Archive for the ‘brazilian’ Tag

Dick Jokes and Pumpkin Carving   Leave a comment


I’m dressed as a spade, and I’m sprinting up a hill. Behind me, four small Japanese boys scream “Ashi hayai ne!!!”  (he runs so fast!) I crest the hill, and in front of me, is an army of little Japanese kids dressed like witches, goblins and ninjas. Giggling and screaming, they dart from place to place, in search of candy. The four boys behind me catch up, huffing and puffing. They point towards a thick grove of trees fifty feet away and we start running again, navigating between little bodies and screaming voices.


I’m a counselor at the annual Mikkabi Youth center Halloween camp.


Mikkbai is a quiet town about an hour from Hamamatsu by train. The vista I received after stepping off the train was exquisite. In the near distance I saw green rolling hills and fields of tall, dark grass. The surrounding had a panoply of plants and colours. The train station had a quaint touch; it was small and built of wood, and doubled as a bakery. The place immediately made me feel calm and relaxed.

 “From what I heard last time, the camp was a nightmare.”

Another ALT had told me this at a bar after a few drinks three weeks ago. At the time I hadn’t planned to go, and paid it no mind. But I had no apprehensions about doing the camp. At some points, I had envisioned a huge log cabin filled with wild young Japanese kids, screaming at the counselors and wreaking havoc. It wasn’t anything like that.


“This reminds me of Jamaica.” I said to Emma, another counselor. I ran into her at the station and we took the train up to Mikkabi together.

“Really? Why?” she replied.

“Well I realized something when I traveled to Osaka a few weeks ago. I noticed that when I got there I felt very calm and secure, but I wasn’t sure why. The Japanese people hadn’t changed, and nothing was horribly different but then I realized that in the distance I could see mountains. Then I said to myself, wow, I grew up for most of my life seeing mountains wherever I went. I even live in a community in the hills overlooking Kingston.”


My spiel revealed something else to me I didn’t realize either. Living in a foreign country has certain demands, which are mostly mental after you get adjusted to your work environment. Trying to escape for many people involves engaging in various activites to keep busy, but its not always garaunteed to make you feel that good.
For me I discovered that I had an escape. I just needed to find a place with hills.


The youth center was a large modern building that felt like a hotel. We were greeted by staff and a few volunteer high school students. Upstairs was a meeting room with several other counselors, mostly twenty somethings that lived in different parts of the Shizuoka prefecture. It was funny to see so many foreigners in one place. It had been weeks since I spoke much that English on a Saturday during the day.


As I sat there, watching the groups interact with each other, I got sudden flashes of the past from living in America and Jamaica; the fleeting glimpses of those memories a quiet echo of my western culture.


My charges were four young boys, whom I met at lunch. Kyoko, one of the founders of the event, explained to the children what the events would be. As we started singing songs and playing with the children, I felt more like the sensei  I had become.


Watching grown people play with children is always a little weird. In our adult lives we rarely do exaggerated things unless we are drunk or engaging in specific physical activities. Seeing tall young men and women running after little children, making smiling faces and gesturing wildly with their hands was interesting. In a way, I was looking at these people being parents, or practicing. I was seeing how humans are, and how our roles interlink from place to place. Our charges for the weekend were our kids, and we had to watch them and protect them, make them happy and not get exhausted in the process.


“Yes we can! Yes we can!” everyone chants after singing a halloween song. Outside, the sky is a cool gray, and the sea is near motionless save a lone boat sliding across its surface. In a gymnasium with one hundred and forty children, twenty counselors and another twenty staff, I feel quiet and at peace.


We do some early trick or treating and I change my costume three times before I decide on what I’m going to be, which is a Spade from a deck of cards. My guys are all dressed as a certain Japanese wizard, the name of whom I can’t recall. As night falls and Iget used to the routine of watching my group and playing with them, I learn about the people around me in soft sprinkles of information. The counselors are mostly from America and Canada with a couple Scots and English people tossed in for good measure. I am one of two Jamaicans in residence, which is pretty cool.


Later we make Jack-o-laterns. I’ve never carved a pumpkin before, and I take make sure to design the perfect pumpkin for my guys. Yutaro, a small, wide-eyed child with a man’s confidence is fiercely debating how we’ll make the eyes.

“Let’s use this stencil.” One of them says to me in Japanese, pointing at a stencil book.

The image is a frightening pair of eyes and a grisly smile.

“No, we need an original design.” Yutaro retorts, and they eventually decide on eyes that are shaped like Stars.

I’m proud of the finished product and so are my charges. They happily smear fake blood on the Jack-o-latern and disappear to their rooms before we head back to the gymnasium for some more games.


By the time the kids go to bed we get some good news. A local hotel, called the Ryokan will be where we sleep. One of the event managers knows the hotel very well; her family owns it. We walk down a quiet street that opens into a wide view of an inland lake. In the distance like a burst of colour, are the spinning lights of a ferris wheel. It’s chilly, and I made small talk with a girl from California, practicing my horrible Spanish.


At the Ryokan, the natural progression of events leads to drinking. We all sit in a large room, chugging beers and playing drinking games. As things start to wind down, everyone for some reason starts speaking about names.

“How do you get ‘bob’ from Robert?” someone says.

“How do you get ‘Bill’ from William?” a female voice chimes in.

“How do you get ‘Dick’ from Richard?” a guy name Mike says to me.

I pause, then I respond: “How do YOU get dick from Richard?”

Everyone laughs and this becomes a running gag for the remainder of the camp. The next morning, I wake up to the sound of my phone alarm. Ben, an English guy sleeping in the room with myself and two other guys, groans.

