A former student. Good kid. Took to English like a duck to water. Well, I should say that he took to the ABC Song like a duck to water.
It’s been nine months since I left Japan. *insert more grousing about clerical error that kept me here this long* Given his age, he likely wouldn’t remember me if I were to return tomorrow. Few of the kids would, I figure. I’m not on their radar any more.
I have been an ESL cowboy long enough that the first batch of (miserable spoiled rich kid) sixth-graders that I taught would be in their mid-twenties by now. The first batch of pre-schoolers would be in high school. It hasn’t been long enough that first batch of expat assholes I met, nor my first bad boss, have died off. Hope always shines in my heart.
EXIF data claims this was taken with the Hipstamatic app. I toned it down in Photoshop because sometimes iPhone apps overdo it.
I don’t know if this is just Kyushu or Japan-wide. Bottles of water are typically found on or about the walls and gardens of Japanese properties. Theoretically, cats are afraid of them and won’t be hopping up and doing whatever nasty kitty business it is that they get up to. I’ve not heard of this fear of bottles and it’s more likely that cats just don’t jump on walls when something is on it already, but people believe it to be true.
I’ve heard it said that Japan has the most superstitious atheist culture on the planet. If you’re a pedant, that statement probably bothers you. Good. Screw your pedantry. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who claims to be a Buddhist of some sort outside of the temples. Christian sects are a bit more obvious since they’re usually Mormon door-knockers with their black ties and short-sleeved dress shirts. Islam is pretty must only found in immigrant populations.
Yet everyone will head to the Shinto shrine with their friends and family to ask for the graces of a nature deity they don’t really think is real when the new year rolls around. Or when the spring festival happens. Or the summer festival happens. Or when they buy a new car or a new house. Or want to have a baby. Or when they didn’t study for the exams. Or want more money, or bigger breasts. People are just weird like that when they’re in a group.
I have some photos of what I assume are Taoist shrines/ temples/ somethings in Taichung. They look like the cheesiest China-themed casino you could ever drunkenly stumble into. If I can get one cleaned up enough to be presentable, maybe I’ll post it up. I’ve never been able to get a full explanation of what goes on in those places as far as ceremony goes as well. I assume my Taiwanese friends have better things to do on the weekend than ponder yin and yang.
Korea, like my American pals to the south, suffers from the blight of evangelical Christianity. Or, to be more accurate: Corporate Christianity. Churches/ personality cults that start out with a floor in a commercial building somewhere, advertised by a garish neon cross on the roof. The hope is to get enough folks so they can get as rich as the Moonies. I once had a friend who fell in with one of the mega churches there. Note the “once had” part of the last sentence. Had to give him up when he went full blown loon.
Even then, he was a lot more acceptable than the former friend who went full on scumbag once he became a drone in one of the Chaebols.
The kids I taught once every two weeks in the kindergarten remembered what I taught them a lot more than the kids I saw on a weekly basis. The kids I taught in Korea three times a week retained even more.
It isn’t that every two weeks and three times a week are magical time spans that facilitate language learning. The teachers in the kindergarten reviewed the material with the kids during the time I was away and the Korean kids were studying daily. The kids I saw weekly were not. No secret: Practice makes perfect.
There’s a lot of negatives to be said about the emotional and social effects of putting young children in the “Results first” educational environment that you find in Korea but I’m not in the mood to write a proper essay about it. It was a lot different in Japan, which was far more easy-going about these things. At least with children. The grind doesn’t begin until puberty for them and even then ESL is peripheral to a lot of it. I guess that’s the difference between an export economy (for now) like Korea and an import one (for now) like Japan. Knowing a second language is far more important in the former than the latter.
One universal: No matter how much English they can or cannot speak, they would always use their native language to tell you things and the idea that they could speak the language far better than you could was always something they had trouble comprehending. I suppose there are worse ways for kids to learn that adults are not all-wise and infallible. Far worse ways.
And that’s why she was telling me about the huge Asian spider that was hanging out above me in rapid fire Japanese.
