Archive for July, 2009

30
Jul
09

You’re the doc, Doc!

Well, it seems I will be 10-digited again soon.   Hallelujah!

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As illustrated in the above before and after pictures, my pinkie is on the mend and I will soon have the use of all 10 of my fingers. I have new-found respect for physically challenged people. And I will never take for granted simple tasks like typing, showering and scratching.

I went to the doctor today expecting another diagnosis like the one from 2 weeks ago, where after having worn a cast for 4 weeks of an initial 6 week diagnosis I was told, not so compassionately, that I would need to continue wearing the cast for another 4 weeks at least because at my age bones do not heal as quickly.

“Demo saa…” I’d sighed.

“Gomen nasai,” Dr. Uchida replied.

So, with no hope I sat in the waiting room for my turn. More x-rays. And then, a miracle! After viewing the above After picture the good doctor says, “Well, it looks like it’s about 50% healed.”

“I see.”

“You will still need to exercise it like so, and slowly it will get back to normal. Maybe another 4 weeks or so.”

“4 weeks!”

“Of course it might be less but…”

Then I realized something he’d said…”Did you say exercise it? How? It’s in a cast!”

“Oh, we will take that off now…”

“Now? You mean right now?” I was caught totally off guard, plus this whole conversation was in Japanese and sometimes the Japanese use vague words while my brain still gets stuck on direct. He pointed to the nurse who was standing behind me with a little hand held electric saw, like something a woodcarver might use.

My god, it was true. I was going to be freed.

“Please, come over here and lie down.”

The sound of the saw put me in the mind of being in a new dentist’s chair, and the way you have to trust that this professional will not make even the slightest mistake  with that drill because the pain would be unbearable, not to mention the blood loss. And this saw was aimed at some vital artery in my wrist. But the good doctor adroitly cut the cast and  removed it revealing a hand that could have been used as a prop in Evil Dead 2. The portion of my hand that had been in the cast was about 5 shades darker than the rest of my hand and felt stiff and lifeless. It was scary. Like rigor mortis and gangrene had teamed up to beat the hell out of it.

“What’s wrong with it, Sensei?” He momentarily revealed his own distaste. Maybe he had done this procedure a thousand times but I could bet he’d never seen a black person’s hand after a prolonged period encased in cement before. He even stuttered like he was beholding a kami-forsaken oddity.

Yes, he scared the hell out of me!

“Umm, well, er, once we wash it it should be better…”

“You’re the doc, doc,” I said in English, a la Michael J. Fox in Back to the future, but he didn’t catch the reference. I’d always wanted to use that line but never had the chance.

It seemed I had accumulated over the weeks several layers of dead skin and an indecent amount of dirt and grime. But, Doc was right of course, and a little hot water and soap remedied that. It peeled off in gooey clumps like a wet paper towel does when you use it to remove a stain on a carpet. The nurse did this and she too could hardly hide her disgust behind her plastic smile. I felt for her.

Once that ugly task was done he put it in a splint which he explained I could remove to wash  and exercise it anytime.

“Thanks, doc,” I said. “This is great timing, actually.”

“Why is that?”

“Friday, I’m going to China!”

Loco

coming soon…The road to China

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28
Jul
09

The sounds of summer

Summer in Japan means those noisy semi (cicada) are back. It seems for a month or so every tree in Yokohama is infested with these bugs. They unnerve me. I hate bugs.  But most Japanese welcome the sound as a New Yorker  might welcome the music of an ice cream truck or a firecracker’s explosion as the sounds of summer.To me they sound like a car alarm from hell, that cannot be turned off, and kinda follows you wherever you go like a song stuck in your head.

I found a couple of videos about them…check them out

Loco

ps: And they fly…fast and blindly so they’re prone to fly into you

28
Jul
09

The Butterfly Effect

Yesterday I was sitting in the outdoor section of a Starbucks near Yokohama station sipping coffee  when I noticed a butterfly fluttering around as if it was checking out the cafe to see if it were a good place to settle down and raise a family. At that moment something came over me…a wonderful feeling I’d never felt before. For the briefest of moments I imagined myself as the kind of person who could extend a finger and the butterfly, sensing my, I don’t know, purity of heart and utter inability to harm another of the Creator’s creatures, especially one as beautiful and guileless as a butterfly, would descend  sharply and land on it.