“It’s cold. It sucks” he says from underneath the blanket.

I stumble over to the window, which gives an amazing panoramic view of the lake in the morning. We stand there, the three of us, in our underwear for all of thirty seconds. “Time to go.” I say, rubbing my arms to keep warm. I slip on a sweater, grab my bag and prepare to head out. Ben, still putting his clothes on mentions something.

“I had a friend named Richard.” he said. “He never liked the nickname Dick. It really bothered him.”

“You mean Richard didn’t like Dick?” I said.

Ben laughed.

“I walked right into that one.” he said with a smile.



The day is a whirlwind of activity including a campfire, toasting marshmallows and trick-or-treating; all things I have never done. As the day progresses, the sun breaks through the gray bank of clouds shadowing the city and it gets warm. The kids feed on this weather with rabid enthusiasm. The day becomes a melee of running, Frisbee throwing and field games.


As the event comes to a close and we stand in a line to take pictures with our groups, two small Japanese girls standing in front of me ask to touch my hair.

“Cool!” they say to each other.

I respond to them in Japanese and they proceed to pepper me with questions, tickle me and teach me Japanese words like “bag”, “shoe” and “glasses”.


The camp feels like it ended a little quickly. I enjoyed my spirited conversations in Japanese with the energetic little boys, and barking their names whenever they got into mischief. I take a picture with the mother of Ritsuki, the tallest of the group, and she thanks me profusely for showing them a good time. I wave goodbye to Koki, the most shy of the group. Shintaro, Yutaro’s twin brother, gives me a happy high five before he runs to his mother. As they each go back to their parents and start walking away I smile. It feels good.


Kyoko’s house is both a school and a residence. It is clean, spacious and has a small back yard. The deck oversees train tracks and hills in the distance. The counselors eat sushi, chips and drink beers while occasionally singing along to popular songs (A counselor named Kat could play the guitar). I was horribly comfortable, singing along to Oasis, trying to play a Bob Marley song in between drinking and snacking on food. The high school students who helped out with the event were in residence too, chatting with each other and occasionally interacting with the counselors.


Watching the high school students help over the weekend was like taking a hot bath in Japanese culture. If you didn’t know beforehand they were students, you would think they were employees of the Mikkabi youth center. They did every duty diligently, everything was on time and no one had a sad face.


Before I went home I took one last look at the brown hills in the distance, looking at the tall trees which dotted their surface, and the undulating patterns and bumps along their breadth. There I was, standing on a deck in a far off place, and a sharp feeling of familiarity hit me which made me smile, even though I was nowhere near home. Happy Halloween.



Skinny Jeans Beach Clean   Leave a comment

June 7th, 2009

In Skinny jeans and shoes unfit for sand, I’m helping to clean a beach.

I’m an unofficial member of Surfquest, run by a tall manly-man looking guy named Mike, who’s responsible for thirteen miles of beach in Hamamatsu. I’d met him once in the city. He’s a builder. He built his house, skateboards and has plans for a lodge beside his house to sell books, house wayward surfers and have events.
The beach clean is pretty popular. Afterwards we have a barbeque and there is a book sale for those of us fiengning for English novels to read. When I arrived, I saw a couple fellow employees and familiar faces from around town.

We grabbed bags and went through an enclave of trees to the beach. Seeing the ocean for the first time since I’d been in Hamamatsu washed me with a sense of calm. I felt quiet and in touch internally as I walked and talked, happily picking up garbage and sorting into different bags. We had red bags and blue bags. “Red is for unburnable, blue for burnable.” Mike told the group earlier. We were all commissioned straw hats, little dirty gloves and a few plastic bags each. With only two colours of bags, people still asked during the clean which was which. I was putting the non burnables in the red bag, which luckily for me, was correct.

In terms of my life I didn’t know how I was feeling. The days still seemed a little fuzzy, and I often wondered what I was doing in Japan, so far from everything and everyone I know. This event helped my mood significantly. I fed everyone around me with questions, made jokes and played racing games with Mike’s dog, Chai. I felt free.

Later, there was a veggie barbeque at Mike’s place. Darkness started to fall, and I was eating loads of curried beans, peppery black beans and chips. There were lots of beers and green tea. Somewhere around this time, I met a girl. I’ll call her Z.

She wore a white a purple skirt that fitted her form perfectly. She was small, but more curvy than the majority of the Japanese women I had met so far. I recognized her immediately. I met her one night I had a DJ stint at a local bar. My buddy had been chatting her up, but I had no idea if he succeeded.
I liked her face. She was cute, with round bright eyes and a button nose. Occassionally her eyes would slant and a spark of sexuality would spread across her face. Then, like nothing, it was gone. I had seen her tipsy, and that look remained in my mind as I saw her the first time. She spoke great English. Her family traveled around. She also had a playful sense of humor.
I pretended to look through books in the book sale room to chat to her. We did small-talk. As I gauged her interest, I started to feel that she was someone worth some kind of effort. I puffed myself up somewhat, demonstrating my interesting life and telling lots of anecdotes, bridging the gap between my raging passions for certain things, with subtle hints about my sexual proclivities and love life.
She’s the kind of girls that foreigners here love–a well traveled Japanese chick who speaks English. The benefit of these women is three fold. One, they are open minded. Two they have probably been ina relationship with a foreigner (which can remove oodles of awkward situations), and three, they themselves have a different perspective on Japan after leaving it. She had been to America, Asia and Europe

