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Quadruple Cultural Comparison

August 17th, 2012 No comments

In my entry on the California trip, I was so focused on just documenting the various events that I forgot to write about the most interesting element. I’ve got a few cultural observations to share, but I’ll start with a quick “update” on the visa situation.

After still getting no word by e-mail yesterday evening (Friday morning in Japan) I called my branch office and spoke with the guy who is normally in charge of keeping teachers’ visas up-to-date. But for whatever reason, it’s not him but the branch manager himself who’s handling my case, and he’s on vacation all week (yes, it was very considerate of him to let me know). He’ll be back on Monday and will get in touch with me then. But I was told something like, “We’re just waiting on the processing of your application now, but getting the visa will be easier when you’re back here in Japan,” which totally confused me because of course I’d thought the entire problem was that I couldn’t get the visa from inside the country. But this guy clearly wasn’t too familiar with my case and just told me to wait until Monday. Before I let him go, I just asked him very directly if I’m in any danger of losing my contract, as this is the fear weighing most heavily on my mind. He said, “No, we’re keeping that here” which I thought meant “here in Chiba” but later thought maybe he meant the physical document of my contract. But either way, he was very cordial and nonchalant the whole time, giving off the impression that everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about, the total opposite of the branch manager who’s always made the situation sound very urgent and dire. So all in all, while I still won’t know anything until Monday at the earliest, the phone call helped put my mind at ease a little until then.

Now, as for California, the view I had through the Japan-tinted lenses was extra-tinted by my East Coast lenses as well as the Germany-lenses. When I visited Santa Barbara last year after three years in Germany, it struck me how in many ways East Coast / West Coast culture is more different and distinct than the difference between German and American culture overall. German culture overall is very similar to American culture, what with the meat and the beer and sports and politics, but the whole busy, hard-working, rude and direct demeanor of Germans in general corresponds much more closely to East Coast culture than the laid-back, relaxed, casual friendliness of the West Coast.

When it comes to Japan, it’s very clear that the subtle differences between East and West coast culture are extremely minor by comparison with the gaping cultural gap between East and West hemisphere. That said, I found it interesting how some of the cultural contrasts I drew between Japan and New York don’t apply to California, and how some of the contrasts between Japan and California wouldn’t apply to New York. For instance, while there’s a gaping difference in the demeanor of shop clerks in Japan and those in New York/New Jersey, it’s not so striking in California where they’re generally much friendlier. They may not be as rigid and professional as Japanese clerks, but they’re very polite and serve you with a smile, as opposed to East Coast clerks who seem to hate you for making them have to do ten seconds of work.

On the other hand, the laid back and relaxed attitude of the West Coast stands in extremely stark contrast to Japan, whereas the East Coast is a bit more similar. For one thing, Japanese drivers and New York/New Jersey drivers have got to be among the most aggressive in the world, as opposed to Californians who are perhaps the least aggressive (and annoyingly so). And while I’m sure this is true for many if not most East coast workers as well, everyone I had a chat with in California had the same basic attitude about work—that it’s just something you’ve gotta do to get money to afford having fun—as opposed to the Japanese mentality where work is the be-all-and-end-all and fun is just a luxury you can have from time to time, as long as it’s scheduled well in advance.

Then there’s just the basic sound of the way people talk. In southern California they speak very slowly and lazily and with a ton of slang. In New York they tend to speak more quickly and aggressively and with a ton of slang. In Japan they speak quickly but non-aggressively, and always adjust to the appropriate level of slang for all situations, which almost never includes adults talking to one another in a public setting. Germans tend to speak quickly and aggressively like New Yorkers, but with surprisingly little slang.

Other minor tid-bits: surfing is a way of life for many Californians and Japanese, whereas it’s pretty rare on the East Coast and almost unheard of in Germany. Baseball is hugely popular all across America and in Japan but Germans couldn’t care less, while soccer is of paramount importance to Germans and Japanese but not at all to Americans.

Finally, the most interesting contrast between all the cultures is probably religion. Both East and West Coasters are a part of America and therefore more religious in general than Germans and Japanese who are mostly very secular, and yet both East and West Coasters are far more socially liberal than Germans and Japanese, who themselves are actually more socially liberal than Bible-belt America. Both Germany and Japan are considered to be more “conservative” cultures, but their brand of “conservatism” doesn’t even come close to the radical right-wing religious extremism of the conservatism you see in parts of America. That’s unique to that sub-culture, and unfortunately for everyone they don’t have the slightest inkling of just how much of tiny minority they are in global terms because they live in a bubble in which they’re the vast majority, and never spare a thought for the world outside “Amurrica”.

In any case, I’ll end this before it starts getting too political. I just wanted to record some of these thoughts. Maybe I’ll come back to this later and revise some of my opinions, but these are just my general impressions of the different cultures I’m familiar with now. I’ll undoubtedly see things a bit differently and a bit more clearly as I become more familiar with the cultures I know, and more familiar with cultures yet to be experienced.

California & the Slipping of the Sun

August 16th, 2012 No comments

I’m back in New Jersey already and freshly jet-lagged after an overnight flight from California. The rest of the all-too-brief trip there was great, but I’m too tired to go into the standard level of detail, and there aren’t too many noteworthy details anyway.

Friday went pretty much like Thursday with Krissi working until closing, but the activity that night was a free movie in the park instead of a free concert. I guess every summer in Santa Barbara they show old movies in a park at dusk, this year the theme being old sci-fi. The movie this night was “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers”, a title I’ve heard about but never seen, and it turns out my life was no poorer for having missed it. Just because a movie is a classic apparently doesn’t mean it’s any good.

After the movie, which I went to with Kevin, Rob, Jason, and Natalya, we split up and Kevin and I went to Dargan’s for a few drinks, then back to Kevin’s place where he promptly passed out, at which point I rode back to Dargan’s to get a ride back to Krissi’s place with her and have the standard pita/hummus snack before passing out.

