Monday, August 30, 2004

Moving, New Job, Etc
Okay, I'm here at the new job.

Moving went relatively smoothly, if somewhat last minute. I thought I'd be leaving Friday, and then found out on Wednesday that I need to be in by Thursday night. A bit of a sudden departure made for a few rushed good-byes. I guess on one hand the last month I've been doing nothing but saying good-bye. On the other hand, there are always a few people who guilt trip you because you didn't get that final good-bye in.

So... New area of the country, new school, new job, new employer, new town, etc. I'm somewhat hesitant to comment on what things are like here because first impressions are always a bit off, and I probably will end up revising myself a few days later anyway. So I'll hold off on that stuff for now.

As always, when moving from a place where you have lots of friends, to a place where you know no one, it can be a little depressing. I've been feeling slightly homesick; both for Oita prefecture and for my real home. But three years ago I came to Japan not knowing anyone and ended up making a lot of friendships, so I'm confident if I stick it out again the same thing will happen.

I sold my car to my successor before I came out here. I will be getting a company car to use sometime next week, but in the meantime I've been doing a lot of walking. I fancy myself as a bit of an avid pedestrian, but by the third straight day of walking my legs were really beginning to kill me.

The apartment is very nice and considerable bigger than my previous accommodation. It is however completely unfurnished, and in Japan unfurnished really means unfurnished. No washing machine, no refrigerator, no lights, no curtains (exhibition city here I come!!!)

I've been gradually trying to furnish the place. The first day I bought a fan and a stereo, which was nice to have the essentials taken care off. I did spend a rather rough night sleeping on the hard floor, and decided the second day to get a futon. The home supplies shop was only 40 minutes walk away. The walk there was okay, but the walk back with the futon and blankets and pillow was pretty tiring. I also apparently caught a lot of people's attention, as people I've been meeting recently have been saying, "Ah, was that you I saw walking down the street with the futon?"

Hard to say, but it doesn't look like I'm going to have regular internet access at the new job, which means I might not be updating this weblog quite as frequently as I used to. Also e-mail correspondence might also go down the tubes again. We'll see how it goes.

I'm able to write on this weblog now because I'm at an internet cafe in Nagoya city. We're at training in Nagoya city for Monday and Tuesday.

In a typical "Joel Swagman" move, I overslept this morning. The other teacher in the area was supposed to be outside my house at 6:50 this morning, and then we were going to race to make the 7:02 train. I remembered the 6:50 time, but somehow got it my head as a wake up time, not a departure time. So you can imagine, I'm just beginning to wake up, get a call from the other teacher saying that she's outside my apartment and where was I and we have to leave now if we are going to catch the train.

To my credit, I think I set a bit of a record for the fastest person getting dressed and out the door. I'm not sure everyone could do that as quickly as I did. However I wasn't able to prepare as thoroughly as I would have liked. I'm staying tonight in Nagoya city, but didn't bring change of clothes or many toiletries, etc.

Also I didn't shut the windows in my apartment. Which wouldn't be such a big deal except, wouldn't you know it, a typhoon is this Monday and Tuesday. Now to be fair, I did know about this typhoon ahead of time, but it wasn't foremost on my mind when I was running out of my apartment. I'm a little bit nervous as to what condition the apartment will be in when I return tomorrow, but I have my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Fahrenheit 911
Some thoughts, by Joel
Fahrenheit 911 opened on August 21 in Japan, and I finally got around to seeing it yesterday.

Of course I like to use this blog to cover my thoughts and opinions on issues, but by the time I get around to something like Fahrenheit 911, does anyone care anymore? So much ink has been spilled over this topic already, both in the professional print media and among my circle of friends. For instance my friend Phil wrote this excellent review of the film (you may have to scroll down to find it) which pretty much says everything there is to say about the film, and there's nothing really I could add to it. (On a side note, I also like the review of the film found in the Japan Times.)

So, instead of retreading that ground, I'd like to argue that if you haven't seen this film yet, you need to. Dare I say you are neglecting your civic duty as an American citizen if you vote in the November election without first watching this film. Now if you haven't seen the film yet, and you aren't planning to, then at least hear me out on this and read to the end of the post.

There's been a lot of back and forth on this film, and it's sometimes confusing to know who to believe. I myself often find that I'm agreeing with whose ever opinion I happen to be reading at the time.

