All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

And the Oscar for Psychic Powers Goes to...

One of my odd flukes is that I don't own a TV. I have absolutely no place in my life for one, as I find most television shows utterly useless and my Macca is more than sufficient for watching an occasional film and keeping up with the news. This lack of TV typically ensures that I'm never so much as grazed by the avant garde of mainstream pop culture, and all the things I do watch, read, or listen to come from only two sources: the recommendations of trusted colleagues and the raw pull of my own splangkna.

About a week and a half ago, I was wandering aimlessly through a video store balancing precariously on the edge of despair when I saw a cover that had a guy with a guitar on it. I generally like guys with guitars, so I picked it up, skimmed the back, and decided to rent it. I'd never heard of "Once" before that, but I fell instantly in love with it and started recommending it to everybody I knew. None of them had heard of it either. I also recommended it to you and posted my favorite song -- "Falling Slowly" -- right here on my blog. (See previous entry.)

Well, folks, I'm proud to tell you that only moments ago, "Falling Slowly" was awarded this year's Oscar for Best Original Song. Did I call that or what?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How to Date American Guys: A User's Guide

The footloose Citizen of the World faces many confounding conundrums when circumnavigating the globe and delving into other cultures. Among the most famous are the language barriers, the variances in decorum, and of course, the gender politics.

Of the many grooves I had to get back into when I returned to the States, the groove of American guys was one of the trickiest. They aren't like all the Australians I'd been bumming about with or the Brit I'd been dating, and they certainly weren't like the Japanese guys I was constantly surrounded by at work and at home.

You see, Australian guys are incredibly easy to get along with. The secret is playing along with whatever harebrained schemes they concoct. They want to go drink and smoke pot down by the river like vagabonds? Great idea! They want to spend the first half of a night watching Bruce Lee flicks and the second half kung fu-ing each other’s asses? Wonderful! They want to freak out Japanese people by jogging up the “down” escalators? Brilliant! They want to run blindly through rows of speeding cars? Well, what are we waiting for?!

All an Australian really wants to know is that you’re down with his shenanigans and that he can be himself without fear of criticism from you. As an added bonus, hanging with Aussies will release your own inhibitions as well. You’ll probably find you rather enjoy running through traffic.

Aussie D getting stabbed by one of his mates in a bar. "There's always shenanigans."

A Brit is a more complicated animal. For a British guy – especially a well-educated, cultured British guy – wit is like currency. If you don’t appreciate life's little ironies, you might as well expect him to buy you diamonds with his belly button lint. You are doomed before you've even begun. However, if you are blessed with a natural knack for the drier brand of banter, you’ll probably find that most British guys are f*cking hilarious (or "focking hilarious" if they're from the north of England). All you need do to encourage them is throw a clever quip back, and you’ll be getting on like a proverbial house on fire in no time.

The only advice I've ever gotten about dating Japanese guys is: "Don't date Japanese guys." Students used to tell me this pretty frequently, but even on this side of the pond, I still hear it. Just a few days ago, I was talking to my friend K-ko about her sarari man husband, and she shook her and said, "Never marry a Japanese man." This seems a bit harsh, but the problem with Japanese husbands is that between the long hours they put in at work and the long nights they put in at the izakaya, you never actually see them. It's sort of how I imagine dating a ninja would be, but with less stealth and more abandonment issues.

Before I moved to Japan, I'd only really dated two guys: a soldier and a musician. The Soldier was an idiot and The Musician, like most musicians, was married to The Band. Dating a musician is easy. Simply acknowledge the supremacy of The Band. All things revolve around said Band, at least in so far as The Band or its members don't infringe on the blessed sanctity of The Music, from which all hope and happiness doth spring.

I was under the näive impression that this was particular to my American Musician, but having recently seen the film "Once", I realize it's actually true of musicians worldwide. The scenes at the recording studio gave me particularly strong déjà vu with just a hint of nostalgia.

"Once" is my recommended film of the month, by the way. Here's a little taste:

The first date that I went on after returning from Japan was with a guy called Mike. I consider Mike an "average" American, so he makes a good case study for our purposes here. Mike is typical of many American guys in the following ways:

  1. He has been out of the country a handful of times and considers himself "well-traveled," even though all the places he's been are tourist traps and he was completely hammered or a mile high 93% of the time he was there.

  2. He has an unhealthy obsession with the NFL. He has long ago passed out of the realm of Team Spirit and into the kingdom of Rabid Fanaticism, where Peyton Manning reigns supreme and pisses Bud Lite down onto the fawning masses. (I don't really like football, by the way.)

  3. He is NOT funny. The jokes he tells aren't funny. The movies he watches aren't funny. The only thing funny about him is the way he constantly nods like a bobble-head doll, and that is the bad kind of funny. The bobble-head thing is unique to Mike, but the un-funnyness is like a plague in American guys.

