Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Book And A Movie

This past weekend, I both finished a book I've been reading and watched a new movie. The book was "Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" by Robert Sullivan and the movie was I am Legend.

"Rats" was about the history and present state of Rattus norvegicus in New York City. Integrating science, history, and travel, this was a very interesting book that I could still put down for a few hours between chapters. This is important to me in a book since I either cannot put it down ("Battle Royale" in less than a day) or get bored and wander off before the third page (C.S. Lewis' "Abolition of Men").

The movie, I am Legend, is about a virus that gives humans rabies-like symptoms. The main character is the only man left on Manhattan without the virus due to his natural immunity.

So I'm sitting in the theatre watching the colonies of half-humans living in dark and coming out to eat only after the sun goes down thinking about rats. Who wouldn't draw a comparison? There was even a "Rat King" amoung the rage-oholics. (Alright, so Sullivan says Rat Kings are myths, but so is a rabies-like virus that makes you shed all your hair and act like one of the infected people in 28 Days Later.) Unfortunately for the movie, I did not like the ending and it lacked the historical depth of the book.

So, I recommend the book if you're into that sort of thing and recommend the movie if you're bored.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Greetings!

In the spirit of the old, here is a holiday letter to recap the last 12 months. Since this is my first time I went online to get some tips on how to go about composing a "holiday letter" and the following is the result.

24 December 2007

Dear friends,

Please forgive this mass letter. Actually, it is only a mass letter if a massive amount of people read it. Since I doubt that will happen, please consider this personalized. I'm so glad you've taken the time to read this letter I wrote just for you! Let the news begin: This past year I have not given birth, died, or gotten married. These three seem like the big themes in holiday letters and I didn't want to keep you in suspense. We'll just have to wait and see what happens next year. My mom's dog, Ruby, did die however.

Some warm memories from this past year include, but are not limited to: Susan, a college roommate of mine, baking me a Rainbow Brite themed birthday cake and how I didn't get pregnant once. Bad news is isolated to an unfortunate incident over spring break that involved a bunch of beer and me breaking a bone in my ankle. A humorous anecdote from this year is easily the following story:

My grandma was getting knee replacement surgery and so I was living with her and my grandpa to help them while she was recovering (trust me, this is funny). Anyways, the day of the surgery, I'm there at the hospital with my grandma and my aunt waiting for the doctors to do their thing. We go in for the initial appointment and everything is good, the surgery is on, my grandma is feeling good and so does the doctor. The doctor leaves and my aunt turns to me and says, "Is it just me or was that doctor hott?" I agree and so does my grandma. So, for the rest of the day, my aunt, grandma, and I (not so much my grandma since she spends most of her time doped up) are checking to see if the doctor is married or not. He's not wearing a ring, but he's a surgeon so maybe he can't wear it in the surgery. He has a voice like butter, but that doesn't really say if he's single or not, just that he has a voice like butter. Finally, my aunt asks him the best way to contact him if anything bad should happen to her mother during recovery. At first, she gets the number to the hospital's orthopedic surgery wing. Upon pressing him further she gets the number to his clinic. Finally, and who knows how she did it, she got the number to his pager and gave him her own (she too is a doctor) in case anything should go wrong. And that is how you get digits while in a hospital.

Not funny? You wouldn't know humor if it came up and licked your forehead. Moving on, I'm told I'm not supposed to brag about all the great things I've accomplished this year. Since I've done nothing that hasn't been done before I feel I can avoid bragging, but, just so you know, if I had done something worth bragging about I'd be writing about it in this section. Right about here people start loosing interest in most holiday letters so I was going to give you my cookie recipe, but then you'd stop buying Toll House chocolate chips. I cannot do that to so noble a company. Instead I'll tell you that you can watch all your favorite Adult Swim cartoons on their website, Also, you will notice a photo on this post. This is to remind you of what I look like. I'm the one on the right. Feel free to print it out and keep a copy on your desks at work and home.

Thanks and I hope you have a lovely holiday season,
genny with a g

Monday, December 17, 2007


To follow up on my last post, I thought I should quickly give you a definition of culture. As an anthropologist, and a cultural one at that, this word holds a world of meaning. To use the most basic understanding, I could argue that culture is the result of a group of people sharing most if not all of the following traits:
1. language
2. religious practices and/or spiritual beliefs
3. moral or ethical system
4. social practices and rituals
5. consuming practices
6. understanding of symbolism and symbolic meanings

Caution must be used when comparing cultures, especially when people begin to use the term "civilization" and the word's other forms (civilized, civil, civility) since these can be used to indicate a form of ethnocentrism.

