Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Out of Touch Until Saturday

Yah, heading to Osaka in a few minutes so I'll be incommunicado until Saturday. Bike and camera both coming with so I think it's going to be eventful. If anyone needs to contact me my normal email will work, just substitute @gmail.com with @docomo.ne.jp



Thursday, July 24, 2008

General SOS: I Need Your Help!

This is a general distress signal to all friends and family! I need your help to save my sanity and US$700+ and all you have to do is come to visit me in Japan around late November. It's that simple!

They're doing it again. THEY! My colleagues at the Kusu Educational Department are officially planning their annual staff trip and naturally I'm being conscripted to attend. Refusal is pretty much out of the question. I sort of tried that last year and got only blank, dumb stares, their confused eyes saying "Why Matt, why don't you want to come. Nobody's ever NOT come." But after last year's Shanghai debacle...no. No goddamn way you'll get me on a plane with these people ever again.

So friends, family, intelligent pets and sentient bits of algea, if you want to come visit Japan, experience a traditional Japanese lifestyle, visit Japanese schools or do any other cliched dribble I can dredge up then please coincide your trip with the week before Thanksgiving, spefically around November 20-22. Free room to sleep in, free food (to an extent), I'll drive you places and it'll all be magical.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chasing the Oni of Summer's Past

By the way, an oni is like a Japanese demon or spectre.

As poor as my memory holds in the more practical bits and pieces of day-to-day life--phone numbers, the names of coworkers and students, what I got out of my seat to do not thirty seconds ago--it's surprisingly good at remembering, pointless trivia, locations/directions, smells, sounds and emotions linked with particular experiences. It's that last bit that's most important among the bunch because it's what fills me with energy to write this blog (wanting to share those emotions and experiences, at least) and allows me to convey everything my senses pick up as accurately as possible through the fogging effects of time.

Among the more vivid and extraordinary, if not frantic and panicked, of my memories was my first journey to the East in 2002 to see and report on the Suzuka 8-Hour Race. When tracing the threads of my current life back to their origin so very many of them end up at that first Wednesday night on the Dotombori Bridge looking up at the larger-than-life Glico man in neon running endlessly for the horizon that never gets any closer. It's the Maslow "Peak Experience" in its most pure form, so sweet and good it burns the mind to think back on it.

But good lord was that ever one of the more foolish bursts of bravado I've perpetrated in my years--and also the most rewarding. It taught me a lot about traveling in Japan and helped me develop the "Matt Lopez Travel Agency" style of tourism, moronic as it is to do in a foreign country where you don't speak the language well and have only a fistful of pesos...err...yen. The motto of the Matt Lopez Travel Agency is: "Travel agency? Where? How did you find me? Who told you? I dunno nothing about planes and trains or hotels! Leg it and sleep on the damn ground! What travel agency? We're closed!"

I arrived at Osaka Itami Airport with US$500 at 7PM Japan time on a Wednesday. No map. No hotel reservation. No real idea where the hotels might be at or where downtown Osaka even was. Very little functional Japanese. In a surprisingly effective bid to stave off jet lag I stayed up the entire flight over in order to reset my sleep in a day or two, so I'd been up for about 24 hours by touchdown. With all this in the way I was expected to A) stretch the $500 over the week, B) spend three days soaking up Osaka, C) make my way to another prefecture and spend three more days with my friend Akane's family, D) attend and report on a motorcycle race for a motorsports magazine.

I'm very proud of how it turned out, honestly. Within two hours of touchdown I'd found my way to the correct train, made the correct transfer to arrive at the correct area (the Nanba District), find the cheapest hotel to date that I've ever found in Japan and even get take-out dinner to watch in my room to the sights and sounds of Japanese schlock TV before passing out completely. Over the next several days I explored the city neighborhood by neighborhood, stumbled onto one of the city's biggest annual festivals at Sumiyoshi Shrine, made my way across the penninsula to Suzuka, found my friend's house (by remembering the streets from a satellite photo I saw of the city before I left), got the story at the race and made it back to Osaka for my flight.

I went back to Osaka while en route to see the Suzuka 8-Hour again in 2004, but wasn't there more than sixteen rather unpleasant (but again memorable) hours that consisted mainly of waiting impatiently for my morning ferry. Seeing as how I had, literally, just enough money in my pocket to get the subway to the city's port and no hotel room, that time consisted mostly of reading Dune and doing my best homeless impression around Nanba.