“It’s not the camera, it’s me. I’m the one sets the setting or chooses the film. I’m the one who composes. I’m the one who zooms. I’m the one who picks the subjects. The camera is just the tool I do it with. Some are better built than others but when all is said and done: It’s not the camera, it’s me.” And this way you won’t be a gear asshole.
Except if it’s broken. Then it’s the camera, not you.
Unless you broke it. Why don’t you treat your gear better? That shit is expensive.
The untimely death of author, webcomic gold-miner, and one of the reasons I enjoyed FaceBook, Joey Manley, got me thinking about the concept of friendship.
For some, the eight thousand names on their FaceBook are their friends. For others, friends are the handful of people they see at the bar every night. For me a friend is someone who’s company I enjoy and look forward to. It has to be a real world thing. Yet I also know of people who extend that concept of keeping company with someone to their online interactions. Does “friendly with” count as friendship? For some it does. I was friendly with the fellow in the photo above. Enough that I could go drop in to his shop for a chat whenever I was in Miyazaki, but we never interacted outside of that setting. He didn’t carry anything in my size, and we both knew it, so I can’t say his friendliness was part of his sales routine. Does that casual relationship mean that we were friends?
The same questions comes to mind with Joey Manley. I never met the man once, but I always greatly enjoyed chatting with him online.
I suppose the concept of friendship is different for every person, and I’m sure not going to be the one to define it for the world. The only conclusion I can come to is that in a world filled with frequently hostile talking apes you should appreciate every positive interaction you have with them.
I’ve been meaning to post up some of my kid photos since I think I have a number of good ones, but the trick is to make sure I crop the image in such a way as to eliminate any of the identifiers. The obvious ones are the name tags that young children wear on their kindergarten uniforms, but it also includes landmarks and business signs in the background.
Realistically, the odds of some creep using my photos to track kids ten thousand kilometers away is pretty remote, but I feel the strong urge to find a balance between respecting the anonymity of my subjects and the desire to share art. Both of the other options some photographers take seem extreme in my view. There are those who never release their photos because they see it as better safe than sorry. And there are those who put everything up because they’re the photographer, dammit, and what right does a plebeian like you have to tell them how to use their art!?
I tend to fall on the side of the art. I’ll just try to be sensible about it.
Last I heard, the iPhone was the most used camera in the world.
I have nothing against this. I’m not a gear elitist like so many who take up photography as a hobby and/or profession. If you’re going to take photos of your cat, boyfriend, dinner, what have you, then a phone camera is as good as anything. It’s also more convenient when you’re hanging out with your cat, boyfriend, dinner, what have you than a full sized DSLR. And since the majority of people who use phone cameras are looking at them on their smart phones, the image quality doesn’t matter.
It only starts to matter when you start running up against the limitations of the camera. You can pick up a fair amount of noise on the night shot in the image above. The sensor on the iPhone 4 wasn’t good enough to take decent night shots. You could get around this limitation a bit depending upon the image app you were using. Some of them do make convincing film grain. But it’s the lens that always gives these images away.
I understand that the most recent smart phones have sensors in them more powerful than my old Canon 30D I had about a decade ago now. That is an amazing testament to the science of miniaturization. But it’s sitting in front of a small, crappy wide angle lens. So with these amazing new sensors you can take a high resolution photo of a lot limited.
I recall some company attempted to sell an actual lens to put over your iPhone. I wanted one but I knew it was doomed to failure given that Apple, Samsung, and the rest throws out a new slightly improved model every year with different body. Lenses tend to be made to last for years if not decades. Even on modern DSLR that also get replaced every year or so. The lenses on my Pentax film camera from the 70s will fit on any Pentax digital today. On a smart phone, the lenses get chucked along with everything else.
They’re excellent for taking pictures of your cat.
A real half-frame camera photographed by a fake half-frame camera.
Both of which I no longer own.
The Pen EE-2 got some mold on it and for the health and safety of my other cameras I had to take it behind the barn and shoot it. I would always tape the film’s box end to the camera because, at 72+ shots per roll of film, I’d always forget what I had in there looooong before I finished and developed the roll. Most of my favorite shots were taken with that camera though. Which is why I bought it’s digital descendent instead of another high end DSLR.
