The former Cirque du Soleil Chinese straps duo has dropped out of our show. They have only a military passport and no papers that allow us to process their visas for Taiwan. Because of the artist database I am building, I already have at least three options for replacements and one of those options is The Contortionist. As it turns out she will be available after August when her contract with Cirque Theatrical terminates, I suggested her as a possible replacement. I haven’t told her anything about the Taiwan project, but I can definitely say that she is a real asset to any project she is involved with, so I mentioned it to The Rocker. We might be able to use her skills in the creation. Contortion, Contact Juggling, Aerial Hoop, Singing, and Tango Dance. I’m not interested in trying to get back with her or anything; this is strictly professional. I could do straps at the same time that she does her hoop number like I did in Shawinigan. That always worked pretty well, the audience likes the two simultaneous aerial acts. I would need about a month to get my number back up to speed, though.
Different languages have different personalities as you learn them: Japanese is a frustrating enigma, French is an redundant, ornate, beauty, German is ditactic and practical, and I am finding that Korean is one of the warmest and friendliest languages I have ever learned. Korean invites you in and makes you a cup of tea.
I went from illiteracy to proficiency in hangul, the Korean alphabet, in the twenty-minute train-ride home from the gym. I wish that this had something to do with an innate linguistic ability on my part, but the fact is that it is simply the most user-friendly and intuitive alphabet system I have ever encountered. I memorized 17 basic forms and a few rules, and I am now able to figure out all 24 letters and the multitudes of syllables that one can form from them with ease. This page was amazingly helpful.
I have heard that Korean grammar is similar to Japanese grammar, so I hope that in a few days I will learn enough sentence structure to speak broken Korean. That will leave me about two weeks to build up vocabulary for my trip!
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.
I have been busy now that I have a job. I was hesitant to teach in Japanese Junior High Schools and Elementary Schools at first, but in the end, I actually enjoy it even though it’s not something I thought I would enjoy. Teaching kids can be really rewarding, and it is not that different from teaching acrobatics, except I have to deal with their shyness instead of their fear.
Ironcically, now that I know I’ll be leaving in the summer, I need to write the English teaching company and quit. My plan was initially to wait until the last week of the school year and then to give three-month’s notice, but they just offered me a full-time contract as a manager with quite good pay and possibility to advance rapidly in the company.
I could have just shut my mouth, signed the contract, worked for higher pay for 4 months and then said that I was quitting because of some family emergency or something like that, but I just don’t believe in such dishonesty.
Instead, I offered to work April-June, full time and help find and train a replacement including accompanying them on their first week or so teaching in the schools since lack of a transition seems to bother the schools more than actual turnover in the teachers.
So we’ll see, they may scrap my employment immediately and start fresh with someone else. So be it. I just think that this was the best way to honestly propose a solution to my upcoming departure.
Taipei is really very interesting… I am learning a lot about another Asian culture. It is weird that the more you travel the more you seem to be affected by these things; you are sort of forced to be more and more open to the experiences facing you.
Today I got up too late, but that was not so bad really, still had a productive day, and it is only half over.
Went to a nice museum that was about the history and present of Taipei… think Expo pavilion for the city. It was really pretty nice. Sat in a revolving theater with a bunch of Taiwanese elementary school kids.
They were amazed to see a Japanese and were all saying nihau… when i responded, they were even more excited and they all said it one at a time as they got up the courage.
It is funny. In japan, I am seen as White, in America I am seen as Chinese, and in China, I am assumed to be Japanese!
At least the circle has completed itself.
Then I went to the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101… and it is really tall. The observation deck is pretty nice, I was asked to take a picture of a dwarf and her boyfriend… when I did, they then wanted it to be only from the chest up… felt like I made some weird sort of dwarf faux pas…
The shopping center around it was interesting too, nice restaurants, the architecture and design was really calming and nice…
One thing I noticed that is a first for me…
It seems as though a lot of people throw their used toilet paper in a garbage can next to the toilet instead of in the toilet.
Makes a man wonder why.
There was a really nice bookstore that I browsed in for a while, and then got some Taiwanese McDonalds’ which, like the Playboys, is another tradition I have when I visit new countries.
These scooters are amazing, and I feel like I am in Taipei on the eve of it becoming really something special… there are so many new construction projects and revamping projects going on…
Feels a little like Japan did at the end of the bubble period…
The whole movie at the museum was about the vision of the future Taipei, and the kids were surprisingly enthusiastic about this civil engineering film… that said, I, too, found it really cool.