Battle Royale

Dear my loyal readers,

I too am a loyal reader. I am a loyal reader of many things: books, pamphlets, signs, warning labels, etc. Last night I picked up my brother's copy of Koushun Takami's "Battle Royal" translated by Yuji Oniki. Having just finished it about ten minutes ago, I can tell you is was really very good. No, maybe not my favorite book, but definately in the top three.

Despite being a translation and therefore automatically losing some of the linguistic references (for example the kana characters used to spell some of the names are discussed a few times, an aspect that looses meaning when the language switches to the English alphabet), I think Oniki did a wonderful job with this book. I rarely noticed problems with the language while I was reading and when I did, as I said, it was due to problems in translating meanings from one language to another and not really Oniki's fault. If you wrote "a stitch in time saves nine" in hiragana, I'm sure the rhyme would fail to carry over and therefore the alliteration would be lost.

As for Takami's plot and characters and the lot of that literary mumbo-jumbo, A+. I'm not given to finding deeper meanings or reading into text, but I totally dig books on the dangers of giving governments too much power. When government begins to dictate culture rather than being a facet of culture, things always seem to verge on the chaotic. At least they do in books. I think they do in real life too, but I can't really prove that right now. Anyways, just like "Farenheit 451," it is the epiphany of the characters that maybe the system they buy into isn't the good choice or, maybe more appropriately, that they have choice and their reactions are so interesting and exciting to me. It makes me feel like a cheerleader on the sidelines watching David decide he's gonna take on Goliath. Or maybe it's more like cheering for Saul? Wait, no, not really. It's like cheering for Nader during the 2004 presidential election.

To get back to my point, culture dictates government, but people dictate government. Actually culture dictates a lot of things, even science, but it shouldn't be used as an excuse for malicious or regretful actions. People will always be led by their own decisions and while cultural beliefs and norms may influence their decisions (i.e., church teachings, governmental laws, learned knowledge(To say there is learned knowledge implies there is innate knowledge. The existence of innate knowledge and it's breadth is a whole different bag of blog posts.)), their decisions in turn can help to transform culture.

Wow, I'm way off my original point now. "Battle Royale" is a great book. I'd love to learn kana so I can read it in the original language. I hear the movie is not so good and, having read the book combined with my natural disposition to dislike movies from books, I'd say read the book first. The build up to the final pages is incredible. That is all.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Clothes Shopping in Japan

Yesterday morning I went shopping for some nice clothes for the holiday season, having packed none. Shopping out in Japan is difficult for me due to my height and size. I'm not saying I'm a fatty, but it can be difficult to find well-fitting clothes. I headed out to Machida and went right away to the Gap. Because the Gap is a familiar store, I easily found an appropriate dress in the appropriate size. My problems began only after I bought the dress and realized that now I would need undergarmets as well.

Buying tights in Japan somewhere other than the PX is impossible. I know that there are tall women in Japan. One of my students is 5'10", but how they can find stockings with a crotch that goes past their knees is a mystery to me. As for slips and camisoles, well, I know that these sorts of things are out-dated. I also recognize that I'm a bit of an undergarment nut and that the majority of women my age somehow manage to wear skirts without slips and without feeling naked. I'm not one of those women. I walked around Machida and Sagamihara for hours looking for a slip, resorting to going into stores obviously geared towards the geriatic consumer before finally finding ONE slip and it was PINK. Not cool. Oddly enough, the other week in Tokyo I spotted a young woman on the train platform wearing a slip as a skirt. Either she couldn't realize it was an undergarment or she was staging an homage to 1980's Madonna.

Finally I broke down and went to the PX. They didn't have any slips either. What is the world coming to? We can still buy skirts that stick to our stockings and are so transparent every down-there curve is visible, but we can't buy the proper undergarments to keep us from self-conciously tugging at our hems and avoiding well-lit areas? Do people even remember what a camisole is?

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Cautionary Tale for Achievers.

I was going to name this post "How to go to a job with no concept of it's content and put in a passable effort," but I think that title is too long. Also, you would then be disinclined to continue reading if you planned on always being prepared and giving 110% effort. Go away, over achiever.

This morning when my alarm clock went off (I wish I could download a clip of what it sounds like and insert it here.) I rolled myself into the shower so I could be bright and awake for my first teaching job in Japan since my last teaching job in Japan! Woot. Choosing an outfit was particularly important this morning. I was to be teaching two classes and hopefully making some important business connections among my students. I put on my black business pants-suit.

On the train ride over, I reviewed the schedule I had inherited from the last teacher, a so-called "Justin."
Hello Song - 5 minutes
ABC game - 5 minutes
running game - 5 minutes
clock game - 5 minutes
number pronunciation - 5 minutes
number song - 5 minutes
animal and fruit pronunciation - 10 minutes
color game - 8 minutes
goodbye song - 2 minutes

I could tell they ran a tight ship, but I'm no sailor.

