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Classification

The first step to achieving one's goals is to understand this:

There are things that I honestly want, things that I think I should want, and things that I tell myself I want, but don't really, and things that aren't important at all.

Learning to classify these things can be a challenge, but it's important to be able to make the distinction. The tricky one is the third one. I have talked myself into wanting stuff before that I knew was a bad idea going in. Now I'm trusting my judgement, because it's mine, and I'm owning my mistakes, because those are mine, too. And with that, I'm closing the book, not unkindly, on an unfortunate relationship from a couple of years ago. It happened, and it shouldn't have done. Not accepting that has just made it harder to heal.

Cryptic, no? Don't worry folks: it makes sense to me.

Having said all that, I am 99 percent sure that I honestly and truly want a DanElectro Tape Echo stompbox.

'Ave A Banana

Winter Quarter is rapidly rolling to a close, and everything is coming due all at once along with it.

Today I submitted the term project for my Rhetoric class, a project that every single person in the class knew about from day one. Yet, somehow, I was the only person who actually did the flippin thing. The instructor called it off. I also had a Japanese written exam, which, to be honest, I don't think was my finest work.

Tomorrow I have my oral final for Japanese, about a ten-minute interview with my instructor. I have a pretty fair idea of what is expected, so I should be okay, but I'm still nervous about that. Then I have some heavy-duty work to do in Statistics, as we are finishing up a team project in there. I generally dislike team projects; I don't care for the idea of 20% of my final grade being dependent on someone else's work. But I think this will all come together.

At 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, I have a telephone interview with a local company about a temp-pool position that will be opening soon. I could use a job.

Thursday I have a quiz in Statistics and we have to present our paper for peer review. So I'll be working on that.

Friday I don't have Japanese class, having done my final, so I guess I don't have to go to school at all. I can spend the day studying for my Stats final.

Then the weekend, then the Stats final on Tuesday and the Rhetoric final on Wednesday and then that's it until April 1st. I'm already making a list of things I want to accomplish during that short break; finding a job is towards the top of the list.

I'm not panicking. It only looks like I'm panicking.
Had a productive meeting with my faculty advisor today, which caused me to change around my whole education plan for the next year and a half or so.

I'm already committed to my schedule for spring quarter, so that isn't going to change, but starting fall of next year (and possibly summer quarter, if I can scare up the money to go), the concentration is largely going to be on Asian languages (Japanese and Chinese) and mathematics up through calculus. Exactly how much calculus remains to be seen; I have to have a chat with the advisor at Temple to determine which math branch is best for them.

So, there's a plan, but it might change as we go. I told my dad about all this today, and he thinks it's a great idea. He did ask however, "What are you planning to do with all this?"

I have no idea.

To be perfectly honest, I think that the job I'm going to have might not even exist yet. I'm probably going to have to create it, and I'm totally cool with that.

The Three Things I Know About Women

What are the three things I know about women? Well, let me see.
I know, for instance, that I'm not going to tell you anything that I know about women, largely because everything I know about women is wrong. I mostly just wanted to see if I could fake out Kim Sifter into reading this. If it worked, hi, Kim.

Rounding the corner into whatever it is that we call the time just before finals. Pre-finals? End of quarter? Panic time? I have no idea. It's a weird time; the instructors are realizing either that there's no point in introducing new concepts at this late date, or are trying to fit a topic that should have taken six or seven class periods to explain properly into two. The students, for their part, are discovering that everything they learned in the first few weeks of class has completely evaporated from their brains. They search back through their folders and notes, and, in so doing, discover, nestled there in the class schedule like a poisonous spider lurking in a bunch of Whole Foods bananas, the Dreaded Project.

The Dreaded Project might be a research paper, or a presentation, or an annotated glossary of terms. To be done properly, it really hsould have been started right after mid-terms. A project team should have been assembled, duties assigned, research done, materials prepared, and so forth.

But now, it's the week before finals, and whatever the Dreaded Project is, it's due Monday, and it represents twenty percent of your final grade. You'd better get cracking.

But first, some Xbox.

