Sunday, November 30, 2003

Thanksgiving Up North
On Wednesday, after my class, we hit the road to head up to the Upper Peninsula to spend Thanksgiving with Mark's step-mother and younger sisters at his father's house in Rapid River, a tiny little town near Escanaba. From E. Lansing, it takes about 6 hours to drive up there. Wednesday afternoon, it was a beautiful drive. I am now even more of an official Michigan dweller, as I have been across the Mackinac Bridge. When we came to it, it was dark, and the whole thing was outlined with multicolored lights along the top of the suspensions.

We got to Mark's dad's house around 9. It's on the shore of Little Bay De Noc, and it's beautiful. His dad and Debbie, his step-mother, had it built several years ago. I was there last year, when I came back for Mark's dad's funeral, but then it was full of people and very hectic. This time, there was just me, Mark, Debbie, Mark's little half-sister Emily, and Mark's full sister Tessa, who flew in from New York, where she's in art school. Mark was in the downstairs guest room, which has a pinecone theme. Tessa and I were upstairs, in a room with twin beds, all in pale natural colors. I thought it was great because my bed had an electric blanket on it. Yay, warmth!

The weekend was very peaceful. On Thanksgiving Day, Debbie's family came over, which was easy, since her parents live just down the road, and a couple of her friends. Her friends got there earlier in the afternoon, in time to watch the Lions vs. Packers game. Since a lot of people in the UP are actually from Wisconsin, and the rest are from Michigan, it's a fairly important game for many people. It's always funnier to watch football games with people who actually care about one of the teams, because they get so excited. Debbie's friend really wanted Green Bay to win, and for once, Detroit actually beat them. Boo hoo. Then Debbie's parents came, with the "show turkey." They had decided to do two small turkies, instead of a great big one, and the magazine the recipe came out of claimed you were supposed to make two so you had one sliced ahead of time and one for show, which Tessa found hilarious.

For dessert, we had pumpkin pie and homemade cinnamon ice cream. Last Christmas, Debbie and Emily got an ice cream maker and have apparently become very talented in the making of different flavors. Mark was not appreciative of the festive cinnamon flavor, since he hates cinnamon in just about anything, nor does he like pumpkin pie. I, on the other hand, enjoyed it quite a bit. As Mark says on frequent ocassion, "More for me!"

Friday was a very quiet morning, waiting for everyone to wake up. Amazingly, Mark was actually up before Tessa, so at least there is one person in the world who sleeps later than him. Emily took great glee in asking Debbie's permission to go wake up Tessa, who sounded so pleased to be woken. After lunch, we went into Escanaba, about half an hour away, to run errands. Debbie needed Mark to go with her to Staples to figure out what upgrade she wanted for her computer; Tessa and Emily wanted to go to the art gallery, so we all went. First, though, we stopped at the bank and visited with a friend of Mark's dad, who had recently been on a trip to Vietnam with his son, who is a writer, and whose magazine wanted to get his father's impressions of modern Vietnam after his two tours of duty there during the war. His pictures were very nice, and his story was interesting as well. Then we went to Staples, then the art gallery, where Mark fell asleep in a chair, then a surprise visit to a Christmas store! The girls were all happy to be there, but Mark was again not so thrilled. He really hates scented candles, the poor guy.

Finally, though, we did head back to the house, and spent the rest of the evening watching rather dumb TV in front of the big fireplace in the living room. Mark also helped me get started on making an online teaching portfolio, which isn't actually required for my practicum anymore, but I still ought to do it, and this seemed like a good time to start. In all, a very low-key and pleasant evening. I wish our fireplace in E. Lansing was bigger.

Saturday morning, Tessa had to get up early to get off to the airport to fly back to New York. Debbie and Emily took her, and I let Mark sleep until 11:30 before I made him get up, nice person that I am. When Mark did get up, he worked on finishing up installing all the upgrade stuff on Debbie's computer. When they got back from the airport, Mark got to demonstrate his somewhat rusty carving skills on the show turkey, so we could have some turkey sandwiches for lunch. At about 3, though, we had to head back to Lansing, to avoid running into all the Sunday returning traffic.

The drive was very nice until we stopped for dinner in Gaylord. When we were done with dinner, we came out of the restaurant still expecting the dry but overcast sky we'd had the whole time up until then, but instead found a driving snow storm. It was very pretty to see, but Mark was not so thrilled to drive in it. It ended up slowing down traffic on the interstate to about 30 mph for nearly an hour. By the time we got to Lansing, though, it was like there had never been snow, which, I suppose, in Lansing, there hadn't been.

