Archive for March 2009

The Jesus Body Tablet   Leave a comment

I’m in Hamamatsu station, taking a walk.


I still haven’t gotten my full bearings on the city yet, and I decide to checkout a bookstore I heard about. It is small, with a selection of mostly Japanese books. I browse idly for a few minutes, then walk over to an aisle with perfumes and lotions. There I see something that makes me smile, even though I’m not in the most cheerful mood.

Its a product called JESUS BODY.

I chuckle to myself. This seems so typically Japanese, I can’t even do more than just shake my head a few times. Apparently, the “Jesus Body” is a diet system of some kind that involves taking tablets. However, what’s hilarious isn’t just the name, but what is written on the box itself:

Blind After One Week   Leave a comment

I can’t see.

I’m sitting on my bed, and all I can feel is pain coursing through my left eye, the likes of which tell me I did more than just “boof” my eye, as we’d say in Jamaica.
Last night I was at the No Name bar, the fourth or so time I’ve been there this week. The owner is an ebullient Turkish man named Memet. Everytime he sees me he greets me with a large smile, then seconds later says, “What are you drinking?”
I’ve been getting my bearings around the city. Between going to No Name bar, walking around Daichi-dori, occasionally popping into the Izakaya neart the North side of Hama station and grabbing snacks and beer from any of the numerous 7-11s about, I’m starting to know where I am.
The luster of a city filled with bright colors is almost gone, but I still smile whenever I see a Japanese hip-hop video playing on the widescreen near ZaZa city. The pink neon lights that dot a lof the entertainment buildings still make me stare for a few seconds. Shady streets have tiny signs with “hostess bar” scrawled on them still make me curious. One day, maybe.
Training to be an English teacher is interesting, but mostly its an exercise in energy management. I’ve traveled to Europe a few times and I’ve never been jet lagged. I’ll I’ve ever needed was a fully day of no sleep and I would wake up fresh in whatever new country I found myself. Japan was a different monster. The lag had been hitting me all week, and my disorientation left me waking up at odd hours, unsure of the time and occasionally, very thirsty. The disorientation would hit me in waves, and the air around me would feel like a wet blanket. In these moments I felt my stomach curdle, and my throat fill with liquid, but I never threw up. It was all phantom, all part of the readjustment process.
During this time I went out almost every night, exploring the city. I don’t ever like to sleep to much in a new place because I hate losing my sense of direction day after day.
Now, the second day I’m in my apartment, I literally can’t see, and it was all under simple circumstances.
My fellow ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) had been partying pretty hard since they arrived. Once people found some bars with people who spoke English, the drinking began. I drank a little bit myself, but not enough to get drunk. After two days of training, a few people stumbled into the hotel lobby, drunk and loud, singing songs and chatting about nothing in particular. That night I was a little buzzed myself, courtesy of Femme Fatale and her group of friends. I had seen them almost every night that week, and drinks appeared from nowhere. The bartender would give me a shot, or a person would buy me a beer. Then more shots appeared, and more beers. I was powerless to resist.
When I reached home after this No Name outing, I saw that many of the other AlTS were completely inebriated. I watched them slightly bemused, but not judgemental. I wasn’t drunk, but I wasn’t completely sober either. The guys at No Name had been joking about my sleepy eyes. Femme Fatale and a guy known only as “Ten” Femme Fatale’s best friend had a conversation about my beady eyes and how they became more slit as I got more drunk.
This was funny, the eye conversation, as it seemed a bit portentious. Little did I know in a day or two I wouldn’t be able to see properly.
The group was laughing at me about looking sleepy and drunk, and this is when I made my exit. In actually I was extremely tired and a bit tipsy, so they were half correct. Then I made my way back to the hotel.
At some point, I tried taking a picture in the elevator. My jacket has an interesting design. It is a well tailored coat with a thin hood sewn in the fabric. The head of the hood can be adjusted by pulling two elastic string with small black knobs on the end of the string. When I raised my camera up to take the picture, one of these knobs got caught in my Camera strap, stretched to full length, and then slapped me in my left eye at full speed.
It really, really hurt.
That night I went to sleep without much worry, but the next morning I couldn’t remember why my eye hurt. I looked in the mirror and it was red and throbbing and then I said, “Oh, the camera.” I went about my day with no problems.