The character is Misshi Chan, the tourism mascot of Miyazaki City.
The iPhone was sold to a friend. Did you know Softbank carrier-locks the smartphones they sell you and are under no obligation to set you free? Add that to poor area coverage in Japan and you get a company that can go do one of the dozens of rude suggestions running through my mind right now as I think about them. The app was called Half Camera by Korean company B1VFX. Don’t bother looking them up. Their logo is all they have on their website “About" page. Twas a nice little diptych-making app though.
The photo was taken in Miayakonojo one late November near the Jusco. I know this because the leaves don’t fall there until late November.
I’m gonna write a few hundred words about cheap hotels in east Asia now!
Unless you’re loaded down with disposable income because you’re in a big corporation or in the JET Programme, your trips across the region will see you in a low cost business hotel of some sort. Short of going there and scoping them out ahead of time, there’s no way to know how they really are until you get there. It’s not like they’re going to have “Centipede free since April!” on the brochures.
All of the business hotels I’ve stayed in in Taiwan were lovely places. Costs there are generally pretty cheap as it is, but I was expecting these hole in the walls and wound up with a hotel room that would have made for an excellent apartment to rent. I could have held a party in the bathroom of the one in Taipei I stayed at.
Japanese business hotels are like looking at photos of someone as they age. They’re all the same more or less. But the age/ use of the hotel shows around the corners like the lines growing on your eyes.
The recently renovated JR Kyushu Hotel Kagoshima was the dashing youth, hip to the wifi the kids were into. All sleek and shiny with an eager to please staff. The hotel in Fukuoka from which I took this photo, Nishitetsu Grand Hotel, was like someone in their 30s or 40s: A lot of the roughness had been smoothed away leaving a responsible competence behind. The staff were lovely and super helpful.
The hotel I stayed in in Shinjuku before I left Japan was like the kind but doddering granny who offers you a butterscotch to suck on and can’t remember which grandkid you are. The staff accepted that I was there.
I found Korea to be really hit or miss. For the most part you will get a very spartan sleeping space with a lobby that looks more like the entrance to a hospital. You will also get business hotels that, despite the label on the brochure, charge by the hour and are more geared towards giving the local hookers a place to operate from. Those places aren’t always sleazy looking, though. Sometimes they can be quite nice. But since hotels tend to be clustered twenty to a block, they need to bring in the cash somehow.
Once I stayed in a Korean love motel in Seoul. It seemed pretty clean and spacious. And then I found the uncapped hypodermic needle on the ledge above the door. Unfortunately, it was around 2a.m. when I found it and I wasn’t going to have much luck finding a new spot to sleep. I set the alarm for shortly after dawn and left for the train back home without showering. I was afraid of what I’d find in the towel rack.
One of my many peculiarities is that I rate hotels by the view out the window. If I base my many stays on that alone, the above mentioned palace in Taipei would be the top since it directly faced the Taipei 101 building, giving me a fabulous scene both day and night. And while the parking lot view in the Comfort Inn near Toronto Pearson Airport didn’t help it’s case, the brick wall I had in Shinjuku “won”.
I was luckier than the bastards across the hall. Their windows opened up to the laundry room.
When you first get to Japan, the odds of you living in one of the big cities are low. You just have too much competition for the jobs in those places. And if you’re coming in on the money chariot known as the JET Programme, you don’t get to pick and choose your location either. Most folks have to work their way up to life in the big city.
So you’re going to be seeing a lot of scenery like this as you go about your day. It’s all very pretty and makes for nice photography, but it doesn’t take too long for you exhaust the locations around you and you realize that small town life in Japan is pretty much small town life where you came from.
Since I was in sub-tropical Miyazaki, I rarely had the benefit of snow changing the scenery up. Between that and the abundance of evergreen trees, February didn’t really look all that different from August. It didn’t take me long to start heading north during my winter vacations in the hopes of seeing some snow. I have a lot of pretty photos of Nagasaki after a blizzard… half of them died along with my external hard drive. But I still have the ones on film.
