Friday, August 19, 2011

I Love a Parade – Never too Old for Ragtime

            Well today was my last day in America.  Not exactly the best intro to a blog post, but I’ll run with it.  Throughout the day it seemed as if America was trying to show me all the good things that were produced as a result of America’s creation.  Some of the attempts were successful.  Most of them failed miserably.  Let me tell you why.

            After getting in the car at about 11:30, my family hit the road for what would be a five-hour drive to New York City.  Along the way, my family decided to pull over for lunch.  With hunger feeding our eagerness we decided to enter the one restaurant none of us had entered in probably a few solid years… McDonalds.  McDonalds and my family do not have the greatest of relationships.  My dad is a runner/doctor so dislikes it for health reasons.  My mom is slowly becoming an organic farmer and possibly a hippie as well meaning she hates it for the unhealthiness and big corporate America.  My brother, a doctor in training, hates it because… I’m sure he has a good reason.  This of course finishes with me who hates McDonalds because… you guessed it is so unhealthy.  Well this McDonalds was no different.  Combined with an Express Mart, this little McDonalds had the added annoyances of being crowded due to it its dual purpose and being very unclean.  Grabbing a ten-piece chicken McNugget, some fries, and a shake, I quickly grabbed a seat and made the best cushion I could out of the billions of germs and trucker farts, which covered my chair.  My family quickly joined me and we devoured our mystery meat and hydrogenated potato starch.  After dumping the several wrappers and cardboard containers, my family returned to the car and we were off on our merry, but somewhat greased up way.

            A few hours went by and we arrived at our temporary lodgings, the New York Athletic Club, a somewhat private hotel with great rooms, indoor spa, track, fencing arena, wrestling rings, and a pool.  After some debating, my family figured out a plan.  My brother was set on working out before dinner so in an effort to kill time my parents went down to the cocktail lounge for drinks.  I joined them shortly afterwards and found them sitting on either side of a large window with a seat set in the middle for me.  From there we were able to watch the scurrying people as they went about their daily lives.  As I watched them, I smiled.  I could not help it.  All of those people running by, all those unique stories waiting to be heard.  I found myself wondering about what these nameless people’s stories might be.  How does the bearded man in scruffy jeans view the world?  What about the lady in the floral frock, what is her tale?  This is why I believe people like coming to the big cities.  They are curious, not just about writing their own unique story, but they are also hoping to sit down and hear a few as well.

            Now before I go any further, you are all probably wondering why this post is named “I Love a Parade.”  Allow me to explain. My family, myself included, are what I like to call freelance critics.  We will be out shopping, eating dinner, whatever, then spot a unique individual in need of either some guidance or a mirror.  And we never actually go up and talk to the target person, we just sit and keep our thoughts to ourselves, which probably keeps us from spending too much time in our local hospital.  Today was no different.  My father, mother, and I sat and waited for my brother for an hour or more and we could not have been more amused.  For the lady in the white and pink-stripped top with black bra, “Gee I wonder what color her bra is?  Do you know?”  When the man wearing two baseball caps walked by, “When one hat just isn’t enough.”  My dad had a rather good one when a lady in a short black skirt walked by, “Her skirt is just like a good speech, long enough to cover the issues, but short enough to still be interesting.”  My favorite was the fifty something man with balding head except for Einstein hair going from ear to ear in the back, green torn vest, white T-shirt, and short jean shorts.  “Do you not own a mirror!?!”  There were several others and it was so much fun just to hang with my parents as we indulged in other peoples lack of fashion sense.

