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.”

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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.

A Dream of a City of Song

Wow. Sometimes your brain dreams at you so hard you just have to write that shit down.

It started off kind of aimless – all I remember of the beginning is an event along my usual lines. I had a tuba with me because I was going to sit in with the school’s brass band. Unfortunately, I left it on the bus when I got to school and was running around trying to find someone who could call the bus company and get it back. This is the usual fare for my dreams, and it really wouldn’t have been all that memorable otherwise.

Just keep watching...

Just keep watching…

Anyway, when the dream got on track, I found myself in a living room with a bunch of guys who were doing a kind of art appreciation challenge in their underwear. The idea was to illustrate a dream, or rather a dream as it is retold to others. They were divided into two groups, and when I arrived there, they were just beginning to present their work. I don’t quite remember the dreams that were being described inside the dream I’m describing to you now, but I do remember that the guys were reasonably good artists, and the leader of this group gave them helpful criticism on not only their art but also their presentation and layout and such.

What I soon discovered was that everyone in this class was, in fact, a member of a gang. But this was not a bad thing. This class, and others like it, were part of a movement across the city to bring the gangs of criminals, miscreants, and ne’er-do-wells together to make the city a better place. This would be done by giving them creative and productive ways to improve their skills and contribute to the city, as well as nifty, color-coordinated costumes.

Dammit, Jennings!

Dammit, Jennings!

After art appreciation, we all drove through the city as the gang members marched in their costumes (which looked like variations on Marvel Comics’ A.I.M. uniforms, but in many more colors than yellow) as everyone sang the inspirational hymn, “Put Down That Razor, Josiah.” All I remember are the first two lines:

Put down that razor, Josiah
Josiah, put that razor down…

I know the rest was supposed to be some kind of inspirational, life-affirming song that’s meant to keep a man named Josiah from slitting his wrists. It was the anthem of this weird, gang-built utopia and everyone knew it. They were singing it while they were walking, while they were working; they were singing it happily and in perfect harmonies. Somewhere in the background, there were brass instruments backing it up, but I never saw anyone playing them…

It was a great song. I wish I could remember the rest of the words.

Totally a grownup.

Totally a grownup.

In any case, we were taken up to the top floor of a tall apartment building, where there was an older Japanese man who kept hitting on me, and my sister was going to make an announcement to the city. Not sure what she was going to announce, but as she was warming up, one of my co-workers took me downstairs (which turned out to be my mother’s kitchen, of course) and asked if I was planning to rein in my little sister. To which I replied, “She’s an adult, she knows her own mind. She doesn’t need me to make her decisions for her, thank you.” The co-worker just shrugged as if to say, “Fine, it’s your problem now…”

And that’s pretty much where the dream ended.

At this point you might ask, “Yes, but what does it mean?” Well the first part – the part with the tuba – is pretty boilerplate. I have that dream all the time, where I can’t be where I need to be, and if I do get there, I don’t have what I need to bring. Any armchair Jung can figure out that this means I have a near-constant anxiety about being prepared for what I need to do and about not looking like an irresponsible ass.

The rest of it? I don’t know. That’ll take some better oneiromancy than I can pull off. Perhaps my brain just felt like entertaining me for once…

Thanksgiving, Day 22: Friends and Family

I was going to do this as two separate entries, but I found that I was saying the same things both times. Rather than double up like that, I figured I’d put all y’all into one entry and let that be the one to close off this little project.

NO.

A few months ago, when I was taking the Proust Questionnaire, I noted that I feel like I have lost the ability to make friends. At least, I’m not nearly as good at it as I once was. To quote:

I have come to suspect that I’m not actually a friendly person. I think I’m polite, kind, supportive, even funny. I can be nice, helpful, I can teach without being condescending, and I can listen to what people have to say.

Lost somewhere in all that, though, is the kind of openness and willingness to make a genuine connection with others that would best be described as “friendly.” I hold myself back. I keep a certain measured distance between me and other people, and I’m really not sure why.

