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Japanese Christmas Time

December 13th, 2012 No comments

It certainly doesn’t feel like Christmas time. The weather is cold, but not freezing. Most trees have lost their leaves but many are still in the process of losing them and plenty don’t seem to lose them at all. As for snow, we got about 2 cm all last year combined so I don’t expect much of that either. You only really notice that it’s Christmas when you go shopping, as a few stores have Christmas sections (like the dollar stores) and they’ve got Christmas music playing all over the place, including supermarkets. Maybe some Japanese scientists discovered that Christmas music increases consumerism by some factor. Either way, as soon as you walk outside it just feels like Fall again.

At least among my fellow foreigners there is some minor observation of the holiday season. There were two Christmas parties this past Saturday, a pot-luck dinner at Kim’s apartment and then a relatively big Christmas-bash at Ben’s place just like last year. There was just a small gathering of people at Kim’s—her boyfriend Enam and the same people who came to my party celebrating my return to Japan: Hiroshi, Will, and his Japanese girlfriend. There was also a guy named Ravi whom I only met once before on our beach picnic last Spring. We had a smorgasbord of food from East and West, everything from a sushi platter to Kentucky Fried Chicken. Also some homemade tuna-salad. Nothing traditionally Christmasy, but we did say “Merry Christmas” when we toasted our drinks.

Once we finished dinner we all migrated over to Ben’s party, which was almost identical to last year except that Trey was noticeably absent and I hadn’t brought a flaky Chinese girl who went home with another guy. That guy—Dan—was there, and we had some very pleasant conversation. He used to work with K-sensei, and now he works with S-sensei whom I worked with last year. He agreed with me that she’s a nice person but very difficult to work with.

I hadn’t seen Ben in almost half a year so it was nice to get to hang out with him again for a little. I might not see him again for a few more months , but I guess that’s just how he is. I also got to see a bunch of other people I haven’t seen in equally as long, including a really nice guy and fellow fantasy-nerd Zach, who has the same plan as I do of doing absolutely nothing during the holiday break. But we made tentative plans to at least head into Tokyo one of those days.

I also met a few new people. Ben plays soccer so he knows a bunch of Japanese people so it was great to have a few native Japanese there as well. At one point I found myself having a nice conversation about the difference between English and Japanese culture when it comes to religion with an attractive Japanese girl who spoke great English. It wasn’t until I’d stepped away to use the bathroom and came back to find her talking to another guy that I realized that might have been some kind of an opportunity. I went outside for a smoke and casually mentioned it to Enam, who very forcefully told me to go back and touch her gently on the back and say we didn’t finish our conversation. I was feeling loose enough and confident enough to try that, but I didn’t want to interrupt her talking with the other guy. Enam came in and without my asking just went up to that guy and struck up a conversation with him, at which point I went ahead and did the “we didn’t finish our conversation” move on the girl. She was polite enough about it, but I quickly realized that we probably actually did finish our conversation because it suddenly felt awkward. I was thinking about what an overwhelming labyrinth of interaction exists between casual-conversation-at-a-party and the goal of serious-romantic-relationship and I lack both the experience necessary to navigate it and the motivation to try.

I don’t remember how our conversation ended but I did get a Facebook friend request from a Japanese girl the next day. There was no picture on her profile so I can’t be sure it was her, but I don’t think I spoke to any other Japanese girls at the party for a long enough time to warrant a friend request. In any case, the next event I host or attend, the option of inviting her exists.

Unlike at most social events involving drinking, I paced myself very well this time and consumed plenty of water throughout. I never crossed the line between buzzed and drunk, and I left when the party was winding down at midnight rather than the wee hours of the morning. Instead of what I’ve come to regard as an obligatory hangover after social events, the next day I felt relatively decent. I even felt up to go jogging in the afternoon.

There are no more Christmas parties as far as I know, so that was probably the only Christmas celebrating I’ll be doing all year. I’m not bothered by it though—I’ve had crappy Christmases before, and none will ever be as crappy as the one I spent working at the front desk of the Doubletree in Santa Barbara.

As for school, I wasn’t even asked to do a Christmas lesson this year, but in anticipation of one I’d bought a bunch of Christmas pencils and stickers back in America before my flight back. I was planning to give them as prizes for winning the Christmas game, but there is no Christmas game and the games I’m doing these last two weeks are mostly of one half of the class against the other, which means I don’t have enough to give to all the winners. So I came up with the idea of asking six Christmas questions at the beginning of each lesson and letting the students who answer them take a gift.

I hold up a flashcard for each question, starting with a house decorated in Christmas lights and I ask “When is Christmas?” Usually no hands go up at first but someone always tries eventually, and most of the time they say “December 24”. I figure Christmas Eve counts as Christmas too so I accept that answer. The next ones are very easy, as I have a picture of a Christmas tree and a picture of Santa Claus and I ask “what’s this?” and “who’s this?” and a dozen hands go up. I also ask what we say on January 1st (“happy new year”) which one person always gets, and the last thing I do is hold up a picture of myself as a kid on Christmas morning (which my Mom sent last year for the Christmas lesson) and ask “Who’s this?” Some students remember the picture from last year, but in some classes it takes awhile before they guess it’s me, but when they do everyone usually gets a kick out of the picture.

But the most interesting thing is when I hold up a picture of a church and ask “What’s this?” If you did that in most classrooms in the world, everyone would know right away, but not in Japan. A few know the word in Japanese but not English. There’s usually at least one student who knows the word “church” but sometimes they say “chapel” (which I accept) and there was one class in which nobody knew at all.

So that’s Christmas to the Japanese. Everyone knows about Christmas trees and Santa Claus and presents, but that’s as far as it goes. I imagine that most of the students are probably confused that a picture of a church is even included in the Christmas questions at all. “What the heck does religion have to do with Christmas?” they’re probably thinking.

But for whatever reason, there is one other thing that Christmas means to both Western and Japanese students: lots of time off. One more week, then it’s the start of what will probably be my least-needed vacation of all time.

Games People Play

June 27th, 2012 No comments

Last night Trey invited me to his place to hang out again, and I came just expecting another night of documentary viewing and intense political debate. When he informed me that a couple of girls might be coming over later my first reaction was annoyance. I didn’t particularly feel like dealing with my female issues (such as they are these days) at the time, but I guess it’s been a long enough time since the last time (at the club in Tokyo) that I’m probably due for another round of flirtation-practice.

The girls didn’t show up for a couple of hours, and I had a very nice time with Trey debating politics and even discussing some deeper philosophical questions about the nature of the universe, and we were just sitting down to dinner when the two of them arrived. A couple of Josai students, naturally, and since I can’t really accurately record this experience without saying some less-than-flattering things about them I’ll keep their identities extra-secret by referring to them only as L- and K- and not even mentioning where they’re from except to say one of the colder parts of Europe.

I was immediately relieved that neither of them were particularly stunning, and as they sat down and started talking to us I became further relieved that their personalities weren’t all that magnetic either. They were both pretty sharp, and K- seemed nice enough, but L- was very aggressive and combative the whole time, acting as though the two of them were doing Trey a huge favor by gracing us with their presence and he wasn’t doing a good enough job making it worth their while.

When we finished our dinner she wondered out loud why it had taken him so long to offer them drinks, and when he told them what liquor he had it didn’t appeal to them so we all had to go out and walk to the 7-11. When they got to the liquor section she asked him, “What can we buy?” and he said, “Whatever you have enough money for.” She didn’t say it out loud until later, but apparently her question had been a cue for him to offer to buy them drinks. In Trey’s defense I said it’s American culture for the women to have equal power and to buy their own drinks, but apparently not where they’re from. He did apologize for his oversight, but she actually said overtly that when their drinks were finished they needed a reason to stay. Trey is not the kind of person to bow down to a woman so he just said, “Well, I would love for you to continue keeping us company but I’m not going back to 7-11 so I guess you can leave.” Apparently that’s the whole “play it like you don’t care” method and it worked because they stayed anyway.

While the four of us were drinking together we played a game called “Never Have I Ever” which is apparently an extremely common drinking game all over the world but which I’ve only seen on TV. Basically, you say something you’ve never done, and if another person in the room has done that thing they have to drink. It’s usually something sexual and embarrassing like, “I’ve never had a threesome” so you get to find out who has and who hasn’t. Since the goal is to get the others to drink, men can easily say things like, “I’ve never had a penis in my mouth” and then wait for the girls to go ahead and take their sip.

Of course one of the first things K- said was, “I’ve never had sex with a girl” so Trey immediately took a sip and I hesitated for a moment to make the mental calculation of whether or not to be honest. Of course they were all staring at me and asking me point-blank if I was a virgin, so I just brushed it off like I wasn’t sure about the rules yet (“were you supposed to drink when you have done the thing or haven’t”?) and I took a sip. It was enough to satisfy the girls but I think Trey knew what was up. I’ve never actually told him that fact about myself before, but now he knows or at least suspects.

At least that little lie made the game more interesting in my case, as I could have easily had them all drinking all night long by saying things like, “I’ve never touched another person’s private parts” or “I’ve never had a relationship that’s lasted more than a month” but these are intimate things I have no desire to reveal to a couple of girls I just met and who’ve done nothing to earn my trust or respect. But aside from that first time, I at least remained honest in my lack-of-drinking for all the rest of the questions, including “I’ve never cheated on a boyfriend/girlfriend” and “I’ve never given oral sex to a girl.” The girls said they respected that I hadn’t done either of those things, but if I’d been honest about the virgin question they’d have no doubt seen it differently.

So that was an interesting-but-uncomfortable experience and I hope I never get sucked into playing that game again.

After that we moved to the living room and got drawn into two separate conversations, Trey with K- and me with L-. She was showing signs of interest and I was being polite in pretending to not be as completely uninterested as I actually was. She was asking me questions about American politics and I was explaining things to her and giving my opinion, not trying to show off my intelligence but knowing that she was picking up on it anyway. I can’t deny there’s always an ego-boost to feel like you could have someone if you want them (especially when they’re acting like they’re some kind of huge prize), so at least the experience was enjoyable in that regard. Had I actually wanted her, though, it would have been a lot different. It’s a million times easier to impress women you have no trace of desire for whatsoever.

When it reached 11:30 they started talking about leaving again, and I pre-empted them by announcing my departure myself. Apparently they weren’t serious about leaving then either, because they stayed and L- asked me why I was leaving. “Because it’s late and I have to work tomorrow,” I told her, and she said that where she’s from they don’t accept that as an excuse. I told her I’m not from where she’s from. That probably made her like me even more.