Three days later, I can’t see.
If I open my left or right eye, pain floods both eyes. My room was dark, because the curtains were drawn, but still my eye hurt like nobody’s business. The light from my laptop was like a needle hitting my nerves, and I had to grit my teeth and go under the covers. Even the ambient light slipping in under the covers made me cringe. I had been in my apartment for about two days, and now I was visually impaired. I shut the laptop and groped around the room, covering my left eye with one hand. I found a tie and made a makeshift eye patch.
The situation is terrible. I open the blinds slightly and see everything go white for a moment. I shut them quickly, and try to think. I need dark glasses of some kind. I slip into some clothes quickly and head outside with the tie over my eye. The light is murder, but I’ve made the tie good enough to block almost any light from hitting the left eye. Squinting my right eye, I can just barely manage to walk on the sidewalk.
I make it to a Brazilian store a few blocks away and buy a pair of sunglasses for a thousand yen. I slip them on, and I have temporary relief. The light still hurts, and I’m still wearing a tie over the left eye.
For the rest of the day I operate like this, wearing the glasses indoors and out. My eyes feel less stressed and I think I’m getting better. I’m wrong.
The next day, its worse. I can barely get out of bed and I’m worried about permanently damaging my eye. Luckily, I’m meeting with my IC on this day (she is the person who will help me get my telephone and a few other things) and we go to the doctor. It’s so bad that I hold on to hand-rails when I walk and follow just the soles of her feet as we walk to and fro. My eyes are really slits now. Eventually, we make it to the Doctor’s office.
I’m wearing my glasses and a sleep mask, and my eyes are completely covered. For some reason, I fall into a deep stream of thought about past love. I’m sitting in the darkness, listening to the sounds around me, and I get inspired to write. I squint with my right eye and catch a cute secretary smile at me, then I write this on a notepad:
In these moments when darkness is all around me, I sometimes think of love. Love is elusive, and the idea of it sends a quiet echo of feeling I can’t describe in my soul.
Attraction and sexuality are normal parts of what we know as reality, but the idea of love–or being loved has made my sensibilities change.
I think about this while waiting for Miss Nakamura to return to the doctor’s office. In the darkness I can get a sense of what is going on around me. Machines beep in the background, electronic doors open and close with a hiss. Nimble fingers shuffle through papers somewhere in front of me. I can hear a cartoon playing on a television somewhere to my left.
It is quiet in the office and it has the same smell of every Doctor’s office I’ve ever been in. It’s always moments like this that the silence acknowledges my fears. My spirit is quiet, and I have no real desperations, but I fear I will not be loved. I’ll just forever be the guy in the corner with the cool jacket
She doesn’t know.
She doesn’t know that posting a message on my facebook wall triggered a slight shift in my equilibrium. She doesn’t know that whenever I see her name in an old e-mail, or on an old piece of paper, a feeling that I can’t describe hits my chest. Excitement? Fear? I cannot say, but she doesn’t know.
Seeing her name caused me to dream about her two nights in a row, which bothers me. She reminds me of love lost, and whenever she sends me a small communicade, it reminds me that she is truly gone. Years have passed and still the thought of her gives me pause. After all the women, all the traveling and all the introspection, she sti
ll touches me in that place that almost no one can reach, with a simple message.
Like most birthday wishes, hers was most likely the simplest kind, a momentary lapse of our radio silence that sends her briefly into my world, where we exchange a candid e-mail and then remain silent until the next convenient event rears its head.
She does not know the effect she has on me, and I don’t know why she has it.
Telling the truth always seems to get me into trouble. It leaves me feeling burned and empty, like the black husk of a sacrificial lamb. When you lose love you lose a piece of your soul, and I fear I will never find that missing piece.
I did not want to think of her when I was here, because she would be holding onto me from afar, clutching at my neck and filing my head with dreams I don’t want. Is this really love? Or is it some kind of unique torture? I want to be happy, but I don’t know what price to pay. I don’t want to tell her anything, knowing she doesn’t’ love me back. I’m supposed to be starting a new life, but I don’t feel that way just yet. People are similar and love and pain are universal.
I want to party again, but the price of admission seems a little fucking steep…
<end of writing>

