Teaching In Socks

I want to ride my bicycle
September 1, 2008, 12:17 pm
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Finally, as promised, here is The Chairman in all his glory. That’s right, a heady blue, fixed gear, hell-raiser, complete with rear luggage rack, front storage compartment (basket), zero emission headlight and a presence notification system (technical and experienced riders refer to this as a PNS or “bell”). The Chairman is live and prime-time.

I hum the song by Queen on this bike uncontrollably

I hum the song by Queen on this bike uncontrollably

I suspect some readers might question the level of importance of such a device and amount of attention being paid to The Chairman. You have to understand, I’m not much of a biking enthusiast. I have had a cycling aversion from day one. It could possibly be traced back to an awful wreck I had once while improperly riding a big wheel down a hill, but I prefer to look at is as a predicament of logic.

I have problems trusting things with two inline wheels. They are unstable by nature. I find the physics behind the bicycle more unnatural than a curve ball or a gyroscope. Personally, I think the thing balances on black magic. The fact that this is a device championed by the French and Chinese does nothing to dispel my inclination to believe it is the product of dark sorcerers. Nor does the haunting image of the first bicycles- with their unnecessarily large front wheel and inconceivably tiny back wheel persuade me to believe that this is a friendly, stable device.

All witch craft and vectors aside, The Chairman is a necessary evil if I want to get anywhere in town. My firm resistance and commitment to more pedestrian means of travel was broken down a by a grocery run in 100+ degree weather. I don’t fear this change however. Historically, many great leaders have been known to make favorable and wholesome yet rash ideological shifts in the face of brutal heat: Indiana Jones, Pontius Pilate, Cortez…wait, this list is going downhill.

Anyway, there are many benefits to the people’s transportation: it’s versatile– you can chose both the sidewalk or the street as your terrain, plus any trek only contributes to my already Adonis-esque figure, and you can do jumps. Jumps are cool. There’s also the zero emissions thing, but enviro-friendly isn’t quite fashionable in Japan just yet and if it doesn’t help me score points with the lady-sans, I don’t count it as a benefit.

Unlike in America, bicycles are heavily regulated here in Japan. They don’t get a free pass like they do back home. Primarily, I believe this is because Japan likes regulating things (both good and bad) and because bicycles aren’t viewed solely as the transportation device of misguided fanatics, frivolous hipsters and persistent hippies. Essentially bicycles are very much part of the present and future of Japan, whereas in America, they are relics and toys.  Here, it is the people’s method and there will be rules. I haven’t determined all of these rules, but i have learned a few:

1.  No Umbrella holders. Older women often have these contraptions afiixed to the handlebars of their bicycles so they can bike in the rain and keep both hands free while remaining dry. This is a law where I understand the physics behind it. Umbrella holders present the bike rider with the dangerous possibility of simultaneously becoming a personal aircraft and a mobile lighting rod (neither of these transformations will be achieved in the cool, Chuck Norris, Delta Force flying motorcycle kind of way). It is imperative thse devices be removed.

2. Register your bike. Your bike must have a license. In the even your bike is stolen by ninjas, or involved in a freak cycling accident, they want to know who to call.They also want the 500 yen it cost.

3. Headlights are necessary. For some reason this is the one law that Japanese people like to rebel against. They want to bike around at night in the pitch black. I’m not sure why, they just do.  On Sunday nights, I often see several police cars parked outside the Ako City Train station running a bicycle checkpoint. Those without the proper registration or headlamps are detained, questioned and fined. It’s not Gitmo, but still a rather intimidating process (“Where are your papers? comes to mind). I’ve seen teenagers detained for twenty minutes on a sidewalk curbed while shamefully debating and mulling over the merits of the incandescent bulb.

So far, this is all the regulation I have observed. Nothing regarding helmets, speed, or proper gear inspection seems ot be in place.

As I am still new to the cycling phenomenon I lack some of the finesse of a professional rider. Regardless,  The Chairman and I will continue legally terrorizing the good citizens of Ako with questionable biking skills, white knuckle,  like a man trapped in his own invisible Peloton. That is, until I decide to be American about all of this and buy a motorcycle and a cool American flag leather jacket.

the witch's theme from the Wizard of Oz is also hummed time to time

birds of a feather
August 11, 2008, 7:56 am
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I had my first chance encounter with a fellow foreigner in Ako the other day. I strolled into the Post Office to withdraw some cash (the post office is also the national bank of sorts in Japan) and was met with the sight of a another white dude in a tie. I did a quick double-take just to make sure I was not in fact looking into a mirror. While I am often confused by mirrors, and their inherent trickery, this time I was not deceived, theguy existed.