Saturday was quite nice. Krissi only had to work until 6:00, so I went to lunch at Dargan’s and then walked along the beach up to Shoreline Park where I sat on my favorite bench overlooking the cliffs and read my book for an hour. It was cool because that spot is pretty much where I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire a year ago, and I was still reading it at that exact same spot a year later.

I timed my walk back to Dargan’s perfectly for Krissi to be finishing work, then headed across the street to the Press Room for a couple of beers. After that we had camping to prepare for, so we drove back uptown and did some shopping for supplies. It was a pretty quiet evening as we just picked up a less-than-awesome California pizza and watched some Netflix comedy until passing out.

Sunday was very busy. It was Krissi’s friend Diana’s birthday and she was having a champagne brunch from 10:00-2:00 at El Torito, the Mexican chain restaurant where she used to work. We got there half-way through and joined the small crowd. That was a very pleasant time and I got to meet some really nice people and school them on what life is like in Japan.

But we ducked out early to finish our camping preparations, which involved buying massive amounts of beer and ice, as well as a few food items we’d forgotten the evening before. We then loaded up the car with all the supplies, pretty much doubling its weight, and finally headed back up the mountains to Paradise Road and the Upper Oso campground.

No sooner had we finished pitching the tent and cracked out first beers then Kevin and Jason, who’d been hiking nearby all afternoon, rolled up and joined us for a few hours. They both had to work the next day though, so it was just Krissi and myself again for a few hours until midnight, when her room-mate Dave and co-worker Kelly—both very cool people—arrived and joined us for the rest of the drunken camping fun

We got up as soon as it started to get hot the next morning, and after a small oatmeal breakfast drove to Red Rocks, that mountain lake with the big rock you can jump off that Krissi and I hiked to last year. We spent the day in the refreshing coolness of the lake, drinking beer and making each other laugh hysterically. The water level was much lower this year due to the drought, so I was too nervous about jumping in again, but a lot of the other people there did and no one got hurt.

When it was about the time we were expecting the others to arrive at the campsite we drove back, but by then I was already drunk and heat-exhausted so I just headed to the tent and passed out for an hour. I tried to get up and join the crowd later, which now included Kevin and Jason again as well as Diana and her boyfriend, but the drinking-all-day-on-an-empty-stomach had already taken its toll and I just couldn’t hack it. I tried to recover by eating something but I just threw it up right away, and ended up having to duck out early and head back to the tent for another few hours. But I did get up in the middle of the night and join the last few people awake for the last bit of beer and conversation.

We were all feeling pretty terrible the next morning, but most left early because some had to work. It was just me, Krissi, and Kevin in the morning to overcome our hangovers and break down the campsite, which naturally took us much longer than it normally would. But we got the job done, then drove back into town for a nice breakfast at the diner, after which Krissi and I went back to her place for some amazingly refreshing showers and naps.

Krissi had to work until close again, so she left at 5:30 and I rode down there at 6:00 to get a delicious buffalo-wing dinner with Jason and Kevin, who apparently do that every Tuesday night. Somehow, by then I’d recovered enough to actually start drinking beer again.

When we were done at Dargan’s, I went with Kevin and Jason to the Old King’s Road, a British Pub around the corner, and had a few drinks there. I then bid farewell to Jason and went back with Kevin to his place where we had some interesting conversation followed by watching a few fascinating PBS nature documentaries.

It was about 12:30 when Kevin started passing out, so I bid him goodbye and rode back to Dargan’s to have a couple of last drinks as Krissi closed down the bar. Once that was done we drove back to her place where for the last time in who-knows-how-long I was able to indulge in some pita-and-hummus deliciousness.

My flight home out of Ontario airport on Wednesday wasn’t until 7:30 p.m., but because of the traffic situation Krissi wanted to get into Ontario by 2:00 and just kill time there until I had to check in. She and Dave had looked up things to do in Ontario the night before and discovered that there was a Jake & Busters very close to the airport, which is a huge place with arcade games, pool tables, shuffleboard, and multiple bars.

We managed to be ready to leave by noon, and we first stopped at the Fresco across the street from Krissi to pick up some lunch we’d ordered to eat on the way. It was without a doubt the best veggie-burger I’ve ever had, and I don’t think anything is ever going to live up to it.

Our plan to avoid major L.A. traffic worked pretty well, and we got to Jake & Busters at about 2:30. We first went to the bar for some obligatory drinks, then proceeded to play a bunch of the arcade games they had in this giant room that reminded me a lot of arcades in Japan, only with significantly crappier graphics. When it looked like we were running out of time we went to the other bar for one last beer, then got back in the car to drive to the airport. We were almost there when Krissi realized she’d read her watch wrong and it was actually an hour earlier than we thought, so we had a good laugh and drove straight back to Jake & Busters to kill the remaining time. We thought we’d play more games but we were both a little hungry by the time we got back, so we just went back to the bar and got some food.

As we drove to the airport we reflected on how quickly the time had gone by, but that it was nice how we’ve still managed to see each other fairly regularly over the years, considering how we’ve been living at least a thousand miles apart for so such a long time. I don’t know if I’ll want to spend the money to visit again next year, especially when there’s still so much travelling within Japan I want to do, but we made extremely tentative plans that the next time I see her, we should skip Santa Barbara altogether and just meet up in San Francisco, spend a night there, then go camping in the Redwoods the whole time, something both of us always wanted to do but never have.

After our fond farewells, I proceeded to go through the long but uneventful process of flying home, first a quick hour-long jump from Ontario to Phoenix and then a four-hour flight into Newark where my dad picked me up at literally the crack of dawn and drove me home. Because of the time-difference, by the time I got to sleep at 7:00 a.m. it was only an hour or two later than I’d gotten accustomed to going to sleep anyway, so hopefully the jet-lag will subside soon enough.

