Friday, October 29, 2004

Achilles 1917

Diary
Quick update at work
October 29 2004, circa 230pm

All my life, I have been very confused by people who shriek in terror every time their presence is acknowledged, who have so little self-confidence that I wonder if they need someone else’s encouragement to get out of bed in the morning. I could never imagine what it must be like to feel like that, I always assumed it must be half an act to get sympathy or something, I have no idea.

But suddenly, I understand a little bit. I am here in Japan, and I feel (at work) like a complete retard. Everything I write has to be edited and rewritten a thousand times, every time someone explains something to me they have to speak incredibly slowly and repeat it 3 times before I nod a falsified understanding in embarrassment – it is really about the worst feeling I’ve felt in a good long time.

These people all seem so concerned about me, want to make sure I have a good experience in japan – and yet all I want from them is to leave me the fuck alone. I get to pick a task here, I would like very much to work in a hole somewhere where for 8 hours I can do something brainless and then go out and get my real education, talking to people and meeting people and etc. Here, I dunno, I am so completely high strung that every time someone calls my name I feel like “Ooooooh shit, now what?” I can’t take this, it will make me crazy. This has never been me and it never will be, it cannot be – so why am I in this boat?

Is it really all just a matter of language? Do I really feel so stifled because I can’t express and can’t understand? In fairness I feel like that in the states, too – but on another level. My problem has never been finding the words, so much, I read enough as a kid to make me verbose to the point of lunacy. But everyone feels frustration with the idea that they can never fully make another person understand them – expression, from the outset, is a flawed concept. So why should it make so much difference here? In the states, I can’t justify my existence or worldview to anyone willing to try to understand, so just because I don’t have a grasp of the language here doesn’t mean anything is any different. Right?

And yet it is. There is nothing in the world that I hate more than receiving something I had turned in and seeing red. And not just red, but sections crossed out. They are wrong, and they can never be right. It means that I put forth effort that was misguided from the start, doomed to die a useless death. It’s like having a kid and learning you had AIDS and the kid will die, it makes me sick to my stomach. And yet that’s all I get here, unless I write in 1st grade sentences, and then people laugh at me. And oh they laugh, all the time. I mean funny is fine, right, but for Christ’s sake the whole fucking lounge cracked up when I put coffee in a tea cup.

I don’t take myself too seriously but it’s so frustrating to think that something I do can be wrong, and on a fundamental level. It’s like oversleeping, ya know, there’s just something really weird about the fact that you, as a human being, wanted to be up at 6 and you slept until 8. It means that you have failed, that all of your preparations were wasted, and that forever, that morning will be the morning when no matter what you did you came short of where you wanted to be.

Does this sound like madness to anyone else? I am not used to failing, especially not when I make an effort. I mean, TRYING has always been my last resort, my guarantee, my ace in the hole, what I do when all else fails, and it was always been dependable.

Here, I am mortal. It makes me think.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

相手

The Japanese word 相手(aite) means both partner and opponent. I rather like that, it implies that every interaction, be it cooperative or adversitive, establishes a relationship between the participants that distinguishes them from the rest of the world. Maybe the best way to find meaning in life is to find someone to be your aite, your friend and your foe, your companion and your adversary - in that sense, you've always got something to do. I rather like that it's different from simple friendship.

I'm probably just reading too much into a vocab word, but when it's glossed as "parter; opponent" it piques my curiosity.

Anyway yeah, that's all.



Wednesday, October 27, 2004

...in the muddle was the sounddance...

2004年10月28日 (木)、13時
会社

So I've discovered that the most fun you can have on a computer is to check cnn.com and news.bbc.com science sections. There, you generally don't find all the stuff that makes you hate humanity - rather, every day they seem to have 400 new articles about astounding new discoveries.

For instance, you can keep tabs on this new sort of privatized space race, what with the modification of the X-prize into the X-prix, with annual awards. Or, you can read up on the fossils they found in China of a feathered dinosaur, which will possibly revolutionize the way we look at evolution. Or how about the bit about the hobbit-sized humans? They discovered a new species of human being (now extinct, as of about 18000 years ago). They hunted together, built fire, etc - but they evolved on a tiny island, which was relatively safe, so they evolved smaller, as size wasn't a prerequisite for survival. They were wiped out by a volcano, it would seem. How crazy is that, that an entire subsection of humanity - essentially a different species, with the same potential for civilization that we had - became extinct? Or last week, there was an article about the number of genes in human beings - until recently, it was believed we had between 40-100 thousand, but now they say only 20k, which puts us in the same leage as tapeworms. The difference, they say, is that human genes are more complex, more completely evolved, so each gene is capable of many different things.

That last one was cool cuz that night I went home and beat metal gear solid 2, where one of the "facts" they spit out at the end is that the number of genes is actually much higher, like 100k as was originally announced, but that scientists in the early 21st century (this was still the future, this game is a couple of years old) then announced that there were only about 20k. So while I highly doubt that there's a conspiracy to conceal the number of genes in the human body, I find it eerie that I'm living in a "history" mapped out a few years ago in a video game. Raiden, the character, was like "yeah, I remember hearing about that on the news, that there were only 20k." That was weird.

So all this week I am working on writing my report for the month of October. It's all well and good, but it takes forfucking ever. I can do okay in a conversation in Japanese at this point, the speed of my hearing has improved tremendously and my vocabulary has increased a lot as well. But when it comes to writing - well, I dunno, there are differences. Just like in English, you can learn to speak the language and not have any idea how to write a report. That blows - I am really good at writing reports so I write all of mine pretty conversationally and if anyone gets pissed I tell 'em to fuck off, but I can't do that in Japanese until I master the written form, and that takes a while. I'm theorizing.

Not much else new to report. Life is kinda slow and tiresome between weekends. Starting monday, I begin a month at Nissen Chemical, the next block of the company. It'll be good to get a change of scene like that, I look forward to it.

