I woke up in a strange place

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

November 26, 2003 What the fuck does this mean?

My ability to organize and understand schema is going to be completely destroyed by this country or it's going to transcend mortal bounds. I'm calling even odds on either outcome. Seriously, what the fuck does that mean? No one can explain it to me.

On the plus side, I now know where lives the soul of rock and roll.

Christmas decorations have been up for a month and a half already, but there's nothing going on for Thanksgiving here in Japan. The dual holiday of last weekend -- the Emperor's Birthday on Sunday and Japanese Labor Day on Monday -- gave people a day off from work or school and a chance to reflect upon the real meaning of the occasion, which appears to have been the tremendous importance of descending upon department stores like packs of screaming hyenas and drinking for three days straight, in multiple cities if at all possible. (Happily, a number of my students achieved this goal, proudly announcing that they were blitzed in Osaka, Kobe and other prefectures entirely.) The Japanese love holidays, and they're not picky about where the holidays come from; the bars made the most of Halloween for theme parties and the stores are united in blaring "Do They Know It's Christmas After All?" at people who may or may not in fact be aware that it is Christmas after all. Thanksgiving, however, appears ready to pass without a glimmer. At the very least, I'd think that Japanese restaurants would pick up on it, transpose it into "Eating Day" or something along those lines. People would go for it. I mean, I know there's going to be a ton of rabbits up in here come Easter.

There will be no home-style Thanksgiving for me, as I must remain in Japan through the holidays and long into the next year. I like the food -- my aunt has done a fine job ever since she took the reigns as the family chef -- but the thing I will really miss is the annual Thanksgiving football game with my friends. In many ways, it is the most powerful day of the year. It is a noble, fierce contest wherein the souls of poets are wrapped in the manias of the XFL and placed in the bodies of the Chicago Cardinals. Rosters are drawn up weeks in advance, lyrical epics are written of the QB and WR combos thusly formed, and even the laziest of bastards go into training as far as two weeks in advance of the day. Injuries are no excuse. Separated shoulders and skewed ankles have been disregarded in past years; two years ago, I played with a newly broken finger. Members of the circle are returning from all over the country for the game this year; one guy is even flying in from 1914 to play. I have a fucking fantastic new jersey but alas, I do not have the resources to cross the ocean with it. I am not sure if I will ever regain the trust of certain of my compatriots. I can only hope that redemption will be considered when the full extent of my activities in Japan comes to light.

Forced to make other plans for Thanksgiving, I have done so. I will be gone for two days, during which I cannot disclose my location. They are perhaps the most powerful plans I have ever made.

The sky is full of all but stars tonight.

November 10, 2003 I hope you liked the quintessence. It was a powerful day. Today's entry will restate themes from earlier entries and tie up some old plot threads before I move on to new topics in the future, such as how I'm sick of these Atkins people insulting bread, which is a good food and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

Wherever you go in this world, there is no escape from anti-climax: the Hanshin Tigers lost in Game 7 of the Japan Series, falling short just like the Cubs and Red Sox did. At last check, one of the major daily newspapers was still running front page stories about the Tigers, even though they're not playing any more. (I don't know what the stories are about. Unfortunately, the English versions of the newspapers here are much more restrained than the Japanese originals, and they run actual news on the front page.) One of my students attended a financial seminar where an executive from a major bank -- I will refrain from saying who it is to avoid the faint risk of libel charges, but you might have heard of them -- announced with a straight face that the Japanese economy is going to rebound based on absolutely no evidence other than the fact that the Tigers have been successful twice in the last 50 years and the economy was strong in those times. The student was tremendously excited. Since he appeared to have made no plans to check himself prior to wrecking himself, I attempted to check his self for him, but I don't think I was entirely successful in doing so. Well, I hope it works out, and I hope the currency doesn't crash until after I leave.

An update on the battle against panda-porn is long over-due. Even when I am silent, I am busy. Nothing escapes my notice, not even evidence as well-concealed as the sight of two pandas fucking on the side of a train car:

You know what, though? This is one case where the parents and the zoo-keepers have to share some of the blame, too. This is what comes of the tremendous social pressure on pandas to reproduce. In some twisted way, in their narcotic-addled state, these poor pandas are just trying to do what they think they're supposed to do, and some callous, cynical bastard is making pornography from it. The pandas get locked in a cycle of sex and drugs, and they can't get out, even as their very bodies are falling apart. This panda's nose has caved in from years of cocaine use:

