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August 5th - October 7th, 2004
"Looking for a Car, Etc."  by KCM
"Happy Class?"
"Kyocera AH-K3001V"
"Movies..."  by FSO & LHS
"Back in August 1984..."
"Studying & Working in Nagoya"  by Yo/Gr
"Different Planets & Different Drummers"  by ADP & LHS
"In the Sound of the Ocean Waves..."
"Seafair"  by GTK & LHS
"From Under a Rock..."
"Still Looking for a Car"  by KCM & LHS
"Sailing Against the Storm"
"One Day on (the) Line in 1951"  by KTW
"Driving & The Shinkansen"  by KCM & LHS
"Stopping Parasites"
"Beaches, Refrigerators, and Renters"  by PBU
"Suzuki Wagon-R on the Peninsula"
"Post-University"  by KCM
"Open Train Windows"
"Busy at the Garden House"  by SAJ
"2004 Honda Civic"  by KCM
"City & Country Living"  by SAJ & LHS
"Regional Humor, Etc."  by KCM & LHS
"Thanks, but No Thanks - October, 2004"
"Dell OptiPlex GX150"
"Aging Rubber Printer Parts"

"Enoshima"     [Top of page]

(July 26th, 2004)  I made it to the beach this summer!  And in July no less!  I hate it when autumn comes around and I haven't been swimming in the summer.  The summers I spent swimming in the Boise River when I was in middle school were so nice, that - decades later - when the summer comes around, I always want to get back in the water.  I should find the time to go more often, but in any event, in July of 2004, I - Lyle H Saxon - was in the Pacific Ocean and enjoying myself.  Yah!!  In July!  Not August or September, but July!  It doesn't sound like something I should bother to write about, but some things you just really want to do, and if you don't - there's an uncomfortable feeling in the back of your mind that you have to carry around, so it really feels quite nice to have done what I wanted to do on July 26th.

I rode an Odakyu Line train from Shinjuku down to Enoshima, and then walked the five-minute walk from the station to the beach.  Due to the convenience of Enoshima beach, it used to be incredibly crowded back when only wealthy people could afford international travel, but now it's not overly crowded - no doubt kept that way by the rather bad reputation it still is trying to shake off from the days of intensely overcrowded beaches.

After changing at one of the "Beach Houses" as the seasonal tents with showers (for a fee) are called, I went out to the beach - a weekday beach of what looked like college students.  When I first hit forty, I felt the same as I did at 33, so I felt like I was being pushed out of a club in which I should still be a member, but at 44, now I just don't care.  I mean... I care, but there is such a huge barrier between myself and people in their late teens and early twenties that I feel something like a giraffe drinking out of the same water hole as hippopotamuses - both in the same space, but completely apart.

The sand at Enoshima is brown, and not white, but I don't think it's polluted - just sandy and muddy looking sometimes.  One thing I noticed that I hadn't before was that at a certain point in the surf line, every handful of sand taken from the bottom contained several small shellfish, and further out, a handful of sand produced five or six small hermit crabs.  I poked at the entrance to one of the shells and the small crab came out in a rush that left me thinking I was about to be bit, so I dropped them all back into the water.  I figured that the water must not be too bad if there was so much life in it!

The beach tents close in the early evening, so I waited as long as I could before heading for the showers just before they were locked up for the night.  Back in my clothes, I remembered how nice it feels to go swimming in the summer - how invigorated you feel after leaving the water.  I miss the summers when I went swimming nearly every day, but even just that one day this year will provide something to remember during the coming winter....

From the beach, I walked across the bridge to Enoshima Island and once again marveled at the change in atmosphere as you walk through the torii gate at the entrance to the main street on the island, which feels remarkably like a small town main street up in the mountains somewhere.  That feeling has dimmed somewhat over the past 20 years though, as people are spending less and less on souvenirs - which used to be huge earners for any tourist spot in the country - and the reputation of Enoshima has fallen to the point where most people have a somewhat negative image of it just at the mention of the name, without having actually gone there and seen it.  On my early walks heading uphill on this main street, there were always people in the shops buying souvenirs - indeed, I've bought a few myself - and the restaurants looked busy.  In July 2004 though, as I walked down the street, I looked into the open-front shops and mainly saw cheap toys for children, no customers, shopkeepers looking as though they were on the verge of desperation, and myself with very strained finances, happier to have the change in my pocket than a souvenir in hand.  The restaurants had some customers, but not many.

The temples and shrines on the island are mostly as they have been for generations, and they provide the one lasting thing on the island that provides it with an ambiance of timelessness and tradition.  As you climb one flight of stairs after another (ignoring the pay-escalators...), successive shrines replicate the feeling of being in the mountains - you huff and puff up a hill and are rewarded with ever better views and the culture of old wooden structures.

Once up on top of the island, the path becomes horizontal and continues the theme of the street of shops at the base of the island, with mostly restaurants, but also a couple of bed & breakfast places (and a couple of gaps of empty ground where old shops once stood).  Taken all the way to the end, steep stairs lead down past rocks where people are generally fishing and to a cave on the far side of the island.  The cave was already closed for the day by the time I got down there, but as I walked down the last steps I noticed a young man ask an old woman if she would take a picture of him and his girlfriend, and the woman - without looking at him - said "Hai-hai - chotto matte" (Ok-ok, just a minute) and walked into her shop - the very last one beside the path, at the bottom of the stairs.  The man looked perplexed and his companion friendly, so I walked back and looked into the old woman's shop to see if she was coming back... she disappeared into the rear of the shop, so I went over to the couple and offered to take their picture for them.  I asked how they wanted it framed and the woman said "With Mt. Fuji in the background".

I had completely forgotten to look for Mt. Fuji, but there it was - looking better than I had ever seen it from Enoshima (or anywhere else) before....  Ah... and to think that I had left my camera home out of fear of safe(?) storage while at the beach (in the event, there was a proper locker, so I could have brought it)!  I took the picture and the woman thanked me (the man looked discouraged somehow - the result of being snubbed by the old woman?) and I refocused on Mt. Fuji.  It was looking sharp and clear through windy air that had blown the internal combustion engine junk out of the way, with fog-like clouds at the base and a dramatic sky of clouds just a couple of notches away from rain.  Evening deepening, there was an orangish red glow highlighting the lighter parts of the clouds, and as I looked up, taking this in, the color intensity of the highlighted clouds grew stronger/brighter and... it was quite a beautiful moment!  Already having passed down the paths of the island that always seem to take me back in time, that perfect view of Mt. Fuji was a near-mystical experience.

I stood there for a while looking around - at beautiful Mt. Fuji in the distance, at the dramatic clouds overhead, at the Coast Guard ship anchored off-shore guarding the mouth of the river that divides the two main beaches of Enoshima, back to Mt Fuji, and then I noticed the backs of a foreign couple sitting out on a rock on the Mt. Fuji side of the island, with nothing between them and the Mystic Mountain but dramatic winds and perfectly placed clouds....

For more tourists than not, Japan is a land of both enchantment and disappointment.  If that same couple had visited Enoshima on any other day of that week, they would likely have been looking at an undramatic cone in the distance - dim through the haze of 21st century internal combustion engine afflicted Kanto, but there they were, and I couldn't help but envy them their timing!  Of course I was happy to be there at that time too, but it took me twenty years to hit the visual jackpot, while that couple might have been on a two-week backpack trip for all I knew.  If they are indeed short-term visitors, they will go back to whatever spot on the globe it is they inhabit and have that image in mind.  "Go to Enoshima for a really breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji" they might advise a future Japan-bound friend.  Timing....

After the most dramatic part of the light show had passed, I walked back a little further towards the cave and watched some men who had been fishing pack up their gear.  When they walked by, I asked them if the fishing was good and if sea fishing gear was expensive or not (I've only fresh water fished before, save for renting equipment for salmon fishing from the area around the mouth of the Colombia River).  They said they could generally catch two or three types of fish there and that while their equipment was expensive, there was cheap equipment to be had as well.

As they walked away, I contemplated the logistics of fishing on Enoshima without a car.  The effort of carrying everything there via the trains wouldn't be any big deal, but the thought of the return trip - of packing myself, fish, and fishing gear onto a crowded commuter train with people wearing business attire... wasn't pleasant.  This is what cars are great for - you throw your stuff in the trunk and ride home in comfort in your own space, no matter if you smell like fish.