And now the journal is up-to-date again. There’s nothing to report regarding the visa situation, though I should have had some definitive answers two days ago. If I don’t hear from them by tonight I’ll make an overseas call and ask them what the situation is, but whenever I go a few days without hearing from them I start to worry. There’s been no mention of any possibility that I might lose my contract, but I can’t help but feel a little paranoid that some random thing I hadn’t thought of is going to blow up in my face and the next thing you know I’ll find out I can’t go back to work in Japan at all. At this point I don’t even care how much of a financial hit I’m going to take—I just want some kind of assurance that I can fully expect to be back at my school and doing my job at some point, even if it’s a few weeks later than I’d like to.

Hopefully I’ll finally have some solid answers tomorrow. It’s been a great vacation, but this dark cloud and possible sword hanging over my head have undeniably reduced my appreciation for it. As much as I’m enjoying my time here, I can’t wait to be securely back in Japan.

Santa Barbarians

August 9th, 2011 No comments

My last two days in Santa Barbara were just as fun as the first two, but in a different and more social kind of way. Saturday was the last really big day of Fiesta (by Sunday most people were pooped), and I ended up hanging out directly in its epicenter for several hours in the afternoon with Kevin and a couple of other people—a girl named Rachel that I kinda-sorta knew in high school, and her boyfriend Mark who went to the other big high school in our part of New Jersey. Kicking it West Coast style with an East Coast crowd.

Celebrating American and Mexican friendship (or something...who knows?)

We walked around and snapped lots of photos of the madness, broke confetti-eggs over each other (Kevin also broke some of his over random strangers, whose reactions ranged from total indifference to flinging eggs back in retaliation), checked out all the stands selling random arts and crafts, and of course stopped into various bars to get rounds of beer.

Kevin, Rachel, Mark Confetti eggs for sale

That's water Kevin is swigging. What?

General idea of the scenery. Kevin almost bought this.

At 6:00, Krissi got off work and Kevin and I went to go with her to the Press Room while Rachel and her boyfriend went to get something to eat. There it was determined that because Krissi had her car downtown, she couldn’t stay there to drink. She and her friend Will were leaving to go uptown and away from the insanity, and I agreed to go with them.

To be honest, even at that early stage I’d already grown weary of the scene. Kevin was asking me why on earth I’d ever move away from a place like Santa Barbara. The weather is always perfect, there’s always fun stuff to do, and there are tens of thousands of hot chicks to choose from. And for Kevin it makes perfect sense. It couldn’t be clearer how this city is a perfect fit for a guy like him, but it never was for me. I just never fit there. The most popular activities—things like surfing and skate-boarding—were never my thing, and there may have been thousands of hot girls but none of them were my type and I sure as hell wasn’t any of theirs. To me it was just tens of thousands of objects of unattainable desire, and I start getting depressed when I encounter any more than thirty…here at Fiesta there were hundreds upon hundreds and while I managed to stay positive the whole time I’m not sure I could have held firm all night.

So instead I went with Krissi and Will, first back to her place to get changed and then to a little dive-bar called Jimbo’s where we proceeded to drink, play pool, and mingle with the small crowd of dive-bar regulars who insisted on starting conversations with us. I ended up caught with a particularly bad ear-chewer named Bobby who was another one of those living stereotypes: single guy in his late 50s who hangs around the same bar every night going on and on about his woes to anyone who would listen. He never got around to making any kind of point in partiular, he just went on with this long stream-of-consciousness occasionally dropping these ridiculous may-or-may-not-be-true bombshells about his life into the conversation, like how he got shot in Vietnam or how his wife committed suicide. Also some obviously-not-true shit like how he knew Jim Carrey and he was the inspiration for lot of his early characters. Sure, Bobby. Whatever you say.

There was some weirdness between Will and the bartender and he ended up getting kicked out, which I couldn’t understand because Will was one of the nicest, sweetest guys I’ve ever met. He invited us back to his place and offered some hospitality there, and that’s where we ended up crashing.

He had to work 16 hours the next day, so when he left in the morning was the last I saw of him. Krissi got up shortly thereafter and we took a cab back to her place where I went back to bed and she got ready for her day shift. Again I wouldn’t be able to hang out with her until her shift ended at 6:00, but there was something pretty awesome to do in the mean-time.

Kevin had sent me a Facebook invitation to something called a “Cruiser Run”. For the past few years, on the last day of Fiesta, a big group of cruiser-riders and other cyclists would meet at the bottom of State Street and proceed to bike all the way to Isla Vista, something like 5 or 10 miles away. It had gotten bigger and bigger every year, and this year it apparently exploded.

After having breakfast/lunch at Dargan’s Kevin and I headed off to the meeting point, in search of a working ATM along the way (every ATM in town, it seemed, was out of service). Kevin had lent me his fold-out bike the day before, and while it wasn’t the kind of heavy-duty bicycle I’d gotten used to in Hannover, I found its lightness and ease-of-maneuverability to be quite convenient. Before we could get very far, the first wave of cyclists barreled on to State Street, hooting and hollering and ringing bells and blowing horns and carrying on like the Santa Barbarians there were. Kevin and I figured there was no time now to get cash, and we immediately joined in the insanity.

Gives you a slight sense of the madness.

At the bottom of State Street, most of the people driving who got caught in the madness were there for Fiesta anyway, so they were cheering us on even as we brought all the traffic to a total standstill. They seemed happy just to be able to witness the spectacle. But as we got further and further up the road (and also drifted gradually farther towards the back of the group) the people in general started to get angrier and angrier. This was not police-sanctioned or coordinated with the city at all, and part of the deal was that in order to keep the group together you could not stop at any traffic lights. These poor suckers who picked just that moment to travel across State Street or turn on to it were stuck for what must have been at least a solid 30 minutes as the entire wave of cyclists—several thousand-strong—rode by.