This weekend is Halloween, so we'll see what happens. There is some drama going on (of course) so it's going to be more complicated than I would like. I'll be happy sitting in my apartment with a friend or two and a bottle of booze. Not sure what's going with this girl (my girl?) Ayako, haven't had a chance to speak with her since Monday night.

Just bought a new video game, Phantom Brave. It's from the people who made Disgaea, which was great, and this game also looks great. No english, but I'm getting by with about 70% comprehension, I think. It doesn't rush through conversations, so I have time to read em and look up words and such. It's kinda good practice. I just wish I wasn't so damn tired at night.

My new policy, though, is bed by 11 on worknights. I'm still kinda tired, so I'll try this for a week and then maybe do bed by 10. It really is kind of a switch from the college life to this one - I didn't think it would be, right, cuz Ive had 830 classes all year so its not so different, right? But after class, I go home. That's the difference. And in class, it doesn't so much matter what I do, as long as I'm there. Here, though, is like a year-long Japanese test, where I have to not only be present (early, actually) but fully able to perform all of my duties. It really is kind of a bitch.

Oh, and kendo. I haven't even gone this month. I just have no energy, and that's bad. I need to get my shit together and start practicing so I can go home and kick ass.

Anyway, they just turned the lights on, so lunch break is over. Peace.

...in the muddle was the sounddance...

2004年10月28日 (木)、13時
会社

So I've discovered that the most fun you can have on a computer is to check cnn.com and news.bbc.com science sections. There, you generally don't find all the stuff that makes you hate humanity - rather, every day they seem to have 400 new articles about astounding new discoveries.

For instance, you can keep tabs on this new sort of privatized space race, what with the modification of the X-prize into the X-prix, with annual awards. Or, you can read up on the fossils they found in China of a feathered dinosaur, which will possibly revolutionize the way we look at evolution. Or how about the bit about the hobbit-sized humans? They discovered a new species of human being (now extinct, as of about 18000 years ago). They hunted together, built fire, etc - but they evolved on a tiny island, which was relatively safe, so they evolved smaller, as size wasn't a prerequisite for survival. They were wiped out by a volcano, it would seem. How crazy is that, that an entire subsection of humanity - essentially a different species, with the same potential for civilization that we had - became extinct? Or last week, there was an article about the number of genes in human beings - until recently, it was believed we had between 40-100 thousand, but now they say only 20k, which puts us in the same leage as tapeworms. The difference, they say, is that human genes are more complex, more completely evolved, so each gene is capable of many different things.

That last one was cool cuz that night I went home and beat metal gear solid 2, where one of the "facts" they spit out at the end is that the number of genes is actually much higher, like 100k as was originally announced, but that scientists in the early 21st century (this was still the future, this game is a couple of years old) then announced that there were only about 20k. So while I highly doubt that there's a conspiracy to conceal the number of genes in the human body, I find it eerie that I'm living in a "history" mapped out a few years ago in a video game. Raiden, the character, was like "yeah, I remember hearing about that on the news, that there were only 20k." That was weird.

So all this week I am working on writing my report for the month of October. It's all well and good, but it takes forfucking ever. I can do okay in a conversation in Japanese at this point, the speed of my hearing has improved tremendously and my vocabulary has increased a lot as well. But when it comes to writing - well, I dunno, there are differences. Just like in English, you can learn to speak the language and not have any idea how to write a report. That blows - I am really good at writing reports so I write all of mine pretty conversationally and if anyone gets pissed I tell 'em to fuck off, but I can't do that in Japanese until I master the written form, and that takes a while. I'm theorizing.

Not much else new to report. Life is kinda slow and tiresome between weekends. Starting monday, I begin a month at Nissen Chemical, the next block of the company. It'll be good to get a change of scene like that, I look forward to it.

This weekend is Halloween, so we'll see what happens. There is some drama going on (of course) so it's going to be more complicated than I would like. I'll be happy sitting in my apartment with a friend or two and a bottle of booze. Not sure what's going with this girl (my girl?) Ayako, haven't had a chance to speak with her since Monday night.

Just bought a new video game, Phantom Brave. It's from the people who made Disgaea, which was great, and this game also looks great. No english, but I'm getting by with about 70% comprehension, I think. It doesn't rush through conversations, so I have time to read em and look up words and such. It's kinda good practice. I just wish I wasn't so damn tired at night.

My new policy, though, is bed by 11 on worknights. I'm still kinda tired, so I'll try this for a week and then maybe do bed by 10. It really is kind of a switch from the college life to this one - I didn't think it would be, right, cuz Ive had 830 classes all year so its not so different, right? But after class, I go home. That's the difference. And in class, it doesn't so much matter what I do, as long as I'm there. Here, though, is like a year-long Japanese test, where I have to not only be present (early, actually) but fully able to perform all of my duties. It really is kind of a bitch.

Oh, and kendo. I haven't even gone this month. I just have no energy, and that's bad. I need to get my shit together and start practicing so I can go home and kick ass.

Anyway, they just turned the lights on, so lunch break is over. Peace.

Monday, October 25, 2004

nutshell

Here's what's been up the past two weeks. No rambling diary entry, just the bullets -

- Matsuri. This is a big festival. Everyone gets really drunk and carries 3-ton drums around town. Sometimes the drums fight. This is sort of a joust, where one drum tries to poke its handles through the other drum. I saw an entire drum thing get destroyed, and I think someone died. It's madness. It was because of this matsuri, and the ensuing fatigue, that I have not really updated much this month. I was helping to carry one of these things for three days. www.backwardsfish.com has pictures. Although Pat seems to think my name is Mike. The bastard.

Anyway that was a lot of fun. It was. But I wish theyd given me a day off.