They were smoking on the balcony when I went to get my bike so I exchanged a few more pleasantries with them before leaving, saying that we’ll probably see each other again. I couldn’t care less if I do.

The experience wasn’t at all what Trey had intended it to be for me. Instead of getting me hooked up with someone, it basically just reaffirmed my appreciation of being alone. I may not have ever had sex before, but it can’t be worth putting up with a girl like L- all the time. To be fair she had some good qualities, but the way she constantly acted like she was owed something just for bringing a vagina to the room was a huge turn-off.

It was all a game to all of them, and just like “Never Have I Ever” it’s a game I don’t care for. It’s interesting to take a stab at it from time to time, but I don’t make the game nearly as big a part of my life as most people do.  I’m probably a happier person because of that.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Expectations

February 6th, 2012 No comments

It was quite an interesting weekend for me. After getting off work at 4:15 on Saturday, I immediately went home and changed and got ready for party-mode. Trey picked me up shortly after 4:30 and drove us to Tateyama, a city near the southern end of Chiba prefecture. I was surprised at how big Chiba is, as the trip took almost two hours. The second half was littered with tunnels, revealing that the south of Chiba is far more mountainous than the north where I live.

After some minor logistical difficulties we met up with Victor—Trey’s friend from New Years’ Eve—and his friend, an Indian-Canadian guy named Anand. All three of them are JET ALTs, and Victor was stationed in Tateyama. He was very lucky in terms of the residence they put him in, a giant house he has all to himself, but unlucky in terms of its location, about a 20-minute drive outside of town. The plan was to go to a Valentine’s Day party in Tateyama that was being thrown by some friends of Trey and Victor, then invite a bunch of people back (and by “people” I mean “women”) to Victor’s place for an after-party. Victor and one of the guys in one of the bands at the party had spent the whole day getting his place prepared for the after-party, getting the place spotless, rearranging furniture, re-working the lighting, and even setting up a beer-pong table. We were quite impressed, and found ourselves looking forward to the after-party even more than the party itself.

Trey wasn’t drinking because he’s losing weight for an upcoming fight (he does kick-boxing) so he was the designated driver. We took two cars there, which meant we could bring two back-seats full of people back as long as there was another designated driver. But Trey was very skeptical about the distance-issue, thinking Victor’s place might be just a bit too far away to bring people back to. He said the general rule-of-thumb is that an after-party should be close enough to the main party to stumble to—not take a 20-minute drive. Victor refused to get discouraged, so determined was he to make the night a success.

We got to the place, a club called Bliss, shortly before 9:00. It cost 2000 yen to get in, which was a heavy price to pay but at least not as much as clubs in Tokyo. It was a Valentine’s Day party, a repeat of an event they’d done last year which had drawn a good crowd of singles there for mingling, which is why Trey was so enthusiastic about going. Upon entering you had to choose between a red or blue bracelet depending on whether or not you were available. Red meant “stop, don’t bother flirting with me because I’m taken,” while blue meant, “I’m single and looking for love.” I would have preferred another color signifying “I’m single but not sure I’m looking for anything” but I had to go with the blue like the rest of the guys.

On the drive down, Trey had given me some advice for when it comes to the ladies. The main gist was that I shouldn’t just talk to and focus on one girl, but divide my attention as much as possible. Girls want attention, he said, so if you pay exclusive attention to them they’re satisfied, they got what they want from you, and they have the power because they feel like they can have you if they want you, and that leads to them not wanting you. You have to keep them guessing, give them some attention but always leave them wanting more. As much as I hate these stupid games, that’s just how it is. It’s a totally different matter once you get to know the person and your real personality takes over, but at a first meeting it’s all just animal instinct and you have to project coolness and confidence—two qualities that I’ve always lacked in social situations.

Upon entering the club Trey immediately spotted a group of six female ALTs standing in a circle on the dance floor and drinking, all of them equipped with blue bracelets. I was introduced to all of them and the mingling began. The fact that none of them were particularly beautiful put me at ease right away. The other guys were free to work their game on any of these girls—I’d much prefer someone a little more…Japanese.

I ordered myself a whiskey on the rocks and proceeded to loosen myself up a bit, lightly dancing in the circle with the girls and guys. I glanced around the room and took note that currently, nearly all of the Japanese people there were sitting at the benches and tables along the wall, just talking amongst themselves. I noticed one very cute Japanese girl who seemed a little tipsy, and when the first band started playing she was up on the dance floor. Trey pointed her out to me and told me to get in there and “do my thing”. What thing? I don’t have a thing.

I was supposed to dance with her, but I wasn’t nearly loose enough for that yet so I settled for dancing near her. Early on at one point she turned toward me for a split second and I used the opportunity to clink my cup of whiskey with her cup on whatever-it-was and say “kampai” so that “broke the ice”.

The first band was all Japanese guys, the lead singer a small guy who took his shirt off apparently to show off his abs. His whole thing was to get up there with the mike and shout things like “Say what” and hold the mike out to the audience to repeat “what!” and then “Say what what” for us to go “what what” and “Say what what what” for us to go…you get the idea. This seemed to go on for eternity, and it wasn’t just one song, so that whole “what what what” thing seems to be the band’s entire signature, and I certainly don’t remember anything else about them.

As I was dancing near that girl she’d occasionally lose her balance a bit so I’d use my free arm to keep her on her feet, and she’d turn and thank me when I did. So it felt nice to actually make physical contact with her and I definitely got vibes of friendliness and possible interest, but after a short while I noticed a red bracelet on her arm. So much for that possibility.

But I heeded Trey’s advice and went around talking to a whole bunch of people, both male and female. One of the girls helping with the event, upon hearing I’d lived in Germany for awhile, pointed out a guy sitting at one of the tables and told me he was German. So I went and sat by him and started a conversation in German, which reverted to English after a few sentences but he definitely wasn’t expecting to hear any German that night. His name was Timo and he was there with his friend Stephen who is Canadian but “born and raised” in Japan. They were both really nice guys and I talked to them on and off throughout the night.

I also turned to a Japanese girl sitting at the seat next to me and spoke to her in Japanese. I was able to do my whole self-introduction, as well as ask her basic personal questions about herself like where she was from and what her job is. I couldn’t have taken it much farther than that, and I didn’t have to anyway because she was wearing a red bracelet. When her boyfriend came back I met him too.

The night got later, I got drunker and looser, and I was as resolved as it gets to have a good time and enjoy myself no matter what. I hadn’t been expecting to succeed with a girl so I felt good enough just interacting with as many of them as I could. Once I was loose enough I even got a few of them to dance with me, even though they all had red bracelets.

It being a Japanese party, there of course had to be a round of Bingo. We’d all got a Bingo card on our way in and whoever won would get a chance to draw a random prize from a bag, among which was a pair of tickets to Disneyland. I didn’t even come close to winning, but near the beginning of the game I noticed the really cute red-bracelet-wearing drunk girl also not getting any numbers called, and I pointed out with hand-gestures that we were both having terrible luck. She came over and stood by me for a few minutes then as we listened to the number-drawings together and waited for one of us to finally get one called. That felt nice, but she didn’t stick around for too long. She was pretty drunk at that point and might have had to throw up or something.

I later found her nearly passed out on a bench in another room, her boyfriend tending to her. I met him and he turned out to be friendly enough. I even remember his name—Akishiro, who happened to be the “what what what” guy from the first band.

The second band of the night was a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band, and as I happen to love the Red Hot Chili Peppers and happened to be pretty buzzed at that point, I really enjoyed the hell out of them. I’d dance and sing along with everyone else, getting lots of smiles and high-fives and whatnot from the Japanese guys in the crowd who were also digging it.

But unfortunately, the rest of my party was not on the same page at all. Trey had gotten discouraged from the very beginning when the only available girls there were those female ALTs, only two or three of which were somewhat desirable and even then not particularly so. There had apparently been a lot more single Japanese women there last time, but this time there didn’t seem to be any. The only girls at the whole party who were wearing the blue bracelets were the ALTs, and they were—as Trey later put it—“not conducive to having a good time.” They were standing around talking among themselves for the most part, and they seemed to deliberately keep away from the four of us as though we were a group of predators who couldn’t wait to take them back to our lair and have our way with them.

Of course they were invited to the after-party, but the main reason was to give it legitimacy to try and draw other people—perhaps some Japanese girls—there as well. But they refused to come so nobody else wanted to come either, with the exception of Timo and Stephen whom I mentioned earlier. They didn’t care that there wouldn’t be any women there and I certainly didn’t care either, but it was Victor’s place and he told them not to bother coming, that we were all just going to go home and pass out and try not to think about this utter failure.

And that’s all we talked about for the rest of the night. Victor could not stop going on about how much work he’d put into the preparation for the after-party and how pitiful it was that absolutely nobody—not one single solitary girl—had come to it. Trey kept explaining in perfectly logical detail all the reasons why that was the case and why it wasn’t really our fault.

If we’d done anything wrong it was to not get a solid group of people—male and female—to agree to go to the after-party beforehand. By just going and expecting it to all work out, we’d opened up the door for failure. But we had no way of knowing there would be so many fewer people there than last year and that the only single girls at the party would be foreigners like us who—to be brutally honest—sucked at having a good time. I didn’t waste much time on them, but they gave off the impression that they were actively trying not to enjoy themselves.

I, on the other hand, steadfastly refused not to enjoy myself, and I’d had a great time. One of the major advantages to being so woefully unexperienced when it comes to women is that I’m now virtually immune to disappointment. Those guys had been expecting to bring some ladies home and get some action. I had expected to be politely shot-down numerous times. What actually transpired fell far short of their expectations, whereas I greatly exceeded mine. I’d been loose and happy the whole time, projecting all the coolness and confidence I could muster and discovering there’s a lot more there than there used to be.

And while it didn’t actually pay off in any concrete sense, the few minor successes I had were enough to put me in good spirits. That really cute drunk girl definitely liked me. So what that it couldn’t’ have gone anywhere because of her “what what what” boyfriend? I successfully introduced myself and carried out small-talk in Japanese with several girls, all of whom were as friendly as can be and gave off no vibe that I was imposing on them at all. I even danced with a handful of girls, almost all of whom seemed to enjoy it (the ALT chicks were the only ones who didn’t). Having done that and seen how easily I can do it, it’ll be that much easier to do next time and the time after that. My confidence shot up a few degrees from that experience. Perhaps in a few years (or decades) I might actually be confident enough to succeed. Perhaps.