I fed her story after story, wondering in my mind how I had morphed from my bumbling, sorry self of two days before into a person with what I call “life fire”. Time was dragging on, and I wanted to catch the last bus back to the city. K and a few other people wanted to take a walk on the beach, meaning we’d catch a cab home. I didn’t travel with much money on me that day, but I was down. I was enjoying everything about the evening, especially talking to K. Most women I had met so far were either shy or distant with language, or immediately proclaimed their status as taken.
A full moon was out and it lit our way as we made our way back through the enclave of trees to the beach. I will still chatting to K, and felt my sappy self coming out. I love beautiful moments in life, the kind that are priceless and are extremely simple. Standing with someone you care about on a beach somewhere, or in a mall holding hands waiting for a movie… these things always go straight in my subconscious as things I value. This was no different. The blue moonbeams illuminated the forestry around us, giving the dark leaves a touch of watered down indigo. Me, four other people and a cute girl were going for a moon-lit walk in Japan. It was a drop of heaven.

We when exited the forest, my jaw dropped. The sky above me was brightly lit; wrapped by a belt of puffy clouds beneath the shining moon in a semi-circular arch. Breathtaking, I thought. Now I was holding K’s hand, feeling her soft skin against my palms, smiling fiendishly. We stopped at the seashore, near the tall shadows of tetrapods, where a few Japanese guys were lighting fireworks. There we stood the six of us; Mike’s tall silhouette about fifteen feet away with a friend. Behind me, another couple held hands and quietly took in the vista. Me, I was standing with my arms outstretched and my eyes closed, feeling warm ocean breeze caress my body like a thousand hands.
“This is what living is all about.” I said to myself. “This is life.”
I was lost in thought, and completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the ocean and the moon. I stood there for a while, until I felt a hand touch me. It was K. “Don’t get left behind.” She said with a smile.
I was happy to see the moonlit beach. I was happy to spend time around people with good energy. I was happy to meet K. As usual, the work week loomed ahead like a burly taskmaster with a whip of chains, but at least for a moment, I could say I smiled for no other reason, than to smile.

Japanese Rock Education; the Nagoya roadtrip   Leave a comment

I’m on my way to Nagoya.

I’m in the Hamamatsu station, looking out for Kori, the guy I’m traveling with. My phone rings, and I hear a voice ask for me. “I am here, where are you?” he asks. I raise my hand. “Ah, I see you!” he shouts into the phone. I hang up and a short man with a very angular face runs up to me. His smile is so big it recedes into his face, making his eyes tiny and white. It frightens me for half a second.
“Are we ready to go?” he says.
“Yes.” I reply.
We go into his car, a small red vehicle , and drive off.
My Nagoya trip is the culmination of a few random events, and a few not so random events. One year ago, I went to the Cannes film festival. During the crazy two weeks that is Cannes, I was shooting a short film and somewhere during that, I ran into Daiki, a slim Japanese fellow with a calm demeanour. He was holding a small, expensive camera and helped us out with the shoot. At the time, I could barely communicate with him. My Japanese was below basic. Even so we still made a connection. “If I come to Japan, ” I said back then, “I’ll link you.”
Now, I’m making that link.  Kori is Daiki’s friend who happens to live in Hamamatsu, where I live. Daiki is having a film event in Nagoya, and I’m tagging along for the ride.
Our first stop is small café where Kori buys some, onigiri. “This is Japanese fast-food.” He says. The café is at the foot of a small hill on the outskirts of Hamamatsu. Inside feels very comfortable and artistic, with the smell of incense and wood. I sit at the counter, and I pause.
I see a young woman busily making some food. She is tall, with lovely eyes and a face that reminds me of an actress I saw somewhere. Her skin is bronzed dark. As she moves, oblivious to me watching her, I feel like time stops. She is intensely focused on the food and moves around the kitchen expertly. Another woman, and they move in unison, occasionally chatting to each other about the food they are making. Then, she walks past, her green skirt swishing and swaying. I paused for a second and started breathing again. Her name was Umi, and she was beautiful.
I don’t often feel this way about women I meet initially, but this is the first time in a while I remember just staring at someone. Her outfit wasn’t risqué and she didn’t seem to have a shy bone in her. I was intrigued.
I chatted with Umi and the other lady in my most chill Japanese (meaning I spoke at a regular tone with no pauses) and found that they were mother and daughter. They owned the establishment, which made a select set of clothes along with food. “I’m a  designer as well.” I told them. The mother seemed very impressed. “Her name means beach,” her mother told me, in reference to Umi. “I know.” I replied as I left.
We hit the road, leaving Umi in our wake.