After I write this, I hear my name.
“Maracoose Baroodo sama?” a voice says from somewhere behind me. I grab my bag and sit on a chair. A tall, balding Japanese doctor barks at me rapidly in Japanese. I don’t understand a word of it. I think he is telling me to look forward and tell him what I can see. I explain to him in my best Japanese that I cannot open my eyes. He huffs and then gestures for me to go back into the wating room. Miss Nakamura hasn’t returned yet, and I slip the eye patch back on, and fall into the darkness again.
Eventually, miss Nakamura returns and I see the doctor. He is a different fellow from the first person I saw. I sit in a dim room and he flashes a few different colored lights into my eyes. “Ue mitte kudasai.” (look up) he says. “Hidari to ue mitte kudaisa.” (up and left) he says. He repeats the variations for a while and then speaks quickly. “You eye is fine,” he says. “It seems there was an injury about two days ago, but now it is all right.” He prescribed some eye drops and I was free to go.
I was glad. I’ve had a history of painful injuries and to live with a bad eye on top of other “bad things” in my body wouldn’t make my life any easier. I float outside with miss Nakamura and she says, “Are you hungry Marcus? I know a good place we can go to eat something.”
“Yes,” I say, “That would be great.”
We come outside and the light doesn’t feel as bright. I’m still wearing the sunglasses, but already the pain has decreased considerably. I take a deep breath and force a smile on my face.
I can see.


Pirikura – Sticky Picture Taking   Leave a comment

Anyone who knows anything about Japan must wonder why Japanese people always take little pictures of each other in photo booths, print them and then keep them. I don’t know the reason yet, but heading out with this group, someone suggested we do it. Tonight, I’ve taken my first Pirikura with the group. Memories forever…

First Time: Japanese Karaoke!   Leave a comment

Like most people here, I came to teach English.

I’m doing a week of training to prepare for my first year of living at a teacher here in Japan, and myself and a few of the other ALTS (Assistant Language Teachers) are taking a night out on the town. I’m still not sure where everything is yet, but my bearings are improving. I’m with a group of seven or so ALTs all itching to drink and have a little fun. We make a pit stop at a restaurant and eat a delicious curry meal. Andy is the only one who speaks a little Japanese, to the delight of the head chef, who was no doubt frightened by the massive influx of young foreigners into his establishment.

Afterwards we found a Karaoke spot under the train tracks. It was cheap, only 100 yen per hour. We stopped by a convenience store, bought a few beers and headed back to the Karaoke. I love Karaoke, and it was pleasant to do this only days after coming to Japan.

We blazed through the usual selection of pop songs and reggae tunes, singing until the early morning. The next day was more training, more long hours facing teachers and learning how to teach lessons to high school students and elementary kids, but in this moment, Karaoke was king.

The First Night in Hamamatsu   Leave a comment

Jet lag is causing me to feel weird. I only have a few hours or so to get ready before I start my training, and I can’t sit in the hotel. My room is the size of a breadbox, and my suitcases must remain in the corridor; they can’t fit anywhere else. My bathroom is also tiny, and a touch of claustrophobia hits me. I decide to go out into the night, and take some pictures.

I’m not sure how to describe the feeling of being here. It is definitely new, chilly and interesting. The delicate architecture of the buildings, the cobblestone on the sidewalk, the roar of trains nearby. This is Japan. I don’t walk too far, for fear of getting lost. In the distance I can see powerlines silhouettted against the nighttime sky. Small cars drive to and fro, but I never hear a horn. Vending machines and bins are in Japanese. A trickle of excitement goes through me. Who will I meet here? What will happen. The intrigue is interesting, but I am still quite tired. I go back to my hotel to get some well deserved rest.

Wash My Butt, Please   Leave a comment

The toilet is hissing.

