The First Meeting


It’s an amazing likeness, I must say.

This one should be short and relatively non-venomous. I’ll do my best.

Prime Minister Abe will meet with Trump

This was a little unexpected, really. I figured it would be Putin, but who can tell with these things?

Anyway, I’ve long had a suspicion that Prime Minister Abe was hoping for Trump to win, mainly due to Trump’s insistence that Japan up its payment to the U.S. for military protection. Interesting fact: Japan pays about 75% of the cost of the US being here, more than any other nation. But that’s neither here nor there. Here’s the scenario I think Abe is hoping for:

Trump shakes Japan down for more money. Japan says, “Sorry, but no.” Trump then threatens to withdraw troops, to which Abe says, “Go right ahead.” This gives Abe and his party (kind of like a hawkish, just as racist but not quite as insane GOP) the excuse to do what they’ve been aching to do for years now – revise the Japanese constitution and take out Article Nine, which forbids Japan from having the power to go to war.

Japan has slowly been working out ways around this clause over the last few years. It’s pretty obvious that the Powers That Be want a proper army again, most likely in case China or North Korea get uppity. The current Self Defense Force has been gaining more and more militancy, but they’re still not allowed to really go to battle the way other armies are. At best they can engage in support actions, more or less. I’m simplifying, but you get the idea.

The rest of the Japanese population, though, is dead against it. They really like being the only country that is constitutionally forbidden to go to war, and most people would like to keep it that way. Unfortunately, the ruling party is not terribly concerned with what the people want (surprise), and are working their way to railroad constitutional revision through. Having the U.S. pull troops out would benefit that process, adding urgency to the whole thing. Next thing you know, Japan has an army and a navy again, and countries up and down the Pacific start to get very, very nervous…

Or Abe just wants to see if Trump is actually real. I have no idea. Either way, it’s an interesting turn of events.


The Anger of Crowds

The Boyfriend asked me this evening if, were I in the US, I would join the protests that are going on. And it turned out to be a little tricky to answer.

For one thing, I don’t like crowds. Angry mobs even less so, but generally speaking, the idea of joining up with a giant group of people makes my skin itch. On the other hand, though, were I still in the US, I’d have a lot more to lose under a Trump presidency, so it might be enough to get me past my dislike of other people.

On the other other hand, though, I remember all of the horrified gasps and pearl-clutching we did when Trump refused to promise to abide by the results of the election. We denounced it as un-American and an attack on the basic tenets of our democracy – which it was. And it was horrifying to hear him say that he would only accept the results of the election if he won.

trump-protestThat’s why I can’t bring myself to join in with those groups chanting “Not my President!” and crying out that the election was rigged. When Trump was making such claims, we carefully but firmly pointed out how hard it would be to rig a Presidential election, and that was that. We can’t turn around now and take up his dishonest banner just because our candidate lost.

When he wouldn’t promise to accept the results of the election, we were – to use Hillary’s words – “Horrified.” We couldn’t believe he would be so willing to disregard a fundamental requirement of the peaceful transition of power in this country. We can’t turn around now and do the same just because we didn’t get our way.

Trump will be President in January. That’s it. Yes, Hillary got more votes. Yes, the Electoral College broke our hearts. But what’s done is done. He will be President, and not just for the people who voted for him. He will be the President of every United States citizen, like it or not.

It is incumbent on us, the outraged and incensed citizens who wanted him nowhere near the White House, to understand that. He will be our President. This means he will also be our responsibility. To walk through the streets chanting, “NOT MY PRESIDENT” is pretty close to saying, “NOT MY PROBLEM”, when he is very much your problem.

The facts are the facts. Don’t try and wish them away, because it won’t work. Instead, pledge yourself to vigilance and opposition. Watch that man and the writhing pile of plague rats that comes with him. Don’t let them gain an inch or take a breath without being there.

Trump will be our President. He will be our responsibility. And we will be damned if he gets away with anything on our watch.

How Do We Solve a Problem Like The Donald?

Damned if I know.

Right now, three days after the election, pretty much everyone who didn’t see this coming is scrambling for two things: an explanation and a plan. I suspect that an explanation will come in due time. A plan, however, is something we need right now.

sgtanckI’m angry. For lots of reasons, really. I’m angry that a racist, woman-hating con man got himself elected to the highest office in the land. I’m angry that he brought a horde of misshapen, venomous parasites with him. I’m angry that the racists and bigots and xenophobes seem to think that his election means it’s open season on everyone they’ve always hated. I’m angry that so many people I know and love are scared. I’m angry that other people I know and love aided and abetted this ignominious defiling of the Presidency.