*  *  *  *
One of the most interesting things about traveling are the experiences you have meeting people. For, me conversation is always the treasure. When I was in Germany, I chatted with a politician about his music (he was a part-time house DJ). Today I’m talking to Kori about religion.
“What is your religion? If you don’t mind?” he asks. I tell him that things are mixed in the way I grew up, that Jamaican is a relatively conservative (yet not ) conservative society and my perspectives shifted as time passed. Like anyone, I said, I’m still searching. Kori was similar. He had spent ten years traveling through different countries. He loved rock and Jazz. “ACDC is the best ever!” he said to me with his super smile. He had the sinewy, wired body of a person who is very active. This was confirmed when he told me he was a surfer. “I went to Australia for school, but then I realized that surfing is my life.” He said. His English is very good, and I asked him where he studied. “Listening to music is one of the best ways to learn language,” he said. “Axle Rose was my first English teacher.”
His car was a mirror of his lifestyle. A guitar was wedged in between a tattered biker jacket and a skateboard in the back seat. Beside the skateboard was a mid-sized plastic box was filled with CDs and minidiscs. Rock paraphernalia, little cups and empty boxes of cigarettes were everywhere. We drove along the highway listening to Kyioushiro, (the Japanese John Lennon). Every twenty-five minutes we made stops. “I have to get coffee.” He would say with a laugh.
We listened to ACDC’s back in Black, a Lenny Kravitz CD and Velvet Underground.  I was getting a rock education from a Japanese surfer. When we reached Nagoya, we hung out on the roof of a SEIYU supermarket while we waited for Daiki to arrive at the Café where the film event was being held. Sayuu is  a chain of large supermarkets in Japan. On the roof, I could see Nagoya’s landscape; a sea of angled roottops and cream colored buildings. Far away, I could see hills. The sky was a quiet blue and cotton ball clouds lazily coasted across the sky. I slept for a few minutes. I grabbed Kori’s skateboard and did a few lazy ollies, alternating between that an Mafia live on my Iphone.
Kori’s phone rings.
“It’s Daiki, ” he says. “He’s here.”
We hop back into the car and it comes to life with a growl. Ten seconds later, we are at the Café. I see Daiki, and remember him immediately. When I saw him the first time, he had a goate and a moustache, and was wearing what I’ve dubbed the Japanese “superV” t-shirts. Its like a V-neck, if a V-neck exposed your entire chest. Now he was clean shaven, but was instantly familiar. The last time I saw him was in France, now I was in his hometown in Japan. Life is funny.
We drink chai tea and catch up. The film event is a mixture of traditional Japanese story telling and Daiki’s Miru movement. The idea is simple. You shoot some video,  and do one take. It has to be a minute long and silent. That’s Miru, or roughly translated, “Seeing”.
The presentation is in a studio beside the café, and I walk inside a quiet place with wooden floors. I’m instantly reminded of any dance movie I’ve ever watched, or old episodes of Fame. I take off my shoes and slip into some tiny indoor slippers. After a minute or two, I sneak to the bathroom to wash my feet. Even though I washed my socks a few days before, they were  a tad smelly. I didn’t want to be the smelly foreigner. In the bathroom, it took me four minutes to figure out how to flush the toilet. There was a touch screen panel with instruction in Japanese, no less than ten buttons and and white exterior housing that resembled a large thermostat.
The toilets just get more complex and feature-ridden. I sneak back inside, (my feet smell like hand wash now) and I watch the first show. I’m not entirely sure what the story is about, but I think it had something to do with dragons that like oranges. A little girl cried throughout the entire performance. Daiki showed some Miru films, and we sat in silence for a few minutes, watching grainy videos on a large screen.
A play started, following the narration of a storybook illustrated by Eric Carl, the Canadian artist. It was an interesting experience. Afterwards, we ate curried chicken and chatted about nothing in particular.

The night was winding down and Kori said he probably wasn’t heading into the city. I have a rule about new cities; I cannot go into one without experiencing  the night life. I did a quick change in the bathroom, slipping into the nice pants and a slim tee.
“You need to go to Sakae,” Kori told me. “That’s where people party.”
Like Tokyo the week before, I was ready to go. I wouldn’t be able to take a train back to that area in Nagoya until seven in the morning, so I had no choice but to have fun. Kori and Daiki dropped me to the station. He gave me some quick instructions on how to get to Sakae and I ran into the train. I was immediately lost, but a nice girl helped me figure out where I was, and where to go. In a few minutes I would be in Sakae, and it would be a great night.

Golden Week Part Two   1 comment

It’s the third day of Golden Week, and I’m in the middle of a crowd of people, all chanting and soaked from running up and down all day in the rain. Their voices are brittle screams. Two days ago, the Golden week felt very normal and organized, more tradition than crazy, but now the real side of the event was rearing its head.

It was raining, which normally kills things like parades out west, but here, it didn’t matter. The scattered groups I had observed the night before marching and chanting had doubled. Dozens of men and women in Happis ran around, chanting and drinking. It was a smorgasbord of excess. If they groups weren’t chanting, they were sitting on the sidewalk, wolfing down Japanese snacks, or sipping on Sake until they got up again.
As a foreigner, I feel completely out of place. So far my days have been quiet and somewhat lonely, and this sudden eruption of outgoing Japanese before makes me smirk more than anything. I’m riding my bike through the city, cursing myself that I didn’t bring my camera. Even though there is a slight drizzle, I always forget my semi-waterproof camera bag.
I stop near a group of people sitting on a sidewalk.
One person, a young man, catches my eye. He runs over to me. “Yo issho! Yo issho!“(together! together!) he shouts. Within second, a group of twenty young men are around me, chanting the same words. One pulls out a two litre bottle of sake. I drink almost half the bottle, while their chants float into the nighttime air and I get pats on the back.
“I’m Marcus.” I say in Japanese. “This is my first Golden Week.”
I’ve only heard snippets of things about Golden week through the grapevine–the ten of thousands of drunk people, none stop parties and all out madness–but experiencing it first hand was interesting.
Golden Week is a collection of Japanese holidays bundled at the start of May. People celebrate different things. Some celebrate the birth of their first child, others simply enjoy the time honoured tradition of getting completely drunk with a thousand of your closet friend in public view. For some Japanese people, these three days are their only holidays for the entire year, so they make it count.
The festival is more that just people getting drunk. Entire villages of people coordinate routes to run and chant through the city, while task masters make sure people don’t’ get too drunk and left behind. Shouting “Yaisho!” revitalizes the group and keeps the party going… for four days. In the morning you can hear the whistles and trumpets from somewhere in the city, accompanied by dozens of footfalls.
On the second day, I went to a street party. Darryl is a friend of mine who teaches English in Hamamatsu. His friend is celebrating the birth of his son. Here I was pulled in as the meek foreigner. A large Japanese man with a broad chest and  bright smile pulled me into a raging group of men shouting. I got into it, shouting myself and jogging rapidly. Behind me, was a platform with a large tub of Sake. As people chanted, young men would drink constantly from the tub. To see people so actively celebrating the birth of their friends son, as well as their own livelihood and happiness was  touching. A man came onto the podium. He was short, with bright eyes and had a warm smile. I could tell he was the father. People screamed louder and as he drank from a wooden cup that looked like a large spoon, then all the Sake was thrown on him.