My first inclination was to give the guy the customary white guy head nod–which really is a universal head nod–however, I quickly reconsidered. I didn’t want to give off the impression that I was trying to start some sort of foreigner club. When you’re American not named Hemingway,  this rarely goes over well.

Plus, it wasn’t like the guy was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap, a Liverpool jersey, or even reading some sort of magazine or book that I might have an interest in. This was just another white dude in a tie. We have have no basis for any sort of bond other than the fact that somewhere down the line our  ancestors obviously rocked around European caves or castles within a relatively similar geographical proximity.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before, I think it would be a bit bold of me, and perhaps counter-intuitive to my decision to move to Japan if I just started being unusually friendly with anyone who shares familiar facial features. Sure, It’s one thing if you share a common dialect, but I still had no idea what his native tongue was–he was stone quiet in his tie.

And it was a bad tie at that. Dark, uninteresting colors. It was like he was wearing a tie for the sake of wearing a tie. Something looked off.

He had on a short-sleeve, bleach white dress shirt and wore the kind of dress shoes that might have been issued to him rather than purchased. They were clean and well-maintained, but unnecessarily plain and clunky. Much like his tie. Tom Wolfe said you can always tell who a person really is by there shoes and this guy wasn’t passing any of my shoe test.

The other odd thing was that he wasn’t doing anything.  He stood there waiting and occasionally shooting me an awkward glances as I operated the ATM in English.

As I made my withdrawal, I recalled that when my trainer and I had to bike through town to go to my company classes, he mentioned how people might get the impression that we were Mormons. I asked him if this meant I should be on the lookout for Japanese drivers trying to swerve at us, and again, as he often did, he just chuckled and avoided giving a answer. He did parlay to me that the reason we might be mistaken for this brand of missionary is because Mormons always travel in twos, wear ties, and are the only people in Japan that wear helmets when riding bicycles. I guess their faith doesn’t go deep enough to assuage their fear of head injuries.

With this information in mind, I looked around the room and sure enough saw another guy, across the room in a similar getup, although he was Japanese. I suppose they were tag-teaming, Missionaries are smart about this sort of thing I imagine. They probably do an outstanding  salvation-centric version of good cop/bad cop.   As I left the post office, I saw them sporting matching bright red helmets as they hopped their bikes down the road. Suspicions confirmed.

There might have been a few advantages to knowing another English speaking person in Ako. A don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything specifically against Mormons, Just missionaries. In the grand scheme, I think avoiding a rambling, fanatical, religious diatribe trumps making a new friend most days. Plus this guy must be desperate. from what I can tell so far, Japan is about as happily agnostic as a country can be.

Upon arrival
August 4, 2008, 4:36 am
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So it only took me a whole week in Japan to find myself connected to the internet. I suppose I greatly misjudged the availability of cheap computer monitors in small Japanese coastal towns. I had to procure the current monitor from a lovely little thrift shop know as “Recycle”. Coincidently, this is also where the nearest “internet cafe” is. I put “internet cafe” in quotes because it looks as though they may have one internet computer amidst a trove of comics and pachinko machines; apparently, gambling and fantasy make more money than the internet these days.

Anyway, “Recycle” is quite a distance away from my apartment–almost as far as you can get in a small coastal town. Thus, it required a bike ride get there. Since bike riding is clearly the first step to socialism, I have avoided it at all costs. However, after grocery shopping yesterday, I found myself holding a multitude of bags, and was looking  at a very unpleasant walk home. I may have told many people back home that the weather here would be a bit like San Diego;  in the 70’s, cool breezes, scenic views … of that declaration, only the scenic views part was accurate. The weather can be best described Death Valley mixed with New Orleans in mid-July. Eeven your sweat gets hot.

So yesterday, like all days, was a bit of a scorcher.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, my grocery store, JusCo, also happens to be a department store. The store pedals linens, bedding, electronics, a McDonalds, KFC, and oh yeah, bikes. So I wandered over to the proper department and picked out the first blue racer I could find for around 10,000 Yen ($100) and bought it straight off the rack. At this point I’m still not sure if it is a men’s bike or women’s, but it’s blue and doesn’t say “Lady” anywhere on it so I think I’m in the clear.

The new bike, which has yet to be named (I’m thinking of calling it “The Chairman”) has already made my life better on two occasions. I’m also thinking  the government back home really doesn’t regulate enough of our lives, there’s a lot of potential there if we only gave them more of our income… I kid. Also note: I do still plan to be mean to cyclist back home who use the road and act like cars. How can I take these people seriously when they are are wearing silly bright shirst, clunkly sci-fi helmets and making preposterous, meaningless hand gestures?

I have more to add, but for now I need to go set up a Post Office account (which is actually a bank account) and secure my first crazy Japanese cell phone (I’m thinking I-phone).

Weather today: Sunny, High of 30….Celsius.