As for those guys, they were not happy about what had (or rather, what hadn’t) gone down. When we got back to Victor’s place we hung out for a couple more hours, ate some of the snacks that had been prepared, and continued to talk about the night’s disappointments. Well, Trey and Victor did. Anand and I mostly just listened and laughed. The discussion wasn’t morose or depressing—it was actually pretty light-hearted and full of humor. The group wasn’t brooding over our failure but laughing about it, though inside we all knew Victor was genuinely upset and Trey was a little angry too. But Anand and I had a good time anyway. He struck me as the kind of guy who also doesn’t have much experience with women. His expectations had probably been almost as low as mine, and so he too was shielded from disappointment.

I tried to tell Victor that he needed to stop focusing on what could have been and just appreciate what is—here we were, a good group of guys who enjoy each others’ company just hanging out and having a good time. His only response was yeah, but it could have been a much much better time.

Perhaps, but probably not for me. In any case, it was ultimately decided that the fatal flaw in the plan had been to make Victor’s place the after-party as opposed to the party itself. He stands a much better chance of attracting a crowd if he has the party in warm-weather, making use of his large yard for a barbecue, or his close-proximity to the beach for a beach-party. If the party was to take place elsewhere, it would have to start at his place, relocate there, and then end up back where it started. He’s got a great place with great party-potential, but the stars were just not aligned properly that night.

Trey and I drove back to Togane the next morning, him telling me that the next time we do this we’ll do it right. That basically means going clubbing in Tokyo, where if one place is dead there are eight hundred other places to choose from. (In my case, it also means there’s no pressure to bring a girl home—you just get her contact info and take it from there).

But he said he was glad he brought me because I had a good time and that made it a good enough time for him. He said he feels like we may have a budding friendship, and we’ll probably actually start hanging out more often instead of just talking about hanging out more often.

I hope so because he’ll be a valuable friend to have. He’s only 23 now so he’s just starting out his life. He was just accepted into Vanderbilt law school and has applications at places like Stanford and Yale pending. His plan is to get his Master’s or Ph.D. in law and then go into politics and probably run for office one day. He’s already got connections in Tennessee politics, having met both the mayor of Nashville and the governor. Of all the people I’ve ever met in my life, he’s the most likely person to become President of the United States. That’s not a job I would ever want, but maybe he could make me his ambassador to Germany or something.

Anyway, that was this past weekend, an experience from which I drew two valuable lessons: 1- I’m waaaaay more confident than I used to be, and 2- It still works to my advantage to keep my expectations low.

When You’re Strange

January 22nd, 2012 No comments

Some nights are weirder than others. I got a text from Trey last night inviting me to a little party at his place which I went to at 10:30. It was mostly students from Josai and a couple of his Japanese friends. It was a good time, but a detailed description is both unnecessary and inappropriate.

Morten, the guy with whom I flirted with those Japanese girls on New Years’ Eve, was there, and I got to hear the rest of the story: that guy who stepped in to take my place when I decided I wasn’t too into the girl I was talking to apparently had some success with her. Good for him. But I had a very nice talk with Morten and got to know him better. He’s a good guy.

I also did my fair share of chatting with girls, and it helped raise my confidence a notch. I actually even brought one back to my place, a really nice Hungarian girl, but it went as far as my doorstep and she decided she’d rather sleep in her own bed so I walked her home. Not that it would have gone anywhere anyway. She probably would have been a little surprised when I just set up the couch for her and plopped down in my bed to pass out. I was not ready to break any barriers last night.

But all in all it was a good experience and I’m glad it happened. My future with women seems slightly less hopeless than it did a day ago, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

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…

The Story of My Life

December 18th, 2011 No comments

Akibahara in Autumn

Prologue

Yesterday was epic. Now I’m faced with the task of writing about it in the level of detail it warrants while attempting not to step on the toes of any of the people involved, which in this case won’t be so easy. I could make this a private entry but the story is too good not to share and too significant not to include in the publicly-available narrative of my life, as these events will no doubt be referenced repeatedly for some time. I could give just a bare-bones account of what happened and avoid the risks of going into detail, but that would neither be true to myself nor to the original intent of this blog. I’m already editing myself much more than I was when I started, but I still feel as though I’m providing a deeply honest account of my life as I live it in my own unique style of aiming to making anyone who cares enough to read about my experiences feel as though they’re living through them with me. This entry will be no different, and in the unlikely event that any of the people involved read it and take issue with something I’ve written here, they need only confront me and I will remove the offending material.

Act I – Akibahara

I’ve had the intention of going to Akibahara, a district of Tokyo world-famous for its electronic shops, for several months. My external hard-drive needs at least 120 volts to run, but Japanese sockets have only a 100-volt output. Converters which reduce voltage are easy to come by, but converters which boost voltage are a bit harder to find. Neither of the electronic shops in Togane have them, but I’ve been told that if you’re looking for any piece of electrical equipment, you can find it in Akibahara. If it’s not there, it doesn’t exist.

The trip kept getting postponed week after week for various reasons, but that ultimately ended up working very much in my favor, as last week when I met Diana at the Togane International Friendship party and invited her to come to Tokyo, she couldn’t come the next day but she was able to make it the following weekend—yesterday—the day we finally went.

In keeping with my tradition of always getting sick at the worst possible times, I started coming down with a cold on Thursday. I called Diana on Friday evening to warn her that I might be contagious and if she decided not to come I would understand. She said that if I was going she would go, but thanked me for the courtesy of warning her about the germs.

Sweet Luckily the cold has been extremely mild, and my only symptom yesterday when I went to meet up with her at the train station was a sore throat. We greeted each other warmly and then walked together to the bus-stop where the direct bus to Tokyo stops. There was a little Christmas event happening across the street, and I couldn’t resist trying to take a shot of the man in the giant-head costume. Diana, super-outgoing person that she is, brought me across the street and talked to the people there, giving us a chance to get our picture taken with the guy.

We chatted while waiting for the bus, and when we got on I paid for both of us which she graciously accepted. On the 1 hour 15 minute ride, we listened to some music on her I-pod as I’d thought to bring one of those splitters that allows you to plug two sets of headphones into a single jack. It was some Japanese pop singer whose name I don’t remember, but it was surprisingly decent. Not something I would ever listen to on my own initiative, but enjoyable enough.

We were supposed to meet Stephen at the entrance to Tokyo station at 11:30 but he sent me a text saying he’d be late. Diana and I killed time by wandering around the station, but before we did we checked the schedule for when the busses would return. She suggested we shoot for the 7:35 bus but I said I’d rather leave an hour earlier because one of the other Togane ALTs, Ben, was having a Christmas Party that night which started at 6:00. Diana said that she’d heard people talking about the party and someone had asked her to come, so I said she should come and we could go together. So suddenly I’m not just spending the day with her but going to a party with her as well. Could the timing be any more fortuitous?

One of the things we had to bring to the party was a gift worth about 500 yen, and luckily the train station was full of gift-shops so Diana and I were able to take care of that very easily. After a bit of wandering, Stephen called me to announce he’d arrived, and we went to the exit to meet him. On the way, she remarked on how Japanese girls wear makeup all the time, but she thinks it takes too much time and only wears it on special occasions. She said she’ll wear it if she goes on a date. Um…don’t look now, Diana, but you’re kinda on one right now…even if you’re not aware of it. But at least that confirmed 100% that she isn’t married.

I was preparing for the hassle of figuring out how to get to Akibahara, but luckily Diana had been there once before and had a pretty good idea of what we needed to do. She double-checked with her I-phone but quickly determined that we just had to take one of the JR trains two stops and we’d be there.

The one and only.

When we got there the first thing we spotted was the AKB48 Café, which I was told by some people I should definitely check out and by some people that I should avoid at all costs. For those of you who’ve never heard of AKB48, they’re a Japanese pop-group consisting of forty-eight super-attractive young women who sing and dance in heavy makeup and skimpy outfits. Whoever came up with the idea is a very wealthy man, as they’re enormously popular and are likely to remain so for quite some time. Unlike other bands created purely for marketing purposes like N’Sync or the Spice Girls whose popularity fades as the members get older, AKB48 has enough members to be able to just kick the old ones out when their attractiveness fades and bring in younger ones, sort of like the Mickey Mouse club but with sex-appeal instead of cuteness. It’s a pretty disgusting concept if you ask me, but I don’t want to judge too harshly. Even the women who get booted will always be able to brag that they were in AKB48.AKB48

Incidentally, I finally learned what the AKB stands for: AKiBahara, where they do most of their shows in the theater beside the café.

So since we were there I figured we might as well go in and check out the place. We had to wait on a short line before a table opened up, and while we did Stephen and I discovered that Diana is actually a huge AKB48 fan. She was ridiculously excited to go inside, and when we got in she was grinning and gaping at everything, particularly the benches and tables autographed by real AKB48 members.

Wow, autographs of women I've never heard of!

Aside from the TV-screens everywhere showing AKB48 videos and the incredibly-attractive waitresses dressed in the schoolgirl-like AKB48 uniform, it looked just like any normal café. But unlike most cafés, the clientele was almost exclusively male. Diana was one of only three or four females there, excluding the waitresses who were no doubt the reason most of the men came there. It was kind of like Hooters without the big boobs.

We each got a ridiculously over-priced beverage and chatted for awhile, mostly about AKB48. This was the first time I’d heard their music (at least while conscious of the fact that I was hearing it) and it was just as bad as I’d imagined. But I didn’t rain on Diana’s parade and just let her enjoy the videos, which I have to admit were at least quite pleasing to the eye. Stephen got a real kick out of just how happy she was to be there. Her girlish joy rubbed off on me as well, so in spite of the assault on my eardrums I was very glad to have come there.

After that it was finally time to go off in search of the elusive adapter that would allow me to use my German external hard-drive in Japan. Diana’s presence turned out to be invaluable in that regard, as she was able to explain what I needed in Japanese at every shop we went to, and translate to me what the workers there told her. This was quite the impressive feat considering her native language is Chinese, and while she confessed that it was hurting her brain a little, she held up very well.

A colorful town.

One of the million electronic shops. The coolest ride ever.