At the first stopping point.The entire group came to a pause at the top of the hill where a few bars and liquor stores were located. One group of guys were outside selling $2 bottles of beer, apparently just because they were awesome. Kevin and I had one, attempted to mingle with some of the others there, finally managed to get cash, and then pounded back another before continuing on our journey. Thousands of drunk people on bikes sounds like a really bad idea, but judging from what people were saying it sounded like very few people had fallen. A few falls were inevitable, but I resolved that I wasn’t going to be one of them and I managed to avoid it the whole day.

Things mellowed out quite a bit from then on anyway, as we went through a much less urban environment and even some sections with greenery all around. We eventually made it to the next stop, which was on the beach somewhere, and there some guy got up with a megaphone and explained the situation, but neither Kevin nor I cared enough to try and listen very hard. We were enjoying just following along without really knowing what was going on, and it had worked for us so far.

While we were hanging out there we met a German guy from Bavaria named Klaus, who was a fat hairy guy in his late 50s with an awesome life-plan: he knew everything there was to know about building houses, so he’d spend a year building a house for someone and then use that money to take a year off and travel around or relax and have fun in southern California. He also seemed to know everything there was about history, as when we asked him where he was from he launched into a full-on history lesson about the Frankish empire, complete with exact dates and names of the historical figures. He said he spends most of his free time studying history, religion, science, and everything else he considers important. After awhile he apologized for talking our ears off, but we explained that we enjoyed meeting him. I gave him a “Tschüss” when we parted, the first time I’ve been able to do that in weeks.Second stop.

We hung out on the beach for a little while until it looked like most of the people were leaving, then followed the now-very-thinned-out crowd the rest of the way to Isla Vista. When we got to the college campus (University of California Santa Barbara) there was, for the first time, some police presence, and we started hearing from bikers going back the other way that there were cops everywhere and everything that had been set up at the park which was to be our final destination (apparently some jump-ramps had been constructed earlier) had been dismantled.

We continued to ride through the campus anyway until emerging at the other end and stopping at the first bar we came across. We waited on a long line for beer, then took it outside and immediately got trapped in a conversation with one of the local aging hippies who insisted on telling us every detail of his hopelessly uninteresting life. We finished that beer quicker than we otherwise would have (I didn’t even ask for his name) then left on our way back.

Getting back wasn’t as difficult as we’d imagined it would be (we were both apparently in better shape than we thought) and it didn’t take us nearly as long as we imagined it would to get back to Dargan’s and order some food before waiting for Krissi to finish her shift.

The drinking team: Krissi, Pete, Matt, Kevin There was a guy named Matt that Kevin knew there, and the two of them talked quite a bit. And both Krissi and another guy named Pete got off at the same time. The five of us would be the drinking team for the night, and we commenced our activities with a shot of Tequila outside Dargan’s before heading up to the Press Room and meeting Natalya, who not only joined the team but eventually came to lead it.

Because it was my last night there, I had some sway in the decision-making process, and the last thing on my list of thing-to-do before leaving Santa Barbara was go back to the Doubletree hotel where I used to work. There was a bar in the lobby, so we agreed to go have a round there before moving on, and the next thing I knew I was back in this place where I spent so much time in my life and haven’t seen since I was fired from there over three years ago. Now I only see it in nightmares in which I’m working there again for some reason, except on this night.

After using the bathroom I hung out in the lobby for a moment, waiting for the front desk to clear up so I could stroll over and chat with the agents. It was two girls and one guy—unfortunately nobody I recognized—but when I told them I used to work there I was able to drop a few names of people who were either still there or had only left recently. When I told What now, bitches?them I’d been fired, they asked me if I was the guy who told one of the guests to “fuck off” and I proudly announced that I was. They smiled and said I was kind of a legend around there, as they all fantasize about doing the exact same thing. I felt pretty good about that, then not wanting to overstay my welcome I just asked for some of those famous cookies and headed out to the bar to join the rest of the group.

Krissi, who worked there even longer than I did, was getting strangely freaked out by the whole thing and she badly wanted to leave. I’d accomplished all I’d intended, so once everyone finished their drinks I got one silly photo of me in the lobby and then we left.

Natalya then basically took over the whole operation. We stopped at a supermarket and everyone stocked up on beer and snacks, then even though the plan was to go to “the beach” Natalya took us to a beach much further north and away from the city than any of us had in mind. But she knew what she was doing because apparently this was the only beach on which you could start a fire, and not only that but it was completely deserted except for us.

I normally don’t like to go in the ocean, but on this occasion I couldn’t help myself. The moon was hovering at just the right angle above the water to reflect beautifully off the surface, and the idea that in just a week I would be on the other side of this ocean (combined with the serious alcohol-buzz I had going) was enough to get me to temporarily act my age, strip down to my underwear and tread out even beyond the point where the waves started breaking. The water was freezing cold, but it kick-started the adrenaline and I had Krissi and Natalya there to encourage me on. After getting knocked about by a few early-breaking waves and shouting things like, “You’re mine, you fucking ocean! I own you now!” we headed back on shore and dried off by the fire.

It's almost like we're still young. The two guys I hadn’t met before—Pete and Matt—were talking politics with Kevin, and of course I got sucked into that for awhile. Those guys were both closer to the conservative side, while Krissi, Kevin, and I are pretty much the same kind of liberal i.e. the kind that are not blind followers of Obama. I’m pretty sure neither Pete nor Matt liked me very much, but I was drunk enough and having a good enough time otherwise not to care.

The disaster of the night took place when Krissi stumbled right next to the fire and burned a few parts of her body, her right-hand taking the brunt of it. She didn’t realize how bad it was at first as it only really started to sting later, and the next day it was clear from all the blisters that her hand is now permanently altered forever.