            Eventually my brother joined us and we went out to dinner eventually stumbling onto an adorable little restaurant called Nino’s.  After being seated by our waiter an elderly gentleman walked to our table and asked us to name a song we would like him to play.  He introduced himself as the restaurant’s piano man and I offered one of my favorites Fur Elise by Beethoven.  After visiting a few more tables he sat down to the piano.  Tonight I heard a level of skill on the piano that I have not heard in quite sometime if ever.  This man played with a vigor, a real joy all his own giving familiar tunes a little kick leaving his own mark on each song.  He eventually returned to our table to see if we had liked the tunes and even handed us a CD of his work.  That is when we finally found out who our mysterious piano man was, Irving Fields, a professional piano player going on 96 years.  We gladly paid for the CD, he even signed it, and thanked him for the wonderful music.  Seeing we were so enamored with his style, he offered to play us another song.  My mother requested a few more pieces of Ragtime jazz and as if he had read her mind he sat down and played a full version of Scott Joplin’s most famous song, “The Entertainer.”  When he finished the restaurant offered their gratitude with a healthy applause, which I’m sure he accepted with humble graces like he had accepted ours.

            After arriving back at our hotel, my family hugged and went to our rooms.  There I readied myself for bed I sat down to write which brings us to where we are now.  So what did I think of my last full day in America?  I would say it started out bumpy, being locked in a car and suffering through hydrogenated potato starch, but ended on a high note with good food, great memories, and awesome music.  After experiencing all this, I feel the best way to end the day is to raise a glass and say, “May the good times roll on.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Cruelest Mistress

          Whenever something important in our lives draws closer, she comes knocking.  Everyone on the planet earth has felt her caress, heard her promises, and has been betrayed by her.  Anticipation is by far the cruelest mistress humanity has known.  Sure things such as the sea, good drink, and women have done their best to keep up, but by far anticipation has disheartened more people and obliterated more expectations than any other vice.  However, to call anticipation a mistress is actually doing the word harm.  Mistress is a more elegant word.  It evokes Victorian-like images of a beautiful young woman with a slender form, long hair, and plump endowments.  A mistress is something to be desired even lusted over.  Anticipation is not really something people like to have.  In my opinion, anticipation is more of a swarthy wench.  She is not really all that pretty, not all the welcomed, but she promises a good time so you hang around with her.  However, before too long you have squandered away your dreams and been pick-pocketed of your hope as anticipation goes off to find her next victim.

            By now you have possibly gathered that I may not have the best opinion of anticipation and what it can do for someone’s desires for the future.  I can recall one time when I was around ten.  I was looking forward to a family vacation at the beach.  I was so anticipating the vacation that my little mind went into overdrive thinking of all the awesome things I wanted to do while at the beach. Looking back now I can see anticipation really did have her way with me.  What ten-year-old these days has dreams of meeting Aquaman?

            Even as I sit here writing this post I can hear her siren song calling me to crash my hopes of Japan upon the jagged crags of reality.  I know that there are some things I will be unable to do.  I might not be able to hit all of the temples or museums I would like to see.  I acknowledge the potential is there to make a complete jerk of myself and not make friends.  However, I know the potential is also there for me to come away from this Japanese experience with more dreams accomplished than what I originally came over with.  I guess what I am currently fumbling about in my mind is what level of expectations should I have for my trip to Japan?  I know I will be over there for a while so I know I will be able to make some good friends.  I do hope they end up being long-term friends unlike those friends you make at summer camp to help you survive through the mosquito-infested version of hell.  During my time in Japan, I know that my Japanese skill level will improve, but only at the end of the trip will I be able to judge by exactly how much.  There are just so many blanks about the experience that in all honesty I have no real idea what to expect.  And I love it.  Nearly my entire Japanese experience is empty waiting to be filled with readings, friends, moments, food, and events that I cannot wait to experience.

            So I guess I am courting the wench of anticipation once again in some form or another.  And so what if a few of my desires do not pan out?  I will make new desires and make those happen instead.

            However, no matter what happens in Japan, something tells me I will be happy to come home.  My mom and dad have said many times in the past few weeks, “Gonna miss you.”  I, like a good son, reply, “I’ll miss you too.”  Of course, it is in fact a trap and my mom will suddenly call out, “No you won’t.  You’ll be having to much fun and be working too hard to remember us.”  She is joking of course which just reminds me of what I will miss the most, my family. 

