Friday, April 29, 2005

Be Excellent

by AJ/Skald

1:40. Im ten minutes late but dont care. Ive learned to milk my lunch breaks as long as possible. The thought of returning to the cash register feels unbearable. Six more hours of torture to go. Six more hours of harassing customers to buy "readers advantage" cards. Six more hours on my feet. "I hate these mother-fuckers" I growl, and punch the dashboard of my van. I huff, get out, and head back to work at Barnes & Noble.
--------------------

The Tao of Steve: Be Desireless, Be Excellent, Be Gone.

Its also the Tao of the Free Agent Hobopoet, a recipe for increased power and autonomy.

Part one, desirelessness: largely a function of reducing your need for work... and best accomplished by simplifying your life.

Part three, going: Usually an easy step for Hobopoets. We love to leave jobs, to trade up, or to hit the open road. Everytime I do so, I feel a surge of euphoria.

That leaves Part two, excellence: A stage I rarely write about. It means what you do, you do magnificently.

Many job/work/career gurus advocate a discipline and willpower approach to excellence. They advise you to work work work at it. I get this vibe from Tom Peters sometimes; the notion that excellence is a difficult and arduous thing.

I take a different approach. To me, excellence grows from bliss. I see painful striving as a symptom-- an indication that the path doesnt have heart.

So I advocate a reverse approach. I say, "Laziness First". Dont try harder, do less. Loaf. Contemplate. Take three years off from "real jobs" (or more if you can). Discover what you love to do.

Once you discover those things, excellence emerges. You may expend time and energy- but it rarely feels like striving. You pursue excellence for its own sake, for the joy and magnificence of immersing yourself in what you love to do.

Im lazy when it comes to doing other people's work... ie. Barnes & Noble. Put me in that kind of situation and Im the king of slackers (and proud of it!). But Im not lazy when it comes to MY OWN work. I love teaching, for example, and want unparalleled excellence for every class. But because I love it, the energy I expend creates euphoria... and feels nothing like the drudgery of other jobs.

Im lazy, but I believe in excellence for its own blissful sake. I also believe in the practical benefits: When you exude excellence you find yourself in greater demand. That gives you more leverage, more autonomy, and more options-- in other words, more freedom.

Pursuit of excellence, doing someone else's work, feels like slavery... working for the devil.

But pursuit of excellence, on your own blissful path, feels liberating.
------------

Five minutes till class starts. I review the lesson in my head, trying to identify key points. I rehearse the story. I cull it for useful language and interesting actions. I imagine the gestures and actions Ill use to demonstrate it.

Then I bound into class. Im on stage and the performance has begun. I rip into the story. I jump, shout, and hustle... pour my energy into the students for the next hour and a half. I feel euphoric and alive.

..........

Teaching English

by AJ/Skald

I get many emails from people asking for advice on teaching... folks who plan to teach abroad but have no experience. Usually I post that sort of info on my teaching blog. But so many people ask, I figured Id include a couple of recent posts to give an idea of the teaching methods I recommend. For more detailed info, see my teaching blog.

The post below gives a short example of TPR Storytelling... a technique which uses stories to teach vocabulary and grammar in the target language (in this case, English).

---------------------------------------
Recent Post to Effortless Language Acquisition

There is a baby. He walks to the fridge. He takes out ice cream, chocolate, and milk. He carries them to a table. There is a bowl, knife, and banana on the table. He picks up the knife and cuts the banana into pieces. He puts the pieces into the bowl. Then he puts the ice cream on top of the banana. He pours milk into the bowl.

He doesnt have a fork. He doesnt have a spoon. So he eats with a knife. He gets food on his face, his chest, and his arms. He gets food on his shirt and pants. His mother comes into the room and screams. She takes him to the sink and washes him. Now he is a clean baby. The baby is happy and so is his mother.


That, more or less, is a story I used for Monday's classes. Its taken from Blaine Ray's book, Look I Can Talk. The story went reasonably well. Not great. Not bad. Most students listened, but not with rapt attention. But they learned the language and grammar within it.

Blaine Ray and Contee Seely both recommend using exaggeration to boost the memorability of stories. Its excellent advice. I found that a few changes make a big difference.

For Wednesday's and Thursday's classes, I changed the story... added exaggeration:

There is a fat American baby. He has a cowboy hat and two guns. He walks to the fridge and takes out ice cream and milk. He carries them to a table. There is a knife, a bowl, and a banana on the table. He grabs the knife and cuts the banana into pieces. He puts the pieces into the bowl, and puts ice cream on top of the banana. Then he pours milk into the bowl.

He doesnt have a fork or spoon. So he eats with a knife. Suddenly, he cuts off his nose. He screams! His mother comes into the room and screams! She grabs him (and his nose) and takes him to the hospital. The nurse sews his nose back on. The baby is happy and so is his mother.


OK, its not genius,... but the second story is much more exaggerated and much more interesting.

And what a difference. Students were more attentive and reactive. Their retellings were more dynamic. They seemed to remember the story more easily.

This shouldnt be surprising. A good story evokes strong images, and is full of conflict and emotion. The first story had much weaker images and little emotion. The revision contains more drama, a powerful twist (off with the nose), and more excitement.

What Ive learned: Using stories from TPRS books is a great time saver (very important to me at my current job). It also helps teachers new to the technique (like me) guage the appropriate vocab and grammar level. It seems more effective, however, to modify these stories-- inject more exaggeration and personalization, than to use them as-is.

"He cuts off his nose", I yelled. I grabbed my nose and made gushing sounds for blood. Then I moved towards the class and pretended to spray blood onto them. They laughed and recoiled.... absorbed in the story. "Aha", I thought...."Ive got em".

...........

Pilot Projects

by AJ/Skald

My chest felt tight. I put the book down and tried to breath more slowly. "What is going on?", I thought to myself. The book's title: "Ten Years of Living In Cars and Loving It", by Craig Roberts (THE bible of car living). My pulse was racing.

Roberts' book electrified me. But, inexplicably, I also felt terrified. Terrified because I seriously considered taking the plunge: moving out of my apartment into a car.

Those hoping to make radical shifts in lifestyle often feel overwhelmed by the prospect... by the enormity of the task. This has certainly been the case with me. Im subject to grand visions and ridiculous notions. But those thoughts turn from inspiring to frightening when I think of putting them into action.

The car living experience taught me a valuable way to bypass the fear and move forward: pilot projects.

In other words, I try the change on a very tiny scale and/or for a short period of time.

I was inspired by Roberts book but had many doubts. Could I do it? What if I was miserable? Would it be safe? When I thought of making this wholescale change, questions like these flooded my thoughts.

