photos students professional
the old site - sorry, links still broken
tony silva

March 28, 2020

Remember how awful 2017 was? Trump's first year in office, Brexit, Syria's use of chemical weapons on its own people, the US withdraws from the Paris Accords, North Korea missiles, Hurricanes Harry and Irma, earthquakes in Mexico (7.1) and Iran (7.3), and the Las Vegas shootings (58 killed). Chuck Berry, Sam Shepherd, Tom Petty, Walter Becker, Maty Tyler Moore, Henry Dean Stanton, Fats Domino, Dick Gregory, Jim Nabors, Hugh Hefner, Gregg Allman...all gone.

Then 2018 made 2017 seem not so bad. Trump did not resign. He was not impeached. Parkland, Florida shootings. Died: Anthony Bourdain, Stephen Hawking, Aretha Franklin. California wildfires. Here in Osaka had a big quake in June and then a really big typhoon (CAT 5) in September. We were just glad to be done with it.

2019 was great...if you owned stock. Trump was impeached - but he's still there. Mueller report fizzles, facts notwithstanding. Notre Dame fire. Christchurch Mosque shooting. Shootings, shootings, shootings. Houston Astros.

Now, it's still the first quarter of 2020, but there's little doubt that this year will be the worst in a while. No question, less than 90 days in.

So, where are we?

The Covid-19 virus is ravaging the world, Trump, Abe, and AMLO are all whistling in the graveyard, trying to pretend it's all going to be OK. It won't. Not for a long while. Normal is over.

Folks keep asking what it's like here in Japan.

Well, as in the US, the answer changes day by day, even hour by hour. When I got back to Osaka on 3/17, people in the US were finally waking up to the reality behind the presidential clown's denials and misinformation. The panic was beginning.

Japan panicked early, and looked as if it was going to be "OK." Getting off the plane, I felt I'd be safer here than in the US. But the next day, the cavalier attitude of the populace unnerved me. People out and about, no was business as usual. And I knew that was wrong.

Indeed, the expected spike is here:

The more cynical among us tie this spike to the final admission that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would not go on as planned. Did testing suddenly increase? Did the counting begin in earnest? Hard to say.

Universities also have FINALLY understood that calendars will need adjustment. Predictably haphazard solutions have followed. (Classes usually begin early April. It's March 28.) None have suggested scuttling the spring semester and beginning the academic year in fall - which would put Japanese schools in sync with the rest of the world, something folks have been trying out how to do for about 10 years, if not longer. Instead, we have new tentative start dates, some mandates for online teaching with little or no support structure. Chaos, in a word.

So, new unrealistic expectations will get dumped on us. We will respond as we always do: weigh, evaluate, and respond accordingly. We will keep in mind our students, all beginning a new stage of their lives in chaos, led by the clueless. Many are living away from home for the first time. There is no telling how their families have been affected by the pandemic. We will guide them, somehow, through this, too.

OK. I have work to do.

January 1, 2020

Happy New Year! あけましておめでとうございます!

September 30, 2019

March? Really? That's the last time I wrote here? Wow.

Since then a semester has come and gone, with a second just gearing up. No major complaints beyond the usual...too much coordination, too much colleague weirdness. No change there. Good students, good classes, no terrible weather or quakes. Who could complain?

Had a great trip to eastern Europe: Danube River cruise, starting in Budapest and ending up in Prague, hitting Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, and Czechia along the way. The ship was clean and new, the food was good, the service great, and the optional drinks-anytime package was great. I finished their Maker's Mark on the last day. We were even lucky with the weather. Two glitches. First, an odd smell that permeated an undercooled museum in Budapest on the first day that never left; I can STILL smell it. Second, the ship traveled at night, involving going through many locks and then docking on arrival at that day's destination. And each time we tied down in a lock or dock, it felt EXACTLY like a Japan earthquake. That didn't make for many restful nights.

The Chicago stay was great, as well, with really good weather throughout. Got plenty done on the house, got the grill out (tried a non-meat burger), and even got a chance to do five laps in a Ferrari. That's a Lamborghini on the track. The Ferrari California was our car. THANKS, BILL!

Short and expensive, but a great experience for me. We hit a high-speed go-kart afterwards to feed the driving jones. Had a Subaru Outback for two days, which was nice, and a 2020 Toyota Corolla that I hated. Why? Pure appliance and an awful dashboard design that also gave too much of the wrong information and not enough necessary data. Surprising.

One occurence that defies the odds: Three double-yolk eggs in a row. Don't want to think too much about what chemicals those chickens are ingesting.

Finally, the festering boil in Washington has been lanced, but it's too early to tell what the outcome will be. Just have to wait and see, like the rest of the country.

Now on to that second semester.