Natalya drove us all home again, dropping Krissi and I off at her place. I bid goodbye to Kevin and Krissi and I went to sleep. She drove me to the airport the following morning and we said our warm goodbyes. She thanked me for coming and I thanked her for insisting that I come. It was definitely a fantastic little week, my only regret being that it couldn’t have lasted a little longer.

At least I’ve now realized that I don’t need to wait another three years before I go back there. I may not be of the right disposition to live in Southern California, but it’s definitely one of the places that I can and should visit more frequently over the course of my life. Hopefully my financial situation will allow it.

So on Monday I flew from Los Angeles to New York, where my friend Mike picked me up and brought me back to Brooklyn. Next Monday I’ll be in Tokyo. What a crazy little slice of my life this is.

Sea and Mountains

August 6th, 2011 No comments

My memory apparently didn’t do justice to how beautiful this place is, and nor will any of the pictures I took, but I’m going to post a bunch of them here anyway.

Cabrillo Blvd Stearn's Wharf

What I picture when I think of California East Beach

On Thursday I got a ride with Krissi’s room-mate David to Dargan’s and had lunch at her bar, then killed the next few hours before her shift ended walking down to the beach I used to sit at all the time, then up to a cliff overlooking Ledbetter beach which was one of the first places Krissi took me, Corey, and Myson on the night we first arrived in Santa Barbara and remains my favorite spot in the city. I watched the surfers for awhile (I’m pretty sure I saw a small shark, but it swam away before I got a good look) then sat on a bench and read for awhile until it was time to head back.

The cliff at Leadbetter View from the top.

A different angle The spot

I got back to Dargan’s around 5:30 and was introduced to a couple of Krissi’s friends, then Kevin showed up and we all had a beer until Krissi was finished and we went across the street to the Press Room to have one more.

After that, Krissi and I parted ways with the rest of them and spent the next hour and a half preparing to go camping, which involved obtaining things like water, alcohol, and firewood. It was already dark by the time we headed up into the mountains of Los Padres National Forest, turned onto Paradise Road, and eventually found a nice little spot far from any other campers.

Starry Sky (not pictured: stars)

The stars were more brilliant than I’ve seen in years, and while it was a bit more chilly than I would have expected the atmosphere was extremely nice. Krissi and I drank beer and whiskey, tended to the fire, listened to music on some crappy little I-pod speakers we bought for the trip and which she plans to return, and eventually reached the level of drunkenness where the two of us really click and we remember as clearly as ever why we’re still friends. The two of us are very different people on the outside—she’s extremely outgoing while I’m pretty introverted—but our minds somehow think in very similar ways about many things. We’ve shared so many experiences and spent so much time with each other (albeit spread out over nearly 13 years) that there’s a short-hand that’s developed between us in terms of conversation, and we almost never have to explain ourselves to each other because we already understand.

Krissi is also the only person on earth to whom I’ve recommended The Young Turks who actually checked it out and liked it enough to also pay for membership. After watching Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian for almost two years it was awesome to finally be around someone who not only loves the show but also can’t help but use phrases like, “disaster” and “for the win” in normal conversation. It also made talking politics that much easier, as apparently there’s also a kind of shorthand among people who get their news from the same source.

Neither of us have any clue when we passed out, but it was lucky that both the alcohol and the firewood ran out at about the same time. I very unwisely decided to forego my usual water-chugging routine before passing out after a night of drinking, as I thought we’d need all our water reserves for the next day’s hike. I woke up with a bad hangover and the headache lingered well into the afternoon, but luckily the surroundings were so damn beautiful and my company so pleasant that it hardly mattered.

There we are. We did, however, decide not to do a strenuous hike and instead walk a relatively flat five-mile road to a place in the mountains called Red Rock which is a popular swimming hole. You can normally drive to a parking lot only half a mile from the pond, but there’s a bridge closed off five miles in so we had no choice but to hike. I didn’t mind the walk but Krissi’s feet blistered up pretty bad and by the end of the day it was very difficult for her. Before going we picked up a 12-pack of beer—Coor’s Light of all things—and though we each had six over the course of the next few hours it barely had any effect at all other than to make me need to urinate more frequently than I would have otherwise.

When we got to the swimming hole there was a group of about ten middle-school age boys there but luckily enough they went away shortly after we arrived and we had the whole place to ourselves for about an hour. We went swimming, which was extremely refreshing after the long walk, and jumped off one of the big boulders in the middle of the pond, which I have to admit was a bit nerve-wracking but once you were up there it was really the only easy way down.

The way there. The place.

Some jump from the higher rock, we jumped off the smaller one to the left.

We talked and sun-bathed on another rock for a little while, then another guy came along who was there on his own and since it was his first time there Krissi got back in and showed him how to jump off the rock. When we parted ways I asked him for his name—Brandon—and he laughed as though it was ridiculous that I’d ask such a thing when we’ll almost certainly never see each other again. I always ask for people’s names though. It’s kind of a ‘thing’ with me, and you’d be surprised how often you run into people again when you never thought you would. On our long walk back to the car, he sure enough passed us on his bicycle and I said, “It’s Brandon!” as he biked by, apparently extremely exhausted because all he said was “kill me.”

Awesomeness   Cow-snake! 

We spotted a cool-looking snake that was colored like a cow, and Krissi kept bringing it up for the rest of the day like a 7-year-old girl, which I thought was really cute of her.

Breathtakingness

The sun was dipping pretty low by the time we got back to the car, and it was officially down by the time we got back to her apartment. We spent the rest of the evening just “kickin’ it”, getting some Mexican food from a nearby restaurant (which we both agreed was sadly disappointing), drank Margeritas and watched a cartoon called “Archer” which is effing hilarious.

Krissi’s got to work until 6:00 again today, but in the mean-time Kevin is coming to pick me up and we’ll be kickin’ it with a girl named Rachel who also went to our high school and is coincidentally in town today as well.