I’ve sunk into a haze of Chrono Trigger recently. And you’d think that would make me even more unmotivated to do other things, but you’d be wrong. Getting up and doing some treadmill to get the circulation back into my legs has become a daily activity for me again.
Plus, I’ve been drawing a bit more just to give my eyes something to look at other than a monitor.
It’s TV that really makes me lazy. With the 500 channel business that’s standard now, I can find something to keep me on the sofa from the time I get out of bed to the time I return to it. And I won’t lie: My belt has gotten a lot tighter in the three months since I’ve gotten back because of it.
Early iPhone shot. Probably the Hipstamatic app. I’m too busy fighting Lavos to look up the EXIF data…
This is a man sitting on top of a giant drum and playing it with very long sticks during the Okage Matsuri a couple of years back. I assume it happened at the start of this month like scheduled. It got cancelled one year due to a hoof and mouth outbreak. That was a pretty dull summer.
I always had a lot of trouble getting to the local festivals due to my Tuesday - Saturday/ 10am -7pm work schedule interfering with the strict Saturday evening scheduling they always had. Luckily the shrine was about ten minutes from my apartment so I could at least catch them rolling in the floats and some of the performances before the fireworks ended the show. But being an hour away from Miyazaki City, and ninety minutes away from Kagoshima, by train meant that I always missed out on what those cities had to offer.
Maybe one day when the stars align and the wallet is fat…
There’s a concept called “reverse culture shock” when people return to the land of their birth after being in parts foreign for a while.
You do pick up local habits even if you don’t mean to. Bowing while shaking hands. Pauses as you look for the best words to use. Pushing into the bus as other people are leaving and then the driver yelling at you to wait and everyone looks at you like you’re an asshole.
I did that after returning from Korea. No one waits there.
I’ve been back and forward enough now that I can flip my mental switches relatively quickly. And while I still bitch about the constant chill in the Canadian air, I don’t try to pay for bus after I ride it like they do in Japan. I also look both ways before crossing the street correctly. Left, then right, in Canada. Right, then left, in Japan.
To be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed by how quickly I slipped into my Canadian comfort zone. Like my Japanese comfort zone was nothing. And to be honest, it really was nothing. I’ve pointed out before: Take your boring life in North America* and translate it to Japanese. There isn’t much adjusting to be done. That’s part of the reason I have an urge to return to Korea. I’m never comfortable there due to the first world comforts going hand in hand with the third world personality.
Or maybe I felt that way about my time in Japan due to my having been an expat for seven years by the time I got there. YMMV.
I tell you this, though… I’d get a full body Brazilian wax in exchange for Japanese style bath tubs in every house here.
I think this was shot with the Camerabag App. But since I got rid of my iPhone, I have no way to confirm that.
*Living in Tokyo/ Toronto/ Taipei/ Seoul/ Dubai/ NYC/ Rio/ etc… don’t count. Big cities are different planets entirely and don’t really represent the nation they’re in.
I’m going to tell you something I wish I got when I started on The Path of the Expat;
Don’t be afraid to leave if you’re unhappy.
I don’t just mean your job. I mean the nation you’re in as well. I don’t care if it’s Korea, Japan, India, UAE, or even frickin’ America.
Yeah, you’re gonna tell yourself that you’ll miss the kids. Or you love your girlfriend just that much. Or you don’t want to go through the hassle of dealing with Immigration. Or that it’s not as bad as you think. Or where else are you gonna get booze this cheaply?
Don’t. Just leave.
If you can do it in a way that allows you to keep everyone’s pride intact by all means do it. But if you find yourself in a situation where the best option open to you is to pack your bags and walk out the door, do it.
It’s like any other sort of relationship. If you both can’t find that balance between give and take, neither of you will be happy. Yeah, some people like being in a codependent relationship. But this advice isn’t for them.
Life is a very short thing. Don’t make it any more miserable than it can be. Both for you and everyone around you. You’re going to drag them down with you and doesn’t that seem more assholish than making someone cover your shift?
This was a Hipstamatic shot, I recall. Taken somewhere on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo.