The Human River

I had a Russian circus coach in his sixties, Alex, who could still do standing backflips.  He was able to pluck you out of the air one-handed if you were about to land on your head; it was like being caught by an oak tree.  He looked like a bear, he walked like a zombie, and his secret to maintaining his form was taking good care of his intestines.

People have strange ideas about how their bodies function.

It was a Russian coach fad at my school; fasting one day a week and fasting one week a month.  It was all part of a solemn ceremony which culminating in a glorious herbal enema to keep your colon clean, supple, and rubbery like a nubile squid.

I wasn’t ready to go that far, but he afforded me this advice:  Eat a grapefruit every morning; don’t eat anything cooked, never talk during a meal, always eat meat last, and enjoy a handful of organic peanuts before physical activity (softdrinks are poison, and processed food is good to make your stomach feel full, but it won’t do anything for your body).

He was my teacher, I listened, and it made sense, at least when training 12 hours a day like the good circus school students that we were.

This kind of ascetic eating regimen fit with his personality.  Even his sense of humor:

One day, the denizens of a small village awoke to a loud, rhythmic pounding.  Each pound was punctuated by a man’s screams of pain.  The villagers, shivering in the morning chill and dressed only in their nightclothes, left their huts to find the source of the screaming.  In the middle of the public square, a man was repeatedly striking his phallus [Alex always said phallus when he told this joke or any other joke that featured a penis.  He always lowered his voice and blushed a little when he said it.  Ever seen an embarrassed bear?] with a blacksmith’s hammer.  The patriarch approached the man to ask him why in the world he was punishing his member so.  “Doesn’t it hurt terribly?”  “Of course,” replied the stranger, “but nothing compares to blissful respite that comes between each strike.”

My Lithuanian roommates have explained that this is actually a very Eastern European kind of joke.  They tell another one that I like:

A wife walks out onto her porch where her husband is looking at the sky with a serene smile on his face.  “Why are you so happy?” she asks.  “Our neighbor’s house is burning down.”

I told this joke in Boston to a mixed audience of Canadians, Americans, and Bulgarians, and sure enough, the Bulgarians laughed while the North Americans waited for the punchline.

My point was that people have lots of different theories one how to best care for their body.  The FDA of America has a great one, which happens to be very different from that which is professed by their Japanese counterpart.  But I think that having your own cartoonish view of the human body is helpful, as long as it makes sense to you and it keeps you healthy.

For me, I believe that the key to everything is water.  Lots of water.  If I can keep a steady flow of water through my body, I find I can train harder without being sore the next day, I am more flexible, I have more energy, it is easier to maintain my weight (or lose weight when necessary), and I can drink alcohol with no ill effects in the morning.

For me, I see the body as a riverbed which is constantly polluted by our everyday actions (like every other riverbed you have ever seen).  If you can keep that river flowing at nearly flood levels, all those pollutants (lactic acid, alcohol, excess nutrients, etc) will be washed away.  I also see water as a sort of lubricant for cells, particularly muscle cells, that help them to work more efficiently.

I know that this is all a huge oversimplification and sounds a lot like a placebo (based strongly in sports medicine and common sense, of course), but it does serve as a nice little feather to hold onto when I force my body to do impossible things.

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Social Chameleon

As a person leaps around the world, one can’t help but encounter other world travelers.  Quickly, one notices that there are many genii and species in the international vagabond family.  For example, every traveler has their own particular skill at integrating themselves into a new culture; some people can blend in the moment they walk off the plane, whereas others (by choice or chance) stumble through their host country in an alien haze for the duration of their stay.

Since I was six, my father conditioned me to adapt to foreign cultures, and despite my personal shortcomings in this regard, I am eternally grateful for the training.  From Tokyo to Hong Kong to Korea, to New Zealand and even to Hawaii, my father would point out tourists behaving like “Ugly Americans” and whisper to me that I must never exhibit such tendencies.

To be fair, one does not have to be American to exhibit traits like speaking loudly in your mother tongue in hopes that it will help the desk clerk understand that you don’t consider fish and rice a “continental breakfast.”

I have seen rowdy Japanese tourists in Taiwan announcing to their tour group that certain Taiwanese cultural treasures could be improved “if only that lady’s tits were hanging out!”  The tour group roared with laughter.  The Taiwanese tour guide smiled wanly.  I left the room.