I have no idea what the deal will be tonight, but I’m sure it’ll be fun. It couldn’t be clearer that coming here for this week during my brief time back in America was a very good decision.

The Pacific

August 4th, 2011 No comments

One of the beaches in Santa Barbara

Yesterday I looked upon the Pacific Ocean for the first time in over three years. I’m going to be seeing a lot of it in the years to come.

One of the things that happened when I got back to New Jersey was reconnecting with my old friend Krissi from high school (my oldest friend, actually) who called me once I sent her an e-mail with my temporary American cell-phone number. I hadn’t been planning to fly out to Santa Barbara—where I used to live and where she now lives again—but she laid out a very strong case as to why I should. If I didn’t use this time to see her, it could be many years before another opportunity comes around. I was able to find wonderfully cheap plane tickets so I made the purchase and yesterday flew in to Santa Ana, had a few misadventures getting from the airport to the train station, took the Amtrak to Los Angeles and got picked up by Krissi. It was the first time we’d seen each other in almost two years, ever since I said goodbye to her as she took the train away from Hannover after staying with me for two months there in 2009.

I had big news to talk about, and I’ll now report it here. On the morning of the day before yesterday I woke up to find an e-mail from Interac Japan informing me that at long last, they’d found a teaching position for me. I had to wait until 8:30 p.m. for the time-difference to synch up before they could call me and tell me about it, but when the time came I got a call with the offer which I promptly accepted (if I hadn’t, I would have actually had to wait until October to go).

It’s official. On Sunday, August 14th I depart for Japan (I arrive on the 15th) and after a week of training in Tokyo where they’ll be putting me up in a nice hotel, I’ll be sent to the city of Togane where I will spend at least the next seven months and possibly several years of my life.

Getting that news on the night before departing for California was not the most convenient of times, as I had to get up at quarter to five in the morning and couldn’t get to sleep until half-past two because my mind was racing so fast. I did some in-depth research on Togane, and I’m happy to say what I learned sounds very promising. It doesn’t appear to be quite as beautiful as I’m sure many areas of Japan are, but there are some nice natural spots around. The size of the city itself—60,000 people—fits perfectly into the not-too-big/not-too-small category, and its location is even more ideal. It’s about 50 km east of Tokyo (only an hour or so by train) and 5 km from the Pacific Coast, just a short trip by bicycle. I found a blog by a guy who also works there as an Assistant Language Teacher, and he seemed to love it so I found that quite encouraging.


View Larger Map

Now I’m being bombarded with e-mails from people over there whom I’ll either meet during training or be working with in Togane. Wheels are finally in motion. Naturally, I’ll keep my readers updated as the situation unfolds.

But for now, I’ve got five more days on this side of the ocean, and I intend to enjoy them to the fullest. Arriving in California yesterday was like returning to an alien world. I could feel the difference in the atmosphere the moment I stepped out of the Santa Ana airport, as the dry climate and abundance of palm trees is quite distinct from New Jersey. Moreso than the atmosphere, however, was the people. I had to get from the airport to the train station, which turned out to be no simple task, but so many people were not just willing but eager to help me figure it out. An Asian guy helped me figure out the right bus to get on, and the bus driver himself helped me out by telling me where to get off and which bus to get on next.

The guy sitting in front of me on the first bus just struck up a chat with me out of nowhere, though he seemed a little off. He was a gritty-looking older guy who looked and talked like he’d just stumbled out of an Old Western. When he saw the sign for John Wayne airport, he asked me if I saw John Wayne in there. “I might have,” I answered—what else could I have said? He told me he used to do the same job John Wayne used to do before he was famous, some kind of paper-route or something, then proceeded to explain to me his plan for the day. “I’m gonna buy me one of them portable teevees so’s I can watch me the Christian channels and some ESPN.” For all I know the guy was just pulling my leg and only pretending to be this cowboy-hick living in a trailer in Santa Ana. He even said his name was “Zed”—if he was attempting to be a living stereotype he was succeeding perfectly.

On the next bus, the driver was a cool Latino dude who promised to help me get exactly where I needed to go, and I stood by him as he drove miles along Main Street. He explained to me that Santa Ana is 80% Latino, and told me to count how many white people board the bus. Whenever a white guy would board, he’d turn to me and call out “one”, “two”, etc. We only got up to three before I got off the bus.

Two busses later and I was finally at the train station. After all those years of the Deutsche Bahn, riding the Amtrak up the west coast was like stepping backwards in time, the thing moved so damn slowly.

But the strangeness of the whole thing didn’t really start to hit me until I was driving with Krissi up the 101 and getting to increasingly familiar places, eventually passing through towns I was quite familiar with but whose names I’d completely forgotten—Carpenteria, Montecito, and so on. She even took an early exit so we could drive by my old apartment on Salinas Street, which looks 100% exactly the same as it did when I left all those years ago.

Driving through Santa Barbara itself was also quite the trip, all these streets and areas I used to see all the time, still having existed even without me there to lay eyes on them.

Before we got back to her apartment I insisted we stop at Trader Joe’s because I needed some pita and hummus, the best damn hummus in the world and easily one of the Top 5 things I miss most about living here.

We got back to her place and I met her room-mate and his ex-girlfriend (who didn’t seem like an “ex” to me, but whatever) who is also apparently crashing here for a few days. We only had a little over an hour to chill before Krissi had to go to work, but I was able to come with her. She works at an Irish pub on State Street called Dargan’s, which is one of the places I liked to go out drinking on the rare nights when I actually went out drinking. We got there a little early so we made a short walk up State Street to check out the “Fiesta” atmosphere. I’d forgotten, but every summer Santa Barbara has “Fiesta Week” which I don’t even need to bother describing because it’s exactly what you’re picturing. Lots of people, lots of confetti being strewn about (I’m still finding pieces of it in my hair), live music everywhere, and so on.

