I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

July 12, 2003 Trouble follows me wherever I go. Already, there is controversy. My students adore me, and management keeps threatening to extend my probation. The controversy revolves around a censored bio of me that was briefly in circulation. The Japanese staff at the school, who know fuck-all English - none would be above 7B, our second-lowest level, and most would be 7C, the lowest - started running around taking photos of the teachers without warning or explanation, having decided amongst themselves that it would boost sales if the students could preview the exciting teachers waiting for them at the school. I managed an annoyed smile for the photo. Two days later, the photo and a piece of paper were handed to me during my break with the explanation (in broken English) that I should write about my hobbies. Still annoyed, I wrote that my home-town was Chicago and my hobbies were bowling and getting paid. The staff wanted more, so I ranked my top five animals (monkeys, cats, penguins, pandas and turtles) and then I put on my headphones so they would leave me alone. Two weeks later, at the tail-end of a cuss-out session where management raked me over the coals for teaching 7A #79, gift-giving, in a maverick fashion (fuck it, though, I did what I had to do, those students know how to give gifts with the best of them now, and nobody told me I was going to be observed that day), management also made it known that they didn't like "getting paid" in my bio and they wanted it changed. Evidently, "drinking vodka straight out of the bottle" (as one of the other teachers wrote) is okay, but the wisdom of Schoolly D is unacceptable. Figure that. So, I've been getting the evil eye from management lately. It always happens sooner or later.

But the students are on my side. I was asked to host a two-hour discussion on baseball at the school, so I stayed up all night learning what the hell goes on in Japanese baseball, and the discussion came off like dynamite, although the teenage girls who came in just because they like me were pretty bored and left midway through. (I had everyone in stitches with my analogy between baseball players and Monster Island. "Gamera would be a good catcher, I think," I said. "But there are not enough monsters to play all the positions," Kenji said. "That's okay. King Ghidorah can sit in center field and cover right and left field with his other heads," I replied.) One of my students (one of the A Bathing Ape hip-hop kids) gave me a burned copy of a dead brilliant rap album that purports to be performed by King Ghidorah himself. I don't know anything else about it. The vocals and production sound American. There are all of these movie dialogue samples where officious aliens claim to be controlling King Ghidorah, and then he raps about how they are not, in fact, controlling him. At one point, the aliens announce that they are making Ghidorah and Gigan fight, and then a guest rapper named Gigan comes in and contradicts them by rapping about how he and Ghidorah are friends. ("It's all about me, it's all about you," he says.) Towards the end of the album, when King Ghidorah starts demanding that you "render unto Ghidorah what is Ghidorah's", you know you are in the presence of genius. I haven't been able to find anything on the web by searching for "rap King Ghidorah", but it's fucking good, I tell you.

So: there are troubles, as usual, but I am good, I am relaxed. I have a bike of my own now, and I spend a fair amount of time riding around Kyoto. Say what you will about the morbid obesity of Americans, but there are no people on Earth who consistently make worse navigational decisions than the Japanese. (And I've been to Fargo, so I've been around the block a few times.) They are truly, astonishingly bad at walking on the street, using stairs, really mundane directional affairs that they manage to cock up every chance they're given. It's one thing when you're walking, but riding a bike means that when you see someone approaching, you have three seconds to figure out what the worst possible navigational decision available to that person is, and then you have to figure out what you will do when they make it, which they inevitably do (usually to walk on an angle directly into your path, especially in situations where the opposite angle for you is a brick wall or a river). God help you if you're coming from their peripheral vision. (Or where their peripheral vision ought to be, because they have none, and the elderly have negative peripheral vision, which is one of those things you just have to encounter to understand.) It really stresses me out sometimes. I come home determined to write a really scathing diatribe about it, a three-volume companion to Remembrance of Things Past wherein I remember nothing but shitty navigational decisions made by Japanese pedestrians, but in time I relax, and turn my attention to other things.

Early on, when I lived in Osaka and got lost all the time, I theorized that I could become un-lost simply by following the Japanese, because presumably they knew where they were going. Doesn't work. I'd follow them for ages until we wound up at a wall, which they would bump repeatedly into like a remote control car or one of the one-line-of-dialogue town folk in the early Final Fantasy games. Perhaps they are better at walking in Tokyo.

Okay. Some readers have asked me to clarify what I meant by "panda porn" in the last entry. Here is panda-porn:

I trust you understand what I meant now. There are reasonable uses of pandas, and there are pornographic uses of pandas. That is pornographic. On the more tasteful end of the advertising spectrum comes:

Sharp. If dinosaurs aren't erotically fixated on your back now, they will be. Buy our product.

A couple of shots from around my neighborhood, starting with my house:

And the intersection of Gojo and Kawaramachi, where I live:

(Click on it for full size.) I took the photo, then I swapped places with the little guy and he took a photo. It was all good fun. And that's Japan: good fun, until the erotic fixation becomes apparent, and Kenny Rogers told you what to do at that point: you got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


January 2012, December 2011, January 2011, September 2010, August 2010, June 2010, March 2010, October 2009, February 2009, January 2009, September 2008, August 2008, March 2008, February 2008, October 2007, July 2007, June 2007, January 2007, September 2006, July 2006, June 2006, January 2006, December 2005, September 2005, August 2005, July 2005, June 2005, May 2005, March 2005, February 2005, January 2005, December 2004, October 2004, July 2004, June 2004, May 2004, April 2004, February 2004, January 2004, December 2003, November 2003, October 2003, September 2003, August 2003, July 2003, June 2003, May 2003, April 2003, March 2003, February 2003, January 2003, December 2002, November 2002, October 2002, September 2002, August 2002, July 2002, June 2002, May 2002, April 2002, March 2002, February 2002, January 2002, December 2001, November 2001, October 2001, September 2001, August 2001, July 2001, December 1999, November 1999, October 1999, May 1999, February 1999, January 1999, December 1998, November 1998, October 1998, June 1998, May 1998, April 1998, March 1998, February 1998, December 1997, November 1997, October 1997, September 1997, and the uncategorised wilderness of the Beelzetron era: 010622 - 010619, 010615 - 010611, 010608 - 010604, 010601 - 010529, 010525 - 010521, 010518 - 010514, 010511 - 010507, 010504 - 010430, 010427 - 010423, 010420 - 010416, 010413 - 010409, 010406 - 010402, 010330 - 010326, 010323 - 010319, 010316 - 010312, 010309 - 010307, 019223 - 010219, 010216 - 010212, 010209 - 010205, 010202 - 010109, 010126 - 010122, 010119 - 010115, 010112 - 010108, 010105 - 010102, 001229 - 001224, 001222 - 001218, 001215 - 001211, 001208 - 001204, 001201 - 001124, 001124 - 001120, 001117 - 001113, 001110 - 001106, 001103 - 001030, 001027 - 001023, 001020 - 001016, 001013 - 001010, 001006 - 000927.

Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.