Being back in Amerrica for the first time in eight years has certainly been an eye-opening experience in many ways. It’s been great to be back in a country (or at least a hometown) where the stars aren’t completely non-existant at night and traffic congestion and packed trains and light pollution and regular polution and fifty white haired dudes hacking up a lung in full business suits aren’t just parts of daily life.
I’ve been living in Japan for essentially all of my adult life with the exception of a week’s vacation in Hawai’i and being back in California over the last month plus has made me realize just how much my life as an expat in Japan (despite being a citizen) has turned me into a complete and total weirdo (this is in addition to the many other ways I was a total weirdo before moving across the Pacific Ocean after college). One subtle and yet important category where I realize being in Japan for the better part of a decade has affected me is the ever so crucial “small talk.”
In my various vocations ranging from when I was a plain English teacher new to Japan and later on as a translator, fixer, and “English teacher to the stars*”, I’ve often stressed the importance of knowing how to make small talk as a key step in achieving fluency in a secondary language. Sure, their pronunciation might not be perfect but they could at least feign attention as some client or the other would tell them about a vacation they had to the Balkans or whatever topic rich powerful people tend to talk about when they get together.
“Know how to hold a basic conversation about nothing in particular and you’ll sound like a fluent English speaker,” I’d always tell my students with abundant confidence. This prescribed fluency of course would mostly consist of just being able to ask basic follow up questions.
*Mostly B-Listers and behind the scenes guys
“I went to the zoo yesterday.” “Oh yeah? Why?”
Sure, they would run the risk of sounding like a cop in the midst of a really really stupid interrogation but at least they’d be talking. And that would make them sound fluent. Or so I’d tell them.
But being back in America for a month has sorta taught me that being a truly fluent speaker is more than that…
That’s right, today I realized that I am no longer fluent in English, the language I grew up speaking.
Well hello there. I’m curently writing this from the bed of my parents’ guest bedroom in Sacramento, California.
“But Stephen,” you say, befuddled but only a teensy little bit while you feign interest, “I thought that this was a blog/site about your life in Japan!”
Yes, well, I’ve been in America for the last month and a half and only feel a little guilty about it. Sometime around mid-April in Tokyo, things started to look a bit gloomy in Japan. Vaccination efforts were fully underway in California while Japan still seemed intent on doing it’s typical “Nihonjinron” thing and asking the stupid questions no one else dares ask like “Do these vaccines work on Japanese people?” (As if there are no Asian people in any of the countries where vaccination drives were in full effect) and “How long can you force people to ganbatte for the sake of the Olympics?”
COVID cases were reaching a critical tupping point in Osaka and rising in Tokyo, prompting the priime minister to declare yet another flaccid state of emergency, this time with additional special “Don’t sell alcohol at your restaurants please” provisions. So I did what any self-respecting coward/holder of a US passport would do and jumped ship (temporarily but we’ll get to that in a bit). Booking a ticket on the first flight out of Haneda Airport that was landing in the general vicinity of somewhere I could actually go, I hit up my local PCR test clinic (there was miraculously an open slot at the precise right time for someone looking to catch an international flight in the coming hours), hastily taught my Japanese grandparents how to use FaceTime, apologized profusely to my comedy partner, and, within two days of booking, was on a redeye flight from Tokyo to San Francisco.
Several things that stuck with me about travelling internationally from one of Asia’s major transportation hubs in the middle of a global superpandemic:
(Editor’s Note: So maybe some of you know but I occasionally write stuff for a biggish Sacramento Kings fansite. That site happened to crash with the news that the franchise had just traded its best player to the New Orleans Pelicans for the equivalent of a bag of potato chips, and not even the good kind but sour cream and chives flavored. With nowhere else to put my thoughts, I decided to just dump the damn thing here. Sorry in advanced.)
So, here’s the deal, I had written a ten thousand word thing about how the Kings finally seemed to be getting on the right track and how we could finally start getting past the circus label. It was all done and ready and I was just waiting for the All-Star “Game” to end before posting it… and then Vivek Ranadive and company found a way to somehow make their past blunders look good.