-Translating. As if working in Japanese 8-5 M-F isn't enough, I took a bit of a part-time job editing a translation of an "artistic" series of essays about Niihama, written by some famous haiku writer. These were translated into English, and it was my job to make the translations sound artistic and beautiful. So, the first and the third weekends in October I spent pouring over manuscripts. I got 600 dollars and some change for it, but it was a bitch. I am still not quite done, still gotta give the final read through for about 5 essays.

Anyway, between the Matsuri and the translating, and the 3 typhoons we had this month, I have not so much had a weekend. I am really, really tired all the time. It has started to show on my face, I think, because everyone keeps asking me if I am okay. It wouldn't be a big deal but it's starting to slow me down in the morning. I used to get in at 745, now I get in around 750, which is the absolute deadline. This week has been the worst - Monday I got here at 755, and today I received a phone call which woke me up - around 8am. Very embarassing. I need to go find some vitamins, my mother tells me, and sleep more. I think I will - nothing is so interesting that I need to stay up late every weeknight.

Oh, and I seem to have stumbled my way into a girlfriend. Her name's Ayako. She's pretty, speaks better english than most (but not good english, like, my japanese is better), and cooks/bakes. And she likes to eat, she's tiny and can keep up with me at dinner. It's scary. The other day she came over to help me bake a cake (cuz I needed a cake, long story, more weekend volunteer stuff) and when I started cleaning up afterwards she chased me out of the kitchen, insisting that I play video games while she cleans up. I think I may be in love. ;) She's the one on the left in this picture: http://www.backwardsfish.com/japan/28todd/28todd-Pages/Image4.html

The only thing that makes me uneasy about the whole affair is that she's 23, a college grad, and her 22 year old brother is married and has a kid, and she seems to be looking to get married. I am certainly not in any position to oblige her there, but it's all good. We'll have fun.

Well, I am going to go be productive today - I removed AIM from my work computer yesterday, I want to concentrate and study hard here. It's been kind of rough for me lately, what with the fatigue and all, and also I've always been a terrible student, so I need to reinvent myself a bit.

Please email me!


Thursday, October 21, 2004

I'm alive, I swear. Been a rough week. Come to think of it, been kind of a rough month. This might be a rough year, now that I'm thinking about it. But I dig it. Update about festival coming.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Karaoke is fun...

but god damn it, not until 5am on a work night.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Snake? Snake!!!

Tuesday October 12, 2004
Midnightish (so, Monday night)

Yeah, so I was in crappy mood so I solved it in true American fashion, I bought something expensive. :-D I am the proud new owner of a Japanese Playstation 2. But not just any playstation two, mine was a set that included the hard drive and the network adapter. I dropped 25,000 yen on it, which is about 250 bucks, which is a liiittle bit steep for that package if you get it in the states but overall not too bad, it’s a good price for here. And it’s got this dark blue/quasi transparent thing going on. I dig it.

Apparently, though, it’s not enough to have a hard drive? One still needs a memory card? That kind of blows. That means I need two, as I picked up MGS 1 and 2, and the first is for PS1, so I need one of each, so that’s 45 bucks I didn’t think I’d have to spend. Blah.

The real mistake, though, is not buying Todd’s system, cuz he was gonna sell me this particular setup for 19,000, but I opted not to cuz it seemed more than I needed, given that I have no internet at my place. But I was at the used store and a regular used PS2 goes for about 18k, and then the harddrive/network thing goes for another 100 used, so I figured I’d save some money. But yeah, whatever. I got it to throw around thanks to my proofreading efforts.

One thing that IS kind of cool is that apparently the Metal Gear games are all in English over here anyway, with Japanese subtitles. Sort of a style thing, I suppose. They ARE set in America. What’s great, then, is that surely the new one that comes out next month will be along the same lines. Now I’m excited.

I watched a movie called “Hana-bi” tonight. It’s a Japanese word that means “Fireworks,” and the film was wonderful. It was directed by and starred Beat Takeshi, who is kind of the whiz-kid of Japanese pop art over the past 30 years. He starred as the teacher in Battle Royale. Hana-bi was really good, sort of like a serious, sad Quentin Tarantino film.

Four day week this week, I’m excited. And it’s someone’s birthday on Wednesday, which likely means another expensive dinner. Groan. Oh, and Ayako, the girl I invited to dinner this evening, declined. That’s rather disappointing, but whatever. And Festivals start this week, I’d forgotten about that. That’s kind of cool, it means work is gonna be kind of a kill-time-until-going-out-drinking-and-carrying-drums-this-weekend. Oh, but that means I gotta drink and carry drums all weekend, that blows. I kinda just was already looking forward to chilling. But there’ll be plenty of that after work each day, I suppose. Gotta go get a memory card or two, then I can resume the lifestyle of a video gamer. Woot. Dan, and Jon – nobody around here seems to have or have heard of Tekken. I was very excited about practicing and coming back and kicking your arses. Kind of a shame. Maybe I’ll just get a DDR pad. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll get creative and find a wicked cool game over here that nobody has ever heard of and get great at THAT, and then NEVER play anyone in it back in the states cuz it’s Japanese-only. That’d be cool.

Gah, still vaguely cranky and now tired, and I have kendo practice in 5 hours. I really kind of wish I hadn’t gotten myself into this kendo deal here, it’s so embarrassing to go practice with these little kids, with their parents watching. And I don’t even have armor. I thought in the mornings would be adults, but apparently not. It’s just like the next age-bracket up, the junior high kids. Blah. Going to bed.

I like you like she like he like chicken bone...