We had a surprise waiting for us at home. There was a message from Mark's older half-sister, Kate, telling him to check his email and then call her. When he checked, there was a huge file, showing a strange black-and-white image with the name of a hospital at the top. Mark started to scroll the image so he could figure out what it was, but I said, "Oh, Kate's pregnant." Sure enough, it was her ultra-sound. Mark is about to be an uncle for the third time, since his older half-brother John IV has two sons as well. Such a strange thought.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

White Chocolate
As you may recall from many, many entries from Japan, I like snack foods. I especially liked Japanese snack foods. They were available in more variety, more flavors, more interesting packaging, and were in general healthier for you. I was dismayed to discover this weekend when we went to the Asian grocery store that their version of the chocolate koalas is not actually imported, but instead made in the US for Americans, meaning the sugar content is different, and the taste is sweeter than what I now consider necessary.

I can't be totally indifferent to American snack foods now, though. There is certainly something to be said for a country that understands the use of peanut butter. Mmmm, Reese's cups. Mmmm, Reese's Pieces. But now, it's just gotten better.

Mark is a huge fan of white chocolate, you must understand. And I sent him to the grocery store alone, with the instructions to buy anything that looked good. (We were that low on food.) What he came back with was White Chocolate Reese's Cups. And they are addictive. And I don't think this is a good thing. But they're so good... Mmmm.

Monday, November 24, 2003

No, No, I Will Not Sing That Song Now!
I don't know what it is. Maybe it's the proximity of Bronner's. Maybe it's that Michigan is a northern state near wintry Canada. Maybe it's the continuing overcommercialization of modern consumer culture. I don't know. What I do know is that Santa showed up at Meridian Mall on November 7, and shortly after that, I started seeing ads that radio station 105.7 had started playing nothing but Christmas carols, 'round the clock. It's insane, and prompts me to my yearly American lament:

It's not even Thanksgiving yet, people!

I am not one of those people who thinks that Christmas should only be celebrated for the traditional 12 days. I don't think the Christmas tree should be taken down promptly the day after Christmas, or even promptly the day after New Year's. I am really quite the opposite of a Scrooge. But come on. Give Thanksgiving its due. It's one of our only really American holidays, and if you ignore all the PC bitterness about how the Europeans should never have sailed over and set about destroying Native American cultures, it even has a good message behind it. According to travel statistics in the US, it is more of a traveling holiday, presumably to be with family, than Christmas. So I insist, as I have all my life, that Thanksgiving deserves its own season and should not be subsumed into the great Christmas shopping extravaganza. The day after Thanksgiving, fine, shop 'til you drop and sing Christmas carols all you want, but before that, no. I forbid it.

Of course, today we got real snow for the first time this year, sticking to the grass and covering my car while I was in class and everything, and I found myself having to quash a mental humming of "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas." I give myself the excuse that to me, Southern as I am, snow before December does make it look like Christmas to me. What's more, yesterday we spent about an hour trying to pick up a fake Christmas tree (heresy, I tell you, heresy!) for Mark's step-mother, because she wants us to haul it to the UP when we go up for Thanksgiving on Wednesday. Why she needs a 9' fake tree when living in the heavily forested Upper Peninsula is beyond me, but in any case, only half of it will fit in Mark's car, so she'll only get the bottom half of the tree this weekend. The top half will have to be shipped. And in the meantime, wandering around the store allowed me to do some rather early Christmas shopping. Who knows, maybe I got something for you.

Friday, November 21, 2003

The Missing Piece
For 5 years, I have been waiting to live in one place for long enough to find a karate school again. From 5th grade until I graduated from high school, karate was a large part of my life, one of the most constant activities I've ever had. Certainly, there were times when I was not so eager as at others, times when I was frustrated, but it also inspired me more than anything else many other times. It shaped me and in so many ways made me the person I am today.

But when I went to Grinnell, marvelous place that it is, there was no one there who had any interest in Shotokan, let alone anyone who had more experience than me or a school within driving distance. Therefore, if I wanted to practice, I had to teach, which I did, and not unhappily, but it was a far cry from learning anything new for myself. Even practicing more advanced kata on my own wasn't as satisfying as practicing in the atmosphere of a school of equally enthusiastic karate-ka. I tried in Japan, as well, but Shotokan was not taught in Sendai, and Shorin Ryu was just different enough to be annoying, particularly with a teacher who didn't seem thrilled to have a not-totally-fluent foreigner in his class.

Yesterday, though, I found a school. (Please cut their site some slack.) It's not Shotokan either, but rather an earlier form of Okinawan styles, Ryu Te. The kata appear much more similar to Shotokan than the Shorin Ryu kata were, which is of course a point of major interest for me. The main difference between the styles seems to be that Ryu Te is far more fluid and focuses less on power and more on form. It is, it seems, exactly what I want. In just the first night, the teacher showed me modifications from Shotokan to Ryu Te style that left me thinking, "That's the way I originally wanted to do it when I first started karate." So many times, I was told that the form of the kata was great, but I needed more power in my techniques. But you don't need to rely on power if you do your techniques right. I can't wait to learn more of the fluidity of this style.