When met at the train station by a lovely young woman I'm going to code name Mrs. Robinson, I asked how old these students were. I could tell by the itinerary they weren't the average middle-aged house wives. It turns out they weren't even the unaverage middle-aged house wives. They were one, two, and three year olds. Two things immediately came to mind:
1. These business connections were going to be very difficult to relate to.
2. I'm glad I wore my purple shirt. Maybe that will help them relate to me.

It turned out, they hadn't learned the word "purple" yet. So I didn't make any important business connections, but I did learn quite a bit:

- These two groups of toddlers were very well behaved.
- I learned the "Hello song," "1234567 song," and the "Goodbye song" (sung to the tune of the international hit "London Bridge").
- The trains are crowded in the morning outside Tokyo, but still not rush-hour-in-London crowded.
- The pants from my black business pants-suit sit too low (my undershirt kept popping out), I need knee-highs that will stay up, and a black business pants-suit is much too hot to play the running game in.
- When teaching a group of babies English, you cannot expect them to learn a lot. Trying to get them to repeat after you is as pointless as shovelling snow in a thunderstorm. You can however expect their mothers to learn a lot and teach their children later through repetition.

In conclusion, this day has taught me a lot about me. Mostly that I somehow always hop into this job thing without a parachute. Or proper jumping shoes. On the plus side, this has worked for me so far, if I count this time and last time. Now that I'm somewhat prepared, the thrill may not be there next week, but I think that this is the sort of chance all of us "Job People" have to face. Maybe I'll wear my green pants and purple shirt next time...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Halloween Ideas

Sorry for no posting this week, but I've been busy and lazy (okay, more lazy than busy). I have volunteered to help out the community theater's production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and it has severely shortened my sight-seeing time. I was able to go on a lovely walk with my parents on Monday however. That story plus photos coming soon. Also, I have begun the jorb hunt once again (jobbing (v): to hunt for a job as well as any activities related to said job).

I have however come up with a great Halloween costume idea for a trio:
person A - the Eggman
person B - the Eggman
person C - the Walrus

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sagamihara Constitutional

For the first time, I took a walk around Sagamihara yesterday. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, or Japan in general, the usual means of traveling (unless you're an American hooked on automobiles and traffic) involves a quick walk or bike ride to the nearest train station. In the spirit of adventure and having nothing better to do, I decided that I would walk up to Sagamihara station (The next big station up from my usual depature point).

If you are lost in trying to understand what I'm talking about right now, not to worry. I've been playing with google maps all moring and it has resulted in a handy-dandy visual:

View Larger Map
Unfortunately, the visual goes straight to US, so scroll over to Japan and zoom in to the placemarks to get a looksee.

For those of you who don't have my technical savvy ("Look, mom! I can right click!"), here are words to describe the scenic walk I took.

To begin with, I began this walk with the intention of walking up to Sagamiono station and then riding the train down to Soboudai-mae (I do apoligize if this is misspelled.) for an engagement at 6PM. Well, obiviously I needed a watch. In the states, I would just use my telephone, but since I didn't know where my keitai is I picked up one of my brothers' watches instead. Unfortunately, only after walking out of the housing area did I realize the watch didn't work. On the plus side, this is the only bad thing that happened on the whole endeavour, so I did pretty good. I also needed some yen for my train ride back and just in case I needed some spending money. Since I neglected to change any of my dollars, I "borrowed" some money from my brother. To be exact, I took 600 yen in 10yen peices from his stash. For this I feel no guilt.

The first point of interest on my travels was the grafiti on the construction barrier near one of the local parks. I remember as a child seeing an English cuss spray painted on one of the local housing projects on the way to Odakyu Sagamihara station. Isn't it nice how some things don't change?

Except for the nagging feeling that walking around in Japan shouldn't be as unremarkable as walking around in Pittsburgh, the walk was, unremarkable. I was disappointed to see that UniQlo had become a GU, because I knew I'd fit in the clothes from UniQlo, but was surprised to find out that it is a Japanese company. I used to shop there in London and had no idea it wasn't an European phenomenon. Now I can shop at UniQlo in Tokyo, but feel put-out because it used to be so much closer.

Continuing my walk, I decided to just hop on rt. 51 the whole way to Sagamiono station. That way, I was garaunteed not to get lost. The second point of interest (If it was so unremarkable, how come I have more remarks?) was the back gate to the housing area, which looks directly on 51. Because of security (war on terrorism?) I guess the DoD felt it prudent to close this gate down. Two things: first this could have taken ten minutes off my walk and second the terrorists can google map the place. That doesn't seem very secure to me.