As the sky began to darken, I headed for Enoshima Tower - the rebuilt and squeaky-new 59.8 meter lighthouse tower, which is located in the Samuel Cocking Garden - a rather nice garden (including the brick foundation of a greenhouse) that was originally started by Samuel Cocking, an Irish man who came to Japan in 1869 in the employee of a British trading company and began the multi-year project of creating the garden on Enoshima Island from 1882.

Note: Be careful of information on the Internet!  The above information I obtained from the Japanese language pamphlet handed out at the tower, so it should be accurate... note this horribly wrong English translation below that I found on the Internet:

"This garden originates from a western-style garden that a British trader, Samuel Cocking, created for Enoshima Shrine in 1868."

I see where they got the "British trader" part, wrong as it is, but where in the world did they come up with "1868"?  Probably they miscalculated the Japanese year when converting it to the Western system, or maybe they copied it from another site where someone made a wild guess?  Who knows!

But back to the tower - as I walked towards the entrance gate, I walked past a woman who had brought a bunch of cat food in a backpack and was dispensing it to a large number of cats who were crowding around her.  There seems to be a rather large population of cats on the island for some reason... some reason... like the cat woman dispensing food maybe?  (I like cats by the way - I'm just curious about the high number of them wandering around on the island.)

The tower itself is a little taller than the old one, much nicer, and much stronger.  The surrounding gardens were cleaned up when they built the new tower, which I was happy to see after contemplating the general decline of the island in other respects.  The old garden was already looking seedy by the time I saw it in 1984.  It had obviously been geared towards families, while the renovated garden was built with young couples in mind it seems - with indirect and discreet lighting at night and a fashionable coffee shop with a view of the beaches down below.     [Top of page]

"Looking for a Car, Etc."     [Top of page]

Subject: hi
From: KCM  [US]
Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004

I may have a car by the end of this week.  We'll see.  I still haven't put in an offer on it yet; I'm waiting because I want my mechanic to check it out before I buy it.  According to the Carfax report, it's ok and was well maintained.  The interior is a little dirty, but nothing I can't deal with.  It's a white 2000 Honda Civic LX with only 34,000 miles on it.  Very nice.  The seller's asking 9,800 for it, but I'm going to see if Aabbb can talk him down to something cheaper.

My friend broke up with that idiot boyfriend of hers.  Actually, she was dumped.  Man, I can't believe what a %$#*& he was to her.  They had just moved in together, too, and he told her that he had been having doubts for the last six months....  Maybe it's just me, but you don't do major decisions like that if you have doubts, and if you do, you talk about it before you move in together.  Since she's only here on a student visa, she will most likely return to Taiwan.  I wish she could find a way to stay here, but I don't know if it's possible.  She's been totally reliant on him for the past year, because she hasn't been able to find a job.  All her friends are pretty far away, so it's not like she has anywhere to go, either.  They're still living in the same house.


From: KCM  [US]
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004

I'm still waiting on my car.  Apparently AAA no longer offers auto checks and I have to find a local mechanic to check out the car.  I asked someone, but he hasn't gotten back to me yet.

We've been having a little drama going on with my friend and her &%$&%$& boyfriend.  Or ex.  We'll see.  The deal is, she's moving back to Taiwan, while he remains in the States, so that she can get a job and support herself instead of living with him and living off of him.  Supposedly once she gets a job and can support herself, he will go to her.  There are suspicions of cheating - apparently he spent $250 on a plane ticket to fly his ex out to LA - and much anger from her friends on her behalf.  I would have been just fine with that - it sounded like she needed to get away from him anyway, but I wish she didn't have to go back to Taiwan.  It will be next to impossible for her to come back, since she doesn't have citizenship or a green card.  All she has is a student visa.

Then HE decides to butt his head in.  After reading my online conversation with her over her shoulder, he decides to write me a letter admonishing me for not supporting her properly and basically bolstering himself by claiming that LOVES HER SO MUCH and he's responsible for her taking charge of her life, that her decision to return to Taiwan was her own choice.  Nonsense!  If it was up to her, she would have remained in the US, with him.  If he believes that it's her choice, then he's deluded and he knows nothing about women.

The e-mail made me so angry - I am on the verge of writing a letter back, but I also don't want any more contact with such a vile person.  That he even thought he had a right to decide how to support her properly was stupid - he just dumped her, out of the blue, with promises (more like lies) of meeting up with her in Taiwan once she got a job.


Subject: Re: Quick Site Question
From: KCM  [US]
Date: Mon, 02 Aug 2004

My wireless card isn't working in my laptop right now.   :(   I've asked Aabbb, but since he no longer uses Windows, he's not sure how to fix it.  He's going to ask one of his friends for me.

I didn't get the car.  The seller was getting on my nerves.  He kept asking me to accommodate him in all these things - like finding a local mechanic who estimated that I would be charged $90 (whereas if I had used my own mechanic I don't think I would have been charged anything), then asking me to change an appointment to Saturday so he could go with me, then when I had to switch to the dealership and found out it costs $165 for the inspection, he didn't seem to comprehend that it would be a hardship for me.  The man has a new house and a BMW!  I think he could take two hours off work.  Finally I said forget it.  Back to car shopping.


From: KCM  [US]
Date: Fri, 06 Aug 2004

.......  My office has this program for local artists to use the wall space as a sort of gallery to sell their work.  Sometimes the artwork is pretty good, most of the time not so good.  But this time, the artist is just flat-out bad.  I wonder what drives people to attempt to sell work that I would be ashamed of putting up.  Do they actually expect people to buy that stuff?  I mean it's not bad like "too abstract", but rather bad as in "poorly drawn, bad paper, cheap materials and not enough effort expended into doing anything cohesive".  And ugly.

KCM     [Top of page]

"Happy Class?"     [Top of page]

(2004/08/10 02:10)  I taught a couple of English classes this evening (technically yesterday evening, but I haven't gone to bed yet), and the last one was a typical situation.  The students and I - having never met each other before - asked each other some typical get-to-know-you questions.  I asked the four women in the class if they all worked in Shinjuku (where the lesson took place) and one nodded her head while the other three shook their heads, so I asked each of them where they worked.  The first one I asked said that she worked at Awajicho Station on the Marunouchi Line - a station that I know the name of, but had forgotten exactly where it was, so I asked her which stations were on either side of it, and then the fun began....

Me: "Which stations are on either side of Awajicho Station?

Student: "Do you know the Marunouchi Line?"

Me: "Yes, and I know that station name - I just can't remember where it is exactly...."

Student: "The Marunouchi Line... Ikebukuro...."

Me: "Ikebukuro!  But the next station to Ikebukuro is Shin-Otsuka."

Student: "......." (Looking at the other students in mutual confusion.)

Me: (Drawing a line on the whiteboard with three dots for stations.) "Okay - so this is Awajicho in the middle - what are the stations here [pointing to the dots] and here?"

Student: "It's next to Otemachi Station..."

Me: "Ah!  Otemachi!"  [Jokingly] "Why didn't you say Otemachi in the first place?  That's a huge station that everyone knows!"

That makes me look nit-picky, but the purpose of our being there - me as the native English biped and the four local bipeds as students - is to learn to more effectively communicate in English.  That being the case, when I ask a question and get an odd-ball non-answer, I feel it's my duty to clarify what went wrong and point out what I was actually saying when someone mistakenly thinks I've said something else.  It could be argued that I should have pretended to be a stupid tourist who just stepped off an airship and am FOB/A (Fresh Off the Boat/Airplane), and they could have indulged themselves with the image of interacting with a know-nothing exotic biped come from far-far away and across the great Pacific, but since I personally really hate being made a fool of, I have no desire to make a fool of others, even if they might be happier to be made fools of.  "Ignorance is bliss"?  No, I don't think so.  Ignorance is h**l!

Then I asked the next student where she worked and she said "Shinbashi" and asked if I knew Shinbashi.  Shinbashi being a major station, I was wordlessly thinking "How could anyone live in Tokyo and not know where Shinbashi is?", and so I ended up saying with a cheery smile "Yes, I know Shinbashi Station.  It's a historical station - the original terminal station on the Tokyo end of Japan's very first rail line from Yokohama to Tokyo."

Oops... there were the standard "Ooooo... you know well" comments (which are a direct translation of the more natural-sounding local "Yoku shitemasu ne"), but I wasn't trying to impress them, I was just trying to let them know that I understood the major train stations of Tokyo well enough.  The next woman worked in Shinagawa - "Do you know Shinagawa?" she asked and I said "Yes... from Shinagawa, you come to Shinjuku by the Yamanote Line then?"