Tonight, I went again. This time, though, I went to a weapons class. My old school was my home for 8 years, and I loved it, but I always wanted to learn more weapons techniques, and having seminars a few times a year wasn't at all enough. This school teaches all sorts of weapons: bo, jo, tanbo, sai, manji sai, tonfa, nanchuku, kama, and eku. Since I have sufficient prior martial arts experience, I could start weapons classes right away, too. Everyone starts with the bo, that being the traditional specialty of the family from which they take all their kata and the basis for many of their techniques. I cannot really express how much fun it was.

Mark says his mother expressed surprise at how much time I am willing to devote to doing this, since I plan to go 2-3 times a week. The thing is, it feels like I rediscovered a missing part of my life. I've been missing going to a karate school for so long. There's something about the atmosphere, the instant knowledge that I share the same appreciation and enthusiasm for this thing as everyone else around me, that I cannot recreate on my own. The fact that it is a small school, even smaller than Emory was, really makes it even better, because all the people there are people who really want to be. I am learning things again. I have goals to work towards. I have something to look forward to again.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The chair fairy was here! I just got back from class, walked into the office, and there were new chairs everywhere! They have rolly wheels and adjustable seats and arms and everything. Of course, they're not really Aerons, but they're certainly a step up from what we used to have. Wheeee!

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Coffee Break
Today was not my usual Wednesday, since I never got to go home in between the end of my morning class at 10 and the beginning of my next class at 4:30. Today, I had to meet with Heidi about looking for more data for our research project (there wasn't any), then we had a departmental meeting about end of semester testing, then Mark came to bring me lunch. I also popped 3 bags of popcorn, because at 1 I had to dash off to show my students "Mulan" for a fun optional follow-up to our recent lessons on gender roles. Mark came and joined us to watch after he finished his lunch, since his was, of course, much larger than mine, and consequently took longer to eat. My students, also of course, giggled when he got there.

After the movie, though, I had almost 2 hours to breathe. I walked over to Grand River and had coffee with Mark. It was the first time I'd been to Starbucks since I got back from Japan. If you were a addict of my life in Japan and are still reading, you certainly know I went there many, many times in Japan, even though I'd never been a big Starbucks fan in the US. Now, I have a lot of sentimental affection for the establishment.

It wasn't the same, though, as good as my peppermint mocha frappucino was. I didn't have any of my coffee girls with me. I think Starbucks and coffee will always mean Sharon, Danola, and Kristel to me. Miss you, chicas.

Afterward, Mark had to get back home to actually do work, and I wandered down Grand River, looking at all the little shops that I'd been thinking I should go into sometime, feeling kind of wistful. But it was a good afternoon.

Space, the Final Frontier
I had a really cool dream the other night. I was standing outside at night, looking up into the sky with some other people. It was some kind of eclipse-like event, except very different. I could see all the planets of the solar system, except for the two farthest, and all of them were close enough and big enough to see details of their surfaces, bigger than the moon. The sky was completely black, with stars shining brightly around the planets. Then a big wormhole appeared in the sky, erupting in a bluish rainbow of colors, and even in my dream, I was a big enough geek to think, "Hey, like at the beginning of Deep Space 9!" We all started trying to find out what had caused the wormhole appearance. It turned out that it was caused by some ship launching a nuclear weapon in space, but it was just a test. I can still remember the images of the sky. It was amazing.

Exercise While You Work
It's so nice to work for a college that cares about my health. They care so much, they shut down all the elevators* in my building so I can work out by climbing 7 flights of stairs. Our department feels so special, up there on the top floor of the building. We're feeling the burn, baby.

*To be fair, it's not really all the elevators, because that would violate the ADA. It's all the elevators but one, which takes forever, because so many people need to use it at the same time. They're in the process of "modernizing" the elevators, which really are rather, um, vintage in appearance and function.

That's Real?
I just saw a commercial for a product that made me laugh out loud. It's a sweatshirt with cuffs that are meant to worn like fingerless gloves when you go outside. It had a little thumb sleeve and extra-long cuffs to cover the rest of your fingers. When you go back inside, you fold the cuffs back to look like a regular sweatshirt. I just couldn't believe they were actually running an ad for it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Plane, Train, or Automobile?
I have complained about this before, and I'm sure I will complain about it again. It is the common wail of those who have ever lived, or traveled, or possibly just seen movies of places abroad. The US has no concept of mass transportation.

I was supposed to take the train to Chicago. I mean, what's the point of living up here in the north where they have trains if I don't use them? I've always wanted to take a passenger train in the US. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. My mommy even said she'd pay for it, since Amtrak on the weekends to Chicago ain't that cheap.

As you may have noticed, I drove to Chicago.

