May 8, 2021 - Easy Spring
Things here inside in Nakanocho are as peaceful and orderly as things are chaotic and entropic outside: IOC and LDP in the Olympic death spiral, the GOP hell-bent on destroying US democracy, Israel (& maybe Hamas) in the eastern Mediterranean, Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination debacle, etc.
Online meeting software. Had occasion to use Skype this week for a good discussion with the Rita Men, my buds from high school. What a painful experience. I can’t justify Zoom’s $150/year buy-in for the little I use it this year. A year ago, when I knew I’d be using it for most, if not all of my classes, it was a no-brainer. I’ve been trying to wrangle a senior/educator discount out of them, but that’s a story of its own. All of us agreed that the Zoom imposed half-time (40 min. limit) was better than the awfulness of Skype.
A rainy morning morphed into a beautiful late spring day here with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. After taming the podcast RSS feed to Apple’s changing requirements (often in contradiction to its own published best practices), I rewarded myself with an afternoon cocktail and the next few audiobook chapters of the Keith Richards autobiography. Balancing my blood pressure with the many grains of salt, but a good listen nevertheless.
May 3, 2021 - It’s Golden Week
The COVID-19 Vaccine Show continues here in Japan, and the Suga administration is going full bore to get to the 2% vaccination point. 🍿 We received word yesterday that the first of our acquaintances here in Japan has an appointment for his first vaccination on May 19. I haven’t received even the notification that I’ll get an appointment someday.
Golden Week is here, so lots of folks are enjoying a few days off. We’ll see what kinds of hoops the universities will fabricate for my teaching friends to jump through once classes resume. Until then, it’ll be a little McD in the park today and a virtual happy hour scheduled for what is predicted to be a rainy Wednesday.
On a sadder note, long time Kyoto man about town, Gordon MacClaren has left us. A long and somber Zoom wake was held on Monday evening. Many wonderful stories shared. His passing is a true loss.
Also, a reminder, especially for those who teach, we’re still cranking out the Two Teachers Talking podcast. The first episode dropped in 2012. We’ve learned a lot since then (about teaching and podcasting!) and we share whatever learn. If you do listen, please give us some feedback and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. http://twoteacherstalking.com
It’s a glorious 10/10 weather today here in Osaka, and I fell asleep in the sun on the terrace about 5 minutes into the podcast I was listening to. Now it’s catch-up time before I have to make meatballs for dinner later.
Stay healthy and safe everybody.
April 24, 2021 - なんでこれ？(WTF?)
Japan’s government, the IOC, and the universities are providing a quite amazing spectacle as they take denial to new levels with their handling of the COVID-19 crisis. I wonder if, when they do eventually cancel the Olympics, the reported numbers of cases will suddenly increase, as they did last year when the postponement was announced. Maybe then the universities will be freed by MEXT to shift to remote classes, too.
Meanwhile, less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated. No real explanation is offered beyond “time was required to approve the vaccines” and “foreign manufacturers something something.”
So, our own plans are left on hold, not only for the Mexico landing, but also things like routine medical checkups, license renewals, familial assistance, etc. Not to mention gyros, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches.
April 10, 2021 - Rites of Spring
April is here, the cherry blossoms have mostly floated down to their demise, and a new school year begins. Without me.
That’s just fine.
A few schools are having some startup glitches. (As Charles and I predicted, E135: http://twoteacherstalking.com). Concurrent with a strong and irrational push to lure students and teachers into classrooms, COVID-19 case numbers have skyrocketed, and some schools have needed to go to a Plan B after just a day or two of classes. No one other than SOME medical workers her have been vaccinated, infection numbers are near all-time highs, and the virus has mutated into several more contagious and virulent forms. Why is ANYONE traveling to sit in a classroom? Olympics? ¥?
But the weather is wonderful, and walks out to the nearby river (Ogawa) and adjacent park areas are very pleasant…especially with primo earphones and a couple of chu-hai. (Some of my grammar has been assaulted, but I wrote most of this long ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chūhai) Being a Chicago native, the memories of those first warm days (+40°F) breaking the winter hell are forever etched in the brain, a euphoric release and a tsunami of hope for the spring and summer ahead.
And more. This has become a special time of year for me, marking the anniversary of my arrival (2nd time) in Japan (4/18/91) and the beginning of a new school year. It is also the time of year, when, in 1989, I returned to Chicago after my first year in Japan, and buffeted by the first waves of reverse culture shock, sought solace in the one place I knew I could find it, the shores of Lake Michigan. I sat there on what was then the Planetarium peninsula, enjoyed the Chicago skyline, and contemplated my future.