I figure I must have been able to do this at some point – after all, I do have friends. And I’m talking real-people friends, not just names on a Facebook list. Barring catastrophic betrayal or the triumph of apathy, we’ll probably be friends for quite some time. But whatever talent it was that I had back in the day seems to have dimmed.

It is because of this difficulty that I am so thankful for the friends I do have. Some of them go back to high school, some to college, and all of them are part of who I am. Our shared history, the funny, strange, sad, weird things we did together, are what made me the person that I am today, and without all of those people [1] I wouldn’t be the person I am today. When I was going through all the sturm und drang of youth, my friends were there. When I came out to them as gay, not a single one turned their back on me. When I moved to Japan, I knew they would still be over on the other side of the world, and that the wonder that is the internet would mean that we had no reason not to stay in each others’ lives. Even if we do not talk quite as often as we should.

There have been some friends who have drifted away, for reasons all their own. I hope to see them again someday, to catch up and see where their lives have taken them.

Close enough.

My family, too, is a group of people who have made me the person I am today, and they are people that I will always treasure. I hear stories sometimes – often around holidays – about people who don’t get along with their family, or who don’t even like them. Stories of resentment and jealousy and betrayal abound, and people who come from these unhappy families will tell you at length about how unhappy they are.

The storyteller in me perks up when I hear this. After all, it was Tolstoy who said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In terms of drama potential, an unhappy family is always better. But in terms of real life, I think I’ll stick with the one I have.

As with my friends, my family has always been supportive and loving. Again, when I came out, I was assured over and over again that my being gay changed nothing. And it didn’t. When I wanted to move to Japan, they all supported my grand adventure. [2] We all want the best for each other, and I think that’s what really makes the family as strong as it is.

What’s more, they’re all interesting people. I can tell – and often have told – countless stories about my brothers and my sister and the lives they live. I tell about my parents and the things they taught us when we were children. I talk about my extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles, of stepbrothers and sisters, relatives related not by blood but by the choice to be part of this strange amalgam of souls.

I have long thought that none of us is truly an individual. We did not come into this world with our personalities wholly formed and ready to go. The person I experience as “I” is a collection of influences and experiences, all of which are inextricably tied up with the people who have come into my life since the first moment it began. And they, in turn, have been shaped by me and my decisions. I have made them who they are just as they have made me who I am. Our personalities and our identities are what emerge from this constant trading of influences.

It is this lesson that my friends and family have taught me over the years: we are all responsible to each other, to make each other better. The world has a million different ways of making us miserable. My friends and family have taught me not to add to that number.

…sigh…

And so with that I thank you all. This has been a good bit of blogging, I think, fundamental to what the whole idea of Thanksgiving is all about – thinking about the things in your life that give it meaning and purpose. I have a great many things to be thankful for, and that in itself is something to be thankful for.

Now. Go eat.

—–
[1] And I’m not even going to start making a list – as soon as you start including people, then you run the risk of excluding by accident. I don’t want to see that happen. You all know who you are.
[2] Though I suspect my mother may be having second thoughts about that, twelve years later…

Thanksgiving, Day 21: The Podcast

Part of who I am, who I have discovered myself to be, is that I have a certain fondness for ritual and routine. I like it when I can predict what’s coming up and when I know what I should be doing and when. Now if I were in a Hollywood romantic comedy or playing the lead on a TV show, I would clearly be in the wrong and would have to have someone like Drew Barrymore or Zooey Deschanel show me the error of my ways. They would feel compelled to teach me a love of spontaneous chaos, to break me out of the stolid routine my life had become.

Drew and Zooey can just piss right off, as far as I’m concerned. I like my routines and my rituals, and of them all, the one that really defines my week is the podcast – The Labyrinth Library.