On one hand there is the fact that everyone in the past four years who has come out against the Bush administration has been smeared as a liar. People like Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke who worked in the Bush administration, have impeccable resumes, are non-partisan, and have good reputations (or at least used to) have had all sorts of nasty things printed about them since they came out against Bush. It is a safe bet that if the Pope came out strongly against Bush, the next day we would hear all about what a sleazy evil liar the Pope is. So it should hardly surprise everyone that in the weeks preceding the opening of Fahrenheit 911, all sorts of attacks were made against Moore's credibility, and it is difficult to know how seriously to take these allegations.

On the other hand, those of us who are familiar with Moore's work know he does have some problems. Phil makes the point that comparisons with Ann Coulter are unfair, and I can go along with that because Ann Coulter is really in a class by herself. But because of Moore's love of cheap shots, and his selective inclusion of facts, perhaps it would be fair to say that Michael Moore is "The Rush Limbaugh of the left".

And here, I think, is where we start to get into the problem.  Because of the nature of the polarized society we live in there are a number of people who listen to Rush Limbaugh faithfully, and a number of people who enjoy Michael Moore, and the groups don't seem to overlap. This is unfortunate because the very people who should be seeing Moore's film are the ones who have been listening to Limbaugh and Fox news all last year.

The number of people I have heard say that they are refusing to see Michael Moore's film on principle is very disturbing. The National Review even printed a review of the movie by a reviewer who bragged that he had not seen the movie he was writing about. (Again, thanks to Phil for the link). And groups like Move America Forward even launched a campaign to stop distribution of the film by boycotting theaters that were showing it.

Often I will read the news and think to myself, "With all the awful things that are happening, how is Bush's approval ratings still at 50% ?" This is how. If a large segment of the American population barricades itself behind a wall of conservative propaganda, and refuses to listen to anything else, then this is undoubtedly why the President still has such high approval ratings. This added to the fact that the mainstream media has been appalling soft on the President, and largely uncritical of the war in Iraq, especially leading up to the war.
This is undoubtedly the reason why a large number of Americans still believe that there are WMDs in Iraq, or that Saddam had connections to Al Qaeda, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Now Moore's film is not perfect. I have a few criticism of it. I'll try and be brief here because, like I said at the opening, far too much ink has been spilled over this film already. But briefly: the film is somewhat emotionally manipulative. Like "Bowling for Columbine", the film is unfocused, and seems to jump all over the place without a coherent thesis. Moore can't seem to resist throwing in a few cheap shots, which I think unfortunately takes away a bit when he actually has a good point. And the whole sequence about the Bush family being connected with the Bin Laden family seems rather pointless and rested on the premise of guilt by association.

And yet the film has many good points as well. Moore is probably at his finest when he is reporting facts that have been well documented by others, but not given sufficient attention in the mainstream media.

The most moving scene in the film is when Moore films the mother of a dead soldier coming to Washington DC. At one point when she is dialoguing with an anti-war protester, a conservative rushes over and says, "This is all staged." The mother responds, "My son was not staged." And that is really the best point the film has to offer in its own defense. The dead soldier and the mother's grief was not something Moore made up. The images of the bombs falling on Baghdad, and of the dead and wounded Iraqi children, and of the families crying, were not staged by Michael Moore. The 1000 American soldiers who will not ever be home for Christmas again was not staged by Michael Moore.

Moore's film is far from perfect. I've always said before on this weblog that Moore needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and it is good to read criticisms of his movie along with seeing the movie itself. There is a lot of shrill right wing screaming at Moore right now, but calm debate can also be found. I like Spin-sanity as a web site that tries to be fair.

But the film needs to be watched. We must consider the cost of the war. The Bush administration and the media have discouraged us from thinking about the costs of this war. Although media in other countries have showed the dead and maimed Iraqi children, the U.S. media has been very reluctant to do this. And Bush even forbade the showing of American coffins on TV.

Moore's film, with all its faults, shows the cost of the war. Those screaming Iraqi children weren't staged.

This past year we fought a war. And although Saddam was a bad man, we didn't have to fight this war. We chose to. And if you supported the war, and if you listen consistently to people like Limbaugh or Coulter or Fox news who tell you that the war is okay, and you shut out all other opinions, or even, like "Move America Forward", try and block opposing opinions from even being heard, and then vote for Bush this November, shame on you. Anyone who is refusing to see Moore's film, shame on you.

Anyone who doesn't see this film by November has failed in their duty as an American citizen.

Video Version

Monday, August 23, 2004

I Didn't Waste A Day
With the month of August off, I feel like I've let a few good days go to waste just sitting in front of the TV. So it felt good to get off my ass and go out and do some stuff on Sunday.