  4. He speaks in The Tone. This is not a characteristic of most American guys, but it's reasonably common. The Tone is that particular voice used by people who think they are smarter than you. Now, I've never been stupid, so I don't know how it feels to be spoken to this way by someone who's actually smarter than I am. Maybe it doesn't bother stupid people. I can tell you that it bothers smart people a lot. What's more, it's normally accompanied by a quarrelsome streak a mile wide. That amounts to a guy spewing the most ignorant, close-minded rubbish you've ever heard, then insisting he's merely playing the "Devil's Advocate" and telling you that you need a better sense of humor. Ha!

In short, Mike is kind of a douchebag.


After one dinner with Mike, I was ready to pack my bags and leave the country again. Then I met MJ.

He was a different type of American guy.

MJ was a Roles-Royce of a boyfriend. He looked like a rock star all the time, he had top-shelf taste in everything from films to footwear, and there was an actual orchestra playing in my head every time he kissed me. Okay, sometimes just a string quartet, but still, impressive. He was also intelligent and interesting to talk to. When we met, he'd just returned from backpacking in Europe, and we spent our first several hours together pouring over photographs.

Mazda Concept

Of course, he was not without his quirks. He was physically incapable of showering in fewer than forty-five minutes. Most men I know shower, shave, and dress in under fifteen, so at first I was a bit put off by MJ's uncommonly involved grooming rituals. Then he stepped out of the shower, and I realized: some things are worth waiting for.

But MJ's most dominant quirk by far was his profound and unfettered love of cars. While this love manifest itself primarily in the care and keeping of his own car, it also extended into anything else with wheels and an engine. Especially anything shiny with wheels and an engine. On one occasion, he took me on a "date" to the NAIAS, and he spent about five hours explaining to me how the whole evolution of mankind has come to glorious fruition in the flawless machine that is the automobile. I'm not much of a car person myself, so I was pretty skeptical going in, but as you can see from the photos, the whole show is designed to make cars look as sexy as possible. Combine that with MJ's impassioned commentary, and it ended up being a pretty memorable day after all.

Saab Aero X

After MJ moved to LA, I spent time with several different American guys and began to pick up on certain patterns among them. Douchebags of the Mikean variety often give them a bad rap, but I've found that on the whole, American guys are pretty cool. They're fairly laid back and easy to get along with, though you may occasionally find yourself suckered into watching "Dances with Wolves" or a Nicholas Cage movie. Generally, they seem to drink less -- not less often, but in smaller quantities -- leading to the delightful change of having a date who's coherent when you get home from the bar/club/concert/auto exhibition.

The key to an American guy is finding the One Thing in his life that he cares about more than anything else. If it's something you hate (football, for example), then kiss him on the head and walk away because otherwise you'll spend the rest of your relationship arguing with him about it. He is just not the guy for you. However, if his One Thing is something you like or something you could learn to like (perhaps cars), then make his day by asking him about it. Watch in amazement as he lights up like the Hindenburg. You'll soon discover that while they may seem low-key, American guys are intense, wildly passionate, and once settled into something they care about, deeply devoted to its pursuit.


Blog of the Day

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

El Tacuacin

Inquiring minds often ask me if I was frightened by the prospect of moving to Japan by myself. I had never been there before and spoke the language about as well as your average house cat ties a shoelace. I admit I was overwhelmed -- and for the first few days, I suspected I'd made a pretty terrible mistake -- but I would never describe myself as "afraid" of any of it. Only somewhat jittery, and that was as much excitement as nerves.

The reason for this uncommon boldness probably stems from the myriad of bizarre travel ordeals I had been through long before I went to Asia. Occasionally, when my high school students are being particularly well-behaved, I regale them with the tales of my exotic adventures. Yesterday, we got to talking about the summer I spent working at an orphanage in Honduras when I was seventeen. That inspired me to flip through some of my old journals -- an enlightening experience, to say the least.

Officially, this blog is centered on issues of culture between the US and Japan, but actually, it's about my journey as a Citizen of the World, and therefore an excerpt from one of my first major stays abroad seems appropriate. Enjoy!


Honduras, 2000

Carlitos has a pet chicken that he named Santa Teresa Marquez de la Mer. He calls her “la Santa” for short. When he first adopted her out of the henhouse, Sister Yolanda protested, but since la Santa continues laying eggs without fail, Sister has given up scolding Carlitos and resorted to simply shooing him out of the buildings whenever he has the dusty bird in his arms.

