Tuesday, August 14, 2007


The heat of the day is like a weight, so I take my adventures in the evening; 9:30 at night, and it still feels like biking through pineapple juice, the air forming a second skin on my body that lifts up and off whenever I coast down a hill. I find myself pedaling up slopes just to turn and rush back down them, molting the summer weather. Sated cicadas rattle the porch in their death throes, droning out an elegy for the season. Convenience store fireworks flare on every corner. My jeans stick to my knees as I pedal and pedal and pedal...

I had been warned about 'short timers disease' setting in -- this is something like the FS version of 'senioritis'. It creeps up on you slowly. It dawns on you that the time you've been here far outweighs the time you have left. Someone mentions a future event, and you realize you'll be gone before it happens. You go to see a place, and wonder if you'll ever get a chance to come back. You start to feel unsettled. You get on your bike and you pedal and pedal and pedal, but you're not really sure where you're going.

I don't want to waste my time on this feeling.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Selfish Thoughts

August 6th. You forget about it sometimes. I didn't think about it at all today until lunch, when the japanese nationalists started to noise bomb the consulate. 'Gosh, they're awfully persistent today,' I was thinking. Then I recalled the date. Of course, of course...

I remember a conversation I had with one of my high school students back in Tsuyama. Japan shouldn't have a military he told me. No country should go ever go to war. I considered this for a while. "Yuuichi, do you know that if Japan is ever attacked, my father will come and fight for you? Do you know that my father would die for your country?' Yuuichi was shocked. "I didn't know." He put down his chopsticks and looked at his half-eaten bentou. "Is it true?"

It is.

But maybe that's a selfish thing to think about on the anniversary of the bomb.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


At the supermarket, I came across Vanessa in the snacks aisle. "Pocky or Pretz..?" she pondered. Then with a resigned sigh, she reached up and tumbled a box of each into her basket. "Oh, why not both?"

I always did like Vanessa.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Grasshopper, You Too Can Be a PD Officer

In addition to my NIV Chiefdom (may it reign in perpetuity), I've also been asked to be the go-to person for the Public Affairs Section.* No real reason, except that the summertime shuffle of personnel left them temporarily a bit short, and being (in theory) a PD coned officer, it is presumed that I will have some intuitive knowledge of the field. This is not, in fact, the case. Luckily, PAS is content for the most part to carry on for these few weeks without my direct involvement. Though I have been asked to make a couple of speeches.

The speeches are for an audience of american high school exchange students and their japanese high school counterparts. The Americans speak almost no Japanese; the Japanese speak almost no English. American high schoolers are trained to loudly and repeatedly offer their opinions even when unsolicited (the less kind might say 'unwanted'); japanese high schoolers are trained to sit like lumps, and to confer with their classmates when confronted with difficult questions such as 'Do you like hamburgers?'. American high schoolers value cynicism; japanese high schoolers value naivety. The japanese organizers of this cultural exchange weekend asked me to give a one hour lecture in 'easy English' to this audience. I talked them into a 15 minute speech, with time at the end for discussion. This translated into a one hour talk and 'workshop' in their official program notes. Well, aim high, I always say.

Having taught in japanese high schools for two years, I know the secret to enlivening a room full of forty silent, sailor-suited Nihonjin (pratfalls); I am less clear on the method of subduing a room full of sixteen year old Americans (cudgels?). Realizing beforehand that the whole thing would pretty much be a wash, I decided to go for the PowerPoint 'True or False?' quiz approach, where the answers were oh-so hilariously contrary to expectation. A sample:

And thus cultural exchange and mutual understanding are advanced. There was also a question and answer session involving chocolate.

I'm considering applying a similar model to my next visa speech. "True or False: It's alright to live with your fiance on a B2 visa, so long as you plan to return to Japan at the end of your four month wait to do the final processing for the IV. False! But here's a Snickers bar..."

*According to Sun Tsu's The Art of War, "If [a commander] sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak." Indeed.