Why? Because the train schedule is stupid. Sure, maybe it's just because E. Lansing isn't that big of a train stop. I can accept that. I looked at the train times from Ann Arbor, which is a bigger stop and subsequently has more trains actually stop there. Even so, there were still only about 3 trains that left on Friday *at all,* and only one that left after 3 pm, which is when I stop teaching, to say nothing of when I might conceivably have gotten home, packed, and to the station. But fine, I can deal with leaving at 6:30. It's an hour and half drive to Ann Arbor anyway. Let's move on to trying to get back home. I'm sorry, no, you can't have a reasonable train time. You can leave Chicago early in the morning or in the evening. In the evening will get you back to Ann Arbor (an hour and a half away from where you live) at 11:30pm, on a night before an early morning class. That's convenient, isn't it? Don't you want to travel with Amtrak? So much better than driving yourself, right?

Wrong. C'mon, people. Get your act together. I lived in Japan last year. All the bullet trains, local trains, subways, and even city buses have set schedules, and they run at frequent, convenient, often hourly, if not more often, intervals. My mom said after just 3 days in Japan, she, my dad, and my brother were already set to complain about the one and only time any of their trains was ever late during their two weeks, and that was only by 11 minutes.

Lest you think I'm getting all conceited about living in Japan, though, allow me to point out that one of the things I miss the most about living in Chile and South America in general is the buses. Local or long distance, either one. I have this totally useless knowledge stuck in my head now of how to navigate the bus system of Santiago, how to scan the window plaques for the names of streets near my destination, and which route numbers go near the Council Study offices and La Chile. I really, really liked be able to walk into the nearest long distance bus station, say, "I want to go to ______, when does the next bus leave?," and be given an answer usually within the next hour or two. I could travel all over the country, cheaply and conveniently, only limited by how long I felt I could sit in a bus seat. Tell me another time I'm going to be able to travel to Argentina for $25.

I think there's reason for most people who want to "travel around" decide to go do it in Europe, Asia, or South America. Accessible and convenient mass transit options are key. In the US, I'm dependent upon my car unless I live in one of a few choice large cities and don't want to leave said city. Even where there are mass transit options, they're generally so inconvenient few people bother to use them. Sure, the US is big, but come on, Russia and China reportedly have better trains than this.

Monday, November 17, 2003

ASHA in the Windy City
This weekend was awesome. On Friday afternoon, after I finished teaching and got packed, I hit the road over to Chicago. My mom was there for the whole week, staying with her best friend from grad school, Mickey, in Oak Park. Mickey's husband Ken gave me directions that avoided the Skyway completely, so my drive was quite pleasant. One of the best things about driving in the vicinity of Chicago is picking up so many radio stations, including no less than 3 Spanish stations, which I could listen to, since my boy wasn't in the car with me this time. I also got to nostalgically laugh out loud when I heard the entirety of "Baby Got Back" for the first time in years. That song is so tastelessly funny. I suppose if you wanted to be overly analytical about it, one might defend it by saying that at least it promotes better self-esteem for having an alternative body image. But that's my liberal arts education coming out. I'll stop that now.

Anyway, I got to Oak Park without any trouble, just in time to pull into the drive right after Ken and Mickey. I started visiting with all of them, but Ken shortly retreated to bed after an overload of linguistics speech. My mom reports he tried to get my dad to come up, and he had tried to extend an invitation to Mark as well, just in an attempt to get more testosterone and variety in conversational topics in the house. Poor guy.

My mom and I stayed up late, late that night, talking. Mickey's daughter, Caitlin, said we were up past 1:30, which is when she got home from a party with her friends after their cross-country party. Brendan, their younger son, was gracious enough to allow my mom to use his room, and I stayed there too, for my two nights in Chicago. On Saturday, we all got up early-ish, had breakfast, and went to the convention center. My mom had to spend the morning at the UNC graduate information booth, so I hung out with her there and listened to her give her spiel to all the prospective students. Then she had to go interview an applicant for one of the open positions in her department, so I stayed at the booth and gave a few people what information I could, having listened to her.

After her interview was done, we went to get lunch, which was very overpriced, but hey, it's a convention center. It was funny to watch all the ASHA people intermingling with the other big convention's people, that being a metalforming machinery company. ASHA tends to be by far predominated by female professionals, whereas the other company was quite definitely male. We speculated that between the two conventions, maybe the gender ratio balanced out.