Monday, 11 October1500, at my apartment
So let’s see if in one fell swoop I can catch up with today. As I recall, I have taken us through the weekend after the mud, wrapping up with proofreading.
That Monday, I went to work and was going to start in the Construction section but they were all really busy still with Typhoon stuff so I sat around my main office. Writing my report. Bleh.
Tuesday morning, I got up for kendo, and went down there – and there was no teacher. There was practice, but no teacher, so nobody could unlock the showers, so I went home, cuz I’m not about to go to work after kendo practice with nary a shower. Then I was late on my first day in the Construction block because my shower takes so damn long and I was banking on taking one there. Ah well.
Anyway, I got to construction, the boss mispronounced my name when he introduced me, and they sat me at an empty desk in a corner. Eventually, same came over to talk to me, and he was gonna explain various stuff about company history but between my lack of language skills and the fact that we weren’t actually going out to the various sites to look around, we opted instead on a let’s-not-and-say-we-did approach which worked out nicely. That afternoon, he introduced me to the guys who did architecture and planning and whatnot, and sat me down at a computer with a CAD program on it.
When I got up from said computer on Friday, I had met my requirements and completed a model of my parent’s house, my house in Columbus, and my dream house. It was kind of like a week-long computer kindergarten. We were not impressed.
Oh, and the reason I had the bit of my journal handwritten was that I had nothing to do at first when they just sat me at that empty desk. So I handwrote a page of journal.
Other excitement, Wednesday night went out for Alex’s birthday. Korean food and a bar, running me about 60 bucks, was a bit steep. But it was a good time, and I got to talk to a bunch of girls so it’s all good, right?
Got home around 2, skipped kendo the next morning, back to the grind as it were.
So yeah, kind of a slow week. That brings us through this weekend, where not much of anything really happened, there was some vague sitting around in apartments. Ayako came down from Saijo to hang out both nights. Last night was “Guys night”, but I’m not even gonna get into that. Today, though Monday, is a holiday, which is cool. Had a 12 hour proof-reading session yesterday, where these women kept insinuating that my wording wasn’t subtle enough, and that the 3 line sentence they had for “It was him!” implied the careful Japanese subtlety and craft that us westerners couldn’t get. They paid me, though, so it’s cool. And that brings us to today. I just emailed Ayako to ask her to join me for dinner, so maybe I’ll do that tonight. Maybe I’ll just sit around. I’m feeling kinda pissy.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

If you sit down with this old clown, I'll your frown and break it...

Friday, October 8 2004
21:20
My apartment

Loyal readers, sorry about the delay between posts. I’ve been busy as hell. Allow me to enter in what I wrote by hand at work the other day:
-Writing by hand is a sort of residue of another age, it’s a baby with a vestigial tail. However, there are times when it must be done. Did you know Nick Cave was once spotted on a subway writing his lyrics with a bloody syringe? Talk about tearing off the tail.

But, I have a narrative to complete. I’ll explain later why this is written by hand (…and entered into computer later, you hairy ape!).

So, when last we saw our hero, he was dead in a river of runoff water during the tail end (more tails!) of a Shakespearean-in-magnitude tempest. Kill bill references abound, though that line drove me nuts in the movie cuz it sounds so unpretty.

Anyway, a normal man would stop there. For our hero, however, “death is not the end. (Nick Cave> Though the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men, just remember, death is not the end. Shane MacGowan > Not the end, not the end…. Kylie Minogue> Just remember, death is not the end…).”

So anyway, he woke up the next morning (which was sunny and beautiful) only to discover that the entire world had been washed away by the rain, the tears of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for the sins of humanity. Then he remembered that he was hyperbolizing, and that if he didn’t hurry he’d be late for work.

And so hurry he did, putting on his last clean set of work clothes and hauling arse to the office on his bike, over and around mountains and valleys of storm-dredged sludge. Upon arrival, he remembered the phone call he’d received just prior to his death the night before. His office, situated in a bit of a valley between two ridges, had taken heavy casualties. The entire parking lot looked like a motocross course without the angst poppunk music and racers, and the first floor looked like an aquarium.

Glad he worked on the sixth floor, our intrepid salary-man-to-be-but-not-really went to the elevator, only to almost die for a second time in 12 hours when it turned out not to be functioning. Of course, flooded shafts. With a sigh, he walked to the stairs, waving as he went to his Viking friends, who were pillaging desks and stocking up on secretaries.

--and that’s the extent of the manuscript. The author, we know through carbon dating, lived some time in the very early 21st century. Archeologists the world over were overcome with joy to find an actual hand-written piece of literature from the age shortly before the earth was mostly destroyed by the great Mormon Uprising of 2007. Please note that recent studies have argued that the presence of Vikings, especially Vikings acting in so unrestrained a manner, is highly unlikely given the timeframe.

Moving on to our next exhibit, another fragment of the same story, we get a better idea of what life must have been like in the dark ages. As it is not handwritten, there is no way of actually confirming its validity, but there is general agreement that style and content make it an immediate follow up to the Besshi Manuscript. This was, like the manuscript, discovered by vacationing students near the base of Besshi Volcano in the Crater region of what was once known as Japan. It has been preserved miraculously through the centuries, likely due in part to the protection provided by the author’s mostly-intact body slumped over it. Interestingly enough, the body exhibits signs of death just prior to the surprise eruption of Mount Besshi in spring 2005. Lodged in the corpse’s throat is a mummified piece of what appears to be raw “fish.” “Fish” were monsters that lived in the “sea” in those days; please see our ecological exhibits on the fourth floor for more details.

The exhibit:

After scaling the stairs, our hero gleefully collapsed at his desk. A few minutes later, he noticed that there was nobody else in the office. He was confused for a moment, then decided it would be in his best interest to surf the internet for a bit in the confusion.

Sadly, the confusion was only his own, as a few minutes later one of his bosses came in and asked him his schedule for the day. As his schedule consisted of doing whatever they wanted him to, he reported as much and was promptly sent home to change into clothes more suitable for scrounging around in fecal goo.

He raced home on his bike, in the process coating his good clothing with mud that kicked up from the street, changed, and raced back. Then it was time for the operation.

When he arrived, he stowed his bike to the side of the parking lot. The lot itself was filled, as mentioned, with slime and mud from the typhoon – no asphalt was visible. Someone put a push broom/scrub brush in his hand and sent him towards the nearest crowd of troops scrubbing valiantly at the mud. He felt as though he had been drafted.

