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"Letter-Letter 319"
May 12th, 2003
"Where Are You Going?"
"This Quarter"  by KCM & LHS
"Cell Phones - Unforgivable?"
"SARS"  by LRE & LHS
"Complaining... For a Reason"  by Yo/Gr & LHS
"Fun at Work - 2003"
"Who's Who at Work"
"I Can Dream, No...?"  by KCM
"This Time of Day - (a poem)"  by Laf
"School People"  by RGA & LHS
"A Chilling Tale"
"Teaching English in China"
  by CJP
"Still In Tune"  by RWD
"Doing Better... I Think"  by KCM
"Expecting a Foal"  by CPK
"Guidelines & Exchange Students"  by FSO & LHS
"Our Trip to New Orleans"  by BRC
"Gardening - On Roofs & In Spare Time"  by CPK & LHS
"Stop & Smell the Coffee"  by RWD & LHS
"Think Positive!" - "Uuuuu - Okay!  I'll Try!"  by EKH & LHS
"There's One in Every Crowd - What Next?"

"Where Are You Going?     [Top of page]

(May 12th, 2003)  The description of it seems like something out of a movie - a man in a suit (looking like a businessman, but in fact a cleverly disguised writer/photographer who would rather be wearing Levi's) is walking down the street - he pulls out his cell phone to make a call, and just as the phone is ringing on the other end, a policeman's eyes lock on to him like some kind of radar and the policeman steps in front of him - blocking his progress - saying "Where are you going?".

That was me, that really happened, and I'm still puzzling over why....  I mentioned in an earlier letter that the area around the US embassy in Tokyo is almost like a military zone, with dozens (hundreds?) of police officers on the street, watching everyone, occasionally stopping cars at random for searches, and also stopping people?  But I've never seen them stopping anyone before, so why me?  At the time, when I was directly across from the embassy, I had the feeling that the cell phone had something to do with it, but how so?  I guess people could use cell phones to coordinate some kind of attack?  I was more surprised than anything, but after I showed the man my security card for the company I'm working at, he gave me a polite bow and let me go on my way.  (Security cards - you can't get past the lobby of most office buildings any more without a security card.  Is this the same in other countries now as well?)

[03/06/14  Later, when I mentioned the incident in the office, someone else mentioned that they had also been stopped, so I guess it's just a random thing.]

"This Quarter"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: Thursday
Date: Thu, 3 Apr 2003  -0800 (PST)
From: KCM  [US]

Hi.  I'm currently trying to make my headache go away.  But otherwise everything else is going swell.  The things that are outside my control are getting kind of scary though....

I am only taking two classes this quarter - a seminar on Victorian novels and movie adaptations and a lower-division class on Modern Art History.  (I fell asleep in class today.)

Last night I watched this movie, "Better Luck Tomorrow", for free.  It's being hailed as a ground-breaking work, because it portrays four Asian American students in high school who make bad choices despite being smart and having good grades.  The actors in the ensuing discussion talked about how relieved they were not to be playing Chinese delivery boys and how it was so important to them to see themselves represented on the big screen.  And the fact that they were Asian, while important, wasn't central to their identities.  They didn't search for who they were; they already knew who they were.  Anyway, the movie was pretty well done, the characters very rich and flawed and interesting, the story was also flawed and they weren't very good about developing female characters.

I have mixed feelings about people wanting to be "represented" on screen.  I suppose I'll have to think that through more before I elaborate, though.


Re:  "The actors in the ensuing discussion talked about how relieved they were not to be playing Chinese delivery boys and how it was so important to them to see themselves represented on the big screen."

I can sympathize with that, because I have seem so many movies here (in Japan) where the red barbarians are the bad guys, that I breathe a sigh of relief when there's actually a foreigner in a J-movie who seems like a normal human being.  It's not about how I feel so much as not wanting to witness dishonest propaganda that does indeed have a negative effect on people regarding how they view outsiders within this society.  So a positive portrayal - or at least not a negative one - is certainly something I appreciate!     [Top of page]

"Cell Phones - Unforgivable?"     [Top of page]

Cell phones... it's considered nearly unforgivable to use them on the trains here anymore, and basically anywhere else where someone can hear the call.  I've always thought that, so long as you talk in a reasonably quiet voice, it's not a big deal to use them in public, but we've gone from loud and very obnoxious people showing them off on the trains in the early days of cell phones, to the point where you're expected to never use them at all on the trains.  A good development I suppose, but I would think somewhere between the two extremes would be nice.  The way they finally got people to stop using them on the trains here is by claiming that they will interfere with pacemakers and make people drop dead.  Illogically, this same excuse is used even when the trains are not crowded.

So - what is the situation now with cell phones where you are?

"SARS"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: LL-317
Date: Thu, 3 Apr 2003
From: LRE  [UK]

The SARS (Virus) outbreak is frightening.  I think never before has a disease spread so fast and so wide as this "thanks" to globalization and jet travel.  Though we have no confirmed cases in our country as yet, the government here has taken tough preventive measures, since in this age of borderless travel; it is nearly inevitable that the disease will surface here at some point, so we have implemented the following:

Asking all hospitals to be transparent in reporting and handling cases.  Since this is a new virus that is difficult to detect early on, any suspected cases are to be treated as SARS, and if (when?) a case is detected, quarantine measures are to be adopted to prevent it from spreading as it did in other countries before it was clearly identified.