March 21, 2019

The days ofthese trans-pacific flights for me are numbered. Using some miles this time to fly back to Japan First Class and to return Business. Those kinds of upgrades just not worth it on the short hops to Mexico, and the airlines are different, too. JAL First Class is amazing.

So how was the trip? Mixed. The beginning was wonderfully relaxing: working through the second (and later the third) books of the Don Winslow cartel trilogy, enjoying the Telecaster, eating and sleeping when I felt like. If I recall, there was a lot of sleep. By the way, the one thing people say about the Winslow books, especially the third (The Border) is that you have to read them/it. I concur. Informative, powerful. Damn good writing.

While it was snowing when I landed, and pretty chilly in Chicago throughout, I made it without picking up a shovel once. I confess to spreading some rock salt once.

The universe shifted axis then, as relatives started dying at an alarming rate. Way too many in a one-week period. A couple of them very close. Not what I was prepared for.

The Mexico leg was never meant to be a relaxing stay, and it wasn't. The weather was great, there were no incidents, Alison warmed a little to the idea of suburban living, and the mother-in-law got a good look at the part of Mexico we are looking at–which was the main purpose of the trip. Driving was challenging because of the roads: general condition, poor signage, topes, and not knowing where the hell I was going.

Damndest thing, though. All my life I've been pretty resistant to the sun, but this time I managed to get burnt pretty badly–while sitting in the shade. Dunno what that's all about.

Now enjoying the last couple of days before the return to Japan and the start of what looks to be a very hard year, harder than most, for various reasons. The balcony is still in disrepair from the typhoon in September, Alison has additional responsibilities at work, we're on the condo board, plus, plus.

But today, the sun is shining, the skies are blue, and the gutters are clean.

OK. No complaints here. Coming back, Osaka.

Everybody else, Happy Spring!


January 4, 2019

Sixty-five and the the casting-off begins. Earlier in the year, a group of my high school friends exchanged a series of group emails about how much of our remaining work consisted of the casting off. As I pore over my list of holiday and birthday well-wishers - and, more to the point, noting those not among them - the comment strikes home. Indeed, this is the reversal point: no more accumulation, but instead, a jettisoning of the unnecessary, the non-essential. Easier for some than for others (I'm among the others), it can be an interesting mental/spiritual exercise. A nice luxury for those with time and means. Seems I have two more years for that to become an imperative. But the date approaches. Meanwhile, selectively pulling off the eels sucking at me one by one, as the opportunity or situation dictates. Learning to understand these are not losses.

As for the year's "out there," you don't need to hear any more from me. It was what it was. Fuck it. I bitch on Facebook, on Twitter, and direct my cash where it may do some good.

Closer to home, well. My newish MacBook Pro and I are learning to get along, and of late, nothing at all to complain about. Had a great Christmas and a great birthday, neither commonplace.

Of my seventeen classes, a few aren't much fun, but for "work" or "a job" I guess that's nothing to complain about, either. Some students stepping out from the shadows with great feedback and several classes blossoming before my eyes…overall, a very good year. Managing to fly under the age radar and keep my classes despite, well, never mind. Shhh.

The podcast is going great guns. It's getting easier (except for thinking up new topics), with theoretical (Google Feedburner analytics) "subscriptions more than double what they were two years ago. Hammer down, I say.

My audio world is paradise, except for the addiction that always keeps one itching for more, better. But, the gear I have, oh man. Tech progress the last couple of years, JHFC. In this is a great time for an audiophile to be alive.

Health. No news, which is the BEST news for a guy my age.

Big props to my bro, who retired 12/31/18. Can't imagine what it must feel like. He never has to go to work again. Just can't grok it.

Ahead? More guitar. More reading. Estudiando español. More quality time with friends. Trying to ignore the stock market and what it might mean for retirement.

And, finally, can't not say it. Trump, you're an imbecile destroying our country and irreparably damaging the planet.

Happy New Year, all. In the year of the pig/boar, make mine bacon. Double.

September 16, 2018

These months have been so demanding I can't tell if I'm working or on vacation. I guess if I was working, I'd know it (and be even more sleep-deprived), so this must be vacation.

Time in Chicago was great, if short. Great hop down to Nashville with Bill and Sue, the usual wonderful get-togethers with friends and family, and maybe best of all, much sought relief from the Kansai summer. When Chicago weather is a relief, you know something is up.

Bought myself a new guitar, a butterscotch (Squire) Telecaster, and I love it. A joy to play, even through the cheapo $35 practice amp I bought for it. Didn't even bother to change the strings, great right out of the box.

So. this summer in Osaka…yes, the earthquake. Then the heat. And, as if that weren't enough, the typhoon (Jebi, #21). Of course, it can always be worse, but we had some damage waiting for us when we got back from the US. A huge storage locker (500 lbs.?) took flight across the balcony and took out the railing at the opposite end of the balcony, taking with it some plants, etc. Our personal cleanup is still in progress. The silver lining is that our insurance will pick up the tab for some of the personal property damage and all of the structural damage to the building.

