October 30, 2009

My Sensei Achieves Her Dream

I call her The Great Enabler. Kyoko-sensei has been my Japanese teacher for well over 12 years. She has praised, cajoled, and expertly shamed me into studying enough Japanese such that I can live and work in this society. In that sense, she has been a tremendous influence on my ability to thrive here by giving me the means with which I have found the most important elements of my life in Japan. And I am still learning from her. So, half of this post is an homage to Kyoko-sensei, who is an excellent teacher and a truly warm and gracious lady. The other half is about achieving dreams.

During one of our recent lessons, one dream that Kyoko-sensei revealed to me was that she had always wanted to visit Vienna, the city of music, and wear one of her formal kimonos to the opera. What an amazing image, I thought: a Japanese cultural symbol to be proudly worn right in the epicenter of classical music in Europe. She knew that I had lived in Vienna when I was a junior high school student because, over the course of our lessons together, I had shared still-vivid memories of my time there. “We are both foreigners in Vienna, sensei,” I teased her, as I mentioned the heurigers in the 18th district, the lovely walk from Karlsplatz to the Stephansdom, famous coffee houses I knew of but had never visited, and other enchanting spots. Naturally, she corrected my sloppy grammar and questionable logic during these rambling conversations with patience and care, as she always does.

Japanese is a high-context language, meaning that it is formal and indirect, where one word can convey lots of information and much is left unsaid. This ambiguity happens because most Japanese people already know what to think and how to respond from years of cultural interaction with each other.

But I find that, occasionally, there is a certain beauty in being direct. I am pleased to tell you that my sensei made her dream a reality. She attended a concert at the Vienna Opera in a gorgeous formal kimono. Later, she enthusiastically conveyed her impressions of Vienna and the places she’d seen in a graceful, flowing monologue that made me happy because it was clear she had enjoyed herself tremendously. Thank you, Kyoko-sensei, for the gift of language you have given me. It is gratifying to see my wonderful teacher so satisfied for having achieved one of her life’s dreams.

October 6, 2009

The Bud Factor

I enjoy being a father 97 percent of the time. The remaining three percent is when I want to make a run for it: fake my own death or head out for the open road like David Carradine in Kung Fu. Just wandering around, only concerned about fighting for justice—anything to avoid my lifelong duty to my wife and child.

Back in the real world, being a dad is a privilege and a lot of responsibility. That comes with the territory. Along with the responsibility comes peaks and valleys of fatigue and fun. Sometimes you feel the need to briefly get away from the work and parenting cycle and just blow off some steam through mindless male dumbass merriment. Ergo, buddy time is important. Taking a break to recharge one’s guy batteries is a tough thing because, as much as we love our wives/partners and wonderful kids, they do not understand that they are, y’know, not guys. It just can’t be explained eloquently and I am fully aware I’m not the first man to try and do so in negotiating for a few days away with his guy friends.

Over the past summer I had a few episodes where I could dabble in the three percent escapism mentioned above. In 2009, my Bud Factor began over many beers in late July with my friend Scott, and Andy, who was visiting Hiroshima with his family. That night only cost several hundred thousand brain cells.

Here is a nice shot of us with Lady E. the next day when our families all got together with some other friends for a respectable evening.
About a month later the stars aligned and it was possible for six of the boyz (Art, James, Matt, Mike, Ron, and me) to get together for two days that featured the twin pillars of a lads’ weekend: copious amounts of alcohol and immaturity.

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven't changed, haven't much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy
-Thin Lizzy, "The Boys Are Back in Town"

While we all became friends in Hiroshima, life paths have diverged, so the six of us came from disparate locations in Japan to meet up in the little beach town of Doigehama in Yamaguchi and raise a little bit of harmless hell. It being the first weekend in September – post-Obon vacation – the camping and swimming season was considered over in Japan so we had the beach view all to ourselves for the first night.
The Drinking: an indispensable element of this male bonding experience involved alcohol and barbecued meat. Art brought a SUV-load of steaks and beers from Costco, and we set upon this bounty like wolves. As for the drinks, non-tipplers are equally fine human beings, but it just so happens we are all cocktail enthusiasts. Before long, the suds flowed and the BS’ing ensued. I can tell you that as more alcohol was consumed, the discussion became more eloquent and aesthetic. One topic was the cultural differences between North American “shotgun” approach to beer guzzling versus the more effete British version. Unfortunately, this lowbrow debate turned monobrow: resorting to the gleeful use of force to settle the dispute. With complete disregard for common sense, fireworks were employed as one multinational force of drunken morons attacked the other force of inebriated imbeciles, as seen in the Kevin Costner/Judd Nelson classic movie, Fandango (1985). Despite these obvious lapses in judgment, we all still manage to get ourselves dressed every day and keep our jobs.

The Diving: I haven’t had a chance to go scuba diving since 2007, and I leaped at the opportunity the next day to hit the water at a location a short drive away from our camping spot. Mike and I were up early and, fortified with plenty of coffee, Tylenol and Costco gut buster muffins, we embraced the sea. Man, I love the taste of the ocean. Just diving into the silence, except for the gurgle of the rising air bubbles, was bliss.

The Baseball: Scott, bless that kid, secured outstanding seats for a Carp-Giants ballgame on Sept. 11. The date resonates in history for obvious reasons. But my blood was boiling that night not because of memories of 9-11; rather, it was due to my unbridled hatred of the Yomiuri Giants. They just remind me too much of the New York Yankees. Plus, they beat the Carp that night, adding further insult to another lackluster season. Nevertheless, it was my first game at the shiny new stadium and another opportunity to watch the greatest sport there is with some good friends, which included Mike (below).
Thus fortified with these brief chapters of escapism over the summer, I was once again ready to strap on the epaulets of "dad", "husband" and "worker bee." And you know what, the beauty part of the Bud Factor is that the time away spent on doing adolescent things really makes it easy to appreciate the blessings of a good job, a beautiful and understanding wife, and adorable daughter.