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Posts Tagged ‘new years’

In the Short and Long Term

January 7th, 2013 No comments

It’s the first school day of 2013 and the opening ceremony just concluded. It was almost exactly the same as the closing ceremony for 2012, only this time the speech lambasting the third-graders to take their entrance exams seriously only lasted for a few minutes as the other two grades filed out of the gym. It was nice to be back among the students again, and sad to think I’ve only got three months left before I never see at least a third of them again.

Today was just for the opening ceremony and most of the students will be leaving at lunch time, so I won’t be doing any lessons until tomorrow. I can hardly wait to get back to that again, particularly because I know what I’ve got planned for this week is going to be fun.

The winter vacation was a nice change of pace, but two weeks of it was more than enough considering I had absolutely nothing going on. It was just me alone with myself every day except New Years’ which didn’t exactly go as planned. Stephen came to Togane and we were going to join Stacy and a bunch of other Josai students for karaoke but she called us early on and explained that unfortunately the rooms needed to be booked in advance and theirs was already at maximum capacity. Stephen and I spent most of the night at my place engaged in intensely personal conversation, getting to know each other much more than we did previously.

Shortly before midnight I suggested we go outside to start the year somewhere slightly more interesting than my apartment. The only walkable place even remotely interesting is Togane Lake (the place where they have the hanami) so that’s where we went. There was nobody else just hanging out by the lake but there was a nearby temple where many people were going for the traditional New Years’ worship. It’s interesting how the Japanese are so secular most of the year but the one big religious holiday is New Years’, but they go by the Western calendar. So we didn’t get any fireworks but we got plenty of ringing bells.

The next morning we went out for breakfast at the nearest place that served it, which happened to be the infamous Denny’s where the Yakuza shooting occurred last year. That’s the first and probably the last time I’ll ever eat there—not because I’m afraid of another gang shooting but because the food doesn’t appeal to me. Although I must admit that the French Toast was pretty decent.

After Stephen left and I called my grandparents I biked to the beach for the first time of the year and was at my favorite spot—the river mouth on the beach—when 2:00 p.m. came around and East Coast USA officially entered 2013.

The rest of my vacation was as uneventful as the beginning, and while I had plenty of enjoyable ways of passing the time by the end of it I was starting to slip back into a mildly depressed state, weary of my relatively worthless existence. Teaching Japanese middle-school students might not be quite as fulfilling as other ways I could be spending my life, but at least I’m appreciated by people I also appreciate.

One thing I’ve been considering that I think I confirmed today is that I can only spend one more year at this school before moving on. I love this school so I won’t be disappointed if Interac keeps me here another year (something I won’t know for sure until the year is pretty much over), but there’s a much wider world out there and I’d like to expand my horizons a little, maybe get a taste of what it’s like to teach elementary or high school. If they do keep me here another year I’ll formally request to be moved next year, then depending on how that goes I’ll decide from there whether to stay or move on to a new country.

Before Stephen came to Japan he spent one year teaching in Saudi Arabia because the Middle East is apparently where you can make the most money teaching English. It makes perfect sense, as Japan is such a highly desirable location they can get away with paying peanuts, but not many Westerners are willing to live in Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia doesn’t appeal to me, but I know someone who taught in Egypt and that strikes me as perhaps the most interesting of the Muslim countries to live in as well as relatively safe and modern. Plus from there I could do some travelling to Israel or deeper Africa, places I’ve always wanted to see as well. This is far from something I’ve made up my mind about but now it’s floating out there as a possibility for my next and quite possibly last destination for overseas English teaching. I think after one more country I’ll be ready to settle down in America or some English-speaking country for a long-term career teaching something other than English as a foreign language to students I can actually communicate with. It would be worth it to spend a year or two in a well-paying country first to have a decent financial position with which to plant my feet somewhere.

So that’s where things stand at the beginning of 2013. I don’t expect it to be the most exciting or interesting year of my life, but I fully expect to enjoy it.