Early one afternoon, Sister Yoyo shoos Carlitos and la Santa out of the dining hall, and he wanders over to where I am sitting in the shade of the building, bouncing Moises on my lap. The day is so sweltering that Moises has long since wiggled out of his rompers. I chirrup the "William Tell Overture" while I bob him up and down. He throws his head back and laughs the toothless laugh of a child in pure ecstacy.

The heat makes Carlitos sluggish and fussy, and he plops down next to me with a dramatic sigh. La Santa squawks and flits out of his grasp, but once free, she settles herself down in the dust by his feet. My leg is growing sore anyway, so I plop my little vaquero onto the ground next to me, pick up a stray chip of blue chalk, and start scratching on the sidewalk. Carlitos perks up instantly at the sign of his favorite game and eagerly snatches the chalk when I offer it. Underneath where I’ve written, “¿Como estas, Carlitos?” he slowly etches a frowning face with a v-shaped furrowed brow. He’s aching to tell me why, so I ask obligingly. In his quick childish Spanish he complains that la Santa is hot but Sister Yoyo won’t let him bring her inside where it’s cool. ¡Ay, que lastima! I sympathize. Poor Santa.

At that moment, a shout comes up from the back corner of the yard where some of the men are tearing down a rickety old shed. “Ah! Mira!” “What was that?!” They call to each other in mingled Spanish and English, and there is a general commotion around one corner of the shed as they gather to peer into a gaping hole in the wall. For several months now, Sister Yolanda had been pulling her hair out over a pest of some kind – she suspected a rat – that had been breaking into the orphanage pantry and stealing food. Apparently, the men had found the culprit’s lair. From across the yard, we can hear an argument rising. Carlitos is halfway to the shed before I’ve collected Moises and gotten up to follow.

“That’s the biggest frickin’ rat I’ve ever seen!”

“It’s not a rat!”

“It looked like a rat! A huge one!”

“Mira, just because you’re in Honduras doesn’t mean there are giant rats. It’s not a rat. It’s a tacuacin.” This insight comes from Melena, who has stepped back from the others to survey the scene with a general air of calm rationality.

“Mele, what’s a tacuacin?” I join in as I approach them, bending down to snag Carlitos by the hand before he gets too close to the tangle of shattered boards and rusted nails.

Mele screws her mouth into a little knot while she searches for the word. “I think it’s a... possum?” She turns to me and quickly describes the creature in Spanish. It has a long, bare tail like a rat, but it’s bigger, it has a long nose, and it climbs trees. I assure her that “possum” is the right word. Mele is from Acapulco, so whatever language she is speaking has that little Mexican lilt to it, like she’s reciting something she learned deep in her childhood. This is how I learned to speak Spanish – in the singsong rhythms of Mexico – and I understand Mele at least ten times more easily than any of the Hondurans we’ve been working with.

The men fold their arms over their chests solemnly and begin contemplating aloud what’s to be done with the thing. Josh picks up a thick stick and starts sharpening the tip on a nearby cinderblock. Manuel picks up a hammer. The others arm themselves with similar implements, and I attempt in vain to convince Carlitos that we should go back to our chalk-drawing game. He stands stalwart, hypnotized by the way the men gather their weapons and plot battle in low voices. I can’t persuade him to look away. Moises is gurgling to himself and fiddling happily with a curl of my hair, oblivious to the impending violence.

There is a smash of splintering wood, shouting, and in a moment, the beast is hemmed in along the garden wall and the struggle ends quickly.

Daniel skewers the corpse with a makeshift spear and moves to toss it into the great stone incinerator with the rest of the scrap from the dilapidated shed. Suddenly, he starts and stares awestruck at the thing. Through the bloodied fur, a tiny pink nose makes its way apprehensively into the world. It’s followed by a miniscule pair of eyes, still covered in a thin, pink veil. Two ears, two delicate front feet, and the infant creature tumbles from its mother. Before it hits the ground, another nose emerges, and another, and another. A half dozen of them are in a wriggling pile and more on the way when Daniel blinks, looks at the incinerator, and tosses the whole gruesome spectacle in. His fellows hesitate only a moment before they go after los tacuacinitos on the ground with sticks, hammers, boots. Melena looks ill and turns away.

The bit of blue chalk is lying forgotten on the ground next to Carlitos. He watches the men with his mouth hanging open slightly, his bottom lip trembling. He doesn’t resist when I gather him up with my free arm and begin walking back toward the house. Before we get there, the ordeal is over and the men are back to work on the shed, but Carlitos’s eyes remain riveted on the flames in the incinerator.

I set him down on the sidewalk where his hen is still sitting patiently. Moises is quiet and frowns down at Carlitos, understanding that he has missed something but unsure what. Without taking his eyes off the red glow on the other side of the yard, Carlitos scoops la Santa Teresa Marquez de la Mer up into his lap. He stares silently for a moment longer, then drops his face into her dusty feathers, and weeps.