It is hissing and making noises I am not accustomed to. I stand a few feet away, and peer inside. This is my first time using one of the Japanese toilets, and I’m a little confused.
Upon entering my hotel room, I noticed two things immediately. One,  the room could barely hold my suitcases. They couldn’t fit beside the bed, under it, or in the closet. I had to lay them flat in the walkway.

Secondly, there was a white cloth on the bed with a blue ribbon on it. I didn’t know what it meant, and I took it off and rested it near my television. This is the Sago Inn hotel, a sort of Japanese Day’s Inn. This is where I will make my home for the few days or so I do my initial training for my Job in this city of Hamamatsu.

But first, the toilet.

I step into the bathroom, which is incredibly small, and can barely house my skinny frame. Inside to my left, is a small panel on the wall. It has five buttons with small images on them. I’ve heard about these panels–they allow you to control your “experience”–and I smirk slightly.
After twenty-three straight hours of traveling, and lugging two seventy pounds suitcases through two Japanese train stations, I can’t even say I’m tired, I’m exhausted. But I can’t sleep, to sleep would be breaking Jet Lag rule number one.

The rule of Jet lag is to stay awake until the nighttime of wherever you travel, but since Japan is an entire day ahead of Jamaica, I wasn’t sure if I was to stay up for an entire day. (The massive time zone shifts confused me). For now, I would have to stay awake.
The bathroom had a small tub and spray showerhead. It was a simple setup, and on the toilet, the first time I entered, was a thin piece of paper. “DISINFECTED”, was written on it.
Eventually, I realized, I would have to use the bathroom. Not number one either.
This is when the toilet began hissing. I peered at the directions while on the throne and waited. When the toilet hissed, a powerful jet of water hit me between the buttocks with the force of a tennis ball thrown by a heft young boy. To say it was “interesting” is to put it mildly.

It felt awkward at first, but after a while, I felt very clean. It reminded me of something I heard a while back, about Will Smith using Wet Wipes after he does number two. There is a video clip of him saying, “It’s like taking a bath in the middle of the day.”
I have to agree.

Welcome to Japan. Ohayo, Marcus.   Leave a comment

I’m at Nagoya Airport where my flight landed. My head is spinning and I feel a little off. I’ve been lugging myself across the world on an insane route to the far East. I traveled from:

Jamaican–> Miami –> L.A –> Beijing –> Nagoya.  Total travel time, 22 hours. I’ve slept a little, but I’m still not there yet. With my two huge suitcases, a guitar and a massive backpack, I must find the Shinkansen train and get to Hamamatsu. I nibble on a snack I brought from Jamaican, some bun and cheese. It is fitting that the first thing I eat in Japan is something Jamaican, because it might be a while before I eat anything like it again. The Nagoya airport is pretty interesting. I snap a few pictures and get approached by a man soon. He is dressed in a nice suit, and approaches me speaking perfect English. “Hello!” he says. “What brings you to Nagoya?”

Within moments, I realized he was a police officer, and then I explained to him I was a teacher traveling to Hamamatsu to teach. He nodded as I said this, took a quick look at my passport and then walked away. Everything around me feels alien. I recognize no Japanese, cannot read any of the chinese characters on anything and notice something else. It smells different. What sort of smell? I’m not sure, it just is. The place is very clean, and I notice the lack of anyone other than Japanese people anywhere. I’m really here, I think. I snap a picture of myself to capture the moment. The moment when I am innocent to the culture, to the language and wide-eyed and bushy tailed. It’s chilly, and outside, the unfamiliar landscape of Japan looms in the distance. The journey has begun.