I've heard that Japan is also taking preventative measures....


I saw a clip on the news about the steps being taken at hospitals - including a separate entrance (at major hospitals) to be used by anyone who suspects they may have SARS and rooms that are sealed off from the rest of the hospital with filtered air systems, etc.  As far as I know, there have been no cases of it here... but on the other hand, I saw an interview with a Japanese man who had gotten over it.  Presumably he was living overseas, but I'm not sure.  Considering the amount of economic damage that goes along with news of any SARS cases, you do have to wonder if there are some cases that have gone unreported.

"Complaining... For a Reason"     [Top of page]

Subject:  Re: CheapComputers/Nagoya/Etc.
Date:  Wed, 9 Apr 2003
From: Yo/Gr  [US / Japan]

[In response to some questions I asked. - LHS]  I don't know what my plans are regarding travel - there's no money!  Anyway, yes, the teaching thing is a drag.  Some days are good though, otherwise I would have to get out of here.  I'm looking into some study options in Japan, it's about time I get back to school I think, to get a fresh perspective on things.  But for now I have to deal with getting a Japanese license for the motorcycle, they changed the law so that if you are not a tourist and haven't driven in your home country for more than three months, then you have to do it the way new local drivers do.  All very odd, as I've been driving here for three years, but I guess that doesn't count.  Plus, I'm not sure if this is true, but I've heard that gaijin [foreigners] must pay Y20,000 to the police for the having the right to drive (this is for "new drivers").

........... The students who don't want to talk about difficult issues.., "I'm not interested in the news, lets not talk about it" - and off we are to never-never land.., shopping is much more interesting, and then about how the economy just won't get better....  I keep wanting to ask people if they vote, which I know they do, and always for the same people who have been stealing their money and giving out contracts to the local builders to build more monster roads in the mountains.  Want to see your tax money at work?  Go to the mountains and drive on some LA wide roads, not another car in sight!  Great for driving though, so I can't complain.

Well, enough complaining!  I feel better somehow!  Good luck with your work and all.  ............  I feel sorry for one of my students who lived in the US for a few years, she's about seven years old  and can speak like a normal seven year old in the US... too bad her teacher can't!


There are different types of Westerners here in Japan - from the company people who are sent over with their families and stay in the best housing in the best areas of Tokyo, to the individual people who come over for whatever reason, typically a combination of an adventure quest and an escape from something back in the old country.  Both Yo/Gr and I fall into that later category, and as such are far more exposed to what's going on here in "real" Japan.  This is both good and bad, which is such an obvious thing to say that I'm half tempted to backspace that statement into oblivion, but there are issues here that people on the other side of the ocean seem to have difficulty understanding.

One of those issues is the difficulty in complaining - which is simultaneously tied in with a slew of causes of discontent.  A big-company person typically ends up living in a dwelling as nice as or nicer than what they were used to before coming here - not to mention the fact that all they have to do is come here and move in, without going through the highly insulting process of looking for housing on their own and being told that several of the places they are interested in are not available for foreigners.  They not only don't have to live the reality of undersized apartments, but being in the best areas, near to their offices, they also miss out on the hell of the crush-rush train hours (rush "hour" lasts from about 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. in the morning and from around 6:00 p.m. until 12:00 midnight, or whenever the last train is) going to and from work.

But never mind the specific reasons, suffice it to say that individuals who live and work here with the locals find themselves in a general situation of not being able to vent their frustrations to the locals (for obvious reasons) and also not always able to find a ready ear even with old friends back in the old country.  Typically, one and all listeners, wherever they may be, tend to say "Well, if you don't like it there, then why don't you go home?"  Easy to say, not as easy to do!

This is complicated enough and I'm not really explaining it very well here, but the point is, about the only person a lone long-termer can blow off steam to is another lone long-termer, and even that is not a given, what with lone individuals often seeing others in the same situation as nothing other than dangerous rivals that must be stepped on for self-preservation.

It's a clear concept actually, but not very easy to explain.  I'll stop here and reread the above later!  If it makes sense, lucky me, otherwise this could end up growing and growing - beyond the scope of this letter....

PS  In any case, Yo/Gr - I hear ya, brother, I hear ya!     [Top of page]

"Fun at Work - 2003"     [Top of page]

The new job - I'm working through a temporary agency now - unfortunately!  The term here is "hakken gaisha", so I'm a "hakken gaisha no hito", a temporary worker, or to translate it directly - "a person from a discovery company", the "discovery" meaning "discovery of human resources", their excuse for sitting in the middle and taking a large cut of the worker's pay.  Some of my working life in the US was also through temporary agencies, and from what I've observed, the main difference between temporary jobs in the US and those in Japan is that there are more long-term ones here.  It's my opinion that when you are working short-term jobs and you go from one to another, then there is nothing strange about the function of a temporary agency, but when you work at the same place for extended periods of time - years in some cases, then the company in the middle not doing anything other than forwarding part of your salary to you can become an object of resentment.

In the hierarchy of working Japan, the hakken people are at the bottom of the totem pole, as indeed they are in the US, but to an every stronger degree here.  A one-month contract, followed by another one-month contract... will there be work next month?  Who knows!  In any case, I'm fed, roofed, and alive today, and the old 50MHz Compaq laptop I'm writing this on is working, so it's time to write now and not waste what should be productive time.

Until nearly the very end, I avoided writing about the printing company I was working at (to protect the guilty), but I think I should introduce you to the other actors on the stages I am working on these days.

