I woke up in a strange place

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

February 29, 2004


1. The class misinterprets my thick midwestern accent as telling them to work in pairs and design powerful Roberts, and later, when everyone feels very foolish about it, the more expensive of the two Roberts is ceremoniously renamed after me by way of apology. 2. Hidenori shows up late and predicts a Trimalchio-esque parade of wealth and orgies for fuel cell engineers in the near future. 3. Speaking English in a normal tone of voice isn't working for Akira, so I've enrolled him in my special 'Shouting English' program. 4. Chikako O. likes the phrase 'beautiful place' and decides to write it down in her notebook, where it receives the unfortunate semi-phonetic spelling of 'butful plays'. 5. Open lesson. 6. The class works really hard to prepare goodbye parties for David Beckham and George Bush, although Beckham's group orders a karaoke machine, snacks and a wide variety of alcohol whereas Bush's group settles for 'American beef' and 'some present'. 7. Hiroshi N., Saori H. and I talk about which animals are not to be fucked with. 8. The 'digital camera phones' topic runs out of steam with about 10 minutes left, so the gang in the Voice Room settles for the usual round of questions about how cold Chicago is.

February 28, 2004


1. Tetsuya, looking to establish himself as the class hard-ass, will not admit to ever having been to the hospital. 2. The class is unable to determine what would occur in a theoretical meeting between their chosen hero and villain, Superman and The Terminator, because everyone disagrees about who is stronger and why. 3. Everyone chortles at the picture of the eggplant, which then becomes the target of a fierce round of 'too' complaints. 4. A salaryman and I shoot the shit about Japanese baseball for a while. 5. The otherwise young and healthy Miyuki has been ordered to eat prunes every day to combat her anemia, leading her to wonder if the Bad Fortune she received on New Year's Eve is coming true. 6. There is a downside to this job, and there is plenty of time to contemplate it as I spend 45 minutes trying to teach a senile, partially-deaf old woman the meaning of 'yes'. 7. The notorious taxi dispatcher is in the Voice Room and regales everyone with tales of incredibly gross things that he's eaten. 8. Emiko plays the passive voice like a robot playing the flute.

February 26, 2004


1. Given that this is the ass-end of a six-day week, finding my first lesson open was especially pleasant. 2. Sachiyo I. gives due notice at the outset that she won't be making any sense today when I ask "What's new?" and she replies that she's been drinking a lot of spoiled milk lately. 3. The class is excited to learn the term 'internal bleeding' and seem to think it will be very useful. 4. Keita and Sachiko C. fight through their massive mutual discomfort with each other to roleplay giving presents. 5. The group in the Voice Room become very concerned with giving me a 'Japanese name' but fail to reach any conclusions about what it should be. 6. Snowboarding is just way more popular in Japan than it is in America. 7. Naomi Y. was told by a fortune teller that the ghost of her long-deceased grandfather's spurned lover was following her, and Tadashi advises her that "the best way to be against ghost is ignore it." 8. Coupled with her inexplicably husky voice, Teenage Karate Aiko's time away from English school has left her sounding a lot like the Hulk.

February 25, 2004


1. Miho's story of being bitten at the monkey park in Bali is transformed from a tale of woe to a sparkling review of the passive voice. 2. Given the 'Computer Dating Service' profile cards to practice matching 'likes' and 'dislikes', Etsuko and Sachiko-Low engage in what amounts to either a stunning display of incompetence or a stirring display of solidariy with supporters of gay-marriage legislation by matching up 70 year old women with other women who have nothing in common with them and are 50 years their junior. 3. Open lesson. 4. The dog woman keeps processing 'space-ship' as 'house', much to the amusement of the rest of the class, and is eventually allowed to continue doing so. 5. Kinu doesn't seem to understand that if you're glad to be rid of your ex-boyfriend because he was cheating on you and you liked television more than him anyway, you're not really allowed to refer to it as 'broken heart'. 6. Good call not stopping by the Voice Room today, Japan, because I would have been surly. 7. An otherwise fine class on bringing things to parties is ruined when I fall asleep as Yurie K. is presenting gyoza to Youko E. 8. Mana gets a bit cocky in Adjectives Game #1, so I beat the holy hell out of her in Adjectives Game #2.

February 24, 2004


1. Yoshimi Y., one of the all-time slugs, would outfit her ship with a bed on a trip into outer space. 2. Michiko and Keiko K. try to teach me the Japanese phrases I should have shouted at the old woman who lost control of her bicycle while I was running this morning, causing me to trip and fall and wreck my right knee, and then just kept going. 3. The dog woman somehow manages to inhale the entire grammatical concept of comparatives, so nobody can compare anything any more until she coughs it up and it gets washed off. 4. Hiromi earns enthusiastic props for being the only teenager in Japan without a cell phone. 5. Erina persuades the other student to buy a two-bathroom house for her ten-member family and crows about her success afterward. 6. The highlight of Kanae's theoretical five-day world trip would be Las Vegas, where she has heard that they have toilets made out of gold and other toilets with "varying water levels", and she wants to find them. 7. The Voice Room is empty, sweet mercy. 8. Yuuichi (the older of the two Japanese Mike Sauls) just learned that he is going to be transferred to Tokyo and erupts in a typically genial-yet-volcanic session of pointing at people and shouting that "His vector is up! Her vector is up! My vector is down! Down!"

February 23, 2004


1. Tadashi rambles for a while about his deep and profound respect for the JUSCO chain of grocery stores, where he bought a new business suit and ate dinner off the sample trays. 2. I am not feeling much up to talking, so I send the students off to separate classrooms and have them write letters to each other about their everyday activities, making like a mailman whenever somebody finishes one. 3. I break out some art vocabulary for Kayo and attempt to diagram the comedic implications of the term 'still life'. 4. I am perfectly willing to deal in moral absolutes and declare that students who choose 'money' in the 'what would you bring to a desert island (much of something, many of something, a little of something, a few of something)' exercise are not going to heaven. 5. The mob of deaf-mutes who occupy the Voice Room today expect to watch and coo as a series of exotic foreigners deliver 40 minute monologues, so I cover my face with a notebook until they reluctantly begin a half-hearted conversation about winter sports. 6. Maiko N. used an emergency phone line to order reggae tickets and Naomi Y. swiped a movie poster from the video store for her co-worker, so I introduce the idioms 'where do you draw the line' and 'gray area' and let the class roll with those for a while. 7. 16 year old Ayaka uses 'going to' to map out her future in terms of the arrivals of the husband, the children and the grandchildren. 8. English-less diffident 12 year old Mana and I are both bored shitless by a matching-food-cards game, so I start showboating and that pisses her off enough to get us through to the bell.

February 22, 2004


1. For his last lesson, Yohei and I reminisce about the good times and how difficult definite articles are. 2. Although it is not highlighted in the text - and I've never noticed it myself - Yoshihiro, professional beer-taster, pointed out that the friends in "Dinner With Friends" (Level 6 #29) start with bourbon, move on to wine, and finish with brandy. 3. Rainy weather keeps the students away, thereby allowing me to chill in the teachers room for a lesson, free of conversation. 4. Takashi M. is up to his old tricks, booking blocks of lessons for several hours straight on weekends and flunking the hell out of each and every one of them in mute bewilderment, prompting healthy volleys of rage from the teachers in the comments section of his student file. 5. The Whore of Gion has to apologize to one of her customers who spilled wine on her favorite dress. 6. Kyoko N. makes sentences like butterflies but does surprisingly well with commands. 7. Another open lesson, bless its heart. 8. Failing to make a certain critical leap, the group in the Voice Room can't understand why I am not an NBA player given that I said I liked to play basketball and my English is so good.

February 21, 2004


1. In a discussion about guilt, unintended consequences and suicide, Masaki wonders if he's too hard at the old folks on his mini-volleyball team when he curses at them during the games, but then decides that he's not. 2. With the passive voice on the table for everyone to use, Tooru hides a giant rat in the basement of the house-with-a-secret he must sell to the rest of the class. 3. Hideki K. sweats like a motherfucker and cannot be convinced to use the past form of 'have to'. 4. In a smooth move, we transfer a student from another class into my open lesson and then transfer her back right before it's time, thus preventing the staff from booking someone else into it and thereby preserving the sitting-around I had planned. 5. The good thing about terrible students is that you can catch quick naps while they struggle to answer questions about things you've just read to them. 6. As he continues to expend incredible effort with absolutely no results, Morihisa comes to represent evidence that brains are sometimes just not fair to those who own them. 7. I spend 45 minutes teaching 'his / her name is' and 'do you have a (family member)' to an old woman who, unclear about the family member concept, keeps asking me if I have various animals and gets a bit cranky about my continued failure to have them. 8. Sakiko O. plays a very, very big tuba.