Beijing Aiport Thoughts   Leave a comment

March 22, 2009

I’m watching  the sun as a red ball rise  from the a thick growth of trees in the distance. To the left of the sun, is the top of a mountain I can’t name. I’m in China , waiting for my connecting flight to Japan.
I”ve never been to the Beijing airport, but the Chinese ‘vibe’ still rings true. All the passengers on my flight were quiet. There was no laughter, no post-flight banter and everyone looked dead ahead.
In true Jamaican form, I went to a waiting area and started doing some serious wake up exercises. I did a few lunges, stretches, and then walked around listeing to music on my headphones. In a minute or two, a man in a black suit adorned with silver buttons (all the greeting staff was dressed this way ). “Where you going?” he said.  
I told him I was going to Japan. He gestured for me to go to a check in counter. I found this funny, because the check-in counter wasn’t supposed to open until 6 a.m, but an attendant had mysteriously appeared at 5:30. Other passengers were in the line as well.
This tension lasted about fifteen minutes, with good reason. As I came off the plane, one of the first things I noticed were two young people in full black watching all the passengers exit. Then there were more people waiting at the main entry way, and along the route to customs. They were expressionless and quiet.
The airport itself is an amazing work of art. Walking through this airport makes me feel as if I am stepping into the future. Underlying this architecture though, is that ‘big brother’ energy that has made China so fearsome in the minds of so many.
Every ten or fifteen feet there are cameras. Tiny black orbs housed in little half-cylinders. They were everywhere. In most airports I’v ebeen to, you can’t even see the cameras, but these were front and center. There were cameras at ticket check-in, above the staff getting ready somewhere in the back, in the door ways and along all pathways. The sensation of being watched was palpable.
Then every now and then, another airline worker, in the suit with the silver buttons woujld stroll by, walking in a way that suggested if you made a mistake, you would be whisked away to some Chinese prison for seven years.
Since there are so many horror stories about people disappearing in China, it made sense that everyone was quiet. You wouldn’t want to be seen as a usurper because the airport staff believed your Ipod touch was a secret transmitting device to gain state secrets.
As silly as that sounds, I made sure my ipod was in my pocket, and my eyes were trained directly ahead. When I went to the immigration officer, he scrutinized my passport in a way I’d never seen. He did smile at one point and say, “Ssshamiaca eh?”
I put on my best crocodile smile and said, “Yes, Jamaica.” I wasn’t’ tense because I feared I”d be taken away.  In the back, about twenty young peop;le were lining up and doing military drills. People working were looking over the shoulders of others who were working. It felt strange. After looking at my transit visa he opened up my old F1-Visa and pointed to my picture. “This you five years ago no?”
“I guess so, I don’t exactly remember.” I replied.
He said it with a smile on this face, but I didn’t know why he would ask me that. He closed the passport, handed it to me and waved the next person in line forward. I thought about taking my gum out of my mouth and tossing it into a bin nearby, but I didn’t dare stop.
The airport is huge and cold at this time of morning. Outside the temperature is about 34 degrees farenheight. I’m a little bit hungry, and I was hoping to make a phone call, but after reading the Chinese characters and seeing a prompt were I could use my credit card to dial the U.S, I decided not to. How much would that cost?
Now I’m sitting by a window the size of a house, as the early morning sun gives me some well needed warmth. I was very tempted to get a picture of the rising sun, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to take photographs in the airport, and I don’t want to find out the hard way. For now I’ll just kick back, relax and wait on my flight to Nagoya, which takes me to my final destination….
I’m kicking back and listening  to a mix CD. The crooning of Mavado’s voice echoes in my ears as I sit back in this vast expanse of well tailored architectural design, and wait.

Posted March 21, 2009 by marcusbird in Personal Thoughts

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Far East – The Journey Begins   Leave a comment

March 20th, 2009

Two years ago, I spent my birthday in Barcelona. One year ago, I spent it with friends at a Sushi bar. Today, I spent most of my birthday in the sky.

Presently, I am sitting in an airport in L.A, waiting for a flight to Beijing. My head feels a little vacant–the first eight-hour trek has left my stomach feeling a bit off–and I’m thinking about how much can change in a year.

This morning in Jamaica I watched my little sister with a heavy heart. She shed tears as I dropped her to school. We shot each other text messages proclaiming our sibling love later in the day. It was hard to watch her go.

I spent the night at my Grandmother’s house packing and repacking my luggage, only to realize that both of my bags were twenty pounds overweight. Go figure.
The day has been a whirlwind of images and sensations, filled with last minute calls and double-checking itineraries.