When we finished lunch, we went back to the convention, where my mom dropped me off at a round-table being run by another friend from the days of her psycholinguistics doctorate at BU, Henriette Langdon, who is one of the big names in second language and bilingualism research, especially amongst children with special needs. Her round-table was on the importance of multicultural awareness in professions such as speech pathology, etc. I thought it was interesting to hear what people in other linguistics-related professions think about ESL and SLA, because they're coming at it from very different perspectives. I actually had things to contribute about current theories in the field. Henriette said afterwards that she had enjoyed my contributions, but I think that might be because she's friends with my mom and had been talking to her about me earlier in the week. My mom said that she, Henriette, and Mickey have decided I need to get my doctorate in psycholinguistics, or even better (to them), neurolinguistics, so I'd get to play around with fMRIs of people's brains. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that my mom went to a mini-course with all sorts of neat stuff in it from a neurolinguist, and she wants to play with the nifty pictures. Nothing at all. Sounds fun to me!

Henriette was off to the art museum after the discussion, though, so I used my free time while waiting for my mom to come back from the exhibit hall by calling my dad on my lovely new cell phone. Isn't technology grand? I think he was surprised to hear from me, and it was good to talk to him for a bit, since I haven't seen him since my parents dropped me off in E. Lansing back in August, and he doesn't talk much when he's on the phone at the same time as my mom during the regular Sunday phone call. When my mom did come back, she brought me a catalogue of all the SLA-related books that have been published lately, including my SLA textbook. It seems like half the books in there were written or co-written by my advisor. I wish the program at MSU concentrated more on her specialty. It's always nice to know famous people, though.

At 3:30, we looked at all the posters in the poster area that had to do with autism, and my mom talked to a lot of the presenters and people she knew. It didn't take long to get through all those, though, so we went off to find Mickey at a lecture by one of her colleagues, which was almost over anyway. We had some time to kill, though, before we were supposed to go to the party for all the people from all over NC attending the convention. Mickey had gotten directions to the restaurant from Ken, who teased my mom when he got there about NC finding such classy places to hold their parties, since it was right next to an adult bookstore. The restaurant itself, though, was a very nice French place, with waitstaff circulating the hors d'oeuvres and everything.

When my mom decided she had schmoozed enough, though, we found that we could not have dinner there, because it was packed in the main dining area, as was every other restaurant within walking distance in the Loop. There is, however, a restaurant called Rhapsody not too far away that we drove to, which is associated with the symphony, and thus, by 8:00, was cleared out, since most of the patrons had seats for the symphony starting then. We were seated immediately there, and it was excellent. I ate much too much of my risotto. My mom and I shared a very chocolate-y dessert, which was dusted in gold and had gold-glazed fruit for garnish. Going out to dinner with a lawyer in Chicago is a good thing. Ken knows all the good places to eat.

Then it was back to the house, where the girls stayed up talking until midnight again. We were allowed to sleep in the next morning, though, so it wasn't a bad thing. Of course, I was up by 8:20 the next morning anyway, because my body functions much better on central time. (I think my brain is convinced that Michigan is really in central time, no matter how often I tell it otherwise. I wish it would figure this out.) We had a leisurely breakfast, then some chatting by the fire that Mickey built in the living room, and then a tour of the 3rd floor remodeling project of their giant Victorian home.

Ken and Mickey's house, you see, once won the Painted Lady competition for restored Victorians. It is also within easy walking distance of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio. When I was a first year at Grinnell, my tutorial was on Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ken and Mickey were exceedingly, marvelously, wonderfully kind enough to allow my entire class to sleep in their third floor rooms so we could afford the trip to Oak Park to tour the FLW homes that year. I have affection for that third floor. It looks entirely different now, but in a good way. It'll be fantastic when it's finished.

The Home & Studio was our next destination on Sunday morning, anyway. I wanted to get Mark a present, so he wouldn't feel sad about being left at home. What I ended up getting was 3 fridge magnets with Wright window designs on them, (how am I supposed to call this apartment home without refrigerator magnets, I ask you?,) and long narrow poster of Wright's sketch for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. (Check the links to the side, too, to see the drawings and pictures.) The Imperial Hotel was really cool because it was one of the first truly earthquake-resistant buildings in the world, due to each of the support posts being sunk into individual foundations, so the long building would undulate with the quake. How cool is that? I'll never say I didn't learn anything interesting in college. My mom bought some things, too, but I'm not supposed to know what, since some of them were my Christmas presents. Since I had to pay for them because my mom left her wallet at the house, that plan kind of backfired, but I'm still going to be surprised at Christmas. It's not like I was standing there in the shop, pointing at things that I wanted or anything. It will be a total surprise, I tell you.

After we were done being good little consumers, we walked around the corner to see some of the houses. I told my mom what I remembered from the walking tour I took 5 years ago, and she took pictures. We both agree that the Nathan G. Moore house is just basically weird, and not that attractive, but you have to admit, it's different. It got more different after a fire burned down the top two floors and Wright redesigned the roof lines and chimneys again.