So I inititated the Nissan Stanza experiment. I had accepted a job in Japan. So I decided to quit my American job three months in advance, and live in my car during that time. I would give it a try for 90 days only.

That made the change seem manageable and doable. Putting a short timeline on the experiment eased my fears.

I saved plenty of money to fund this experiment. I didnt want to contend with a money shortage at the same time (living in a car for the first time would be enough of a challenge).

And the experiment was a huge success. While not always comfortable, I was never miserable. Most of my fears evaporated like phantoms. I enjoyed three lazy months in Athens, GA. I read books, wrote, met homeless people, played Ultimate frisbee, played disc golf, walked in the park, ate at restaurants. I bathed in the river.

And I gained tremendous confidence. Confidence that propelled me into a much longer van-living experiment once I returned from Japan.

Gandhi wrote "Experiment with your life". Its good advice, and a great mental stance to take.

That stance breaks the "success" / "failure" dichotomy, and helps rid us of fears. View changes as experiments, rather than "decisions", and you no longer feel trapped. A "lets see what happens if I do this" approach encourages us to live like philosophers (or true scientists,... or artists).

When faced with a monumental urge to change, or a huge goal,-- consider a test run... a pilot project.

Try that new freelancing enterprise on a micro scale first... with just one or two clients. Get rid of a percentage of your stuff and move into a little cheaper apartment. Wander for three months and see if it suits you. Dab your feet in the waters,... test it out... make a trial run.

The confidence gained by these mini-experiments will launch greater journeys than you ever imagined.

Bedding down on the plywood bunk, I turned to pet my dog, Athena. "Goodnight". She put her head down and sighed... a strangely human mannerism. I peeked through the burlap curtains on the car's side windows. Downtown Athens was quiet. I laid back and thought of my perfect hobopoet day... a day spent doing exactly, and only, what I wanted to do.... the sublime fruits of my first car living experiment.

I echoed Athena's sigh and nodded off.

........

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Blissful Tropics

by AJ/Skald

Kicked back with a pipe... to my left a buzzing green mountain washed in darkness. A Sea shadow rolling to my right; stars above. Ahh Thailand.

Im ready to return to the tropics. Life wasnt perfect. I had my ups and downs. But I was happier there than any place in recent memory (5-10 years). Bangkok, for sure, got to me: frazzled, irritable on occaision... and the NOISE! Thats when the islands and the mountains called.

In Thailand I had access to euphoric plants. In Thailand I could indulge my movie habit almost every day ($2 movies!). I ate well. I visited temples. I lounged on beaches and rode scooters to villages.

It was always warm, almost always sunny. I had fewer money concerns. I could live, meagerly, off a writing income.... and live well off teaching and writing combined.

In Thailand I had transcendent visions. In Thailand I discovered innovative teaching methods.

Joseph Campbell wrote, "Follow Your Bliss, where ever it takes you".

My bliss resides in the tropics.

My bliss is calling me back to Thailand.

.......

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Unemployment

by AJ/Skald

If a household gets a washing machine, you never hear the family members who used to do the laundry by hand complain that this "puts them out of work." But strangely enough, if a similar development occurs on a broader social scale it is seen as a serious problem -- "unemployment" -- which can only be solved by inventing more jobs for people to do.

Proposals to spread the work around by implementing a slightly shorter workweek seem at first sight to address the matter more rationally. But such proposals do not face the fundamental irrationality of the whole social system based on market relations. While reacting to one manifestation of this irrationality (the fact that some people work long hours while others are jobless), they tend at the same time to reinforce the illusion that most present-day work is normal and necessary, as if the only problem were that for some strange reason it is divided up unequally. The absurdity of 90% of existing jobs is never mentioned.
-- Ken Knabb

Ahhh... what a great quote. "The absurdity of 90% of existing jobs...", doesn't that sum up most employment? Your average Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, McDonalds, corporate office jobs come to mind. I've worked plenty of jobs like that and they are indeed absurd. Boring. Monotonous. Useless.

I celebrate developments like Amazon.com,.... do I really need a poor slob to ring up the books for me?

The problem-- without these absurd activities, a great many people would starve- given the current system. Not sure what the mega "solution" is... but for starters, a simpler life helps.

A radically simpler life makes part-time work livable. I did it myself when van living. I had a very comfortable life working part time at Roly Poly and also teaching English. I worked less than 20 hours a week but ate very well, had a social life, and even saved money.

Then there's the young homeless professional plan... wherein you work fulltime, but only half the year (or every other year). However you slice it, half the work is necessary.

And it doesnt feel like a hardship. Once you begin simplifying, you find that most of the junk you spend money on is unecessary and unfulfilling anyway. All those gadgets-- they dont bring happiness beyond a fleeting thrill.

People do this differently, but I advocate a slow and gradual approach. Start whittling down a tiny bit at a time. Move to a slightly cheaper apartment. Get rid of a few things, a few clothes. Trade in the new car for a used car.

Take a break whenever you feel you are depriving yourself. Dont force it. Once comfortable at the new level... set out to simplify a little more. Thats how I did it. It took a few years. But eventually I lived in a Nissan Sentra! Not that Im selling that option, but it shows how far you can go. And its always a comfort to me knowing I did it-- Knowing I could do it again, if necessary.

Whatever level you stop at, youll find that your needs are fewer while your options have increased. Your need for work is lessened. Your options for leisure, fun, travel, art, friends, family, etc. have increased. And thats what its all about.

.......

Heart

by AJ/Skald

For me there is only the traveling on the paths that have a heart, on any path that may have a heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge for me is to traverse its full length. And there I travel--looking, looking, breathlessly.
- From The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda

Doesnt that get to the core? What an excellent question to ask about any undertaking, any enterprise.... "Is this a path with heart?" Its a question Ive asked myself about my job-situation in Japan (my answer, unfortunately, is "no"). Its a question Ive asked about teaching in general ("yes"); and about travel ("yes"), writing ("yes"), life in Thailand ("yes"), and my personalized mix of zen-taoism-shamanism ("yes").

Its a lack of heart that leads me to condemn big business, fundamentalist Christianity/Islam/Judaism, and Republicans (often overlapping groups).

People can tolerate a great deal of adversity when on a path with heart. They will fight, they will move mountains. They'll display integrity, strength, determination, and boldness.

I believe that most people yearn for such a path. They yearn for a noble cause. They yearn for something grand and magnificent. But most are trapped in jobs.. and by extension lives.. without heart. They appear listless. They appear dull. They appear lazy. "Appear", but not "are".

A great resevoir of energy slumbers. Social work taught me that. I witnessed its awakening on several occaisons...

So while I often vent my rage at the wage-slavers and drones of America, Inc...... I do so because Ive glimpsed the possible. People have so much more than given credit for. So much genius sleeps there.