The Temporary Agency:

I've only met and spoken with two people at the temporary agency, the first one I get along with well (Ms. Kokoro), who seemed to be on the same wavelength and was relaxing to speak to straight off.  It was a lucky break for me having the interview with her - the woman that was supposed to interview me was out (Ms. Katai) until the very end of the interview, so I only had to speak to her for a few minutes - at which time I noticed myself stiffening up.  I got the job they were interviewing me for, but Ms. Katai is the one I have to work with regarding paperwork, etc., and since we don't have the rapport that I established with Ms. Kokoro, there is some friction....

At the office, the boss (Mr. Hikoki) of the small space I work in (nine desks, five people, no partitions, save for his) seems fairly open minded and easy-going.  Then there's a woman (Ms. Megaii) working in a kind of multi-function role as a sort of secretary to Mr. Hikoki and also some mysterious function in another room (mysterious in a mundane way - simply meaning that I have no idea what she does when she goes off to the other room she works in).

Those are the two main people I work with, but in the same room are two rather disagreeable critters working for another section of the company - Ms. Reichi and Ms. Meshitsukai.  In another room, but involved in the same project I'm working on, are Ms. Tadashii - who makes editorial comments about what I write that irritate me at first but generally make sense actually, and Mr. Dekkai, the big boss of the section I'm working for.  He seems to be one of those politically careful guys... who never says anything without carefully considering the political effect his words will have.  To his dying day (and beyond), probably no one on the planet will ever know who he is/was.

And then there's Ms. Fushigi, who is a kind of mystery woman - but mystery by design I think.  Over a business lunch the editorial group had, since she was sitting across from me looking as inscrutable as ever (and quite beautiful unfortunately), after the second glass of wine I decided to play the "Well - it was the wine, you know!" card, and I asked her:  "Ms. Fushigi, you always look like you're thinking about something profound...."  Her answer?  "No, I'm not thinking about anything at all."


There's another red barbarian on the loose in the company as well - Mr. Raised Eyebrows, who is working in a completely different section of the company, but descends from the top floor to the boiler room once in a while to help stoke the furnaces with coal.  He's a good man I think, but it's an uncomfortable (for both of us I think) situation that he is also working somewhat on the same publication I am.  When everyone in a group understands English at a fluent level, you can compete with another writer with the quality of what you write, but when most of the other people are not proficient enough in the target language to know what is good and what isn't, it becomes like selling toothpaste.  Who knows which one is really better than any other one?  Sooo..... the best advertising wins the day.  Thus inferior writers with superior BS/PR skills tend to win out - at the expense of quality of course, but knowing you're right alone won't pay the bills unless someone else also recognizes that fact.  I don't mean to criticize Mr. Raised Eyebrows actually, his writing is okay (it doesn't flow very well, but it's not bad, at least not in a horrible way), I just want to point out how the only two barbarians in a company of over 100 employees are not natural friends, but are natural enemies.  Hopefully the turf will be intelligently divided between us so we don't have to be like competing magicians doing everything we can to impress the villagers who only want one magician in town.     [Top of page]

"Who's Who at Work"     [Top of page]

About the pseudonyms I used in "Fun at Work III" above, I suppose I should explain what they mean:

Mr. Hikoki (Mr. Airplane) - because he's a jet-setter and often flies off here and there on business.

Ms. Megaii (Ms. Good Eyes) - because she actually sees people (in an empathetic way) and also has nice eyes.  Actually, the real meaning of "me-ga-ii" in Japanese is simply "good eyesight", so my version for this name is my own interpretation.

Ms. Reichi (Ms. Cold Blood) - both because she seems to be (what else) cold-blooded (a more correct term in Japanese would probably be "Reiketsu" actually), and also because she has antifreeze for blood.  I've never met anyone in my life that likes it COLD as much as that vampire.  When it's already cool in the room, she declares "It's hot!" and then proceeds to get the air conditioner working to turn the room into a refrigerator.  Got ice cream with you?  No problem - it won't melt!  Fortunately, when Mr. Hikoki is in town, he keeps the temperature in a range fit for human habitation.  Too bad he travels so much, as then Ms. Reichi becomes the highest ranking of the four people left in the room (shiver-shiver).

Ms. Meshitsukai (Ms. Servant) - because she's servile and doggish to Ms. Reichi - her boss.  I am also of the opinion that she's narrow minded, but that might be circumstantial.  Interestingly, she seems like a much nicer person when she speaks in English.  (People often will take on a rather different personality just by switching languages.  It's quite amazing how much culture and thinking is enshrined within language.)  Ms. Meshitsukai is also from a temporary agency, but she ranks over me in both race (she's native to the country, I'm not) and in that she works there every day, and I only work there three days a week.

Ms. Tadashii (Ms. Correct) - because she thinks she's correct... and I'm beginning to agree with much of what she says, so I don't mean the name in sarcasm.  The idea is one of proud bearing and self-confidence.

Mr. Dekkai (Mr. Huge) - as in Mr. Big, meaning he's the top guy in the section I work in.  I don't know if he does much or not, but he's the oldest and has veto power over everything.  He usually is not to be seen as he does something in his corner office (read the newspaper maybe?), but when he makes a request, everyone jumps.  He requested a translation of an outline for a speech he will be making in Europe this month - one woman brought it to me, and the next thing I knew, four other people were asking me about it!  I ended up doing some of the work at home on my own time in order the meet the new (earlier) deadline....