Just kidding. I don't have any Dreaded Projects this quarter, because I had one that bit me hard many years ago when I was at college before. So now I check the schedule every week, just in case, and I bug the instructors about it. I have a couple of things for Rhetoric that I have to type up this week, and a statistics project that I will have to type up over the weekend, but that's it.

So I have plenty of time to obsess over my finals and try to review for those.

And also to play guitar for hours with Martial. We wrote two songs tonight.

- - -

One of the coolest things about vacationing in Japan, and something that I highly recommend should you ever go there, is staying at youth hostels.

Now, in a lot of countries, youth hostels can be kind of skeevy. Across Europe they're mostly okay, I guess, but I've heard some horror stories about other places.

Japan, however, has some flat-out AWESOME youth hostels. I stayed in four on my first trip there, and they were all outstanding.

The first one I stayed at was the Tokyo International Youth Hostel, in Iidabashi, just a couple of stops from Shinjuku. The hostel was (and might be again - it was closed for a remodel for a long time) on the 18th and 19th floors of a skyscraper built over Iidabashi Station. I had a great time wandering up and down Iidabashi and through Shinjuku, and I tasted my first (and second and third, and I think fourth) MOS burger while staying there.

The best part was this. I was spending a lot of time walking around Tokyo through the bitter cold, and my knee had kind of tweaked out, so I decided, for the first time, to try a Japanese bath. I saw that the hostel had one, so I checked my Lonely Planet or Rough Guide or whatever I had to get a handle on the rules for bath etiquette, and went upstairs to the 19th floor.

The first problem I saw was that there were two baths. Fortunately, they weren't right next to each other. There were signs pointing in opposite directions. Unfortunately, they were both in Japanese, and I did not, in 2001, know the difference between 男 and 女. I mean, I knew the actual difference and all, just not the words. In Japanese. Hell, you know what I mean.

So I waited there, just on the other side of the entry, until I saw two guys walk past and head towards one of the baths. I followed them and saw, just past where I had stopped, a big sign, in English: MEN ONLY. Right.

I got in, grabbed a basket, took my clothes and glasses off, and wandered into a big, steam-filled room lined with shower heads and little plastic stools. I sat at one and washed myself all over, being very careful to rinse off the soap before getting into the huge and luxurious ofuro which was, words fail me, hot. Okay, very hot.

But it was, once the initial shock wore off, very nice. I enjoyed it, even after some of the steam cleared and my vision sharpened up a bit and I realized that one whole wall of the thing was just a giant window looking out onto Shinjuku.

Which is actually kind of cool.

I stayed at a youth hostel in Nara and learned to play hanafuda, a Japanese card game, from a very nice man who worked for the Japanese version of the IRS. He spoke almost no English. I gave him a gift, one of a handful of small Seattle souvenir pins I had bought at Fred Meyer, and he immediately poked it right into the lapel of what must have been a six-hundred-dollar leather jacket.

I caught some sort of cold or something while at the hostel in Osaka, and didn't go into town very much at all. I talked the staff at the hostel into letting me stay in my room all day so I could recover. There was one English book on the shelves in the rec room, a work on art history, so I grabbed that and bought several cans of hot green tea and spent the day reading the book, drinking tea, and recuperating.

In Hiroshima, I arrived at the hostel at the same time as a primary school trip. I wound up helping their teacher play some sort of game with the kids; I had bought a couple of what I thought were manga, but were actually strategy guides for collectible card games, so I offered these up as prizes.

All of the hostels had excellent communal baths and pretty good food, too. I had to share a room, but you get your own storage and a nice privacy curtain to pull around your bed, and I just put on my headphones and cranked up some music until I fell asleep anyway.

Privacy can be an issue with hostels, and sometimes you can run into obnoxious people. In Nara, it was some snotty d-bag from Belgium; in Hiroshima, I got into it with a guy from Pakistan who had a problem with the fact that I was an American. But the Japanese guys were mostly cool, and I made it a point when I was planning that trip to spend about half my time in hostels and half my time in hotels. Also, hostels have a curfew, which can be sort of annoying.

But by and large it was great.