From there, we walked back to Ken and Mickey's for lunch, and then they were off with my mom to the airport. I taught Brendan how to make a flapping paper crane as a thank-you, and then I hit the road again as well. I was back in Lansing before dinner. It was an excellent weekend, and I woke up this morning suffering post-holiday depression even before I've had a real holiday. The semester is over soon.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I'm Off
In less than an hour, hopefully, I'm off to Chicago again, this time to visit with my mom. She's there attending the ASHA Convention. I'll be there on the last day, so maybe I'll get to attend something interesting, too. Should be fun. And I get to see my mommy!

It's Mine, All Mine
I'm telling you, I'm not meant to live in Michigan. Mark discovered something horrifying. There is apparently a law in Michigan that states that a man owns his wife's hair, or rather, that she cannot cut her hair without her husband's permission. Since Mark claims he was nearly brought to tears when I cut 24" of hair off after my return from Chile, he is now pondering marrying me expressly for the purpose of legally preventing me from cutting it ever again. In turn, I threatened to buzz my head and go butch, just to make a point. I nicely offered to give him the hair after I cut it all off.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

On My Planet
"Sometimes you are so much like me, it's scary. Other times, I wonder what planet you come from and whether they have ice cream there." - Mark

Yes, Mark really did say that. Twice now. What did I do this time?

It's simple really. I finally got a cell phone, you see, and the other night, I put my Japanese keitai accessories back on it. Only 3 of them, not so much, really. I have my two Sendai Kitties, one that looks like a very small Tanabata decoration, and the one that is dressed like Date Masamune, and also the one from Fukushima dressed like a little red bull. No one will ever mistake my phone for theirs. I put my tiny kokeshi doll and the bell from my New Year's fortune on my keychain.

Mark cannot conceive of how anyone could want little dangly things with bells on their phone, or really on anything. They make me smile, however. My poor phone, though. American cell phones have a ways to go before they are as spiffy as the ones in Japan, not to mention as cheap. But I *do* have a cell phone now with ridiculous amounts of minutes per month. If only those minutes worked internationally.

Anyhow, I'm having fun, and if you want a phone call, let me know.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Lost In Translation
A while ago, I finally got to see Lost in Translation, but I never actually wrote anything about it. It's become sort of required viewing in my grad program, given the number of grad students and professors both who used to teach English in Japan. Pat, the student advisor for the ELC, is half-Japanese, as I mentioned before, (all her relatives live in Sendai,) and she described it accurately as being a movie not so much about Japan as it is about foreigners' perceptions of Japan.

I thought it was very interesting. It reminded me a lot of first arriving in Japan for the Tokyo orientation. For the orientation, we were staying in two huge hotels in Shinjuku, which is an area of Tokyo that seems like every stereotypical Tokyo movie scene ever made: high-rise office buildings covered in huge advertisements and neon signs. I only went out of the hotel on one night, and it was overwhelming. I had no idea where any of the streets went, or how to find somewhere to eat, or really what any of the stores were selling.

The characters in Lost in Translation are in that state, constantly. One of the other grad students who is an ex-JET, Christine, said she read a review about the movie in which the reviewer criticized the characters for wanting to stay in their hotel rooms listening to headphones in one of the largest cities in the world. Christine, though, pointed out that it was actually a very realistic portrayal of how many people react to finding themselves in Tokyo. Everything in the movie, the disconnectedness of the scenes, the occasionally unstable camera work, the untranslated Japanese, the panning shots of extremely crowded and busy scenery, all of it brings a person back to their first days in a big city in Japan, if they've ever been there. People who haven't been there tend to find the movie weird and kind of pointlessly confusing, but that's what the movie is trying to evoke. The movie isn't meant to make everyone want to take a vacation in Tokyo; it's meant to show the reactions and emotions of two confused visitors trying to make their way around.

Of course, the contrast between the first days I was in Tokyo for orientation and the subsequent 3 visits I made there is huge. When I was there over New Year's with my family, I thought nothing of going off by myself to a conbini to get dinner on my own when I was tired of getting Italian food to keep my brother from being convinced he was going to get food poisoning again. Nor did I have much problem navigating the intertwined subway and train system to get back to the hotel from halfway across the city. When I first got there, I would have done anything to avoid either of those things. It's interesting to try comparing how I felt when I first got there, and then later. At the time, I didn't notice, because it was just all part of the same process of living in Japan.

It's also amazing how many places in the movie I could recognize from only having been there 4 times, for just a few days each time. Riding the train around in Tokyo and getting off at some of the major stations really shows you a lot of the places that show up in movies over and over. All foreigners end up going to all the same places in Tokyo, it seems. I think Mark started getting tired of me whispering, "I've been there!," over and over.

I recommend the movie to everyone, whether you've been to Japan or not. If you've ever been to any foreign country and felt out of your element, you'll get it. It's fun!

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Wide Open Spaces
Behold! Our house is clean. Well, you can't really behold, but if you could, you'd be amazed. Really. At least, if you'd seen it before, you would be. Perhaps I should just stick with saying that I am amazed.