Unfortunately, finding the required piece proved to be extremely difficult, even in the Electronics Capital of the World. Place after place just kept telling us they didn’t have it, though some helpfully pointed us in the direction of shops that might. We eventually came to a place that had all kind of voltage-adapters and it looked like we’d finally found the right part, but for some bizarre reason they wouldn’t let us test it before I bought it. It made no sense to me that the store would insist you buy something you couldn’t even be sure would work, but apparently that’s another element of Japanese culture I wasn’t aware of—they wouldn’t want to take the responsibility it didn’t work. They didn’t even want to sell me the thing because they were unsure if it would damage the hard-drive, but when I finally insisted that it would be my responsibility they let me buy it, but they still wouldn’t let me test it in their store.

Stephen at the sushi-go-round. We were all very hungry at this point, so we decided to find a place to eat and test it there. The first place we went to, it turned out didn’t have a single menu item other than soup or plain rice that didn’t have beef or pork in it, so we went to a sushi restaurant instead. That was delicious, and we had some very pleasant conversation there too. Once we’d had our fill of sushi I busted out the new adapter and gave it a test run on the electrical outlet in the wall, and for a moment it appeared to be working until the hard-drive shut itself off. I thought it might need a little while to get charged up, so I left it in the wall a bit longer, but it shut itself off again after the same amount of time.

So we went back to the shop and got a refund. Had we been allowed to test it there it would have saved everyone the extra hassle, but that’s just the way it goes.

We tried three more places, the last of which Diana made clear would be the last place we would try. She was getting tired of this and I couldn’t blame her. I had no idea it would be so difficult to find a particular electronic device in Akibahara. I’d assumed it would take a half-hour tops but we’d been searching for over two hours. When we came to the last place and the woman there said they didn’t have one, I decided to try something else and ask for just a basic voltage-converter which boosted the 100-volts from Japanese sockets up to what the hard-drive needed. Those were a lot more expensive than the adapter would have been, but after spending so much time on this I refused to go home empty-handed. The woman found a converter which boosted 100 Volts to 220 (the voltage in Germany) and I coughed up the dough and bought it. I hadn’t brought the cable I needed to test it, so I’d have to wait until I got home to test it.

Evening in Akibahara.

It was now about 4:30 and we decided to start heading back. At the Akibahara station Stephen wanted to know if we were going back to Tokyo station or if he should just buy a ticket back home directly from there. Diana mentioned the Christmas Party and I said he was welcome to come if he wanted, and he said he was so we decided to go back to Tokyo station and all ride the bus to Togane together. I hadn’t thought he would want to come all the way to Togane for a Christmas Party but I was glad to have him along.

Intermission

I sat next to Diana on the bus ride back and she dozed off while listening to her music, and I listened to music of my own. I was feeling pretty neutral at that point. She’d been just as warm and friendly with Stephen as she was with me, so I figured I’d just been misreading her last week and perceiving signals of attraction when there were none. This was probably just the way she is with everybody. That didn’t mean I didn’t have a chance or that I should give up, but at that point it felt likelier than ever that a casual friendship is all this is going to amount to.

But as I wrote last week, that would be a perfectly valuable thing too. At the AKB48 café we discussed what we were all doing for New Years’ and none of us had any solid plans but Stephen said he was thinking about going to the Tokyo Sky Tree where there would be fireworks. That sounded like a good plan, so both of us decided to join him. Being in Tokyo with two great people sounds like a perfect way to ring in the New Year whether or not romance is involved. Plus, Diana is going home to China for a month this year and some of that time will coincide with the school vacation, so I could visit her in China and she’d be happy to show me around and take me anywhere.

There was reason to be happy.

Act II – The Christmas Party

We stopped at a convenience store on the way to the party to pick up drinks and snacks to bring, as well as a cheap gift for Stephen to enter in the gift-exchange. He picked a magnet of a Japanese anime character, but the clerk at the counter wouldn’t let him just buy it but instead insisted that he pick a card from a box she had and open the back to see what the prize was. Apparently you couldn’t just buy the magnet—you had to win it. And you had to pay for the ticket first so if you really wanted the magnet you’d have to keep buying tickets until you got lucky. I thought it was absurd. If a person wants to exchange money for a particular item, such a transaction should be perfectly allowable. What’s the point of capitalism if you can’t buy something you want even if you’re willing and able to pay for it? But Stephen bought the ticket and instead of the magnet he got a little head-pillow with a different Japanese anime character on it, and while it looked pretty crappy we just had to settle for it.

I navigated the three of us through the cold to Ben’s apartment, which was already hopping when we arrived. Trey was among the first to greet me, surprised to see I’d brought another black guy. He jokingly told Stephen to go away because now there were too many. I introduced Diana to people but most of them remembered her from last weekend, Ben included. I saw a lot of familiar faces and a couple of new ones. I met a guy named Dan and a guy named Will as soon as I walked in the kitchen.

Red room.

I quickly noticed that the male-to-female ratio was about the same as it was at the AKB48 café. Other than Diana, there was only one other girl at the party: Zintia, the Hungarian girl from the International Friendship party last weekend (whom I now know likes to be called “Cinty”).

Diana and Stephen both went off and mingled as soon as we got in, and I poured myself a whiskey and coke and proceeded to mingle as well, saying hello to some of the Japanese guys I remembered from previous encounters: Kio from the two music festivals and Atsushi from the Okinomiyaki night. I found out that one of Atsushi’s judo students goes to my school, a kid whose name I actually recognized so I knew who he was talking about.

Trey busted out a deck of cards and got a drinking game going on the floor of what I’ll just call the “green room” because Ben had somehow managed to get the kitchen draped in red light Green room. and the other room in green. I sat down and joined the action, Stephen and Diana joining as well but sitting on the other side of the circle. But from where I was sitting I could see the next card in the dealer’s hand and I helped Diana cheat her way out of the drinking penalty whenever it came to her. Trey’s game started out well but fizzled after a few rounds as people kept leaving. Andrew, the guy from Alaska I’d met at the hippie music festival, tried to start up a drinking game of his own but by then only Stephen and I were left to play. It was a pity because his game was much more fun.

Before long it was time for the gift exchange, and Ben had about as difficult a time getting everyone to shut up while he explained the rules as I do getting my students to shut up while I explain the rules of a classroom game. But it was pretty clear—everyone got a number and each person would pick one of the wrapped presents on the floor when it got to their number.  You could either pick a new present or steal somebody else’s but no gift could be stolen more than three times. I was number 18 so I had the advantage of going very late. The most popular gift in the bunch was a slingshot Ben had bought, and it had been stolen twice by the time it was up to me, so I got to steal it and keep it for good. I can think of a few fun ways to use it in class.

Can you shut up please?

Diana opening her gift. Trey trying out his present.

When the gift exchange was over I finally found an opportunity to sit down by Diana and talk to her some more, although at that point I had to share her company with Dan, one of the guys I’d just met that night who seemed really nice but clearly had eyes for her. But the three of us talked and had a nice chat until the need for another drink or bladder-relief naturally split us up.

Trey came up to me and said, “Dude, I don’t think your girl is married.” I told him I knew. He then proceeded to give me advice. “You need to be more aggressive, man. Saddle up to her, keep talking to her and at some point take her outside and kiss her. I think she’s definitely into you and really likes you, but you just need to go for it.”

Trey is a wise man. I took a deep breath and resolved to do just that. Hearing from him that he thought she was into me gave me the extra confidence I needed, and at that point I had just the right buzz going to pull off the move I’ve never been able to make before: the leap from casual-friends to more-than-friends.

But just as I was about to go find her again, a new group of people arrived and were introduced to me. There was a French girl from Paris, another Josai student, and her boyfriend Jack who was one of the only American students at that university. They were a really nice couple and I didn’t want to leave them right away. The French girl, Lily, was interesting to talk to and we could compare our impressions of Europe. Although she’s from Paris and loves the city, I was surprised to hear that she agrees that the people there are snobs and it’s ridiculous that even the people who work at the train station refuse to speak English. I parted from them with a promise to talk later.

Before I could find Diana, I somehow got sucked into a political discussion with Trey about Obama’s chances in next year’s election. It was more of a lecture than a discussion as I could barely get a rebuttal in edgewise, but Trey was very persuasive and convinced me that Obama has a much better chance of winning than I’ve been thinking. When he leaves Japan his plan is to go to Stanford and get a master’s degree in law, then go into politics himself and maybe even run for office in California. It’s always nice to have a chance to talk politics as those chances are rare, but I had to pry myself away because it was getting late and I’d barely talked to Diana all night.

Now that I had the sole purpose of finding her and engaging in actual no-holds-barred flirtation with her, she was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere twice and couldn’t find her, then I went outside and called her cellphone. She didn’t pick up, so when I got her answering machine I just left a message. “Hey, it’s Kyle. I can’t find you here so I guess you left. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I’m glad you came tonight. I hope you had fun. I’ll talk to you soon. Goodnight.”

So I breathed a heavy sigh but figured it was for the best—I’d been spared the anxiety of having to actually try to make things happen with her—and there would be another chance another time. I walked through the foyer towards the main room when suddenly the door to the washroom swings open and who should emerge but Diana…and Dan.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the story of my life.

They both acknowledge me like nothing significant has just happened and she walks into Ben’s room while he heads by me towards the party. I can’t help but stop him and ask, “Hey Dan, are you interested in Diana?”

He obviously has no idea that I’d been going for her as well. “Uh…yeah,” he admits, understanding immediately. “Is that a problem? I’m sorry.”

“No, I mean…” I stumble. What the fuck had I even wanted to say?

“Shit, I’m sorry,” he says. “You were trying to get with her?”

“Well, yeah, kinda, but…I honestly don’t know what I’m doing.” Keep talking. “But hey if you’re into her and she likes you than go for it.” My heart doth protest but my mouth pays no heed. My head knows that it’s the right course of action. I have no more of a right to Diana than he does. She isn’t mine and never was.

“Really?” he asks. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Because I don’t want to be that guy. I’ve been on the other side of this situation more times than I can count.”

He’s just won me over. He deserves her more than I do. After all, he was the one who went for it. I hadn’t been aggressive enough and I let her slip through my fingers. To the victor…

“Yeah,” I say. “You should go for it. Honestly, no hard feelings.” I mean, I’m still going to despise you and everything but that’s not your fault.

“Thank you,” he says. “I appreciate that.”

Diana emerges from Ben’s room. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Nothing,” I say reflexively. I think it’s pretty clear what our topic of conversation was.

“Basketball,” Dan says playfully, then moves in to playfully tickle her, thus diffusing the whole situation. Good man. I don’t think I’ve ever loathed a fellow less-deserving of it.