Fiesta (only picture I've taken so far)

Krissi started her shift at 8:00, and I sat at her bar and ordered a Firestone beer (which tasted even better than I remembered) and waited for another mutual friend of ours—a kid named Kevin that we went to high school with and who moved out here a year ago—to arrive. He got in shortly thereafter and we chatted for awhile, which involved a mixture of getting caught up, reminiscing about high school, and joking about politics.

Another one of Krissi’s friends came about an hour after that, a girl named Natalya, and her friend whose name unfortunately escapes me. She was very outgoing and fun to talk to, but she was sitting on the other side of Kevin and doing most of the talking to him, which freed me up to turn and exchange pleasantries with a bunch of other random people, which (shockingly enough) is much much easier to do when everybody speaks your native language.

Inside Dargan's (it was a lot more crowded last night)The night got older, we all got drunker, a band started playing and the bar got massively crowded. Kevin found himself engaged in serious, serious flirtation with some girl he apparently knew who sat down next to him, and I went outside for a smoke and chatted with the other smokers. There were a couple of girls sitting at a table and I sat across from them, just very casually asking them where they were from (lots of outsiders come to Santa Barbara for Fiesta but these were Santa Barbara natives) and then of course answering their questions with my spiel about having lived in Germany for three years and moving to Japan in two weeks. One of the girls was pretty cute (the ratio of attractive to unattractive females is, by the way, much higher in southern California than anywhere else I’ve lived by far) and she was actually really impressed by that. I could hardly believe it—was I actually successfully flirting with a cute girl? Was my life situation finally interesting enough to impress girls? American girls never gave much of a shit when I told them I worked in Germany, but adding Japan to the mix seems to have an effect. It seemed to be a pretty good card, and if I played it right I could have theoretically ended up kissing a girl for the first time in…oh…about nine years or so. But before we could get anywhere, some guy poked his head out of the bar and told the girls they were leaving. The cute one said it was nice meeting me and wished me luck and that was that.

Back inside, Kevin was all touchy-feely-kissy-kissy with the girl he was flirting with, and for a moment I felt like I was on the verge of that downward emotional spirals that typically result from a mixture of alcohol and feelings of inadequacy. Luckily I caught it right away, reminded myself that in less than two weeks I’ll be in motherfucking Japan so who gives a shit whether or not I’m still hopeless with American girls, and managed to stop it at a mere mild melancholy that didn’t interfere with my good time.

The girl Kevin was flirting with left without my noticing, then the four of us (Kevin, me, Natalya and her friend) went across the street to The Press Room where I said a warm hello to Billy the bartender, a guy I always liked and who is still an all-around good guy.

Natalya was kind enough (and sober enough) to give us all a ride back to our respective sleeping locations, which I was grateful for because I didn’t want to have to wait for Krissi to finish her shift at 1:00 a.m., especially after only two hours’ sleep. In case you’re wondering, Krissi tried to get more nights off while I’m around but the bar is understaffed as it is and it’s Fiesta week, so tonight is the only night we’ll actually have to spend together, and the plan is when she gets off work at 6:00 for us to go camping and then hiking tomorrow morning. In any case, it promises to be a very interesting week.

At some point today I’ll head to the beach and spend some time just staring at the ocean. I used to do that very frequently when I lived here, but this time it’ll be different. This time when I look at the ocean I’ll be contemplating the fact that in less than two weeks, I’ll be on the other side of it.

Milestones of 2008

December 31st, 2008 No comments

It being the last day of the year, and me having nothing better to do, I think it’s a good idea to post an entry looking back at everything that’s happened. 2008 was a year full of milestones, a year in which my life situation changed more dramatically than almost any other. I’ve lived in three different places and had three different jobs, lost a few friends and gained a few more, left behind an old life and began a new one. All in all, a major turning point in the greater context of my life.

These are the dates of my journal entries that paint the full picture of the way things developed, including all milestones and major events. Feel free to click on the links to the archives and read anything you think you might find interesting.

What the Fuck am I Doing With My Life?

1/20/08- I ended the year in such a radically different life situation than I’d envisioned, as when it began I was still working at the Doubletree in Santa Barbara and taking teacher education classes, expecting to be in the exact same situation for the next two years. In this entry, I explain why I dropped out of the teacher education program and decided on a different course of action which also didn’t come to pass—returning to graduate school to pursue a career in the field of Philosophy.

2/6/2008- Although I’d already decided not to teach, I was still on the call-list for substitute teachers, and this entry recounts the first and only time I got called in to do so, which I’ll always remember as one of the most out-of-the-ordinary experiences of my life.

2/26/2008- The departure of Krissi from Santa Barbara is what sparked the later events which would totally throw my future up into the air.

2/29/2008- This was the day I got fired from my awful job at the hotel, which may not have been “planned” exactly but which I clearly did deliberately, as with no hope of getting into grad school for another year and a half, and with Krissi gone, I just couldn’t stand the idea of continuing that horrible job for such an excruciatingly long time.

3/9/2008- In this entry I’m considering another possible future, of moving down to San Diego to once again be near Krissi, an idea which didn’t last very long for various reasons, including my having long since grown tired of Southern California, as well as the unsettling nature of the idea that my life would more of a result of Krissi’s decisions than my own.

3/29/2008- The actual future finally comes into focus in this entry, when I discuss my reasons for deciding to go the route of overseas English teaching, reflect on my time in Southern California, and look to the immediate future of returning home to New Jersey to get my old pizza delivery job back while working on my certification and finding a job.

4/6/2008- A party thrown by a co-worker from the Doubletree marks the last time I saw most of the people I worked with for well over a year of my life.

4/23/2008- My final entry from Santa Barbara recounts the last time I ever saw Krissi and my thoughts regarding the wide open future ahead of me.

Transition

4/29/2008- My first entry from New Jersey briefly recounts the drive across the country and my feelings regarding the new, albeit temporary life situation.