How long has it been since that panda had a warm meal? They have him out there working the streets, and he can barely stand. Even when you take them in and try to turn them around, when night comes, they become desperate and lapse back into their old habits, as this police photograph shows:

That moment of clarity that flashes in the panda's eyes is absolutely heartbreaking. For a moment, it's as though they know what has become of them. For every panda we save from a life of pornography, there are three more who are never heard from again. Perhaps most despicable of all is when these smut-merchants use pandas to recruit other pandas. Please be advised that what follows is extremely graphic material:

How can they get away with showing that in public, you ask? I don't know. I really don't. Here are some student email comments on the panda-porn issue:

you've got 2 nice pics of panda...
and what the hell are you talking about!?
i mean, why porn????
i was like, "huh!?" you kidding or something?
maybe you know things more than me. yeah.


talking about a panda, i got a panda-shaped key chain from a japanese publisher (i dont remember the name..).
it was like a prize, but it's not...
i mean, if somebody reads at least 2 books from that publisher, s/he can get that stuff anyway. so, no winners.
i applied for that before i read your website about panda, so when i got it (obviously after having read about the panda story), i was like, "here's a panda again... yeah, marc, you're right. pandas are really popular in some strange way in japan..."

Moving on to another emotionally-fraught topic, here is a picture of the bike-in-the-river:

Several perspectives were offered on whether I should take the bike. The Israelis in the house got all excited and wanted me to get it so they could try to break the lock like they said they used to in Tel Aviv. My friend Katy noted that, in Spirited Away, the abandoned bicycle makes the river spirit sick, and he bestows many blessings on Sen / Chihiro in thanks for her removing the bicycle and making him well again. I thought that was an awfully good point, especially as I've found Spirited Away to be eerily accurate in all other respects regarding life in Japan. Several of my students confirmed the near-disposable attitude towards bicycles in the city and recommended that I take it. Kurt suggested that Japanese bikes may be like lizard tails, and when pursued by a predator, salarymen will leave their bicycles behind and escape. On the other hand, The Bicycle Thief continues to be a movie that I have seen, and I kept worrying that the poster-hanger would come back for his bike, even though it had been in the river for more than a week. The Israelis insisted that if I took the bicycle to the local police box, saying that I found it abandoned, then if nobody reported it missing within a month, it would become my property, and I could say the lock was broken when I found it. Reluctantly, I took the bike. I hope I made the right decision. I can't second-guess myself now. It would be pretty silly to go and put the bike back in the river.

The elections were finally held on Sunday. There are no laws -- and, apparently, no anger or resentment -- against noise pollution, so the numbers of Assholes With Megaphones reached a sort of critical mass in recent days, with campaign vans parked outside our school from open to close and trucks with speakers driving around every neighborhood of the city as early as 7AM. There was even a helicopter flying overhead at one point, blasting some creep's message loudly enough that it could be clearly heard on the sidewalk. In an exciting development, though, none other than Godzilla was running for office. On Saturday, a van arrived with Godzilla's name painted on the side in big red letters, and smiling people stood on top of the van, waving and making speeches for hours. The best part is that although Godzilla himself was apparently elsewhere at the time, he deployed little Godzukis to run around and hand out campaign literature. Here is photographic evidence:

There were two Godzuki-squads on duty at the same time. When a squad saw someone walking through any part of the square around the train station, they'd sprint after them, with the Godzuki assigned to get the passer-by's attention and the guy with the yellow-and-blue sash on propaganda duty. (There was a third guy, the one in the blue coat, whose job seemed to be to protect the Godzuki's flank.) So, naturally, we chased after them:

The guy in the yellow-and-blue sash was annoyed by our presence, but he channeled his anger into whatever harangue he was delivering to the voter. Godzuki was sort of bemused. Shortly afterwards, I had a man-to-man lesson, and I asked the student if she knew that Godzilla was running for office. "Yes," she said. I asked her if she was going to vote for him. "Yes," she said. I said that was probably a good idea, and then I asked her if Godzilla was going to destroy the city if he lost the election. "Yes," she said. I got all wide-eyed and asked her what office he was running for. "Yes," she said. I asked her if she understood anything I had said. She smiled and tilted her head to the right.

No, panda! Stay away! Damn you, ram, defiler of innocence.

November 7, 2003 While it lasts, please enjoy some fun I had with bandwidth thieves (scroll down to the part about Tom Bosley).

November 3, 2003 quintessence (n) 1 : the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies 2 : the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form 3 : the most typical example or representative

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.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.