I have unwittingly been an “Ugly American” on many, many occasions.  I remember that on my first visited to the Netherlands, I was so concerned about making a good impression on The Clown’s family that I grilled him mercilessly about Dutch etiquette and manners.

“Should I take off my shoes at your house?”

“That would be a little strange.  To come to someones house and walk around in bare feet is not too normal in the Netherlands.”

And so on and so on.  But it is impossible to think of every situation, and even the most obvious ones sometimes escape me.  For example, I had never eaten a fancy meal in Continental Europe, and was unaware that American table manners (chew with your mouth closed, don’t burp, keep you elbows off the table, try a bit of everything, and offer to clear the table after the meal, don’t reach for food, pass the serving dishes, etc) weren’t going to be sufficient.

I went out with his sister and parents to a particularly important family reunion, and proceeded to embarrass them by eating like a pig: I did not keep both wrists on the table while chewing, I did not know the proper signals to tell the waiter that I was done with my course and ready for the next one, I did not keep my fork at the right angle, I brought my head down too far to the soup bowl, and all while remaining blissfully ignorant of my behavior.

Luckily, The Clown’s family is a particularly forgiving and worldly sort who were able to see the humor in the situation, but I became a fanatic about international table manners after that.

And it was a nice little exchange, too, because I was able to teach them the intricacies of table manners in Japan, some of which were as subtle and counter-intuitive to them as the Dutch customs were to me.

In Japan, chopsticks must be set on the table behind the main dish and parallel to the edge of the table, not pointing at anyone.  If you are not sitting in classic ‘legs folded position,’ you must verify that you are not pointing your feet at anyone.  Slurping of the soup is permissible, and in fact, expected, as is lifting bowls to your mouth to eat.  It is more acceptable to bow your head slightly while eating to hide the act of opening your mouth and revealing your teeth.  You must never pour your own drinks, and insure that no one else ins placed in the awkward position of having to ask someone else to pour their drink for them (especially if you are a woman; yes even in modern Japan).  Chopsticks must never be left sticking into food, especially bowls of rice.  When passing food, you must never pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks.  Contrary to the popular (and personally unverified) Western notion that burping in China is considered a compliment to the chef (is this true?) it is not so interpreted in Japan.  If you want service in a restaurant, you must call loudly over the din to your server who will otherwise ignore your table so as not to disturb your dining (it is funny to watch first-time diners at fancy Japanese restaurants sitting anxiously, tables empty and menus closed, wondering why they are not being served.  Angrier visitors might attribute this to xenophobic refusal of service to foreigners, but in this case, at least, they are just being paranoid.)

These experiences made me wonder if an antithesis to these “Ugly Americans” or “Baj Ganjos” (any Bulgarians in the house tonight?) might exist: An individual so skilled as to be able to blend in perfectly from culture to culture as he traveled.  What would such a person be like?

Personally, I think that even if I had such a mutant super power, I wouldn’t be willing to use it at all times.

When I first started travelling, I believed that a visitor to another country has the responsability to learn as much as possible about local customs and to act like a good visitor.  I still believe that this is true, but I no longer go so far as to believe that the perfect traveller assumes the identity of the country he visits.  An attempt to do so is a vast, presumptuous, oversimplification at best, and is actually another form of closed-mindedness at worst.  A visitor is an outsider, and must assume this role while remaining pathologically open-minded to his environment.

Open-mindedness speaks to our ability to accept, but does not imply that we must adapt.  Sure, for the most part it is a good idea to adapt to your host country, but I think it is unreasonable to force yourself to wear a costume 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I know that in Japan, absolute silence in residential areas is mandatory after 10 o’clock, and almost every day of the year, I try to comply with this (strangulating, oppressive, depressing, bleak, antisocial, boring) neighborly and considerate custom, but sometimes, when there is that certain smell in the summer air, and just the right music is playing, and the company is perfect, we can let ourselves live life like we are on an Arnhem terrace with our best friends for just one night, can’t we?

Is it really so ugly?

Is it really?

Is it?

It is.

But that’s the problem.  I can chameleon myself as much as I want in residential Japan, but I can’t permanently hide my identity inside myself.

Most grumbling locals have the benefit of having known only one cultural reality.

I think that in order to be a perfect cultural chameleon one must first master cultural amnesia.  As I would consider such a gift a curse, I remain a twisted, ugly little chameleon happily scarred by a  fortunate life amongst eternally foreign cultures.