So without even the benefit of boot camp, our hero found himself on the front lines. He and his comrades, though striving for dear life, found it very difficult to make any headway against the mud. Every time they cleared a pillbox or secured a beachhead, the enemy would mount a counter attack from behind. Yamauchi-san from Engineering was the first to fall, swallowed by a 3 meter mud swell. Tanaka-san, leader of the troop, died shortly thereafter, to a sniper. And so on and so forth.

Just when a full-retreat looked to be in order, reinforcements arrived in the form of a water tanker. Wartime metaphors increased exponentially as the heavily outgunned and outnumbered troops stopped to cheer for the arrival of the heavy artillery. Starting at one corner of the parking lot, then, the tanker began to gush water as the troops stood behind it and scrubbed. This time, the mud could not hold its ground, and was swept away in the tides of battle.

It was in this manner that the parking lot was finally subdued. The tanker made many trips to the filling station, during which time the remaining soldiers would huddle together, bravely facing down the ever-encroaching mud.

Once the entire lot had been cleared in this manner, it was still vaguely slimy. The next part of the operation, then involved a cement truck, also carrying water. The volume of dispersal was much greater with the cement truck, and rather than a plume of pressured water it spit out a veritable river of uncontrolled fluid. The last of the mud in the parking lot was swept to the drain gutters.

Then, of course, it was time to clean the drain gutters. They were maybe a foot wide and a foot deep, with removable metal grating over them, and surrounded the lot. The remaining mud had regrouped inside them, a solidly fortified position that was rather difficult to approach. As simply clearing the parking lot without actually exterminating the entire mud race was simply not an acceptable course of action, we took the metal grating off and got shovels.

And so under the burning sun of a clear day, after spending three hours scrubbing the parking lot by hand, the platoon began to dig. The mud was deep, and thick, and the fortifications were illshaped to allow shovels in. And so for the next two hours, the troops took the mud, ounce by ounce, from the gutters to waiting wheelbarrows. As the mud’s numbers began to dwindle, it was necessary for them to drop pushbroom/scrubbrushes into the gutter and slide them all the way down, thus grouping the mud in corners, where it was finished off.

So finally, the parking lot was completed. Our hero, once again an individual after hours of working as a part of a collective, gulped air and juice and cast around for what was coming. To his relief and surprise, the company executives had ordered food for everyone. He gladly washed his hands in a basin outside (there was no functioning plumbing in the building) and relished his tempura bento.

All too soon, it was time to start again. He was astonished to realize that the army was mobilizing for an external strike – both the cement truck and the water tanker had returned, and were waiting in the street in front of the building. The troops grabbed their weapons, and all proceeded to scrub the streets around the office building. Not simply right before the building, either – they cleaned from intersection to intersection, pausing now and again to scrub the front yard of some poor resident or shop.

This work was quite grueling, and so by 2:00 our hero was pretty worn out. Finally, however, the trucks departed for the last time, and everyone returned to the building, where another division had spent the day cleaning the first floor. Now, everything in the lobby had been destroyed, down to the floor – so the first order of business was to salvage what could be salvaged and dispose of the rest. The people working there were in the process of moving furniture and salvageables to the now clean parking lot. They welcomed the tired scrubbers, and the work was done quickly. Then half of the group removed and discarded floor tiles, while the other half scrubbed furniture outside. As there were over 100 people working on this project, it went pretty quickly. By 4:30, the inside was once again more or less clean, and the salvageable equipment was cleaned and replaced.

Given that it was almost 5, our hero naturally assumed that that was about it. He was physically exhausted, completely worn out. For this reason, he was rather perplexed when he saw a large group he had not seen earlier, entirely coated with mud, smelling of feces, and with the look of death in their eyes. When someone gave him a pair of gloves and pointed in the general direction of this squad, he was horrified but ultimately not surprised.

As it turned out, the building had a basement.

The entire basement had been more or less filled with mud and water, and this small elite group had been draining and scrubbing all day. What was left for them was to empty out the incredible volume of rubbish from down there. The basement, as it happened, was used primarily for storage. There were vast chasms, underground chambers filled with desks and cubicle walls, shafts holding stack upon stack of paper. And all of it was completely permeated with fecal water. It was time for work.

This was it, the last stronghold of the mud. Everyone, all hundred fifty plus employees, got together and lined up, all the way from the storage rooms to the surface. Junk was then passed from person to person all the way up, until it was finally put into a (rather well organized) pile in the parking lot. Our hero, uncommonly large and strong, volunteered to join the small task force that was carrying desks and file cabinets, things too large to send up the line.

And so, until around 630, the forces were so occupied. By that time, the main storage room had been cleared and the sun had set. Our hero’s superiors offered to give him a ride home, saying that the work would likely continue deep into the night and that our hero should have gone home at five, as his work day ended then. Our hero, however, gallant knight and defender of the public good that he was, scoffed, and said he would remain to the end, never looking back. His superiors were vaguely surprised that a foreigner would turn down an opportunity to call it quits for a day, and went on their way. Two minutes later word came that the day’s work was complete, and that everyone should come the next day in clothing appropriate for continued efforts along the same line.

Our hero, not even caring about the irony, biked home and emailed his friends, demanding someone join him for a drink. Todd replied, and invited him to participate in an impromptu trip to the karaoke bar. Our hero agreed, and spent the night singing and drinking with Todd, Jay, and a Japanese girl named Ayako. Inappropriately inebriated for a night between two days of physical labor, our hero got home around 130 and went to sleep only to wake up what seemed a moment later, and went to work.

Friday’s work was nothing to be surprised about. The basement was cleared out entirely, and then the pile of rubbish in the parking lot was sorted and removed. All was done around 3:00, and our hero sat around the office in jeans and an undershirt so covered in filth that he was almost washed out the door, mistaken for an enemy.