And there was a nice movie about performing arts in Taipei, and the dance portion made me shit a live duck right there in the exhibit hall.
The comedy portion too was good to see, because it gave me a little context for an acting class I have to teach in a few days.
Tonight, i am making the rounds of all the night markets… the one for kids, the seedy one, the electronics one… etc etc etc. I am guessing it will be like a Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara, Taiwan style…
There is nothing more to say.
Imagine the scene:
There is a clown on stage. not one of those modern clowns that make you laugh but at the same time make you think about the frailty of the human condition; just a normal clown. Loud colors, loud noises. Just a clown!
The kind that if you see him when you are older than say 15, you feel a little sorry for them, but you are happy that the kids seem to enjoy him.
Maybe even your kids. You are maybe even a little too embarrassed to laugh, but you keep a grin plastered on your face.
But in the middle of this act, he stops abruptly.
Nothing cliche, here. No taking off the red nose and regarding the public seriously for a moment of truth, this is a real thing that is going on.
Maybe it is a clown in the classical entree sense. Maybe it didn’t even make sense in this play that is about the communist revolution in Bulgaria that seems so heavy, serious, reflexive. But this is the last entree, and all this shit is about to come together, and when it does, it will be like a whirlwind.
I love these writing whirlwinds.
It is the sound of an audience full of people realizing something all together at the same time.
It is the sound of a sigh over here, a sob over here, an exclamation of disbelief here, someone verifying with their neighbor if they understood this little twist correctly or not. It is the sound of understanding something clearly that you didn’t even recognize as a problem. These characters are this way because the author needed them to be that way, not because they can be changed.
Lucy will always pull the ball away from charlie brown.
This is the way that characters are made, the way that we come to understand them.
Two characters that are tied together for the duration of a show beg the questions “When are the going to get tangled up? When are they going to cut the rope?” But less evident is why they ever started out on the journey in the first place.
But there is a discrete way of changing characters, one that is not really discussed in any literary schools that I know of. Not discrete for the character themselves, but discrete for the audience, because the character is perhaps not at all surprised with the change they took, etc.
But for the audience, it changes the whole story. It is a plot twist, but there is a necessary emotional component, here. It is where the audience understands that this is more than a funny show with acrobatics in it because for fuck’s sake now I’m crying!
“I need to talk about this more sometime. Because for the longest time I have been feeling something empty inside of me and maybe it is this wanting to change the world thing that you were talking about. Whenever you achieve mastery of something, you are always going to have admirers, but it is like that marathon thing you were talking about. So you’ve arrived, now what?
So I just want to say ‘go for it. To the end. Why not you?’ ‘Why not you?’ I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who works hard to make other people’s life better; who suffers to change the world, but I just hope that through it all, you are able to realize that life is in the present. And that you don’t go too fast to your goals to remember that. Because I worry that you are going to find yourself more and more alone because it is a specific thing that you want and not many people feel this way. Mais rêve, vas-y, jusqu’au bout. A tous ceux qui te disent de ne pas rêver, je dis ‘fuck off, man’ pourquoi pas toi?”
It is my time to be silent. It is me the ignorant one. It was not them who did not understand me, it was me who was to shy or too stuck up or presumptuous to communicate to them. Sure they said I was always to serious, that I can’t let go and have fun, that I don’t laugh. But it was me who was holding off like I was too good to enjoy these people who care for little else than the next party or the next one-night-stand.
And I expect to be an artist when I grow up?
I wasn’t communicating.
And there is no excuse for that.
A frustrated artist is not a good artist.
A frustrated artist is not skilled enough in his metier to ease this frustration through artistic expression.
So it comes full circle again, I guess. This is where the training comes in. And of course you need to take into account the audience and your message and the bottom line, but if you are frustrated, you are no good, and you have a right to be frustrated, so go out there and work harder so that you can communicate yourself better instead of sitting on the veranda of a ryokan mulling over for the millionth time all the facons to end your life in an shocking or amusing way. On schedule.
So the vacation was different this time, maybe more real. The moments re-recorded on the wax cylinder of my brain in just that way. Surreal in their clarity and seeming irrelevance. To each other and to my life. But they fit together, like what I have just described and the way a Kitano film spills up against itself. Abutting.