Playboy, Humor, and Cultural Comparisons

All the Nudes Without Fear or Favor

I have a collection of Playboy magazines that consists of one issue bought in every country I have ever visited.  I collect them not for the articles, and only partly for the pictures.  The main reason I collect them is because I am interested in how editors in different countries market the commodity of sexy women to the consumer.

I could probably do such informal marketing research with something like bread or breakfast cereal, but starting an entry with “I have a collection of bread…” sucks.

My most prized artifact is (appropriately enough) a sextet of July, 2003 Playboys (Holland, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany) from my first European tour. All of these issues received the same photo essays from Playboy central, USA, but different offices’ photo editors had freedom to choose how to present that material.

Editors sometimes featured different photos; a photo that was a full-page spread in one issue is part of a montage in another.  In the French issue, an essay seemingly about girls that sit and lie on racecars was 75% text while in Italy not a single paragraph distracts from all the breasts.

Most editors chose the USA head office’s Spanish-American beauty as their Playmate of the Month, and ran a companion “Our Country’s Playmate of the Month” pictorial.  The notable exceptions were Germany, whose German Playmate elbowed America’s sweetheart out of the picture entirely, and Spain, who saved some trees by forgoing their National Playmate pictorial to run more photos of American-born Iberian thigh.

I think that it is a trap to draw conclusions from such informal study.  I don’t even try.  What interests me is the fact that differences exist, and then figuring out what those differences are.  I recognize that they arise as much from the tastes of a particular editor as from the tastes of a given nation’s audience, but I do content that the two are related.

I also used to save a daily newspaper from each country, but that newsprint doesn’t conserve nearly as well as the glossy pages of “Entertainment for Men.”

Is it unreasonable to imagine that the same unintentional international editing in Playboy exists in the pages of an “objective” daily journal?  The commodity of information is as vital (though arguably less popular) than the commodity of sex, but the pressure and desire to take editorial license are surely greater in the former than the latter.

In his essay “Imaginary Homelands,” Salman Rushdie uses a metaphor of a movie theater to describe the uselessness of defining the human experience in terms of the present.  To do so is like trying to watch a movie with your nose pressed up against the screen.  I think that the same is true when we are speaking of cultural differences.

What can be simpler to understand than a Playboy?  And yet, if you never read anything but Playboys from your own country, you might be surprised to find that different editions from other countries are anything more than word-for-word translations (as if such things could exist; read Umberto Eco’s Mouse or Rat for a great treatment of the subject) of captions and articles.  Looking over my international collection of Playboys (not nearly as often as I’d like, I’m afraid) I get a very different picture of the subtlety of multinational culture.  For me, it is an abstract picture that is always in motion.  Usually, I see no identifiable patterns or forms, and even if one does emerge, I force myself to look see it as just a transient, meaningless island of logic that caught my eye.  But like any abstract object, it makes a distinct impression on the viewer.

Imagine the complications that would arise if we had the time to explore less intuitive cultural institutions country by country; legislation, foreign policy, environmental issues, etc.  How far would we need to step back to see this picture?  We are forced by circumstance to make sense of these patterns, forming policy based on blind hopes.  Is it any wonder we have had the level of success that we have?  Can future generations afford to be as rooted in one country as their great-grandparents, grandparents, and even parents have been?

Yo momma’s so Japanese she has a Louis Vitton carrying case for her Hello Kitty purse!”

Another unit-less but omnipresent social metric is humor.  When I was growing up between Japan and the USA, the notion that two types of humor (at the time, I took these to be “British” and “the rest of the world’s”) seemed bizarre.  Something was either funny or it was not.

I guess that that is true, actually, something is either funny or it is not, but it is the audience that defines what is funny, not the performer.

In Barcelona, I made thousands of Euros performing on the Ramblas with my best friends.  After about a month of perfecting the show, we took it on tour.  To our surprise, the show that we had been working on and fine-tuning over hundreds of performances was a total flop just across the border in Italy – it just wasn’t funny anymore.  Sure, an audience in an Italian beach town is different from the cosmopolitan Barcelona public, but we felt that we had to tweak our show a little in order to meet local tastes.