Yo issho indeed.
I also saw a few girls I knew from my program. They were three English girls and two Aussies. As thrilling as running with the crowd minutes before had been, I started feeling cold and alone as I watched the bodies walk off in the distance, chanting under a blanket of raindrops. I walked with the English girls for a little while, following the group. Two adventurous Japanese guys were trying to talk to them the whole time, and I eventually rode away, heading to another part of the city.

The spectacle is amazing, people pulling carriages with ropes, and the carriages lit by lamps, glowing in the nighttime.

However, my chest felt tight and I felt bad. There I was, in a town were everyone was happy and celebrating, and I felt like the odd man out. I couldn’t be sure if it was simply culture shock, or the fallout of bad relationships, or an uncertainty about my near future. With my shirt sticking to my skin and the sound of whistles and voices blasting my ears, I rode around on my bike, in no particular direction.
I got many free beers, and once or twice I chanted Yo isssho! with a few people. I tried to imagine myself in their eyes, with my dark skin and curly hair, my height and my different features. What was me saying Yo issho! To them? It must have been bizarre. I wished in that moment I could have experienced a catharsis, with tears running down my eyes, masked by the rain as I lost myself in the tradition.
But that didn’t happen.
When I was tired and a little buzzed, I rode back home. It was chilly and I was looking forward to hop into my warm bed. As I neared my apartment, I heard whistles and trumpets. The reflection of a very bright light illuminated the street, and I heard voices chanting. People near my apartment are shouting and celebrating with the gusto of men going to war. A large light had been erected only a few feet from my apartment, and close to the light were about three hundred people.

A man barked commands into a loudspeaker, then the whistling began and the shouting. Girls barely able to walk held on to each other, their Happies so large they look like hand-me-downs. I stood on the corner of the street, feeling quite challenged. Could I run into the group, start chanting and meet everyone in my neighbourhood? Or would they see me coming and stop everything, making me feel ridiculous. In that moment I felt far, far, away from everything I knew. As the people chanted and reveled, none of them looked at me.
I sighed, and went into my apartment, falling asleep with the sound of Yo issho in my ears.

Golden Week Part One   Leave a comment

Read the rest of this entry »

In a Room, On a Beach   Leave a comment

April 16, 2009

I’m reading a Superman comic book at my workplace.

I sit in solitary silence, in the spacious Eigo Room. This is where countless students have been taught English. The room is empty. I’m sitting near the front of the class, away from the windows so no one can see me. The door windows are covered with paper, giving me an added touch of privacy. I close the comic book for a second and close my eyes.
In moments like these, I remember why relationships are necessary.
Many jobs have a monotony inherent to their inner functions. Twice a week you have meetings. You teach the same classes every Thursday and Friday. Happy hour is on Wednesdays. Your mind gets programmed to this routine, and your emotional expectancies are aligned to your job. But then, one day you go home and you get horny.

Or bored, idle or frustrated. You realize that your rigorous schedule is sapping a portion of your life experience. The work you do to ensure that you have a place to live and eat is also the bane of your existence. Some days might be fun, but they all won’t be. There will be days you want to toss your files into the air, throw your tie in the toilet and hit flush. Then you’ll want to run outside, smiling gleefully and run naked through a public park. You won’t do this, but you’ll think about what you want to be. Your’e still young, you say. There’s still time.

Maybe you’ll be  a rock star or a famous writer. Maybe you’ll spearhead a new tech company and be a billionaire in a manner of months. You could be a travel writer that does dangerous assignments, and joke in broken Portuguese with guys you barely know about that girl you slept with in high school.  Or you could take that really interesting route–TV personality. You could be the next Howie Mandel or Chris Rock, getting a thousand hits on a grainy YouTube video where you chat about that time you got booed at a comedy club in Philly.
Or maybe you’ll be a game programmer, like those MIT kids who came up with Guitar Hero. Maybe you could just be a bum after winning the lottery, sitting home idly buying whatever you feel like, and only date women in Paris, even though you live in New York. Maybe you could do all these things, but then you wake up.

You are at work, and you’ve been fantasizing. The voices around you coalesce into an onorous din. Closing your eyes doesn’t help, and thinking about escaping wont’ help you either. Someone walks beside you and taps you on the shoulder. “Hey, we have a meeting in ten minutes,” they say. You smile and nod, but inside you want to be in Bali, walking with a cute chick on the beach.

You want to be in Senegal, snapping pictures of dancers with crystal dark skin. You want to be in Germany, running your hand across the Berlin wall, snapping pictures with tall blonde people and asking questions from a five dollar phrase book.
Alas, you can’t. You are at work, and you have a contract.

The most you can look forward to are holidays and weekends, and you eye the calendar with anticipation as each day crawls along. You can plan ahead, and squeeze some trips into that three day week, or that five days of sick leave you never take. You sit happily and fantasize about that two day trip to Disney world you’ll take, but know you’ll probably just sleep in. You sigh as inevitability hits you. This office is as much your home as your actual one.