5/19/2008- This is my longest journal entry of the year, and also probably my favourite. This is the detailed account of the sailing trip I was able to go on with my dad, his brother, and a few of their friends for a week in Antigua, which in spite of all of the other awesome experiences I had might just be the highlight of the year.

7/5/2008- Following a slew of introspective entries regarding my sexual frustrations is this one which actually describes some real events that happened during this period, including a canoe trip down the Delaware and the only time in my entire pizza-delivery career that I was invited into someone’s house for a beer.

7/28/2008- This is a dense entry that includes a revelation regarding my sexual peculiarity as well as a few little events such as my last visit to my grandparent’s house in Upstate New York and a drinking party that my little brother’s friends threw at our house while our parents were away. This also marks the first time that Hannover, where the year would eventually take me, is mentioned.

8/12/2008- My final entry from New Jersey provides a detailed account of the trip I took with my family to Niagara Falls.

Hannover

16.08.2008- This entry recalls what can only be called the biggest milestone of the year, my arrival in Hannover and the very beginning of the craziness that would become my struggle to get myself situated in this new life.

18.08.2008- My hilarious misadventure to Berlin over my lost passport that wasn’t really lost is recalled here, as well as a brief account at the beginning of my first meeting with my landlady in which she didn’t ask me for any money which would lead to some dramatic happenings a few months later.

19.08.2008- Not really a milestone but a great entry nonetheless, describing what happened when I realised that my lost passport hadn’t been lost and I’d gone through the entire Berlin fiasco for nothing.

25.08.2008- This is also nothing major, but it does recount the Method Training for Inlingua, the only actual “training” I would ever really have for teaching English before I started doing it.

30.08.2008- I suppose my first real adventurous walk through Hannover is somewhat of a milestone, as this entry about my walk to the Stadthalle, through the Eilenriede, and around a street festival indicates.

31.08.2008- My second adventure through Hannover was somewhat less enjoyable than the first though also a milestone, as my non-encounter with a beautiful girl on a bike during my walk around the Maschsee continues to stick in my mind as the quintessential example of a missed opportunity due to my being a pussy.

02.09.2008- This entry is another true milestone, recounting my first actual English lesson, although it was with a student who I’d only have four actual lessons with before she seemed to drop off the face of the earth.

12.09.2008- My first lesson with Mr. Dörge, thus far my longest-lasting student, is recalled here as well as the first time I got serious about looking for work outside of Inlingua.

15.09.2008- This is not a milestone at all but I just like this entry. Why is it so fucking hard to find a can-opener in Germany?

27.09.2008- Also not a milestone, but a very nice account of my first walk through the Großer Garten is in this entry.

07.10.2008- A true milestone is recounted here, as I was interviewed by Frank for a position at Planeo, the language school that basically saved my ass and provided me with enough work to earn enough financial security to remain in Hannover and not end the year by returning to New Jersey in defeat.

09.10.2008- A hell of a lot of events are squeezed into this one entry, the most significant being the first time I met Amanda during which I sat in on one of her classes, which was also my first taste of what it was like to conduct an actual business-English lesson.

13.10.2008- The first of two entries that could be said to constitute the “climax” of the year as the sudden reappearance of my landlady and demand for way more money than I had on what just happened to be the first day of a two-week torrent of substitution lessons for Planeo was a prelude to the high drama of the following day.

14.10.2008- This may just be the entry of the year, which recounts both my first actual business English lessons ever as well as the heart-pounding, mad-dash-to-the-finish-line struggle with the banks that could have plunged the entire year into disaster but ended up allowing me to squeak by and continue living in Hannover for at least another month.

17.10.2008- A detailed recollection of my first week of business English lessons is given here, which includes such milestones as my first lesson in Helmstedt as well as the first time I tried to actually make a friend, although nothing came of that particular try.

24.10.2008- The only actual milestone in this entry recalling my second week of business English lessons is my first meeting with Alan that occurred right at the end of the week, and our resolve to go to a Tuesday night Quiz Night thingy which didn’t actually happen until a couple of weeks later.

04.11.2008- Quite a big day in the history of my life, as well as the world. Not only was this the day that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, but it was also the day where I officially found out for certain that I’d be getting the money I needed to remain in Hannover indefinitely. Finally, the biggest milestone of all is the first real socialisation I had in Germany, at Quiz Night with Amanda and Alan.

05.11.2008- Barack Obama! Yes we can!

15.11.2008- Not a big deal, but the first time I had my class with the apprentices in Helmstedt.

19.11.2008- The deep reflective entry on the big 10-year anniversary of the most significant date in my life, the day I met Aimee.

24.11.2008- Also not a milestone at all, but my second walk through the Großer Garten on the morning after a snowfall was definitely an experience worth remembering.

30.11.2008- Here’s a good one. This entry is the account of Amanda’s crazy flat-warming party, which is quite possibly the most unbridled, rip-roaring fun I’ve had all year. Jesus loves vodka!

06.12.2008- This is another great entry describing the Planeo Christmas party, including the go-kart-racing madness, the brief appearance and disappearance of the wunderschöne Petra, and more drunken fun with Alan and Amanda.

15.12.2008- I decided to post my journal entries online.

Kemstone’s Online Journal

17.12.2008- This is the first entry I wrote after Corey decided to end our friendship after reading from the online journal archives, and it also mentions what would be the last time hanging out and drinking with Alan and Amanda of the year.

23.12.2008- My last entry from Hannover recounts my last lessons of the year, my decision to leave my apartment, and more thoughts regarding the ongoing (possibly forever) Corey situation.

24.12.2008- My first entry from what has become the Final Destination for the year, the house of my German relatives in Ichenheim, describes the night and the possibility of moving to Freiburg, an idea I’m currently leaning away from.

31.12.2008- The year comes to an end. Goodbye, 2008. What a long, strange trip it’s been.