Our research methodology: watch a lot of TV in our hostel when we were not performing.  Comedy shows and MTV (as internationally syndicated and altered as Playboy) were indispensable.  What is funny in Italy?  What is sexy in Italy?  What is taboo in Italy?  Unsurprisingly, once we had adapted our show to fit the style we saw on the TV screen, our show was a success again.

As a side note, does this bother anyone else?  The optimist in me maintains that it is culture itself that creates TV programs and not the TV programs that create the culture, but I have my doubts.

As a performer, I have seen this time and time again.  Japanese audiences clap less than Western audiences at acrobatic shows because they feel like they would be disturbing the performers.  For the Ukrainian trapeze artist, though, it feels like the audience is not enjoying the show.

With humor it is even more complicated.

What strikes me about Japanese humor is that it is devoid of irony.  Turn on the TV or watch Japanese people out drinking together, and you will quickly get a sense of how physical, simplistic, and childish Japanese humor is by Western standards.

Conversely, American humor, more than any other country I have visited, depends almost exclusively on sarcastic irony and, to a far lesser extent, on absurdity.  Think of an American sitcom, and now remove any joke that involves a sarcastic statement or action.  What’s left?  Now think of funny Americans: Jon Stewart and the Daily Show cast, Jim Carrey, stand-up comics, Jerry Seinfeld, Mad TV, Saturday Night Live.  Sarcasm is an intellectual tool, and humor in America often comes down to a duel of wits with the winner getting the laugh.  “Yo momma” jokes exhibit this most clearly, but our friends from “Friends” are in the same tradition.  My ninth grade English teacher taught that irony is the basis of all humor, which I still think is true, but sarcastic irony is only one flavor.

Sarcasm does not work in Japan or Taiwan.  If a twenty-year old says sarcastically that she is 35, her friends’ jaws will drop, and they will nod their heads saying that she really doesn’t look it.  Say something absurd, that you are 100, for example, and people will accuse you of lying before finding any humor in the absurdity.  Walk out of the Bolshoi Ballet saying “I could do better than that” and your date would likely respond with, “You are a dancer?”

It is no wonder to me, then, that Japanese people do not get American humor.  Often, my Japanese friends will sheepishly ask me why Americans laugh at a certain movie.  After my explanation is lost on them, they nod their head. “They say the opposite of what they mean.  I see now.”

After seeing how the humor of “Friends” dies in translation (the Japanese language is largely flat-toned with little rhythmic variation, so “Really, I love you so much” and “REEEEEALY, I love you SOOOOOOO much” sound roughly equivalent to the Japanese ear), it made perfect sense to me that it is watched more as a drama than a sitcom in Japan.

The absence of irony is present in other aspects of life as well.  I think that it is part of what accounts for middle-aged women dressing in pink and carrying Hello Kitty accessories.  I think it also contributes to Japanese women consider Louis Vitton bags as exclusive status symbols despite the fact that everyone has them.  It is also no wonder that Americans, born and bred on cynical sarcasm, are quick to rip into this soft underbelly of Japanese popular culture.

Here is the point: all I can say about humor in Japan versus humor in America is that they are different.  The Western half of me is tempted to write off Japanese humor and irony-free pop culture as naïve and childish. Conversely, there is a large part of me that sees the American dependence on sarcasm and absurdity in its humor as symptomatic of the wall of defenses that they seem to build up over the course of their lifetime.  I know that such interpretations ossify negative stereotypes and reflect my own personal frustrations more than reality.

For example, we could just as easily view Americans as being childish and naïve for being such one-trick-ponies in their battles for supremacy of wit.  We could also see the Japanese sense of humor, toothless and immature, as being symptomatic of the wall of defenses that the Japanese are expected to build up over the course of their lifetimes.

It is clear that the difference exists, but any interpretation can be countered with an infinite series of on-the-other-hand’s.  My personal conclusion from all of this is that it is the duty of someone from Culture A to be aware of how their culture is perceived by Culture B, Culture C, and Culture D, and also to be conscious of their personal perceptions of those other cultures.  One both sides road are two equally dangerous traps: the trap of Cultural Bigotry and the trap of Cultural Fetishism.

Despite my best intentions, I am sad to say that I have fallen victim to both traps in the recent past; it is easier to see when two other cultures are misunderstanding each other than when you are the one misunderstanding and being misunderstood in return.

Haircut in Harajuku

I recommend that all visitors to Japan get a haircut.