So the whole point of this post is to say that I'm going back next week for three days in a sort of bid to capture just a tad of that first trip's frenetic excitement. The timing of this mini-vacation will coincide with the Sumiyoshi Jinja Natsu Matsuri that I was able to stumble on before. Unlike the previous forays, however, I'm prepared-ish: I know my way around the city, if I'm in trouble with cash I can visit an ATM, I'll have my bike, etc. I'll arrive on Wednesday and make for Kobe, take a look around and see if I can't find the Yamaguchi-gumi's (the largest crime syndicate in Japan) HQ, hit up Arima Onsen and chat up the locals. Thursday and Friday it's back to Osaka where the festival gets underway in the evening and a whole city awaits to be terrorized by a foreigner on a bicycle weaving through gridlocked traffic. Hey, it's one of SF's sister cities, I should show them some NorCal hospitality, maybe introduce Critical Mass!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

If Gion's Any Indication, I'm Surrounded By S&M Freaks

And not in the good, clean, fun way either.

Man, I spent the past three days running around the prefecture and Kusu on foot, bike and car, so it's safe to officially diagnose myself with an acute case of Cranial Burnoutus. That goes for the muscles as well. Just giving you a quick lay of the land on this, Saturday's marathon started around 2:30PM when I reported for duty to Shinto purify the Mori yama then pull it around the hood until 5 when I had to jet home, hop in a cold shower and report for Tsukawaki Gion to watch, not to do, mercifully. The next day I was to report to the Mori yama storage shed at noon and haul it around again. Sunday was also the day of Tsukumi's big firework extravaganza, though, and a chance to visit Lisa, Ippei and meet up with some of Oita's more choice foreign agents so I couldn't possibly miss that. I left the pushing to the suckers...I mean participants...at 5, took another cold shower and catapulted myself across the prefecture for THREE GODDAMN HOURS!!! to reach Tsukumi with just the barest sliver of time left before the show began. Then, Monday, I had to get back to Kusu by noon after my night of abject debauchery to push the yama for--and this is the killer--eleven hours! ELEVEN! Not ten, the number after that one!

Between Saturday and Monday I must have only slept 8-9 hours...

But I wouldn't have missed the Tsukumi bash for the world and I'm completely convinced the sacrifice of body and mind was worth the trip. Not only were the fireworks unbelievable, but the after events were right up my alley. It's the square in me I suppose, but I'm not much for clubs and loud music, instead give me a swanky lounge with good drinks, POMO decor, comfy seats and fascinating conversation...or just give me the roof of Tomo's house/workshop at a fishing port, beer, shochu and I'll keep the fascinating conversation too. Max, you witty, wonderful goddess from the UK, I hardly knew ye and I'm going to miss our talk of SF and karaoke. You are, of course, always welcome at Casa de Matt, wherever in the world it may be located at any given moment.

But Gion...Oh. My. God. It nearly broke me in so many ways. In the previous post I elucidated on how it feels after just a few hours of pushing, but Sunday that was upped to five hours and then the whopper on Monday of eleven. Ramping up seems like a good idea, sure, right up to the point where you realize there's a dude at the top waiting to smash you with a hammer.

It was only perhaps 2PM in this shot so you're looking at Still Genki Matt here. Part of me wishes I could go back in time and tell me to hide in a rice paddy until the yama passes, then leg it for Tijuana.

The float moves pretty easily on flat ground once you get it moving, but it's the building momentum part that's the real bitch, not to mention all the subtle slopes, bridges and grates we had to push it over. And you have to stop and go a freakin' ton of times. Except for the challenges (I'll get to those in a bit) we rarely pushed the yama more than 50 meters before stopping at a residence or business that gave our accompanying monk a donation, rolling up the bamboo shades and having two of our dancers--all of them my students form various JHS--do a number. On one hand to you have to enjoy the lulls in work, but on the other you curse the generous bastard who just nixed all that hard work you did to get the thing moving in the first place.

So if the thing isn't getting stuck somewhere or the the drivers aren't asleep at the, uh, steering pole in front, then we're pushing it up a hill or desperately trying to hold back the tons of yama from rolling down a hill into some dude's rice paddy. Rarely was it easy going. Saturday and Sunday had enough participants where I could take a rest for a cycle of the stop and go grind, drink some ice mugi-cha (wheat tea--very delicious!) and find some shade, but Monday things were considerably more bleak. At noon there were exactly enough participants to push and steer so I had zero breaks. I don't think I had a break in pushing until about 3 or 4. Throughout the entire day I had a total of three such breaks.