Remembering 2012

December 31st, 2012 No comments

The first week of my winter vacation has been pleasantly boring. After that first day of going to the movies in Soga, I haven’t done anything noteworthy. I’ve just been hanging around, studying, jogging, riding my bike, playing Mario, and watching lots of football and political shows. I expect tonight will be somewhat more memorable, as Stephen is coming to Togane and we’ll be going to some sort of party with Josai students whom I may or may not have met on other random occasions. It won’t be as wild as last year, but it should be fun.

When I look back on 2012 when I’m older, I’ll probably mostly remember it as the year of my involuntary two-month hiatus from my teaching career, stuck in America delivering pizza due to an expired visa. That didn’t turn out to be terribly consequential, and I’ll no doubt look back on it in a much rosier light than it felt to me while it was happening. It really wasn’t so bad after all. I got to spend more time with my family and hang out with Mike in Brooklyn a few more times, and delivering pizza is not actually the least enjoyable job in the world (that’s a toss-up between McDonald’s cashier and hotel front-desk agent).

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But there was a lot more to 2012 than that. The year began with a pretty great night of clubbing in Tokyo with Trey, Stephen, Jack, Lily, and a bunch of other people. I partied with Trey a few more times in the first half of the year and we developed a pretty decent friendship before he left to go to Stanford in the summer, but we’re still in touch.

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I met Kim and Enam on the day of my first hanami, the cherry-blossom festival at Togane Lake which turned out to be a fantastic day.

I said goodbye to my first group of graduating students in March and began my first full school-year the day after the hanami in April.

 

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Easily one of the highlights of the year was the sailing trip in the Virgin Islands with my dad and his brothers and friends. With the exception of my blackout-drunk first night and the ensuing day-long hangover, I could hardly have hoped for a better trip.

 

 

I experienced my first Sports Day in Japan, which due to the infectious excitement of the students turned out to be one of the best days of the year, capped off with one of the most enjoyable enkais with my colleagues.

This was the year I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at night with Luke, Marc, and Mike, an experience I’ll never forget.

Brooklyn-Bridge

And while my vacation in America was still a vacation, I got to spend a week in Santa Barbara with Krissi which included three nights of camping in the mountains.

After the two-month hiatus, my triumphant return to school turned out to be a priceless experience as well, as I was flabbergasted by how delighted so many of the students were to have me back.

My return-to-Togane party, a night of dinner and karaoke a few weeks later, and Ben’s Christmas Party a few weeks ago were the highlights of the year’s end, and hopefully whatever party I end up at tonight will belong on that list as well.

Overall, 2012 was a year of split lives, with one foot in the West and the past, and one foot in the East and the future. I relived some old experiences like sailing and delivering pizza and lived the first of many new experiences in my life as a teacher in Japan. Of all the lives I’ve lived so far, I consider this the best. So at the end of 2012, in spite of all the pitfalls and setbacks, I can only consider it a success.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , , ,

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

January 21st, 2012 No comments

Mt. Fuji is much smaller than most people think.

This was the first normal week of school since the winter break, and it was a busy one. I found out last Friday to my great disappointment that this week my only teaching task would be to prompt the students to write about their winter vacation. That was the lesson for the first, second, and third-graders, so I’d have to do the same thing 18 times. My instruction was to talk about my winter vacation, then have the students write about theirs. That’s it. A less fun class-period could not be imagined.

Naturally, I’d have to do something to make it bearable, so I came up with a plan. The actual story of my actual winter vacation, while interesting enough to me to write pages and pages about in a journal, would be extremely dull when condensed to middle-school language-lesson-form, so I decided to toss in some fiction. And since naturally any presentation requires pictures, I’d need to somehow depict these fictional scenes from my imaginary winter vacation in visual form.

So on Sunday I downloaded a trial-run of Photoshop and got to work on my project. I took a bunch of pictures of myself with the timer function of my camera, often having to do it at least a dozen times before I got it right, then proceeded to Photoshop myself into images I found online. This was no easy task, as I’ve never used Photoshop before and found it to be a much less intuitive program than I’d assumed. I had to actually read help files and sort through online tutorial videos just to figure out how to properly cut, resize, and paste images from one picture onto another. And even once I had it figured out, there was a great deal of trial and error and the touching-up of minute details just to get something decent. The whole process took between four and five hours (with a lunch break included) but in the end I finally had something I was satisfied with.