The Return of the Weekend Update

How was my weekend?
Pretty awesome, as it happens.

Friday, this quarter at least, is a pretty short day. I only have Japanese class and then I have the rest of the day to myself. But this time was a little different.

To begin with, my Japanese teacher had arranged specially for a representative from Temple University's Tokyo campus to come and visit our school. There are a few of us in the class who are pretty serious about transferring to Temple for Junior and Senior year; it's a great school with a good rep, and I can get a decent shot at the Master's Linguistics program at Kyoto University from there. Should I feel like doing that, that is.

And I might do, since Shiomi-sensei and I had a really interesting conversation after class. I'm working up an educational plan that might allow me to pursue both statistical analysis AND Asian languages. It's too early to look at it too directly, but it's the beginnings of a direction.

At any rate, Shiomi-sensei arranged for a very nice guy from Temple to come over and chat with us for a bit, and that was really productive. I had estimated, based on some rough numbers that I pulled out of my based on some faulty data, that Temple was going to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of what it cost SpaceX to develop the Dragon spacecraft. To my surprise, it turns out that the total annual cost, all included, is... well, okay, it's still godawful expensive, but not as bad as I thought it might be. It was good news, trust me.

I had to leave the meeting a little early, though, as I had to give a short speech that I had written. In Japanese. In front of two dozen very cute Japanese girls from Kinjo University in Nagoya. They come over every year to study and do internships in the hospitality industry, and every year we apparently do a little welcoming ceremony for them. I guess my speech went down well.

I did the grocery shopping on the way home, pumping the brakes to keep the pressure up on the pedal as the master cylinder is going bye-bye. I called Les Schwab to see how much it would run for them to replace it. Four hundred bucks.

Oy.

Saturday I called EEB to see if swapping out a master cylinder on a Volvo S40 was something that actual humans could do. Ed has a pretty fair assessment of my mechanical skills.

"Sure, you could do it," he said, after talking me through the process.

I went to AutoZone and ordered the part for seventy bucks. It should be here tomorrow and Martial and I can take care of it next weekend.

The rest of Saturday was spent watching James Bond movies on Blu-Ray and eating absolutely everything that got in arm's reach, as it's Cheat Day. I made a loaf of bread and went for sushi at Blue Island (authentic Federal Way sushi greeting: "Irrashaimase, señor!") and drank Mexican Cokes.

Today was almost all homework, except for short breaks to do homework, take a short walk along the Green River, and a brief visit to Guitar Center to not spend any money. We're coming up on finals now, so I've got a paper, a research project, two written finals and an oral exam all looming.

But it's fun.

I Need A Job

Usually my titles are a little more subtle than that.

I got last week's Statistics quizzes back and I got perfect scores on both of them. I turned in my research paper for Rhetoric and I feel pretty good about it. I took my latest Japanese exam and I feel pretty okay about that as well. Tomorrow I will register for Spring quarter. I had a plan all set up, but two of the classes I wanted are already full, so I've had to rearrange a few things.

School is, not to put too fine a point on it, awesome. I am loving this. I could use a part-time job, though, to help with the money, and I'm definitely gonna need something for the summer, when I won't have financial aid money to tide me over. I'll keep casting bread upon the waters, I suppose.

- - -

Looking back at some old stuff I've written about Japan. Here's something random.

I have been on the Keisei Skyliner exactly twice. The Skyliner is a high-speed train that runs from New Tokyo International Airport (popularly known as Narita) to Ueno Station in Tokyo. There are other options, most notably the N'Ex Narita Express, run by Japan Rail. There are also shuttle buses or the famous two-hundred dollar taxis. It's about fifty miles on some expensive toll roads from the airport to downtown Tokyo, which explains the crazy cost. If you had to take a taxi from SeaTac to Cle Elum, it would probably burn up your Discover card, too.

The Skyliner is a pretty cheap option and very nice, especially if you're headed for Ueno or Asakusa. I was staying in Asakusa the first time I went to Tokyo, so I bought a ticket on a smoking car and sat there with a pack of Cabins and a bottle of hot green tea.