It reminds me of how a professor I had at MIT, Professor Dorothy Hosler, explained how knowledge of materials science actually amplified our understanding of a human artisan who crafted a given artifact.  Once you know the immutable properties of the basic working materials, you are able to separate design aspects that are purely utilitarian and dictated by physics from those design aspects that are rooted in the creative spirit of the craftsman.  In other words, a lot of what a blacksmith does is directly related to the iron itself.  Anything beyond that is based on his own tastes, etc.

 

Getting your haircut in Japan and getting your haircut anywhere else are two experiences that are quantitatively identical: you get your hairs cut.  Iron is iron, a haircut is a haircut.

 

But there is a truly ritualistic feel to the 90 minutes of your basic “walk in” haircut in Japan.  I want to try to relate the experience I had last Sunday.

 

You walk into the store and all of the attendants greet you individually.  Your bag and coat and umbrella are taken from you and whisked away to a back room.  You then sit down with a hip-looking friendly guy who just seems to want to talk about hairstyles.  You flipped through magazines and comment on which hairstyles you like and hate and why.  Then, surprise!  He reveals that he is the one who is going to be cutting your hair. This ‘rapport-building’ approach has been a pretty common thing in my Japanese haircut experience.

 

Then they led you to the hair washing sinks which are often in a separate part of the store with dim lighting and calm music.  You are situated in a chair with the utmost attention to detail, and then receive a combination of shower and massage which can last about 10 minutes.  The water temperature is selected according to your taste, and the stylist makes sure throughout the shampoo that you are comfortable, that there is no water getting on your face or running down your neck.  Very nice.

 

Then you get walked to the stylist’s chair.  On the way, all the other stylists acknowledge you by saying “otsukarasamadesu,” a phrase which suggests that you are going through great pains to maintain your good looks as well as you do.

 

Once you are seated, the stylist proceeds to cut each hair on your head individually.  It might sound like I am exaggerating, but it is absolutely true.  They cut it with razors and clippers and thinning scissors and shears, just so that when you walk out of the store, it will look like you got your haircut a month ago, and it just happens to look this good today.

 

They select magazines for you from their impressive library based on their interpretation of your personality, and they will talk a lot about parts of the city that you have never even heard of, so time goes by pretty quickly.

 

When they are done, they walk with you back to the little yoga studio in back for another shampoo, with all of the other stylists acknowledging you as before, and once that is finished, they literally pack your face in hot towels and then place you upright.  Once you are unwrapped, they offer you another hot towel to use on your face, and walk you back to the chair (otsukaresamadesu…) for the real massage.

 

Ah, the scalp and shoulder massage as your hair dries.  The best part, according to me.  Finally they style your hair (again, one hair at a time, I promise you), and you go to the register to pay and receive your free thank-you gift.

 

They put your jacket on for you, and hand you your bags.  The stylist bows deeply and presents you with his personal card and the card of the shop as you walk out onto the street with a brand-new haircut, and not a stray hair clipping on you.

Whirlwind Tour Part 2: Boston

So I managed to get through yesterday, which entitled waking up in Honolulu at 10AM, flying to Chicago (arrive 5:30AM local time the next day), and then continuing on to Boston (arriving 9:40AM local time) going to my dance company’s rehearsal and exploring the possibility of a month’s work with them if Taiwan is truly screwing me out of that fourth month of work; I’d be in there as acrobatic/circus consultant, co-director for a new piece.  Plus, they gave me the personal contact info on all the promoters for the Boston area.  ‘All’ of them amounts to a grand total of three, but it is a hell of a lot more managable than the millions in Tokyo.

Business in the arts is a very strange thing.  When I sit at home, depressed and alone, when I train in a corner of the gym, I feel like a failure; like I am skillless and useless in the world.  but as soon as I have a project; a CREATION project, I feel like I am really doing something that few people can do.  I can look at a piece, at a theme, at an artist, and just know what has to be done to make that piece, theme, or artist effectively move an audience…  but there is that important ingredient of the other people there.  All alone, I am like a waterwheel in the desert.

Then it was off to MIT to meet with my former acrobatics partner from Bulgaria.  Strange, strange, strange.  It is like looking into a mirror in which your image from six years ago is reflected and superimposed over what you now are.  It was very interesting talking about her studies (system complexity), a Balkan’s view of the United States, and Americans and MIT in general, culture, cultural norms… and all in the context of sitting there in America with Americans all around us…   we were able to switch back and forth from English to French to Spanish as the spirit moved us, and as the sentiment required.