Some might consider this a useless endeavor, too much time spent on something completely unnecessary. The JTEs were only expecting me to talk about my winter vacation, and I could have easily just gone up there, read a short paragraph, and spent the next 45 minutes walking around correcting students who typically finish these writing prompts in less than 20. But I have a reputation to maintain, damn it, and when Kairu-sensei comes to class the students are expecting something fun to happen and fun is what they were going to get.

The hours spent on the task turned out to be completely worth it. As I went about the story of my winter vacation and brought the pictures around the class to give each student a closer look, it was delightful to watch all their eager faces (nearly all of them anyway) transform into a smile and outright laughter from most. Here are the pictures along with what I basically said about each of them. I kept it very simple for the first-graders and threw in more details with the second- and third-graders.

I had a lot of fun on my winter vacation.

On Christmas, I helped Santa Claus deliver presents to boys and girls around the world. It was very exciting.

Me and my good friend Santa. Me and Santa up close.

After Christmas, I took a Shinkansen to Kyoto and saw many things, like the Golden Temple.

You recognize this one.In Kyoto I met friends and we went sight-seeing.

You recognize this one too.

When I came back from Kyoto I stopped at Mount Fuji, and I climbed up Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is very small—I was surprised.

Close-up of the full image above. The original photo, the hardest to get right.

On New Years’ Eve I went to a big party in Tokyo. There was a count-down, we all said “Happy New Year!” and danced all night long.

The least terrible photo I could find from the night.

But I had to get up very early in the morning, because Tokyo was under attack by a giant robot. I had to defend Tokyo from the robot.

[These pictures are from the anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” which Mike from Interac recommended I watch because it is supposedly very philosophical. I’m 10 out of 26 episodes into it and it still hasn’t gotten philosophical but I’m surprised to find myself enjoying it anyway. It’s an old show so I didn’t know how many students would recognize it, but almost all of them did and this image went over extremely well.]

Angel attack! I will defeat it.

It was very scary, but I defeated the robot. I got to visit Prime Minister Noda and he said, “Thank you, Kairu-san, for saving Tokyo.” [This image got the biggest laugh, as apparently the photo of Obama’s handshake with Noda upon which I superimposed my face is now a famous picture in Japan.]

Why are my hands so dark?

After all that I was very tired, so I stayed home and played video games. [While the students were amused to recognize the game I was pretending to play as Mario Kart, none of them seemed to think it silly that I was wearing a suit at home.]

No photoshopping necessary here.

The students took notes as I made the speech, which they had plenty of time to do as I walked around the room showing the pictures. When I was done I split them into teams and played the same game I had them play for my introduction lesson, where they get a point for everything they remember about my speech. “Kyoto” would be a point, “Noda” would be a point, and so on. Once they started struggling to come up with more things, I’d begin counting down from 5 and stop them if I got to 0 but reset the count-down if they shouted another word in the mean-time. I was extremely generous, even giving them points for repeating words I said like “exciting” or “very small” (regarding Mt. Fuji). The scores ranged anywhere from 9 points to 36. Teams build on each others’ answers so each team usually gets a few more than the previous team, usually in the midst of the count-down which keeps things exciting for everyone. The final team to go almost always wins, but everyone has fun anyway.

Then there’s the major let-down as the game ends and they all have to put their desk back in place and set about the task of writing about their own winter vacation. I walk around and gently correct the students as they do this, and learn a bit about Japanese New Years’ traditions in the process.

They usually go to a shrine or a temple and ring the bells and pray. They eat “New Year dishes” which include mochi, apparently some kind of rice-cake. They send New Years’ cards to just about everybody they know (it’s by far the busiest time of year for the Japanese post office). And their families give them o-toshidama, which literally means “year coins” but nowadays is always paper bills, anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 yen. So Japanese kids always start the year off with a boat-load of cash. I’m a little jealous, but I can’t complain too much because I’m pretty sure we get more for Christmas.