You gotta admit the yama and its performers are a beautiful sight to behold.

Part of that became my own fault though. Through my sense of pride and the misguided notion that I'm supposed to be the representative of America--and boy haven't we done such wonderful things with the world in recent times!--around 5PM when there were enough participants so that I could concievably cycle out each round and rest I was the first to grab a plank, usually the mid-front, and push my brains out. My train of thought was something like "Damn it, I've been here since the start and you Johnny Come Latelys ain't taking my plank of wood! Don't you know I'm doing this for Uncle Sam?!" Twisted, no?

We sat down for a dinner of tea, rice balls, fried chicken and watermelon at 7PM and got ready for...dun dun dun!...the challenges. There are two challenges: fight the omikoshi and its crew to prevent them from pushing the yama back; and run up and down the street with the yama as fast as the crazy legs of your crew can go. The former is a ridiculous farce since the omikoshi crew have twice the members we do, so all we can do is lock our arms, legs and back and hope for the best. Invariably we always lost eventually, though sometimes it would take 30 excruciating seconds of battery acid pumping through your veins, muscles on the verge of tearing and ten Japanese hicks pushing on your back, shoulder, ass...wherever they can get a grip. Thinking about it in those terms I'm fairly certain Gion would go down very well in the Castro District.

The race challenge is arguably the single toughest and most frightening physical act I have ever committed to. Mori's main historical street is just one long cobblestoned path leading up to the entrance of the former castle and it's naturally the perfect place to run a several ton wooden construct at breakneck speeds with about a meter's clearance on both sides. Naturally. Push forward a hundred meters, pull back, push it another hundred, push it back... The entire time one is acutely aware, especially if you're in the Matt Slot, aka the mid-front , that if you misstep and fall not only are you going to get trampled by several guys behind you, but you'll take out enough runners so that the yama can't stop in time before maybe running into a baby carriage or causing a fishtail. This is not uncommon during the Hakata Gion where the years have claimed many lives. These runs went on for maybe an hour and a half up and down Mori's main strip and then on highway 387. Not that I was dry before this time, but after the challenges every inch of my clothing was soaked through with sweat enough to actually ring out like someone might ring water out of a dishrag.

You may notice the deeper shade of red on my happi overcoat there. Yeah, that's sweat soaked through three layers.

There was a drinking party at some dude's tire shop and I stayed for two beers and a bit of yakisoba just to be polite before discreetly saying 'bye' to the festival's main movers and shakers and fading away into the shadows to get my bike. Spent was I.

And it looks like I'll be doing it again next week for at least a few hours! Yes, all three Gion yama are going to meet in Tsukawaki next Saturday and challenge each other for supremacy! Rawr! Shoot me in the head, please.

Actually, don't get me wrong, as much as I hated the adversity brought about by oppressive sun, sweat-covered icky festival clothes and strained body I also loved all of that, and more. C'mon, this is what I came here to see and do. If we JETs aren't here for things like this why the hell are we in Japan!?


Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Festival Where Everyone's a Human Packanimal

Gion time around Japan has come and Kusu's big three neighborhoods, Mori, Tsukawaki and Kitayamada are pulling out the chocks on their yamaboko floats and gathering the locals to pull, pull, pull. I had a half-day of this yesterday and I gotta say, in retrospect, participation instead of sideline observation might have been a bad idea. You see, a lot about Japanese culture has to do with enduring hardships and taking bullets for the team. It's sort of the origin of the Japanese word ganbaru, which is just about the most common phrase you'll hear in Japan and means to endure XYZ and press on. If that doesn't seem like such a bad thing to say or mean, trust me, when it's a matter of course and not an exception to be suffering and getting shafted, and then just saying this magical phrase to smooth it all over, yeah, it's crappy.

Back to the point. Like I said in a previous post, I'm pulling the Mori yama this year, which I'm fairly sure is a safe thing to do despite what Hide said to Makoto. There's a certain disappointment in that, like a faint hope I'd be caught in a Jets/Sharks-esque rivalry. One can always hope. The yama's not nearly as big as the one in the below video, but it's pretty hefty and there aren't many of us doing the work. I guess attendance is down as the lures of the modern world pull people away from the traditional to other things. So there's about twelve of us pulling a two-storey, several ton float made of wood and metal with a small performance stage and up to six musicians and actors riding it. Oh, and the wheels are wood.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You're A Drivin' Me Crazy

If you're heading overseas from America for an extended period the International Drivers Permit from AAA is an important tool to have. Backed up by some treaties and crap it ensures that you can drive anything within the bounds of your existing license, so in my case cars of any transmission type and motorcycles. Sorry, no commercial trucks or farm equipment. The problem, however, is that this permit is only valid for one year from the date of receipt and I've been in Japan for eleven months now, with expiration of that flimsy looking AAA card creeping up quickly.