All thats needed-- an ounce of inspiration, a glimpse of noble purpose, a modicum of faith in them, and a path with heart.

Supply these, and get out of the way. Supply these, and be ready for miracles.

............

Size Matters, part 2

by AJ/Skald

Lets look at this business problem (or busy-ness as Sunwalker puts it) with more careful language. Could it be that business, per se, is not the problem.

For example, when I rail against the evils of business, I usually have a fairly large bureaucracy in mind. I think IBM, GE, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Microsoft. Or I think of local monsters such as large construction firms. I rarely think of the small enterprises in my local neighborhood. In fact, I love my local coffee shops. I love my local cafes. I love my local bookstores. And hardware store. And the artists selling their pieces on the sidewalk.

Im not alone. When folks attack Capitalism, usually they (like me) attack corporate capitalism. I've never heard an activist decry the evils of sole proprietorship or the corner mom and pop store. Corporations appear to create the worst evil.

Corporations can grow very large-- and they primarily exist for the purpose of avoiding responsibility. As a legal entity, the prime motive for establishing a corporations seems to be the avoidance of personal responsibility. Shareholders are protected from loss... their personal assets remain safe. Likewise, they gain legal protection. Imagine if every stockholder...however small... was held liable for the actions of the corporations they partly own! Imagine if they had to fit the bill for bankruptcy or legal fees... proportionate to the number of shares they owned. Perhaps folks would think more carefully about their investments. Perhaps ethics and human decency would play a greater role in their investment strategy.

Size is the other component. There are certainly small corporations,... but foulness and general evil seems to grow as the corporation does. Your local coffee shop seems benign and charming. They threaten no one. But Starbucks appears like a monstrous behemoth... deliberately sinking local enterprises through economic might and little else.

Which brings me, again, to the famous rule of 150. Maybe we are hard-wired for certain sized organizations. Below 150, we can retain our humanity.... communication remains natural.... responsibility is direct and personal. Beyond 150, things break down. Responsibility becomes diffused. Bureaucracy and rigidity increase. The organization begins to swallow people. As it hits 300, 500, 1000, and more... these trends accerate. Until we arrive at Wal-Mart, DuPont, GE, McDonald-Douglas, Phillip-Morris, McDonalds--- organizations devoid of heart or soul. Monsters feeding off war, pollution, exploitation, union busting, sweat shops, craving, and insecurity.

Could it be that small is indeed beautiful. As simple as that? Might many of the problems that seem intractable disappear with a re-organization of scale?

---------

Memories of A Day In The Life in Thailand

by AJ/Skald

My grip tightens as the motorcycle speeds towards oncoming traffic. We weave left to avoid a car, then cut right to the curb-- jump it at a low point, walk the bike over the median, and hop onto the main highway. I hold onto the bar behind the seat and try to relax, but my chest feels tight. The moto-taxi driver guns the accelerator.

Twenty minutes later, he slams the brakes in front of my school. I shake my hands, get off the bike, and hand him 80 baht (about $2 dollars). My legs wobble as I head into the building-- I've survived another commute in Bangkok.

I'm early so I dash to the cafeteria for a quick bite. Its 10 am so I opt for "Khai Jeaw" (omelette). I douse the omelette in chilli powder, chilli oil, and ketchup and snicker as I realize what I've done-- my tastes are turning Thai.

The bell rings and I stroll to class.

Five hours later, Im done teaching. And though I enjoy teaching English, the truth is-- its a means to an end. My real love is travelling and living abroad. I enjoy teaching, but I love Thailand.

I hoist my pack and walk to Lumpini Park. An array of food tents line the edge of Lumpini. Thai friends introduced me to one in particular-- which makes the best Som Tam (spicy papaya salad) in the city. Making Som Tam is an art form,... even in Bangkok it can be difficult to find good stuff. A little too much sugar, or oil, or tamarind, or lime, or chilli.. and the balance of flavors is lost. But properly made, its divine.

I sit and use sparse Thai to order Som Tam with a side of Khao Niaw (Sticky rice). I request "mai sai gung, khap" (no shrimp please)-- but the owners know me and have already started my order.

Its been another blistering day in the city, but a tarp shades the tables and the sun is going down. I sip water while I wait, kick back, and watch people stroll through the park. When the order comes, it lives up to reputation. My eyes and nose water from the chillies. I drink a liter of water, wipe my nose, pat my belly, and smile as I try to imagine the bland food I favored at home. But memory fails.

Charge for the meal...... 50 baht.. just over a dollar.

When I first arrived, I thought often of home. But 16 months later, I never think of The States. Thailand's rhythms, flavors, sounds, and colors have captured me. I feel no nostalgia or homesickness. I can't imagine returning to the hectic grind. I don't miss the bland food or the dulling routine, nor the highways or stripmalls.

At its best, this is what living abroad is all about. Its the magic of not knowing what to expect day to day. Its the exhilaration of new smells, sights, sounds, tastes and sensations. Its the joy of learning something new everyday... and the frustration of unlearning what we accept as "common knowledge".

Of course, living abroad is not for everyone. Those who value stability, security, and comfort may find the experience extremely frustrating. Life is rarely predictable in another country. Simple tasks-- finding a restaurant, renting a movie, getting a phone-- often turn into challenging ordeals.

For my first five months in Bangkok, I could not properly pronounce the name of my neighborhood. Every time I said, "Bangyikan", taxi drivers stared blankly... or waved me away. I grunted, I tried every possible variation of pronunciation, I gestured, I spoke slowly. Nothing worked.

For five months I settled for "Khao San Road", a backpackers spot every driver knew--and walked 25 minutes from there to my home.

Then one day, inexplicably, and with no change I could discern, I said "Bangyikan" and the driver motioned me in. From then on, they always understood.

---------

From Lumpini park I flag a taxi and stop at the Baghdad Cafe to meet friends. Crowded among small round tables, grimy walls, tattered tapestries, and a mix of tattooed Thais and grungy foreigners-- we smoke flavored tobacco from 4 foot water pipes. A blue haze fills the narrow room-- an air of debauchery hangs in the air. We lean against the wall and lounge.

Two hours later, we walk home.

As we cross the Pinklao bridge I catch the gold and glitter of The Grand Palace-- it dances in the night sky. Further downriver, spotlights torch the stone spires of Wat Arun Temple.

A barge slides under the bridge as I turn for one last glance at the temple.

And another typical day in Bangkok comes to an end.

.............

Monday, April 25, 2005

Wild Divine

by AJ/Skald

Found this one on Bruce Eisner's Vision Thing, a fascinating blog I can't plug enough.

In a recent post he describes a new bio-feedback software game. The game uses bio-feedback instruments and your PC to teach meditative relaxation techniques. By working through the game, you learn how to quickly control your body rhythms (such as pulse)... techniques with obvious benefits in the real world. Deepak Chopra is associated with the project.