Ms. Fushigi (Ms. Mysterious) - due to her inscrutable and beautiful appearance.  Nearly every time I see her I find myself wondering about her... "Where did she grow up?  What are her aspirations?  What is she thinking about behind that inscrutable face (mask?)."

Ms. EigoGD (Ms. Can Speak English - GD = Ga Dekiru) - who can, yes, speak and write English well.  She also reminds me of the Japanese-American woman I dated back in San Francisco before I jetted across the Pacific.  (Maybe it IS her - Gasp!  ......  Just kidding - it can't be, unless she became younger and changed her name.)

Mr. Raised Eyebrows - I might just as well have named him "Mr. Cool" - he keeps his eyebrows up and never let's on that he's nervous or excited about anything (in stark contrast with yours truly).  His name is in English to reflect the fact that he's a native English speaker.     [Top of page]

"I Can Dream, No...?     [Top of page]

Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2003
From: KCM  [US]

.........  After this letter I am going to start my reading for my art history class.  It's a lower division class, but the professor is passionate and energetic about his subject and I love the topics.  (It doesn't stop me from falling asleep though.)

I currently have a new internship.  I hope that I will figure out what to do this summer, soon.  I have money saved up and I want to travel but I still want to at least have the security of a job.

My internship rocks.  I am one of several interns at a literary center in Venice.  It's essentially a library of alternatively published works by poets and writers.  There is a small bookstore in a charmingly old building.  I think that would be such a perfect job - to run something like that when I am older, but the chances of my working for them are slim, since California has been cutting grants to non-profits, and it's being run by three people at this point.  The direct supervisor is really sweet and friendly and very organized, which impresses me.  I don't think they could pay me enough to live on.  Maybe I can start something like that up in the Bay Area.

I can dream, no?


"This Time of Day - (a poem)"     [Top of page]

Subject: A Poem
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 2003
From: Laf  [US]

This Time of Day

I love this time of day
Between 4:30 and 5:30
When night
Still has morning
Wrapped securely in a comforter
Of darkness
It is blissfully quiet
I sit writing by the light of my monitor
The only sound
The light tapping noise of the keyboard
I am alone
In my little portion of the world
With my friends
And my computer
Friends out there in space
We share coffee
And time zones
In silence
The world communicates
Sips of coffee
Punctuating ideas and dreams
Morning and night people
Finding common ground
In this perfect segment of time
Wrapped in a blanket of night
Energized by the hint of morning
The circle is complete

Laf     [Top of page]

"School People"     [Top of page]

Subject: This and that
Date: Sun, 13 Apr 2003  +0400
From: by RGA  [Russia]

........  I wonder what your new job is like.  Does it seem at least stable?  What are you doing there?

I think I can imagine your comments about meeting with Aabbb and Bbccc and their being teachers.  They seem like decent people and Aabbb is always ready to answer my questions on English - professionally, but they belong to the system 100%.  I have always hated school, although I was fairly smart.  I just couldn't accept rules and rules and rules.  I have never liked to march in a column or to sing in a chorus.  There is some bitter irony in the fact that I have to work as a schoolteacher now.  Probably I am being punished for my pride....

My classroom is in the basement, away from all the others and I seldom go to the teachers' room.  This helps me to keep my job.

I hope you will not have difficulty paying the bills, and still be able to keep some of your freedom.


My job... is going okay so far, but you never know what will happen with any job.  My boss is good - so far.  One difficult thing, is working in frigid temperatures... sometimes I really hate air conditioning!  It can be quite nice on a truly hot day, but when it refrigerates you into catching colds and sore throats, then it's no fun at all.  I wrote an e-mail about that the other day - entitled "A Chilling Tale" (see below).  I sent it to an old work mate (from the PR company - Mr. Lookingfor), and spoke to him later in the day about it.  It was his opinion that it was too long and "What's the point".  That's what he said, but his writing leaves much to be desired anyway (when shown an example of his English before he was hired at the PR company, I advised the company not to hire him due to his mediocre writing skills).  In the event, my new boss laughed about it and didn't seem to have any complaints.  He even told the Refrigerator Women to leave the thermostat at 25 instead of 24.

About finding oneself teaching after hating to be a student.  I know the feeling.  I'm not teaching now, but when I worked at a middle school, I used to ask myself "Why is it that after waiting all that time to get out of school, here I am standing in another one!?".

"A Chilling Tale"     [Top of page]

The following is an e-mail I sent to my boss Mr. Hikoki and also to Mr. Raised Eyebrows (I'm not sure why I sent it to the other red barbarian).  The title I used then is the same as now - "A Chilling Tale", but it could also be called "The Air Conditioning Battle", or something along those lines!

It all began innocently enough.  After suffering through a chilly day in the refrigerator the first day Mr. Hikoki was out of town, I remembered that when he is gone, Ms. Megaii becomes fearful of upsetting the Refrigerator Women, and nervous about setting the thermostat to 25, so it mainly stays at 24.  ("24" is what the thermostat indicates, but the actual temperature feels far more frigid.)

"Okay", I thought, "I'll just go back to taking a sweater with me to work," and that's what I did.  With a sweater and jacket on, the cold temperature doesn't seem so bad - rather similar to the temperature of the refrigerated computer room at a company I worked at in 1983 actually, where people would put on sweaters if they had to be there for more than a few minutes.  Operating on the principle that I just want to work and don't want to waste time battling refrigerator women over the thermostat, I just quietly took my sweater out of my bag, put it on, and worked.