I’m not at this point yet, but sometimes I fear reaching there. A relationship can make that easier. You go through your day of repetitive activity, but out there, somewhere is someone thinking about you. She wants to feel your touch at night, and smell your body next to hers. She wants to have those fleeting moments with you, even if work is at 8 a.m the next day. For her, you will be a priority, and that might make things more palatable.

You’ll sit in a meeting and smirk inwardly about the comment she made the night before when you went out to dinner. You will blush when raw sexual memories spring up at not-so opportune moments.  You will let out a heavy breath when something happens and you get pissed off, but you know that your baby will be there to make you feel better. You will wake up at the crack of dawn, ready to work, knowing that under the stillness of the morning sky, when we come to life, she’s out there, and maybe after she brushes her teeth, a thought of you will pop into her head, and she’ll smile. This keeps you going.


Sumo Wrestler Mealtime   Leave a comment

April 15, 2009

I’m holding a small Japanese child in my arms.

Her name is Nana, and she’s the child of Shuji, a man I met a week ago who I spoke to for only five minutes. He invited me to come to his house today.
Earllier, I walked to try and find out where Shuji lived, somewhere in Maisaka. I took the main road, squinting occasionally as blasts of warm wind hit my face. Every now and then, and old woman on a bicycle would ride by, her face covered with a white mask. I was tired, but I wanted to go to dinner with Shuji and his family.
I’m walking for about ten minutes on the highway, and then I see a car pull over twenty feet away. I get a glimpse of the driver and I realize its Shuji. He gestures quickly for me to come. I hop into the car.
“I have some work to do, but I can take you my house. Is okay?” he said.
“Iku.” I replied. (Let’s go.)

He laughs as he tells me that he saw me walking on the road, and turned around to get me while he was driving. I feel fortunate, because I would have kept walking and probably gotten seriously lost. We stop by his house.
“I think my wife and daughter, they might be sleeping. Can you wait here? I check okay?”
I say okay, and let out a deep breath as I watch him disappear up a staircase. For a second I say, “What am I doing here?” to myself. I met the guy one week ago for a few minutes. I was peppered with questions about where I was from, and then invited to his house the next day. I wasn’t able to make it that day, but I ran into him after school one day. That day he said his English friend would be coming to his house, and I should come.
“We will have big party for you.” He said. His expression was firm, but he exuded a firm warmth.  He was well traveled, having lived all over the world. I thought about this, and then I heard his voice. He was on the staircase.
“Marcus. You come now, okay?” he said.
I walked up a narrow staircase and came to a small door. A flash of movement behind a stained glass in door revealed Shuji. The door opened to reveal Shuji speaking rapidly in Japanese to his wife. She looked at me and nodded.
“Can you wait in the car?” he said.
“Sure.” I said.
I went back downstairs and flopped into the car. In front of me, was the skyline of Maisaka. Small to medium sized houses, and a sea of powerlines. I saw Shuji with a small bundle in his arms. His daughter.
“You hold her. Okay?” he said.
I didn’t know what to say but yes. I opened the door and held onto his daughter carefully. She was adorable.
I felt an odd touch of something. Was it cultural? A person usually wouldn’t let a complete stranger hold their child in the front seat of a vehicle. She felt like a small bundle of heaven, and I was filled with a sudden desire to protect her, more so because of Shuji’s trust.
We drove to his house, which is also where his family business is. I had to stoop to get into the house, but it was warm and cozy. I met his mother and grandmother. “Hajimemashite.” I said. ‘ (pleased to meet you )
“Hajimemashite, yorushku.” His mother replied.  (please to meet you, may we trust each other.)
I was in a tiny lobby area. The floors were made of a firm wood and The walls were made from thin wooden beams and stained glass. Overhead, small pipes threatened to touch my head when I walked, and I kept ducking. Shuji appeared from the kitchen. “You can wash your hand here, then please, sit.” He pointed to a room to the left.
He would say, “please sit, please relax” many times that night. His father would also say that. Relaxing was a big thing in Japan, and he gave me insights into why Japanese people love reggae music. “In Japan, people work very hard. Very long.” He said, “Relax is very important. Reggae is very good for relax.”
I had to agree. After only three and a half weeks, I was starting to see the intensity of the Japanese work ethic; the school I worked at felt like an investment bank. Reggae music must be like a chill-pill for the Japanese I thought, which would explain their fascination with the music and culture.
I sat in a room with a Buddhist shrine in the left corner and a picture of his deceasd Grandfather above it.  A small table no more than eight inches off the ground sat on a set of tatami mats, adjacent to a large flat screen TV. Nana was sitting wth her mother to the left of the table, and Shuji sat in front of me. He said he had lived in the house until he got married, and I could see that if he hadn’t been married he would still be living there. I was starting to understand. His entire family had lived there, including his grandparents, parents and himself and his sister. I met his Grandmother as well, an old woman with a slightly bent back and kind eyes. “SHE IS NINTEY-ONE!” Shuji’s father would eventually exclaim.
As the night went on, I ate taksan tabemono (a lot of food) and a joke would be made that I eat like a sumo wrestler. “We Japanese people are very small.” Shuji said. “Normally we eat one bowl of rice. I like two. But you eat three!” I laughed as he said this. With me having to duck to walk through the house, I really felt like the large, imposing Gaijin.
When his father arrived, he spoke in  a bright, loud voice with a smile on his face. I thought he would have a great career in television in another life. He spoke very good English. “MARCUS! HOW IS THE JAPANESE FOOD? ISN’T IT DELICIOUS!” he said. I nodded, taking a sip of a new Suntory beer, called “STRAIGHT’.