I may give the software a spin... if so, Ill post a review.

Here's a link:

Wild Divine

......

Try This- downsizing

In 'Merica there seems to be a biggerer and biggerer attitude towards food and consumption in general. The more the merrier it seems.

But I was recently thinking about how some of my habits have changed since I now live overseas.

Just a few examples:

1) I now drive a scooter which uses 1 gallon of fuel every week instead of my Bronco which used to use between 20-30 gallones every 4-5 days!

2) Our refigerator is about 2/3 the size of the ones I had back home. As a result I no longer buy or NEED a gallon of milk or juice! My wife and I somehow manage to get by on 1 liter per week, can you believe that you actually don't NEED a whole gallon?

On that note also.. the loaves of bread here are somehow about 1/2 the size of the ones back home and we both manage to get by on 1 loaf per week.

3) Since we live in the tropics artificial heating and cooling are not longer necessary.

4) Instead of a HUGE 50 gallon hot water heater... our water passes through a heater as it runs through the pipes and is instantly heated! Saves energy since those old gigantic water heaters lose heat and are caught in an endless cycle of heat, heat loss and re-heat which burns a lot of energy! (This is one of my favorite things here.. ingenious!)

5) And the most recent one... now instead of going shopping on a weekly basis we are making a trial run of the daily market visit. We have several markets nearby. They are a bit more expensive than buying in bulk but we don't really have the storage space anyway. So in the long run we should save money and more importantly waste less food! We've discovered that we often stock up on veggies with the intent of cooking them at some point and then they go bad before we get to it. Often it's because we get invited out to dinner or are in the mood for something specific.

With this new approach of stopping by the market on the way home we have the advantage of deciding what we want to cook for dinner just before we go home. We can also pick up what is seasonal and fresh.

For example, I stopped by last night and got enough stuff for a big stir-fry for about US$4.. we had enough left over for lunch today. So at about US$1 a meal.. I'm pretty happy. And no waste!

We have a bakery nearby and can get fresh bread with no preservatives easily. (not cheaply)

I know these aren't original ideas... but it has taken me a little work to overcome my 'Merica induced.. BUY A LOT and BUY IN BULK mentality.

There really is no need for it.

-Matt

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Insanity

by Skald

The mystic dances in the sun,
hearing music other's don't.

"Insanity," they say, those others.
If so, It's a very gentle,
nourishing sort.

--A Post-It Poem taken from Rumi

------

"Gentle and nourishing insanity", does that not describe the Hobopoet path.. whatever form it takes? Strictly speaking, insanity is extreme deviation from the norm. If everyone heard voices, itd probably be thought "normal"... and dullards who heard nothing might be considered mentally deficient.

Much that passes for sanity is little more than conformity- a fact recognized by most non-conformists. Its considered "crazy" to question conventional wisdom and even crazier to go against it. Most people cant fathom a person who actively avoids "work" and a "career". Nor can they fathom a distrust of money, nor a loathing of monotony.

They think it crazy to indulge odd pleasures that have no profit (ie. the post-it poet).

For most folks, the average hobopoet is crazy. Maybe not "psychiatric ward" crazy... but certainly weird, undesirable, and perhaps scary.

This is especially so if the hobopoet extends their non-conformity to appearance.. by wearing "odd" clothes, or sporting shaggy hair, or a long beard, or piercings, or tattoos. Such people experience a great deal of discrimination... discrimination that is considered not only acceptable, but desirable.

Which is why I choose a stealth approach. Normally, I sport a very clean cut appearance.....

As a result, I am never hassled by police... never hassled by dimwitted clerks.... I glide smoothly among the drones and they never suspect.

When I returned to Georgia from Asia three years ago... I had long curly hair and a bushy beard. I wore Thai and Indian clothes. During my first month, I was pulled over by the cops twice... both times for bogus reasons ("crooked license plate"). African-Americans and Latinos, no doubt, will know what Im talking about.

Once I cut my hair and returned to wearing jeans and collared shirts, I was never pulled over again (in two years time).

I dont advocate either approach.... but the more you break from societal norms,.. and the more criminal your activities become (psychedelic drugs, car living, activism, etc.), the more valuable a stealth approach seems.

Most people seem more concerned with the appearance of non-conformity than the actual practice. If you look like them, most will assume you are like them.

.........

Stretching

by AJ/Skald

In the spirit of stretching my assumptions, I embarked on regular reading of Tom Peters' blog... which is dedicated to passion, innovation, (and all that jazz)-- in the business world. At first I was pleasantly surprised to find such words thrown around by a business consultant. I allowed for the fact that I may be wrong about the business world... or at least a small slice of it.

But lately Ive grown weary of reading the site. The more I read, the more I feel that the hype is smoke and mirrors. Most commenters to the blog are working for corporations that are anything but radical or humanizing. And most posts concern bland corporate gossip.

I also find an in-built faith in advertising and marketing.... pursuits that Aldous Huxley dubbed the dark opposites of the Perennial Philosophy: for their sole concern is to increase craving... that sickness which most mystical traditions identify as the root cause of suffering.

There are a few standouts on the site. Tom Asacker is one. Trevor Gay is another. But for each one like them, the business world is filled with a thousand money grubbing bastards-- who would gladly dump toxic waste in their neighbors' water supply-- if it'd add another 1% to quarterly profits.

And there are another 5000 who dont care about anything; they just shuffle along to collect their paycheck. They never question anything, never examine the organizations they work for, never wonder if there could be a deeper purpose to life. They do what they are expected to do.

And so I have found little passion, very little innovation, and no inspiration.

My picture of the business world is bleacker than ever.



........

Friday, April 22, 2005

Post-It™ Poet

WARNING: Try this at home. You do not need to be a trained professional. It involves no risk to life or limb that the author is aware of. It is not as exciting as Fear Factor and you will not have to humiliate yourself for money.

I've decided that the world needs more poetry.

I recently attended a funeral and a wedding. On both occasions poetry was recited to invoke the human spirit, albeit for different purposes. I asked myself if those should be the only two times in life when people spout poetry. The answer was a resounding NO.

But what to do?

Give people poetry. Disposable poetry with no strings attached. Poems that could be found in any location, at any time, completely unexpected with no author, no gratification and no criticism. A pure art form. I was sure it would change the world somehow, at least for a few people.

I came up with a plan. I'm not sure when the Muses presented the idea to me. I'm not sure how it evolved. But to me, it was ingenious.