Diana asks me if I have a cellphone charger and it just so happens I do. I go into Ben’s room and find it in in my backpack for her, then she plugs in her phone. I don’t know if it was dead or just dying, if she’d heard my call while making out with Dan or listened to my voice message after. These are things I’ll never know.

The next few minutes are all kind of hazy. I head to the kitchen table in search of more booze. Ben asks me what I’m looking for and I just tell him I need something strong. There’s a little bit of whiskey left in the bottle. I just finish it off and then grab a fresh beer.

Before I know it, Dan is getting ready to walk Diana back to her place. I say goodnight to him and Diana walks right up to me and gives me a very long, very warm hug. Through her embrace I perceive a mixture of mild intoxication and guilt. Our first hug, and it’s also our last.

I walk away as they proceed to get ready to leave, and Trey comes up to me with serious news: “Dude, did you know your girl is leaving with another guy?”

“Yes,” I say without bothering to mask how that makes me feel at all. “Yes, I’m well aware of that.”

“What happened, man?”

“I got distracted. I got held up in other conversations and another guy swooped in.”

Knowing he was partially responsible for that, he runs to the foyer and grabs Diana as she’s trying to leave. What the hell are you doing, Trey? The damage is done. Leave it alone. I make sure I’m totally out of sight during whatever exchange goes on between them. When he gets back he just comes up to me and tells me I wasn’t aggressive enough.

I know. That’s always my problem.

He says I shouldn’t feel bad because she wasn’t worth it. He calls her a nasty name she doesn’t deserve and which I won’t repeat, but that’s the end of that. I go find a place to stand and think.

Oh, hello darkness, my old friend. It seems you’ve come to talk with me again.Lucky bastard.

As I stand there staring at the fish-tank and contemplating who I am, I feel that old familiar  emptiness, the same aching in my gut I used to feel in high school often. Oh goldfish, how I envy you. If my brain were as small as yours I would have already forgotten the whole thing by now.

The question is whether I should stay or go. I’m so tempted to just gather my things and slip away quietly without saying goodbye to anyone, to just head home and toss on some brooding music and do some serious wallowing. But I promised Stephen a place to crash. Plus, fuck that. It’s too familiar a pattern. I’m sick of it. I’ll just stay and try not to let my gloomy presence suck the fun out of everyone else’s night.

There are a few surprises left in store. Cinty, the Hungarian girl, has been in the process of getting together with Ben all night, but somehow her attention turns to me. She asks me how I’m doing and I’m drunk enough at this point to tell her honestly that I’m not doing well and what the reason is. She takes pity on me and asks me if I’d like to join her on the balcony for a cigarette. You have cigarettes! God bless your cancer-spreading heart!

So I join her for a smoke and find myself engaged in an incredibly unexpected emotional conversation with this girl I’d had such a hard time communicating with last weekend at the Friendship Party. Thanks to the alcohol and the fact that we now actually had something real to talk about, things are going much more smoothly now. She’s not just sympathetic but complimentary, telling me I shouldn’t care about Diana and that I could have any girl because I’m smart and handsome and funny and all that. If she’s trying to make me feel better, she’s doing a pretty good job of it. She even has me laughing a little. Who would’ve thought. This girl actually does have a personality. A damned good one too.

Once I’m shaken out of my initial slump, things become a little easier. I find myself in another conversation with Jack and Lily, the French girl and her American boyfriend. We’re discussing plans for Christmas and New Years’ Eve. It turns out that they and a small group of other Josai students are also going to the Tokyo Sky Tree on New Years’ Eve so Stephen and I can join them. (Diana probably won’t be a part of that now). But not only that, they’re also going to Kyoto that week, though on the days after I’d been planning to go. But they’ll be in Tokyo for Christmas and I’m welcome to join them, so I think that’s what I’m doing. I’ll cancel my reservations at the hostel I made and spend the holidays with this awesome couple and their friends. I won’t be alone on Christmas and I’ll ring in the New Year properly.

Cinty and Ben are clearly bound to hook up tonight and nothing is going to stop that train, but I still find myself smoking and talking to her on the balcony frequently, not just the two of us but with Ben, Stephen, or other random people as well. I’m so astounded by how wrong my first impression of her was that I actually come right out and tell her.

Back inside and near the end of the night, Ai and Miko come to the party. Those are two of the three girls from the okinomiyaki night, the hip-hop dancer who speaks decent English and the really beautiful girl who speaks almost no English at all. I’m actually loose enough and—thanks to Cinty—confident enough to try and flirt with Miko now, and while her reaction seems promising the language barrier is just too great. We do make a genuine attempt to try and communicate with each other but it doesn’t work. Oh well.

Finally, at around 2:00 a.m. a large group of people from the party including three Japanese girls other than Ai and Miko (who leave after a relatively short time) are getting together to go to a karaoke bar and Stephen and I are welcome to join. Neither of us feels like going but something tells me I should. I ask Trey for guidance. He’s not coming because there’s a Japanese girl with a one-way ticket to his bedroom hanging onto him, but he talks me into going with the group that’s leaving. I didn’t need too much convincing. My inner hobbit almost always gets me to err on the side of adventure.

Stephen and I take too long to decide so the group is already gone by the time we leave. We wish a goodnight to the few who remain at Ben’s place, and I call one of the people who went and find out where they were going. He says it’s a place right across from the train station so I assume it’s the same place where the infamous lost-key welcome party took place, and Stephen and I head there.

While we’re walking Stephen mentions Diana and says, “That was really funny when she left with that guy. I wonder what they’re doing tonight.”

“Actually, I didn’t think that was funny at all,” I tell him, and he guesses right away that I’d been interested in her, which I thought he’d already figured out. So I explain what happened, and that leads to another conversation about confidence and not selling myself short and all that stuff I’ve heard a million times already but never hurts to hear a little more. Stephen’s got a good heart. I felt comfortable enough opening up to him completely, even confiding the fact that I’m a virgin when he asked me what my longest relationship ever was and I had to explain I’ve never had any relationship.

But we leave all that shit at the door to the karaoke place when we arrive. When we get inside I barely have to use any Japanese to explain to the waitress that we think our friends are here—she leads us right to the room full of foreigners.

And for the next two or three hours it’s just pure and simple beer-drinking, food-eating, and bad-singing. The Japanese girls there sing a bunch of songs I don’t know, and once I finally figure out how to work the song-selection device I and the other Westerners sing a bunch of songs they don’t know. Some of the guys know songs that the Japanese girls know but I don’t. I would totally try and rectify that if I didn’t find the music to be so bad.

It’s actually the first time I’ve ever done karaoke. It always seemed like something I’d never do unless I was really drunk, but last night certainly qualified. Stephen had never done it either, but both of us found it surprisingly fun. I never fully shook off my depression, but I was able to enjoy myself in spite of it.

Andrew passing the Mike.Stephen popping his karaoke-cherry.

Sing a Japanese song, please. Mmmm that's good karaoke.

In case you’re wondering about the girls there, they were as uninterested in me as I was in them. One of them was getting cuddly with Andrew, but the other two just seemed interested in talking to each other and singing the occasional song. At that point I really didn’t care. One of them was cute but she never held eye contact with me for more than a second and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because she couldn’t speak English.

We had our last call at around 4:30 a.m. and left shortly before 5:00. Luckily it’s just a five-minute walk back to my apartment, and this time I didn’t lose my key. Stephen crashed on my couch and we finished our conversation about women and relationships while passing out. I told him and he understands that I really don’t feel like I need a woman, that I love my life as it is, but it would be nice to have someone to share it with and it feels like I’m missing out on one of the most fundamental parts of human existence.

Curtains

This morning I walked Stephen to the train station and saw him on his way, but not before testing my voltage converter to see if the trip to Akibahara had at least paid off in that respect. All I could do was laugh when it didn’t work.

We only got four hours of sleep but somehow it was enough and somehow, miraculously, the hangover wasn’t that bad. Rather than immediately go back and write this journal entry, I decided to spend the morning going to the beach and doing some good old-fashioned staring at the ocean and pondering life.

The story continues...

That was very pleasant. I didn’t come to any new revelations or anything, but merely confirmed what I’d told Stephen the night before. My life is fantastic. I live in a wonderful place, I have an excellent job, I know lots and lots of fantastic people and I’m meeting more all the time. So I let one chance for romance slip away from me. So what? It seems there will be other chances. It’s just that if the story of my life is anything to go by, I’ll probably fuck those up too.

Chemistry

December 11th, 2011 No comments

Life is one strange animal. You can be moving in one direction and going nowhere, when suddenly you find yourself speeding off on a completely different route.

The Hershey thing did not work out. Her demeanor towards me last Sunday made it perfectly clear that she wasn’t interested (and I honestly didn’t find her all that interesting either). On Monday I sent her another very honest and direct Facebook message, saying “It’s clear there’s no chemistry between us, but I hope we can remain casual friends.” I told her she was still more than welcome to come to Tokyo with me and Stephen this Sunday (although the trip has once again been postponed due to Stephen having stayed out until 7:00 a.m. this morning). I didn’t hear from her for a couple of days and assumed I’d never hear from her again, but on Wednesday I got a response telling me that I’m right and just being friends would be fine. She said she’d tell me on Friday whether she could come to Tokyo, but I haven’t heard from her since. I sent her a friendly little message on Friday but got no response.

So that’s a dead-end. The whole thing served to further discourage me from trying to find a woman and reinforced my conviction that it’s hopeless for me anyway.

Yesterday I had no plans but to remain alone all day and go about my normal chores-and-errands Saturday routine. But I got a Facebook message from Fred, one of the other Togane ALTs (the really funny one) asking me if I was going to the party. What party? It turns out it was the day of the annual Togane “International Friendship” party where foreigners can come to mingle with other foreigners as well as locals who are inclined to come and meet us. It was just a two-hour affair from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and it was free to enter.

Well, why not? I didn’t really feel like socializing, but it’s stupid to turn down any opportunity to meet new people. Such opportunities don’t arise very often here.

I walked to Fred’s apartment building and met with Ben and another ALT I’d never met before named Zack outside. Fred came down to meet us, and yet another previously un-met ALT named David showed up as well. Finally, Trey caught up with us on our way to the Community Center. The six of us would be the only ALTs as well as the only Americans at the event.

We were greeted very warmly by the Japanese people when we arrived. Some of them recognized Ben and Fred from the previous year. We all had to sign in and make name-tags for ourselves, and pick a little piece of paper with a “table number” from a back. Ben and I both got table number D.