We had a very productive day. We put away laundry, put up posters and pictures, unpacked lingering boxes, sorted papers into filing cabinets, dusted, and vacuumed the whole house for the first time in weeks. Even in the office. There were still 2 boxes of assorted random stuff from Japan in there, plus the box with my stereo in it, all underneath the card table Mark had originally gotten out to hold his Morrowind map with all the excessively neat and labeled pins denoting places he'd already been. He then proceeded to pile the rest of the table with all sorts of stuff, leaving a very narrow path between his desk chair and the table, by which I could wend my way to the other side of the room to get to my school books. Now the table is put away! The map is on the wall, the stuff is all gone, and I can walk all the way across the room without tripping. As I can in the bedroom, the living room, and the dining room as well. Ah, floor space, how I have missed you so.

What is most amazing is that all of this happened just in the afternoon. For lunch, you see, we had to go to the mall to get Mark a new computer game. Once the house was clean, I released him to go install his new obsession, so now I won't see him again for a few weeks. It's amazing what he'll do with the right motivation.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I gots mad skillz, yo. Yesterday, all the TAs had to go to a 2.5-hour seminar on how to use technology. Really, it was meant to focus on how to make a webpage using Dreamweaver and Photoshop. We need to know how to do this so we can put up our online teaching portfolio by the end of the semester for the practicum class. Forgive me for being somewhat incredulous, but Dreamweaver and Photoshop are really easy to use, particularly when someone is standing there, telling you exactly what to do for each step. I was decreed to be the star pupil, because I never needed Carol, the tech person for the TESOL department, to fix anything for me during the seminar. Alissa was walking around, too, after being at the computer next to mine, and volunteered me to help anyone who was still confused later, when we actually start making our pages. It was all kind of silly, but hey, I got to come home early.

Given that this is the second or third time that I've explained technology to people or had someone think of me as a techie geek, I begin to suspect that I have absorbed more stuff by osmosis that I would think from working at EGarden, hanging out with all my CS friends, and living with Mark.

I have found a new route to work. Near the corner of the busy intersection where I always get stopped at the light, there is a small Japanese restaurant called "Udon Sushi Bakery." I find this somewhat alarming, as neither udon nor sushi are things one really wants to bake. I like it, however, because it has given me something to ponder every day at the stoplight.

On the weekend, though, I went to an actually good Japanese restaurant, named, appropriately, "Sushi-Ya." The waitress was entertaining because when she was taking our order, she was completely American in manner, speech, and laugh. When a couple of Japanese women came in, though, and spoke Japanese to her when she came to take their order, she morphed into Japanese-woman mode. Her voice went up in pitch, her hand gestures changed, and she put her hand in front of her mouth when she giggled (as opposed to laughed).

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Airfare to Europe is really cheap right now. (Flight and hotel in London, with tea and a £10 certificate to Harrod's included, approx. $350, anyone?) I know this because we were informed that tomorrow after class in the morning, our professor is off to Paris for the weekend to see her son, just because she can. Oh, but we should feel sorry for her, because she has a cold. I do not feel sorry. I play for her the world's smallest violin. She is going off to Paris for the rest of the week and weekend, while I am stuck here, teaching a class I am totally burned out on, forbidden by the university to ever, for any reason, cancel class.

Of course, this latest whimper-inducing discovery of marvelously cheap airfare to Europe when I can't take advantage of it is just the latest thing making me want to travel. There are so many places I want to go, so much I want to do. I only had one year to get used to the idea of having vacation time and money, but it seems that one year was long enough. I want to go back to Chile to refresh my Spanish and travel around to all those places I wanted to go but didn't. I want to see so much more of Europe, after my small, whirlwind taste of Lyon and Berlin. I want to see all those famous things I didn't get to see in China because of stupid SARS last year. I want to go to Australia and make my dad show me where he lived and here my brother tell stories from his wilderness experience there. I want to take the bus over the Andes again. I want to relive old travels and experience brand new ones. I want to live other places, feel like my life is interesting again, see things.