I would write poems on Post-It notes and leave them in random locations throughout the city. The Muses were smiling. I set to work. I procured a bunch of Post-Its from work. I sauntered to Jittery Joe's 5- points, ordered myself a coffee and set to work. I wrote tons of poems. Some were placed immediately. Others were kept in my bag for use at a later time, whenever I might be in a new locale and in need of a random Post-It poem.

On those small sheets of yellow paper I wrote things like:

A Post-It from Buddha

Crush my bones and
filter me into a pot.
Make me into a cup of
spiritual coffee
Drink me to awaken your
body and mind.

-Post-It Poet
(posted on the bottom of a coffee mug at Blue Sky)


and

Of All Things innate in Humans

to eat
shit
and know the Holy

-Post-It Poet
(rolled up in the toilet paper at Espresso Royale Cafe)

and

Look,
here you are.
You are a poem.

-Post-It Poet
(posted on the mirror of Jittery Joe’s bathroom)

and

Breathlessness
awaits time.

A Poem
walks
downtown.

This life
follows.

-Post-It Poet
(posted on a phone booth downtown)



and


Poem Speaks

You might think.
I am a woman.
I have.
so.
many periods.

-Post-It Poet
(Mellow Mushroom menu)

or

The msytic dances in the sun,
hearing music other's don't.

"Insanity," they say, those others.
If so, It's a very gentle,
nourishing sort.


Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)
-Post-It Poet
(posted under a plate at DePalmas)


Then I went around posting hundreds of them in random locations. On the bottom of coffee mugs, inside menus, rolled up inside the toilet paper in the bathroom of various establishments, bathroom mirrors in public toilets, pay phones and just about any other place I could think of. I peppered the city with poetry: Jittery Joe's, Earth Fare, DePalma's, Blue Sky, The Globe, all my usual hangouts. They all received my free works.

I imagined dish washers finding a poem on the bottom of the mugs they were about to clean. I envisioned businessmen opening up the menu at a restaurant and finding my poem. I dreamed of someone going into a toilet and finding a poem on the mirror, or better yet, sitting down, unrolling the toilet paper and finding a little poem coiled up inside. I figured they would be surprised, happy or at least moved to think. Who knows? I would never know. That was the beauty of it. An enterprise with no measurable outcome, no final product and no bottom line. A work of pure nonsense. Beauty in action, alive and organic.

I got carried away with it and dreamed of people writing to the papers about random poems they had found in the oddest, most unexpected places; inside the coin slot of a pay phone, or underneath their lunch plate. I dreamed it would change lives. Maybe it did. Maybe it made someone smile. I would never know.

I kept it up for a few months until I ran out of poems and grew tired. Callan, the keeper of my secret, was the only person I ever told of this project. No one else knew but I figure a lot of people witnessed the poems. I was open, awake and poetry was part of my daily life.

No one ever wrote to the papers. It never escalated to that point. But I was confident I had succeeded. Out of all the poems I posted, I was sure at least one had been discovered, and as the discoverer read the poem they had been opened in some small way. I was sure someone had stopped for a moment and thought 'What an odd thing. I just found a poem here under my plate. Interesting. I wonder who did that?'

I was sure of it.

-Matt

Tune In

by Skald

More good stuff from Robert Anton Wilson:

"The Bohm model (of Quantum Physics) seems to undermine our traditional dualism of consciousness and matter. In (this model) information permeates all localities. And information that has no locality sounds a great deal like the Hindu divinity Brahma, the Chinese concept of Tao, Aldous Huxley's Mind At Large, and The Buddha Mind of Mahayana Buddhism.

'The Buddha-Mind is not God', Buddhists continually explain, and Occidentals blink, unable to understand a religion without 'God'. But Brahma, in Vedic Hinduism, does not have any of the personality, locality, temperment, or gender of Western 'Gods' and like Buddha-Mind, seems to mean a kind of non-local implicate order, or informatin without location.

Dr. Evan Harris Walker goes further. A physicists, by the way-- he has developed a model in which 'consciousness' does not exist locally at all but only appears localized due to our errors of perception. In this model, our 'minds' do not reside in our brains but non-locally permeate and/or transcend space-time entirely. Our brains, then, merely 'tune in' this non-local consciousness (which now sounds even more like Huxley's Mind At Large). "

-------

That last line evokes Tim Leary's famous exhortation to 'tune in'... and it hints to me at whats going on during my own inner journeys (with salvia, mushrooms, ganga, etc.).

My best current metaphor for these ally drugs: they function like a broadband connection to Mind At Large... faster and wider access than the typical 'dial up' connection I normally have.

More information gets in. But Im still stuck with the same processors once I return to mundane consciousness. Thus the weird and wild flow of information can seem difficult to understand and can take a long time to sort out.

It could be that schizophrenics (for example) likewise have a broadband connection... only it functions without their conscious control... they may have difficulty 'tuning out' the rush of information (and thus returning to mundane consciousness). Huxley and Lang, among others, have suggested exactly that.



......

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Freeters

by AJ/Skald

Its not all bleak workaholism here. While most Japanese work insane hours,... there is an underground rebellion against this.

They are called freeters. These are Japanese who deliberately avoid careers. They work part time jobs. They work full time jobs with no career path. Unlike most, they drift from job to job. When they want a long break, they quit.

In fact, often they not only quit... they leave. This reminds me of a line from Henry Miller, "The French dont quit, they leave". In other words, no notice, no resignation letter....

Many freeters take this approach. When they tire of a job, they simply dont show up again. Ive exercised this option a number of times myself and it is quite nice... something free, easy, and liberating about it. Quitting and giving notice often feels like asking permission... as if you are an indentured servant begging to be released.

So many freeters leave. They leave in order to travel. They leave in order to indulge in a hobby. They leave in order to study a subject that fascinates them (Ive got a few freeters in my English classes).

Many go abroad for short or long periods of time.

In essence, they are Japan's part-time hobopoets.

Which goes to show that even in the most work-enslaved country in the world.... there are alternatives.

......

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pillars of Stability

Nothing in life is guaranteed. But it is pretty comforting to know that pretty much every Tuesday night I will get to put on my ankle braces, cleats and go and chase around a large and sometimes flat flying disc.

Kuala Lumpur has an Ultimate Frisbee team and I'm on it. True to the spirit of the game we accept all ability levels and shun those who are too competitive. Good thing for me. I am pretty good on skill but pretty low on fitness.

I can feel confident that on any given Tuesday night we'll gather at the field and run around for an hour or so. I am also pretty certain that Ill catch some unlikely tosses. I'll miss a few easy ones. I'll beat someone better than me and get beat by a newbie. That's just the way it goes. That's how I like it.

I am amazingly good on some nights and extremely poor on others. How boring would it be if I always knew how I'd perform?

But that's not the best of it.

The best part is the camaraderie that's felt as we trek over to the roadside Chinese stall- literally next to the highway!