Great... until Tuesday.  On Tuesday, when I put my sweater on, Ms. Refrigerator Two (assistant to Ms. Refrigerator One) turned around and looked at me like I was a space alien, saying I should bring a blanket for myself, so I told her (in so many words) - "I don't mind suffering to make you happy, but it really is cold in here, so please don't tell me that I'm the aberration here!".  She shook her head and made some comment about my extreme sensitivity to cold and we got back to work.

Then... the door opened and a woman walked in (I don't know her name, so I'll call her Ms. Sensible One) who immediate said "It's cold in here, isn't it!?" to which I replied "Yes!" and then I said to Ms. Refrigerator Two - "See?  That's what everyone says when they visit this room!  It's not just me, it really is cold in here!  Look at the vent over Mr. Hikoki's desk - he's gone to the trouble to tape it over to stop the arctic air from freezing him."

Her reply?  "It's cold over there."  No... the whole room is cold!

Ms. Sensible One was interesting in that she told Ms. Refrigerator One "You're wasting electricity, and you're wasting space..." in what seemed to be only a half-joking way.

When the two Refrigerator Women left for lunch, Ms. Megaii immediately rushed over to the thermostat, turned it up, and we both breathed a sigh of relief.  Then, at 12:30, when we left for lunch, we thought it would be good to re-refrigerate the room for the Refrigerator Women, so I turned it down to 23 to make sure they wouldn't complain about the room being "hot".

After lunch, we returned to the refrigerator and I was not surprised to see that the Refrigerator Women were as happy in the frigid air as polar bears in an arctic sea....

Later on, a man came in (again, I don't know his name, so I'll call him Mr. Joker) who immediately had a puzzled expression on his face and said "It's cold in here, isn't it!?" to which I replied "Yes!" and - again - turned around and said to Ms. Refrigerator Two: "See?  Another person saying the same thing!  It's not just me, it really is cold in here!".  The man quietly used the copy machine for a while and as he was leaving, said: "Be careful not to catch a cold...".  Ms. Refrigerator Two said "It's cold at that spot".  No... it's cold in the whole room!

Nothing further happened on Tuesday.  At quitting time, I took my sweater off, rubbed my frostbitten hands, and headed for the warm exterior.

Then, Wednesday!  It all happened so suddenly!  I stepped off the elevator at 9:55 a.m. and saw Ms. Sensible One walking by, so I said hello to her and pointed towards the refrigerator and said "It really is cold in there, isn't it!" - to which she agreed, and as we were talking, Ms. Sensible Two (a woman I don't remember meeting before) walked by and said "What-what-what?".  Ms. Sensible One explained about the refrigerator room and the fearsome Refrigerator Women to her and she said "But the thermostat is set to 25 isn't it?  I said "No... 24".  She seemed surprised and immediately walked through the security lock door to look at the thermostat there.  It was set to 25, so I mentioned to her that the thermostat in the refrigerator was set to 24.  She immediately marched over to see for herself, and upon confirming the awful truth and setting the thermostat from 24 to 25, said something about it to Ms. Refrigerator One.

I sat down at my desk and thought "Uh-oh..." and after Ms. Sensible Two left, I explained what had happened to Ms. Megaii (in a voice the Refrigerator Women could also hear) - saying that I didn't go out looking for someone to bring in, but that Ms. Sensible Two had overheard me talking with Ms. Sensible One about the refrigerator zone and that she had then gone to investigate on her own without any prompting from myself.

The result?  The thermostat yesterday stayed at 25 - where Ms. Sensible Two set it - for the whole day.  Normal air temperature, cold atmosphere!

I bring all this up, for I suspect that the Refrigerator Women will be saying something to you or to someone else about the incident and would like to fill you in on exactly what happened, with no embellishment other than my joking exaggeration of terms (refrigerator, frost-bitten, etc.).

I aim to try harder to just shut my mouth and work, no matter how cold it is and no matter how much my throat hurts from that overly chilled air.

Sincerely yours,

Lyle Saxon

Things went okay, but - all the same - I think I'll try to follow my own advice and "shut my mouth and work".  I can't afford to be wasting time!     [Top of page]

"Teaching English in China"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: SnowballsInTheDesert...
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003
From: CJP  [Canada / China]

Well, things have been on shaky ground as of late.  The lead teacher at the school quit, and he was not entirely honest with me about the reasons he left.  Or more accurately, he said he left because the school wouldn't give him his visa and green card back, and they said he left because he demanded too much money.  A fact he vehemently denies, although he did mumble something about the amount requested being accurate one night while stoned.  So while he's not lying to me, I don't feel he's telling me the whole truth anymore either, and therein do not trust him.

Then it turned out the school has been lying about several other things, so that's of concern as well.  I'm pretty much cutting my teaching career short in May rather than the preplanned June, possibly with a short trip to the beaches of southern Thailand.  I haven't decided yet, as I'm not a fan of humidity, of which they boast a ready supply, but it sounds like a nice place to rest and recuperate for a week or so.

As for the classroom kids, I never got another chance to go back there!  After the head teacher split, the classes were handed off to another new teacher, and that's that.  So, no harm, no foul I suppose.  I'm certainly not too broken up about it, though I still have problems of my own.  Namely, adult free talk classes.  There's a real lack of appropriate, interesting topics to discuss, and I appear to be slowly whittling away my classrooms with either a lack of interest on the students' part, or speaking in a manner too complex on my part [or both!].

The problem is that the people I've talked to seem to spend their entire lives studying, and then their entire lives working, and their favorite hobby is inevitably "sleeping".  It's hard to chat about sleeping. Very hard.

Anyway, while I enjoy teaching the kids, the challenge there is still keeping them interested and happy (no small task what with the bad textbooks).  The best solution appears to be games, but they've got three or four favorites that half the class is bored of, and the other half doesn't want to deviate from.  So, while I enjoy the challenge most days, the whole make-money attitude by management really kills my fun.  It's a bad scene.  I hope life finds you in slightly better shape than I.  Oh, and don't worry about getting a chuckle out of my misfortune.  I think anyone who has put up with this for as long as you have, has earned the right.

That business management course is making more and more sense.


The "...  don't worry about getting a chuckle out of my misfortune..." bit refers to the following paragraph that I sent CJP.  The part that made me laugh so hard didn't get into the LL-Letter though, so you'll just have to use your imagination for that!

"I confess that in the middle of feeling sorry for myself (since I'm tired of riding the crush-rush morning, evening, afternoon, anytime trains), your description of conditions there got me to laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes.  "Hey-hey - someone is having a worse time of it than me!  Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!!!"  What a rotten way of thinking!  But there it is.  Misery not only loves company, it finds more miserable people... uplifting!  Man - that is really disgusting, isn't it?  But as I had this light moment of laughing away, I guess I have to own up to it....."     [Top of page]

"Still In Tune"     [Top of page]

Subject: RE: LL-317(ThisOne!)
Date: Sun, 4 May 2003
From: RWD  [Bandung, Indonesia]

I agree with what CPK wrote about in LL-317 ("Broadcasts & Receptivity") - having a special connection with some people.  It's been two years since I broke up with my high school girlfriend after eight-years of a wonderful relationship with her.  But still I can't seem to let myself feel the same way about someone else.  People come and go, but no one stays.  I guess my old girlfriend and I are soul mates, because even now, I still seem to have a strange connection with her.  There are times when I feel that I must call her, and then, often when I do, I find out that she's sick or upset about something.  ................

RWD  (Bandung-Indonesia)

"Doing Better... I Think"     [Top of page]

Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2003
From: KCM  [US]

Plenty of things have happened since I last wrote, and yeah, I'm still scared about the future.  Currently I have no job prospects and the thought of having to move back home makes me ill.

But that is a passing mood and I will remain optimistic, despite the stupid economy and stupid, stupid..........

Currently I have an internship at a literary center in Venice.  I think I could be happy living out my retirement in Venice.  Anyway, what I do so far is catalog [work] and zines for them.  Eventually, when the Executive Director returns I will learn some more about publishing.  It's my favorite part of the week.

I am learning to drive (again) and my second driving test is on Monday (the first time I failed).  *Sigh*  Oh well.  I think I'm doing better, though.


"Expecting a Foal"     [Top of page]

Date: Mon, 5 May 2003  -0500
From: CPK  [US]

It's been a busy spring in the salon for me.  Proms and weddings and all around spring fever making people want to change their image.

I've been squeezing in some gardening when I can - which I find very therapeutic.  I have a lot of herbs, tomato plants, potatoes and some flowerbeds.  I was feeling thankful for living in rural Minnesota - this morning taking note that I don't have to worry about locking my car or locking my house when I'm gone.

We are expecting a foal any day.  The anticipation always kills me.  Seems like she's never going to give up that baby.  Had a bit of false labor last Saturday.  I think it must have just been the baby turning and positioning itself for birth.  ................


"Guidelines & Exchange Students"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: LL-318
Date: Sat, 10 May 2003  -0700
From: FSO  [US]

Re:  [From LL-318]  The bit about the "one-third rule" being more of a hindrance than a help, and - "The idiocy of simplifying things that have no business being altered at all, is that 'simplification' is in fact a kind of infinite complicating of the truth."

I think many of these guidelines, like the rule of thirds, are there to help the beginners get a good start.  The rule of thirds helps keep you from taking a particularly bad picture, but it takes experience to be able to really balance a picture.  The point of the rule of thirds is to give you something that works in general until you can learn to tell the difference yourself.

Re:  [From LL-318]  "Quick question - have you ever experienced a problem of individual keys packing it in and going south, never to be heard from again?"

Being in the computer industry, I have.  Mostly, the often-used keys (space-bar and the enter key) tend to get jammed up.  These happen more often more quickly when someone is repeatedly slamming the keys hard.  It's gotta hurt your fingers to hit them that hard, but people still do it.

BTW, we're having another exchange student or two this year.  We had one last year, and a few years back - when I had a pen-pal come to visit.  The pen-pal visit was less than fortunate, and the exchange student was quite withdrawn the whole time.  My parents think we're crazy after two not-so-great experiences, but I'm hoping the third time will be a charm.

We saw the other students involved in the exchange program, and decided our dud was unique, so we thought that we should continue trying.  Besides, we get training in handling teenagers before our own kids get there (our oldest will hit ten next year).

I also see these things as important breaks in our routine.  .........


Re:  "The point of the rule of thirds is to give you something that works in general until you can learn to tell the difference yourself."