This is the second outing of this kind I’ve been on so far, and I like these events. Here I feel welcome and I can relax a bit. My days have been a mixture of trying to understand Japanese, dealing with ways to adjust to the culture and working. After we eat, Shuji snaps a picture of us. The entire family joins us for the photo.

Most days when I’m walking in the city, I get stares, but no hellos. I traipse around happily listening to music on my Ipod, but I’m blocking out the world around me. I can’t just go up to people and meet them. I play video games at araceds and hangout at Gaijin bars to keep myself level.
This dinner outing is a godsend. The family is very sociable, asking questions about Jamaica, my traveling experience and school. I practice my Japanese with them, and Shuji’s wife laughs as she says I speak very good Japanese. At some point, Shuji points out that I’m the only black person in Maisaka, so I will be very easy to find on the street. This tickles me to no end.

By this time, the English friend, a young man and his mother, have joined us. The routine continues, with drinks for everyone and loads of food. When its over, I leave the house bowing profusely, thanking Shuji for everything.
I walk with the young man and his mother to Bentijima station, nearby. We chat for a while about living in Japan on the train platform. It is brightly lit but at least twenty feet above street level, and I feel like I’m standing in the future. I step on the train and know I won’t need to go anywhere tonight. For now, my head is clear and I can sleep peacefully.

Until tomorrow.

The African Nipple Pinch   Leave a comment

April 10th, 2009

Tonight my nipples will be pinched twice by a large African man.

It’s Friday, and I roll out of my apartment on my bike, blasting dancehall music in my ears, buzzed from cheap pre-gaming. Pre-gaming is a lifesaver for the monetarily conscientious social drinker. Drinks everywhere range from five to ten dollars (a world average), and to get buzzed it takes on average six to eight drinks. You could easily drop 80 bucks in two hours, when you could run to the 7-11, buy a flask of whiskey or rum, a coke for a dollar and do the same for less than one tenth of the price. For now, I’m the one tenth kind of guy.
I planned to head out around ten o’ clock. My evenings usually consist of a brief game of Street Fighter IV which ends with me calling the last boss a “battyguy”, and then I find a bar somewhere to chill and mingle.
I’m having an interesting time in the city, for a few reasons.

Firstly, I’ve never been in a culture like this one. Its not different in a way that makes me run home every night and weep before I wake up to go to work, but socially, I haven’t calibrated yet. I’m a roaming kind of guy. I like bars with people I can talk to, a variety of events to visit and enjoy and that sweet spot with cheap drinks that people flock to the most. Every city I’ve lived in has these places. In Hama town, I think I’ve almost found the three key things I need. Sure there is the sea a train ride away, hot springs and rivers and temples somewhere over a hill or valley, but I’m boring that way. Once the city satisfies my needs, I never leave.

I lived in New York for four months, and I didn’t leave the city once. In fact I spent more than ninety percent of my time in a twenty square block radius. During the day I worked on Spring street, near the waterfront. Ten blocks away at night I was always in Union Square and the Lower East side. Across from where I lived were restaurants and a Jamaican place that sold two patties and a soda for five dollars. In the Lower East Side there were tons of foreign women, dive bars and places with cheap drinks and relatively friendly people. I had my Karaoke night, a club I’d hit up on Tuesdays, my Wednesday pad Thai place, the Thursday dive bar where a beer costs a dollar fifty, and St.Marks and other cool streets on Friday through Sunday. In four months, I didn’t go to the beach in Brooklyn, see the Statue of Liberty, or even visit a museum. I had everything I needed and I was fine.

I want this in Hamamatsu.

I’ve discovered a few interesting bars, run mostly by ex-pat people, but I’m keeping the search going. Tonight I’m supposed to head to a place called Planet Café. They are holding a house music party there. On the website, are images of packed crowds with a sea of pale hands in the air. It looks like a fun spot.

I’m riding my bike and singing along to Mavado’s “I’m so special”, scaring the be Jesus out of old Japanese women in my wake. The alcohol is kicking in, and I promise myself I won’t drink anything else.
Friday night in Hamamatsu feels like a city. There are people everywhere. Around me are a sea of girls in cute skirts, guys with video-game hair of a video game and bright lights. As usual, when I pulled up to the crosswalk and wait for the light to change, a few guys take me in. They speak rapid Japanese, but I hear the word “Gaijin” popup at some point in their conversation.
They might find me interesting, but it’s really not that serious.

I ride low through a street with my video arcade spot. I get off my bike to navigate the bodies. I get more stares, but I’m watching the cute girls. I still haven’t figured out what to say to any of them, and I take a detour and head towards the spot I’m going to, No Name.
The funny thing about Japan is that my friends were all living vicariously through me before I got here. “Japanese girls!” everyone kept saying. “They love black men!” I haven’t proven this theory. I think there is a touch of truth to it, but to date not one girl has said hello to me on the street. This has happened to many of the ALTs I know who are white. Strike on that point.
Also, I’ve heard horror stories about guys who’ve said hello to girls on the street, and the girls report them to the police, and they get tossed in jail for months at a time. In Japan you are guilty until proven innocent, and even if you are innocent, you will lose your job, be banned from public arenas and probably have to move. Saying hello seems like it comes with a steep price.
I’m not that paranoid, but for now, I’ll just watch the cute girls wobble around with that awkard walk so many of them have.
I reach the bar and leave the bike outside. I go in, and its packed with people. I haven’t taken ten steps before I get ten hellos and ten handshakes. Its hard to believe that I’ve only been here for three weeks.