I stared out the window and watched the countryside slowly build up and become more urban, Right as the sun was setting, I saw something that caught my eye.

"Hey, wow," I said to myself, "a Toyopet dealership. I'll have to tell Martial I saw that."

Then I went on to have one of my best vacations ever.

Fast-forward nearly ten years. I had saved up a bunch of money from my job driving truck and had bought tickets for Martial and I to visit Japan. We flew into Tokyo, as he had never been there (or anywhere in Japan, for that matter), and, as we were staying in Ueno, we bought tickets on the Skyliner. It was a non-smoking car this time, since I had quit smoking long before, but it was the same trip that I remembered.

We were both fairly tired; we had both tried to sleep on the noisy Airbus but couldn't get comfortable in the tiny seats. We were also in that kind of weird exhausted/euphoric state you get at the beginning of vacations when you've finally arrived at your destination after all the planning.

It was snowing, a rare event in Tokyo, so we were both commenting on that. I gave Martial the window seat so he could look out at the scenery.

We rounded a bend just as the sun was going down.

"Oh, look," said Martial. "There's a Toyopet dealership."
I didn't bother watching the Oscars this year, for the same reason I give them a miss every year: I don't give three-sixteenth of a rat's ass about the Oscars. I did hear over Twitter, however, that Dame Shirley Bassey proved once and for all that vocal training and talent will always beat auto-tune.

I managed to get everything done on my list for today. My research paper is all done, my Japanese homework is done and the exam studied for, and my Statistics work is as caught up as it's gonna get. Now I'm watching Thunderball and relaxing a bit before bed. There will probably be some guitar played as well.

- - -

Kyoto is a great city for walking, because it's nice and flat and has wide streets. There's also a great big river running through the middle of town with paths on both sides, which works like a big freeway to get from north to south while avoiding cars.

It's an even better city for riding bicycles. After Fuzzy bought himself a custom-built mountain bike from a shop in the north end of town, I thought I might buy one as well.

I spent about six hundred dollars and had a really nice bike made, a 24-speed hardtail with disc brakes front and rear, a custom saddle, and really nice Shimano trigger shifters.

I rode that thing everywhere. At first, I was just using it for exercise. I would get on and ride as far north as I could along the river, for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then I would turn around and ride back. As I got better at it, I kept riding farther and farther. Before I knew it, after twenty minutes, I would be up in the hills around northern Kyoto. It was a great workout.

One day, I was tooling around the little roads north of town in the hills, and I saw a sign for Kurama. I had heard of Kurama, and I knew they had a great onsen up there, so I pointed myself that way and set out.

Of course, I had no maps, and this was in the days just before smartphones, so I was relying mostly on guesswork, a basic sense of direction, and the simple expedient of stopping and asking people, Sumimasen. Kurama onsen wa douchira desu ka?"

It turned out that Kurama Onsen is about ten or fifteen miles well up the side of a mountain from my apartment in town, up narrow, winding switchbacks and up roads with no shoulder and no guardrails to prevent a lovely plummet back most of that ten or fifteen miles down to the Kamogawa plateau.

Finally, I made it to Kurama, a very little town with a shrine and a temple and, just past all that, the onsen. It was, I think, two thousand yen for an all-day pass, or twelve hundred for access to just the outdoor bath. I just went for the outdoor bath.

And it was awesome. I sat in the bath and soaked up some spring sunshine while I looked back at the tree-covered hills, my clothes drying on a hook nearby. I chatted with some tourists, took a break to have a smoke and drink some water, then soaked some more.

After about an hour or so, I finally put my clothes back on, walked back out to my bike, and coasted all the way back into town for a well-deserved beer.

I miss riding my bike.

Holy Rabies!

Yet another day, but these days are better than other days, and I'll tell you the reason why.

It's because I'm in school, which means that every single day, I'm learning something. Every. Single. Day.

Every day I learn a new verb conjugation in Japanese, or a new rhetorical concept. Today I looked up at the whiteboard after my Statistics class, completely covered with numbers, symbols, and graphs after the lecture, and I thought to myself, I get all this.

That feels pretty good.

- - -

The very first day I woke up in Japan was Christmas Eve, 2000.