Trains again... but I wasn't thinking anything there beyond just running the route through my mind.  In the work I've done in Tokyo over twenty years, I have had to go all over the city, often to four or five places in one day, so being able to effectively navigate the complicated train system is critical to efficient time management and getting to appointments on time.  One way of doing this, is when there are discussions about getting from point-A to point-B, since it's generally useful at some point down the road to have previously thought out the best route, you get in the habit of always asking about the best route when point-to-point intracity travel enters a conversation.

From there, we discussed their previous week's homework of writing an order/invoice, which took a bit of time because we ran into the usual problem where a student of a foreign language learns some way of saying something and then forgets that there are many ways to say just about anything and one size doesn't fit all very well.  It doesn't matter very much in the real world, so long as you're getting your ideas across somehow, but they were specifically there to improve their English, so I tried to help them do exactly that.

It being a one-time only situation where that group of five people was spending an hour together, I thought then and still think now that it's worth spending at least part of the class in general conversation and not sticking completely to the dry and lifeless textbook.  The students seemed to agree and there were several times where they all laughed and it probably sounded as though we were having a very jolly time in there through the thin walls between the different classrooms....

At the end of the class (which went overtime a little), I said good-bye to the students who gave me a smiling good-bye, and then - while I was writing down lesson notes for the regular teacher - I heard one of the students saying to one of the women at the school that "We talked about trains".  Uh-oh... I'll probably be admonished and told to "Stick to the lesson plan!", but it's nearly impossible to really please people in this business, so I don't expect everyone to be sparklingly happy - they never have been and probably never will be!  If everyone were actually happy, the "happy" would become a crushing boredom and thus "unhappy", which would seem to suggest - by definition - that it's absolutely impossible (and not even desirable) to please everyone.

If you'd like to see a Tokyo subway map, there's one [here]     [Top of page]

"Kyocera AH-K3001V"     [Top of page]

(2004/08/10)  I helped a friend get set up with a new cell phone yesterday, and it's the first one I've seen that can directly access ALL web pages, not just the simplistic ones designed for cell phones.  On the boring side, it has a camera (nearly all of them do now) and the usual telephone book instruction manual with more features than 99.9% of the users will ever completely master, and... yes, you can even use it as a telephone!  How are cell phones outside Japan?  exactly the same?  Are there ones that can access all websites?  Probably so, nobody has a monopoly on technology in the 21st century.

"Movies..."     [Top of page]

[Regarding my rant about the idiotic movie "The Last Samurai" in LL-328]

Subject: Re: LL-328
From: FSO  [US]
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 2004

All too often, I've seen Hollywood betray (as opposed to portray) stories for what I call "flash".  There is far too much effort put into superlatives and melodrama and not enough into substance.  I thought "Spiderman 2" had a mix of flash and substance, but the latest "Harry Potter" installment and "I, Robot" both did well in the substance/flash ratio, IMHO.

Getting back to the samurai thing, I did get entertainment out of "The Last Samurai", but more from watching the actresses and the scenery (not always two distinct things) than from watching Mr. Cruise play yet another underdog.  I can't speak for the historical authenticity, but many of the situations (the end-of-battle melodrama, walking into the emperor's room with a weapon unchallenged, the all too predictable widow who falls in love) were too contrived for any reasonable suspension of disbelief.

I have noticed that a number of newer movies are showing elements that I have seen in anime in the past.  An upcoming film, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" reeks of "Last Exile".  I'm interested in seeing how mush flash vs. substance this show has.

Can a movie have too much substance and not enough flash?  Personally, I think the self-reflection music video in the middle of the classic "Ghost in the Shell" movie and the soliloquy technobabble speech in the cell in "Akira" run a bit long with little to show for the time they spend.

While I'm rambling on about movies, I might as well mention that I have not found any movie critics that have the same tastes in movies that I do.  I personally think this is a little strange, since the box office receipt numbers seem to agree with me more than they do the critics.  As a broad generalization, are the movie critics in Japan such boorish literary snobs as well?


Movie critics in Japan... I've purposely avoided seeing most discussions about western movies here, as the cultural misunderstandings that often come up sometimes raise my blood pressure, and I would rather do something enjoyable than get worked up over fiction.  Actually, I see very little TV these days... the computer takes up just about all my time.  I do like seeing straight previews however - and then I can make my own decision about whether I want to see the movie or not.

Back to "The Last Samurai" - a reality issue was pointed out to me by an e-pal who was in Japan from 1948 to 1950 - it was far too bright at night!  The streets of Tokyo (Edo at that time) were not lit up with powerful electric lighting, or indeed any kind of lighting at all for many streets.  The early gaslights of the Meiji era were only in select areas and they didn't provide the blindingly bright kind of illumination that electricity has provided.  It's like those stupid old US cowboy movies where everyone is strutting around in perfect condition and perfectly clean clothes... at a time when people would actually ship clothes from San Francisco to the east coast for cleaning!  (At least until the Chinese started up laundry services that is.)  It's the same thing with samurai movies - have a good look at authentic photos from that period and see how puffed up and polished Hollywood versions are!

Enough on movies!  Good ones I love, bad ones I hate!     [Top of page]

"Back in August 1984..."     [Top of page]

(2004/08/17 23:12)  August 2004... it's been 20 years now since I came to Japan!  That's 7,300 days!  Being a round number, this August I'm thinking back to 1984 more than I typically have in years past.

I didn't really know what I was headed into when I took the first of three planes towards Japan (San Francisco - Los Angeles; Los Angeles - Hawaii; Hawaii - Tokyo).  Looking back, some random memories persist through the years - I left a package of 8x10 photos in the magazine pouch in front of my seat on the plane to Los Angeles; while flying over the Pacific from Los Angeles, a Japanese high school student who had gone to see the Olympic Games was sitting next to me - and he tried to stop me from popping a blob of wasabi in my mouth, but was too slow....

Stepping off of the plane at Narita Airport, I immediately felt like I was in a very different world - it was in the air, you could feel the different radio waves, not to mention that the locals were speaking a language I didn't understand at all (no big surprise here, but intellectually knowing about something and personally experiencing it are two different things).

Through immigration, I soon spotted the high school pen pal who had come all the way out the airport to meet me.  I saw her first, and it looked as though she had been waiting for a long time and was beginning to think that I wasn't going to show up.  When she saw me (I must have sent my photo to her beforehand, but I can't remember), her face lit up and she gave me a big smile.  I turned and beamed a wordless good-bye to my Japanese-American girlfriend (soon to be "ex") who was off to stay at the apartment of a former boyfriend(!).

Tomoko - my e-mail pal - then took me to the Keisei Line and helped me buy a ticket into Tokyo.  I remember the shock of looking around on the train and seeing only Japanese faces!  I had been told by this very same pen pal in a letter that "There are many foreigners in Japan", so - coming from San Francisco city - it was quite a shock to be in a mono-racial train with only me the different one.  Tomoko made a mistake when we transferred at Ueno, but eventually someone set her straight "Kanda?!!" I remember the man saying - the name of the station we were trying to find obviously rather far away.  (At Ueno, after getting off the train from the airport, Tomoko probably took a Keihin-Tohoku Line train towards Saitama instead of going the other way into central Tokyo.)

Eventually we arrived at Kanda and walked over to the Kanda YMCA, an old brick building built in 1928 (subsequently torn down in 1988 and rebuilt - now nice and new... and boring), where her father and a friend of his who was an interpreter were waiting.  On the way to the YMCA, we jaywalked to get over to the hotel and a policeman magically materialized to chastise Tomoko - who sheepishly bowed an apology to the man.

We walked into the lobby of the YMCA to find the two men standing there waiting for us.  I checked in and paid in advance for a week's stay... nervously shelling out a very large percentage of the total amount of money I'd brought over with me (pre-exchanged to yen in the US before flying over).  I remember feeling embarrassed to be pulling the cash out of my bag under the watchful eyes of the two men.  I felt that they could tell I didn't have much money with me....  Once I had checked in, we went somewhere for dinner (the basement of the hotel?) and the interpreter revealed himself to be a linguistically capable man (he claimed to have interpreted for President Carter when he visited Japan) with an unfriendly edge to him.  He told me "Probably you can find a job teaching English", and then proceeded to tell me how there had been a show on TV about foreigners who came to Japan with no credentials to teach... and that it was a problem.