Many third-graders wrote that when they went to temple on New Years’ Day they prayed to pass the high school entrance exams, which were this week from Tuesday to Thursday (during which the third-grade classes were half-empty). It’s interesting that in Japan, not only is high-school not mandatory, but you have to actually pass an entrance exam to get in. And while I would think such exams would be a piece of cake because I heard that something like 90% of Japanese kids go to high school, it would appear that they’re kind of a big deal because so many kids wrote that they spent their entire winter vacation studying for them, not to mention praying to pass (though I’m not sure whom their praying to, and I’m not sure they know either).

Mrs. S- used her entire third-grade class-periods on Monday to help them prepare for the English section, so she postponed the winter vacation lesson until this upcoming Monday. After going through it sixteen times I’m pretty sick of it by now but I’ve got to do it two more times. But it could be worse—I could have just followed the JTEs’ instructions exactly.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

2012 Begins in Tokyo

January 1st, 2012 No comments

Roppongi, Tokyo

A wild New Years’ Eve party was hoped for and a wild New Years’ Eve party was delivered. While we didn’t end up going Ageha—the place with the acrobats—because admission was too expensive, we did end up at a club that turned out to be quite good. There’s really no need to go into much detail about the night. It was just a plain and simple good time filled with friends, drinking, and dancing, as the pictures will show.

Pre-game The night began with a small “pre-game” party at Trey’s apartment with Trey’s friends Victor and Andre, Andre’s fiancé, and Cinty, the Hungarian girl. After getting warmed up there for about an hour and a half, we ventured out and took the bus into Tokyo. Andre and his fiancé are not drinkers so they opted not to come with us.

When we got to Tokyo we had to navigate through the subway system to get to where we were going, a place called Muse in the area known as Roppongi. Trey was in charge of leading the way, and while he made a few Cinty, Trey, Victormistakes he sternly told us “not to question the leader”. I joked that this is also his policy when it comes to Obama. Trey was happy to take on the role of Obama for the night.

While on our way to the club we ran into a group of four Josai students, one of whom I recognized as Ollie, the guy I met at the Family Music Festival at Sanmunobori park a couple months ago. We were both amazed at the coincidence of bumping into each other again, and for a moment it seemed that he and his friends would be joining our group for the night. But while Trey and the others stopped into McDonald’s to fill their stomachs before the night of heavy drinking (I’d eaten earlier so I only got water), they went off in search of an ATM and we never saw them again.

When we got to the club it was just after 11:00 and the place looked virtually empty. Our first impression was that we’d made a terrible mistake and this place totally sucked. Trey kept turning to me and saying “don’t look at me like that!” as the parallel to Obama was clear to both of us. He had promised so much and raised my expectations so high, and now it appeared as though he’d failed to deliver.

But the place was filling up incredibly quickly, and more people we know were on the way. After ordering some Jack and coke with our first drink-ticket (entry was 4000 yen for men and 2000 for women, but everyone got two drink-tickets) we headed to the dance floor and decided to just make the best of the situation. We almost decided to leave and go to Ageha and screw the price, but we knew it was too late and if we left now we’d probably be standing in a line outside during the count-down.

Noise-makers To my pleasant surprise, Jack, Lily, and the French guys whom I’d told to meet us there arrived just in time for midnight, with ten minutes to spare. One of the workers at the club came around and handed a shot and a noise-making thingy to everyone in the club in preparation for the count-down.

The DJ stopped the music with just a minute to spare, and the whole place—now completely jam-packed—erupted with a count-down from juu to ichi, and with a loud cheer and the sound of popping noisemakers 2011 officially came to an end and 2012 got started.

The scene at midnight.

There were three floors to this place altogether and after the midnight count-down we decided to head downstairs to the lowest floor where we’d remain for the rest of the night. There we did more drinking and dancing until some of us found our way to a nice little seating-area in the back where we’d sit and chat whenever we were tired of dancing.