Table D

The most striking thing upon entering was seeing so many foreigners gathered together in one place. All of the others were from Josai International University, which for some reason seems to attract a lot of students from the more obscure European nations like Finland and Hungary. The only other times I’ve seen so many foreigners in the same room have been at training sessions.

Each table had a nice assortment of cold food such as sushi, little sandwiches, and fried chicken. There was also coke and green tea (which is as prevalent here as iced tea is in the states). After a few of the Japanese people in charge of the event got up to give their preliminary speeches (all in Japanese of course) we all poured some drinks into plastic cups and did the kampai.

When the mingling began, I was mildly shocked to find an attractive girl come right up and talk to me. She was a blonde Hungarian girl named Zintia, and while she struggled with her English she did all right. She was studying Japanese at the university in the hopes of one day working at the Hungarian embassy. She’d never been anywhere other than Hungary and Japan.

Zintia had a nice face and a body like a supermodel and the fact that she’d approached me definitely made me feel very cool, but there was no more chemistry between me and her than there had been with Hershey. Our conversation was strained and full of awkward pauses as we both kept trying to think of questions to ask each other. Meanwhile, I noticed Zack engaged in a very easy conversation with a cute Chinese girl across the table. The girl had no trouble at all keeping the chat going, and Zack was hardly saying anything at all.

Eventually my “chat” with Zintia petered-out completely and she moved on to mingle with other people. I remained at the table and listened in on what the Chinese girl was saying.

Zack moved on shortly after that, and the girl then turned her attention completely to me and we launched right into a conversation of our own. I don’t remember her Chinese name, but she apparently goes by the English name of Diana. She’s 22 years old and just started studying at Josai in September, so she’s just as new to Japan as I am. She studied English for many years in school and while she insisted she couldn’t speak very well her ability was actually rather astounding for someone who’d never actually lived in an English-speaking country. She’s clearly got a natural talent for languages, as when I heard her speaking Japanese with some of the other people there it sounded perfect even though she’s just started learning it. When I told her I lived in Germany for three years she even busted out some German that she’d learned from a friend of hers. She said her goal is to be able to be able to translate between English and Japanese even though her native language is Chinese.

The conversation with her flowed very easily. I found her company to be enormously pleasant and she found me interesting as well. When she found out I was an English teacher she nearly jumped for joy at the prospect of finding someone to practice her English with, and we promptly exchanged phone numbers. From that point on we barely left each other’s side for the rest of the party. She introduced me to some of her friends from the university, a Japanese guy and another Chinese girl, and even asked the girl to take a picture of the two of us. I figured I might as well get one too.

The party took a turn towards the strange when a Hawaiian band took the stage and started playing songs like “You Are My Sunshine” on ukuleles. Things got even more bizarre when a group of very old Japanese ladies clad in Hawaii-garb took the floor in front of the stage and danced the hula.

Seriously?

But the craziest part was after that, when they came up to a bunch of the foreigners and dressed them in the hula-skirts as well and invited them to come up and dance with the ladies. They got Ben first, and then they came for me. So I went up and danced the hula with a bunch of old Japanese ladies and other foreigners. As awkward as it was, it somehow didn’t feel embarrassing.

Ben in hula-gear.

At one point when Diana was with another person I found myself talking to Trey. He asked me how things were going and I said they were going great, then he asked me about my love life and I told him it was non-existent. He said “we’ll get you a Japanese girl”. Sure you will, Trey. He also said he was going to get together with me some time and show me “the other side of Togane” but that hasn’t happened yet either. But I pointed out Diana with a head gesture and let him know I liked her. He said I should “get in there” as though I actually knew what I was doing when it comes to women.

But Diana and I did find ourselves in each other’s company again, and I could hardly believe what was happening as she seemed to be sending out all the standard signals of attraction. I’m by no means an expert on what those signals are, but frequently touching the other person is certainly one of them. She touched and held my arm quite a lot. And when everyone was gathering together near the end of the party for a group photo, she pulled me over to stand next to her.

After the photo was taken, Trey pulled me aside and said that he’d heard “through the grape-vine” that Diana is married, so I should probably ask her about that. That would be disappointing, but I thought that just coming out of nowhere and asking “Are you married?” would be weird so I didn’t. But I definitely took a closer look at her hands and there was no ring at all. Maybe they don’t have wedding rings in China, but it would be very odd of her to spend so much time talking to me and not mentioning her husband at all. And if she were married it would be a strange thing to move to Japan without your husband for a year. Finally, she’s 22. Maybe they get married very young in China, but I just don’t think she is.

After the group photo, one of the women in charge of the event came up to me and Ben and introduced herself in English. She’s on the Togane City Council and gave us her business-card. Networking! Now I’m acquainted with one of Togane’s most powerful citizens. Even cooler was that shortly after that she came back up to me, apparently having read where I work on the sign-in sheet and told me that her son is a third-grader at the junior high school were I teach.

Ben, Trey, and Zack disappeared without saying goodbye to me, but I hung around with Fred and David for awhile as the party was being dismantled. Diana came back up to me and introduced me to a mother and daughter who were there, the daughter being interested in possibly taking English lessons from me. I gave her my information and she friended me on Facebook later that day.

I helped a little with the dismantling of the party, carrying a few chairs to be packed away under the stage, and Diana came and helped with that too. When that was done I decided to make my move. We’d already talked about meeting again for her to practice her English, but there was nothing definite. I invited her and her friend to come to Tokyo with me tomorrow if they had no other plans. They did have other plans—about a hundred and fifty Josai students are taking busses to Disneyland—but she was very much in favor of going next Sunday. She seemed very excited that I asked.

When Fred and David left I also decided to say goodbye. I just waved goodbye to Diana and her friends, but she came up and took my hand and told me to definitely call her next weekend.

I left the Community Center on a cloud. I could hardly believe what just happened. No sooner had I resigned myself to remaining alone again when suddenly it looks like there may be a real chance with a girl I like who might also be interested in me. I can by no means be sure of that—she’s clearly a ridiculously extroverted person and she might just act like this with everyone—but even if I did misinterpret her demeanor towards me I’ve at least made a great new friend, and after next year when she returns home, I’ll have someone to visit in China.

That whole experience provided some invaluable perspective on the Hershey situation. I no longer feel even slightly depressed about that. If you have to work to keep a conversation going with someone and you’re constantly wondering how they’re judging you in their mind, it’s not worth the trouble. With Diana there wasn’t even a moment that could be described as “awkward” and it was as clear as day that she liked me. With Hershey I felt a little uncomfortable the whole time, but I deeply enjoyed being around Diana. She has a kind of energy I’m very drawn to in other people, the same quality that made me fall in love with Jessi, a vibrant positivity that lifts my mood just to be around it like warmth from sunlight.

But I’ll try not to get too ahead of myself and start planning our future together just yet. This has a distinct “too-good-to-be-true” feeling to it and given my history it’s more than likely that things won’t progress beyond friendship. She might actually be married, after all. But even if all I’ve done is made a friend, having a friend as nice as her is plenty to be happy about.

V is for Victory

History

December 5th, 2011 No comments

Chiba Castle

After finishing my errands and chores on Sunday morning I sent Hershey a text message asking her if she was free in the afternoon. She responded that she was, and I asked her if she’d ever been to Chiba Castle. That was one of the places Ryan recommended as an interesting thing to do in Chiba City. There apparently isn’t very much there by way of sight-seeing, but there’s even less in Togane or the town where she lives. She said she didn’t even know there was a castle and she hadn’t been there. I asked if she’d like to meet me at Chiba station around 1:30 and take a walk there with me. She said her train wouldn’t get there until 2:00, but we could do that.

So that’s how my first “date” in almost a year came about. The last one was with Lea, the girl I met on the plane-trip home from London after that incredible weekend I had after my Interac interview. On the surface, this one was much different, but in all the ways that matter it was exactly the same. Just as my first date with Lea had been the last, this was almost certainly the last time I’ll see Hershey, at least in a one-on-one situation.

But in spite of the negatives I had a very nice time, and it gave me an opportunity to take some more pictures to lively up the look of the blog a bit. I didn’t take any of her though—sorry about that.

I was mildly nervous going into it, but calmer than I’d expected to be. I’d felt much more uncomfortable while waiting for her response to my initial Facebook message. There was only the slightest trace of a knot in my stomach as I rode the train to Chiba, then walked around the station for 30 minutes while waiting for her to arrive. She texted me when she got there and we had some trouble finding each other, but when we did finally spot one another she was on the phone with someone, apparently a family member because she was speaking Filipino. I immediately felt a sense of relief. The idea of her in my head was far more intimidating than this flesh-and-blood person.

When she wrapped things up with the person on the phone, I said we’d found each other but our next challenge was to find the castle. I had my I-phone to help with the task but I still wasn’t exactly sure what to do. Luckily Ryan’s directions were very helpful.

A nice little square.

A nice little river. A nice little park.

As we walked I found myself asking her all the questions, and her not asking me anything. I could easily perceive this whole thing as some sort of favor she was doing for me, but it’s equally possible that she’s just shy. It was a little awkward but I felt I did alright. I wasn’t nervous at all and I made jokes and got her laughing very often. I wasn’t trying to impress her or anything—I was just being myself and treating her like I treat everyone else regardless of their gender or level of attractiveness.

There was supposedly a shrine on the way to the castle, but we somehow missed it by several blocks and by the time I noticed this the castle was closer. At least I got us there without a hitch. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but as it was high up at the top of a hill it was impossible to miss. It didn’t look like the image attached to the word “castle” in my mind, but it looked as Japanese as architecture gets. On the way up the hill, there was another extremely Japanese building which had a bizarre-looking golden monument-thingy behind it that looked like some kind of device for contacting the mother-ship.

Looks like Japan. For transmitting signals to sky-kami.

We climbed the big staircase to the top of the hill and got a nice look at the building. It was fairly impressive, though without any historical context to put it in there was not much to feel about it other than the standard “it’s so freaking awesome that I live in Japan” feeling I still get from time to time when I take a step back and look at the big picture.

Quintessentially Japanese

The castle is now a historical museum, and I asked Hershey if she wanted to go in. She said she wasn’t sure because the last historical museum she went to was ridiculously overpriced, but when we went inside and saw that entry was 60 Yen (about a buck) we laughed and went ahead. I bought the two tickets and was pleased when she didn’t even offer to pay for hers but just politely thanked me.