Buying fireworks. Her head thrown back, surrounded by futon. Good god, this hotel is a three-dimensional maze with no end. An empress’ poem. A diving gramma. Two rocks tied together for a human eternity in foul water.
Fear of heights and fear of fear of highs. Paralyzed even as a fish is practically leaping out of its own tank. Suicide. This is a strange city.
These boat rides and this scenery, this is like a walking corpse with no soul. Nature purgatory. It is only beautiful when I see it a hundred years ago, but even for that, perhaps it is worth it.
A birthday party for a woman who offers me raw fish and wine before I work.
I barely know her, but this is enough to know that I like her. And we sing like creatures who have never heard music except in legend. Theoretically.
And we drink enough that it sounds good. A friend I have just met and may never see again leaves, and I do not say goodbye because I always have this assumption that it is not too late, that I will see him again. But this time I am wrong. This time is not the first, and maybe it doesn’t matter, but sometime it might.
Saying goodbye in the right way is very important.
This guy has to know that knowing him was important to me, that he made me laugh and brought me spaghetti and taught me how to say ‘happy birthday’ in Lithuanian because I was scared I was about to have to make a speech… he wanted to celebrate my half-birthday because the Expo would be over before my real birthday.
And I didn’t say goodbye in the right way.
I didn’t think about these things at the right time.
This shit is important, because it is what defines our pasts. The people that we have known and what they have taught us. Not what we have taught them. And because I was not able to seal this relationship, short though it was, it is like a wine-glass, tipped over. And I will always feel that it was incomplete.
People are leaving the party in order of interest in the birthday girl or karaoke, or the times that they need to work the next day.
In the end, we are five, those who are the hardest core into karaoke.
Is there any way to describe how I feel at this moment?
The floor is sticky and wet, and when we dance on the couches, they move under our feet. One of us is done, Andrius. Les genoux qui fleche, we say in French, and we wake him with YMCA. There is a woman here who talks to me with her eyes only. There is another one who talks to me when she is not even there. And Victoras is there who does not speak to me because we both know that it is not the time yet. We are going to put this shit off until the right time. And then the genoux will really fleche, and everything will be clear.
The taxi ride is nonstop chaos, and I can’t stop laughing. It is nice to laugh without being haunted by the desire to have been the one to have said these things.
We are weaving down the street, the five of us, in the aleatoire choreography of drunken cameraderie. Groups of two merging and transforming with one person who is suddenly interested in the song of the birds flying overhead and who lags behind, gazing skywards; having a moment that, whether he knows it or not, will never reoccur in his life – and tomorrow, it will be forgotten.
Mutherfucker time to plug in to the old flow. get those juices flowin’ and don’t stop till I find myself crammed up against the side of a bent up rusty drainpipe somewhere south of the Louisiana turnpike.
Maybe in the end we don’t ever travel so far as we feel.
Fingers stroking lightly over the keys, the questions living under my eyelids, unable to see anything except for the words that are not even on the paper yet. Nonexistant. presoit.
He tells me it is a pleasure, and honor. we talk briefly about the Bulgarian writer and what he says:
A man is most himself when he travels. A liar is a even more of a liar when he travels, but a good man is always good. “My English is not so good,” he tells me.
I tell him that I understood perfectly. I understood before he even opened his mouth, but I did not have the luxury of knowing that someone else said these things in this way earlier. Now I can rest in it like a little idea bed, a conceptual cupola.
I see it as a naked Tinkerbell dancing in a dewy ivy leaf, flirting with the camera lens like a faerie fucking Marilyn Monroe.
We head to the Red Cross pavilion. “It is hard to see,” he agrees, “but people need to think of such things.”
“I wanted to get a Red Cross watch,” I tell him. “I’ll go with.”
So we walk to the pavilion under the same umbrella, in that uncomfortable way where you feel like the person holding the umbrella is trying to force you out from under it because of how close they are trying to walk next to you, so you walk in a zig-zag like some sort of passive-aggressive pushmepullyou until you arrive at the Red Cross pavilion where there is a 25-minute wait and you decide that after all, 25 minutes is still a pretty long period of time to buy a watch, much less save the world.
So we head back to Bulgaria to drink wine.
I want to believe that I am in Bulgaria, nestled in snugly next to the Black Sea like an arm under a pillow, smiling at the ceiling in some dream soaked in the snoring self-consciousness that is personal resentment.