So I have to get my honest to goodness Japanese license sometime soon and with the help of my supervisor a test has been scheduled. But the test to get a license to drive in Japan is a special, special thing and has virtually nothing to do with one's ability to drive. It's a hellish gauntlet of technicalities and following orders to the letter where jumping through hoops is more important than being able to work a stick shift, avoiding kids running into the middle of the road and good braking habits. It's all done in Japanese so, naturally, foreigners find it tough. I was able to practice part of the course today at the Kusu Driving School with an instructor and think I have it down pretty well. The main thing one has to watch for are the visual checks paired with verbal cues. What do I mean by that? Starting the car one must do a four-point check around the car and say "Yosh!" each time, turning right is a two-point check, left is a three-point check, crossing railroads are another two-point check, etc., etc., each time saying "Yosh!"

So annoying...the supposed average amount of times one must take the test to pass all the technicality checks is three. I'm not looking forward to it.


Finished my triangle map of, well, Duboce Triangle today after a couple weeks of work. My favorite yet!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Fabulous Food Funtime!

Now that I have my new camera I'm toting it absolutely everywhere, capturing my sometimes-zany life and times. And this is what it's all about. I was grabbing some dinner from my favorite supermarket, Sonoda Value, when I spotted this gem in the dairy rack...

Not chocolate milk, not strawberry milk (which is kinda weird when you think about it), but MELON MILK! Specifically it's honeydew melon milk and I'm shocked to say it really tastes like the stuff. The jury's still out on whether or not that's an acceptable fruit flavor for milk, but at least they're out there trying new things. I apologize in advance for the unseemly 5 o'clock shadow.

Ron Burgundy says: "It's hot...milk was a bad choice."


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Innai is Nice

The town of Innai located north of Kusu, sandwiched between us, Ajimu, Usa and Nakatsu, is just about the most isolated, backwater, out-of-the-way district of Oita Prefecture. Naturally that means it's utterly gorgeous and the people that make up its sparse population are adept at old timey crafts and cookery. There aren't an incredible amount of attractions to draw in the crowds, but Innai has its charms, like the Takkirikeikoku.

I don't exactly stare at my legs in a mirror and now that I see it here...Jeebus, my calfs are huge!

My companions and I today--they being Hita-ites Rachel from Canada, Adric from Australia and Maia from Boston--couldn't quite figure out what the name "Takkirikeikoku" meant from the kanji, but we think it's a literal description of the place as a valley cut with water from a granite range. The stream that did the cutting is still running through the valley today slowly doing its work and being delightfully shallow enough to walk in the entire two kilometers it runs until plumetting over a twenty-odd meter waterfall. It's a popular place while the oppressive heat of summer hangs over Japan (oppressive to some, at least) and the first kilometer or so is clogged with families on expedition, however after that point the only noises one hears are gurgles from the stream, the wet splash and slap of feet on river-smoothed rocks, birds and insects and, of course, the sounds of foreigners joking about Japanese assassin accountants, insects carrying us away as food, dismembered feet in tennis shoes and other such talk.

This isn't the first time I've walked this spectacular stream. I came here once four years back with my Chinese friend, Emily, and her Japanese friend. From the day I stepped foot in Kusu I've been looking for this place and was filled with a sense of joy for returning here coupled with a sense of sad longing for distant friends and memories. That first year in Japan was as life-changing and good as it was chaotic and messy.


Friday, July 11, 2008

What Is This Life Coming To?

I'm endlessly disgusted with myself. My new idea of sleeping in on Saturday is setting the alarm for 9AM...and obeying the alarm! Absolutely disgusting.

And now, for no reason, pics of me at karaoke with the English club.

And my favorite house in Kusu.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I'll be taking part in Mori's Gion Festival this year by dressing up in traditional festival garb and pulling a several thousand pound yama(a big cart with a stage on it) around town for, oh, seven or eight hours. Thing is that I'm pulling the Mori yama, not the Tsukawaki one (where I live). What can I say, I like Mori more than Tsukawaki--it's got way more heart. Apparently that's a big deal causing people to scratch their heads, so remember that.