I’m angry that lies and slander and outright cruelty can not only go unpunished, but can be rewarded. I’m angry that the institutions we trusted to keep this from happening just stood by and let it happen.

I’m angry that my country isn’t what I thought it was, on so many levels.

And I know I’m not the only person who’s angry. Lots of people are angry, and rightly so. The problem with anger is that it can very easily lead to doing great and irreparable harm to oneself and others, so what we need now is that plan.

Unfortunately, the plan we’re being offered from our leadership – Obama, Clinton, much of the press and punditry – is to let it go. Give the next President a clean slate and the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, they say, he’ll do the right thing.

To that I say: Bullshit. Here’s why:

When he rode down that gleaming escalator, we all laughed and said, “There’s no way he’s serious. He won’t go through with this.”

But he did.

When he was one of nearly two dozen Republicans vying for the nomination, we said, “There’s no way he’ll get through this without screwing up.”

But he did.

When he became the nominee, we said, “Well, now that he’s facing the general election, surely he’ll move to the center. He had to make use of his dogwhistles and his angry stump speeches for the GOP base, but now he has to deal with the rest of the electorate. He can’t keep spewing all this anger and mendacity.”

But he did.

And when he came up against Clinton, a woman with more qualifications and experience than he could ever hope to have, a woman who resoundingly trounced him in three debates, we all turned to each other and said, “There’s no way he can win.”

But. He. Did.

And now Obama and Clinton and the press and the punditry want us to believe that he’ll turn around. That the reserves of his awfulness have been expended, that running for President is one thing but being the President is another, and he’ll govern the country responsibly from January 20th onward.

Why on God’s green earth should we believe that? Why should we believe that he’ll change this time? What evidence do we have that this is even remotely possible? At what point have we seen him decide that there is something bigger than himself, something to which he must show even a sliver of compassion and humility?

And the theory that the GOP will somehow be a check on him? Like they were in the primaries? Like they were during the general? The closest they got to controlling him was taking away his Twitter access right before election day. That’s what you do to control a recalcitrant teenager, not the President. The Republican Party won’t be able to control this man any better when he’s in the White House than they did before.

And those of you hoping that he’ll just get bored and leave everything to his underlings? Look at those underlings and bury that hope in the deepest hole you can find.

So. The plan.

I don’t believe there can be any common ground. No clean slate. No buried hatchet. In order to do that, there must be trust, and I don’t trust him any further than I could spit a dead rat. I have no reason to believe that he will be a better person come January 20th. None whatsoever.

The new President and his party of preening, pustulent parasites must have no quarter and gain no ground. They must be fought tooth and nail for every inch until we can replace them with people who value nation over party and responsibility over power. They must be rejected, rebuked, and repudiated on all fronts. The President, his hangers-on, and the cowards who can’t bring themselves to stand up to him are owed nothing from us because nothing is all they stand for.

I feel like I should be waving a flag. Like La Marseillaise should be playing in the background. And yet…

And yet, who the hell am I to be saying this? I’m thousands of miles from the USA right now. Unless the plan to pull US forces out of Japan goes through, or that tangerine hobgoblin decides to nuke North Korea, I won’t see the kinds of effects that people are already seeing – the violence, the discrimination, the slurs and epithets and hate.

I’m well-insulated over here, typing away on a blog that has about as much influence over national affairs as not blogging at all. What I think and what I want, well… It really doesn’t count for much. Or at all.

But I can’t keep all this inside my head without going mad.

I am angry. I suspect that I will be for quite a while. I just hope that I can make it count for something.

A Return


I had this idea, far back in the mists of ancient time, that when I wrote something on the internet it was for something. In my earliest LiveJournal days I thought I would meet like-minded angsty twenty-somethings or offer new perspectives on living in Japan. With the podcast, I thought I would attract my own salon of readers, and with each episode we would meet in the comments sections to talk about books and reading.

Even here, I wrote in the belief that somehow sharing my sliver of the human experience would somehow become significant. That it would add to the vast sea of shared knowledge and make the world richer in some way.

To the best of my knowledge, none of that has happened.

I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t disappointing – the whole gold rush of blogging in the early-to-mid 2000’s basically promised a new kind of fame if you could attract the right people and a big enough audience, and there was certainly a time when that was something like what I wanted. But, like Mick and the boys say, you can’t always get what you want.