In the end, we realized that six years ago, we really had nothing in common.  I was an ignorant American, and she was a culture-shocked Balkan in a new environment.  Oddly enough, six years later, we have travelled to the same countries, both learned French, both started drinking, and are both looking at our “successful” lives and realizing that we feel like we have nothing in our hands…  that our choices have not been choices so much, but improvisations from moment to moment, and we only see ahead to the next junction.

Something that my friends at the Tabata refugee camp can surely relate to.

I can’t stop thinking about The Model and her visa problems, and The Political Scientist and her visa silence…  my biggest fear is returning to an empty or emptier house…

I hope for the best every day, and think of them often!

I ran into an ex-girlfriend completely by chance in the hallway while looking for a bathroom.  Her first words to me: ‘You asshole!  I knew you’d do this!’

I guess she thought I was trying to be cute by not telling her I would be in town and then showing up unannounced at her lab.  later on, I’d realize the absurdity of this presumption, as though I would research the work address of a former lover just to hang outside and stalk her…  but then when I told her that it was just chance, a happy chance, she said that it was even worse.

But come on, we are not best friends, I have only so much free time this trip, and my main reason for coming was to talk about my friend’s death with my two closest friends in Boston and to meet a woman whom I never really got to know when I had the chance…  realistically, I could not contact every friend I ever had in boston and schedule 15 minute coffee-breaks with all of them…

Then it was to the gym where I trained with my former acro partner…  the last time we had trained, she was helping me get into circus school.  Needless to say, I had improved a bit, but we still had a good time.  She had not done acro since our last practice together six years ago, so I was helping her relearn a lot of her moves.

Then it was wine and Indian with her and her roommates.  I had a million things to talk about with her roommate from Hawaii, very introspective, talking about racial identity of the hopelessly mixed like us, the social structure and climate, good and bad, of the islands, old-time Hawaiian pop culture…  history, it was a good conversation.  the other roommate was a little overbearing in the American sense, talking about how her greek friend should stop worrying about her relationships and just change herself to fit with the guy she is with, that love is worth changing yourself for, and that the Eastern European marrying-for-the-right-reasons is too mental, akin to arranged marriages, and that her Greek friend should be able to adapt to the Hollywood romantic ideal of pushing yourself into the mold of a reltaionship.  I got tired quickly of this and smiled.  Finally, at 4am I went to sleep on the couch (9 pm hawaii time… 36 sleepless hours) only to wake up five hours later to drive my friend to class.

Two bottles of wine between the two of us, but consumed over 5 hours of good conversation with roommates, and I had my first allergic reaction to American Indian food a la what happens every time The Political Scientist takes me to an Indian restaurant in Tokyo!

I try to find a place to nap now, maybe get a haircut, something to eat.  It is strange being in America, my friends.  It is like walking around Disneyland after working backstage for years.  There is no magic left, or what magic that is present is too easily understood.

Business is good, company is good, and I feel busy… just the way I like it on vacation!

Whirlwind Tour Begins: Honolulu Part 1

It is raining like crazy here in Honolulu!

Lets’ see what I can cover in the 12 minutes and 15 seconds of time that came with a 2$ purchase of internet access here in the Honolulu airport.

One night in America with Americans is enough to remind me about what it is that is so strange about this place.

I guess that watching a TV program about horribly sheltered children who never leave the house gave me a good perspective from which to view the whole of the American culture.

That is what we/they are…

Sheltered children.

There is a fear about what lies outside, and working from the other direction, the illusion that the people in charge are working to keep things as safe as possible here on the inside.

You want freedom?  You want to believe that you are able to make your own choices?  To fail and suffer indignity if you fall?  jJust look at this nice backyard we have out there with the streams and the ponds and the wild flowers…  but lest you stray too far, need we remind you that the animals in that wooded grove over there are all too willing to prey on innocent victims like yourselves.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!  But it is important to remeber that we are the ones best equipped to keep you safe, both here at home.  What?  You want to leave our complex here?  Just imagine the dangers that await!  There is nothing in our power to help you if you are to go astray there!  Isn’t there enough strife and misery here at home to satisfy your morbid curiosity?