            Let me give you two quick examples of why I love my family, my mom specifically.  The other night we decided to cook some breaded pork on the grill.  Not sure exactly what I had been tasked with grilling, I asked my mom, “So what are we having?  Pork slabs, pork cutlets, pork breasts-“  This last one caused my mother to look at me very quizzically.  She then mouthed it out, as if by saying the words she might gain some sort of understanding into what I meant.  “Pork… Breasts.”  Eventually, after she consulted the sages on the matter, my mother responded saying, “I suppose there could be?  Why aren’t there?”  This lead us into a discussion concerning the validity of chicken breasts and whether or not they can truly be considered breasts.  Some time passed and we came to a verdict.  Pork breasts were an actuality because a female pig has nipples inferring breasts.  This meant that chicken breasts were debunked as breasts due to a hen’s lack of nipples.  To which I responded, “The entire cooking culture of the past few millennia was wrong!  Our cooking heritage is a lie!”  I am certain my mother would have stood by me on this assertion if she was not bent over because she was laughing too hard.

            After dinner my mom and I were discussing our previous chat and how she wanted to have similar rants and funny asides on the website for Secondwind’s, our small family farm, eventual website.  That is when she suggested, “You need to write about this for your China blog.”  After making sure my hearing had not spontaneously decided to just quit on me, I asked my mom to go through her previous statement.  After some prodding and direction, “No not that word, after that… no before that… no after that… okay, between that word and the other one… THAT WORD WASN’T EVEN IN THE STATEMENT!” I finally got her to realize her error in country.  She apologized for her error, but being the teacher that I am I decided to explain to my mother the differences between Japan and China:
Japan: Small nation near Korea
China: Big freaking nation that takes up most of Asia
Japan: Slowly losing its population due to people not having children
China: Not going anywhere any time soon
Japan: Currently building robots because it is awesome
China: Currently milking America for all it’s worth
With my mother laughing once again, I smiled and went off to play some video games.

            It is moments like these I will keep in my mind as I study in Japan.  I will go to Japan with anticipation holding my arm, the sword of my determination at my side, and my family behind me ushering me on.  This is going to be my greatest adventure yet.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tick Tock Goes the Clock

Time is an interesting thing isn't it?  Whenever you do not need it, you have plenty of it and when you need it the most, you have almost none of it.  The past few weeks I have experienced this phenomenon several times as I have endeavored to rebuild my academic career after the canceling of my trip to Japan this Spring. 

In the past few months I have not only worked as a substitute for a preschool, I have taken two college level courses and I'm almost done with my third.  The first course I took was Early Field Experience, a two-week intensive course where I worked with and observed middle school students in one of the local schools.  Oh how I wish I had taken this course sooner because after the two weeks were up, I had no desire to teach middle school.  It was not that I had a bad experience, it was just, I saw what was really involved when working with students in that age group.  You have to be 75 even 95 percent disciplinarian and a teacher the rest.  I realized I wanted students who were actually interested in what I had to teach and honestly ones I could debate with.  What I observed at the local school told me simply I was not the type of person to be a middle school or even a high school teacher. 

            With this realization my entire career plan needed to be reworked.  Thankfully this new move did not disrupt my plan for education too much.  My college advisor did recommend I should take the Graduate Records Exam (GRE) as soon as my schedule allowed.  I told him I would take the exam sometime in July, as I needed to focus on the history seminar I would be taking in June.

            About a week after the end of my Field Experience course, I was once again in the seat of a desk.  The history seminar was a pretty good experience.  I met three intelligent historians, all-desiring to be teachers someday.  The interesting aspect of this course was that two professors I had already studied under taught it.  The first was, well the best way to describe her was German, which is fitting because she is in fact a German citizen, her father is German, and her main focus of study is German nationalism through college organizations also known as German frat boys.  I am not kidding.  She is indeed a good professor and pushes her students to get the most out of their writing.  The second professor was my college advisor, a man I feel has become a great friend and one I run to if I have the slightest concern about my college plan.  This seminar was by far one of the hardest courses I had taken during my time in college not in small part to the fact I had to rewrite a 15-page research paper two days before it was due.  Talk about feeling like time was falling through your fingers.  However, the course was a constructive experience and helped me to build on the history knowledge and teaching skills I will need later in life to teach a college class effectively.

