Tuesday, September 13
Chicago and MaineChicago- 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!Maine
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.
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.
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?
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.)
on my iPhone (music
books being read or I wished were:
better in theory
*Stolen from Esquire