Racial strife?  Have you seen those blacks and whites?  Don’t you remeber that Blacks are far more likely to live under the poverty level?  Isn’t that unjust?  Why do you need to look to places like Africa and India, the Philipines and the Middle East to find instances of real injustice and shame?  We have that all here!

Religious issues?  Is the historical divide between Jewish and Musilm, Protestant and Catholic not enough?  Some people in the same town refuse to eat with each other because of a simple religious difference.  Marriages that were never meant to be… and let’s not get into abortion!  Thank God we have a seperation of religion and state unlike in the Middle East!  We are a religeous smorgasbord of a country.  And we have the right to choose!

I put in another dollar.  What the hell.

And cultural diversity… remember that we are a melting pot.  And like any good melting pot, we force every potentially polarizing cultural influx to simmer and melt into the mean.  We want cultural sludge devoid of any sharp edges or tastes that might offend anyone else.  We’re not Europe, for Christ’s sake; how can those barbarians stand each other?  They make nice wine, though.  Just look at how our music reflects our diversity!  Rap music, rock music, alternative rock music, heavy metal, gangster rap, r&b, soul music!  Even that nice Lopez girl with her ethnic sound!  And our movies!  Anything you want!  Comedies, horror, action, romance!  We cover the whole spectrum, so you can be sure that there is not a single slice of the emotional spectrum of life missing from your silver screen!

Stay home.  Don’t call out.  Be safe…  we have enough danger here for you.  And if not, we’ll be sure to import enough to keep you safely on your toes.

I am glad to live with my two roommates in the Refugee Camp.  Discerning taste, class, fire inside.  I hope that they both see how much I enjoy living with them and how much I learn from it.  Missing them both already.  There are an infinity of people here who could use The Model’s style critiques…  another infinity who could use a sardonic barb from the depths of The Political Scientist’s irony well…  both of them live their lives with their eyes and hearts wide open, and with a fragility that insures that what happens outside is never so far from the inside that is living there.

Last night I wandered Waikiki with my ears to the streets.  Raining hard, I was just in a T-shirt and my brown courdorys, getting soaking wet in the warmth of the middle of the Pacific. Hawaii is so small you can really believe you are on a liferaft like in ‘The Life of Pi.’  The clouds and the waves pushing us wherever they will it.

On the way home, iI pick up some rum and coke for 7 dollars with the intention of getting a little drunk and then writing, but half a drink, and I pass out on the bed from the fatigue of jet lag.

I wake up in the morning, and pack everything up.  Drive on the freeway and remeber what it feels like to live on a Pacific island.  I remeber what it feels like to live in America, to be an American.  Hundreds of millions of bodies, two or three minds.

Political diversity!  We have that too!  Two political parties!  Enemies for two hundred years!  That’s division.  That’s diversity.

Fauxmosexual

I think I am OK with the relationship with The Contortionist being over, but looking at a life of dating in Asia as a half-Asian is not obvious.  I know that some Western men go crazy for Asian girls, but my first experiences in the Japan dating scene have been a little…  artificial for my tastes, so far.

Now that I’m alone again I’m remembering that I love the way that men and women act together.  It’s not like business or everyday life or family affairs. there is something timeless and immutable about what goes on between men and women.  The energy, the excitement.

The Contortionist always told me that I’m distant in relationships.  And I am.  I guess I see relationships as a process, like any other, like building a motorcycle, flying a kite, or a rose blooming, and that getting too involved in that process will fuck it up.

In any case, I had my first official date since the breakup last week.  I took a moment to enjoy dinner, movie, and drinks with The Publicist, a woman I met with two of my good friends in Tokyo (The Journalist and The Writer) works for one of the most well-know PR firms in Tokyo, is a self-described “unscrupulous daughter of an upper-middle-class Marxist.”  The first date went well and she even expressed interest in doing publicity for our project if the time is ever right.

Our second date last night seemed fine as well, but a simple misunderstood text afterwards turned the whole situation into an ugly Japan dating mishap.  She had been teasing me a little about how she was sure that I was gay because of my pronunciation of certain Japanese words.  I guess I’ve learned the feminine pronunciation of some words from my female friends  (MIzu instead of mizu, for example).  So just after the date I sent her a text after the date thanking her for a good time and for letting me “pretend to be a heterosexual with her.”  Evidently, she did not make the connection to her earlier teasing, thought that I was actually gay, and assumed that I had been playing with her emotions.  Bilingual sarcasm never really works when speaking with non-native speakers.