Jesus effing Christmas, what a clusterfuck. Vivek, whose name is apparently Hindi for Clueless Shithead, not only decided to trade arguably the best player in Sacramento Kings history but trade him in the most undignified and stupidest fashion possible, apparently taking the first trade possible (a trade, by the way, not too far off from what the Pelicans were offering the Sixers, who have more common sense than the Kings apparently, for Jahlil Frickin Okafor!!!) several hours after telling Boogie’s agents they weren’t trading him! To top things off, they did the whole deed during the game, resulting in Boogie learning he’d been traded DURING his post-game press conference.
Classy, Kings. Very classy.
Demarcus Cousins deserved better. With all his faults, he seemed genuinely invested in the team, franchise, and, more importantly, the city of Sacramento. Full disclosure here, Boogie was possibly my favorite player ever to play for the Sacramento Kings. I had/have his rookie jersey and actually went out of the way to get it signed. The only player I have ever done that for. And the Kings just decided to discard him like a chainsmoker taking a coffee shit. Good god, man. How is this even possible? I don’t think I’ll ever fully wrap my head around this. I’m not even sure I want to. It hurts too much.
So where does that leave the Kings now?
Well, we still have Dave Joerger at the very least. A good coach who now has to take this radioactive wasteland of a roster and somehow, I’m guessing, coach well enough to not get fired.
You’d think that the Kings are now set to tank for the rest of the year but there’s actually a fairly good chance that the top brass actually expects the team to be better post-Boogie. They’re in for a rude awakening. Whether intended or not, this team is going to lose games. Lots of games.
The current best player on the roster is Darren Collison, who, according to rumors, is also on the trade block. After that, who the fuck knows?
Here’s the depth chart (excluding Rudy, who is now probably gone):
Center: Kosta (probably also going to be traded)/Papa
Power Forward: Willie (I’m assuming we’re starting him now, seeing as he’s now our third best offensive player)/Tolliverse/Skal
Small Forward: Matt Barnes/Afflalo (Both guys are possibly gone as well)
Shooting Guard: Hield/Ben/Temple/Malachi/Rights to Bogdan (This is now the only position where we have any depth)
Point Guard: DC/Ty (Two solid pro role player point guards. Probably gone soon. Expect to see Isaiah Cousins and Kendall Marshall here in their stead soon.)
To compare, here was the roster over the last stretch of the 17-win Kenny Natt squad where we were the worst team in the league:
C: Spencer Hawes/Ike Diogu/
PF: Jason Thompson/Calvin Booth
SF: Andres Nocioni/Donte Greene
SG: K-Mart/ Cisco/Rashad McCants
PG:Beno/Bobby Jackson/Will Solomon
Look at that roster and tell me that this current squad of players wouldn’t have trouble beating the 2008-2009 Sacramento Kings. I mean, Joerger can probably outcoach the Nattster in his sleep but this game would be far closer than any of us would probably like to admit.
And that is the state of our team as of now. Not just back to square one, but back to square negative ten. The Maloofs had the excuse that they were going broke. What’s Vivek’s?
Oh… That’s right…
Buckle up guys! The Suckitude Express has just left the station and things’ll only get bumpier from here.
As for me? I might need to take a break from sports for a good long while.
Last week I found myself making a fortuitous trip to Tokyo for a quick business meeting and with time to spare over the weekend (At least, my weekend). As anyone who has ever seen me can tell you, I enjoy eating and, while in Japan, enjoy eating ramen in particular. And eat ramen, I did.
Since I was staying with my grandparents on the southside of Tokyo, I hit up Tabelog (the Japanese equivalent of Yelp, except on Tabelog, people don’t give one star reviews because the bus boy looked like their ex-boyfriend or five star reviews because the baby at the next table was really cute) and searched for the best ramen in the neighborhood. This is what I found. On Tabelog, anything above a 3.5 rating is usually pretty darn good and anything above four stars as a destination meal. So imagine my surprise when I came across Takano, a ramen shop but a mere several kilometer walk from my grandparents’ hovel with a sterling 4.05 star rating. My gastronomical target now in my sights, I laced up my new too-big-for-my-feet Clarks and left for an early lunch.
So after a fifteen minute walk from my grandparent’s house, I arrived at the place twenty minutes before opening and still found a decently sizable (that’s what she said) line awaiting me. As it turns out, waiting in line is customary here (as with any other great ramen joint in Tokyo- or the rest of Japan, for that matter).