I started this back in aught-nine, after my sister floated the idea past me of doing short book reviews for the radio station she works at, WNPR. I’d been writing reviews for ages, and had a pretty good back catalog to choose from. The idea was that I would record a five or ten minute review and it would help fill space in the broadcast schedule. As it turned out, her bosses didn’t go for the idea, but that was okay – it gave me the liberty to take the idea and make it my own.

This wasn’t my first podcast, actually. I tried making one a few years before, when podcasting was just beginning to catch on, but I very quickly realized that I didn’t actually have anything to say. The few episodes I did were just me talking about… things. And you know what? The internet has enough of that already. As I started listening to others’ work, one thing became very clear – if you’re going to ask people to spend time with your podcast, it should be about something. And for me, there was nothing better I could have chosen than books.

So I did my research, figured out how the whole process should work, and launched the Labyrinth Library on January 15th, 2009. I started with Good Omens, as a representative of what I love in books, and followed it by The Bad Beginning, as a representative of what I hate. Everything else fit in between those books somewhere.

And I’ve done it ever since. Once a week, without exception, for 202 episodes (as of this morning). If it were a sitcom, I’d be making mad money on syndication rights. It’s not too late, NPR…

As it is, though, I have something I can be proud of. I don’t have a great history when it comes to committing to projects and following through with them, so it would not have surprised me if I had done this for a couple of months and then let it die out. But I didn’t. It’s fun to do, from the writing to the actual production of it, and as the years have gone on, I’ve become aware that there are people who not only listen to the podcast, but enjoy listening to it. And it is because I know they’re out there that I can set up my equipment every week, ask The Boyfriend to keep the dog quiet for a half hour or so, and put this together. So to everyone who listens, I am thankful for you.

I don’t know what the future of the LabLib looks like, of course. As I have alluded to, I have a limited back catalog, and as I don’t read and review a new book every week (since I have a job and stuff), there will come a point where recording day comes and I don’t have anything to record. At that time, it’ll have to go from being a weekly podcast to an occasional one. I’ll still update, though, as often as is possible. I’ve done this too long and had too much fun with it to let it go entirely.

So, in my ritualized, carefully-structured week, the podcast is something I always look forward to. It gives my week shape and it helps keep me busy. For that I am most certainly thankful.

Thanksgiving, Day 20: Being Able to Write

The internet has democratized content creation, and, to paraphrase Theodore Sturgeon, 90% of it is crap. Maybe it’s because education standards have fallen or because people don’t read as often as they used to, but a lot of the blogs I read and sites I visit – even the professional ones – feature really bad writing. People have no sense of the flow of language, how it makes you feel or how it works when you scroll down the page. They type what they think and then hit “PUBLISH,” not giving a second thought as to whether or not what they have put up on the internet is actually their best work. Even setting aside grammar and spelling errors that no one should make [1], a lot of it just isn’t all that interesting or appropriate for the point the author might be trying to make.

While I’m certainly not going to try and put forth myself as an expert on how to write, I can at least say that I’ve been doing this long enough to have a good sense of how to not screw it up. I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember, and even when I was a kid I practiced writing. I tried adapting comic books to text, wrote my own stories, and eventually ended up becoming a serial book reviewer. As soon as the internet became A Thing, I took to it like fish to tartar sauce – I wrote flash fiction, essays, arguments, all kinds of things. I started my own homepage after college, joined LiveJournal when it was still popular, and have maintained a written internet presence for ages.

Being able to write well takes practice, and lots of it. It takes observation of others, to see what you might want to emulate and what you want to avoid. It takes a certain amount of self-awareness, to know when what you are doing needs to be tweaked, revised, or in some cases thrown out entirely.

More importantly, though, it allows me to express myself. It allows me to take the ideas that spark and flash and smolder and effervesce in my head and organize them. It lets me lock them down and look at them from different angles until I know what they are and what they mean. Writing, in this sense, isn’t just the act of putting words in order, but rather of putting thoughts in order. And of all the skills I could have asked to have, that ability has been a mighty useful one.

—–
[1] And it is at this point that I start getting email from people about the grammar and spelling errors in my posts….