This is my last week before moving up to Gifu, so it was the last Sunday to go to the church I've been attending. I drove into Ajimu and met the friend I've been car-pooling with. She hadn't seen me in a few weeks, and commented that with the new beard I "look just like a bear."

After Church I headed down to Beppu to catch one last cup of coffee with a good friend (who shall remain nameless).

And then Sunday night in Usa, where a farewell dinner/fireworks celebration was held in my honor.

I mentioned last month how I hate all this good-bye stuff. The problem with sticking around an extra month is I'm finding I'm having to go through it twice. I already had a good-bye party with this group in Usa (combined with Eoin and Jane), but now that I'm leaving for real, we had another good-bye party last night.

After dinner at Gusto (a local family restaurant) we went out onto a dam(or concrete barrier) in Usa river to let off some fireworks. Sneaking on to the dam in the night to let off fireworks had an exciting semi-illegal feel to it, but it was probably all perfectly legit.

I'm not sure what the finer points of the law are in Japan (or to be honest, even in Michigan) but I do get the general impression fireworks are a lot less regulated out here than they are at home. After a trip to the department store, a couple of Japanese friends showed up with two huge bags of fireworks. Josh, Steph, and I were the only foreigners present as we fired off all sorts of fireworks.

Anytime you get a lot of people and a lot of fireworks together, you're kind of asking for trouble. I had a few nervous laughs as I dodged a few fireworks that went off in my direction. The safety and good sense of the whole venture seemed a little bit questionable to me, but then again I'm always a bit of a worrier. However, I wasn't alone this time in my concern, as Steph and Josh also made several comments.

After the fireworks, we did some karaoke, much to the chagrin of Josh, who was eager to get home and get to bed, but he was a good sport about putting up with it (I was his ride home). All my days should be this much fun.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Damn it Bork!
I'm going to have to echo Phil's remark that thanks to Bork I too have wasted an afternoon just watching the Daily Show Clips from the webpage. If you go to this website to check it out, beware it is a huge time waster. I was really planning on getting some e-mails done yesterday, and ended up spending the whole afternoon watching Daily show clips. That said, it is of course very funny and they make a lot of good points. I suppose there are worse ways to waste your time.

And we'll I'm plugging on-line videos, here's some shameless egotism. Media Mouse has posted all their videos on line, including this video of the FTAA protest in Quebec which contains some video footage I filmed, and briefly includes a scene with me saying a few words at the media mouse roundtable discussion.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Baseball Game
This weekend I went and saw a professional Japanese baseball game in Fukuoka.

I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I had heard that baseball in Japan was a totally different experience than in the U.S. So I was curious to check it out.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about baseball in Japan is that it exists at all. I didn't fully appreciate this before I left home, but baseball is not by any means a global game. Britians, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders often have no idea how the game is even played.

But for some reason are other, baseball really took off in Japan. And it became popular in Japan in the 19th century, well before the American occupation. Although Baseball is refered to as "The American Past time", I think it is now more popular in Japan than it is in America. In America many high school athletes gravitate to football or basketball instead, but baseball remains the only big sport in Japan.

Anyway, it was my first time to a Japanese baseball game. And for the Australians and Britians in our group, it was their first time to see a baseball game full stop. I did my best to explain to them how the game was played. It was somewhat an ironic position for me to be in because usually someone else is explaining the finer rules of the game to me. But I was at least able to explain the basic principals of the game.

In the end the Japanese baseball game was not nearly as different as I was expecting. The cheering was a little more coordinated and a little less spontaneous among the fans, but other than that, baseball was still baseball. As I mentioned above, I'm not a huge fan. And the game was a bit boring (the home team won by a large margin). So I don't think I'm going to go again anytime soon. But I'm glad I went the once.

Josh also wrote about the same outing on his blog.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Life slows Down
Last week Thursday was my official last day of work. After having already made all the good-byes and gone to all the farewell parties, the last day of work was a little anti-climatic. In fact, the office told me they would like me to stop in again sometime to give me a certificate of participation in the JET program (which appearently was not ready last week).

So, I agree with Josh that after a very busy couple of weeks, things are beginning to slow down. The past couple days I've been doing things like watching a lot of TV and coming to this internet cafe. I've been trying to catch up on all those e-mails (I'm trying, I swear) I haven't yet returned.