We ALWAYS order butter prawns, black pepper deer, cashew chicken, fried rice, garlic veggies and drink a shit load of Carlsberg.
Why else would we nearly kill ourselves to begin with?

So as the sun sets over the skyline of the Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the KL Ultimate Frisbee teams sits exhausted and soaked from a damn good run. We sip our beers. We eat our prawns and celebrate being alive.

Sometimes it's nice to have a routine.

-Matt

RAW

by AJ/Skald

Ive always been a late bloomer... so no surprise its taken me so long to read Robert Anton Wilson. I just started his book Quantum Psychology and all I can say is, "holy shit".

What a goddam great book!

Here's a little blurb, hardly the most interesting, but the one I just opened the book to:

"One virtually never hears 'MAYBE Jesus was the son of God' or 'MAYBE Islam is a false religion'. People ignore the quantum MAYBE because they have largely never heard of quantum logic or Transactional psychology, but they also ignore it because traditional politics and religion have conditioned people for millenniums-- and still train them today-- to act with intolerance and premature certainty. In general, people judge it 'manly' to pronounce dogmatic verdicts and fight for them, and to admit quantum uncertainty seem 'unmanly'. Feminism often challenges this machismo, but, just as often, certain Feminists appear to think they will appear stronger if they speak and behave as dogmatically and unscientifically as the stupidest, most macho males. "

I struggle with this conditioning myself. Ive noticed that the most dogmatic writing typically gets the most attention.... and seems the easiest to write in a fit of passion. Thus, when I say 'Americans are fat-ass retards'... thats guaranteed to get a reaction and often seems to boost my chances of selling an article. Something like 'Americans often appear like fat-ass retards to those living in other countries' is much more accurate, but doesnt carry the same punch.

Most people crave certainty. We've been trained to think in black and white. We want 100% certainty. Christians say, "Jesus IS Lord", despite the complete untestability of the statement. Likewise, Im inclined to say things like "Christians are morons".... but of course this carries the same stamp of ridiculous certainty.

Its a big leap from surface understanding to absorbing these realities. Its not easy to retrain your mind to think in degrees of MAYBE.... in terms of probabilities and percentages and outright "I have no fucking idea". One would think that 'I don't know' was the most dreaded phrase in the English language. But its probably the most honest.

Zen/Taoist Masters have long recognized this. Much of zen practice seems designed to destroy certainty in the student whenever it crops up. "So you think you know huh?".... wham! out comes the rug from under your feet.

This, too, is a feature of shamanic traditions. The most basic power of psychedelic entheogens seems to be their ability to destroy certainty. They present realities so weird and wonderful that they call everything we accept as common sense into question. I dont undersand my salvia experiences, for example. Probably thats because I search for a linear meaning in them.

Perhaps a fairly straightforward message resides in them.. something tied to my average reality. But if nothing else, these experiences have taught me one very very powerful lesson:

The universe/mind appears far weirder than I ever imagined.

........

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Doing Fine

by AJ/Skald

I could be grinding it out in a 40 hour a week office job in the States: up at the crack of dawn, commute in a tin box (stop and go traffic all the way), trapped in flourescent hell for 8 hours, chained to a desk, surrounded by lobotomized drones,....counting the minutes till 5:00pm.... then another hour or so of traffic..... home to a crappy microwave dinner, watch the boob box, soak up nationalistic propaganda, gulp microwaved food, then off to bed.

Repeat every day of my miserable life.

I actually experienced that routine several summers during undergrad. I had a scholarship from IBM and thus got (supposedly) primo intern positions every summer. Its as close to hell as Ive ever come.

Maybe those summers were pivotal. Perhaps they planted a seed of terror in my subconscious-- a horrifying fear of living that way for the rest of my life. If so, I suppose I should be grateful for the experience.

Cause no matter how bad things get on the road, its always better than corporate servitude. Given the choice between a hospital bed in Jodhpur, India (puking and shitting every 30 minutes) or a day working in an office... Ill take the dysentary & India every time.

And the same goes for Japan. The job here sucks (no surprise).... but a bad day here kicks the shit out of a "good" day of corporate monotony back home.

Sometimes I forget this. I lose perspective. I forget just how good Ive got it. Forced to do a bit of pimping for cash-- I howl like a baby burned by boiling water.

Meanwhile Im in a fascinating new country, making new friends, eating new foods, and learning something new everyday. Im not chained to a desk. Im not locked in an office. Im not selling my soul for an arms dealer, or polluter, or sweat shop, or union buster. Im not whoring for Boeing, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, or Texaco.

My situation is frustrating only relative to my highest ambitions. Relative to the everyday life of most Americans... Im living a dream. Im travelling the globe and getting paid to do so. Im making money teaching my native language and writing freelance. More or less, I go where I want to go, when I want to, how I want to......

This is the first time Ive worked full time in the last three years- and Im still exploring a new place while doing so. Ive got a best friend who is as nomadic as I am... and who is my constant travel partner. Ive got job possibilities and offers from all over the world (teaching) and can write from anywhere.

Im not a full time freelancing hobopoet yet... but compared to the majority who are trapped in corporate servitude-- Im doing just fine.

........

Spring Cleaning

by AJ/Skald

Always scanning... fishing for eye contact. Hoping to save the world from boredom. At times its a doomed mission. Monotony enchroaches. The eyes dull. Sounds grow muffled.

The alluvium of experience gathers thick. Life becomes a burden. Predictable. Cheap. Thick and heavy.

Without periodic cleansing, this is the natural progression. Is it such a surprise that most old people are bitter and fearful?

The doors of perception must be cleansed. This is an essential human act, long recognized by ancient cultures.... long neglected by civilized ones.

They tell us that this is an age of information. Most speak these words proudly. But there is much danger in such an age. Information is often a code word for opinion... and opinion clouds the mind. Clouds it in a blue-coat dream.... a prison of concepts.

Our task is to awaken. Through meditation. Through choiceless awareness. Through herbal allies. Our minds need Spring cleaning as much as our homes.

Simply cease to cherish opinions.

.............

Succeed Now!

by AJ/Skald

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."
--Michelangelo

Pulled that quote off Tom Peters site... its one of those "insanely great" cliches. So, so true. For all those living desperate, bored lives, is not aiming too low the problem. Most of these folks are reaching their goals. They are doing well financially. Their careers are going well. All those little goals are being met.

But what happened to the big ones... those lofty principles that once excited them? What happened to the dream of traveling the world? Of being an artist? Of making movies? Of writing?

Maybe you are one of those people who gave up. Maybe you think its too late now. But its not.

I started my hobopoet life at age 33. Until then I was ploughing along,... vaguely disatisfied. I talked of wanting to see the world. I talked of wanting to be a writer. I talked and talked and talked, but stayed in Georgia (and SC) and tried to establish a "career" as a social worker.