From the outside looking in
Once I actually got inside, I found myself at one of those classic stereo-typical L-shaped counter-only Showa-poi shops with one of those maneki-neko’s waving at me from a shelf over the stove (along with a plaque noting its place in the Micheline guide). Not exactly stunning decor but the place was clean enough and gave the impression of a place people would actually be semi-comfortable in in a sober state. I mean, I’m not taking a chick here on a date probably ever but I’d come here with food friends on a weekend.
After another ten minutes of waiting (this time seated), my bowl arrived. And what did I get for my 970 yen?
In case the sodium-laden broth or pork didn’t raise your cholesterol, the egg’ll do you in.
Quintessential Tokyo-style noodles and broth (fishy and salty but not overpowering) topped with melt in your mouth slices of char siu pork and a perfectly cooked agitama flavored egg. Worth the wait (though I still think waiting two hours is a bit much during peak hours). I just wish I wasn’t fighting a cold when I went. Guess I’ll have to come back again.
Rating: 4 and a half Stephens (out of five Stephens)
Well, it’s been a while. I’ve certainly been neglecting this website/blog thing for a while and, for that, I apologize. It hasn’t been a matter of me being too busy to write or really not having a lot to write about but rather a matter of me being absolutely dreadful at managing my time and my creative energies being focused elsewhere (We’ll get back to that particular point in a quick moment).
Anyways, in order to prove that I’m still alive and still care, I decided to write something, anything really, and put it up in this neglected corner of my life (another hundred bucks down the drain). So here we are, almost a month through the new year (no matter how much I keep accidentally writing 2014 on all my documents at work) and I’ve yet to publicly disclose my resolutions for the new year, something that, as we all well know, should be shouted from the internet rooftops or at the very least screamed in a drunken haze at your drinking establishment of choice, to mean anything.
Now, I’m not normally a huge proponent of these sorts of things because (a) I’m very bad at keeping promises and (b) I feel like crap at the end of the year when I review my goals and realize I fell well short of them. That all said, this year I have a couple of things that I really want to do and, for the sake of my sanity and well-being, probably should do.
Hi there. It’s been a while. How’s everyone been doing?
Oh really? That’s pretty cool. I’ve been good. Going to work and not getting enough sleep, the usual grind, y’know.
What’s that? You don’t know because you’re still putzing around in (university/high school/ unemployed) or busy raising a family? Well that’s just fine and dandy.
So I’m coming up on the six month mark of the whole living and working in Japan thing and I think I’ve settled into what I guess people could call a generally adult life. I wake up everyday at a certain set point in time (except for that one day that I slept through all twenty alarms and showed up to work half an hour late) and generally go to sleep before the sun rises (though since the sun seems to rise at three in the morning here, that’s not always the case). I go to work, do my job, take long poops, spend far too much time on the internet and not enough time doing anything productive, I eat (a lot), then I sleep. In other words, for better or worse, I am finally an adult (if waking up at 10 in the morning and going to sleep at 2 AM counts).
I certainly don’t feel any different than I did when I was in college. Or really, high school for that matter. Sure my hair’s a little thinner and I may be wearing different sized pants than before but I still feel like I did when I was in high school, overdramatic romanticism and unrealistic expectations included. And yet, here I am, typing this up as I sit on the fifth floor of a non-descript office building but a few minutes away from the scenic (perhaps an overstatement) expanses of Mito Station, closing out a workday that I was supposed to have off (my colleague called in sick but that’s another story altogether).
Meanwhile, many of my friends are still grinding through college, though, let’s be fair, the hardest part of the college grind is largely the result of procrastination and binge drinking. I mean, university was a freaking piece of cake. I don’t know if I’m a genius or something (most likely not) but I got reasonably good grades throughout all four years of my university experience despite (a) not doing most (okay, all) of the assigned reading, (b) only studying the night before an exam, and (c) finishing the vast majority of my tepid, bloated, self-aggrandizing academic papers a whopping thirty minutes before the due date. I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything (I hear Marilyn Manson had some of his ribs removed so he could), but just imagine how good my grades would have been if I gave two craps about them.
I mean, the typical college student’s day probably goes like this:
Noon: Wake up.