With disappointment comes reflection, though. I had to reflect on what it was I was really doing when I wrote these blogs or recorded those podcasts or even when I sent a tweet out into the world. The fact is that the universe (or at least the part of it represented by the internet) is indifferent to what I want. If I try writing for fame or attention or even a minimal kind of validation from the outside world, I will be disappointed.

It is better, then, to remember why I should be writing. Because there are things that I need to say, and that will drive me mad if I don’t. If I haven’t been adding to this blog, it was probably because I felt that I didn’t have anything to say. The question I need to ask myself is whether I truly believed that, or if I was simply convinced that no one would read what I wrote. I hate to believe that the former is true, but it shames me to think that the latter would be.

Maybe both. I’m not sure.

Anyway, I’ve been shaken out of my stupor by the events of the last few days. In a world where Trump can be elected president, silence really isn’t an option. More on that in the next post.

What is the Shape of the Dream?

First, a warning: If you’re the kind of reader who finds no enjoyment in reading other people’s account of their dreams, then this isn’t for you. Move on. I get it, certainly – I usually skip those as well – but this was a dream that pretty much demanded to be written down. So, if you’re still with me, let’s go.

It started off in what was obviously a hospital. It felt like a Kubrick movie, and even had a soundtrack behind it – a repeating eight-bar motif on strings that was sort of a high-tension underscore piece. I honestly felt like I was watching a movie, and expected it to tie into that freaky last part of 2001 at any moment.

I started going through double doors in search of something, but not sure what – pretty normal dream stuff. Over this, I could hear a pair of voices, male and female, talking like movie reviewers doing a running commentary. One standout line from the female “reviewer”: “Is this the Word of God, or is He just repeating what He heard coming from the outer darkness?” Blasphemous, creepy, weird – Awesome.

The sequence of double doors ended and I started searching through rooms, some of which had hospital equipment or personnel, but none of which were properly square. Kind of disorderly in general. People would go into a door in one room, come out of a door in another room, that sort of thing. At around this point, I became aware that there were people looking for me.

One “character” stood out – a boy, eleven or so, shirtless. He was a patient at the hospital, although he didn’t look sick to me. I saw him a few times in different contexts, and he was either covered in a white paint and / or a few white pieces of paper, like Post-Its – targets for radiation therapy, I thought. At one point, the boy opened a closet, which had the same white papers pasted to the wall, and seemed surprised and angry that they were there. He didn’t know how it happened, and yelled as much to an unseen person out of sight.

I made eye contact with him as he was sitting on an examining table. This boy was my enemy, or would be when he grew up. I said, “I’m watching you.” He seemed to know who I was and just locked eyes with me as I went by. He’d be watching me too, it seemed.

At this point, the dream became somewhat self-referential. It’s not often that I know I’m dreaming, but this was becoming more and more the case. However, as soon as I tried to figure out how to get out of the dream, the forces following me became somewhat more aware of me, and I of them. In the way of dreams, they seemed familiar, but I couldn’t say who they were.

They tried to catch/trap/stop me, in a haphazard fashion. They knew I was there, but not exactly where yet – like I was invisible to them, but present. As soon as I began to inquire about the nature of the dream itself, however, they could no longer see me or know I was there. My mantra was “What is the shape of the dream?” Repeating this phrase gave me passage through the dream itself and made me imperceptible to the people trying to find me.

Something wanted me to know more about the dream itself, and I would be punished if I tried to leave. I didn’t get the feeling that the sort-of-unseen followers were on the same side as that Something, though.

I started to look for those double doors again, because they were the way in. I passed Michele Obama, riding a bicycle, and a man hired to be a stand-in for her husband. He was too busy to appear, it seems. Damned if I know what that was about…

Then I woke up.

I don’t want to try and interpret this dream at the moment, because it seems like it’s begging to be interpreted. Jumping up and down in my head, yelling “Look at me! Look at me!” Sometimes I have dreams that tell me things I need to know, sometimes I have dreams that are just weirdly entertaining. I have to figure out which kind this is before I decide whether to think about what it means…

The Music in my Head Part 2

I promised I’d do another one of these posts, but I’d like to say in my defense that I never specified when…

"Children are the future. Children are the future. Children are the future..."