Then it hit me. I could talk or I could do it. I was struggling in yet another miserable job. I was bogged down with debt. I felt trapped. Trapped by the IDEA of responsibility. Trapped by my fears.... of other people's opinions, of failing.

And then something snapped. I converted my Nissan Sentra into a living space, moved out of my apartment, got rid of 90% of my shit, and became a hobopoet car-dweller. I declared bankruptcy.

Several months later, I moved to the hinterlands of Japan. I was lonely... and became depressed. But I had a lot of time to think. I began writing and decided to train myself to be a writer no matter how long it took, no matter how bad I was, no matter how much rejection I got. Id become a freelance article writer--- or fail gloriously in the attempt.

And then something curious happened: momentum. These decisions built on each other... strengthened my confidence.... inspired me to greater boldness. I set off on a wandering journey in Asia. I returned home and lived in my van. I moved to Thailand. I moved to Hiroshima. I wrote and actually sold a few articles.

Looking back, its so obvious. All that was required was the courage to do it. Im no Jack Kerouac or Hemingway. Anyone can learn to write and sell articles. And Im no Basho either. Anyone can imitate my travels.. and go much farther.

"Mind forged manacles", as Emerson wrote, are what bind us. Its fear that stops us. Its conditioning.

The important battles are internal. The initial journey begins inside.

Fight those battles. Make that journey.

Step onto the open road.

Dare to fail gloriously in pursuit of your bliss.

Do that and you will find, in fact, that there is no failure.

The attempt, the process, and the journey itself are what's important.

With your first step, you have already succeeded.

.........

Young People

by AJ/Skald

Its an old cliche... an older man with a younger woman. This is a situation that, for some reason, sends many "older" women into a rage.

Well, Im living that cliche and not for the reasons most women think. No, Im not after a perfect nubile body. No, I dont want control. No, I dont need to be looked up to. No, it doesnt boost my ego. I, in fact, am wildly attracted to strong, confident, wild women.

The simple truth is, most women (and men!) my age bore the shit out of me. Most people don't age well. Their bodies grow flabby; and their minds too. They slip into monotonous routines... become obsessed with security and stability. Their brains calcify and creativity drains away. So too does their enthusiasm and passion.

Most people my age (37) are pathetic... half-dead. They have no curiousity... no engagement with life. They have nothing to talk about but their routine jobs, their kids, or their mundane complaints. They tire easily.

They no longer want to dance, or explore, or experiment. They fear the unknown.

I prefer younger people.... whatever their chronological age. I want to associate with people who are excited to be alive... who view the world with fresh eyes,... who question,... who wonder,.... As Kerouac said, I prefer the ones who burn bright.

People with energy and enthusiasm. People who despise monotony and will not tolerate it. I have a few friends like this who are my age or older. But they are rarities.

Most people die long before they die. Its a process I dont completely understand. Why do people succumb so easily to boredom? Why do they settle for shit-routines? How can they live the same day, day after day, for years?

"Most men live lives of quiet desperation" wrote Thoreau. He was right, of course. But why? Why do they kill their dreams so quickly?

I've been accused of "never growing up". I consider it a compliment.

Because "Growing up" is nothing but a code word for cowardice.

At the age of 37, Im surrounded by boring, half-dead cowards who never dared to live.

And that is why I don't date women my age.

......

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Damn Impressive

by AJ/Skald

Sitting at Mihara Shinkansen station, munching on a piece of bread. Im tired from a very long day of teaching. My mind is blank as I gnaw on a slice of whole wheat. I feel a slight vibration in my chest.....

Suddenly a rolling shotgun blast pounds my chest. A bullet train (shinkansen) rockets through the station. I gag as the thunder hits my ears full on. The train is a blur, I can't make out individual windows. I nearly drop the bread.

And then its gone. "Holy shit" I say aloud.

I'd ridden a shinkansen from Hiroshima to Mihara that morning. But sitting inside, I had no feel for the speed and awesome power of the thing. You feel like you're on a normal train... countryside slides by, the ride is smooth. In fact, I was disappointed. I'd heard of Japan's famous bullet trains, but the morning commute felt mundane.

Seeing one from the outside, about 15 yards away as it blasted past, is another story. Truth be told, it scared the shit out of me. Those things MOVE.

Chalk it up to an elementary lesson in relativity. If you want to experience this marvel of Japanese technology,... do so from closeup, on the OUTSIDE.

Soon my shinkansen arrived. I settled into a well-padded chair next to the window and watched the mountains roll by. Once again I lost perspective. I knew we were moving FAST, but it didnt feel like it.

The trip from Mihara to Hiroshima took under 30 minutes. By normal local train, its over 90 minutes. By car/bus, two hours. My mind wandered and I imagined a shinkansen network in Georgia. What if such a train connected Athens, Atlanta, Gainesville, Savannah, and Augusta? Athens to Atlanta in 20 minutes!

Of course, its a pipe dream. I realized that these issues are connected... the bicycle paths, the wide sidewalks, the extensive train network, the streetcar system, the buses, the monorail, and the shinkansen. These things weren't slapped down in a haphazard manner. They form a very complete public transportation system.

Therein lies the problem with Athens, Atlanta, and Georgia as a whole. Athens, for example, may or may not put down a few bike paths and paint on a few bike lanes. But even if they do, it will be nothing but a patchwork.... a lane on Milledge Ave, the Greenway.... here a little, there a little,...

Not surprisingly, these additions will do little to alter the transportation habits of most Athenians... because the system as a whole will remain the same. And that system is designed for a car monopoly. A real bike system would require a total rethinking of the city's transportation network. It would require paths, widened sidewalks, underpasses, bridges, bike parking decks, etc., etc. A complete SYSTEM would change habits... dramatically. But its not bloody likely. The big money is in road construction, slash and burn development, and sprawl.

But its nice to be here and know that another way is possible. Listen to the Georgia good old boys and you'd think a good bike/train/bus system was impossible. They pull their hair and cry "impossible".

But really, its quite easy. Logistically, its much easier than the current mess of auto roadways. The scales are smaller and cheaper and simpler. What's missing are the will, integrity, and imagination.

Of course, politician-businessmen are not known for the latter two.

..........





.........

The Journey

by AJ/Skald

Process, not product, is what ecstasy is all about. Business wants to sell us products. They are product obsessed: End results....The bottom line.

But in life its process, the flow, that engages us. Thats why art, music, sports, sex, games, parties, and dancing are so damn fun. And why a focus on results kills the enjoyment (think of those hyper-competitive assholes who must always win to be happy; they are instant killjoys).