I know, but I think whoever came up with that particular "guidance" is bloody lazy!  Instead of taking the time to explain it in some more intelligent way, they came up with that oversimplification that may help some people who have no sense of balance at all, but hurts others, as they have to unlearn the flawed information they memorized.  The thing is, it's far more difficult to reprogram yourself than it is to just learn it right in the first place!  When I was teaching people English here in Japan, we wasted an incredible amount of time going over the bad information they'd "learned?h, which then needed to be "unlearned" before they could learn the truth!  From the teachers?f standpoint, it's a very frustrating thing to have to burn off half the class time methodically and scientifically explaining why the mutant information learned years ago is not correct....

Re:  "These happen more often more quickly when someone is repeatedly slamming the keys hard."

I've experienced that problem with a lot of laptop keyboards, but in that case you can generally get at least sporadic performance out of the key(s).  The situation I was referring to however, is one where a keyboard has several dead keys that are completely and totally dead.  I broke up that keyboard, and the simple, nearly mechanical, interlocking silver finger switch components seemed to be undamaged, so maybe it was downstream from there in an IC chip or something?

Re:  "BTW, we're having another exchange student or two this year."

From all I've heard, home stay experiences tend to go either way.  Some seem to go really well though, with people forming lifelong friendships.  Another vitally important thing to consider is the reason they are ocean jumping.  There are many reasons for doing so, generally good... but not always.     [Top of page]

"Our Trip to New Orleans"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: LL-318
Date: Sun, 11 May 2003
From: BRC  [US]

Re:  "Stop & Smell the Roses"

I really enjoyed your thoughts and experience regarding one of my favorite sayings ("Stop & Smell the Roses").  It's amazing how wandering off the beaten path can relax you and clear your head... preparing you for the next task!!

Our trip to New Orleans was really great... that is some town.  This was our fifth trip down there and we were (once again) really impressed with how friendly the natives are to visitors.  We have several places that we always frequent there and it's almost like old home week to see some of the faces once again.  It's great how they remember us from year to year, and this time many stopped by to wish us a safe trip home and to be sure to look them up again next year!  It left us with good feelings coming from a city of that size... and us being "Yankees" in the Deep South!!


"Gardening - On Roofs & In Spare Time"     [Top of page]

Date: Sun, 11 May 2003
From: CPK  [US]

About the garden on top of the concert hall - I'm amazed that they can invest so much time and money in a multi-level rooftop garden like that and that they open it to the public for only two days out of the year.  It would have to be a best-kept secret I'd think, because how could they possibly handle the large quantity of people if it was common knowledge?

I was intrigued with your description of the gardener that caught your interest.  It's a mystery how some people just attract us like magnets (and I don?ft mean in a romantic sense either, just in general).  I suppose that's one of the phenomena that cause some people to theorize about things like reincarnation.  I hope you bump into her again sometime because I'd love to hear what she might have to say about gardening.  I have a special place in my heart for gardening.  I always say, "When I die and go to heaven, I want to garden and read... the luxuries I'm not afforded now".  I don't have the time as of yet for those things... however, I have done a bit of gardening lately - putting all other important responsibilities aside (like laundry and housekeeping).

It seems like I am indulging myself when I see my house such a mess and the laundry so piled up while I spend my few extra minutes planting, not to mention the money I have invested that probably should have gone towards bills.  But it is so therapeutic to me, that maybe it's a good investment after all.  Now we will enjoy a lot of tomatoes this summer, as well as potatoes, peas, pumpkins, cucumbers and my favorite - a lovely little herb garden terraced on a hillside with lavender, oregano, coriander, parsley, chives, sage, basil, peppermint (which I use to make mint julep with Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, he-he) tarragon, and peppers.  I have a little planter I made with some fieldstone.  It had been full of sedum - a plant that comes back every year.  It was getting pretty tired and full of mixed in grass, so I dug it all up, added more stones and planted new flowers.  It's not very filled in yet, but should be really nice in a month or so.

Wish you could download the smells along with the pictures... even the horse smell might be an interesting change of pace.


Re:  "I'm amazed that they can invest so much time and money into a multi-level rooftop garden like that and that they open it to the public for only two days out of the year."

What I should have explained is that there is an exclusive (very-very... VERY expensive) high-rise apartment building next door, and having some green to look at from the balconies makes every bit of trees, flowers, and dirt worth ten times it's weight in gold.  Thus the effort gone into creating, maintaining, and protecting it from being trampled.

Re: "It would have to be a best kept secret I'd think, because how could they possibly handle the large quantity of people if it was common knowledge?"

True, not so many people know about it, and anyway, they would just stop people at the bottom if there were too many on top, and then start pressuring people up there to hurry up and come down so more could go up.  In the event, there were almost too many people there, but I don't think it got to the point where they had to shut down access.

I experienced a funny thing when watching a large fireworks display once though - the best place to see the fireworks was from a bridge, so to keep people moving, the police stretched a rope across one end of the bridge, with a police officer every few feet, and they literally herded everyone to the other end of the bridge to keep the flow going.  When they had gotten one group across, they went back and repeated the process with the next batch of people....  Living among 30,000,000 other people, you get used to there being a lot of people everywhere, all the time.     [Top of page]

"Stop & Smell the Coffee"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: LL-318
Date: Mon, 12 May 2003
From: RWD  [Bandung, Indonesia]

.........  For me, it is "Stop and smell the coffee".