“Children are the future. Children are the future. Children are the future…”

Why now? Well, two reasons, really. The first is that I have the urge to do something creative that doesn’t have anything to do with teaching. I do love my job, but it sucks every bit of creative energy it can. My Thronging Legion of Fans [1] have probably noticed that the podcast has ground to a halt, as has all forms of blogging. It’s not necessarily that I have nothing to say, but that I put so much energy into work that I don’t really have a whole lot left to entertain you all. I know, I know – I’m a terrible person. Just be glad I don’t have kids.

The other reason is because my friend Chris is doing his damnedest to try and find me music I’ll like, and true to form, I’m being kind of a pain in the ass about it. The fact is, I find it tough to condense “music I like” down to a simple, catchy answer. It’s often a matter of what catches my ear, and I’m never entirely sure what that’ll be. I cast a wide net, and only keep a tiny portion of what I catch, so finding new music is a little more time-consuming than I’d like it to be. After all, if I can’t muster the energy to write a blog post more than (checks last entry) once a year, I certainly can’t devote much energy to plowing through album after album, hoping to find something that makes my heart sing.

So, for this edition of Music in my Head, I thought I’d talk about not just the first ten songs to come up on a random shuffle, but the first ten songs that I don’t automatically skip. What will this tell us about the music I like? Is there a pattern? Let’s find out…

1. “Let It Go”, Cherri Bomb, This is the End of Control, 2012

I got this song from playing “Tap Tap Revenge,” an IOS game where you have to keep rhythm to music. It was good fun, but the people who made it made it almost impossible to migrate your game – and your purchases – from an old phone to a new one. Pity, because I found some good music among their libraries.

This is one of those songs, and it falls squarely into my “Songs to End Worlds To,” (which includes “Come Alive” below, too). Basically what this means is that at some point in the song, it feels… Elemental. Like it’s less of a song and more of a force. It’s kind of hard to describe in a way that makes sense, but it’s right around that guitar solo at 2:40, coming after a slow musical burn and a glass-polishing vocal burst… It’s where I kind of blank out and expect to see the Avengers or the Justice League tearing shit up.

Thematically, it’s one hell of a song too. All about taking control of ones life, but less in a self-affirming Women of Power kind of way and more out of a kind of rage-induced primal need to put some fucker in his place. To quote:

You never see my way
Pissing on my flame
I’ll be the one left standing

With everything i do
It never pleases you
But I’ll be the last one laughing

There’s no doubt who’s in charge of this conversation, and even less doubt about who will come out on top in the end. Definitely worth stopping and listening to.
Continue reading

Running to Stand Still

Today is Monday. Monday is a jogging day.

This morning, I got up, swung my feet out of bed, and sat there for a good long while before deciding, “Nope. I’m not doing this anymore.”

Katee Sackhoff looks like she's enjoying her jog through the ship. ACTING!

Katee Sackhoff enjoying her jog? ACTING!

In the interest of full disclosure, I think I knew I was going to do this before I even went to bed last night. I was having a lovely time, playing Skyrim in between watching episodes of Battlestar Galactica with The Boyfriend, when all of a sudden I realized: tomorrow is a jogging day. I stared into the middle distance for a while, and the first word out of my mouth was a long, drawn-out “Fuck,” and I’m pretty sure that was the point where I decided that this wasn’t going to happen.

I’ve tried to like it, I really have. I’ve tried to find that “I like jogging” switch in my brain. I’ve taken refuge in the oft-repeated factoid that if you do something for three weeks [1] then it becomes a habit that is part of your life now. I understand the health benefits. I know it helped me lose weight. I know that there are millions and millions of people around the world who wake up in the morning and think, “Thank god I get to go running today.”

I am not one of them, and I’m pretty sure I never will be. And I really can’t abide lying to myself about this any longer.

Go online and find jogging forums and jogging websites, and they are full of success stories. People who’ve been jogging for years and people who just started Couch-to-5K alike, they all seem to have become enraptured by this activity of putting one foot in front of the other at a moderate pace. They talk about how good it makes them feel, how it starts off the day right and how they miss it when they can’t go out. They have found something worthwhile to do with their time that brings them a sense of accomplishment and well-being. Even those who find it difficult seem to take solace in the faith that it will pay off someday. [2]

Where do I get some of that? Not from jogging, that’s for damn sure.

In all fairness, it's not like I'm beating puppies to death with kittens or anything. I still feel bad, though.

In all fairness, it’s not like I’m beating puppies to death with kittens or anything. I still hate it, though.

