The sun setting over the road I take home. My workplace is atop a large
mountain hill, and normally I would drive down this road, however on the morning this picture was taken the entire road had frozen into a solid sheet of ice, making it impossible to drive up the hill to work, snow tires be damned. Heaving a sigh, I parked at the bottom and hoofed it up, getting my daily dose of exercise and then some in the process (of all the days to choose to bring several hard cover reference books for some lunchtime studying…).
It was worth it though, to see everything bathed in amber sunlight on the way back down. I’ve gone up and down this road a hundred times before, and each time thought it was ugly and filled with concrete. But like so many things in Japan, sometimes the beauty is hidden deep down inside of it, and you just have to catch it at the right angle to see it, I suppose.
It rained frozen rain earlier in the week, but a surprise mid-day sun shower melted most it away and made you forget how teeth chatteringly freezing it was the night before. I found these leaves sitting in a puddle in all their delicious browns, tans and greens, reminding me of autumn days gone by.
I love seeing leaves in puddles. There’s something about this combination that seems so natural and so beautiful. And while normally I would tend to wax poetic when seeing things like this, when it comes to leaves and water I prefer just stand there and look at it, admiring the simple serenity of it and letting the understated perfection just soak into me.
Feeling a little stressed the other day, I decided to climb up to the roof of my workplace to take a mid-afternoon break. As I was sitting up there, I came across this strange structure which apparently housed some of the air conditioning and heating equipment for the center.
It looked very beautiful and serene in the sunset, but when I looked at it I couldn’t help but think that if it were only a little bit bigger, it would make an excellent backdrop for a gun battle in a John Woo film, or a gritty environment for a Quentin Tarantino Reservoir Dog-esque Mexican standoff.
I’m such a geek.
Japan is a country perpetually under construction and you needn’t look very far to see some sort of masonry or construction equipment laying around. This rather interesting looking brick (it has a complicated red tile inlaid directly into the concrete base) was part of a random pile of bricks and stones in an open concrete lot near my house. Occasionally children will stop in the area to play around on their way home from school or while waiting for the bus.
One of them must have piled the stones on top of the brick like this, though to what end, I don’t know. It reminds me of when I was in grade school and sat beside my best friend in class. We would set up our school supplies to form makeshift embattlements along the borders of our “territory” (our desks), usually with the big crayon 64/128 pack serving as the main defensive wall and wage mock wars against each other.
Our teacher used to scold us all the time and eventually ended up separating us. I think she complained to my mother about it, and for a long time I thought what I did was wrong (of course, this lead to that all too familiar “rebellious boy behavior”). It wasn’t until years later when the first wave of RTS (“Real Time Strategy“) computer games started becoming popular that I suddenly realize that my our mock battles were in effect a primitive version of the abstract reasoning and strategic thought process embodied in these games – a form of intellectual development that is enjoyable and natural for many boys.
It seems clear in retrospect that our teachers admonishments were simply another example f the all too common failure of the American education system to understand the unique ways in which boys learn and develop. That schools actively (if unwittingly) discriminate and shortchange boys is no longer up for debate – a glance at the disturbing gender imbalance in all areas academic failure – drop outs, suicides, failing grades, under-enrollment in extracurricular activities/student leadership/Advance Placement classes, incarceration rates, detention rates, failure to continue on to university and enrollment in remedial/special education – proves that boys are struggling within a system that is more hostile to them than ever.
Sadly when faced with the creative and expressive patterns of play – and learning – that comes naturally to boys, most teachers in America tend to do as my teacher did: admonish, discipline, separate, interrupt and ultimately label the boy as a “troublemaker” – rather than take the time to try and understand the unique differences and strengths of boys. Boys passing through the educational system – and society in general, these days – are continuously assaulted with a single monotonous, overriding mantra: “boys are bad. Why can’t you behave more like a girl?”
The answer of course is that not only can’t we act like girls because we are not girls, but additionally we shouldn’t act like girls. Boys are boys and they should never be made to feel like they have to apologize for that. Rather than trying to force them to be like something they are not (girls), people (teachers) should expend the effort to learn to appreciate how boys are different than girls and change their methods of interaction accordingly. If you try and force the issue like my teacher did, not only can you cause irreparable damage to a child’s developmental process, but the end result is often that all-too-common “rebellious boy attitude” we often see in schools.
Boys don’t start out hating school. They are made to hate it by teachers who keep demanding they act more like girls, a task at which they can never succeed.
If you want to read more about this critical issue, click here to read “The New Gender Gap” in Business Week or for more in-depth consideration, the book “The War Against Boys” by Christina Hoff-Sommers.
Japan is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t bury its power lines. As a result, every few meters or so (more in heavily urbanized areas) you can find massive concrete poles which support some of the most convoluted and messy looking power interchanges and cables you will ever see in your life.
