Tuesday, September 21, 2004

5 more pages of rambling

September 21. Evening.
My Apartment.

There seems to be a massive storm building outside – I went out on my roof to look at the sky, and there are these massively gorgeous black clouds just billowing around the mountains to the north – it’s beautiful, but as my transportation is limited to my moped or my bike, it means I’m not going anywhere tonight. Ah well, it’s all good. Fortunately, today at work I downloaded Final Fantasy III to play at home, so at least I got something to do. So the plan this evening is to alternate between journal writing and video gaming until I fall asleep. With Coldplay in the background and roarwhispering wind.

Coldplay is really weird – I don’t mean the sound, so much, but the mood it puts me in. I hesitate to say it makes me sad, cuz that’s generally a bad thing – but so far it always puts me in this really weird state of really remorseful nostalgia, which is odd as I just started listening to them this week. But it’s a good kind of remorseful nostalgia, the sort I don’t want to fade. Does that make sense? Anyone else get that from them? It’s like the opposite of happy, but also the opposite of oppressive. I don’t get it, but I can dig it. Though I think if I put the disc on loop it’ll drive me mad. For now, though, I’ll just enjoy the hell out of it.

So if you’re interested in a broader perspective on life out here, Pat (the local entrepreneurial English teacher) has his own website at www.backwardsfish.com. I was checking out a bit at work today.

Also, I finally cracked down and downloaded AIM on my work computer. If ya wanna chat with me, I’ll likely be using it during the second half of my lunch hour when I’m at the office. That’s 1130-midnight for ya’ll. It’s a brief window, but it’s there. In a way I kind of like being completely isolated from ya’ll, but frankly it gets a bit lonely out here so I’m glad to have a brief chance to converse with whoever is available.

So today, I had my first Japanese lesson. Doesn’t seem to bad, read through the first chapter of the book she has me starting with (Intermediate Level, go me, I’m not basic!). Aced that, we’re on to chapter two next time. I’ll see about finishing this book within a month and moving on to bigger and better things. Though I admit it’s kind of a gear-shift to get back into student mode since coming out here.

I have to wonder, does anyone actually read this business? It almost doesn’t bother me if no, my primary purpose for this journal is to have a hard copy of my year abroad, I’m just posting it for those who are interested. Though I admit, my oh-so-fragile ego would be crushed if I found some way to check the hit count on my blog page in like February and saw that nobody had looked at it since late august. :-D

Let’s see, so far I’ve received email from Sarah, Toshi, Zach, Turner, Kuwai-sensei, and Kate. I think that’s everyone. Oh and my parents, who will doubtless find this blog eventually given my dad’s habit of googling our last name on a regular basis. But my point is, people who don’t email me don’t get great souvenirs upon my return. I SWEAR that’s not how you spell souvenir, but I guess it is. Well, I’ll be damned.

I think my best friend out here might be Miai(maybe)-san, a 9 year old girl at the kendo dojo, where I am quite the celebrity among the kids. One, I’m exotic and foreign, and two they can all beat the crap out of me – it must be quite exciting for them. Japanese kids are like not at all shy, it’s strange. At least some of them, at any rate. Always they wave when they see me, it’s cool. I was just on the train going to the beach this weekend and at one station there were three kids just watching the trains and eating ice cream and one of them saw me and started pointing and they all laughed and waved for like the full 5 minutes my train was stopped at that station. I really like it when people are friendly for no reason, even if only for a moment, and I’ve always liked kids a lot (except when I had too many little brothers crying…).

That was one of the cool things in The Idiot by Dostoevsky, Myshkin loved kids, thought them the highest in all things. It’s a good way to be – they’re the future, as clichéd as that is, and so it’s cool when they’re coming along as decent. I guess for anyone to feel any hope ever, they have to look at kids, no? Kids are proof that no matter how fucked up it all gets, there’s someone coming who might fix it. If that’s not hope, what is?

Speaking of The Idiot (how are ya liking the stream of consciousness?) I read an interesting commentary by Herman Hesse that said that it had to go the way it did. Now, I know that only Dan can even relate to this, but fuck it cuz this is my journal and not my blog and whatever. So Myshkin is this wonderful, pure manifestation of the Christian ideal of purity, he’s everything good in humanity, he trusts everyone, etc etc etc. And he gets destroyed by those around him. Hesse says that that wasn’t just an accident, and wasn’t even just a commentary on the mindless senseless mess we live in – he says rather that Myshkin, in his goodness, is in actuality an enemy of humanity.

In trusting everyone, in always doing unto others as he would have done, etc, he was actively undermining the fabric of society, and so the fact that he gets in the end a lot of antipathy from those around him is a testament to the fact that his presence is detrimental to the order of things. In shining light into every bit of darkness, he doesn’t consider the fact that that darkness is an essential element of The Way Things Are. This is a lot like what I was ranting about the other day – the only “goodness” that can triumph is that which takes a stand against the status quo to the point of burning it all down. The genius of The Idiot, then, is that this is all sort of implied.

Myshkin is a warrior, a bearer of destruction (albeit in the name of justice, implicitly) but is presented as an affable, lovable young man with nothing but love in his heart. He is indeed both – surely he never even considers himself to be the destructive force that he is, except in passing, in his darkest moods, and this must surely cause him immeasurable pain. I originally thought that the theme of the book was that there was no place in this world for a good person. But it’s more – it’s a character study of the “good person,” and Dostoevsky’s conclusion is that this ideal figure is as oblivious to the shadow as the shadow is incapable of accepting him. Myshkin is the kind of guy that cannot see the evil that he is destroying, he crusades through his very naiveté.