When I come back home, my thoughts aren’t, “Thank god I went jogging.” They’re, “Thank god that’s over.” It makes me feel tired and uncomfortable physically, and it inevitably leaves me in a worse emotional place than where I would have been if I had just gotten an extra half hour of sleep. I honestly come home feeling bad about myself – bad for having gone out, and bad for making myself doing something I so clearly hate to do and then bad for feeling bad about something I should feel good about.

Of course, with this failure, my dear Scumbag Brain has decided to daisy-chain all of my other failures together in a horrible slide show of ignominy and defeat.

So the facts are as follows:

  • I’m no longer young enough to not care about what my body does in its free time.
  • Therefore, I have to do some kind of maintenance.
  • Jogging makes me hate myself.
  • So do all other forms of exercise.
  • So does failure.
  • My capacity for self-loathing has its limits.
  • Nevertheless, I like being able to fit into all my clothes.
  • Dammit.

That leaves us with the real Question of the Day: How do you force yourself to do something you detest?

Or the other question: When is the right time to quit?

Or this question. This question is good too.

Or this question. This question is good too.


[1] Or nine weeks, or three months, or whatever duration is, by odd coincidence, longer than the time you’ve actually been doing it.
[2] I wonder if there’s a correlation between religious faith and engagement in fitness activities. In both cases, you’re performing arduous work now in the hopes of a payoff later – a payoff that isn’t guaranteed to ever happen.

Who Has Two Thumbs and a Permanent Resident Visa?

Photo taken by The Boyfriend, who is just bossy enough as a photographer to go pro...

Photo taken by The Boyfriend, who is just bossy enough as a photographer to go pro…

This guy!

Yes, after a very long process, a goodly amount of money and no small amount of stress and needless fretting, I am officially a Permanent Resident of Japan.

What this means for me is that my residence here is more secure. I don’t have to renew the visa every three years as before, and I don’t have to worry about the unfortunate confluence of an expired visa and an expired job contract again. If I do find myself out of work, I’ll be able to take time getting a new one without wondering how I’ll pack up my whole life and return to the United States in ignominy. [1] In addition, there are more types of work available to me. Previously, my visa status had me as a teacher or a professor, and that was what I was legally allowed to do. Now I could do anything, provided someone wants to hire me for it. If I were so inclined, this would make it easier to start a business, as well as buy property and gods know what else.

All told, this buys me some amount of security, which makes me very happy. One less thing to worry about.

That's me, baby.

That’s me, baby.

If you’ve come to this page to find out about getting a PR visa, here’s what I did: I got a lawyer. More expensive, yes, but this process is complicated and long and drawn-out, and I wanted to minimize the chances of screwing everything up, especially considering I had a time limit in front of me. My guy was Kawazoe Satoshi, who took care of everything and was very patient when I started to get twitchy and nag him for details. [2]

Also, I need to thank The Boyfriend, who stood as guarantor for me despite really not being comfortable doing so. This was partly because he didn’t like the idea of handing over personal information to some lawyer he didn’t know, but also because he was worried that the whole process might fail because he wasn’t financially or professionally stable enough for the Department of Justice. Fortunately, he was acceptable to the Powers That Be. He stepped up for me and helped make this possible. Good man.

Speaking of jobs, there’s an update there as well – Ritsumeikan Uji hasn’t gotten rid of me yet. While my regular contract does expire in April, I was taken on board by the International Baccalaureate program at our school, where I will be teaching Literature and Theory of Knowledge for at least another two years. For those of you not familiar with the IB Diploma program, it’s an internationally administered course that puts high school students through two years of rigorous academic work in various fields of study. It’s not for the faint of heart, and that applies to teachers as well as students, but the kids who come out of it are more likely to propel themselves to greater success in the years after high school.

So I’ll be teaching literature, which is exactly what it sounds like, and Theory Of Knowledge, which I’m learning about at the moment. Basically it’s a “How do we know what we know?” kind of course, which has the potential of making me absolutely insufferable on Facebook for a while. My apologies in advance.

All of this means that my 2012 Existential Crisis has come to a close, and has done so in a good and satisfying way. No doubt I’ll come up with something else to worry about at some point, but right now I’m just going to revel in my stability.