Now, having lived in Japan at various points in my life (notably the beginning, middle, and present) I can say that I feel very secure here. I may not have the laguage mastered, but I am comfortable with my knowledge of the local geography (flat in the Kanto plain and bumpy by the mountains), food (everything is good except the pickled eggplant and some goey potato product), and customs (mind your "p"s and "q"s). I know that dancing around the onsen singing "My Ding A Ling" is going to be frowned upon, but I will be asked to leave in the most courteus way possible. I also know that, at least in the past, jay walking is not the thing to do. So when it came time to cross the street at an intersection without the aid of a crosswalk or a walkway, I was a bit stumped. Luckily I noticed two people who were able to help me solve my problem. The first was an older woman about to cross 51 standing on the median between the two lanes of the side street I wanted to cross. The second was the policeman standing behind her apparently just standing around looking at the median. I figured, if he's not going to stop that woman, he's not going to stop me, and I was right. I hope that woman made it safely across.

I could remark upon the differences between the architecture of Sagamihara versus a city in US or juxtapose the traffic laws of Japan with those of US, but I chose instead to let you know that I passes two Starbucks in my walk. One was near Sagamiono station and the other near Machida station. It's like a virus with really bad coffee breath.

When I went in to Sagamiono station and looked at the time, I realized that I still had hours to kill before my engagement. I decided that since I still had sixty 10yen coins jingling around the bottom of my bag I had better buy myself a change purse. My favorite place to shop is the 100 Yen Store in Machida, so out of the station and up the road I wandered. Unfortunately I don't always make what would be called "smart" decisions and left Sagamiono station through the nearest exit rather than one that I knew. This left me wandering around the residential side of the tracks following an unsuspecting Japanese woman for a few minutes.

Once safely back on 51, I continued on my merry way only this time I wasn't sure if 51 would take me to the next station. After crossing over the train tracks hoping they were for the Odakyu line, wandering around Machida, and realizing I was once more on the wrong side of the tracks, I made it to the 100 Yen Store. Alas, I found their change purse collection lacking in both quantity and variety.

On my walk to Machida station, I went along what I can only describe as the ginza street and browsed the various shops for an affordable change purse. Alright, that's not true. I only went into one shop looking for a change purse and that was only because I was so shocked at seeing it there, I felt compeled to enter. There was a Claire's right there on the street. Inside, I could have been at the Newburgh Mall in New York only the music was something I'd never heard before with English lyrics punctuated with cuss words. Weird. Also, the change purses there were 800+ yen. I refuse to pay that much money for something from Claire's. It's just wrong.

The only other stop I made before heading down to Sobudai-mae was for a sporting good store along the ginza. What drew me in to the store was the display of swim suits in the shop window. Inside the store I found a bunch of great items (including a compression sheath for shin splints), too bad when it came to swim suits half of them had padded bras in then and all of them were stretched over their hangers. (For those of you that don't swim, these are bad things because breasts are not hydrodynamic and therefore do not need to be emphasized while swimming and swimsuits are bought in small sizes to fit the body snuggly and stretching on a hanger defeats this purpose.)

In conclusion, as long as the weather is nice a person can walk to Machida in under an hour so why not do so? It'll save you 160Y and you'll get to pass what feels like a dozen 7-11s and Family Marts.

Now that you've wasted at least 10 minutes of your day, thanks for humoring me!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Leaving for Japan

After sixteen days of sleeping on couches up and down the east coast of US, I'm finally off to Japan. For three months I will be busy mooching off my parents, participating in various sight-seeing activities, and job hunting. For the next twenty hours I will be busy watching television, playing video games, and eating food I can't get at my parent's house. That means Arizona ice tea, Wendy's chocolate frosties, and Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Unfortunately, there are no Dunkin Donuts in Fayetteville, North Carolina (where I am). There are four conveniently located Starbucks within Fayetteville, but no Dunkin Donuts. Shame on you, Dunkin Donuts. Shame on you.

It's not a total loss though, because I'm hitting up two airports tomorrow on my ride over to the far east. Unfortunately, there is no Dunkin Donuts at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Starbucks only, again. I have an hour and a half layover at JFK International Airport. With both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, they offer coffee from both the North west and the North east. I'll be getting in at and flying out from terminal 8, but the only Dunkin Donuts there is located before security. So, no dice. Terminals 3 and 6 have Dunkin Donuts within security so I'll have to hop in the shuttle (8+ minutes roundtrip to either terminal). I will then have to find the Dunkin Donuts and get the coffee (french vanilla, hot, extra cream, no sugar) which will take twenty minutes, give or take. That's about half an hour round trip.

So, fifteen minutes to get off the plane, half an hour to get my coffee and back again, fifteen minutes to change my voicemail and hope to get bumped up to business class, and a half hour of watching everyone else board because I was going to be bumped up to business class, but they called my name while I was at Dunkin Donuts and gave it to someone else. Awesome.