We proceeded through the museum, doing our best to appreciate the exhibits in spite of the fact that all of the explanations were in incomprehensible Japanese. Hershey’s mother is Japanese but she’s only lived here for a year and a half and seems to be at about the same level as me. But it was still plenty cool just to know that the paintings, pictures, and artifacts we were looking at were centuries old. The coolest things on display were complete samurai-uniforms I would have loved to get a picture of. But “no photography” was one of the only things written in English in the whole museum, so I didn’t risk incurring the wrath of the museum staff. Besides, everyone knows what samurai-uniforms look like and you can pull up a thousand pictures on Google in an instant. The cool part was being able to see a real uniform once worn by an actual samurai with your own eyes.

I made jokes whenever I could, like when we passed one of the TVs showing a documentary about Chiba’s history and I said, “That’s a TV from 1845” or in the stairwell when I said “that’s the Emperor’s ancient fire-extinguisher.” Hershey has a great laugh. If nothing else, at least she appeared to enjoy my sense of humor.

On the top floor you can walk outside to the observation deck and get a decent view of Chiba City. There’s not that much to see, but I enjoy aerial views and taking scenic shots. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as the view from the Ferris Wheel in Tokyo Dome City, or even from the Rathaus in Hannover, but it was still nice enough and the fact that the leaves are finally changing provided an additional aesthetic element.

View from the top. The Chiba "sky-line"

In this direction, you'll see...buildings.

Money-shot.

When we left the museum we headed down the hill in a different direction than the one we’d walked up, and found a little shrine along the way. I don’t think it was the shrine we’d been aiming for earlier, but it was still pretty cool. I don’t know if the fact that I took pictures means I’ll be cursed by an evil kami spirit for the rest of my days, but I took my chances.

The gate. The walk-way.

The shrine.

It was only quarter to four when that was done, and Hershey asked me what I wanted to do now. I had the feeling she was bored so I said I’d check the train schedule. I’m not sure but I think she laughed at that, as if to say “Really? That’s it?” I asked her if she wanted to do any shopping or something, but she said she’d done enough shopping for the month. I used my I-phone to figure out that the next train left at 4:10, which didn’t give us much breathing room at all. We just walked back to the station and tried to think of things to say to each other along the way. When it looked like I would miss the 4:10 I discovered that the next train was 4:14 but it would take 25 minutes longer to get home on that one, and then there wouldn’t be another one for nearly an hour so I’d have to get going as soon as we got back.

It was 4:09 when we arrived at the station and I said I should just try and make a break for it, so we very unceremoniously parted ways without so much as an awkward hug or even a hand-shake. The 4:10 started pulling away as soon as I got to the platform, so I had to settle for the 4:14. An hour and a half later I was back in Togane, the sun and my emotional state having sunk in the mean-time.

It was hardly a crippling depression, just a gentle and familiar melancholy. Had there been any potential of sparking any kind of romantic feelings in her, I hadn’t come close. And not because I’d done anything particularly wrong—simply because I just don’t know how. I mean I know the kinds of things you’re supposed to do, but they all involve playing a part and presenting myself as someone I’m not. I was just myself with her, plain and simple, and while that person might give off the impression of being funny, smart, and perhaps even pleasant company, he’s not the kind of person women want to have a relationship with.

To put it simply, I can converse with women but I can’t flirt with them. I can get them to like me, but not to desire me.

At least I’ve reached a point where I’m no longer devastated by that. I’ve said it a million times now but I am perfectly content to be alone. That doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally make an attempt to break out of that and see what it’s like to be with someone, but that requires another person to be interested and nobody ever is. My history with women is one of 0% success. This is just the latest addition to that statistic.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Anatomy of a Successful Lesson

December 3rd, 2011 No comments

I was supposed to be on my way to Tokyo right now, but there’s a downpour going on and there’s no sign of it letting up. At first I figured I wouldn’t let it stop me, and I took my umbrella and made my way to the bus-stop, a fifteen-minute walk. Even with the umbrella, by the time I reached the half-way point I was completely drenched, my jeans twice as heavy with the water-weight and my socks already soggy from submersion in puddles the size of lakes. Maybe not the most ideal conditions for sight-seeing. I gave Stephen a call and we rescheduled for next weekend.

When it rains here, it’s not messing around. In Hannover, I experienced about three downpours in three years. It drizzled all the time, but I much prefer the seriously heavy roof-top pounding rain of this climate.

Of course the earthquakes are even more fun. This morning at about quarter to six I woke up to the rumbling of the ground. Nothing out of the ordinary, but then it was like the tectonic plate suddenly gave a massive jerk and the rumbling intensified tenfold. I couldn’t help but let out a “whoah!” as my entire apartment felt like a giant had lifted it up in the air and started shaking it. When it died down, I heard a voice blasting through some loudspeakers outside, though of course I couldn’t understand a word of it. I went online to the Japanese Meteorological Agency website which updates its map whenever there’s a quake, usually with a single white circle somewhere, indicating the most recent quake was an intensity of one, with the epicenter at that circle. This time there were circles all over the place, not just white but some in shades of blue, indicating 2 or 3 point quakes and some 4s. The epicenter appeared to be Chiba, right where I am, and the intensity here was a 4. I breathed a small sigh of relief—it was nowhere near the disaster an 8 or a 9 would have been, and it was unlikely a tsunami was on its way. Still, it was the biggest earthquake I’ve experienced to date. There was even an aftershock almost as intense as the first one about ten minutes later.

But none of that is what I meant to write about. My main reason for writing this entry is to describe the lesson I taught for the 3rd-graders this week which I can confidently say was my most successful lesson so far. For every single part of it I applied things I learned in training, and with just a few small exceptions (usually thanks to bad students) it worked excellently.

The first part of any lesson is to greet the students. You say “Good morning!” or “Good afternoon!” then ask them the five “million-dollar questions”. 1- How are you? 2- How’s the weather? 3- What day is it? 4- What’s the date? And 5- What time is it now? At ongoing training we were told to mix it up a bit, first by getting the students to ask you the questions. With the second-graders last week I simply told them to ask me the questions, but with the third-graders this week I did something else I’ve been meaning to try—something Cliff told me to do as far back as initial training—and busted out the German.

I started with a “Goooooo…” and they expected a “Gooooood morning” but instead got “Guuuuten Morgen!” Laughs right off the bat. “Guten Morgen meine Jungen and Mädchen, heute machen wir super Englisch lernen, ja? Ja?” Their looks of befuddlement were priceless, but they all loved the “ja”. Then I’d write “Guten Morgen” on the board and get them to repeat it a couple of times, then write “What is Guten Morgen in English?” or “Was ist Guten Morgen auf Englisch?” and keep asking until someone figured out it meant “good morning”. Then I’d write “Wie ist das Wetter?” and go to the window, repeating it until someone figured out it meant “How is the weather?” I did the same for day, date, and time, sometimes shouting “wunderbar!” when someone got the right answer, another word they immediately loved. Finally I got to “Wie geht’s?” and I had to give them an “Ich bin fein” or “Ich habe hunger” with gestures before they figured out it meant “How are you?”

After that I switched back to English and went into a basic “How are you?” warm-up relay, where I’d first have one row stand up and demonstrate for the class. I’d ask the first person “How are you?” Then when I got an “I’m fine” I’d tell him or her to turn around and ask the next person, and so on until the end of the row. The last student runs up and asks the first person, then runs back and sits down. When the last student is seated, everyone can sit down. Depending on whether the JTE had a stop-watch, I either did it as a race between rows or a time-challenge for the whole class, writing their first time on the board and then getting them to try again to beat their time. This is surprisingly effective at getting the students in a mind-set to pay attention.

The next part is the hardest part of any lesson, the presentation of new grammar. This week it was connecting two sentences with the word “which”. As in: “This is a book. I read it. This is a book which I read.” One of the buzz-words used at training it to “entice” the students, so how do you entice them into learning how to properly use the word “which”?

I came up with a brilliant idea. I said before we got to the English, there would be a physical challenge. I asked the students who the strongest person in their class was, let them discuss for a moment to pick someone (usually the largest boy in the room) and then I’d give him three tasks. First, carry two chairs outside of the room (at the same time). Second, carry one desk outside. Now, you can choose. You can either carry the two chairs back, or the one desk. Almost every time, the student didn’t understand the third instruction but another student did and explained it to him in Japanese. The whole time the room is dead silent and everyone is paying attention, wondering what the heck this is about. 5 out of 6 times, the student did what I hoped and brought the one desk back inside instead of two chairs. The only time he didn’t, it was because the desk was full of books and therefore heavier than the two chairs combined.

When the student had brought the desk back in, I gave him a “wunderbar!” and got everyone to clap for him. I’d brink the chairs back and immediately slide into the presentation. “Which is heavier? A chair or a desk?” A desk. “But when he had a choice between carrying two chairs and one desk, he chose the one desk. Why?” Because two chairs are heavier than one desk. “Right. And in English, two small sentences are heavier than one big sentence. Today we’re going to learn how to turn two short sentences into one big one.”

At this point I could just see the light-bulb switching on in the minds of the smarter students as they suddenly understood what the chair/desk thing was all about. In Mrs. T-’s class, she explained the connection in Japanese for the benefit of those who didn’t get it.

wunderbar I put up the flash-card of the German flag and wrote two sentences: “German is a language. I speak it.” Then I turned to the class and asked them how we can put these two sentences together into one. “What word can we use?” Sometimes a student immediately knew it was “which” and in that case they’d get a “wunderbar!”, but if not I’d write a “w” on the board and they always guessed it then. So I looked at the first part of the sentence. “German is a language. Do we need to change anything here? No.” I copied it and wrote it before the “which” on the board using different-colored chalk. “How about ‘I speak it’?” I’d write it after “which” and say, “‘German is a language which I speak it.’ Is that right? No? What do we change? No ‘it’? Right. We delete ‘it’”. I’d erase the ‘it’ as the students laughed at my use of the word “delete” which they all know from their computer keyboards. Another nice little tid-bit from training.

I got them to repeat the two short sentences as I made an expression like I was totally bored, then the longer “which” sentence at which I’d show more enthusiasm and say, “Oh, that is a great sentence! Much better! Wunderbar!” I erased everything and removed the Germany-flag flash-card. “Okay, that was Level 1. Easy stuff. Time for Level 2.”