Tonight I went to Kintaro (my favorite restaurant in town) to square things with the owner, Makoto, who's also the head organizer for yama and my friend Hide Nakashima came in for a drink. Hide's a full blown alcoholic, so maybe it was the shochu talking, but when Makoto asked for my email to put on the mailing list for pullers Hide kind of pulled him aside and said "Be very careful with that list, don't let it be seen by anyone in Tsukawaki. I don't want them seeing Matt and breaking his bones or anything. Be very careful." I'd think it a joke if it weren't for the looks on Hide and Makoto's faces. Is this festival business that big a deal?!


Sandy Crotch, Tasty Beer!

Oh man am I glad to live so (relatively) close to Miyazaki Prefecture--it's just the best weekend getaway destination! So yeah, the trip was a success, and I'll get to it just after I show you my first picture with the new camera!

Yes, it's my first four maps with a certain Chrome messenger bag in the background for scale! Gee, can you tell which one was my first attempt? In all honesty though, there's nothing in Parkside of note... I'm just about finished with my fifth, triangle-shaped rendition of the Castro/Church/Duboce Triangle neighborhoods. It's pretty epic compared to these four, but I'm planning a much bigger one for SOMA. Stay tuned!

Right, back to Miyazaki.

Flickr photoset of the trip

The week ended on a very good note as first term final exams were happening at Mori JHS and my responsibilities took me instead to Mori Central Primary School where I went swimming for two hours and was a human climbing toy, ate lunch and finally played kick baseball before going home two hours earlier than normal. Score. So I was pumped for Saturday, but knowing Oita JETs not trying to get my hopes up too much as far too many of them think we're still in high school and form viscious cliques as if to prove it. Actually, the people who went were the more mature set that I get on with quite well.

After picking up Lindsey in Hita and Lisa in Tsukumi we arrived at Sumie Beach just around 2PM. We passed Sumie during the second day of the Spring charity ride and I've been wanting to return since then. It really is everything I had hoped it would be while whizzing by at 40kph with my ankles on fire--low waves, clean sand, clear waters, good food, good drink, good swimming and good people. Goodness gracious.

Though it became apparent quickly that nobody really owned the beach and we could have pitched tents on it for free, I (yes, I, as in me, as it the only guy not lazy and who can speak passable Japanese) rented an astoundingly good cabin nearby large enough to sleep seven of the twelve that came. The others were couples that brought their tents anyways and they slept out back on the lawn. These places are so amazing I dream of owning a similar place someday. It's the perfect setup for one person or a couple: triangular wedge design with ample skylighting, a small deck, living room, kitchen with a loft above it and a balcony off that. Small, modern, efficient...perfect.

In America, some people fear their neighbors, particularly foreign ones. Our neighbors and us mutually embraced each other, if only for one night. Out of the string of five cabins we were dead center with Japanese Air Force families on leave to our left and a primary school's PTA to our right. Both parties had the most adorable kids you can imagine and we were all tolerant of each others activities, especially the soccer--not their game, ours! Things started to get nuts when I proposed a 6-man keep away game between us and the PTA tents and underestimated the effects of beer and fatty foods on people's dexterity and speed. After kicking the ball lightly into the PTA area for the third time and apologizing for the third time one of the mothers, who was cutting up watermelon at the time, pulled out her big honking knife and made a run at us with that look of abject madness in her eyes. Instead of killing and burying us all in a shallow grave though she just ended up giving us some watermelon. How sweet!

Ostensibly we came to Sumie to celebrate the 4th of July (belatedly, mind you, since it was the 5th) so you know there had to be fireworks. Legal in Japan until 10:30PM every night, we flaunted even these lax rules and did them at 11PM. Oooooooh, bad people are we! When we got bored with fireworks we piled the rest into a bucket to light all at once, but the effect was less than we'd hoped for. After returning to the cabin and playing some drinking games folks were getting wasted and/or falling asleep, but a few of the ladies decided to go for a midnight skinny dip at the beach. That didn't last long--some kind of phosphorescent tiny fish was stinging them mildly they said.

After packing up in the morning we all returned to the beach for more soccer, frisbee, nut chucking and swimming. I applied copious amounts of sunblock and still got burned across my entire chest, stomach and back. That's the last time I trust this Japanese "Sunkiller" brand sunscreen. Gotta admit it's got the coolest damn name though.