I had flown in to Tokyo the day before from Seattle. I arrived at about 4 PM local time and watched the sun set over Tokyo as I rode into Ueno on a Keisei Skyliner smoking car. I drank a can of hot Kirin green tea from the vending machine on the train (of course there are vending machines on the train), smoked a Cabin Mild, and listened to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" on my brand-new Diamond Rio MP3 player (capacity: one album). I had a little Palm Pilot, one of the early ones, with a little fold-out keyboard, and I was in the middle of typing some notes into it when it just up and died, presumably out of embarassment.

I made it to Ueno, caught a cab to my hotel and checked in, then walked across the street to Lawson for something to eat. I had heard of Lawson Station, the convenience store chain, from reading manga and looking around on the web, so I spent a solid thirty minutes in there looking at everything. I finally bought a couple of manga and a nice-looking bento, some chips, and a can of tea, and went back to my room.

There was an anime movie on TV Asahi, so I watched that, even though I realistically had at that time a Japanese vocabulary of maybe twenty-five words. I leafed through the manga, smoked another cigarette, and sat there, thinking, this is me, in Japan.

I don't remember falling asleep, but I woke up smartly, just snapped awake. I checked my watch; still on Seattle time. No good. I checked the alarm clock by the bed: 5 AM.

There was no going back to sleep at this point, so I took a shower, got dressed, and headed out the front door. There was a brief problem with the front deks clerk. I thought he thought I was checking out; he just wanted my key because that's how they do hotel there.

Eventually, we worked it out. I decided that I would like a hot can of tea. There was a vending machine in front of the hotel, but it was out of order. I walked over to Lawson's, but it was actually closed, so they could strip and re-wax the floor.

Sigh. Of course, I no idea at the time that finding a vending machine in Tokyo is about as hard as finding a NASCAR fan at a Skynyrd concert. I walked half a block and found another machine, this one also stocked with hot tea. I sipped thoughtfully as I wandered through pre-dawn Asakusa. I walked over to the bridge across the Sumida River and stared out across the water and the city, Cabin in one hand, tea in the other.

This is me, in Tokyo.

I eventually went back to the hotel and had a little rest before heading downstairs to the hotel cafe for breakfast. I was offered the choice of a Western or a Japanese breakfast, and I chose the Japanese.

A whole grilled fish, bowl of rice, salad, pickles, tea, and bowl of delicious miso soup later, I got up to leave. An American couple was seated near the entrance.

"How's the weather in Seattle?" the woman asked.

"How did you know I'm from Seattle?" I gasped.

"It's on the back of your shirt," she replied.

I was wearing a BSA motorcycles T-shirt with "Dewey's Cycles, Seattle, WA" on the back.

"Oh, right," I grinned sheepishly. "Must be jet-lag. I'm not usually this thick. See you later."

"Sure thing. Oh, and Merry Christmas."

"It's Christmas?"

Strategerization

Getting through school just fine; so far I'm on track to get a 4.0 for this quarter. Provided I can keep up this pace.

Still no joy on the job front. I'm going to keep looking; maybe I'll try a few more shuttle places.

I used to spend a lot of time, in the Eirakuso era, in a little restaurant on Kitaoji-dori called Chaku Chaku. It was a great place, just a basic diner-style joint run by a married couple. He had been some sort of up-and-coming musical star, back in the 1970s. She was his childhood sweetheart.

He cut a couple of singles and his career was just on the verge of taking off when she had some sort of stroke or brain infarction or something, I don't know what. I never got the full story. My Japanese wasn't really up to it, they spoke virtually no English, and they weren't exactly forthcoming with the details of their story at any rate.

They cashed in whatever money they had, came back to Kyoto, which I think was her hometown, and opened up the little restaurant. She was only partially paralyzed, so she had no trouble running the cash register and taking orders and doing little bits of cleanup and so forth. He ran the kitchen, and did a pretty good job of it. The food was pretty basic stuff of the sort you get at regular Japanese restaurants, a mix of Japanese, Chinese, and some Western dishes.

Since there was just the two of them, they were generally open from about 10 AM to six PM. But one night every couple of weeks, though, the owner would keep the place open late for Open Mic night. He would play the guitar and sing. Beni and Toru and I would go over there and sing. The whole thing was run by a loud and kind of obnoxious Australian guy, who acted like he owned the joint. He was a reasonably talented quitarist and singer, and a pretty good showman, but there was something about his attitude that just drove everyone nuts. He was always trying to get everyone to join his business, he wouldn't leave the girls alone, and he tried to jolly people along. He was a bully, to be honest, and an example of one sort of expatriate that I generally tried to avoid.

After a while, it was pretty easy to avoid him, as he got kicked out of just about every bar in Kyoto. My friend Tadg McLaughlin opened a new place downtown, and he informed me that Our Pal was, in fact, PRE-banned from his new restaurant.

But we all had fun at Chaku Chaku, singing and playing and drinking beer and smoking cigarettes all night. Eventually I stopped going there, because I got too busy with regular gigs, plus I was just avoiding the Australian guy, I guess.

When I went back to visit in 2010, Chaku Chaku had closed. Nobody knew why.

Employment and the Lack Thereof

I got a very nice email today from a job I had applied for. Apparently, the person with whom I was competing has already got his Ph. D. and is so slightly more qualified than I am for the position of Ashtray Emptier down at the Amtrak station. It really is a competitive job market, I guess.

In the meantime, I signed up with a tutoring agency with the idea that I might teach pronunciation and usage to the approximately three hundred thousand people living around here for whom English is not their first language. If I can get a few of those each week, that would actually pay well enough to make up the difference between my financial aid and what I need to live.

- - -

Today I am reminded of when I first moved to Japan. I got hired by a school within about three weeks of moving there, but what with visa changes and other silliness, it was the beginning of June before I started work, July before I got a partial paycheck, and August before I got a full paycheck.

All of which meant that I had to make what little money I had stretch as far as possible, a task which would have gone much more smoothly if: A) I'd had a proper kitchen (the dorm had a shared kitchen, and I had a fridge in my room just about big enough to hold two sandwiches); and B) I wasn't smoking two packs of Cabin Mild cigarettes per day. (Yes, thank you; I quit some six and a half years ago.)

So, in order to make the yen flow slowly, I tried to do as few expensive things as possible.

Here is a complete list of everything one can do in Kyoto that costs nothing:
1. Walk around the city.
2. Look at stuff.

That's really about it.

So, that's what I did. I would wake up in the morning, have some sort of breakfast, then wander down to the Vivre department store and look around there, partly because they had cool stuff to look at, but also because they had Western-style toilets, as opposed to the dorm, which had Japanese-style ones. Vivre also had a music department, where you could listen to as many CDs as you liked, a bookstore, where you could stand there and read manga, a TV section, which, at about 10 or 11 AM would start showing Mariners games live on NHK, a grocery store
with all sorts of nice ladies handing out free samples, a game section with PS2s and GameCubes set up, and so on.

So it wasn't really all that boring, is my point.

I would usually grab an onigiri for 80 yen from the convenience store for lunch, and then walk down the river, or up into the hills, or downtown. I usually picked the direction at random and just started walking, stopping only when I got tired or found something interesting to do or see.

I would generally try to time my return for the evening after five PM, so I could stop by the grocery store again and buy a discounted bento lunch for dinner. Most stores make their bento fresh every day (or buy them from a service), and the ones not sold by five PM or so get heavily discounted. Lots of university students would take advantage of this, and I learned pretty quickly how to shoulder them aside to get that last tonkatsu-and-spaghetti combo.

In the evening, I'd either go to the Internet cafe and check my email (and talk to Yoshimi, who worked there), or go down to the pub and throw darts with Crazy Dave, who really couldn't stand to drink by himself, so he'd usually stand me to a pint or two. (When I started working, I repaid that favor, as often as I could.)

Just a quick stagger back up the riverside to get back home, and then I'd watch a DVD on my laptop until I finally fell asleep.

Those were good times, some of the best, and I knew it even then.

But even then, I was learning:

There will be other good times.