I bumped into Stephen at one of the bars about fifteen minutes after midnight, knowing he’d intended to come but sad that he hadn’t been there for midnight. So with him, Jack and the French crowd, Trey, Victor and Cinty, and a few other ALTs and Josai students I’d never met before, we were a pretty decent crowd. Ben couldn’t be there because he’s back in the states now and I’m not sure where Fred is, but other than that it was about as good a crowd as I could have asked for. We didn’t get to see acrobats or the sunrise over Tokyo bay, but the people are much more important than the place.

Dance... ...dance... ...whoah that looks crazy... ...dance!

Even before midnight started, Trey and Victor were trying to get me to join them in their hunt for Japanese girls to work game on, but I was not in that state of mind at all. I felt bad because Victor kept asking me to come and help back him up, but at that point all I wanted to do was just relax and enjoy myself and not get my mind all jammed up with thoughts of my perpetual sexual inadequacy.

But later in the night, one of the guys I’d just met—a guy from Finland named Morten—told me to go up to two Japanese girls who were sitting at a nearby table and give them a message in Japanese for him. I had no reservations at that point so I just went up and said “Sumimasen, my friend wanted me to tell you…um…” I forgot the Japanese phrase so I quickly ran back over to him and got it again, then attempted to say it for the girls who found the whole thing quite amusing and helped me get the pronunciation right. Suddenly I’m engaged in a chat with these girls and I ask to sit down and they gladly let me. Morten comes over and talks in Japanese with the girl on the left who doesn’t speak good English, and I have a nice conversation with the girl on the right whose English is good enough for small-talk. She seems genuinely interested in me and the whole thing is very encouraging, but while she was definitely attractive I just felt no desire for her and didn’t want to go too far down a path that I had no intention of going all the way down, so I gave up my seat and another guy moved in and picked up where I left off. I felt slightly annoyed with myself for giving up what was probably my first real chance of picking up a girl in Japan (or any country for that matter) but I’m okay with the fact that I didn’t. I’m not the kind of guy who goes for something just because it appears doable.

At another point I found myself wandering around in search of the elusive bathroom, and I couldn’t find it on the ground floor so I ended up using the one upstairs on the second floor. I stopped at the second-floor bar on my way back down to get some water and a beer, and was just completely dumbstruck by the bartendress who got me my drink. She was easily, hands-down, the cutest person to ever serve me a drink and I could not help but stick around and admire her gorgeous face for awhile. Not only was she as beautiful as they come, but she was a fantastic bartendress, always completely aware of everyone at her bar and getting everyone served as rapidly as possible. That gorgeous smile was obviously a mask worn as part of her job but she wore it skillfully. It never once left her face the entire time she was working. We exchanged glances a few times and eventually I did start talking to her, complimenting her on her bartending skills, but she just told me in Japanese that she doesn’t understand English. I knew it was a hopeless cause anyway. That girl must get hit on at least eight hundred times a night. I was just one more schmoe in a million.

Luckily the whole women-aspect of things was not dominating my mind the whole night. I was able to just sit downstairs and enjoy the company of the others for most of the time, though of course much of the conversation had to do with women. But there was plenty of fun to be had too, most memorably with a Japanese guy who’d wandered onto our couch and gone to sleep while none of us had been sitting there. We all got plenty of good pictures from that situation, though I suppose it makes us assholes.

"This is my friend. It's his birthday." Chillin with our Japanese pal.

Not a peep.

At about 5:00 the club workers were very efficient in getting everyone out the door, and soon enough we were back out in the freezing cold Tokyo streets, which were as jam-packed and Burger may not be actual size. full of people at 5:00 in the morning as Shibuya was at 5:00 in the evening. By now everyone was hungry again and the McDonald’s was right there, so in we went and sadly McDonald’s became my first meal of 2012. But it was also my first time eating at McDonald’s in Japan and it was shockingly good, both the taste and the quality of my fish-sandwich and chicken tenders far superior to how I remember them tasting in America and even in Germany. Of course being drunk probably helped with that.