February 19, 2004 I knew that my life was going well when I walked into work, the room full of teachers went silent and the head instructor said, "Here's our secret weapon." Evidently, a challenge was made and there is to be a bowling competition between our school and one of the others in the area on Sunday. I'm not sure what is at stake, but I have to say, this is exactly what I want to be doing with my life right now. The Year of the Monkey is most certainly underway.

Today, on the 26th anniversary of my birth, I am going Buddha-spotting. Some may not be aware of the wide variety of Buddhas that can be seen out in the world. Here are some I saw when I wasn't even looking for any:

A Buddha sitting on a building in which other Buddhas were reclining;

Buddhas teamed up with Ultramen, an imposing alliance against anyone who would cause trouble in this particular mini-shrine-lookin'-like-a-chicken-coop, seen in larger view below:

Complicating efforts to work that one out was its location at the Memorial to the World's Unknown Soldier, somewhere off in the hills of Kyoto;

The point at which blessing shit just gets indiscriminate.

February 18, 2004


1. Training seminar. 2. Training seminar, continued. 3. Yuka T. is reading a 'simplified' version of "The Picture of Dorian Gray", so we talk about that for a while and then I have her do comparisons of adverbs using Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, the Lilliputians and the Brobdignagians, which goes pretty well. 4. Keita bangs his head on the desk a few times, the dog woman makes it known that a monkey attacked her brother for making eye contact with him, and the poor third student who wound up in this class just gapes. 5. I was blessed with good old Hideki I., another one of our phantom students, but another guy signed into the class and thereby ruined what ought to have been an open lesson. 6. I take to stabbing myself in the leg to stay awake during an intensely boring apologies lesson. 7. Keiko N. wishes for 'hand power', which is eventually understood to be the ability to heal people by touch, but she insists on referring to it as 'hand power'. 8. Yuuichi and I slag off people who only travel in tour groups.

February 17, 2004


1. For reasons none of them were capable of articulating, the class placed Ireland third on their list of 'most dangerous places in the world', one spot ahead of North Korea. 2. I did a lesson on apologies as a subtle cue for Tadashi to apologize for being such a fucking dimwit. 3. Bless you Rie K., phantom student, bestower of open lessons! 4. Chisato shrieked a lot, mainly. 5. Middle-Aged Yoshie was making her electronic dictionary say 'CAT' when I walked in, giving little cause for optimism that she might be able to handle adverbs. 6. The wombats were sleeping when Naomi-O visited the zoo on her honeymoon in Australia, so she bought a souvenir wombat from the gift shop. 7. Hiroyuki thanked me profusely for teaching him how to answer business phone calls in English, although his habit of naming all of the hypothetical characters "Mr. Nonny-nonny" was a bit odd, unless he was trying to make a Shakespeare reference. 8. Masaki resumed his habitual bitching about the lack of commitment and discipline among the other members of his mini-volleyball team, all of whom are more than twenty years old than him, dropped subtle innuendoes about the amount of chocolate he received for Valentine's Day and then admitted it was all from members of his mini-volleyball team, declared his intention to be the greatest mini-volleyball player of all time, not to mention the greatest English speaker at our school, tried to get a scouting report on his competition (the other high-level students), bemoaned the absence of teenage girls in their high school uniforms from his usual lesson times, bitched about the old folks on his mini-volleyball team some more, took off his shoes, stretched, bragged about the recognition he has received in the mini-volleyball world, ran his fingers through the Cthulu hell-mouth that is his hairline, drooled a bit and slumped meekly in his chair as the bell rang and I was finally released.

February 16, 2004


1. Satsuki's whirlwind four-day world trip would include stops at Tokyo Disneyland, California Disney World and Florida Disneyland, but it would omit EuroDisney in favor of messing around in Hong Kong. 2. The problem with teaching Tadashi any language skills is that he's just going to use them to talk about his cult, so you're better off doing your job poorly with him. 3. The class helped Keita figure out that "Under Siege 2" was the movie he watched on television last night. 4. I held a seminar in the Voice Room on expressions to use when responding to good, bad and surprising news, and I took care to point out that the perennial favorite "ehhhHH?!" may be fine in Japanese but really isn't in circulation in English. 5. Having spent four hours there during a homestay in rural Pennsylvania, Maki-2 described Pittsburgh as a place where "the building is tall and many people are crowded," which more or less matches by impressions of the city and the people who live in it. 6. Marina was five minutes late, so I omitted some of the more difficult letters (Q, U, V, X, Y, Z) from the 'find household items for each letter of the alphabet' game. 7. Osamu said that, in Japan, having your wife as a doubles partner in tennis is thought to lead to divorce and he's seen first-hand evidence of it, but he may give it a try anyway because if it pans out he'll get to play tennis more often. 8. Lacrosse is an improbably popular sport among shy high school girls.