Man... I sure would like to jump in a time machine right now and go give that guy an earful about the English language industry in this country!  What he told me was true enough, but the way he presented it was totally one-sided and rather rude, considering he was talking to someone who had been in the country for only a few hours.  In fact, Tomoko looked decidedly displeased with what the man was saying in Japanese and later complained to me that he was complaining that my English was difficult to understand (I do talk fast, but - hey - that guy was supposed to be a hot-shot interpreter, and besides, I'd just arrived and was speaking to them in real English.  I soon learned to drop the speed of my speech and use more internationally standard vocabulary, but not on day #1).

Well... there is more I could write about (the first haircut, the first job, etc.), but I think I already have in past letters, so I'll stop here.     [Top of page]

"Studying & Working in Nagoya"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: OverThree,But....
From: Yo/Gr  [US/Japan]
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 2004

........  These companies are crazy - that company you mentioned wants you to print out their reports on your computer?  I think they think they can squeeze out a little bit more profit if you have to use your ink and not theirs.  The deal here in Nagoya is companies looking for exchange students who have never taught and paying them a whole Y1,500 per hour!!  Wow - no transportation either!  I had to laugh at one fool who was happy with that, but then it's not really funny because they lower the overall pay rate for people who can actually teach and who have done it for a while.  Like the last place I worked full time - what an &%$#&$& that guy was, I spent half of my time pretending to work "planning", but the lessons were preset, and it would have been better both for me and my performance as a teacher if I had been able to rest between classes.

As for school?  It's ok, my kanji level is pretty bad - not sure about the whole system here, but now that I'm in it, I need to make the best of it.  I'm beginning to see why some people pay so much to go overseas to study....

There seems to be an "Asian boom" in the US, I really think you could make a buck or two with a photo book.  I guess that takes money though....  It's hard to make money in this world if you don't have any to start with!

Don't use your printer for that company - make them do it.


"Different Planets & Different Drummers"     [Top of page]

Subject: hey
From: ADP  [US]
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 2004  -0600

I've been doing really well at keeping despondency to a minimum till the last few days... I'm just having a bit of trouble keeping life in perspective.  My fellow men are making it hard to be charitable towards them and I have mostly retreated to the relative safety of my home and garden.  People, in my opinion, are mostly indescribably stupid and selfish.  Worse than that, they are shortsighted.

OK, sorry, I must control my outbursts - there, that's better.

I find myself constantly viewing life here like I don't belong - do you ever feel that way?  As if some huge cosmic mix-up has been made and I was deposited here instead of with my fellow beings on some distant home world.  I don't have anything in common with these people, it makes no sense, how can there be people who share little or nothing with their fellow beings.  I don't have any interest in sports, owning an SUV, boating, killing animals, or eating more than I should.  I am not interested in having a television that would crush medium sized children if it fell over.  My minimal stereo makes me happy enough, I like mowing my own lawn, I don't want to answer my doorbell, and I save rainwater to use in the garden.  I rescue baby birds that fall out of nests, and my back yard is not a cratered moonscape created by an undisciplined dog.  I can park my car in my garage and still have room to open the doors, and I am not a member of any political party, regardless of most of the people in my state belonging to one.  I feel so strange living here, maybe I'm mad.

Other than that... life is good.


The problem must be the uniformity of what people are watching - I've found that the (very) rare people I've met who grew up with little or (rarer still) no TV at all, are quite radically out of step with the mainstream.  This is both a good and a bad thing - they miss out on some common knowledge but they also miss out on common bad programming!  What's that quote of Thoreau about hearing a different drummer?

(Internet search....)

Ah!  Here we go!  (If this is inaccurate in any way, please let me know!):

"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises?  If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
- Henry David Thoreau
 (1817-1862) from "Walden"

"In the Sound of the Ocean Waves..."     [Top of page]

(2004/09/25 01:54)  Earlier this month I found myself alone on the top of an oceanside mountain/hill standing under the stars and in the sound of the ocean waves hitting the rocks of the coastline down below... breathing a clean sea breeze and thinking:

"....... I've found it.  It's not only there, but here too - just as I remember, with the same power and magic permeating the air....."

When any place is overrun with people, it gains something in the way of people-power or city-power, but it loses greatly its powers of nature.  There were some places I went to when I was living in San Francisco that I especially liked as they seemed to have a whiff of history about them while still having a connection to the wild winds off the Pacific.  After flying to the other side of the Pacific in 1984, I was often disappointed in my attempts to reconnect with nature within a certain radius of 30,000,000-people Tokyo.  It got to the point where I discovered a new kind of mystery in the remnants of old Japan, as well as in the less mysterious, but still fascinating modern Japan.  I had basically resigned myself to thinking that the old feelings I used to have were place-specific and that I would have to revisit the west coast of North America to find them again, but then I suddenly found myself standing out in the night air alone on the Boso Peninsula, looking up at the stars and feeling that same feeling again....

It was quite a happy discovery, as it reminded me that we are indeed all living on the same planet - those were the same stars up there in space, it was the same ocean beating against the rocks below and the same air that people were breathing all over the world.

"Seafair"     [Top of page]

Subject: RE: Still there?
From: GTK  [US]
Date: Sun, 08 Aug 2004

I am at work today, a Sunday.  I volunteered because the extra money helps for some of the incidentals.  Do you work overtime in your job?  Do you get paid extra money when you work more than your regular hours each day or week?  Sometimes the extra money is nice but then again, a lot is taken out for taxes too, so sometimes it just about evens out.

Beginning in July, there's been a month-long celebration here called Seafair (www.seafair.com), which consists of parades, celebrations and cultural festivals.  This weekend is the last of the many celebrations with a hydroplane boat race and the US Navy Blue Angels performing their air show for everyone.  They fly out of the airfield across from where I work and the sound of their roaring engines gives me goose bumps when I hear them.  When they come to Seattle, it is super!

GTK in Seattle

The overtime situation here varies, but my own situation and what I've heard from others is that, for people on a fixed salary, they often don't get any overtime pay for extra hours.  By law, they should, but small companies being small companies, they tend to cut corners.  People working by the hour on the other hand, get overtime, which is one reason why when a restaurant says that it's open until 10:00 p.m., that means that the last order is no later than 9:30 p.m. and you are expected to exit the premises before it actually becomes 10:00 p.m.  When I worked in an Italian restaurant in the US (back when I was a student), being open until 10:00 p.m. meant that people were welcome to walk in the door at 9:59 p.m.  Typically, there were customers still there past 11:00 p.m. and the employees wouldn't be able to finish cleaning up and locking the doors until 12:00 midnight.  When there were no customers on a weekday night, occasionally we'd fudge a little and turn the closed sign around five or ten minutes early....

At the printing company I worked at here in Tokyo, I got into the habit of perpetually working overtime.  It was an easy thing to do, since the whole office was buzzing along with nearly everyone still working, so you wouldn't even notice what time it was until around 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening.  One advantage to working overtime without extra pay though, is that people leave you alone when you take long lunches!  How can they complain?  They get three or four free hours every day, so it's not easy to complain about an extra five, ten, or fifteen minutes taken at lunch.  That was helpful when I was shopping for computer parts in nearby Akihabara.  Of course, if I had actually left the company at the official quitting time of 5:45, I could have done all that after work....     [Top of page]

"From Under a Rock..."     [Top of page]

(2004/09/01)  Just when I was thinking how English teaching isn't so bad, I ran into a toxic student today - a very nasty and ignorant individual who was positively dripping with poison.  The overwhelming majority of students are pleasant and serious - and the experience of talking with them is - overall - a pleasant one, but there's a flip side to that national trait.  If you're thinking of teaching English overseas at some point, get ready for this type of individual - it's only a matter of time before one crawls out from under a slimy rock and bites you....  Hopefully you'll be able to shake off the toxins with only minimal damage.

"Still Looking for a Car"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2004

The car hunt has been really disappointing so far.  Today I took a few hours off work to have a potential car inspected.  Aabbb had earlier asked if the car had been in an accident, and the guy said no.  Guess what the mechanic's verdict is?  Car has been in an accident - hit in the rear.  Confronted with that fact, the response was, "Oh, it's my ex-wife's car."  Right. So I gave up on that offer, but am feeling kind of depressed because I just wasted $80 on a car inspection.  *sigh*

My parents are being really annoying about this, too.  I want to preface this by saying I love them a lot, but boy can they try my patience.  They want me to keep my current Corolla (a 1990 GTS model with no airbags or any other modern safety features, and broken A/C, nicknamed the "death trap" by Aabbb, and with smog devices that haven't been fixed yet) and wait until next year to buy a new car.  They've been whining that I haven't asked them to go with me to check out cars, which is ludicrous.  My parents don't speak English, and in the presence of people who speak fluent English, my dad has a tendency to get easily frustrated and lose his temper.  Presumably, they will be paying for the new car.  However, I will have to pay every penny back, and they not only want me to get a new car, they want me to buy a car from a relative who works at a car dealership, but I don't want to ask him for any favors if I can help it.  I don't want to owe him anything.