Jack and Lily and those guys had hostel reservations for the night, and I think Stephen did too, so the four of us who’d come from Togane together Heading home. said goodbye to them at the McDonald’s and we began the long and frustrating journey home. Because the busses don’t start until 8:00 and it was just before 7:00 when we got back to Tokyo station, we knew we’d get back sooner if we took the train. We all trusted Trey to lead the way again, and again he managed to get us there with just a few minor errors.

We had to transfer three times but due to mistakes we ended up changing trains about 4 or 5 times, but that’s to be expected when you’re attempting to navigate the Japanese railway system after 12 straight hours of drinking. But I’d been doing a pretty good job of pacing myself the whole time and drinking lots of water, so I had no sign of an encroaching hangover and just felt more exhausted than anything. I was extremely glad when I finally got back to my apartment at 9:00 and curled up in bed, though I was only able to sleep until 12:00. At least that meant I was able to call home before 2012 began in America, and at 2:00 p.m. here I watched the ball drop in Times Square on an online livestream.

So that was New Years’ Eve 2011-12. It was vastly different from the Marxist-Leninist-German-Turkish New Years’ Eve party of 2010-11, but both were enjoyable in their own way. As I keep writing, 2011 was a hell of a year, possibly the best of my life, and while I did get worried for a moment it did end up going out with an appropriate bang. I don’t imagine it’s possible for 2012 to top 2011, but you never know what could happen…

A Marxist-Leninist-German-Turkish New Year

January 1st, 2011 No comments

If all goes as planned, 2011 should be one of the most interesting years of my life, so I wanted it to start with a unique and worthwhile experience. Last night’s New Years’ Eve party with Lena’s communist friends was everything I could have hoped for and more.

I haven’t been feeling all that healthy this week—probably a combination of the weather, lack of exercise, and much more alcohol consumption than usual—so I hardly felt like going out last night, but I knew after a few drinks I’d barely feel it. The night started shortly after 6, when I went to meet Oliver at the train station and ride the tram to the party’s location, the same bar/restaurant from Lena’s birthday party where I went dressed as Jesus.

Upon entering, I discovered that this was not just a party for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Hannover, but a joint celebration between the German communists and another organization of Turkish communists. It was the first and only completely multi-cultural gathering of Germans and Turks I’ve ever been to, with the Turks just slightly outnumbering the Germans. Considering how most of the time Germans and Turks keep to their own cultural groups and often speak ill of each other, it was quite nice to see a large group of them deliberately intermingling for the spirit of “Internationale Solidarität”.

Naturally, there were plenty of gorgeous women and girls there. Middle-Eastern being my favorite ethnicity with regard to women, this was naturally to serve as one of my main focuses of the night. At first it was hard, as during the period of time between finishing dinner and getting enough of an alcohol buzz going, I felt overwhelmed by unquenchable desire and felt as though my isolation-demon was roaring back to life. Was I just going to stare at them all night and not talk to any of them, lamenting the insurmountable gap between myself and any chance of getting to know them more personally? Would the new year begin with a slide back towards the past, or would my newfound confidence win out?

There were a few speeches made throughout the night at which the Germans would speak in German and the Turks would translate or vice-versa, and the first of these was given by Anka, the beautiful German girl from the protest back in the summer. She was looking absolutely stunning this evening, but there was nothing I could do about that because her boyfriend was also there. Translating for Anka was an even more beautiful Turkish girl, whose name I later found out was Merve (pronounced mare-dva).

After dinner I just happened to be sitting right next to Merve, but that’s when my demon was at it’s strongest so I didn’t take the initiative to say anything to her. But fortune was to smile upon me, as the man sitting across from her—possibly her father—had overheard me speaking English with Oliver and Lena and asked me where I was from. I said I was from America and Merve said, “You came all the way from America for this party?” to which I jokingly replied, “yes, I’m a huge fan of the MLPD.” The guy didn’t speak English so I switched to German to answer his question to me: “Is there a socialist party in America?” I explained that there is but it’s very small and nobody who is a part of it admits in public because in America socialism is considered extremely evil (ganz böse).