Maybe that’s it – maybe the answer to the world’s problems is simply to ignore them. Maybe the right course of action is simply to do good to everyone and everything one meets, and then all the evil in the world, ever speck of shadow, is utterly meaningless, it can’t make a dent.

This, then, goes back to Socrates – when they kill him, they ask him for his last words. He says, and I’m paraphrasing, that “There are two evils that plague humanity. I, being old, am caught by death, the slower of the two. You, young and clever, are caught by wrongdoing, by far the more dangerous. No matter what you do to me, it cannot matter to me because I know now and will always know that I have done no wrong. In the end, nothing you do can hurt me, because no evil can befall a good man.”

This even captures Myshkin – his end is only tragic because to us he presents a pathetic figure in the end of the book. To himself, were to collect his identity, he is not the victim – the victims are Nastashia and Aglaia, right?

So between Myshkin and Socrates, we have two representation of the same model. The relevant question, then, is how does one begin to live like that? We don’t know much about Socrates’s personal life, but let’s look at Myshkin – he is who he is through his own nature, he doesn’t try. Is the implication, then, that one must be born a Messiah in order to lead this life? Does this, then, leave the rest of us as broken and hopeless as any other argument for hope does?

I’m dropping this rant there, but if ya’ll have any input please let me know.

So lemme see, I think I’ll bust out the Final Fantasy III now. I’ll write more in a bit, I’m leaving this entry open.

Noooo! It’s a NES rom and I only have an SNES emulator. Curses from the deepest dankest depths of darkest hell.

I do find it cool that I seem to be able to just sit down and write in here for an hour or two – though I still don’t consider this to be Writing, with the capital W. I’d like to Write eventually, but every time I try I just realize I have nothing to say, no ideas of my own – the best I can do is something like this, where I just spit out a disjointed analysis of whatever’s on my mind.

Or does this count? Can I take this to the bank? Can I refine this into something they’ll be studying 100 years from now? Because honestly I won’t be satisfied with anything less, and I know I have it in me, I just have to find. I can feel it, squirming around and waiting to jump out, but not yet, always not yet. I have this tremendous sense of “not yet ready” that seems to pervade almost everything I do, does that make sense?

Anyway, the storms seems to have turned out to be a dud, which is a shame because I opted out of Kendo practice tonight for fear of apocalyptic rain. Bah. I think now I go check out that ramen shop near my house. But the journal remains open.

Woo, feeling that. So I go to the local dive, right, where they have ramen and whatnot, and it has the little red paper lantern outside so ya know it’s also a bar, and it’s all a bunch of regulars in there and they were all real cool, talkin’ to me about this and that and buying me drinks all night. Even shared some of their food, for no apparent reason. I’ll be sure to go back.

So the drink of the evening was sou-chuu or something like that. I think it might be the same as the Korean drink souju, maybe? Or maybe not? I dunno, it’s 50 proof and they serve it in large quantities. I had some sort of fried pork. If ya’ve not caught on by my rambling style, I’m feeling a yopparai at the moment. And if you’re really dense, yopparai is Japanese for drunk. But I forge ahead! You see my dedication to you, the reader? It’s all for you, even though I just told you a few pages ago that it was all for me. So I’m a hypocrite. Bwahaha.

Boy, I don’t feel like I’m making sense but I don’t feel like making sense so it’s all good. Gotta throw something new on the record player, I don’t wanna mix odd Coldplay mood with booze, dangerous things could happen.

So let’s see, where was I? This is degenerating into a whole evening’s worth of ranting, so let me see if I can get back on track into some reporting. How about something boring? Lemme try to give a sense of the cost of living around here.

1 yen = about 1 cent, right? But, here, something small and cheap like a snack at the store runs about 150 yen, rather than the 50 or 75 cents we’d pay. So even though they’re about equal in value, 150 yen is worth a lot less than $1.50 in practice. However, that has its limits. At Makudonarudo, for example, a big mac meal runs about 600 yen, which is roughly what it costs in the states, right?

Also, gasoline and drinking water seem to run at about 100 yen per liter, which is a little under 4 bucks a gallon. I dunno if ya’ll know this, but the gas in the US is the cheapest in the world by a factor of at least 2. Even though it’s like 2 bucks now and we’re all having fits, Japan is also cheap, in the big picture, at 4 dollars a gallon. Just something to keep in mind.

So if I just tell you that, you get this sense of Japan as an expensive place to live. On the contrary, though, you can get a boxed lunch at the local convenience store (henceforth, “conbini”) for 300-400 yen. And it’s enough to fill you up, maybe 6 sushi-rolls and a bit of meat or something. So it’s absolutely possible to get by on 1000 yen a day for food, 400 a week for gas for my moped, and figure another 2000/month for miscellaneous expenses. Quick math tells us, then, that the truly frugal can live on (1000x31)+(400x4)+2000=49,000 yen a month. That means a little under 500. But, anyone who knows me knows that the word frugal and I don’t have much in the way of history together. So if we double my food budget, we get about 800 yen a month for expenses and 200 banked, which is interestingly enough the exact figure I had down before. In reality, of course, I’m much more likely to be spending all 1000 and eating ramen for a week between checks. But, ya know, whatever.

Just put away another chapter of the book that’s gonna fill the next month and a half or so (and has filled the past few). I’ll “solve” Ulysses eventually, dammit. And this is bottom of this page of text – doh, just rolled over onto the next one. Curses.

Well, screw that, I’m tired and my booze is wearing off so I’m gonna get some sleep. Ciao.

Yo, how goes. Followed the link through the kendo club e-mail you sent out. Despite having the longest blog posts I've ever read, I'll be keeping up with what's happening with you and Japan. Feel free to read mine if you find yourself especially bored or just need something to do (link should be in the profile). Take care, see ya.

-Gerbs (Matt)
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