Oh, and…the living room air conditioner that crapped out in middle of heat wave replaced, washing machine repaired, kitchen/cooking range that was just being a pain in the ass replaced. All to add to the fun and expense.

As a final sayonara to summer, we went to a Hanshin Tigers baseball game at the legendary Koshien Stadium. A drizzly, misty September evening, a not very interesting pitcher's game that the Swallows took from the Tigers 4-0. Still, the evening was chock full of the zaniness of Japanese baseball, Tigers fans, and Osaka.

Next week we will say hello to fall with an all-Russian bill (Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky) by the Russia National Symphony Orchestra. Very looking forward to that.

Meanwhile, a new semester looms. Fall is always a bit easier with the falling temperatures, days off for holidays and school festivals, and, of course, the Christmas/New Year break. MIke-sensei is out of the hospital and will be taking back his Monday morning classes, thank you verymuch. If you're lucky enough to have year-long courses, you don't even need to re-train your students all over again.

So, until then, savoring evry minute until that first period class bell rings...

July 25, 2018

No one will argue that this hasn't been a hell of a semester. Stricken friends and colleagues, earthquakes, deluge rains, and crippling heat. On top of the rest.

But, it's soon to end, and as I type, another group of students are working their way through what I hope is a not-too-difficult exam for them. Looking back, it's easy to see how the crazy workload erases the possibility of newsworthy events, except for the (usually) tragic externally caused ones. Illness, death, natural disasters, breakups. There's just no room in the everyday routine for anything to really "happen."

Still, everything thing going well enough that to complain would be crazy. Sure, the additional classes that were taken on because of a colleague's illness is a burden, but then, it's not me in the hospital, so I'm saying nothing. Health good, wife good, minimal quake damage, jobs secure. OK?

However looking ahead to six weeks of NOT commuting, including three weeks out of Japan in Chicago. Really looking forward to this one. Hoping for some real keyboard time for writing, and pretty sure I'm going to pop for a lower-end blonde Telecaster and practice amp this trip. It'll be fun to be electric for a bit.

Of course, the best is seeing family and friends…and the driving. Sure, driving around in Chicago is way less fun than it used to be, and not only because now I'm old and the rental cars are, well, rentals. Still, the comfort and mobility are just bonuses on top of the sheer pleasure of being behind the wheel. OK, I'm an old fart. Don't care. I have the need for speed.

And…getting forgetful. Wrote and forgot to post last week!

May 4, 2018

Second half of a half Golden Week. Fighting with amazon about merchandise return, logging incredible hours of class prep, feeling the days slip by and dreading the long haul to August after this . Won't be easy.

The Mexico (mis)adventure didn't help. You may remember that we came close to buying an (almost) empty lot near el centro de Querétaro. Wacko lot owner had the lot on the market for a year, raised the price when we showed interest, decided not to sell, then, after we returned to Japan, decided to sell after all at an even higher price. After much thought, we concluded it was still a decent investment and said OK. Waited until almost last minute to make flight, hotel, and car reservations for the trip to Mexico squeezed into what is now "now" - the tail end of GW. Bit the bullet. Of course, the next day she decided again not to sell. Just the extra stress I need. The whole experience made a ready-to-move-into house a whole lot more appealing than a build-from-scratch project.

However, have to admit my classes this year are all good. That doesn't happen often. They're not all stellar, mind you, but not one bad one out of 17.

One thing I am looking forward to is a new computer. While this MacBook Air is probably the best machine I've ever had, it's a 2012 model and, dammit, I deserve a new one. What Apple announces at WWDC will determine whether I go new Air or Pro, but the time has come. Accepting bids now on mid-2012 MacBook Air, 13" 2 GHz Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD, very very good condition.

Something else to look forward to is some fancy flying. Seems a lot of my miles are set to expire in 2019, so looks like I'll be forced to use them up on a free first class ride to and from Chicago soon. Poor me. Thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience back in 2016, and thrilled to find myself in this fix.

Had some summer weather last weekend and I took advantage and grilled like a madman out on the terrace: shrimp, chicken, pork chops, burgers, as well as assorted vegetation. This weekend not looking too good for firing up the grill, but we will do a Cinco de Mayo: Tex-Mex tacos and tequila, appropriate for an America appropriated holiday. Then, a big cook for what will be the first of many many full-on work weeks.

March 1, 2018

Up at 2 am…if one can get up from not really sleeping…for a 6 am flight out of Querétaro back to Chicago via Dallas. Back to vacation normal: catching up with friends and family, mountains of work, with a little guitar and reading slipped in there somewhere. Love it.

February 27, 2018

It seems fate has taken a hand. The owner of the property backed out of the sale, so we're pretty much back to square one. Alison and our real estate amigo, Barry, say everything happens for a reason and what was meant to be will be. I don't know about that, but it's in no way a tragedy. It may be a lost opportunity, but it's also a comfort for the nearer future. Better, the episode has helped clarify priorities, re-opened options, and has let us get a good look at where we're at. In that sense, the trip was a good investment.

Not unrelated, yesterday we took a drive to nearby Bernal, a small mountain tourist city that we had considered (and may again) as a move location about an hour away from Querétaro. The big reason for the drive was a visit to a magnificent restaurant, Arrayan. Mexican food, but with a masterful touch at flavor combinations, fresh ingredients, and beautiful presentation. Shrimp in a pumpkin sauce, chicken-pork tacos with smoky chipotle, poblano peppers stuffed with pineapple, and who knows what else in a spicy sauce, and a bowl each of tomato (calling it that does it no justice) and cream of chile soup. Ended the day with drinks in our hotel (La Casa de la Marquesa, built 1751); a margarita for Alison and Herradura for me.

February 26, 2018

This may be the day we arrange for the purchase of what is basically an empty lot near the center of Querétaro. The location made it much more expensive than we'd expected, but our sense is that inevitable gentrification and development as more people escape Mexico City will protect the investment. That also gives us a blank slate in designing our future living space. It also means me giving up my thoughts for ten years of semi-suburban living, including my sports car. Such is life.

The town is extremely civilized. Cleaning crews everywhere tidying the streets. People on the streets strolling at all hours. No dogs barking or roosters crowing. The dogs are now all status breeds on leashes, not strays. People SMILE, people touch, people hug and kiss. However, there are many churches near our hotel in the center of town, all of which ring their bells randomly through the night. Cleaning and other carts rattle loudly by on cobblestone streets until past midnight, before six am, oh, hell all night long. But those noise problems should not follow us to our future location farther from the town center.

Of course, everything could change at a moment's notice: the deal could fall through, the stock market could crash, a real estate boom could make us comfortable for life...or much poorer than we've been in a long while.

January 3, 2018

Now, even the winter/Christmas vacation is in the rear view mirror, and some entity has its foot on the gas and we're speeding into a new year, for better or for worse. So be it. Control is an illusion at best. Just hang on for the ride and enjoy what you can.

Feeling very fortunate that no one in my my inner circles is ailing, sick, or otherwise in trouble, at least to my knowledge. Also, very aware and appreciative of not only my health, but also the fact that it will allow me to enjoy the last few years of my teaching career.

And, of so much more.

Tempering that is a very early start of classes at Osaka University, making today my last day of the break. Time is always flying by, but never so fast on those days when you're off.

Best wishes to all of you in the new year. 明けましておめでとうございます!

September 24, 2017

Hard to believe that's the summer vacation in the rear-view mirror…and I don't even have a car here, let a lone a rear-view mirror. That's no concern of Mdme. Time, though, who hurtles us forward relentlessly, our impotent wills be damned.

So, I find myself already several classes into a fall semester, yet again. That might sound like a complaint, but it's not. There are few enough that lie ahead that I am aware that I need to savor and appreciate each of those remaining. And, yeah, there's a palpable melancholy each time I walk into a classroom full of smiling faces (yes, bitches, smiling faces) and remember how few of those moments remain. And so, workload not withstanding, it's not hard to remember to savor every minute, and well, here I am, enjoying working. Totally. (Well, not the wake-up times and the commutes, but, hey.) For now, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to spend these last years with my students, but I'm also looking forward to starting the next chapter in my life a few years down the road.

What an incredible four-star visit to Chicago it was. Wonderful weather and moderate temperatures throughout, even if the traditional beach visit with the high school guys had to be scrubbed for a touristy walkabout in the downtown area because of the cool temps. I hear it heated up nicely once I left, but I'm happy to have brought the cooler temps back to Kansai with me.

The trip was still full of all the best stuff: sufficient sleep (!), time with my brother and best friends, Chicago's decadent food offerings, driving on the track and off, a road trip to one and only Annual Detroit Woodward Cruise, several days there with Alison, and the whole wonderful Chicagoness of it all.

Of course, that bliss was tempered by the ugly American-ness that Trump has polluted the country and the world with, even more depressing there than from my usual 6000 mile distant perspective. Very clearly, mincing no words: fuck Trump, fuck his followers/excusers/apologists, and fuck the Republican Party. Period.

There was one scare. A routine visit to the ophthalmologist revealed a not-so-routine condition that required immediate (emergency?) attention. To be honest, cowardice stopped me from reading all the details until after the procedures (both eyes), but it was a close call, it seems. At least judging by the relief on my doctor's face when he finished his work. Anyway, lucky again.

The condition

The treatment: Video 1 Video 2

And, so...pedal to the metal for the start of a new semester. Cool temps, good work, great students, embarrassing material comfort, good health.

No complaints here. My hair has even grown back after a very funny haircut "event" right at the end of summer semester. (Well, to be honest, I wish that American Airlines' airplane aisles were wider or their flight attendants were narrower. On a 13 hour flight, that accounts for a lot of sleep.)

May 6, 2017

Here in Japan, "Golden Week" is drawing to a close. We had a nice evening with David and Naoko at an old favorite izakaya in Nishinomiya. Many nights spent there in the nineties. Otherwise, it's been mostly work, and plenty of it. Yet, the fact that you're reading this is a pretty good indicator that I finally was able to get things under control. The weather has made its turn, as we begin the spring-summer season. In contrast to locals' insistence on there being four seasons "in Japan" (Okinawa? Hokkaido?), I hold that Kansai has but two: summer and the other one. Can't really call it winter. It's great to be able to venture out without a jacket, though that makes phone access a little challenging at times.

Still enjoying my headphones, still lamenting the lack of good new music to pipe through them. TV viewing has been limited to "Big Bang Theory" and "Fargo," with occasional clips of Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert. Grabbing and testing a few new productivity apps on the phone and Mac, always fun, and I've found a couple that will become permanent tools in the holster. Macs and iOS devices are as great as they say, but what are equally great are so many third party programs and apps.

Home life has been disrupted by the construction work involved in our building's major (12 years!) refresh/renovation. The entire building is encased in scaffolding and near-opaque black cloth. Noise, of course. And try to imagine the headache of rearranging a huge terrace full of trees and plants, with a huge storage box/shed for the workers' convenience. Along the way, we also replaced both the washing machine and the toilet.

In 36 hours, the long haul begins: 12 continuous weeks of classes with only a single holiday toward the end, spanning the rainy season and working up to the hellish Kansai summer. Not for the weak.

March 6, 2017

(Well, I don't remember that 1/9 entry at all, so pardon the repetition!)

Talk about shifting sand. Each time I've sat down to write this, events of the day have forced me to consider again what it was that I wanted to say. Repeat.

Since my November post <shudder>, aside from the obvious madness in the US, somehow Christmas, New Year / O-shogatsu, the return to school, and the end of the academic year, a number of podcasts, have gotten done and passed by, and here I am in snowless, balmy Chicago. And it's March 2017.

Of course, all this passed under the dark cloud of the election and the psychic shock and depression that it brought to so many of us. Of course, the full impact of the disaster cannot be known and will not be known for years, decades, generations. Even daily events upturn the cart regularly. For my feelings on things <ahem> I refer you to either my Twitter <@tonyinosaka> or Facebook <Tonyinosaka> feeds. You'll get the idea. I have no doubt many followers are sick of all the political entries, especially the non-Americans, but since November, politics has poisoned everything. And, I believe it's important. Persist. Resist.

Christmas snuck up on us, with my classes going through the 23rd. Not for naught, though, as one of my classes planned a surprise birthday party for me that morning. Very touching. Thanks, children! (Their preferred form of address.) Love you all.

A delicious Alison cornish hen Christmas dinner that David and Naoko were nice enough to join us for. Santa was good to everybody, as well he should have been. We've all had a hard year.

Oh, yeah, the birthday itself, and my wonderful wife treated me to what has become a traditional Kobe steak birthday feast. Exquisite.

Alison and I were both too beat to do the midnight trek to Heian Jingu, but we did get to Nara on the first for a bit of spiritual Japan. We had good luck with the crowds; finding a place to eat, not so much.

I didn't have a lot of very close relationships with individual students this year, so there were only a few tears, but it still was sad to have some classes come to an end. Many of the students were in my classes for two years and it's always sad when that goes away. I did get some very good feedback from many of my classes, and that always feels good. An unexpected highlight was noting an incredible increase in student performance in all of my classes at one of my universities. I'll look at the data and maybe make it my last academic paper.

Charles and I have cranked out some pretty good podcasts, and the listener numbers are up. Cool gear, using smart phones in the classroom, quitting, student feedback…and coming up, what we're going to try to do differently in 2017.

Alison is off with father and friends in India and Nepal with all the wonder and strife one can imagine goes with that. Me, happy to be here in an unusually warm and snowless Chicago with my family and friends. Of course, there's also the food: Fat Tuesday, smoked meats, Greek, Chicago hot dogs, real Mexican, Italian beef, deep-dish pizza (as if there were ay other kind), Lithuanian, real bacon, even chicken-katsu cooked by the dojo uchideshi. Best, of course, is the time. Time to, yes, get work done, but also to read, play guitar, think, and even sleep. Plus, of course, a car at my disposal 24/7. Heaven.

Still a week to go, more friends to catch up with, some laps to burn in the karts, and a Michael McDermott concert at City West. Making the best of every minute, enjoying the time off and preparing for a great year of teaching and learning ahead.

January 9, 2017

First, congratulations to my students who will turn 20 this year. Today is Seijin no hi, or "Coming of Age Day" here in Japan. Students dress up (suits, kimono, etc.), meet up with friends to "register" at the city or ward office, then change clothes for a night on the town. They can legally drink alcohol now, and many do, often to excess. Teachers can anticipate significant absences in their second-year classes.

Second, if you follow me on Twitter (or read the auto-fed posts on Facebook), you know how I feel about the dark cloud that has grown over the political landscape in the United States. The stupidity and ignorance of the American people that have created and now dismiss the situation are appalling. While, yes, we feel like we've heard it all before, there are many who still DO NOT GET IT. But they won't read this, so I'll save my rants for elsewhere.

Our blessed two-week winter vacation draws to an end, and tomorrow it's back to the classroom. Ironically, I just now feel well-rested enough to feel the creative juices flowing (hence the post), but also well-rested enough so that I don't think of the return to the workweek routine with almost any dread at all.

Likewise, the winter months leave me little to complain about here in Kansai, as, truly, there is no real winter to speak of. It rarely drops below freezing and days regularly approach the upper fifties (°F). I see the Chicago weather reports and feel for the folks back home. Love the city, but its winters…man.

And now, five less-than-full weeks to the semester's end, so, hammer down.

Wednesday, November 9


Thursday, November 3

cub swin!

Tuesday, September 13

Chicago and Maine

Chicago- Part 1

The first few days are usually pretty much dedicated to remedying sleep deprivation, and this visit was no exception. Then, there are some routine medical, dental, and eye affairs to tend to. Finally it's on to catching up with the bro and lots of great friends. All with the luxury of central air and a car in the garage. Fun this time was surprising my brother when he opened the garage door to find an identical twin to his white Ford Focus parked alongside his.

One highlight was including one of my old, greatest teachers from UIC, Nancy Cirillo, in a small gathering of former colleagues. This was at the Parthenon , one of the city's grand old Greek restaurants, home of flaming saganaki, which closed its doors for good just as I left town in September. The place was not only filled with memories of special times and adventures over the yeas, but also our Chicago wedding party.

Another was, of course, the old man's day at Oak Street Beach and then Pegasus in Greektown for rooftop food and a fine view of the city's downtown skyline. This is not to slight the excellent BBQ party hosted by the Duchess of Lauritania in Winfield or the special night at a Belly Up with Bill and Sue–with massages before. Then, of course, lunch with Den for Mexican at El Barco and a special dojo lunch with my karate teacher and friend, Shihan M. Miura. Hell, I even managed a get-together with some of the family!


My flight to Maine out of O'Hare left at 5:45 am, so I managed only about two hours sleep, bad, but even worse when I had budgeted for only one. So packing was a bit rushed; just grabbed the big suitcase and tossed all my clothes in it, then loaded my electricals into my carry-on. Had time for only a single beer before Alison's flight landed. We loaded up the jet-black AWD Dodge Charger and aimed for Dave and Sachiko's place in Rockland. Enjoyed the obligatory lobster decimation at Shaw's Wharf, grilled steaks and hospitality bar none at Chez Clough. A few exquisite relaxing days. Right after we left, Dave was off to Italy, where some of his excellent architectural photography was being exhibited.

A few days alone for the two of us then in Portland's Regency Hotel . Because of a traffic accident and monster traffic snarl-up that has us standing still for over 30 minutes, we almost missed our much anticipated foodie tour. More eating, drinking, relaxing. What else can you ask for?

Chicago - Part 2

Wasn't able to rally the troops for any karting, but did treat a few of my Kobe College students who were on homestay there to a small taste of Chicago: the Jazz Festival, Chicago hot dogs, and a final stop at Pizzeria Due. Some of my students made the school's Wikipedia page about ten years ago.

Ended this chapter with a few whiskeys and a salad (really) at the Weathermark Tavern with Bill.

Finally, the trip back. My driver called me "young man" three times. He was about my age, so not sure if it was his vision or his tip garnering technique. Then…the flight back. First Class on JAL. Oh, wow. Words fail.

Monday, September 12

Korea: March 18-22, 2016

Getting to this, finally, four months later, and surprised to realize how much already has been forgotten. Lucky to have made some notes to bring it all back.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Seoul: just another crowded Asian city. I expected another Osaka, different smells, different sounds. Well, thank you, Seoul for straightening me out. The surprises began with the airport. Shiny new and easy to navigate, even if schlepping distances were long. It wasn't much of a challenge to find the right bus, though I really have Alison to thanks for that.

The ride downtown was also a long one and the view out the window was an interesting mix of new and old. Standing out was the extensive park landscaping that cuddled the Cheonggyecheon river, complete with tree cover, bike paths, and other recreational facilities. And people using them.