Never mind safe, reliable cars.  I want something cool!  Just kidding.  What I really want is a Mini Cooper, but since that is way way out of my range, I've been dreaming of a Honda hybrid because of its gas efficiency.  Do people drive SUVs in Japan?  I hate them and am nearly sideswiped by several every day.



SUVs - yes, those bloody things have been dangerously turned loose on the roads here as well, but fortunately, most city driving in Tokyo is so slow, it's hard to get into a serious accident - the speeds don't generate enough kinetic energy to do much damage.

Recently, mini-vans are more popular than SUVs I think.  Incidentally, SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) is a blatant lie - they are not sporty in any way.  What happened is that the automobile manufacturers didn't have enough mini-vans to sell (developing new models takes years, not months), so they slapped a new label (SUV) on their off-road vehicles and sold them to hordes of sheep who were stupid enough to be blinded by blatantly dishonest advertising and unable to see what was sitting there in all its horrible glory for them to see if they but opened their eyes - these "SUV"s were no wonderful new models after all, but just repainted off-road vehicles designed to be driven - yes - "off-road" and a danger to one and all on high-speed highways.     [Top of page]

"Sailing Against the Storm"     [Top of page]

This simplistic... um... what?  Poem?  Drifted in on the wires the other day:

One ship drives East, and one drives West,
  By the selfsame wind that blows;
    It's the set of the sails, and not the gales,
      Which determines the way it goes

Excellent sentiment, but a little simplistic in that a sail ship cannot sail 100% straight dead-ahead into a head wind, but must be at least at a slight angle.  To sail into a head wind, you have to do a zigzag, going first a little off course to starboard and then a little off course to port, back to starboard, back to port, back to starboard.  Running with the wind at your back is - of course - the fastest and easiest sailing of all.  So - yes, you can go where you want to go with the wind, but truly powerful gales cannot be met dead-ahead straight on (not without fire-breathing engines anyway).  Taking this into consideration vastly improves the analogy.  There will always be 1,000 ships riding with a gale for every one beating against it - the 1,000 blithely going in the same direction, with no concern for whether the wind they ride is for good or ill, or whether they will end up on the rocks or actually arrive where they want to go.

"One Day on (the) Line in 1951"     [Top of page]

Subject: One Day On Line
From: KTW  [US]
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 2004

One Day On (the) Line

This story is not about the Internet.  It's about one day on the line for an American soldier with the First Cavalry Division in the Korean War.  It's the fall of 1951 and he's dug in on the Jamestown Line fifteen miles north of the Thirty-eighth Parallel in North Korea.

He crawls out of his sleeping bag, rubs his eyes then pulls aside the poncho that covers the entrance to his bunker.  He says good morning to his foxhole buddy who is standing guard in the fighting hole.  The shift is four hours on and four hours off twenty-four hours a day around the clock with no time off for vacation, holidays or weekends.  He freshens up by using his finger to rub a small amount of toothpaste on his teeth, then splashes snow on his face and walks to the far side of the hill to get breakfast.  There he's greeted by the Korean crew that carries the meals up to the line in insulated containers tied to their backs.  They're draft exempt as long as they remain employed by the US Army, making their jobs highly desirable.

Most meals were put together using powdered ingredients, except for cereals or meats such as sausage links or sliced bacon.  Hot oatmeal he liked but not the cold cereal because it was mushy by the time it reached him.

He complained about mushy cereal so the mess crew pre-mixed the powdered milk in the rear then carried it up in containers so he could pour it on himself.  The chow crew left him dry C-rations for the noon meal then took back his used mess kit to be steam cleaned and brought back with his evening meal.  Quite a few of the cans he opened were stamped 1945, most likely left over from World War Two.

After breakfast he usually melted snow in an empty ration can to use for brushing his teeth or washing.  There was little need for him to shave so he sometimes grew a beard.  Once a month he left the line and walked back to a water point two miles to the rear for a shower and a change of clothes whether he needed to or not.  There were no rest rooms in the area so when he had to relieve himself, he went exposed over a hole in the ground called a "latrine".  Closing one was an unpleasant detail for him because of the odor.  He had to fill it in with dirt then place a sign over it marking its location and showing the date of the closing.

The Chinese often fired in artillery, mostly white phosphorous smoke, when he sat down to eat leading him to believe they knew the meal schedule better than he did.  When the line fell quiet, poker games could be found all over his hill, #347, an outpost three hundred yards in front of the main line.

He almost never joined the games because he never had much money.  He sent all his pay home except for five dollars a month because he always said "Should something happen to me, I don't want to die broke".  Betting in the games was ridiculously high because money had little value to men who constantly lived in the shadow of death.

Between his guard shifts in the afternoon, he went inside the bunker to relax.  When he wrote letters or read the Pacific Stars and Stripes after dark it was done by the glow of a small birthday cake candle.  The poncho covering the bunker entrance kept in the small mount of heat given off by the candle and prevented any light from showing through.  When he ate, he often took off his olive drab wool gloves but was sometimes forced to pass his hands over the flame to warm them up.  He also shared one sleeping bag with his buddy so one man was cold but alert while the other man was warm and asleep.

One noontime, the Chinese disturbed his C-ration meal by sending in artillery rounds and one struck close to his bunker doing minor damage to a corner.  He needed dirt to fill sandbags for repairs so he decided to remove it from an inside wall reasoning that he would be killing two birds with one stone by making the bunker larger and filling sandbags at the same time.

Soon after he was removing dirt from a wall and found it difficult to pull out his entrenching tool.  After a few tugs, it came free but it had a skull attached to it.  He removed a layer of dirt to reveal a dozen skeletons buried upright in the wall, with the dirt being held back by waxed ration boxes and tree limbs.  He returned the skull to the wall with the rest of its skeleton and searched for a bone-free area.

When the sun went down, the outlook on the line took on a different tone.  Darkness meant an increase in the probability of attack, especially if it was a moonless or poor visibility night.  The Chinese operated under the cover of darkness, so to combat their sneaky habits, he put small rocks into empty ration cans, then hung them on the barbed wire.  The Chinese used a forked stick to hold up the lower strands of wire and crawl under, but if they hit the wire in the dark, the cans would swing and give off an alarm.  The system had one major flaw and that was windy nights that would swing the cans and rattle the rocks.  He fired into the night after hearing the cans rattle, thinking the Chinese were sneaking up.  His Lieutenant became upset when a false alarm occurred and told him "The wasting of good ammunition is unacceptable.  The next time I want to see bodies when the sun comes up."

Yes... as you guessed, I was that soldier.

KTW      [Top of page]

"Driving & The Shinkansen"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: I love Gmail
From: KCM  [US]
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 2004

There are random insanities going on right now, the least of which is - I almost got into three separate car accidents going to work today.  People are insane.  I'm not a saint by any means - I drive too fast and I tailgate too much, but I am trying to tone that down.  One driver was tailgating the car next to me and also trying to cut in front of me at the same time.  Did I mention the car was next to me?  I had to slam on my brakes and almost rear-ended the maniac.

So, uh, one thing I envy about Japan - their bullet train system.  It may be overcrowded, but it's efficient and doesn't kill people unless they want to be killed.  If you plop that sucker in California, hardly anyone would take it except me, because everyone else would be too busy driving their cars in nightmare traffic.


Actually, the bullet trains in Japan - more properly called "Shinkansen" - are not generally overcrowded (about 12 of the 18 cars are reserved seat only), and in fact are very nice, but also very expensive!  They might even be thought of as basically air travel on the ground.  The everyday trains that people depend on to get to work, however, are sort of like cattle cars, with the people who happen to live out at the very end of the line getting seats and everyone else standing.  The rails here are maintained very well, so all the trains are able to travel at fairly high speeds, but even running at high speeds, are still very crowded.  However crowded they be though, for 99.99% of the people commuting to work, there isn't any realistic option to taking the train, as driving would take about five times as long to get to work (literally!) and there might not be any parking - at any price - anywhere near the destination.  If even 10% of people commuting to work attempted to drive there, there would not be any physical space to put the cars.  If you replicate those conditions in the US, then people will take the train - they'll have no other choice.  Never mind bad traffic (that's bad here all the time too), if there isn't anywhere to leave your car, what do you do with it?