I didn't actually buy this tent. Students are leaning forward, waiting for the next challenge. I’ve never had this level of attention during the presentation phase of a lesson. They were eating out of the palm of my hand. I put up a flashcard of a blue tent and wrote the two sentences, keeping them active by asking “What is this?” and “what color is it?” The sentences were “This tent is blue. I bought it.” Then it was a matter of how to connect them using “which”. I asked them to start with “this is” and after a moment’s thought at least one of the smart students would figure out the first part was “This is a blue tent” and the whole sentence was “This is a blue tent which I bought.”

At least once during the presentation phase, after I had the whole “which” sentence up there I’d suddenly switch to a whisper and say, “I have a secret.” Again, all eyes on me. Dead silence. I erased the “which” and wrote “that” then loudly whispered, “This is a tent that I bought.” With a thumbs up I’d whisper “OK too!” There were always chuckles. “I have another secret” I then whispered, and erased the “that”. “This is a tent I bought. OK too! But shhhh, it’s a secret.” Everybody laughed.

My car For Level 3 I had a picture of the bat-mobile, and when I showed it to the students and they said “car”, I pointed to myself and said, “My car” at which they laughed again. The two sentences were “I drove this car” and “It’s black.” I told them to start with “The car” and eventually they figured out the big sentence was “The car which I drove is black” at which point they’d get another enthusiastic “wunderbar!”

For the last level, Level 4, I used a flash-card they were already familiar with. I originally used it for a “who” lesson, for the sentence “This is a person who cooks.” I found a picture of a Japanese chef from some blog, apparently a professional chef named Yamada whom this lady—apparently a Yamada-san, my students love you.rich lady—had hired to come cook for her in her hotel room while visiting Japan. Anyway, he’s got a big goofy smile and for some reason the kids  love the picture and they all remember “Yamada-san”. The first sentence was “Yamada-san cooked this meal.” I’d ask them what “meal” is in Japanese. Usually they wouldn’t know, so I’d write the hiragana for shokuji (しゅくじ) under the word one at a time until they got it. Then I asked them what “oishi” is in English and they all knew that one. The second sentence was “It’s delicious”. The big sentence was “The meal which Yamada-san cooked is delicious.”

Finally, it was Game Time. “Ja! Game! Wir spielen ein Spiel! Ja!!!” I had them arrange their desks in their “lunch-groups”, which is the quickest way to split classes into six teams, then explained the rules. I had twelve packets of paper-strips. Each team would get one. One of the papers had two sentences, and the others were individual words cut from the “which” sentence that connects them, all scrambled up. There was a corresponding flash-card for each sentence which the JTE helped me by arranging in the back of the room. Each team had a designated space on the blackboard, and each team needed a “writer” and a “runner”. When I’d say “Go!” the teams would open their paper-packets and figure out what the sentence connecting their two sentences was. The writer would write that sentence on the board, and the runner would find the flash-card and put it on the board when the writer was finished. I’d give 5 points for a perfect sentence, 5 points for the right flash-card, and 0-5 speed points depending on when the teams finished. (First place got 5, second-place 4, and so on until sixth-place which got zero). Thanks to the very easy flash-card task, every team was guaranteed at least a few points.

After quickly demonstrating it myself, everyone understood the rules. I gave them a “three, two one, go!” then just stood back with my chalk, ready to jot down which place the teams finished in once they finished. The only problem with this game is that it doesn’t force every student to participate, so a few of the slower students could just sit back and do nothing. However, the motivation to win made it so that almost every single student did participate in some way, even shouting the sentence as it was arranged at their table to the writer who was writing it up on the board.

When all the teams were finished, I’d go through their sentences one by one and award points. Happily, most of the sentences were perfect. Sometimes only one or two corrections needed to be made and I’d give them partial points. Sometimes they were disastrous and if I tried to give points the rest of the class would have mutinied. But I always asked for the students to help me with the corrections, “What should the first part be? What’s next? Next?” and so on until it was done. The flash-cards were always correct though, so every team always got points.

The same thing was repeated for round two, and if any team had really struggled the first time around I’d go and help them arrange their second sentence myself. Most of the time, all of the teams did better on the second round. One class even had all perfect sentences on the second round.

Once the sentences were corrected and total points tallied, I’d ask the class to tell me which team got first place. When the team with the most points was identified, we’d clap for them (and give a “wunderbar!”) We’d do the same for the second and third-place teams, and finally I’d tell them they all did a fantastic job and to clap for everybody. Then it was just a matter of getting them to put the paper-packets back together and arrange their desks back in rows, at which point the bell was usually just getting ready to ring.

So that was the best lesson I’ve taught so far. It worked perfectly and it worked consistently all six times I did it. Even with 3-1, the “disaster class” that always goes first and which went first again this time, I hit a home run. I wanted to record it in detail because it will give my readers the clearest impression of my job that I’ve given so far. This is not just what my job is, but the way it ought to be done. This is everything I learned in training put to use. I feel like my teaching has reached the next level, and hopefully I can maintain it.

I’ve heard a lot of bad things about Interac, but one thing they deserve a world of credit for is how they train their teachers, at least ever since Cedric took over that department. Had I just been thrown into the classroom like most ALTs before me without the benefit of everything I learned in initial training and got reinforced in ongoing training, I might be doing okay but I’d be nowhere near as successful as I am now. That training has been so valuable that it’s a wonder to think they actually paid me to attend it.

Before wrapping up this entry, just a quick update on the Hershey situation. We’ve been sending very brief Facebook messages back-and-forth for a week and she’s apparently a lot more comfortable with the idea of meeting me now. She texted me her phone number a few days ago and while she declined my invitation to meet Stephen and me in Tokyo today because she’s busy, she said we might be able to hang out tomorrow though she has no idea where to go. I’ll call Ryan this afternoon and ask him if he can suggest somewhere in Chiba City. But even if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, it looks like it actually will happen sometime. Color me surprised.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Two Follow-Ups

November 26th, 2011 No comments

Today I’ll just be following up on three things from recently posted entries (though most of you will only read two). This post might end up taking the record for shortest of the year.

First, the training of Monday and Tuesday paid off nicely on Thursday and Friday. I implemented a few of the methods and ideas with my second-grade classes and they all went terrifically well with the exception of 2-4, the worst class in the school (though it was significantly less awful than usual). I started off with a much more fun greeting than simply “good morning, how are you?” and got them chanting “good” and “morning” along with me. Instead of asking them the standard “how’s the weather?” and “what day is it?” questions I got them to ask me, and got lots of laughs when I’d look out the window into the bright sunshine and declare matter-of-factly that it was cloudy or rainy. I deliberately gave wrong answers a few times before giving them the right one on all the questions, which was actually my own idea and it worked very well.

The grammar point was “If” so I came up with a warm-up where I said, “If I raise my hand, you clap. If I clap, you touch your ears. If I touch my ears, you shout ‘wooo!’. And if I shout ‘wooo!’ you raise your hand.” I had them all stand up and go through it, writing 90% on the board the first time and if they did better the second time, I’d raise the score closer and closer to 100% before finally giving it to them. This was a technique from initial training I’d forgotten about but was reminded of on Monday, and it worked like a charm. Even students who never participate were going through the motions by the end, not wanting to be responsible for their class’s failure to reach the perfect score.

In order to “entice” the students, before handing out the worksheet I took a 10,000 Yen bill out of my wallet and offered it to various students, asking them “What will you do if I give you 10,000 Yen?” That also kept their attention, as everyone was wondering if I was actually going to give someone the money. Some of them gave such great answers that I was actually tempted to let them have it, but of course I couldn’t do that.

Finally, the newly-designed worksheet went well, though by the time I handed it out (before that there was a quite successful game from the Interac lesson-plan I can’t take credit for) there wasn’t enough time to go through it all. But I definitely left each class feeling good, getting enthusiastic goodbyes from all of them. That was one of the rare lessons that went perfectly well from the first class I did it with to the last.

The second follow-up has to do with Hershey, whom I asked out through Facebook on Wednesday with a very direct and forthright message, very counter to my natural instincts. I just figured that since we live in separate towns there’s no chance of going through that whole phase where you just hang out casually and try to hide the fact that you’re interested until one day making your move. If I wanted to see her again I’d just have to ask her on an actual date. I felt okay about the message when I sent it, but as the day went on and I didn’t hear from her I grew more and more doubtful about what I’d said. I knew she’d been online so I knew she got the message, but the fact that she hadn’t replied at all told me it must have put her off.

So the next morning I wrote another message apologizing for the first and clarifying what I meant by certain things, explaining what I wrote above about not being able to go through the casual hanging-out phase. She responded to that one, confirming my suspicions that the first message had been too direct but agreeing in an apparently reluctant tone to hang out with me and see what happens.

I should note that my emotional state during this whole time was rather flat throughout. I asked her out because I knew I had nothing to lose, and I was also strongly hoping that she would turn me down because my nervousness at going on an actual date would be painful to endure. So during the whole time without hearing from her I was just annoyed by the uncertainty far more than I was nervous about a possible rejection. As much as I knew it would hurt to be rejected, it’s happened to me plenty of times before and I knew I could deal with it, especially when I still don’t even know her.

When she reluctantly agreed to hang out with me, I took note of the fact that this didn’t make me happy at all. The only thing I felt was terrified. Had the tone of her response been a bit warmer, it might have been a different story, but it basically sounded like she didn’t really want to but was willing to try it for the sake of fairness. I replied by giving her some options. I said I could come to her town and meet for lunch or go for a walk, she could come with me and Stephen to Tokyo next weekend and invite other people along as well, or we could just keep it online for now. Her reply was much friendlier than the first, saying it’s probably better to just keep it online for now and that she’s usually not free on Saturdays because it’s her “personal” day (i.e. she’d rather be alone than meet up with me). I have no hard feelings whatsoever—I also like having my Saturdays to myself—and most of what I feel is pure relief.

But it also seems like I might have killed my chances by offering her a convenient way out in the form of “keeping it online”. But it seemed like she wanted an out, and me being me I couldn’t help but give her one.

I also wrote that she could ask me anything she wanted, and I asked her a couple of questions about herself. In her reply she didn’t answer my questions but said her questions for me would be “soon to follow”. That was yesterday morning and as of this morning there’s been no contact since. I’ll give it another day before writing again. I highly suspect this will just fizzle out anti-climactically, but you never know.

Well, once again I’ve written far more than I expected to, but it’s still relatively short. Fortunately for people who don’t like long entries, the thing I really need to write about is something I can’t share.

Categories: Personal Tags: ,