The trains also were a surprise. New, clean, quiet, and best, uncrowded. Plenty of English signage made everything easy. Well, almost. The magnetic passes and their readers needed some tuning, as both we and the natives both had pretty high failure rates getting through the wickets on the first try. It also was interesting to see all the emergency gas mask dispensers on the platforms. You know, in case North Korea attacks.

The hotel staff was great. Friendly, helpful, and fluent in English. The lovely lady at the front desk had the complimentary power adaptor out for us almost before I finished asking where I could buy one. One thing that made us feel just like home, well, just like Japan, were the sky-high prices at the restaurant.

One of the big reasons for visiting Korea was to see the DMZ while it still is. We took a USO-sponsored tour that took us by bus from Seoul to Panmunjom. A very strange air settled over the bus as we approached the DMZ. Military presence was stronger my the minute, until finally, American soldiers boarded the bus for the last few kilometers, all the while lecturing us about what was and wasn't permissible. Off the bus with any bags or purse left behind unto a small lecture hall for more of the same. You got the sense they were serious, at least most of the time.

Surreal is the only word for actually being AT the border, looking across at North Korea, just meters away. South Korean military on one side staring north, North Korean military on the other, staring south. And yet, and yet…we line up to enter one of the several blue buildings that actually straddle the boarder, used for meetings and discussions between North and South. Indeed, the border runs through the main room, through the center of the meeting table. Soldiers stand guard silent at one end of the table. You can cross to the North side of the room, take pictures, make faces at the soldiers like it was Buckingham Palace. Meanwhile, outside, music and propaganda spill from a tower north of the border under which is what was described to us as a fake city: uninhabited, hollowed out buildings that are lighted each night to make them look like a city.

Other observations. Police everywhere, young, but serious, plenty of gear. There's a simultaneous optimism about reunification and a palpable undercurrent of fear of attack from the North. In the subways, there are numerous dispensers of emergency water and gas masks. Beer and Korean wines were everywhere, but imported whiskey was very difficult to find, and expensive when you did. We visited what was once must have been (and was still described as) a vital electronics mecca and bazaar, but was now a soon-to-be-abandoned ghost mall of one closed shop after another.

Yes, we were staying in the downtown tourist area of Seoul, but it was impossible not to be impressed by the large number of folks who could and would speak English, and fairly well. This, and almost always being treated like a fellow human being and not an outsider ( gajin ) did provoke a thought or two about choosing Japan as my destination back in 1988. Memorable was a group of very organized high school (junior high school?) girls scouring the area for foreign visitors to interview; cheerful, polite, near-fluent. At a small restaurant run by an older woman, Alison was having a coughing spell (symptomatic of the pneumonia was was going to contract soon). Though the woman spoke no English, she quickly brought out a cup of hot water and stood by Alison until she drank it down. Then, there was the Russian "monk" (con man) who we couldn't help but run into time and time again.

A surprise education awaited me when we took a much longer than expected walk to the Seodaemun Prison Museum. (Watch the video, avoid the comments.) Sad and fascinating history of the prison that has been used by the Japanese occupation and post-war regimes to hold, punish, and kill political dissidents. Here, too, high school volunteers were stationed at various points to direct and assist. Incredible English and poise.

As you can tell, a great, if very short,visit.

August 7, 2016

久しぶり。First things first.

Briefly, take a moment with me to stand back and witness the shitstorm that is the 2016 presidential election. Trump, those who follow you, those who made your candidacy a reality, you shame us all as Americans and as human beings.

For normalcy, we have the end of the semester, and with it the heat, humidity, the grading all with the grating cicada din in the background. Sensing that this year's crop of students not quite the equal of those of recent years; more low grades, more failures, and many more poor papers. Hope it's a one-time blip and not the beginning of a trend. Went through that in the nineties, and it wasn't fun.

Was also able to celebrate a union victory in a dispute at one of the universities where I work. ✊ The problem is a good indicator of how the work environment has changed here for part-time university instructors. Of course, not all university environments are so toxic, but something like this would be unheard of fifteen years ago.

Once the grades are in, and maybe before, it will be into the air for a longish stay in the US: Chicago and Maine. Lots of the usual good stuff in Chicago, and a planned lobster pogrom with my wife, Alison, Maine Dave, and his wife Sachiko. HERE is one of his more popular photography projects. Click, you'll be impressed. Until then, grading, grading, grading, and attempts to connect with as many local friends here in Japan as I can before I have to leave.

Now, a bit of sad news. I recently had to say an extremely sad good-bye to a creature that against all odds had become my very good friend. RIP Newton. Never saw it coming, but this little son-of-a-bitch's passing broke my heart. As best we can figure, he was 21 years old.

Soon to come: a short, inexcusably late account of our trip to Korea this past spring. Hope you enjoy it. It was a wonderful short hop that exceeded expectations.