Westerners coming to Japan often feel an immediate sense of crowdedness as soon as they enter a city of any moderate size. While there are obvious reasons for this (population density is quite high, buildings are quite small and house many different shops, etc.), there are also “ambient” environmental factors that we may not directly notice at first but which contribute to the overall claustrophobic impression. I used to think that the most important of these ambient factors was 1) the haphazard and seemingly random (non-grid aligned) layout of buildings and residences and 2) the narrowness of roads and walkways (both lack sidewalks and bordering grass, and often fit 4-6 lanes of traffic into a space that in America would be considered barely adequate for two lanes). Recently, however, I have come to realize that the presence of power cabling overhead is a major contributing factor as well. The jumbled rats nest of wires, industrial cabling, dangerous looking transformers and such form a highly artificial canopy which occludes the sky and perpetually hovers on the periphery of our frame of vision.
So not only are we squeezed horizontally on the ground by dense buildings, high populations and narrow streets which conspire to produce a wall-like effect, but then we are squeezed vertically by dense cables and power equipment looming overhead, completing the “lid” to our box.
At the same time, it is fascinating to look at the sheer variety of power junctions and cabling types hanging just above our heads. Unlike back home, there seems to be little to no standardization from pole to pole, making each one fascinating in a detailed and abstractly mechanical way. I am always amazed how with so much stuff haphazardly jammed together there aren’t more fires or electrical accidents. Seriously.
My entry into the ranks of coffee drinkers world wide was not an easy one. Once when I was young I had a sip of coffee which I promptly spit out, proclaiming it as possibly the most vile drink ever in existence and subsequently spending the next 11 years puzzling over the fact that millions of people worldwide apparently drank the stuff voluntarily. Then, when I entered college I began to appreciate the “coffeehouse ambiance”, and soon fell in love with the many auxiliary aspects of coffee culture – the smell of roasting beans, the delightful oversized coffeehouse cups, the quiet serenity of coffee aficionados, the sweet taste of accompanying pastries, the intricate glass and steel interplay of coffee machines, the whirling steam of espresso makers and so forth. But like the poser I was, I could never actually bring myself to drink the stuff – sure I would occasionally have a sip or two of a friends during a desperate late-night cram session before a final or something, but actually order it and pay for it!? Never!
In many ways it was Tennis who introduced me to the “real stuff” – the “hard stuff” (though she would scoff at the term). Since coming to Japan the range of coffee houses had narrowed down to pretty much “Starbucks” and with it the selection of non-coffee drinks had been reduced to essentially “frappacino or tea”. So I made do and began to experiment with things like Iced Caramel Macchiatos (read: basically caramel and milk) and other sickeningly sweet (according to others) drinks, all of which contained just enough “coffee” in the title to avoid outright ridicule from friends and loved ones. (they still snickered behind my back though).
But Tennis loves coffee – real coffee – and slowly but surely over the past couple of years I’ve moved a little bit closer to “actual” coffee. Sure, they generally have lots of milk and cream (lattes, macchiatos, milk coffees) and if it’s being made at home, then I have to leave lots of space for sugar and cream. But I made progress dammit, and I could finally count myself as a “coffee drinker” – if just sort of.
This then, I suppose is the latest evolution in my development: can coffee. Japan has literally hundreds of different kinds of can coffee and while “coffee aficionados” might scoff at them as little more than “brown sugar liquid”, I find that most of them hit that delightful sweet spot between the vile bitterness of “real coffee” and the frou-frou silliness of frappacinos and what not.
This then, is one of my favorites: Georgia Espresso Caffe. It’s getting to the point where I need at least one of these to start my day (oh addiction, you wicked beast), a habit which is made easier to indulge by the fact that the vending machine in my workplace sells them for 110 yen (about $1USD) per can. In a clear sign that I’ve spent too much time in Japan, I remember reaching the conclusion that I enjoy Georgia Espresso Caffe the best by having a rather extensive “can coffee taste test” (like this one here) of about a dozen different brands from the convenience store that ended up keeping me up for two nights straight.
If you’re so inclined, there is a wonderful series of essays about can coffee (and other fascinating and often overlooked snippets of “modern everyday Japanese culture”) in the book “ Kahaku“. If you have the time, I highly recommend you try and track down a copy, as it’s a fantastic read.
That’s it for now. Work is wearing me down and I have a funeral to attend for one of my co-workers (his mother passed away) this evening. It took me three different tries to write the damn card correctly. I hate how it looks when I write Japanese – no matter how hard I concentrate or carefully I write, it always looks like retarded monkey children scribbles. I wish I could write as beautifully and effortlessly as most Japanese.
Now listening to: “ライムライト – グッバイ・サンセット” (“Limelight – Goodbye Sunset”)
I picked this up on a whim at Tower Records the other day, probably because I had just finished reading an article on the BBC about how Japanese hip hop is finally starting to develop its own voice (which I agree with). You can view their webpage here or more info on this blog (Japanese only).
I think this is going on the mix CD I’m making for Liz in our SUPAR INTERNATIONAL CD REMIX PROJECT 2006.
Hey! You know?
Goodbye the sunset … yeah