Pictured: My idea of stability

Pictured: My idea of stability

[1] Which is still an option, mind you. Just not quite as likely as before.
[2] Of which there were, usually, none. Immigration is kind of a black hole – all the documents get submitted and then you wait until they’re done. You have no idea how they’re progressing, and no matter how you nag your lawyer, he won’t be able to tell you anything more than, “Just be patient.”

The Best Part of Traveling is Coming Home

I think I mentioned this back when I was doing the Proust Questionnaire, but I’ll bring it up again. The best part of any trip, to my mind, is when I come home again. There’s just something about the closure of unpacking everything and resetting it to where you were before you left that is calming. It says, “Okay – that’s done now. Back to what we were doing.”

As Mr. Baggins learns that an adventure isn't always what you want to be having...

As Mr. Baggins learns that an adventure isn’t always what you want to be having…

And I know that any trip to somewhere new should be transformative in nature. If you go somewhere and don’t learn anything, then there really wasn’t any good reason to go there. But not every trip is going to be a Baggins-level Learning Experience, and you won’t always come home to find that the world looks smaller or that they aren’t the person they thought they were. Nine times out ten, you’ll just be happy to be home again, and it is that feeling that I enjoy most when I travel.

That being said, I’m certainly glad I went to Singapore, both for professional and personal reasons. I was sent there to attend a workshop for the International Baccalaureate program (henceforth known as IB), which I will start teaching in April. Specifically, I’ll be teaching English Literature, and it seemed kind of important that I have a vague idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. The teacher I’m replacing gave be a general overview, but it was nice to have a more specific, detailed look at it from people who’ve been doing this for a very long time.

While I still have questions about what it is I’ll be doing, at least I’m sure that they’re the right questions to ask. In some cases, they are important questions that I couldn’t have known to ask had I not gone to this workshop.

Spoilers: Snape is Luke's father!"

Spoilers: Snape is Luke’s father!

In a nutshell, it’s this – I get to teach up to thirteen texts to my students over the course of a year and a half, and my goal is to make sure the kids can pass the very rigorous and specific assessment tasks that the IB has set. I’m not sure how well I’ll do by them in my first go at the course, but I do know there’s a wealth of resources and expertise I can go to if I get stuck. The main take-away was something that I learned pretty early on in my teaching career: Assume nothing and cover your ass. As long as I can do that, I should be able to get through with minimal catastrophic damage to either myself or my students.

Singapore itself is a strange, complex, interesting city-state that needs far more time than I was able to give to it. Since I was busy during the day and tired when I got done, I didn’t have quite the energy or time to do a lot of exploring, but even so, I was able to get a taste of the variety of life that makes Singapore such a fascinating place.

The most overwhelming feeling I had was that I didn’t know nearly enough about Singapore when I went there. By that I mean its history, its current politics, its culture – you know, the important things. I knew that spitting on the sidewalk and chewing gum were both forbidden, and that drug smuggling could get you hanged, but there was a constant undercurrent to the place that I just couldn’t put my finger on.

Chinatown. Pretty much all looks like this.

Chinatown. Pretty much all looks like this.

My hotel was near Chinatown, so that’s where I spent a lot of my time, and if you stay there then your take-away image of Singapore is that it’s overwhelmingly Chinese. It didn’t help that the celebrations for the Lunar New Year were getting under way, so there were Chinese decorations up everywhere you look. The shop owners and the restaurateurs enjoy having the slightly bewildered and out-of-place tourists in their hands…

But then you look more closely – a lot of those restaurants and food stalls are Thai or Indian or Indonesian or Malaysian or Japanese. You look more closely at the people, and they clearly come from all over Southeast Asia. I found myself wondering what a “Native Singaporean” person looks like or sounds like, and then wondered if there even was such a thing – and if it would matter if there were.

The other part of the city that I spent some time in was the Singapore River park near Marina Bay. Aside from reminding me a lot of the Riverwalk in Providence, RI, it was an interesting contrast to Chinatown. The riverside park was just as noisy, just as crowded after dark, but in a different way. Here, the tourists were in charge, occupying the open-air bistros and bars, moseying along the sidewalks and taking photos of the skyscrapers, the Merlion, and each other.

It's easy to miss, but worth finding.

It’s easy to miss, but worth finding.