But, that feeling only lasted the few seconds it took for the butterfly to descend to a height parallel with mine, with that erratic way of flying they have that gives no indication which direction it would go next- whether it would be across the street or into my mouth. And once I get a good look at the pattern on its wings which are a pitch silky black speckled with the yellow of  urine diluted by an excessive amount of spring water, and its design suggestive of an intelligence both ingenious and inhuman…

I duck inside the cafe to finish my coffee.

Loco

28
Jul
09

Japansoc July Matsuri

Well, the results are in on the Japansoc July Matsuri. Please go and check out the wonderful layout and great selection of blog posts regarding the weirdness that Japan has to offer the foreigner. It’s a really impressive job by the July Matsuri host blogger Gakuranman!

Loco

22
Jul
09

I grew up in asia…kinda

I woke up the other day to the sound of a voice through a loudspeaker crying something repeatedly in a beckoning voice and I had no idea what he was saying but it reminded me of back home when, from the Muslim Temple’s loudspeaker, a voice would croon “Allah U Akbar” over and over until the voice just became part of the background noise of the community. And, though it was a foreign language, everyone knew the meaning of the nonthreatening words. This was way before the American media made “Allah is the Greatest” synonymous with “infidels must die” and Jihadism.

When I was a child, influenced by my parents, I associated Islam with refinement, strict discipline, and incredible talent like the Rope-a-Dope and the Skyhook via Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, as well as charismatic leadership as evidenced by Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz.) I guess I was a lot luckier than my friends who were influenced by TV and also associated Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and I dream of Jeannie with Islam. The cry of “Allah-U-Akbar” while magical for me evoked images of flute-tooting Snake charmers and Sheiks surrounded by harems of belly dancing hotties from them.

Jim Kelly

However, with limited exposure to actual Asians, aside from those who owned businesses in the community like Mr. Chin at the corner Chinese restaurant and Mrs. Lee at the Chinese Laundry, I, like a good many Americans, initially learned about Asians through TV and movies, and thus I became one of those people who thought of Asians as funny talking ancient and wise beings. What this guy was saying over the loudspeaker could have been anything, from Fresh Fish for sale to For safer, cleaner cities- free of Foreigners and other trash- Vote for Tanaka. I really had no idea, but my inclination led me to believe he was performing a time-honored practice not unlike the drummers in some African village and the town criers in old European and early American cities; the modern take on some ancient practice.

In an ad campaign popular in my youth, a Chinese launderer would respond, “Ancient Chinese Secret” when asked by a customer “How do you get my shirts so clean?” And, though his wife would blow the Asian mystique thing he had going and expose to the customer that the secret was actually a laundry detergent that could be found in any supermarket in America (what the hell was she thinking?), the idea of the Chinese having ancient secrets stayed with me (even til this day). Confirmed further by the genius of the great fictional detective Charlie Chan and the sinister villainy of the Yellow Peril incarnate Dr. Fu Manchu. When Bruce Lee came on the scene, it only confirmed that there was a secret out there; a secret that could help me open a can of whupass on my bullying older brother Sekou, and by god I would know what it was.

Can this secret be the reason that, next to Peter Parker, Jim Kelly (see pic above) is the coolest motherfucker alive, I wondered. So, in addition to my almost daily acquisition of Marvel Comics and Topps Baseball cards, I started to “clip” martial arts magazines, as well. It was easy. I’d just stick them inside the Ebony I was buying for my mother and the proprietor wouldn’t have a clue. My brothers had

taught me how to steal at a very early age. They’d already been barred from most of the stores in the neighborhood at the time, but I had the kind of face that criminals would kill for, not so much honest but incapable of hiding a single emotion. But, this incapability was kind of a mask because in a tight spot I could lie my ass off and convince almost anyone I was to be believed. At the newsstand, I’d grab any magazine with an Asian bearing some Asian secret weapon like nunchaku (see pic: the thing in Bruce lee’s hand) or samurai swords or any of those not-so secret secret weapons of the Ninja society like shilanken or poison daggers, and none would be the wiser.

My two older brothers, Changa and Sekou, however, were extremists. While I was merely reading and learning about these ancient terrorists and their killing techniques they’d gone out and started their own gang of terrorists, with my oldest brother, Changa, as their fearless leader. They’d both gone and seen “The Chinese Connection” and “Fist of fury” and after watching Bruce Lee put those nunchucks to lethal use against a whole mob of Japanese they came home and got to work. Changa was the crafty one. He fashioned homemade nunchucks from the broom handle my mother not only used for cleaning but for knocking some sense into them (or knocking them senseless in their case) when they got out of hand, sawing it into four equal portions, and finishing them off by nailing shoe strings into the flat ends.

“Tadaaaa! Nunchucks!”

They practiced relentlessly and had actually gotten to the point where they weren’t clubbing themselves senseless with every attempt after a while.

“What the hell happened in here?” my mother asked one day when, while practicing with the nunchucks, a nail had come loose and one of the handles went sailing across the room  and, in slow motion, through the glass doors of a cabinet shattering the glass shelves within that had once been used to display china but, having been appropriated by me, were being used as an altar to the

The Amazing Spider-Man #122 Cover

Amazing Spider Man. At that altar I would kneel and pray daily for a radioactive spider to come and bite me…please, Spidey, send him to Brooklyn. So, I was angrier than my mother. But I knew better than to cross my brothers. A radioactive bite wouldn’t have saved my ass in time. So I held my tongue.

Changa, who’d done it- for he was the perpetual culpable party,- had hidden the evidence, which allowed him, a natural thespian, to well tears and don an expression that was more innocent than Bambi’s, while Sekou, who could lie to a preacher in a church with his hand on a bible and a straight belligerent face, lied and said, “I don’t know. It just broke…things break, sometimes, you know.”

Which only confirmed what she’d known from the moment she’d heard the reverberating crash.

“Things break, eh? Well, I’m uh break my foot off in yo’ ass as soon as I find the brom. Where the hell’s my broom at? I haven’t seen it in days…” Changa was almost in tears…how can you use such an accusatory tone and direct it at me, Me, he seemed to cry without a sound. Sekou said, “Now, how are we supposed to know? We don’t sweep!” He’d had a point. Aside from my altar which I dusted and decorated with candles and whatnot, the room we three shared stayed filthy. But again he might as well had fessed up. She knew them too well.

“Wait til I find my broom…I’m uh kick some ass all over this place,” which I understood would include me just for sitting silently or maybe because I’d confiscated and converted one of the few things my father had bought her during their brief marriage into a shrine to my friendly neighborhood web-slinger.

Once she’d stormed away I glared at Changa whose eyes were still red but dry, and he laughed, “don’t sweat it.  I’ll get her another broom tomorrow.” I understood his get but he misunderstood my glare. I didn’t care about the beating. Hell, beatings

were routine by that time in my life. I got my ass whipped occasionally for wetting the bed but that was nothing compared to the consequence of not doing my homework. I had teachers who had been sanctioned by parents to exorcise their sadistic demons on my rear end almost at whim, and the whippings I got at school were much much worse than my mother could ever dish out. Rather, I was enraged by his sacrilege. On that shelf had resided cover art of Spidey and Green Goblin battling above the George Washington Bridge with a murdered Gwen Stacy in his arms (I’m welling up now  just thinking about how I felt when I’d first learned of her death) and Spidey surrounded and taunted by a half-dozen Mysterios. And, to make bad worse, when Changa had removed the offending nunchuck from the heap of shattered glass he mishandled my sacred art work. He was even about to use one as a dustpan for the glass before I interceded.

My brothers never really understood me at all.

But, they understood havoc, and with their new Asian obsession they proceeded to wreak it, recruiting a posse of near-do wells from the neighborhood, arming these knuckleheads with homemade nunchucks, and went about the task of terrorizing other neighborhoods just for kicks.

They eventually made upgrades to their nunchucks. Shoestrings proved to be inadequate for their purposes, so they began using chains stolen from local hardware stores to link the sections of broom handles. And, turned out, the garbage was replete with broom and mop handles, so they’d salvage through the garbage for an endless supply of materials. Unfortunately, despite the fact Changa had turned his friend’s bedroom into makeshift doojoo so that the crew could practice and improve their skill with the ‘chucks’, they simply weren’t able to keep from clubbing themselves as often as they clubbed their opponents, and came home from battles having sustained as many or more self inflicted head wounds than they’d administered.

Thus, the nunchuck phase passed quickly and painfully followed almost immediately by a type of ghetto-ized zip gun which proved to be a bad idea as well. Again, the materials were readily available: wood blocks procured from school, nails from the hardware store, rubber bands from the stationary store and potentially lethal (and consequently discontinued) can tabs as ammo were  all over the streets. There was additional ease and safety (to themselves) of use, but…well, they came home one day and told me they weren’t going to use them anymore. Too much trouble. I never followed up on the reason but I suspect there is some one-eyed man somewhere in Bed-Stuy who could partially bear witness to the amount of trouble zip guns had been.

At the school where I received the discipline I would later lose we were taught as part of our disciplining Judo and Karate. My brothers took it to the natural (extremist) next step and turned our bedroom into a doojoo. Changa elected himself sensei and began training me how to protect myself from ten knife wielding assailants, using his friends armed with plastic knives, while Sekou taught me how to take an ass-whipping without crying to my mother about it. Every time I didn’t cry after a particularly wicked beating he’d dye my belt another color. By the time I learned how to roll after being thrown across the room by Sekou I was a brown belt.

to be continued…

Loco

21
Jul
09

Clean like there’s no tomorrow…(It’s the little things…#3)

Friday was the last day of school and there were no classes on this day, so what do you suppose the kids did?

I mentioned in a previous post that Japanese students clean their classrooms on a daily basis (something that American schools would benefit from immolating emulating (-; I believe). Well, on the last day of school they not only clean the classrooms, they clean the entire school! I’ve been tasked to post about the  strangest thing about Japan (July Matsuri) and I’m not sure this fits exactly but walking around the school on the last day has a kind of twilight zone feel to it.

First, the classrooms: all the desks and chairs are moved into the hallway.

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The students, dressed in their gym clothes, are split into teams and assigned various task…some are given the floor. This team will take to their hands and knees and, with erasers, remove all marks from the floors.

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Meanwhile other teams are cleaning windows and blackboards and staircases, and yet others are cleaning the nurses office, the gymnasium and the doujou…all by hand.

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Then, erasers become brooms…the floors are swept thoroughly.

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And then out comes the scouring pads and rags and pails of soapy water.

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Even the teachers get their hands dirty.

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And the strangest part of all of this is that it’s done with not a hint of I’d rather be doing something else. It’s all done with a zest and enthusiasm that is frankly shocking to find in teenagers.

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Loco

16
Jul
09

The Speech Contest

There’s an annual English speech contest for junior high school students held in the Yokohama area and last summer I was asked by the Japanese English teacher at my school to help proofread and edit a couple of speeches the two contestants, a 3rd year and a 2nd year student, had written for the occasion.

“Sure…sounds like fun.”

I didn’t know what to expect. Some of my students’ English levels are rather high but due to peer pressure or modesty they dumb down during classes. These two contestants, however,  had essentially written their speeches in Japanese, fed them into a translation platform like Excite’s, and handed me the original Japanese versions along with the gibberish that Excite had upchucked. With some effort and using the Japanese version (and my dicey ability to read kanji) I was able to ferret out of this disgorged verbiage the gist of what they wanted to say, and most of it was pretty good.

The 3rd year had written a speech about respect for the elderly and the 2nd year had written about the problem of bullying in Japanese schools. Both utilized personal experiences to illustrate the issues and were able to arrive at their conclusions without deviating too much from those issues. I polished them both up a little but I pretty much stayed true to the student’s original style, voice and message.

“Here you go,” I  said and handed the speeches to the Japanese English teacher. She was thrilled.

“Wow, these are really good. Perhaps we’ll win this year!”

“Have you ever won?”

“Oh, no! Not since I’ve been here, and that’s four years…” she said with a little disappointment. “Will you do me another favor?”

“Sure.”

“Can I record you reading the speeches naturally so the students can study the recording?”

“Absolutely.” I am usually pretty agreeable at work.

After lunch we had gone into the audio room and I read both speeches, enunciating every syllable as clearly as possible and timing it to keep to the 5 minute length as directed. This was a couple of weeks before the contest so the students would have time to memorize the speeches and study my intonation and pronunciation.

2 weeks passed, and the big day had arrived. I arrived at the auditorium timely and as I entered the lobby my two students rushed me at the door, surprising me.

“Loco-sensei, Ohayou!!!”

“Hey! Y’all ready?”

“Kinda,” they both said but I could tell they were ready. Japanese always play down confidence. Less is more, I guess. But if you know the person you can usually see the real person behind the act, and I knew these two girls. They were ready!