I want to feel the history that is seeping through the cobblestones that the uneven cafe table that I am sitting at rocks gently back and forth to the rhythm of my involvement in my conversation.
Thunk. Chink. Ca-chunk. Scrch. Whunt.
I feel the wine on my lips and the slow path it blazes to my stomach.
I am hearing their words, “the presents are not important, what is important, what is important is the friendship. In our lives, the most important thing is our relationships.”
They are piling wine and yogurt and cookies on me. At first, it was “only honey and yogurt. no wine.” the tell me this proudly, mis-remembering that I do not drink. It is clear that I do in short time, and they make up for there blunder of familiarity by stocking my bag to the top with cold bottles of white wine. The condensation is already starting to soak through the bag and I hope it will get to my house without dissolving, because, god help me, it is OK wine.
“Every time I look at this pin,” Nic tells me in earnestness, “i will remember our friendship. We are like best friends.”
There is no irony here, there is not drama, there is no jadedness. we are indeed like best friends.
I am embarrassed by my presents. Three metal pins in the shape of music-playing robots.
My friends have given me a traditional Bulgarian perfume container, a CD of their traditional dance show, cookies and wine and yogurt to eat, and more than I can comfortably carry to take home.
“It doesn’t play music, smell good, or taste good.” I say. It is a pin.
“Is it ‘pins’ or ‘pin?'” asks Bobi, through Georg.
“It is pin.” I say. “One pin, two pins.”
“Pins,” repeats Georg.
“Pins,” repeats Bobi.
When people do not speak the same language and yet are still able to be like best friends, there is an acceptance that we are going to sound mentally retarded to each other. The trick in these situations is to assume that the natural state of interpersonal relationships is fundamentally retarded, mentally.
Later, Georg will take the Bavarian to see the Bulgarian dance show, “too many Germans come to visit Bulgaria.” I know that he means to say “very many,” he has made this error consistently in the two months that he and I have made semblant the state of “best friends,” but she is shocked.
Georg doesn’t like Germans? He wishes that they would stay in Germany where they belong — those fucking fascist Nazi history-rewriting pig-dogs?
He means “very,” I say, embarrassed to correct my best friend in front of him.
His English is no better than mine in terms of how well he can express what he means.
He says “too” and means “very”.
I say “we need to figure out a way to somehow share each others interests at a level more sympathetic and commensurate with each others’ experience in that interest,” when I mean to say “I feel alone.”
I write an essay, and mean “I feel surrounded by compassionate people.”
I feel so sure that what I am about to say will flawlessly convey what I am feeling. I trust in communication as much as the next guy, but there is a level of honesty that is abandoned the second that I stop feeling and start reacting.
The Bulgarian writer, as Georg explains to me later, was killed by the communists in a political revolution in Bulgaria in the nineteen twenties.
He had written a story about a typical Bulgarian man, one that was scathing in its apparent honesty, and was so well communicated, so transparently transferred from this artists heart to page, that the fears of the ruling class were reflected in its unpolished clarity.
The pebble, still wet,
jumps from my hand to the pond.
the stars disappear.
And another intellectual’s brains are spilled like canned beef stew exploding languidly over the starched institutional sheets of a freshly-made bed.
Life is slower in Bulgaria.
The lamb is cooked for hours outdoors over a fire. You tap the bone on your plate, and the meat slides off.
This tasted heavenly in my mouth.
My friends, Bobi and Nic, do the second-to-last show of their time at the Expo. It is the last time I will see them in japan and i see and feel that they are doing this show for me, and it is true, we are like best friends.
I go to the Lithuanian pavilion. hundreds of kilometers north of Bulgaria, bordering another sea.
My friend The Political Scientist is famous there, and her Japanese puts mine to shame.
Seeing her there with her radiant smile, I realize that no one would ever know that she is shy, or afraid to dance swing just because she doesn’t know how.
They would never know that her mother is not used to her or that her father is in Austria – maybe – or that she put flowers on the grave of her grandmother’s twentieth dead chicken.
They would simply see her and say ‘what a friendly and secure woman representing her country with poise and charm. And what a nice linen suit.”
But I know she uncovered the elusive bol weevil and braved the firestorm that is Cody.
And i am still impressed by her poise.
I am typing vertically and furiously on a computer that doesn’t see how my questions are exactly the sorts of questions that it would dream of if a computer could dream.
“He is getting smarter,” The Political Scientist says, “every day he learns.”