The conversation fizzled out from there, and I continued talking to Oliver and Lena and the German guy sitting near us. We’d started with beer but Oliver bought a couple of bottles of wine which I tried to drink quickly enough to develop a stronger buzz because people were dancing and I needed to loosen up a bit if I was going to join them. They were playing Turkish music and most of the Turks were gathered in a circle dancing Turkish-style. Before I could develop a buzz, however, the leader of the Turkish communist group came up to me and invited me to join them. Anka had pointed me out earlier as I was the only one there from America, so I guess he wanted me to join to add an extra bit of Internationale Solidarität (which is as fun to say as it is to write).

So the Turks dance by standing in a circle and joining hands (or just the pinky), moving around by taking three steps in and three steps out. I found myself joined at the pinky on both sides by two adorable Turkish girls, an experience that even in my awkwardness I had to make sure to appreciate. My dancing was definitely fucked up, as instead of three-steps in and three-steps out I would take four little steps in, five smaller steps out, two big steps in, a couple of steps out, stand still for a moment to even out the space in front of me, and so on.

When the Turkish music ended most of us went back to our tables and I drank a little more, finally getting to where I wanted to be. I found myself alone but sitting next to Merve, and I decided this was as good a time as any to bash the demon over the head to keep it from bothering me for the rest of the night.

“So you speak English?” I turn to her and say. Yes, she has to learn it for school. She’s now in her second year at the university, studying psychology. She says that English is currently her most important subject, and I compliment her on speaking it well. She asks me the basics about myself and I tell her about teaching English and the possibility of moving to Japan, and get the sense that she’s not interested in me so I don’t keep the conversation going very long once we reach an awkward pause. It’s enough that I summoned the nerve to speak to her.

And now I’m feeling quite good and I’m ready to get up and dance some more. Now they’re playing Western music, and I’m a bit disappointed that only Germans are dancing. A bunch of us white people got up to join the Turks for their music but apparently none of them want to come and join us for ours. (Later on more of them would dance to white music too).

Oliver and I go out for a cigarette and we agree that when we go back in it’s time for something stronger. We order a round of a cocktail that I think is called “caperinia” which basically tastes like Sprite. That goes down nicely, and the night starts to get a bit blurrier but not by much.

There’s a long period of time when we’re all back at our tables, the music has stopped, and a couple more speeches are given. They send the kids away to go for a walk during this serious portion of the evening (apparently they’ve decided to forego the communist indoctrination of the youth for now), but a couple of little boys remain and run around chasing each other the whole time.

Pamphlets are distributed with song lyrics—both Turkish and German of course—and we sing a few communist anthems together (or at least one ethnic group at a time). I’m just admiring Anka the whole time. Finally a Turkish woman with a lovely voice gets up to sing a couple of very sad songs, one in German and one in Turkish, but the only lyrics I can really make out are “dead children”. The little boys running around suck a bit of the emotion out of it, but it is really nice.

When we’re approaching midnight I go outside with Oliver for the last cigarette of 2010, and when we go back inside I see that just about everyone is going to remain inside for the countdown. But I think “fuck that” and go outside where a bunch of kids are already out there playing with fireworks.

I greet the boys and girls with cell-phone in hand, announcing that there’s one minute left in the year. When my clock strikes midnight the alarm goes off, and we all shout “Happy New Year” and watch as the fireworks erupt all around us in the distance. This place is kind of secluded in a small patch of woods outside the main part of the city, but fireworks are still visible over the treetops in every direction. The sound of fire-engines roaring is ceaseless. This is what I’m talking about—a real German new year. I’ve got nothing against Ichenheim but nothing beats New Years’ in a city. It sounds like a warzone.

So for the next half hour or so I help the kids play with their fireworks and sparklers as some of the adults come out to set off rockets as well. My cigarette lighter is in high demand, so my smoking has come in handy.

When we go back inside there’s a little game of bingo that every team pays €5 to play with the possibility of winning much more, but my team loses so my euro went to the communists.