Friday night was, once again, Karaoke. Drinking and singing and drinking and singing late into the night, our hero celebrated the end of his hellish front-line experience until around 2, when he biked home, crawled into bed, and slept solidly until 5pm the next day. That night, Saturday, was a beach party in commemoration of Todd, who was leaving Niihama forever on Monday night. Dozens of people came, braving rain and bugs, and all laughed and drank for hours in a light drizzle, watching the sun set into the sea. Our hero, delighted with the idea that a good-bye party for one of Niihama’s most dearly beloved residents was celebrated with rain and sunset, enjoyed conversation and company late into the night.

Jackie and Jay and Alex and Avy all played guitar, and between them many interesting songs were played. Our hero recognizes what a lame sentence that was, shut up. Anyway, yeah. I think the story portion is over. I just couldn’t make that humorous or interesting. Sad – but ah well.

The goodbye party on the beach for Todd was really a lot of fun. I met a few more interesting people, most notably a few native girls. Ayako, who had come to Karaoke Thursday night, was 23 and very friendly, as was Wakana. I also got to know Sophie a bit more – she is from Scotland, and has a great accent. Please check out backwardsfish.com for photographs of the people and events that night.

I got a ride home from Ayako and Wakana, around 5am. This was rather humorous, as I had an appointment to proofread some translations at 8am the next day. So, I slept. Meh, whatever, I got up okay.

The next day’s proofreading was exciting. Apparently, the city of Niihama, as a sort of publicity bid, has hired a famous local haiku writer to do a sort of series of short essays about people and places in and around Niihama. This, then, was translated into English, and my job was to proofread the translations. Some of them were pretty good, some were pretty rough, but I worked until about 4pm. I am doing the same thing tomorrow (Sunday. I started writing this on Friday night, but it is now Saturday morning. There was a jazz club somewhere in the middle there), from 8am until 9pm. I’m very excited.

Yeah, I know, that sucks – but they’re paying me 30,000 yen. Which is around 300 dollars. Which is a playstation 2 and a few games. So yeah, I’m there. :-D

Anyway, I think it’s about time I wind up this entry. Boy, just writing about that cleaning project made me really tired. Heh, I’m gonna read through it later, but I betcha it sounds really boring. It was. But, I’m glad I was FINALLY able to do something productive at Ichimiya. I can’t understand a word they say, but I can lift heavy things. Later!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

How cool is this?

http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/space/10/05/spaceshipone.race.ap/index.html

More typooh story coming, just chill, all you screaming fans...

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Book III - The Typhoon. Chapter 1.

Hey ya'll, sorry this took me so long to put up, this has been a CRAZY week. Also, this is only about 1/3 of the whole adventure, so look forward to more - this is the warm up. Have fun!




Book III – The Typhoon

September 30. 1923

Book III was going to be October, but that’s going to have to be book 4. The Typhoon and its surrounding adventures must get their own book, and that’s all there is to it. Plus, the typhoon adventure is not yet over, and tomorrow will be October. So no bitching.

Now, before I get into the meat of the story, I think the start of book 3 is a good place to change the pace a bit and introduce characters and setting a bit more concretely. Specifically, I need to tell you guys about work, the people and the office. Without some background knowledge, I fear the typhoon adventure would lose some of its depth.

First, the city of Niihama. Niihama has been around forever, like hundreds and hundreds of years, but before the 17th century it was kind of a good-for-nothing harborfarm. Then, some say around the year 16 double-ought 93, the Sumitomo family opened a copper mine in the mountains just north of the city. From that day on, Niihama has been famous for its copper, and extrapolating from that for its industrial capacity. It’s got a good location on the inland sea, not too far from Hiroshima and not too far from Osaka by ship. Moreover, there was an abundance of copper, a key industrial component. For this reason, the Sumitomo family made Niihama a sort of center for some of their business endeavors. Side note: the Sumitomo family (now the Sumitomo Zaibatsu, one of the three largest companies in Japan) is a business family. One of the crazy things about Japan is that big companies can trace their history back hundreds and hundreds of years – isn’t that weird? “Oh, yeah, Sumitomo ran this mine from 16whenever until 1963.” “Sumitomo? The family or the company?” “…” *strange look* “Erm, both?”

Anyway, Niihama had the hell bombed out of it during WWII. It was a major industrial center, and so the factories and also the homes of the factory workers were destroyed to put it out of commission. Now, about 60% of the population of Niihama at the time consisted of Sumitomo employees – that’s tens of thousands. So between the factories and the homes of its employees, Sumitomo had a lot of repairs to do after the war. The one thing it needed more than anything, however, was wood.

Cut now to Shirataki, a small village about 150 miles west of Niihama. There, a small lumber company was run by an unknown family. Knowing a great opportunity when it saw one, this family wasted no time in making a GIFT of an assload of wood and sending it to Sumitomo, with a cherry on top. Sumitomo was happy, and started sending contracts and referrals towards this company. Gradually, the lumber company became very prosperous, and branched out into several fields – not only did they need to chop the lumber, they also had to deliver it various places, and this of course created logistical issues that had to be worked out, and etc etc etc, right?

So this small lumber company (which was, of course, the Ichimiya family’s enterprise) suddenly had a lot of money and a lot of responsibility. Given its recent experience in the big leagues, though, the management knew what to do. They modeled their company on the Sumitomo model – essentially, they split the company into several “blocks”, or smaller companies within the main company. Thus, there was a lumber block, a transportation block, a construction block, etc. This proved highly efficient, and as they became more and more wealthy they branched out into many different fields. Eventually, Sumitomo invited them to build an office in Niihama, to ease relations between the companies and make things go even smoother. Ichimiya, of course, jumped at the chance to relocate to the biggest industrial port in Ehime prefecture, especially at the personal behest of one of the most important families in Japan. And so, Ichimiya came to Niihama, build an office, and continued to thrive and expand.