"Stopping Parasites"     [Top of page]

Parasitic vines... well... I suppose vines - by definition - are parasitic, but I like them just fine when they are attached to rocks, buildings, and other inanimate objects.  I really hate them, however, when they latch themselves onto a tree and slowly choke off more and more of the tree's leaves and eventually kill the tree.  There are some fairly large trees in the distance that I can see from my apartment window - and as I contemplate them on a daily basis, it disturbs me to see them being burdened with vines, and so, after contemplating the possibility of helping them out by cutting some of the vines off at the roots for quite a long while, I actually went into the small grove of trees to see what I could do - cutting all the vines on one tree the fist trip, and working on a few other trees on subsequent trips.

On one hand, I've found that cutting the vines on just a singe tree is considerably more work than I had imagined due to the high number of them, but on the other hand, the ease of cutting each individual vine was almost surprising.  With the first single tree that I cut all the vines off at the base, I was happy to see the results of my efforts several days later when the leaves of the hated vines turned brown and fell off.  It was good to see the tree free from the advanced stages of vine assault.  After that first tree, I've gone back a few more times and cut more vines, at one point clearing a few trees and then finding a really huge vine that I was just starting in on when I realized that I had pulled a patch of skin off one of my fingers and had a blister on another (I should have been wearing gloves), so I had to retreat, but something came to mind on that day of vine cutting....

The first time I cut vines, I was armed with nothing more than a very small pocket knife that I later found wasn't up to cutting the very large vines, so I came back on the second trip with a pair of Y100 (around $1) pliers, which worked quite well for cutting both large and small vines.  It was on the third trip, the one where I ended up injuring myself after squeezing away with the pliers for a little too long, that I pondered this fact:

You have a mighty tree, that has grown from a tiny seed over many years to reach its strength and great height.  You then have a lowly and parasitic vine that doesn't have the strength to stand on its own, but quickly climbs on the back of the tree and reaches the sun - and becomes stronger as it climbs higher on the trees branches - choking off the leaves of the tree and creating a larger and larger burden for the tree to bear.  Ultimately, the lowly vine brings down the great tree (and itself) through this parasitic activity.

Enter the Y100 pair of pliers.  A cheap and simple tool that cuts off the parasite at the roots and frees the tree (for a while anyway) of the ill effects of the spineless vine.

Now... my friends out there living on different parts of the same planet - what is the metaphorical equivalent of that Y100 pair of pliers when it comes to stopping human parasites that prey on the constructive elements of society and put a greater and greater burden on the tree that they spinelessly climb upon?  What comes to mind is that even a very thick vine is fairly easy to cut through, as it is built for rapid growth at the expense of more solid life forms, so it has no strength of its own to resist the teeth of the pliers.  The constructive members of society may feel like powerless victims as parasites shamelessly climb upon their shoulders, but they might keep in mind that only weak beings become parasites, and - by definition - they are far weaker than they appear to the tree as it bears the heavy burden of them climbing up - ever up - until they are cut off at the roots.......     [Top of page]

"Beaches, Refrigerators, and Renters"     [Top of page]

Subject: Beaches...
From: PBU  [Pakistan / UK]
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2004

Jersey being a small island (10x5 miles), there are small beaches all around and there is one near my place about a ten minute walk away, which is, unfortunately, rather crowded and not to my liking.  All the other beaches though are clean and attractive.  There's another one four miles from here that you can see France from, which is only 14 miles away.

One thing though - UK beaches are cold!  Wherever you go in the UK, whether in summer or winter, you'll never find a warm water beach here... which is a big tragedy to living in this country!  Back home in Pakistan, Karachi beaches are more attractive, with warm water and a picnic type atmosphere.  It's a pleasure to get wet on those beaches :)

I just finished work and am ready for home, where I'll be alone.  My wife and kids are still in Karachi - they're coming back to Jersey on the 5th of September - until then, all the food in the freezer is mine.  :)

Other news - I own property near London that I rent out.  I had major problems with it last year when the tenants stopped paying rent and I was forced to take legal action.  They did not turn up at court, and to add insult to injury, the court was not helpful either.  Anyway, those tenants ran away eventually (along with my furniture), and I was finally able to repossess the property.  I just sat on it for a while, and then I advertised and found new tenants, a Jamaican family who paid the rent until last month, when they informed me that they were out of work and couldn't pay the rent any longer, and then they moved out.  At least I'm glad they were honest with me and moved out in time.  Now I'm advertising once again in the newspaper... hoping I'll be able to rent it out soon.


"Suzuki Wagon-R on the Peninsula"     [Top of page]

(2004/09/10)  I spent a day in Chiba on business, and while there rented a car to drive around in on the tip of the peninsula and see the sights.  I purposely rented a "kei" car (or "K-car", the lightest car class here, which is regulated to a maximum of 660cc engines and also regulated to have a wheelbase no larger than 1475x3400).

Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be any regulation on their height, so some of them have grown in the only direction available - up.  The result is likely to look rather odd by someone used to larger cars, but they grow on you the longer you look at them, and after squeezing between walls on very narrow streets in the very narrowest car available, I was quite happy to not be driving a large car!

About the car:  In making the reservation for the car at the JR Railways ticket office, I had a choice of car class, but no choice of individual models, so I didn't know what I'd be driving until I was introduced to my temporary set of wheels in the form of a Suzuki Wagon-R.  The last kei-car I drove was a Honda Life, and since I'm always happy to try out a car I've never driven, I was happy to climb behind the wheel of the Wagon-R.  It's a great car, and I motored all over the southern part of the Boso Peninsula nearly non-stop for most of the day and then throughout half the night, only burning 17.6 liters of fuel (regrettably, I didn't write down the mileage - I thought I'd get a print out with it, but when I returned the car, they didn't give me anything at all, so all I have is my receipt for gasoline and the route in mind as I look at a map).

As I mention above - the narrow roads made me glad of my choice time and time again, and I noticed that a significant percentage of the cars in that area were also kei-cars - seemingly more than in other areas I've driven in, but then again, since the economy took a turn for the worse a decade ago, sales of kei-cars have gone up....

I started this to explain a moment on the top of an ocean-side mountain/hill, but the above part is purely about the car, so I'll get to "The Moment" later.  Hmm... maybe I'll call it "The Moment".  It's usually better to write titles after you write something, so let's see if "The Moment" stands!  [It didn't - see "In the Sound of the Ocean Waves..." earlier in this letter (this isn't strictly chronological), which shows - once again - that titles are something to be thought up after an article is written, not before.]

"Post-University"     [Top of page]

Subject: Friday at the office
From: KCM  [US]
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2004

It's 4:30 and I'm waiting for time to pass.  Today I must run a few errands, buy a few birthday gifts and then run back home to not only catch up on my online reading, but also job-hunt some more.  Today I finally sent in my resume to Bbccc Magazine and I am crossing all my fingers on this one.  I would love to work for a magazine whose values mirror mine.  The ultimate ideal.

I've also been reading some more.  Do you listen at all to 60s and 70s rock?  Aabbb gave me a biography of the Doors, written by Ray Manzarek.  It was written as if in an acid-induced haze and full of love and adoration for Jim Morrison, which made for a shallow, but fun read.  Manzarek's very amusing.  He married a third generation Japanese American woman, and it confuses me, because she doesn't seem to be there except to support the band, financially in the beginning and as a matronly voice later.  I don't think I would do that, but then again it was a different time.

I wish I had more money!  I envy all those rich kids I knew in college, who utterly wasted every penny their parents gave them.  Even though they had lousy grades and were in chemically altered states almost all the time, they still got nice jobs because of Mommy and Daddy's connections.  They drive Beemers and live in luxurious apartments paid for by their parents and they have the nerve to complain that their lives suck.  Thank G*d I'm not friends with them, because I would want to wring their necks every chance I got.  Anyway, the moment of envy is over, because they're still shallow and without any complexity.

A friend is having weekly fights with her boyfriend about how unromantic he is.  It drives me crazy, since if she wants a romantic boyfriend, she needs to dump this one and move on.  But she likes him, so she's always in a state of ambivalence.

I am glad that I'm far away from the drama (which is in LA), so I won't get all embroiled in the mess, but it's hard to be patient sometimes.