The place where I spent the most time, oddly enough, was a gay bar. I say “oddly enough” because in the regular course of life, I don’t go to bars in general, and I’ve have mixed experiences with gay bars specifically. The Backstage Bar is in Chinatown, and is a nice, comfortable place to go have a drink. The staff are friendly and quite adept at getting conversation going. It’s not loud or clubby, and while they do charge a bit more for their drinks than you might like, it’s still easy to spend a couple of hours there. I met a British man who works in Saudi Arabia and was in the city on holiday. I talked with the young guy behind the bar, who was saving up to go on a ski vacation in Japan, and I was educated about the current events in Chinatown by a man who could best be thought of as the social coordinator of the bar – he wandered from person to person, making sure everyone was welcome and trying to get conversations going whenever possible.

As someone who doesn’t usually do well in social situations with strangers, I felt oddly comfortable. That’s something I’d definitely like to keep with me from this trip.

Whatever Singapore becomes, it will always have a Merlion.

Whatever Singapore becomes, it will always have a Merlion.

Singapore all seems like a work in progress, despite it being a city with a history going back nearly 2,000 years. It’s a different sort of mystery than Japan, which is where everyone seems to know all the rules but they just aren’t telling you. In this place, it’s like the city is an emergent process, built by the individual actions of millions of people trying to find a life that makes them happy. Whatever comes out of that process is what Singapore is.

Or I could be wrong. A weekend in the country doesn’t exactly make one an expert. But it’s the image of Singapore that I came away with, and not a bad one to have.

Tomorrow I go back to work. Let Real Life resume once more…

I Sing of Singapore!

Actually, no. I don’t know any Singapore songs, it’s just that the title sounded good in my head.

Singapore - Home to giant, cartoony snakes.

Singapore – Home to giant, cartoony snakes.

Anyway, so yeah – I’m in Singapore! I came here for a weekend workshop that the school is sending me on, wherein I learn how to teach literature in the International Baccalaureate Program (henceforth IB) at my school. This is a very different kind of teaching than I’m used to, so it’s good that I get to learn a little bit about how to actually teach to IB standards before I get into the classroom. Preparation counts, after all, and I do want to be prepared.

While I did a lovely job of getting myself all worked up about the trip beforehand [1], the actual journey from Japan to Singapore went without a hitch. Except for one heart-stopping moment in Kansai Airport where Immigration had to take a closer look at my passport. While I tried to figure out either a) who I could call for bail money or b) whether I could fight my way out, they came back to me just to let me know that my application for a Permanent Resident visa meant an extension to my deadline. No biggie.

One seven hour plane flight later, sitting next to a big, sleepy guy with jimmy-legs on the aisle and a whole host of high school girls, I made it! Cruised through customs, caught a taxi and now I’m in Singapore, of all places!

This was taken from the door. There was nowhere further back to go.

This was taken from the door. There was nowhere further back to go.

A few thoughts as I’ve been wandering around…

  • It’s nice and summery. I thought it would be awful, but it isn’t. I should wait until the daytime to really test this out, though.
  • There’s a lot of construction going on. Everywhere I looked coming in, there were cranes and buildings going up. Clearly there’s a boom of some kind.
  • Speaking of which, there’s a wonderful trend towards rhyming safety slogans on work sites. Things like, “You will regret if you forget” and “Prepare and prevent instead of repair and repent!” I enjoyed those greatly.
  • I’m staying at the Porcelain Hotel, and holy cow is the room small. No, smaller than that. No, no – smaller. Now take away the windows and make it smaller again. Seriously, you’re not thinking small enough. That said, it’s got a big bed and free wi-fi. And the guy at the front desk recognized my Green Lantern ring, so that’s a plus.
  • Everything is red. Everything.

    Everything is red. Everything.

  • The town is gearing up for the Chinese New Year, which is in February. My hotel is right near Chinatown,so I wandered through there after I checked in. Tons of restaurants, chachke shops, tailor shops, herbalist drug stores, you name it. In fact, I may have accidentally spoken Chinese at one point. A young lady trying to get customers into her restaurant invited me in, and I said, “Sure, sure.” Which sounds a lot like “Thank you” in Mandarin Chinese (pronounced “sheh-sheh”, sort of). The young lady smiled and started speaking Chinese at me, and I got very confused and a little sad that I had misled her. Good food, though.

So I only got a small taste of a small neighborhood tonight. Tomorrow the workshop begins in earnest, and once I’m done Becoming a Better Teacher, I’ll have to see if I can find more sights to see.

[1] I am not a laid-back traveler – at least not when it comes to getting ready for the trip. Once I actually get to where I’m going, I’m fine, which just proves that the adage, “The journey is more important than the destination” is a load of horseshit.