The time came when the copper mine had to be closed. More than a thousand feet below sea level, it was simply causing too many logistical problems to be profitable. Sumitomo closed up shop and made to leave Niihama, but had a significant problem on its hands in that it had accrued a significant amount of chemical waste from some project or another, and it had no idea what to do with it. In stepped the newly formed Ichimiya Chemical Block, and offered to take that waste off of Sumitomo’s hands. From there, a few technological breakthroughs later and Ichimiya was recycling the waste into all manner of various useful things, like bags and toothbrushes and whatnot. All the while, profits were going up.

One day, another of the biggest businesses in Japan needed some help. Honda was looking for something they could put into their cars that was lightweight and durable, a plastic they could use to line the insides of their car doors etc. Well, who do you suppose steps up with the miraculous alchemical ability to turn Sumitomo’s waste into absolutely unique and high-tech plastic? No, not Captain Planet, Ichimiya. And so the cycle starts over, where Ichimiya kind of caters to the various needs of a large patron company and gets into Honda’s good graces just as it got into Sumitomo’s.

Now, as well all know, Honda is huge. Like, really big, right? And one of the things they did was build factories all over the world, including Columbus, Ohio. So one day in the 1980’s, Honda invites Ichimiya Group’s Chemical Block’s Nissen Chemical company (did you follow that?) to, yep, build a factor in Columbus. This is London Industries, which I believe is somewhere really close to OSU.

Never one to waste an opportunity, Nissen (and Ichimiya, by extension) established ties with the local HUGE research institution and one element of that was the OSU Japanese Department/Ichimiya Group cultural exchange program, which was essentially a system where every year an Ichimiya employee goes to OSU to study English and an OSU student goes to Ichimiya headquarters, in Niihama, Japan, to be an intern.

And that brings us to my favorite subject, me. I am the 13th OSU/Ichimiya intern, continuing a proud tradition, yadda yadda yadda. I really really like this company, I think. When asked, “What kind of internship is it?” I always give a vague answer…”I’ll be, uh, doing business stuff…it’s complicated…” Well, here’s the breakdown, now that I’ve explained the history. For four months, I am in a different “block” every month. September I am in the main, super-structural logistical group. Basically, the handful of 5 people that manage ALL the blocks, take care of finances and appointments and general logistical stuff. I am technically interning for them. But, starting tomorrow (ostensibly, but we’ll get to that) I begin a month in the Construction block. Within the construction block are 6 companies, and I’ll spend 2 weeks with the main one and then, due to a fluke in God’s plan, drink heavily and carry big drums around for a week during the Saijo and Niihama festivals (which are back-to-back). After that I will write a month report. So much for the construction Block, I’ll just be with the main company for 2 weeks, which is fine. It’s all based in the same building (well, not ALL, but the main company is).

Oh, and speaking of the building, this is important. It’s 7 stories tall, and each floor is more or less devoted to a different company or block or whatever. I work on the 6th floor now, but I’ll be moving to the third floor for my misadventures in construction. In November, when I do the Chemical block, I believe that’s the 5th floor. Etc, you get the idea. Anyway, part of the Transportation and Logistics block (December) is the travel agency which takes up the first floor of our building. Now, this is the public face of Ichimiya – this is where customers come in, where they talk to people, etc. I dunno square footage, but it’s about the size of a quarter of a city block, has about 50 people that work in it, and contains tons of displays and such for the customers. Real busy, happening, bustling place. Oh, and they can get me discounts on travel. :-D

Anyway, that’s the office. After December is January. In January, I basically have a month to more fully explore any company or operation I’ve seen, or, if I want to, some that I have not seen. At the end of January, I pick a job in any of these companies, and that becomes my career for the rest of my life until August 1, when I return to where I started to write my final report etc. So THAT is my internship. I was gonna write about the various people in my main group, but I think I’ll do that tomorrow – I think my bath is about done boiling, and after that I am going to have a drink. This is all you get today.

Okay I lied. Just showered and got about 40 mins to kill until Karaoke, apparently. Which is of course just what I need before tomorrow’s misadventures. But anyway, let me relate the tale of the Typhoon.

Just because I am feeling creative, I am going to do this in third person.


Our hero awoke Wednesday morning, noting only that it was a morning much like any other – he was tired, the shower needed an hour to heat up, it was going to be a long day at work, and he was tired. Also, it was raining outside – he could hear it through his windows, which he had left open that night to allow in some air. It was raining pretty hard, but his apartment was still pretty dry, and he thought nothing of it.

The commute to work was, as could be expected when riding a moped through three miles of heavy traffic during a torrential downpour, somewhat tricky. Fortunately for us, our hero was as intrepid as he was clever and handsome, and won the day with his stylish rain suit thrown on stylishly over his rather stylish work clothes. By the time he arrived at work, 30 minutes later and about 3 years older, he was still more or less dry. And that was when he remembered the scheduled typhoon. It was to hit that evening, but if the rain in the morning failed to give any indication of rough sailing between now and then, the clouds making threatening faces just over the mountains did not.

He remembered several other things at that particular moment. For no particular reason he remembered that he rather liked sushi, and that it was cheap in his newly adopted home. He also remembered that he had a great deal to do before his return trip that evening – he had to write page upon page of personal report, covering the entire past month. And it had to be in Japanese, a foreign tongue captured on paper with writhing demons known as kanji. And it needed pictures. He sighed. And then he remembered distinctly that he had left his windows open, and saw, like Merlin, the exact nature of his impending doom. His would be a death by water. Or at least, a death at the hands of his furious boss when she learned that his apartment had been killed by water.

However, never one to worry about anything worth worrying about, our hero shrugged and bought some coffee. It was time for the report.