Few things of interest. My friend Aaron has really been on a role lately with his weblog. Check out this post on the Presidential War Records. Along the same lines, "This Modern World" has a post: "George W. Bush sucker-punches a rugby opponent at Yale" (really) and then raises the point about what would happen if a photo of John Kerry doing the same thing had surfaced. Brian Bork has some excellent thoughts on the media and the election.

And Josh is doing a good job of taking over from me as the chronicler of life in Ajimu. His most recent post raises an interesting question of the legacy of the schwastica in Japan. As he mentions, much to my surprise I have seen some model students sporting the schwastica at the Junior High School. I think though, because Japan does not have a history of a strong white supremacist movement, the schwastica does not carry the same sensitivities it does in the West. It is therefore regarded more as a historical oddity.

Of course Japan was allied with Nazi Germany, but it was a very loose alliance, and the impression I get from Japanese media is that Japan disassociates itself from Germay's atrocities. Perhaps similar to the way Americans feel no guilt for Stalin's atrocities, who was our allie during the war.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Interesting Quote
"As for me," Kuroki revealed, "the war was not over inside me. In fact, it has never been brought to a conclusion in this country because responsibility for its heinous actions has never been taken, neither by the emperor, the government nor by the people. Japan today is like a wolf in lamb's clothing. The country is preparing itself, in the name of self-defense, for warlike action. Oh, I vividly remember the day we found out Pearl Harbor was bombed. Of course I was a kid, in occupied China, but you should have seen it. Everybody jumped for joy. And the same
thing was happening all over Japan. Japanese people became convinced, on that day, that they were fighting to liberate Asia from the White Man." -Japanese director Kazuo Kuroki quoted in The Japan Times

The obvious lesson here is to be very careful when your government says it is going "to liberate" another country.
Of course, that's Japan. It could never happen in the US.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Festival of the Dead (and Me)
This Saturday was the Obon Matsuri (festival of the dead) in Ajimu Machi. It is the biggest festival of the year in our little town of Ajimu, and this was my fourth year (have I been here that long?) to see it. And all four times have been great fun. The Obon Matsuri is one of my favorite memories of Ajimu. The whole town comes out for the Obon dance and the fireworks. All the young people have returned from University or their jobs in the big city to come back for the Obon festival.

I went with my successor, Josh (who, by the way, has his own weblog up in running in case anyone is looking for a second perspective on Ajimu life). I decided that if I was ever going to wear the Yukata (Japanese robe) the board of education had given to me, this would be the time. So, decked out in the Yukata, and the sandals which came with it (which were too small for my feet), Josh and I set out.

Every town has its own unique dance for the Obon Matsuri. Every year I learn the Ajimu dance, and then forget it and have to relearn it the next year. This year I re-learned it for the fourth time, and Josh and I did our best to join in the dance. Even though it was evening, it was a hot summer night and we were soon dripping with sweat and quietly ducked out of the dance.

I met a lot of my students and a lot of former students. "How do you possibly remember everyone?" Josh asked me. "I don't," I replied. "I remember them by face, and on a good day I can remember which school they are from and which grade they are in, but I can never remember their names."

My job officially finished this Thursday, so the Obon Matsuri was possibly the last time I am going to see many of these students. But since I've already said my good-byes at the school last month, it was almost a bit redundant to run into some of them again. The most common comment I got was, "What? You're still here?"

A few students said they didn't initially recognize me at first because of my beard. (Did I mention I'm taking advantage of my holiday to experiment a bit with facial hair?) I suppose I do look a bit different, but it is not like I really blend into the crowd here. Even with a beard, how many other tall, Dutch Americans are there wandering around the streets of Ajimu?

I've been getting mixed reactions on the beard. Actually the boys don't seem to care, but the girls are always in a state of critiquing my appearance. Many of them said my face looked dirty and I should probably shave. But at least a couple students were very enthusiastic. "It looks so cool. I can't believe how cool you look" one of them said. At any rate, since I'm not going to start my new job for another month, I'm going to experiment for a while.

But enough about me and my beard. You get me started on this topic and I'll be typing here all night.

Anyway, good fun at Obon Matsuri. Saw a lot of friends, students, former students, and some people I hadn't seen since the last Obon Matsuri. The fireworks were pretty crappy, but appearently the budget for fireworks in Ajimu was pretty small.