From: KCM  [US]
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2004

I'm much better today.  My friend is flying in from LA on business and we are going to hunt down some ice cream.  It should be fun.

My friends and I have been talking to each other a lot lately, and our conclusion thus far has been: Relationships suck.  We get so attached to the other person, and so sensitive to the whims of the other, that we often lose sight of ourselves and our own needs.  They're exhausting and stressful and constantly hurting us.  But we still want these people in our lives.  And of course, none of us think that the other's boyfriends are good enough for them.  :P  Yes, I realize there are good aspects too, but it's been really difficult lately.


KCM     [Top of page]

"Open Train Windows"     [Top of page]

(2004/10/05)  The (fast disappearing) old trains have two-section windows that can be completely opened, but most people seem to incorrectly assume that only the lower or upper halves can be opened - one or the other - to have either the top or bottom half of the full window frame open.  Nope - not the case.  The upper section slides up into the area over the window, and the bottom section - while generally only slid halfway up, can in fact be slid all the way up into the area over the window frame alongside the other half, making for a huge and gloriously open space that is so large you can actually easily step through it (I've tried it a couple of times in years past).

I bring this up, because I was traveling around on the Boso Peninsula last week and was extremely fortunate to find myself on a few train rides that were a perfect combination of old train cars, off-peak conditions (so I had one of the semi-compartments to myself), a very nice temperature outside and cloudy (so there was no overly bright sun shining directly into the train car).  I began my ride by sitting in one of the semi-compartments (two two-seater bench seats facing each other but without anything beyond the low backs separating them from the rest of the train) with three other people and unhappily looking through the dirty glass at the world outside - wishing I could open the window.  As the train rumbled further and further away from Chiba Station though, more and more people got off and I found myself the only one in the compartment, so I sprang to my feet, opened both windows and then gleefully settled back into my seat with the world suddenly out there with no barrier between it and I... the perfect-temperature fresh air rushing in....

Yes!  This is the way to travel!  What a curse air-conditioning is!  For just a few weeks of hot weather, people happily(?!) consign themselves to sitting in sealed boxes 365 days a year, breathing stale oxygen-depleted air and looking through dirty glass at the world outside, so near but artificially sealed off by perpetually closed windows.

How can I accurately describe the job of watching the green countryside roll past out the open window?  The feel of the clean air blowing in the window with varying intensity, the sound of the steel wheels on the rails, the look of the overcast sky, the wordless connection with the outside world....  All of those things make life worth living.  Just the train ride is a thing to rejoice in, and yet people sit as if they were numbed (are they?) and impervious to the reality of being shut up in an unpleasant box - suffering and just hoping that the passage of time will hurry and they'll find themselves at their destination and out of that unpleasant box.

The reserved seat trains have their own kind of comfort that comes from sitting in a comfortable seat facing forward with a clean window at your side.  As the train speeds past those lesser mortals waiting for overcrowded local trains, you ponder the scene from your lofty position behind (clean) thick glass that shuts out the noise and discomfort of the non-luxury world.  Hmm... I suppose then, that luxury trains are best enjoyed in urban settings.  Once you get out in clean green surroundings, that luxuriously sealed box can be a curse.  The worst situation though, is a bad combination of being on an uncomfortable local train with dirty windows that could be opened, but are left shut as the train rolls through beautiful countryside.     [Top of page]

"Busy at the Garden House"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: NewStuffAtSite
From: SAJ  [US / Holland]
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 2004

Long time, no write, I know. I am behind on everything concerning the computer in every way.  I have tons of email I need to catch up on and even more photos I need to work on and post.

Since March/April we have been busy at the garden house or if you like, "the cottage, the work camp, the money pit".  What we call it depends on the mood of the day.  We have spent most of our time out at the cottage this season since we finished off the shower and put solar in.  Strange but we really don't use the solar that much and we don't miss all the electronics from the house.  Mainly I use it to recharge my cell phone, camera or watch a movie on a rainy day on the portable DVD player.  Sometimes I may turn on a light late in the evening for an hour to read before going to bed.  I don't miss having a TV nor being on the computer, even though with Aabbb's work and his notebook we do have Internet if we want it.  I have to go back to the house (the house being where we live in the city), once a week to do laundry and shop for groceries.  How I hate those days, but we have to eat, so there's no way of getting around it.  The season ends October 1st for overnight staying, so it won't be long before we are back to the house for the winter.  We will be going out to the cottage for the day when the weather is good, so that is something.  We bought a large heater for the cottage this year, so we would be able to use the cottage more during the winter.  Who knows, maybe even sneak in a sleepover night or two.

Over the past summer (yes I know summer is not over yet - it just feels like it), I have taken quite a few photos, which I will get busy working on once we are back at the house full time.
It looks like we will be at the house for a few days.  Aabbb has a busy week at work with lots of late nights working, and the weather outlook is awful.  What else is new with the weather here?  It's been a bad summer - cold and wet.  It feels like fall already.  The leaves are even starting to change color and dropping off.  We have had not even two weeks of real warm weather this year.  I was hoping for an Indian summer if nothing else, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen either.


"2004 Honda Civic"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 2004

..........  I made a decision to get a car this weekend.  A 2004 Civic LX Coupe, manual transmission (because it's $800 cheaper), in blue or silver.  Dealerships are having their summer clearances and my dad has offered to help me pay it off, on the condition that I pay him back for it, which I intend to do, of course.  I think I can get it paid off in a few years, hopefully sooner if my boss can give me the promised "permanent position" I've been asking for.



Subject: Re: Sunday Morning Rant
From: KCM  [US]
Date: Sun, 22 Aug 2004

Today I got a car!  WHEEEEEEEEEE!  It is a blue 2004 Honda Civic Value Package 2-door coupe, so it doesn't come with power locks, windows, mats, or wheel covers.  On the other hand, it gets 38 mpg, is a manual, comes with most standard Honda options, and has a very comfortable ride.  I'm going to be paying 12,869 out the door for it, which is a pretty good price, considering MSRP is 13,000+.  Very econo-car, but something I can live with.

My parents were totally unhelpful during the whole process.  Now, my dad cannot speak English, but he tried negotiating with the guy anyway, even though the price was pretty close to sticker.  Then he was disappointed in the model I chose, and he and my mom both complained about me opting for a manual... and they didn't like the color I chose.  It was so frustrating - as if every decision I made without their handholding was an insult to them or something.

*sigh*  And then when it came time to put down the paperwork, we somehow got a Chinese person.  My mom immediately complained to her that I didn't know how to speak any Chinese.  This is partly why I resent other Chinese people I encounter - my parents.  You know, what's funny is my next-door neighbor, a woman who's about my mom's age came out and saw my new car.  She congratulated me on getting such a good deal and telling me that she attempted to convince my parents to help me buy a new car, since I was so "obedient" - that's not the exact word - "good" maybe?  But you get my drift.



"City & Country Living"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: TokyoSummer
From: SAJ  [US / Holland]
Date: Mon, 23 Aug 2004

Now - for whatever reason, I thought you were a "city" person all the way, 100%.  Not me by any means of the word.  I found it hard to adjust to the city life - having so many houses on top of each other, row house after row house.  The garden house is only a five-minute drive or a 40-minute walk from our city home.  I'm sure the walk is less without the dog in tow.  In front of the garden park (south side) is a large public park, north are a few large fields used for horses and cows, east are soccer fields and west is another garden park which has more walking trails on the other side of it that lead back into the public park.  So even if you are still in the city, you don't feel it.  You still hear trains/planes and autos from time to time but... you can hear birds and frogs and other little creatures that you don't hear at the city house.  I get excited every time I see a hedgehog in the evenings when I take the dog out for his last walk of the day.  Sometimes you can even see a bat or two.  Or when I see a dragonfly fly across the yard, I'm in awe.  In the spring you can hear a cuckoo bird somewhere behind us.  I have not seen it yet, but maybe one of these days.  Last week as the dog and I were taking our daily walk through the park, we even came across a mole.  I had never seen one in real life before.  He was mostly covered, but hey, it counts in my book.  We see rabbits from time to time as well.  It gets a little noisy out there when school is out, but it isn't too bad and it is almost always quiet during the week.