That day, it was rather difficult to concentrate on writing. As he sat at his desk, he needed only look beyond the contours of his (rather old) monitor at the window beyond it to see that the clouds had commenced their first barrage. It seemed to grow darker by the minute, until around 10:37 it was actually so dark and threatening that it seemed bright and cheerful. For a moment his spirits lifted. Then, like a ship tossed around in a child’s bathtub, they plummeted back into reality, seized as it were by the testicles by a writhing mass of kanji.

Eventually it got so bright and happy outside that it looked dark and stormy, which of course it had been the whole time. Around lunchtime, he began to regret mocking his neighbor Noah for building that ship. And calling it an “ark.” I mean, a ship is a ship, right? What the fuck is an ark? Japanese can’t even say “ark”, so the whole experience was really rather surreal, but he regretted it nonetheless.

By three, large sections of his building were actually being torn away by the rain and tossed around by the clouds, who seemed to be having a grand old time. The other people in the office seemed not to notice, so he didn’t pay much attention to it. When one of the secretaries was actually torn limb from limb by a particularly rambunctious cumulonimbus, though, he began to worry that perhaps it would have been worth braving the storm again to shut his windows.

At any rate, by 4 o’clock his boss seized him by the throat and dragged him out to a waiting car which took him straight home. He was rather relieved that he did not have to ride the moped in the rain, which had at that point actually become fire. What he was not relieved by, however, was the ocean which had formed around his apartment building. His ride could not get within 50 yards of it due to the 15 foot swells and small crowd of particularly dedicated surfers. So, work clothes and all, he waded over to the dock from which a ferry to the apartment building was just about to depart. Since he was in Japan, the ferry ride cost him about 4000 yen.

Slowly, dreadfully, he climbed to the fourth floor. When he got to his landing, he was vaguely perturbed by the puddle that had formed just outside his door. He unlocked his room and, to his great surprise, found that a longboat full of Vikings had shipwrecked in his kitchen.

No, that’s a lie. They were in the living room.

That’s also a lie. There was no living room.

That’s not a lie. But the implication that the first lie was false only in regards to the layout of his apartment was, to say the least, vaguely dishonest. There were no Vikings. And there was also no grand ocean, at least not in the foyer. He took off his shoes and rain gear, and sloooowly entered the apartment. The kitchen? The door was wide open, but the wind was blowing from the opposite direction and so there was absolutely no problem. The tome over which he had been pouring the night before was still open to the same page on the same table – which was good, as had the table been different he would have been quite confused.

He opened the sliding door from the kitchen and held his breath as he turned on the light. That window, too, was open, but as it faced the same side as the kitchen the tatami floor covering was perfectly dry.

He knew what he’d find in the third room even before the door refused to open because it was wet and stuck to the other door on the side. Enlisting the aid of the Vikings in his kitchen (who, okay, I admit, were not shipwrecked), he managed to break through the storm’s fortifications and into his bedroom.

“I am Mykola of the White Horse, herald of the West, cloud slayer, and abuser of epic forms,” he announced boldly. Even the Vikings around him cowered as he bellowed his cry and strapped on his armor. His breastplate, forged in the far away citadel of Sanfu Ranshisuko, was made from the shimmering, unearthly white teeth of dentists, and blinded his foes with irony. His helmet was actually the hollowed out head of the gorgon Bill O’Reilly, fearsome in its blank stare – it protected him from any argument or persuasion, no matter how reasonable. His gauntlets, say the chroniclers, he got for a buck fifty at the Salvation Army street on Sprague and 130th. And his greaves, blacker than the blackest storm (which we have already established is pretty damn black), were borrowed from Dan Jones, and gave him the power of never writing emails (you bastard!). Weaponless, for his bravery was such that to arm himself against any foe was to dishonor himself, he went into the room and shut the window.

Then it was time to clean up. Seriously, it sucked – his room looked, as it were, as though a typhoon had swept through it. His television and computer were soaking wet, his futon and pillow had small colonies of life floating around in them (he was unaware, but on the south side of his futon one of the creatures had just evolved legs and a vague innate understanding of the stock market – a trait that natural selection would have eliminated with extreme prejudice had our hero not done as much in an attempt to clean the futon), his floor was a sponge, and his dog had hung himself. According to the note, he had a thing about the smell of wet tatami.

The Vikings, however, had a thing about the smell of wet dead dog – they picked it up and put into their longboat, which they lit on fire and threw out the window into the ocean. Then they left.

Anyway, our hero cleaned up as best he could and set the fan up to try really hard to dry things. Then he spread out a blanket in the dry room and, as the most reasonable thing to do at 5pm during the biggest storm his part of the world had seen in 30 years, he went to bed.

He was awakened four hours later by the absence of the sound of rain falling. And by his cellular phone ringing. It was his friend Pat, calling to say that he had just stepped out for some smokes and was walking past our hero’s place of employment. Apparently, there were no problems in that part of the city for any buildings that were on ridges. Other buildings, however, like for instance the Ichimiya Group building which was built in a little valley between two ridges, were looking at about 4 feet of flooding. Our hero’s friend reported that a taxi was floating past the building, which perturbed our hero very much. Also, when asked about the condition of the moped in the building parking lot, Pat responded “What moped?”

So, given that the storm was over and that he was feeling stressed, our hero decided to go for a walk. Now, our hero’s favorite walking course was simply a little trail that stretched off into the distance. His favorite part of this trail, however, was a little bridge over a little creek bed, very close to his building. The bridge had little carvings of animals, with their names (in Japanese), and provided a straight view to the mountain when one stood in the center and looked south.

To our hero’s delight, the little creek bed had become a raging river. Our hero loved rivers, and was eagerly headed out to the middle of the bridge when he noticed, like the beloved but oft-befuddled Wile. E. Coyote, that the bridge was no longer there. He ran in place in the air for a second, and then held up a sign that said something fatalistic as he plummeted to his death.

…to be continued. Despite the fact that the author has vague fears of having written himself into a corner.

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