At that point, I was feeling as if I had been yanked out of Japan just as I was getting into the groove of it all. I remember sitting on the JAL plane taxiing on the Itami runway away from the terminal. I was listening to saccharine J-pop (Yumi Matsutoya, Izumi Tachibana) on a Sony Walkman, wondering what I was doing, how life would unfold. Never understood, even then, that it was up to me.
Here, today, back in Japan, it has become my practice to take advantage of one of the good weather April days, grab a bento and a few beers or chu-hai, and head to some nearby spot conducive to contemplation. In Nishinomiya, it was Omaehama (Omaehama Beach), in Asashiobashi it was Osaka-ko (Osaka Port). This week, here in Miyakojima, it was the Ogawa (Oh River). No school year beginning for me anymore, but certainly a new chapter unfolding, and plenty to think about. Like every year, it’s nice to sit back, take stock, and appreciate all that I have to be grateful for.
A fine ritual.
April 3, 2021 - No turning back. Hammer down.
Mile markers just whizzing past the windows and I’m not lifting.
Enjoyed a LUNCH IN A RESTAURANT last week, treated by Alison and her very generous dad. (Thanks, Lee!) It was outdoors, on the restaurant’s terrace, only one other couple out there, far away, though we were on elevators going up and down. That was five days ago. The event? Celebrating one day early the expiration of my teaching contracts (3/31). No foolin’. I’m retired.
Saw this sad/inspiring article about how the pandemic may (or may not) be affecting young people’s thinking about teaching careers.:
- • As Pandemic Upends Teaching, Fewer Students Want to Pursue It: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/27/us/covid-school-teaching.html Ms. Ízunza Barba said she realized then that there was no other career path that could prove as meaningful. “Seeing her make her students laugh made me realize how much a teacher can impact someone’s day,” she said. “I was like, whoa, that’s something I want to do.”
Otherwise, the usual household chores, less usual tech irritants, and what I have to come to call “sharpening knives”: sorting out the writing applications I will use from here on in to get my words onto disk. Harder than you’d think.
Also had a nice lunch with friend and podcast partner Charles (ごちそうさまでした, Charles) after a headphone listening extravaganza at one of Osaka’s headphone emporia. (I’m going to miss those.) Yes, there is an audible difference between $4K headphones and $3.5K headphones. I didn’t buy anything. Feel free to hit me up if you want/need audio advice.
Touched base with the X1/9 Club friends, planning the next Rita Men online gathering. Meeting occasionally with students from last year who want to talk. Brother Dave doing well back in Chicago, though he hasn’t gotten his shots yet. On that front, stuck in Japan, we’re screwed. (USA ~30%, Japan 0.69%) https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations
Rowing, weights, walking, reading, guitar, the chores mentioned above, but mostly waiting for a project to step forward and volunteer for attention.
March 24, 2021 - From Zoom Room to real life
Yesterday I visited one of the universities where I have been teaching to clear out things from the office. Alison was with me, the weather was great, so we stopped for a fast snack and drink in one of the campus’s greener areas.
In a bit of true serendipity, I locked eyes with a young man from about 60 feet away in a shock of recognition. Yes, it was one of my students from last year, someone that, until that moment, I had only interacted with online: email, Zoom, etc. In a true anomaly, he bounds across the lawn and shouts, “Tony!”
(NOTE: Students often, especially in this university’s culture, will avoid eye contact with a teacher outside of class if at all possible. Nice, huh? Of course, at some of the other schools, the smiles and hugs make up for it.)
We had a brief, but very warm talk about the break, next year, etc. He was nice enough to thank me for the last year, express regret that I wouldn’t be teaching him next year, and apologize for his English. It’s true, Ryo was not a scholar, but he was always gung ho, was never intimidated by mistakes, and never afraid to ask for help. He’s the ONLY student from last year that I’ve met in real life, and I’m very happy it was him. Gambatte, Ryo!
March 15, 2021 - DST, COVID-19, No shots for you
Folks back home switching to Daylight Saving Time this weekend. The only thing worse than dealing with Daylight Saving Time is living without it. Imagine June 21, longest day of the year, 7:30 pm, and it’s dark. No joke, there must be a connection to the suicide rate. Oh, and did you consider that on that day, sunrise in Osaka is at 4:45 am?