Ha-ha!  In my case... hmmm... it's stop and watch the green out the window I guess.  If only work didn't require that I keep staring into the computer screen all the time, I would spend a lot more time in better surroundings.

"Think Positive!" - "Uuuuu - Okay!  I'll Try!"     [Top of page]

Date: Fri, 16 May 2003  -0400
From: EKH  [US]

Judging from your comment about being run into and bumped into from behind, it seems like you interpreted the phrase literally.

I was the one who suggested you "Stop and smell the roses".  I'm happy to hear that you found and savored the roses!  I hope that is a start.

As a busy consultant/executive, 16 to 18 hour workdays are the norm for me, plus another 12 to 14 hours of work related activities on weekends.  My commute is about 10 minutes one way.  These hectic demands on my time do not stop me from smelling the roses.

An extrovert, I make it a point to converse with strangers.  An altruist, I try to assist others who might need my help, and in so doing, find the positive side of most of the people I encounter everyday.  When alone, soothing music (mostly classical) lifts my spirits.  Hundreds of nature scene screen saver images afford a long-distance connection with nature.

Maybe I am lucky to not have to worry about making a living, thus I am able to concentrate on living my life to the fullest.


Hmmm... there are several things I must comment on here.  Firstly, to EKH - thank you for reminding me to look on the bright side - I do need to be reminded to do so from time to time.  Nevertheless, as is evident from my current workspace in the refrigerator (see "A Chilling Tale" above), environmental factors cannot necessarily be easily ignored!  Certain environments are more conductive to a positive outlook on life than others.  I can force myself to be cheerful in a refrigerator, but what about the sore throat I get?  How can I be cheerful about that?

Re:  "Judging from your comment about being run into and bumped into from behind, it seems like you interpreted the phrase literally."

Any good analogy must have at least a tenuous connection with the concrete words of that analogy - otherwise the analogy shouldn't be used!  This is why I refuse to use (for one example) the idiotic expression "raining like cats and dogs".  Not until someone can explain what that's about anyway!  About the only thing I can imagine as I sit here and stare into the space between the electronically represented words on the screen, is that a furious rain reminded someone of a furious fight between a cat and a dog?  Fur flying?  Hmmm.....  Is that what that?fs about?  But to answer the suggestion - actually, no, I didn't take it literally, nor did my explanation of conditions need to be taken completely literally.  Yes, you will as often as not be literally bumped into if you stop, but the more important issue here is the intense psychological pressure to just keep marching with the crowd - it's so hard to get away from people in Tokyo.

Re: "My commute is about 10 minutes one way."

Yikes!  Only ten minutes?!  That makes for only 20 minutes of commuting per day, or an hour and forty minutes per week.  In my case, my one-way commute is about 70 minutes, or two hours and twenty minutes per round trip - which is eleven hours and forty minutes per week for a five-day workweek.  Imagine if you will, being smashed into a sardine Tokyo crush-rush train on your way to and from work, with several people's bodies smashed up against you for the entire journey....  I cannot begin to explain to you how intensely unpleasant this is!  By the time I get to work, I am five times more tired at 9:00 a.m. here in Tokyo (before I've begun working) than I was at 5:00 p.m. in San Francisco after a busy day in the office.

Yes, yes, yes... I know, think positive, think positive!  But, I must ask you - I really want to know, and I don't mean this sarcastically, I REALLY do want to know - how can I ignore my environment?  How can I ignore those unpleasant racists who torment me on the trains?  How can I ignore having to work with people bent on destruction?  It's like, everyone knows that you don't tell someone in a war-ravaged country "Think positive!  Ignore those bombs and you'll be fine!", so where is the line drawn between what is in fact ignorable and what is truly very difficult to deal with?

What's that?  Ah... I can here the voices now!  "Why don't you move then?" they say!  Indeed!  Send me a vast sum of money and I'll quit my day job and immediately set about moving into a more pleasant environment.  If you don't have a job offer for me or a financial assistance package though, I don't want to hear that flippant "Well, why don't you move?"

Oops - oops - oops!!!  Don't get me started!  I generally blow of steam to other foreign friends similarly suffering in this vast city.  They know exactly what I'm talking about after all.

Re:  "Maybe I am lucky for not having to worry about making a living, thus I am able to concentrate on living my life to the fullest."

That's got to help!  How much more fun and stress-free the past decade of my life would have been were I not constantly worrying about money!     [Top of page]

"There's One in Every Crowd - What Next?"     [Top of page]

(2003/06/14)  Work is sort of going well.  There's always something, and at the current office that something is Ms. Reichi and Ms. Meshitsukai, especially Ms. Meshitsukai, who I view as a viscous snarling dog, intent on biting anyone except her master, who she is completely and totally submissive to.  Disgusting that is!  Fortunately, my boss is the top person in the room, so his responses to my complaining about being frozen nearly stiff while trying to work, and (most recently) about Ms. Meshitsukai mucking with my computer, have been to tell the Refrigerator women to leave the thermostat at 25 (which brings the room down to about 22 degrees I think) and to keep their mitts off of other people's computers.  That's great, but now the snarling dog is seemingly that much more determined an enemy.  Time to watch my back... sigh... sigh... sigh....

Well, time to wrap this one up!

Sore dewa!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass
LLLetters@yahoo.com - Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo
June 14th, 2003 - (MM030519a/LL319c/HRE040615)
[Top of page]