With a final thank you to Mr. Willis Carrier, inventor of the air conditioner, I'm signing off. Got these bags to pack.

March 10, 2016

As they say in Japan, 久ぶろ.

No excuses. This is just another of the many things that needed to get pushed aside to accommodate the lava flow of work that periodically pours down as the semester progresses. That includes friends and family, sadly. Have been in Chicago "on vacation" for two weeks now, but except for the initial days of recovery from a severe chest cold and utter exhaustion, I feel almost as busy as ever–with admittedly more pleasant tasks that are much more under my control.

So far, much of the usual get-togethers with great friends and, of course, my brother and blessedly little shoveling. In fact, yesterday was a beautiful spring day with a high of 74℉. Minor household repair and maintenance, same for medical and dental. Managed a fast blast to Indiana with Bill to see old friend John and his family, and yesterday was kart racing day. The remainder of the trip is pretty full, but I'm trying hard to carve out some reading time…I don't think I can manage any writing this time, sadly. Even the writing of post is time-constrained.

As much as I would like to, I don't think I can avoid a word about American politics. Sigh. My hopes at this point have been reduced to looking back on this election as an aberration, a blip on the scale of temporary mass insanity. The alternative is point where the country accelerated its decline to idiocracy to hyper speed levels. It's all "Trump" in the media, but he's merely the lancet that pierced the ugly boil we all knew was there, hid from view, and hoped would just go away. Now we are awash in the pus. I cry for my country.

Well. More positively, that retirement light at the end of the tunnel begins to grow a bit brighter, with all the excitement, fear, enthusiasm, and uncertainty one would expect. Looking forward to enjoying my last few years of teaching and looking forward to the life that lies beyond.

So, what do you think? Will Tim Cook announce my next MacBook later this month?




Archive of 2013-2015 entries

Archive of 2012 entries

Archive of 2011 entries

Archive of 2010 entries

Archive of 2009 entries

Archive of 2008 entries

Archive of 2007 entries

Archive of 2006 entries




A Quick and Dirty Guide to the Japanese Meeting. Buy two!

Us and Them - Buy my book!

Two Teachers Talking - Podcast with Charles Wiz focusing on teaching English in Japan, and on education and learning in general.

Good morning, Москва. "The Japanese Meeting," and "Topics-Based English Classes in Japanese Universities." Two presentations at The University of Vladimir in Vladimir, Russia. September 2012.

Rita Men Podcast. An ongoing oral history of our days at St. Rita High School, 1967-1971. WAY more interesting than you think. Hope to have the first episodes up in September. (This one is dead in the water, I'm afraid.)

friends' sites (in no particular order):
Irv Pavlik
John Dean Blog

Hirose先輩 /Miura Dojo
David Stepanczuk
Davina Robinson
Kunio Kise
Natsuki Yamamoto
Greg Lowndes

if you were i (just some stuff I find interesting):
a&l daily
dilbert blog

the pour
japanese study
boing boing
joy of tech
geoffrey chaucer blog
tour chicago

on my iPhone (music & words):

Bottle Rockets
Jackson Browne
Guy Clark
Marc CohnRy Cooder
Dengue Fever
Steve Earle
Zoe Keating
Junior Kimbraugh
Robert Earl Kean
Paco de Lucia
Michael McDermott
Low Millions
Muddy Waters
The National
Rita Men playlist
Leon Russell
Andrés Segovia
The Stax Story (thanks, bro!)
Joe Strummer/Mescaleros/Clash
Them Crooked Vultures
Neil Young
Townes Van Zandt

This American Life Podcast
Japanese lessons (wishful thinking)
Lin's Bin WXRT Podcast
MacBreak Weekly Podcast
Mac Observer's Mac Geek Gab Podcast
NPR CarTalk Podcast
Spanish lessons
Slate Podcast
Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson

Radio Paradise

books being read or I wished were:
Chronicles Vol. 1,
Bob Dylan
The Coast of Chicago,
Stuart Dybek
Brave New World,
Aldous Huxley
, Neal Stephenson (yes, still...)
Mind Hacks, Stafford & Webb
Mexico, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides
The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi
Working, Studs Terkel
Various Historical Chicago Photograph Collections

Email me when this page changes  


better in theory

  • Ripping up a parking ticket*
  • Bjork*
  • Riding your bike to work*
  • One more
  • Topless beaches
  • Couscous
  • Forgiveness
  • Revenge. No, I take that back.
  • Martini bars
  • Blue Man Group
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Crossover vehicles. Including the Cayenne. Please.
  • Low-fat
  • "Mission Accomplished"
  • Harleys
  • Audiobooks
  • Room service
  • Indoor pools
  • Showing him/her/them who's boss....OK, maybe not.
  • Pretty good for the price.

*Stolen from Esquire


email me