Afterwards we went to a good-bye party for Ron in Nakatsu. Ron is an outgoing 3rd year Jet like me, and there aren't too many of us left anymore. Most of the others have already gone home. I thought it was pretty funny that the majority of people at Ron's good-bye party were new JETs who had just met him in the past couple days.
And Another Interesting Link
The Case Against George W. Bush - by Ron Reagan
A long, but good, case against Bush by Reagan's son.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Why I'm voting for Kerry
I don't know if anyone except me follows those links I have posted, but anyone who has been reading Media Mouse recently knows they have been attacking the "Anyone But Bush" movement. Although it has been a consistent theme, this satire booklet in particular is of interest.

The other day a friend asked me who I was voting for this November, and noted that I have said bad things about Kerry in the past on this weblog.

Four years ago, I along with many other young people attempted to reject what was a broken two party system, and voted for 3rd party candidate Nader. I wrote this article in the Calvin College Chimes detailing some of my thoughts at the time. (And similar pro-Nader themes were argued much more eloquently in the same pages by my friends David Baxter, Brian Bork, and Mike Buma).

So why am I planning on voting for Kerry now?

There is no doubt the system is broken. The fact that both major candidates supported the Iraq war is a prime example of how broken our democracy is. And even besides the Iraq war, Kerry's record leaves a lot to be desired.

But unfortunately, this is the system we live in. Four years ago many of us tried to make a point by sending a protest vote to Nader. It sure seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but is it the right thing to do now? What is our long term plan? Are we going to throw every election to the Republicans?
I think now we need to ask:
1. Did we make our point?
2. What price did we pay?

It was argued four years ago by many (including myself) that there was not enough difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. And from an idealistic standpoint, there isn't. But from a realistic standpoint, the past four years have very clearly spelled out what the differences between the two parties are.

There were some things we knew were coming. The Clinton administration didn't have a great environmental record, but under Bush it has been an all out assault. Clinton/Gore never stuck their neck out for homosexual rights (and Clinton did sign the defense of marriage act), but under Bush the Republican party would abandoned their own principals to champion a Bush endorsed-constitutional amendment against Gay-marriages.

And then there were a few surprises.
The obvious example is the Iraq War, but put that thought on hold for a moment while we explore more mundane examples, like the budget. The Clinton/Gore administration was certainly pro-business at the expense of the working class and poor. The welfare Reform Bill Clinton signed was inexcusable and yet....
The Bush administration is like having a mad-man at the steering wheel, intent on driving the whole country off of the cliff. Shortly after Bush took office the country went from record surpluses to record deficits. The budget has been shot to hell. Even if all of Bush's tax cuts were repealed as soon as he left office (which they won't be), we will spend decades recovering from the damage inflicted on the budget during this short time. Every serious economist I have read is very worried about the long and short term implications of Bush's budget. And what have we gained from it? Tax cuts for the rich, and corporate welfare?
It would be one thing if there was something we had gained from this, but now not only do we have an extremely pro-business government, we have a fiscally irresponsible pro-businesses government. Does it make me nostalgic for the Clinton days? You bet it does.

And then there is the war in Iraq.
Of course no one could have predicted September 11 during the 2000 election. If Gore had won, I'm not sure how different things would have been. The war in Afghanistan might have taken place no matter who was President.

But I think it is widely acknowledged the war in Iraq was the product of the neo-conservatives in the Bush government. Both Paul O'Neil and Richard Clarke have written about the obsession with Iraq in the Bush administration even before September 11. The lying and manipulation of evidence to gain public support was the product of the Bush administration.

Even if a President Gore had initiated the war, I'm sure the Republican party would have been all over him, questioning his ability to lead, just like they did with all of Clinton's foreign interventions. But with a Republican President, it suddenly become unpatriotic to question the war, and there was a largely successful effort to stifle all dissent.

Sure Kerry and other democrats went along with the war, but I honestly believe they did it only to gain political support. Which is a very weak excuse, but I'm not looking to excuse Kerry's actions. I'm just saying a Kerry administration would never have initiated the war. Splitting hairs? From a moral standpoint maybe, but from a realistic standpoint it makes a difference.

Kerry is the lesser of two evils. And it is hard to be enthusiastic about the lesser of two evils. It's also not very cool. I think in 2000, a little bit of "more radical than thou" was going on among those of us who supported Nader. I remember conversations we used to have at Media Mouse, mocking supposed radicals who were supporting the Gore campaign.

But I think those of us who took this position need to think about 13,398 civilians killed in Iraq, not to mention the 920 dead American soldiers. We need to ask ourselves if some of this blood is on our hands because we were too cool to take the "lesser of two evils" position.