This would also be the time each year that I’d be packing up in Chicago, getting ready for my return to Japan. While they had some nice spring weather last week, another major storm is on its way to the midwest, and don’t miss that, though it’s one of those things you just learn to live with. It has been hard not being back there for more than a year.
In 2020, I just made it back to Japan before everything started getting shut down. I managed a last dinner out with friends Bill and Sue, but things were already changing. We weren’t even sure what risks we were or weren’t taking. Things haven’t been the same since. The normally packed plane back was only about 50% full, and most of us were maskless - none were available.
It’s been hard on the adults, but unquestionably harder on the kids, maybe even on the ones too young to know how weird their world has become. CNN has a good piece on it.
Big picture, I have very little to complain about.
But I will anyway. Japan has dropped the ball with vaccinations and keeps fumbling trying to recover. Embarrassing, really, but the personal reaction is outrage. Not a joke:
"The populous Tokyo, Osaka, and Kanagawa prefectures will receive enough vaccines for around 2,000 people, with others scheduled for 1,000 people in the first batch." https://japantoday.com/category/national/vaccinations-for-elderly-to-begin-in-populous-areas-in-limited-supply?
USA? As of today, 2,000,000 shots per day. (No typos in this or preceding paragraph.)
Ah, well. Like I said, in the big picture, pretty damn lucky.
March 10, 2021 - A return to Kyoto
One day flows into the next.
Finished a book I’d begun long before classes ended. A re-read, actually. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters (細雪). Different than I’d remembered, more quirky, with the sisters coming off much less appealing than before. I guess after so long here, I see more.
Also, enjoyed a rare out-of-home experience: a trip to Kyoto. We started northwest, at Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), headed a bit south to the Hōnen-in 法然院 . A big bonus is that the cemetery next door is home to the memorial stone for the above-mentioned Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Westward to a cluster of previously unknown temples, then south to a spot with special memories for both Alison and I: the bridge over Shijo with its excellent view of the northern hills of Kyoto. Stopped for dinner at the Cafe Kiev, a favorite Russian restaurant of Alison’s. I think it’s only the third time I’ve eaten at a restaurant in the last twelve months.
Vaccination seems to be going well in the US, though it also seems many are moving too quickly to “open up.” Stupid. And tragic if it botches chances for a sure recovery that could be so close. Japan is not doing so well, as prospects for the shots and chances for international travel in and out of Japan get pushed farther and farther into the future.
March 5, 2021 - Sturgeon’s Law / The Dan of Steel
Long ago in a land far away, I had a “discussion” with a lady friend regarding our existence in this vale of tears. I held that 90% of “stuff” was crap. She disagreed. I didn’t know then that it was a thing. Sturgeon’s Law: https://effectiviology.com/sturgeons-law/
On the other hand, if this is what retirement is going to be like, oh, man: https://youtu.be/vjRisxOHAE4 In the other 10%, no spoilers.
Happy birthday, Chicago.
February 19, 2021 - I made it
My last scheduled class (can’t get too technical on that!) ended at 4:55 pm, February 10, 2021. Now, I am a former teacher. Retired. De-professionalized.
Yes, it has been a long, strange trip. “Oh, wow,” is a bit premature.
So, transitions aplenty ahead, complicated by additional navigational difficulties posed by the COVID-19 plague. What most people don’t know is that this retirement is already a year behind schedule. I expected the previous year (2019-2020) to be my last full year of teaching, with much of 2020 spent scoping out and preparing the way for our move to Mexico. Miraculously, I didn’t lose work, and the benefit of the extra year’s salary outweighed the advantages of an early departure. In the other 10%, no spoilers.
Of course, I considered the possibility of soldiering on for yet another year, or maybe just one more semester, but somehow, I knew it was time.
I have zero regrets having hung on for this last, bizarre year of remote teaching, though. I learned much from a great crop of students, and enjoyed learning the tech involved in teaching from home. I thank my students for making it a great, if crazy, experience. We accepted each other, trusted each other, and leaned on each other, just as it should be. Not a bad last year in any way. Thanks, guys.
But. A new adventure beckons. A new chapter begins. I’m stuck in Japan for a while longer, but what’s so bad about that? No work, free to savor the last sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of this place that pulled so hard at me 35 years ago and insisted I make it my home.
Then, vamos a México. After a million hurdles getting out of Japan and into Mexico, that is. It’s OK. It will happen. It will be good.
Entries from years past