February 15, 2004


1. The appearance of several dozen Pinkerton cover bands in the Vancouver area about four years from now will be directly traced to Kana's upcoming two-week homestay in Canada. 2. An attempt to use the '20 Questions' format to work on 'How (adjective)' is it?' questions went down in flames because, despite a lengthy series of explanations, clarifications and diagrams, no one other than nigh-inarticulate Naoki understood that when the teacher says "Okay, who has a place?", you're not meant to reply "I do! My house!" or "I do! Himeji Castle!" 3. Shin, you magnificent bastard, thanks for staying home on a cold day and giving me an open lesson. 4. Maki and Metal Takeshi's team shot down Souichi and Miki's offer to trade a few tents for a little alcohol. 5. Blinky showed up to the Voice Room full of crackpot notions and wanted to talk about American department stores, having recently completed a study of Nordstrom's in his human resources management class. 6. The biggest surprise of Katsuhiko's life was when he woke up late one day, whereas Morihisa may or may not have eaten a canoe. 7. Open lesson, thou fragile creature, I thought thee certain victim to the crushing maw of commerce, but thou wert fully-grown into 40 minutes of sitting around and doing nothing! 8. I'm not naming names, but I'm pretty sure that someone was eating dog feces before this lesson.

February 14, 2004


1. Minoru, inarticulate beady-eyed pachinko-addict degenerate that he is, can form 'it's too (adjective)' complaints with the best of them. 2. The staff asked me to write a Level 5 Progress Report for a student who has taken one Level 5 lesson, because they're trying to sell him more lesson tickets. 3. The class practiced rounds of 'Will you (do something) with me' questions and it was discovered that no one much wanted to do anything with anyone else. 4. Naoko-4 confessed that her best friend gets angry at her because she sings too quietly at karaoke, giving me a perfect segue into a lesson about adjectives with prepositions ('worried about', 'pleased with', 'rude to', et al). 5. Manami has taken a second job as a pub waitress in addition to her day job as a food critic, which may strike some as a conflict of interest but damned if I'm going try to explain that concept to her. 6. Saeko Y. is stressed out because she must spend 1 million yen in one week at her university office or their grants will go down next year, which is approximately the stupidest thing I've ever heard to be stressed about. 7. Yohei will be defending his thesis next week, and he sincerely hopes that the commiittee doesn't discover his weak point, which is the radiation data regarding whatever the hell he built. 8. For what I'm told was the third straight period, Ecuador was the main topic of discussion in the Voice Room.

Earth-J has two Valentine's Days where the rest of world has only one. February 14 is the ladies' half, wherein the women of the nation are expected to present males with chocolate (whether they have squired this male, hope to squire this male, or are simply a co-worker of this male and wish to have harmonious business relations with him). One month later, March 14 brings "White Day", wherein men are meant to return the favor. I think it's a bit unreasonable for a culture to prize submissiveness in its women and then expect the poor women to make the first move, but that's Japan for you. Our school manager brought some chocolates and a note in Japanese that roughly translated to something about how nice it was that we could all work together happily, and she drew a picture of a woman (possibly her) standing on someone's head (possibly us). Anyway, I thought it was a lovely gesture. Strangely enough, though, even though it is clearly February 14, they don't celebrate Mike Saul's birthday here, although everyone agreed that it was a good idea and there may be a street festival to mark the occasion next year.

Am I allowed to have a birthday while I am in another country? This is a question of some controversy and while interesting points can be raised on both sides of the debate, I suppose it all comes down to the quality of the presents one receives. I am going out on the road for a little bit on the occasion of my own day of the year, February 19, but all of my activities are merely prelude for my plans at the beginning of March, which involve an amount of monkeys that completely beggars belief.

Did you know that whitey wears a uniform? (Yeah, I know, of course he does: it's the clothes he stole off the black man's back.) It does lead one to wonder who penalizes whitey for dress code violations, but those are questions for another time; listen now, if you crane your ear, you can just barely hear the giddy shouts and cheers of young whiteys across the land, all decked out and on parade in uniforms unwrinkled and new, proud little peacocks one and all, still early in the spring of life's long year of taking shit that isn't theirs.