1 PM: Go to class (or in many cases, ignore your alarm clock and sleep off that hangover)
4 PM: Hang out in the quad
5 PM: Go to happy hour. Get drunk.
6 PM: Ditch that discussion group meeting you reaaallly don’t like.
7 PM: Hangout with your friends. Get drunk/high/arrested.
2 AM: Get home.
3 AM: Realize you have a paper due in the morning. Freak the hell out.
And yet, half of the posts I see on my Facebook feed from my college friends are of the “FML” and “I’m so screwed” variety. I don’t know man, maybe if you spent a couple more hours checking upcoming deadlines and a few less hours practicing for your Frat’s Beer Pong tournament, you wouldn’t be forced to pull three consecutive all-nighters and sacrifice a goat to an ancient Mayan god in order to pass your bullshit “Transexual Black Jewish Lesbians in Chinese History” class. (No offense to those of you specializing in Black Jewish Lesbians and their huge role in defeating the Mongol hordes.) If you guys think life is going to somehow get easier once you get your diploma, you’re in for a shock.
Paying all your bills on time and remembering to wear pants to work everyday. Now that’s a real struggle.
College days. So much overeating. Not enough sleep.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, some of my friends have already gotten to the whole “settle down and raise a family and get that house with the whit picket fence” stage of life. Sure, this was pretty much how things went in all of society pre-1950 but settling down, getting married, and having kids all in your early-twenties just seems crazy to me. You can’t even legally rent a car at the airport for God’s sake! Six years ago, you were the dude drawing in the back of books in the school library. Now, you’re working really damn hard to pay off your mortgage and leverage your 401K. Damn dude. Adulthood must have hit you like a goddamn freight train.
I can’t even imagine having a kid right now. I mean, I already have a hard enough time wiping my own ass, let alone that of a small cretin unable to clean-up after itself. And where the hell would it even sleep? I barely have enough room in my apartment for myself. Shoving a wife and kid (or two) in there would probably result in a complete and total meltdown.
And the whole keeping track of your finances thing. What the hell? I am by no means a big spender but I can’t even imagine keeping track of my own budget. Asking me to watch my wallet for the sake of myself and two others would be like asking Hitler to imagine planning a Bar Mitzvah. Jiminy Christmas.
And the giving birth thing? Jeebus, ladies. How do you do it? The closest I’ve ever come to giving birth was that time I ate three burritos in one day and, after that, I couldn’t walk for a week. Much respect.
Young married people, I respect the hell out of you, but what the friggin’ hell?
Being an adult means having too much chest hair.
Now that I’ve successfully offended everyone, it’s time to talk about myself for a bit.
My twenty-third birthday is coming up in two days, which is really what kinda spurred this whole rant/thing on. Where am I on the whole “College lazy person to upstanding adult” scale? Somewhere in the middle or maybe not on the damn thing at all.
I’m twenty-two, completely un-relationshipped (That’s totally a word, right?), living a couple thousand miles away from most of my friends, really bad at doing my laundry, and spend most of my free time watching film of Sacramento Kings games or weird Japanese TV (I’m pretty sure most of the people running the entertainment industry over here are on some pretty hardcore crap), and shouting at people who have different opinions than me on the internet.
Sounds pretty immature right?
Sure, I have a job and, sure, I do everything I can to fulfill my responsibilities and duties to the best of my underwhelming ability. BUT I also don’t have much of a plan for the future (scratch that, I just thought of a cool design for a Moonbase) and put far too much effort into doing trivial fun stuff that I really shouldn’t be devoting so much of my precious time to. So, hey, maybe I’m a bit of a deadender at this current juncture of my life, but you know what? That’s just fine.
I used to spend most of the time I now spend reading people’s dumb NBA trade ideas (“Let’s trade Demarcus Cousins for Bismack Biyombo!”) and tasting terrible popsicles (Beef stew? Suprisingly tasty. Spaghetti? Potentially rancid.) on worrying about the future. I mean, I spent a lot of time worrying. Too much time. Sure that worrying and constant fear led to a hell of a lot of creativity and some of the best writing of my life but it also led to depression, anxiety, and a whopper of a mental breakdown that forced my mom to fly all the way across the ocean to retrieve me.
So, hey, enough of the worrying. Let’s just enjoy the present and worry about what’s around the corner when it sneaks up and sucker punches us in the balls. Until then, these morons on the internet aren’t going to ridicule themselves.