I’ve now drank beer, wine, caperinia and a couple glasses of Sekt for midnight, and I’m about ready to start the Revolution. Oliver is totally down, but the other people we grab and ask don’t seem to think now is a good time. I insist that now is the perfect time—nobody would suspect it. Just imagine this group of drunken Germans and Turks raiding the City Hall and declaring it the official headquarters of the new International Communist Party. First we take the Rathaus, then we take Hannover, then we take Germany, and finally the world. Simple.

But nobody takes the idea seriously so I suppose the Revolution will have to wait. They insist that tonight is for coming together and sharing each others’ cultures. So in that spirit, Oliver and I invite a guy to sit with us whom Anka also pointed out before because he’s from Iran. He came to Germany twenty years ago but he’s still technically Iranian. I think his name was Iraj. We have a nice discussion with Iraj, who is the first person to ask me directly if I’m a Marxist. (Usually when someone asks you if you’re a Marxist you’re expected to deny it and say that’s crazy, but this was quite the opposite circumstance). I explained that I like the communist philosophy but I don’t think it works in the real world. Iraj insists that it does work—that it’s working right now. That if enough of us come together and the workers of the world unite, we can really achieve global equality.

To demonstrate his passion for multi-culturalism, he invites us to the dance floor where he will demonstrate his mixture of dance-styles from all over the world. He turns out to be a pretty good dancer, and I don’t feel awkward at all when he takes my hands and shows me the basics of two-person dancing, something I haven’t done in years. So now I’m really in the spirit, and I start grabbing others on the dance floor to dance around with, including the lovely Anka and the beautiful Merve, who is laughing and smiling the whole time.

Towards the end of the night they play a couple more Turkish songs, and I once again find myself in a circle, hands enmeshed on both sides by lovely young Turkish girls with whom I manage to exchange a few smiles. For the last song, everyone is invited to come dance and now there’s no room to hold hands so we all lock shoulders. When it’s over, Anka says a few words to close out the night and we begin the long process of saying goodbye to everyone.

As Merve is getting ready to leave I summon one last bit of will and approach her again, this time offering her my e-mail address if she ever needs any help with English. I explain that I’d be happy to help her with writing papers or whatever free of charge, and she politely accepts my offer. I get the feeling that she is just being polite and I’ll never hear from her again, but I type my e-mail address into her phone anyway. She gives me a warm hug goodbye with a “nice to meet you” and “happy new year” and that’s the last I see of her.

On the way out, we say goodbye to Anka, and I can’t resist the urge to give her a big hug and warm farewell under the pretense that I might never see her again. In German I wish her luck with the Revolution, and that’s the last I see of her.

Now there are four of us—myself, Oliver, Lena, and a German guy named Kay (along with his dog)—walking back towards our respective locations for where we intend to crash. Oliver and Lena will sleep at Amanda’s, and Lena has offered to let Kay and the dog crash there as well. Of course we look for a pub for one last drink first, but the only open pub we cross is the Böse Wolf and they’re not letting anybody new in because they’re trying to get people to leave now.

Since my flat is sorta kinda on the way back to Amanda’s we all wind up coming back to my place. Kay and I drink from my stash of beers, and Oliver and Lena make use of my rarely-used wine-glasses to drink another half of a bottle of wine. We stay up talking and laughing and listening to music until after 6 a.m. when Kay goes to catch a train home. Oliver and Lena stay a little while longer and I offer to let them sleep in my bed while I take the couch, but Oliver decides they should go to Amanda’s. So I wish them a very warm goodbye, then eat some bread and aspirin and chug lots of water before finally crashing myself, beating the sunrise by probably less than a half-hour.

Having mixed every type of alcohol known to man and consumed a great deal of it, I was expecting the worst kind of hangover today but it’s actually not all that bad. Certainly my high spirits from having such a fantastically awesome New Years’ Eve helps a lot. That was definitely one of the best New Years’ Eve parties I’ve ever been to. In fact, it was easily one of the best parties I’ve ever been to period. Between the intercultural mingling, spending time with Oliver and Lena, the spirit of Internationale Solidarität, and my confidence around the beautiful women, it was definitely the perfect way to begin the year.