And I can't. And I'm frustrated. And it's annoying. Hmph.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Halloween Party
Saturday was such a busy day, I'm not done writing about it yet. After the bulk of the day was spent at the Pow Wow, I had to go home and get ready for Alissa's (day after) Halloween party. I ended up going as La Femme Nikita, in combat boots and a short (for me) skirt. Mark was my back-up mook. At the party, I finally met Amy's boyfriend, a Filipino guy named Happy, or at least that's how he is referred to and introduced. They were dressed as a Guatemalan couple, which was all Amy's doing, as Happy joined British Nigel in declaring he didn't really "get" Halloween. He's very nice, though. Also attending the party was a very convincing devil, a she-devil with a very shiny cape, a well-dressed female ghoul, a gypsy, and a "child" in pajamas with a teddy bear and flashlight. My favorite costumes, though, were Matthew in his UAE native dress from his 3 years living there, winning the most authentic costume; and Pat dressed as a thug teenage boy, actually modeled after one of my students, whom she had watched in fascination on the Bronner's trip as he constantly adjusted his hat to the perfect 45° angle. She even had a fake gold tooth. Alissa herself came in her true guise as a nature lover turned groundhog killer, in a very eclectic and divided outfit of woodland peace goddess on one side, gun-toting camo-babe on the other. There was much thematic food, as well. Bat-shaped veggies, finger-shaped bread sticks and chocolate-dipped pretzel sticks with almonds for fingernails, plastic fingers in the dip, hand-shaped ice cubes floating in the punch, eyeballs on the vegetable tray, pumpkin-shaped cheese... you get the idea. We decided to make our way home, though, when the evening wound down into watching "Spongebob Squarepants" on the Cartoon Network.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Pow Wow
Yesterday, I spent most of my day at the 11th Annual Great Lakes Anishnaabek Traditional Pow Wow. Amy has just finished teaching our class a unit about indigenous groups, and I am just starting one on Hispanic-Americans, so this was a good opportunity to give our students the rest of their 10 supplemental out-of-class hours. I had never been to a Pow Wow before, so I was probably more excited to go than the students were.

We took the bus downtown to Lansing Community College. The Pow Wow was being held in the gymnasium, and on the way in, we passed a display of Day of the Dead decorations, so I took the opportunity to point them out to the students. We had arrived an hour before the Grand Entrance was schedule, in order to give the students the chance to look at all the vendors' stalls. The entrance was delayed by 45 minutes, perhaps owing to the MSU-UofM game traffic, so we had even more time than we thought. The vendors were selling dream catchers aplenty; drums; leather; beadwork; bone, stone, and silver jewelry; and woodwork.

Eventually, the Pow Wow got underway. The emcee of the event was an MSU student, so throughout the whole thing, we were updated on the score and asked to cheer for MSU. I think I was more aware of the game at the Pow Wow than I would have been at home. For the Grand Entrance, the drummers sat in a circle around a huge drum in the middle of the gym floor and began playing and singing. The entrance dance was led off by the flag bearers, two bearing eagle feather staffs, another with the US flag, and a fourth with the Canadian flag. Then followed the two lead dancers, the fancy dancers, and the traditional dancers. Then there was the Veteran's Song, to honor all the attending military veterans, Pow Wow participants and audience members alike. This was followed by an Intertribal, and everyone who wanted to was invited to dance. Several of our students joined in.

After a short break to give the drummers a break after singing for 30 minutes straight, the exhibition dancing started. First was the women's fancy dancing. There were only two fancy dancers there, it being a rather small Pow Wow, but several little girls joined in as well. The women's fancy dance is done with fringed shawls means to represent the wings of a butterfly, and is the most athletic women's dance. This was followed by the men's fancy dancing, for which there was only one dancer, but he was very impressive. The outfit has two bustles of feathers, one around the waist as in the traditional costume, but also with one on the dancer's back. This guy had to do all the dancing for the whole song, since he was the only one there, and it involved a lot of jumping and twisting and shaking to make the feathers move, so he looked pretty tired. The emcee said he had spotted some flaws, but it was okay, since this wasn't a judged competition.

Then came the jingle dance. The lead female dancer was a jingle dancer, and her outfit was very impressive, as was that of the other woman participating. Jingle dancers traditionally wear skirts or dresses with 365 metal cones sewn onto them. The jingle dance invovles a lot of bouncing movements to make all the cones rattle and ring. According to the program, only people who have had a dream about being a jingle dancer can be one. Each step of the dance is a prayer for a sick friend, relative, or tribal member, and they wave feather fans to waft away sickness.

The next dance was the grass dance. The grass dancers' outfits are decorated with very long yarn fringe hanging from their poncho-like top, the edge of the skirt, and the ends of their pants. They also wear bells on their ankles. The lead male dancer was a grass dancer, and he also had a neat feather headdress and a beaded headband that had double strands of beads hanging from it, running from the middle of his forehead, along his nose, and out across his cheeks, outlining his eyes, which was very neat. The grass dance is meant to mimic the movement of plains grasses waving in the wind.

This was followed by first the men's, and then the women's traditional dances. Each man dancing in the traditional dance is supposed to be reenacting a hunt or a vision of a hunt. The women's traditional dancers are considered to be the backbone of Native American traditions, and the dance is very sedate.

Our students weren't as interested in all the dances as I was, so Amy took some of them to the Children's Corner, where they got to make barrettes and keychains with feathers and beads. At 3, we led them all back to the bus, and made our way back into the madhouse of traffic surrounding the end of the football game. MSU lost.

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