ongoing, seemingly half-hearted restoration. After seeing this so many times and comparing it to my homes in America and Japan, I wonder where the mentality differs and what it means. Is this the result of an economy developing too fast? Is the money outstripping the education for its use?

I pore over the rationality for my disappointment and disdain again and again. Am I so wrong to be disgusted by this? Why does it bother me so? How can humanity as a civilization hope to master the pressing challenges of the globe such as war, disease, and poverty, when more than half of us seem to have no respect at all for the state of the environment we live in? How can a society shout and cry for acceptance and recognition among the world leaders while their masses defecate in squalor, so revoltingly parasitic, spreading filth and rot all about their “world class cities”? Tens of thousands of years on the planet, journeys to space and digital computation on the head of a pin and we can’t see past throwing cigarettes and rotten food to the ground. Mustn’t there be a set of ethics and self conduct that flow within naturally? A green sprout given at infancy that grows and flowers like a noble oak tree, taking in harmful CO2 and breathing out life–

Since it was New Year’s and a Sunday, I figured...

New Year’s on foot

Since it was New Year’s and a Sunday, I figured that not too many shopping establishments would be open, so I started out by visiting one of the famous five palaces of Seoul. It was large and mostly empty, similar to Japanese historical sights but adorned with more red and green paint. If I was a child I’d probably find it incredibly boring, and I’m still trying to work through how large the palace grounds were, for being so devoid of anything interesting to look at inside it. No flowers, no gardens, no benches, no furniture. Asian royalty’s spartan nature is a far cry from the decadence of the west, and I find it difficult to really imagine what people did all day. Spoken like a true twenty-first century materialist, I know. I suppose some other stupid kid will think the same thing about me in five hundred years.

One of the reasons I had chosen Windroad was because on the website it said that they offered bicycle rental on the premises, which was a big plus for me as I like to cover as much ground as possible when wandering. However, upon inquiring to about it, there was some confused parlayance between the volunteers and I was told that one of the staffers lost it. This kind of befuddled response was indicative of the place. Things were pretty much ad hoc and disorganized, with virtually no order or authority, but that may be a general trait of ten dollar a night hostels. In any case, it was my legs that would have to take me around the heart of the city.

After the first palace, I walked to one of the markets downtown. As I expected, most of the stores were closed, shuttered ramshackle buildings under dripping soiled canvases. There were a good number of food stalls open, however, so I picked one at random that was serving the Korean version of okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes). It was potato and soybean sprout based, and although I only asked for one, I got about four, which as time went by became increasingly difficult to get choke down. It was one of those occasions where it just got less and less appetizing the colder it got and the more I noticed bugs crawling all over the dingy restaurant. I tried to take my mind off of it by watching a singing competition on the overhead TV, the highlight of which was an incredibly energetic little four year old girl blurting out some Korean favorite. After she was done, she ran circles around the feeble host as he talked to her mother. As interesting as it was, I set a hard and fast rule that I would leave when the cockroach made it all the way across the wall to my table, no matter how strongly I hoped not to offend the old woman running the restaurant.

I’m a big fan of Lotte cookies, hamburgers, and in particular, gum, so I was looking forward to visit the Lotte department store in central Seoul. Unfortunately, it was closed for New Year’s day, so instead I managed to visit two more palaces and learn about the great wisdom of King Sejong before the sun set.

After walking all the way back to the hostel (eight hours of walking x 3-4 miles an hour = 24-32 miles), I got a shower and watched a little TV on the couch before heading out for dinner and some night photography with my newly acquired Velvia. After about an hour of this, I came back to the hostel to chat it up with the other patrons, and ended up going to see the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with Tim and the hostel’s owner, Mr. Park. I tried really hard not to be irritated by the questionable choices in special effects and weak CG lighting. I think the best part was hearing good ‘ol Mr. Park just chuckling away and slapping his knee throughout the whole movie.