Femme Fatale is in the building. “Sit beside me.” She says. “Let’s talk.”
She jokes constantly about a scarf I’m wearing. The scarf is pink and white with a checkered pattern. Its turned frontward so the knot is in front of my crotch. It certainly has gotten her attention. She touches it, tugs it and keeps laughing at how it brings attention to my lower extremities. I try to stop her, but she’s very persistent.

Most of the people I’ve met don’t met so far aren’t the craziest dressers. The Ex-pat crowd here reminds me of DC. Mostly faded t-shirts and jeans. When I come in wherever I go with fitted pants, armbands and a scarf on my waist, people tend to balk. “This isn’t New York.” People keep saying to me. I’m not sure why they say this, I mentioned living in New York and having fun there, but I never said I was there for any length of time. It’s a stamp I’ve received, something to explain my fashion sense. But no one says anything about the Japanese guys who run around town in teddybear costumes, pants too tight for human circulation, and the hair that uses four bottles of gel per three days to maintain.
At the table with Femme fatale, are two faces I know and two African men. The conversation revolves around my scarf for a few minutes and then settles on the second-most popular topic since I’ve been here. Jamaica.
Tony, the owner of a club here, gives me a discerning look. “You live in Hamamatsu? This is the first time I’m seeing you.” He says in a thick Nigerian accent. He looks on me as if he should know me. He has the eyes of a business man, and the smile of a top-billed Vegas stage performer. I can tell he’s doing well.
The other gentleman’s name is John. “Just a Christian name.” he tells me, as if expecting me to be surprised his name isn’t Ubuku or something of the sort. Someone buys me a drink and I down it a little too fast. Jokes start flying around the table and I get teased a few times about childish things.
The Africans are getting excited. John is talking about me and Ghana. “I do not care.” He says, “You can go into the airport and they will not even need to look at your visa, they will say you are Ghanaian. I have been there, and that is how you look.”
“I claimed Ghana a long time ago.” I say to the group. “Since all the Jamaican slaves come from there.”
For some reason this makes everyone laugh, and it confirms to me that I, and everyone at the table are drunk. “He tells me that I look Ghanaian and he”–I  point to Tony–“has the name of my father!”.
This tickles Tony to no end and he grabs at my chest with a hearty laugh. He has massive hands and forcefully pinches my left nipple. “Hey!” I say in surprise. He laughs and does it again. I laugh too. I was a man pinch, the kind people do in locker rooms to piss you off or just annoy you. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

Femme fatale is at the bar. I’m really buzzed now, and someone else buys me a drink. Its Jim, a sleepy eyed American with a beard who’s lived here for a long time. I thank him and sip on it. Going to Planet Café is a distant memory now. I’m feeling the mental lull that comes with the rapid consumption of alcohol, and I know the only place I”ll be going soon is my house. I head to the bar and take a seat beside Femme Fatale.
I look at the crowd. It’s a mix of people I’ve been seeing for the last three weeks almost everyday. I rarely see a new face, or girl to meet in here. “I think I’m heading out.” I say with beer breath. “Everyone here is either married, in a serious relationship, or gay.”
Femme fatale takes this personally and gets upset. I didn’t realize that a close friend of hers was nearby, who is also gay. “You are talking too loud.” She says. “In Japan you have to be discreet.”
I didn’t get it. This was the same Femme Fatale who was on the dance floor, being dry humped by an openly gay man while a group of flaming Brazilian men cheered her on a week before.

The alcohol made me apologetic. So much so that she got up and went to another side of the bar. “You are standing too close to me.” She said when I walked over to talk. I was confused. She was basically toying with my balls earlier, with one interesting disclaimer:
“Your penis means nothing to me.” She said. “I could whip it out, take pictures of it and roll it around. It has no effect.” Now I was standing too close. The proximity a function her earlier statement. I was trying to be discreet. To make things worse, her best friend who is six foot three and about two hundred and fifty pounds appears by my side. “Aw, he just wants to apologize. ” the big guys says. I agree with him immediately. To do otherwise probably wouldn’t be smart. Femme Fatale has a nonchalant but friendly expression on her face. It doesn’t worry me.
I tried patching things up, for one reason. There is something in this city called “Dramamatsu”, and I got my first taste of it.
The city is small, and it will be impossible to interact with the same people and not have arguments, learn about people cheating or unintentionally offend people. Femme fatale knew everybody. I didn’t want to be on her bad side.
“I’m not angry with you.” She said. “You just have to be more aware of who is around you.” I grumbled a response.
I hate explaining myself these days, but I don’t’ like falling out with people over foolish things. A guy I knew told me her friend was gay a few days earlier, in front of a  large group of people. Femme Fatale was there too. This added to my confusion but these days I don’t sweat things–unless of course, I’ve been drinking and gain some added sensitivity in the right places.  “This isn’t New York.” She added, and then I gave up. I’m not from New York, and yes New York has a lot of gay people, but I didn’t see what that had to do with Japan. I nodded and did a kampai (cheers) with her and left.

People that mean nothing to me would never get my attention like that. I only do it with people that have meaning to me. Femme Fatale was cool peoples.

The next night, a girl named Megan would tell me that I left the bar, came back in and then told her I wasn’t able to play darts with her. I don’t remember this. I wake up the next day alone with my pants on one of my tiny chairs and groan. On my desk is plastic bag with Ramen and a little pastry packet. I vaguely remember buying it.
I sigh, put some water on the stove and prepare for another day.