I'm both a city and a country person actually.  I would love to be able to spend Monday through Friday in the city, and then Friday night through Monday morning in the country far away from the city.  The problem for me is that I like the stimulation and adventure of being in the city, but I hate the internal combustion exhaust laden air.  I love being able to meet different people and talk with them (a definite plus to teaching English), yet I love to walk with nothing around me but a green world of life and no one in sight.  By nearly always being in the city, I perpetually long for the country.  If I moved to the country, however, while I could probably do fine if I was on my own and didn't have to deal with any other groups of people, due to me and my big mouth, I'd likely run afoul of a close-knit small community by upsetting someone, and once you've been ostracized in a small town, the only realistic option is to leave town... and go... back to the city I guess.  No, there is no easy solution here, but money would actually enable the Monday-Friday in the city and Saturday & Sunday in the country solution, so long as not too many other people were doing the same thing and getting on the nerves of the local population by taking up space in the community with their usually empty houses....     [Top of page]

"Regional Humor, Etc."     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 2004

Hi, how is everything?  Things are getting much better for me.  I love my car, and am almost at the 300-mile mark already.  I've been told to "break the car in" by going under 55, but that's a little difficult.  Anyway, today that was made possible by the fact that everyone else decided to cut me off for whatever reason.  I am so paranoid about getting hit or hitting another car.

Oh well.

I'm listening to the Doors in Concert CD right now.  It's much better now that I can hear it in my room instead of just the car.

This is a really random question, but what is Japanese comedy like?  From what I can tell, it's very heavy on the slapstick, whereas Americans tend to focus on critique and absurdity and potheads, which is its own category.  I've tried, but always failed to understand British humor, which seems to me very dry.  I can appreciate Monty Python, but I don't "get" it.  Hong Kong humor is very heavy on wordplay as well as general slapstick.  I love the wordplay, but I never understand it.


About driving a squeaky-new car, naturally you want it to stay that way, but if the paint gets scratched, etc., don't worry about it too much (this is the type of thing I constantly and generally unsuccessfully try to convince myself of...).

Japanese humor seeming to mostly be slapstick; yes, that's pretty much it.  Humor here is heavy on situational things, word plays, and put-down humor.  There are good comedians here of course, but for the most part, you're expected to spell out jokes in a way that doesn't generate confusion.  The question "Are you serious, or are you joking?" isn't usually necessary.  Face-saving is more of an issue here than in some places after all.

I should go into this issue more, but at the moment I'm feeling decidedly unhumorous.  I have been mentioning financial woes in here for years now, and that hasn't changed, or to be more precise, it has changed - it's gotten worse.  The hull leaks, rough seas wash over the decks and raise the water level in the bilge still higher... and the captain stands grimly at the wheel wondering if the ship will actually get through the storm.     [Top of page]

"Thanks, but No Thanks - October, 2004"     [Top of page]

Hello boys and girls!  It's once again time for my, your, and everyone's least favorite part of the letter - quotes from resume refusal letters.  I'm taking out the headers and extra junk, leaving in only the fun-filled quotes themselves (spelling mistakes, etc. are in the originals, only the names have been changed) - don't enjoy this too much please.

Thank you for your recent application for the consulting position here at Ccddd.

After careful consideration and review we have decided that your experience and qualifications, while quite impressive, are not the best fit for the position we are seeking to fill.

Thanks, again, for considering Ccddd.  We sincerely wish you the very best and hope that your search for a new career opportunity is successful.

Thank you for your interest in the position we advertised in the The Japan Times. I'm sorry, however, to inform you that somebody else has been selected for the job.

Wishing you success in your pursuit of future opportunities.

Thank you for application for the position of Sales Representative.  While we are impressed with your background, unfortunately we are unable to offer you this posssition at this time We appreciate your interest in our company.  We are very sorry that we can not assit in this matter for you.
Thank you very much again.

Thank you for your application to our part-time teaching position.

Unfortunately, I regret to inform you that we cannot offer you a position this time.

Thanks again for your interest, and best of luck in your job search.

Thank you for your job application and for considering Ccddd.
We are sorry to inform you we can not consider you for a position this time.  This is no reflection on your qualifications, however, it is just that we do not have an opening now that fits your abilities.
I feel sure you will find a place where your special experiences can be used effectively.

My name is Aabbb Bbccc, I am a consultant for Ccddd Global Inc. Thank you very much for sending me your resume.

The role you are interested, requires a number of years in a senior management position for a luxury consumer goods company. While your details and achievements to date certainly are of interest, I am afraid that due to adverse market conditions, we are unable to offer any suitable positions to you at this moment.

Once again, thank you for the time and effort spent applying for this position. With your permission, we would like to keep your details in our confidential files and contact you when a suitable position arises.

Wishing you well in your search for a suitable position.

LHS comment:  Um... no comment maybe.  I was about to say that I appreciated the last letter for a moment, until I ran scenes of dozens of other people getting exactly the same text on their computer screens.  In a funk right now.  I'll snap out of this blue fog and find the sun again, I promise.     [Top of page]

"Dell OptiPlex GX150"     [Top of page]

(2004/10/07)  I did it again... I bought another used computer.  I didn't need another one exactly, but the 300MHz Hitachi that I have SuSE Linux 9.1 on is so painfully slow that it wasn't really functioning as a viable work machine, so I got a replacement for it and retired the Hitachi to a shelf to collect dust.

This "new" Dell (Y14,800) has the best CPU of any computer I've ever owned (which isn't saying much, since I have always tended to acquire used computers on the fringe of their useful product lives).  It has a P-III 866MHz CPU.  The memory and hard drive being upgradeable, I'm not overly concerned with them - it came with 128MB RAM and a 10GB hard drive, which is usable, if on the low side.

What's interesting about this new OptiPlex for me is the mechanical design of it.  Older OptiPlex computers have a lid that lifts completely off the (horizontal) computer.  It's a good design, but there's a technique to getting the lid back on right, as it has a tendency to end up too far forward the first several times you try it.  (I've been using that design for years now, so I have the technique down - you keep upward and rear-facing pressure on the lid as you hinge it down and click it shut.)  The new design (as of three years ago that is, I'm not sure about current models) hinges open like a clamshell and all replaceable parts are readily available and easy to change (as they are with the old design actually).  Nice, but there are a couple of bad aspects to this new design.

One, since the internal wiring gets pushed around every time you open it up, if you get into the computer on a regular basis, there's the potential problem of wire damage over time.  With the old design, taking the cover off doesn't affect the wiring in any shape or form.

Another disappointing aspect to the new design, is that the design is space hungry and doesn't leave any extra space for a second hard drive, which will easily fit in an older one.  I think if it had been ordered from the factory with two hard drives, they probably had (have) a bracket that would handle two, but once it was ordered with just one, the design doesn't allow for stuffing another one in there - in spite of there being an extra power plug and connector for one.

Greatly appreciated are the USB connectors and headphone jack on the front panel (under a hinged cover), and the black design is interesting after years of beige, but I think I might prefer the beige in my room, since it reflects enough light to not create a black hole effect in a space that is already insufficiently lit.

"Aging Rubber Printer Parts"     [Top of page]

Back when I lived in a city with vastly fewer fire-breathing machines, a friend from Los Angels told me that rubber and plastic parts were negatively affected by air pollution.  I was skeptical, but since moving to Tokyo and noticing that the rubber parts in my printers rapidly degenerate and lead what was a flawlessly performing printer down the distressingly predictable path of grabbing several sheets at a time, which in turn leads to ever more jams and frustration.  My current printer, a B&W Epson laser printer, has worked out better than the others, but it's gotten so I have to stand by the printer, and with each sheet that is pulled in, there are a few sheets that side further into the machine than they should, so I pull them back before the next sheet is pulled.  Having to stand there and manually rearrange the pile of blank pages with every singe printed page is no fun, but at least it's a way of using the printer with no - for now - paper jams.

"Earthquakes"     [Top of page]

(2004/10/07)  There was a pretty strong earthquake here in Tokyo last night.  One of the strongest ones I've experienced so far.  It was centered not far from where I live and so I got to feel most of its estimated strength of... um... 5.6 I think they said on TV.  It might have even been a good thing though - as they've been predicting an earthquake in Tokyo, and so it's probably a good thing to have one (or a few?) moderate and non-destructive quakes that release pressure underground and (hope, hope) prevent a catastrophic quake from occurring.

(2004/10/10)  Time for formatting, etc.  The largest typhoon to directly hit Tokyo in about a decade is fast approaching, so I'll try to stuff this into the wires before it hits.  I don't think the power will be knocked out, but you never know - there is flooding in Shizuoka already (just outside of Tokyo), some flooded neighborhoods, mudslides, etc.

Sore dewa,

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo
October 10th, 2004
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