And although those uniforms will never be so bright again as that first day, before the bloodstains and extra mustard that mark whitey's work take up their rightful splotches on the arm, on the knee and just over the right breast, although time will take its toll, those memories will last forever, right up to the finale of the life, which evidently involves a chair in a field and some glasses off to the right, a hell of a twist ending for those who were expecting a sofa or perhaps some plates.

February 12, 2004


1. Given a chance to change their lives, everyone decided to be actresses. 2. Controversy erupted in the 'say nothing true to each other' game when Naomi thought everyone was calling her ugly because she said she wanted to get plastic surgery and they told her not to do it. 3. Yuka K. explained why her elderly parents can't take care of her big dog: "Their power is weak." 4. A middle-aged salaryman and two teenage girls pitted Jackie Chan against Saddam Hussein in the 'Hero vs. Villain' game with fairly boring results. 5. Tomoko bombed what was supposed to be a free lesson for me (e.g. I wouldn't have to work), and she fucking sucked at relative clauses. 6. I tried to teach three phrases for talking about feeling sick, and while the class was able to master "What's the matter?", "I have a _" took a while longer and "Why don't you __" never really got off the ground. 7. Saeko-2 was pleasantly daft, thanking me profusely for helping her to realize that while her job as a dietician at a retirement home may not be perfect, it's better than being a dietician for a group of samurais, because she couldn't understand a word they were saying in 'The Last Samurai'. 8. The Voice Room emptied out after Paul's "Chocolate Cake Topic Voice", in which students could eat a chocolate cake and learn the appropriate verbs-with-prepositions for talking about making a cake, so I was able to chill for the final lesson of the day, and now I'm on weekend.

February 10, 2004


1. Miwako gave me an envelope with two tickets to every art show opening within 100 miles of Kyoto in the next two months, which was very nice of her and signified progress in my attempts to get along better with the rich housewives who make up a large portion of our clientele. 2. The Voice Room was empty. 3. Keita has a new black trench coat that includes actual parachute straps across the front, and a few teachers have been assuring him that it's very cool in order to revenge themselves upon him for being such a fucking mope. 4. Miho was a no-show, possibly due to conflict with the Indonesian lessons she also takes. 5. Naoko-3 will be going to Tokyo Disneyland as a high school graduation celebration for two days in March, but she would spend three months there if she could. 6. Katsuhisa no-showed for a man-to-man lesson, blowing roughly $70 by doing so, but his parents are paying for it, so it's no big deal. 7. If Kana had super-powers, she would be able to stop time and change her age in order to get out of having to take her college entrance exams, and her superhero name would be James Bond - while Naomi-HP (Harry Potter) would be someone called Bewaddajimmy and fail to enunciate. 8. Michiko-3 bought a nice lamp in Paris and found her English skills up to the task of haggling over the price.

February 9, 2004

It occurred to me today that I've taught more than 1,500 lessons since I arrived in Japan (7-8 per day, five days a week, nearly nine months), and I've completely forgotten most of them. I remember the various devices and techniques employed for each lesson point, of course, because they come up again, but the actual content of each lesson is generally gone from memory within a day or two. (That's fairly normal for teachers here, as best I can tell.) In an idiosyncratic exercise, then, I'm going to post one-line recaps of each day's lessons here until I grow tired of doing so or, alternatively, I achieve some transcendent truth in the doing of it. (Language gets to be like modal jazz at times; I use unnecessarily complicated structures just because they can be justified within the scale.)


1. Michiko-2 broke her knuckle falling over 'a stone' at the convenience store, which I agreed is a dangerous place. 2. Chieko and Yuka T. speculated that there would be tension in a hypothetical meeting between Doraemon, the cat-like robot hero from the 24th century, and Napoleon, the former emperor of France, especially when Napoleon tried to steal Doraemon's 'instruments' in order to further his 'ambition'. 3. Instructed to answer only with lies during introductions, an inexplicably aggressive Makiko badgered poor Etsuko with questions like 'Do you like dog food' and 'Is your husband dead'. 4. A half-assed discussion of food took place in the Voice Room, with the main conclusion being that someone ought to sell pretzels in Japan. 5. Sachiko-1, Maiko-1 and I nearly put each other to sleep with a thoroughly boring rendition of the 'force (someone) to (do something) vs. make (someone) (do something)' lesson. 6. Kanae announced that she lives on a ship in the sea of Japan, and Tomomi let that pass unchallenged. 7. The sleepy monk raised the topic of bad poultry and then just listened as Osamu and I chatted about how Americans will eat pretty much anything. 8. Two genial salarymen agreed that both of them work 'well' but get up on Sunday mornings 'badly'.

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.