And quite frankly, I'm beginning to be scared for my own safety. I agree with Kerry when he says Bush's policies are fueling terrorist recruitment. You would have to be living on the moon to think that the Iraq war has made America safer from terrorists. The news about American soldiers sodomizing Iraqi prisoners, the other prison abuse scandals, the on going war in Iraq and the growing resentment towards occupation forces, etc. It would be the ultimate naivety to think that this would not fuel more terrorist attacks in the future

I'll take Anyone But Bush in November. If Bush was running against Lucifer himself, I'd vote Lucifer. I don't think the country can handle another four years of Bush. Give me Kerry, with all his faults.

When John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-hosted the Mike Douglas Show, Ralph Nader was one of the guests. John Lennon told Nader he should run for President. Nader replied that the system was broken, and running for President wouldn't do any good. Nader said that we need to get people more politically involved at the lower levels, and that would in the long run produce better candidates for President.

When Nader was running four years ago, the logic was we could afford to throw the election to Bush, and then if we stayed politically active we could limit the damage. We were obviously wrong. Instead in the past four years we've seen activism increasingly sidelined as dissent is becoming criminalized.
I think a better strategy is to elect Kerry, and then to get organized and lean into him so he doesn't cater to the right like Clinton did. In a real democracy the power belongs to the people, not to the President, but we need to elect representatives who will limit the damage while we try and repair the system. Bush is causing damage far faster than we can repair it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Here, There, and Everywhere
A bit more of the same the past couple weeks. I've got most of my stuff moved into the girlfriends' apartment, but I'm still having to go back into Ajimu everyday for work. To their credit, the folks at the Board of Education have been very flexible with my schedule, but I do think it is kind of silly to keep me coming in to work until the last day of my contract. I mean the new guy is here already, school is over, and there really isn't too much for me to do.

So anyway, I've been spending a lot of time driving the past week, always going back and forth between my girlfriend's apartment in Hita (about an hour away) and the Ajimu BOE. I've also been keeping my toiletries in the car, and just crashing at friends apartments at times, rather than make the drive. I've gone five days without changing my underwear.

But, like I said before, to their credit the Board of Education is being fairly flexible with my schedule. As long as I show my face briefly, they let me show up late and leave early. Friday me and the new guy, Josh, got the afternoon off to go swim in the waterfall. Monday we got the afternoon off to go to Oita city and see Spider Man 2. At times, either in the midst of swimming in the waterfall or walking around in the cinema plex, Josh and I have turned to each other and said something like, "just imagine, we're on the clock right now. We're getting paid to see this movie."

The Board of Education and the Farewell Party
Because I'm still in the area, the farewell party for me and the welcome party for Josh have been combined. In March when everyone gets transferred around, the farewell and welcome parties are often combined, so I think this is the preferred way of doing it in Japan.

My relationship with the BOE is a complex one. Anytime you spend a lot of time with people, you end up developing complex relationships that are difficult to summarize in words. The best comparison I can make perhaps is with a University room mate.

Remember the first year of college. Sometime around March, after you had spent way to much time together with this new roommate you got thrown together with, someone would ask you how are things going with the roommate. At first you list off all their good traits. And then the complaints start coming. But even as the complaints are coming out of your mouth, you realize how trivial and petty they sound. No one else could possibly understand why these things bug you so much, but it is just after spending a year dealing with it everyday that it collectively begins to wear on you.

Still with me? That kind of relationship. I guess maybe you have the same thing with your office.

Really the people at the Board of Education are the nicest people I've ever met. Everytime I have a problem they drop whatever they are doing to help me solve it. Some of them have even gone as far as to loan me their personal cars for the evening when mine was in the shop, help me clean my apartment (see previous couple posts), help me pay for things that they didn't have to (like the trip to Yokohama, etc), help me set up the homestay, help me sort out my mail and my phone bills, etc, etc, etc. And yet I always find myself complaining about the small things. Like the way the person behind me interrupts me every five minutes to ask a stupid question. Or the way I come back in the afternoon, tired of speaking Japanese from being at the school all day, and the woman across the desk wants to give me a hard time about this or that.

It was like that at the good-bye party. These guys were the nicest guys in the world, and yet I really felt relieved to get out of there by the end of the night. One guy was constantly shaking my hand and embracing my shoulders and telling me I was his best friend. We went to Karaoke, and no matter how bad I sang, they really went overboard on the applause and telling me how good I was at singing. All sorts of food and drink was pushed my way until I felt sick from eating. It was all a bit too much.

And yet at the same time, I was kind of a bit touched by it as well, even as I sighed with relief as the night ended.