I’ve never spent a birthday like this… in transit. I haven’t had time to think about it at all. Despite being in the middle of my long journey to the Far East, I haven’t been reflective, introspective or anything, I’m drawing blanks.
I’m mostly hungry and tired after six weeks that make me more aware of my ability to avoid sleep.
Only three weeks ago, I was packing up my things in my apartment in D.C, occasionally seeing touching relics from the past; postcards from an ex-girlfriend who went on a three day trip, a hair clip, gifts.
One week ago I went to a play with my entire family. We laughed heartily while watching popular Jamaican actors. The whole time I had my arms around my sisters as we laughed at joke after joke. To my left, were the voices of my parents and grandmother, who were also in attendance.
Two days ago, I woke up to the bright Jamaican sunshine. Everywhere were spotless green leaves, and clouds that looked like the top of God’s ice cream cone.
Yesterday I chatted to a dear friend of mine. “I had a dream about you,” she said. “You were dressed in white, and you were telling me all about your new life and your new girlfriend, “she said. “We were sitting and talking on a white bed. Actually everything was white. We were wearing white clothes, sitting on white sheets and the room was white too.”
I smiled as she said this. I can’t remember the last time someone told me they dreamt about me. Is her dream a glimpse into the future? Who knows. I don’t own any white clothes, and I don’t have a girlfriend.

I haven’t written much of anything in the last few months. A few emotional shifts in late 2008 have left me spiritually winded. I haven’t had much impetus to play with words. However, I promised myself that I would write something on this journey, that I would type something up before I head off to Asia.
I’m thinking about the airport. It feels distinctly American. I am used to the smells and the aura of American airports, but this time it is different. Normally I enter the U.S to have a final destination there: New York, Miami, or D.C. This time I am merely passing through. Call me an international pedestrian. Gone are the days of being sequestered in the little room because I have an F1 Visa. My days with griping with immigration are over. I’m no longer here.
The last person to check my I.D smiled at me. He was a small Mexican man with broad shoulders. “Oh Jamaica!” he said. “I want to go there someday.” This made me smile. Its good to hear people say these things; it gives me an excuse to smile on a birthday where I’ve been nauseous for one eighth of it.

Today, I am stepping into absolutely new territory. To call this stretching myself is to call it stretching myself. But in typical Marcus-esque fashion, I’m more worried about my upcoming twelve-hour flight than the demands of a new culture, job and language. I want it to be over. I want to have crossed the breadth of the Earth in one fell swoop, and wake up in my new home for a year.

This has been my most quietest birthday ever, except for a moment or two when I cursed at a yellow telephone. (yes, I argued with an inanimate object). For some reason, different phones kept eating my fifty cents to dial my parents, who are in L.A at the moment. Since I’m in the L.A airport, it should have been a painless process to call them no? I smiled as the phones kept eating my money. This kind of stuff happens when you are traveling. You are tired, winded and ugly yellow phones with automated voices become a real pain in the ass.
I eventually contacted my parents, who answered the phone with voices heavy with sleep. We chatted for a little while, and I can hear the love in their voices mixed with a slight trepidation. Their child is going on a journey. Far, far away.

“Today is the first day of Spring.” My mother said.
“Ah, so that makes today a special day.” I replied.
“Yes, she said.”

Before I said goodbye, I heard the echo of my father’s voice in the background. “Marcus!” he said with a smile in his voice. I laughed, and hung up the phone.

My heart feels warm when I speak to my parents. They are beacons of love in a harsh world. I am glad I have those beacons. It is better to focus on a handful of people that love you, than to focus on people who do not care about you at all. This is one of the most profound life lessons I have learned. Family is very important to me now, in a different sort of way. Maybe losing love and seeing more of the world has taught me what is truly important. Maybe I have more to see, who knows.

I could go on a spiel about paradigm shifts, but I already have a blog saturated with that mental mish-mash.

I’m too tired to celebrate my birthday with any real gusto. I want to eat but all the shops are closed, and I have no idea what time food will be served on my flight.  Maybe today is a special day, and that’s all I’ll need for the time being. Its chily and now i’m closing the laptop.

Bon Voyage….

Posted March 20, 2009 by marcusbird in Personal Thoughts

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