There will be another Miyazaki trip in September, all things going well. Unfortunately many of the faces that made this trip so memorable will be gone back home or to different parts of Japan, but perhaps the incoming JETs will pick up the slack and make it worthwhile. Only time will tell.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Now With Pictures! (Not Yet With Pictures)

OK, it's gone on long enough, this life with no camera. How terribly dull a blog it makes! Well, I can wait no longer since I'll be heading back to the sunny beaches of Miyazaki tomorrow with way too many JETs to be anything but trouble. Be back on Sunday with an update and shots of the action!

(Update pushed back to Monday, I'm completely spent. Got pics though!--7/6)


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Like, Children of the Corn, Man

This may seem like a laborious preface to the ultimate topic of this post, but bear with me since it's something I've been wanting to get off my chest for a while. Over the months the award for my least-liked school has shifted here and there, but I think the consistent "winner" would be Kogo JHS. Located way, way on the outskirts of Kusu, its commute is second only to Yamaura JHS, but unlike going to Yamaura the trip isn't rewarded with country kids tripping over each other to drink at the font of knowledge. Quite the opposite, in fact--the Kogo kids are spoiled little jackasses seemingly in a race for last place.

Since I only go there once every two weeks I'm not entirely sure I have a handle on what the real reason behind the slacking is. All I know is what I see, which is a whole lot of sleeping in the halls (really), classes apparently without solidly set start and end times, generous 15 minute breaks between classes, etc. When asked about studying for XYZ test or doing ABC homework they instead brag about how many hours they played the PSP. When asked something in English pertaining to the course content the most common answer is "pass" and "wakaranai" ("I don't understand"). I mean, these are second- and third-year English students that don't know the days of the week or how to tell time--not exactly asking for the moon and the stars on that one. The sleeping in the halls may be linked to the median sleep time of 2AM also. Oh, I can actually say that there are two things that the students seem genuinely enthusiastic about: kendo and table tennis.

And that brings me to lunch today...

I went out to play soccer with the primary school students next door, since they've yet to devolve into contemptuous little urchins, and noticed a small boy with blonde hair on a unicycle. I would have been more surprised were it not for the two other blonde haired primary school girls I'd just yesterday played and talked with at Mori Central Primary School. Natural blondes with Japanese features in Kusu...very Children of the Corn! Today though this little curiosity's name was Jacob, 2nd grade, and he's from Hawaii. Here's where things get sort of ugly. And I blame myself for it. I should have known...

Would you believe it if I told you that up until I spoke to Jacob in English nobody at school knew it was his native tongue? Apparently Jacob's grandmother lives in Kogo and takes care of him for a month each summer. I'm beginning to think it's required by law that all children under a certain age staying in Japan for X amount of weeks must be registered with the local board of education and attend school or something, because these three American kids in Kusu now should be on Summer vacation, not in class. Anyways, there's no faster or better way to make a pariah out of someone in Japan than to point out their differences in front of others. Immediately you could see everyone sort of back off. While playing soccer nobody passed to him and nobody talked to him, like he didn't exist anymore. He kind of skulked off mid-game suspicously and came back later looking sad. The teasing that pissed me off the most though was when the JHS 3rd year students started tossing out random, asanine English phrases to goad a response from Jacob. I'm not mistaking genuine awe at his abilites here, these kids were doing this to point a spotlight on his differences.

When I talked to him he was so smart. Already he could tell me (in basic terms) the socio-economic issues behind Japan's migration away from the countryside into dense cities and was even thinking of ways to reverse the trend! Like looking at a 2nd grade urban planner! If I ever have kids I hope I can teach them about, oh, gentrification, infrastructural capital, New Urbanism and more! Ah...What sweet hell it will be to be my child...

The other two Children of the Corn in Kusu at the moment are Keena and Yuna, 2nd and 3rd grade, respectively. Hailing form Provo, Utah these tykes pretty much have the same deal in that they come each summer until August and kick it at grandma's house. I didn't have a ton of time yesterday to talk to them other than a brief chat afterschool, but they both seem incredibly nice...and isolated from other students. I don't expect them to take part in afterschool clubs due to their relatively short stay, but to not be invited to do jumprope with their classmates standing next to them, or to eat lunch alone like I also saw is just rotten.

We didn't have a whole lot of foriegn students come into Castro Valley in my youth, but I do remember one of my friends in 6th grade, Sun, who immigrated from China with his family and spoke zero English that first year. I can say for sure I'm not looking through rose-colored glasses when I say that Sun fit in well quickly despite his initial linguistic handicap. Are American kids (at least of my generation) just more accepting of complete strangers, and foriegn ones at that? Last I heard of Sun though was that he got arrested for credit card fraud, but that's neither here nor there.