The lobby was packed with students from various schools around Yokohama. The students were either huddled close to their ALTs and Japanese teachers, or their parents, or off in corners mumbling to themselves and fumbling with the scripts in their hands. The anxiety in the lobby was palpable and contagious. I hadn’t felt any way about the contest until that moment, but the energy in that waiting area sent a surge of competitiveness through me.

300px-Damato

I imagined that this was a Golden Gloves tournament and the other ALTs were Gus D’amatos and Mickeys and their students young Mike Tysons and Rocky Balboas.

My two students weren’t looking to me to give them similar treatment, though. I didn’t know this at the time but I would later learn that they had memorized my words and practiced their delivery many times over. Every night they pored over my revisions and dissected their meaning. They’d come that morning as prepared as they could possibly be, confidently armed with opuses written by none other than the only and, therefore, the greatest native English  speaker they’ve ever known.

Poor kids…

ROCKYI took my seat beside the Japanese teacher and we listened to speech after speech…some were pretty good, some were really good, and others…others were  alarming. Even the Japanese teacher noticed the difference. Her face said what I’d mumbled under my breath: Oh shit!

One girl had taken to the stage and held forth for the longest 5 minutes in the history of recorded time about the necessity of worldwide nuclear disarmament, detonating words like proliferation, ballistic and deployment in the ears of all the  friends, parents, supporters and teachers that filled that crowded auditorium when ban, policy and treaty were sufficiently, in my opinion, resounding, if not too-too. I’d peeked at the judges, a panel consisting of both Japanese and foreign members, hoping to see dismay signaling a pending disqualification. But, there was nothing of the sort. They simply listened and took notes, wearing stony, unreadable expressions.

“She was very good,” The Japanese teacher understated. I nodded with a growing suspicion something was amiss.

Another girl came up a little later and started jawing about the green house effect on the global climate. Not the way a 14 year old would talk about it but the way a college student might. A very persuasive native English speaking future  cum laude college student, I should say.

“She was…” my co-sufferer had begun, but couldn’t find the words.

“Yeah, if she gave that speech at the UN the US might seriously reconsider ratifying the Kyoto Accord,” I joked.

During the speech I kept thinking she must be kikokushijo (a returnee) from an English speaking country (and judging from her rhetoric but lack of strong accent probably Canada) because there wasn’t much katakana pronunciation in her speech. Native Japanese tend to change the pronunciation of English words into sounds easier for them to pronounce, as do most countries, but she had delivered words like deforestation and environmentalist like  she was born with a silver Webster’s Unabridged in her mouth. But, maybe the ALT that had obviously written the speech was Canadian. And if they’d instituted the same practice of listening to the teacher’s recorded voice as part of their training then that would explain some of it. Nevertheless, I knew the contest was lost even before my students had taken to the stage.

I knew something else, too: Next year, my Rockys and Iron Mikes won’t be aiming to just go the distance. They’ll be going for blood.  Little Miss it’s America’s fault the polar caps are melting walked away with top honors, and my two students walked away in tears. They won’t next year, I’d told myself. Not if I can help it.

Fast forward to today.

I’ve spent most of the week Obama-izing the speeches of my two aspiring champions. Obama had “Yes We Can!” My students will have something just as catchy and poignant and, with any luck, not only will they walk away with top honors, T-shirts will be embossed with the slogans I’ve given them uncovered hidden deep within their words (-:

The contest is in early August.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the speeches I’ve composed for them edited of theirs: (The student wrote a speech about receiving an education on warfare from an American Marine)

The first thought he shared with me was this: That during wartime many otherwise unthinkable choices and sacrifices become commonplace. For example, sometimes parents have taken the lives of their own children in order to prevent them from suffering or falling into enemy hands. I was shocked to hear this. It made me sad. I could not imagine a world where parents cannot protect their children, but war forges such a world. I remember thinking those parents that choose to do such a thing are really ruthless. But are they? I wonder what I would do if I were in their shoes. What would my parents do?

Actually, the students’ original speeches were pretty good so I can’t take the credit. I just laid the polish on a good deal thicker than I had the previous year. Seeing that this contest is not only a battle between the students but also a battle between the ALTs, I just decided to get out of the foxhole and get in the war.

I’ll let y’all know the results after the contest. Wish us luck!

Loco




Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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