            With the end of the history seminar I was given a weekend’s reprieve before I strapped myself once more into the learner’s seat of another college course.  This time it was the Principles of Macro Economics, an online course offered by Ithaca College.  Now, I have never been a fan of economics, mostly due to the trauma I experienced in my high school economics class taught by a Madame Huntley, but I was hoping this course would not be as traumatic.  At the time of writing this post I am nearly done with the course so I feel I should save me judgments till the very end.

            At the same time as the economics course, I also had to take the GRE.  That means that at any one time, I was probably studying for two exams.  Eventually the day came to take the GRE and begin down this new career path.  The drive to Syracuse took about an hour and a half.  I sat down at my testing station confident in my choices and determined in my goal.  The test started with writing, then moved to grammar, finishing with math and when it ended the only thing I could say was, “Well that was trite.”  Seriously, for the time I had invested into taking the GRE I felt so cheated.  I felt like some warrior who had trained for years to defeat some foul necromancer only to arrive at the villain’s lair to a few goons and a boss battle with a man with brittle bone disease.  Sure the exam was difficult, but it just felt like there should have been much more to it.  I guess I was hoping the start down my new career path would begin with some boisterous victory and some fanfare, not the tooting of kazoo.

            These past few months have flown by sometimes.  Other times they seemed to drag on for forever and a day.  And as I sit here anticipating my trip to Japan I cannot help but wonder how will my time behave while I am abroad?  That is one idea that worries me.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Aftermath: A Strange Way to Begin

Yesterday, as I was driving home from work as a preschool teacher assistant, I called my parents to tell them about my lackluster day.  I called to tell them about my experiences as a kitchen assistant and a giant cushion as four and five year-olds shifted around, trying to find the perfect position to cut off blood-flow to my legs.  A few minutes later, my boring day at work was the least of my worries.  I had no idea of the devastation Japan had experienced thanks to this powerful earthquake and tsunami.  With the words of my father, "There may be no Japan now," ringing in my ears, my stomach clenched so hard that I feared I would never eat again.  Quickly I called the director of International Studies at Ithaca College, Rachel Cullenen, and asked her if she had heard anything from Akita International University (AIU) about their status or if it even still existed.  With her usual calm and motherly voice, Mrs. Cullenen read the following message to me:

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to inform you of the situation here at AIU after the earthquake that happened in the northeast of Japan today March 11.

International students, faculty and staff who were on our campus when the earthquake hit the above region are safe. So far, we have found no major damages to our campus facilities.  However, phone, electricity, water and internet have been cut off in Akita. We will do our best to take care of all students.

Since we have no access to our AIU email account, we are temporarily using this gmail account to contact you. We will send you the most updated information as soon as any new developments of our situation have been witnessed.

Sincerely yours,

Division of International Affairs
Akita International University

With this reassuring message, my thoughts turned elsewhere.  Arriving there in less than twenty days, I could only wonder how this would affect my studies abroad.  I realize the over all gravity of the situation will definitely cause some difficulties, but to what extent?  I will not really know till I get there which I will freely admit frightens me a great deal.  However it is something I will face, an added facet of challenge to my adventures in Japan.

Once I get there, I have no idea what I will do, but I want to help in some way.  I am not going to delude myself, like many I have talked to, into believing I'll be able to save someone's life, or bring order to a chaotic situation, or anything truly major.  At most I may just be handing out clothing and food to a group of displaced workers or playing with children so they will not see the worried faces of their parents.  However, that is all that is really needed.  Just a smile at the end of a long line, a cheerful face with a bowl of food, or a new friend to play with or talk to.

In the end, it will be the actions of individuals, which will build a road for Japan's recovery.  And of course it will recover, quickly I would think.  Japan is a strong nation with an indomitable work spirit and an even stronger pride.  It will not stay kneeled for long.  And I, personally, cannot wait to see it rise again.