In play the results dont fucking matter. Dancing is fun just for the sake of dancing. Shooting a video is a blast, even if the end product is of terrible quality. Whitewater rafting is great fun while you're doing it; getting to the end is a let down.

Its the ride that matters. Not "winning" or "losing". Winning & losing are goals that only emotional retards focus on.

This is the fundamental flaw of business and businessmen. Its why they are, as a general rule, so intellectually stunted, so cold, so heartless, and so lacking in joy and imagination.

This is what drives me nuts about business. They don't give a damn about what they are doing. Nothing is done for its own sake-- always for something else... always for some diabolical goal or concept (namely, money). Your average businessman cant imagine doing something for its own sake, regardless of its profit potential. Suggest that they do so and they go berserk... start frothing at the mouth and gibbering about "the market". How do people become so far removed from their humanity?

Hobopoets recognize that the journey is THE thing-- the ONLY thing. There is, in fact, no end. Even death is but a journey: the biggest and most mysterious of all.

Thoreau recognized this. He wrote that travel is the fundamental archetype of our lives-- for what is life but a process of going from, to. Ever onward.

When a zen master was asked for the meaning of life and enlightenment, he responded,
"Walk on".

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent upon arriving" --Lao Tzu

.....

Tom Peters On Free Agency

by AJ/Skald

Below is an excerpt of an old Tom Peters article. I've skipped over some of the corporate jargon but this still gives a good idea of his ideas on the "free agent" economy.

I think they are excellent ideas, but I see free agency only as an intermediary step. What we are all gunning for is freelancing.... total freedom from bosses and accursed "jobs". Still, speaking from experience I can say that free agency is a helluva lot more fun than traditional wage slavery.

Your next step is to cast aside all the usual descriptors that employees and workers depend on to locate themselves in the company structure. Forget your job title. Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value? Forget your job description. Ask yourself: What do I do that I am most proud of? Most of all, forget about the standard rungs of progression you've climbed in your career up to now. Burn that damnable "ladder" and ask yourself: What have I accomplished that I can unabashedly brag about? If you're going to be a brand, you've got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, that you're proud of, and most important, that you can shamelessly take credit for.

When you've done that, sit down and ask yourself one more question to define your brand: What do I want to be famous for? That's right -- famous for!

Everyone is saying that loyalty is gone; loyalty is dead; loyalty is over. I think that's a bunch of crap.

I think loyalty is much more important than it ever was in the past. A 40-year career with the same company once may have been called loyalty; from here it looks a lot like a work life with very few options, very few opportunities, and very little individual power. That's what we used to call indentured servitude.

Today loyalty is the only thing that matters. But it isn't blind loyalty to the company. It's loyalty to your colleagues, loyalty to your team, loyalty to your project, loyalty to your customers, and loyalty to yourself. I see it as a much deeper sense of loyalty than mindless loyalty to the Company Z logo.

I know this may sound like selfishness. But being CEO of Me Inc. requires you to act selfishly -- to grow yourself, to promote yourself, to get the market to reward yourself. Of course, the other side of the selfish coin is that any company you work for ought to applaud every single one of the efforts you make to develop yourself. After all, everything you do to grow Me Inc. is gravy for them: the projects you lead, the networks you develop, the customers you delight, the braggables you create generate credit for the firm. As long as you're learning, growing, building relationships, and delivering great results, it's good for you and it's great for the company.

That win-win logic holds for as long as you happen to be at that particular company. Which is precisely where the age of free agency comes into play.

The second lesson is one that today's professional athletes have all learned: you've got to check with the market on a regular basis to have a reliable read on your brand's value. You don't have to be looking for a job to go on a job interview. For that matter, you don't even have to go on an actual job interview to get useful, important feedback.
--Tom Peters

The Internet Job Search: Japan

(originally published by Transitions Abroad)
by Skald

Getting a good job in Japan can seem difficult and intimidating. However, by following a few basic procedures, it is possible for anyone with a college degree to do so.

The difficult thing about obtaining a job in Japan is that most applicants are not currently living there. Japanese schools receive a flood of emails for every job they post. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you conduct an effective job search from a distance? How do you weigh job listings and job offers?

Actually, its not too difficult. By doing a few extra things, you will rise above the masses and obtain a teaching job.

WEB SITE
A web resume is a powerful tool for job searchers. While you will be emailing a standard cover letter and resume, only a limited amount of information can be included in these formats. A web resume allows job seekers to sell themselves in a more powerful and thorough way.

Web resumes are easy to set up by using one of the free blogging sites, such as Blogger (http://www.blogger.com). Simply go the the site and open an account. Be sure to include a photo. When you email schools, always include a link to your web resume and mention that it contains your photo.

BACKGROUND READING
Do some reading. Many applicants have no teaching experience and are not trained English teachers. This is not a problem for many conversation schools. However, a bit of background knowledge will help you stand out from other applicants. It pays to do some minimal research.

Most conversation schools claim to prefer a "natural approach" (although few understand what this means). Therefore, it makes sense to read about this approach so you can discuss it intelligently during a phone interview (or email correspondence).

For a brief overview, go to my teaching blog, Effortless Acquisition:
http://www.effortlessacquisition.blogspot.com . This site contains sample web resumes, links to internet job boards, a guide for new English teachers, warnings, good and bad experiences in Japan, and information about teaching techniques. Click on the link labelled "An
Effortless Acquisition Curriculum" for a description of effective "natural methods".

Next, go to Dave's ESL cafe: http://www.daveseslcafe.com and read the teacher's forums. These contain a wealth of lesson plans, games, and suggestions from working English teachers all over the world.

Scanning the above sites will give a bit of background knowledge and enable you to talk intelligently about teaching. You will also get an idea of what you are in for.

BE PROACTIVE
While job boards can be useful, a proactive approach is the best job search method. Pick a few cities or regions you would like to live in. Then target schools in those cities. By doing this I received several job offers from schools that were not yet advertising their openings. In fact, this may be the most efficient means of finding a job.

Go to the Japanese Internet Yellow Pages at http://english.itp.ne.jp/index.html
By entering a city and the subject "language schools" you will get a list of schools in that particular area. Many will list email addresses and web addresses. They also list phone numbers.

Send an email with an intro letter, a link to your website, and your resume to every school that has an email address. If you have time, send a paper letter and resume to those schools which do not list email addresses. If you can afford it, the best technique is to call them.

Stress any teaching experience you have, and any travel or living abroad experiences. Stress your flexibility. Stress your enthusiasm.

INTERNET JOB BOARDS
There are a number of internet job sites that advertise jobs in Japan. These are good sources, but they contain as many sleazy schools as good ones. You must be careful when responding to ads. Read the job requirements carefully.

The following websites regularly carry job postings for Japan.

National Links:
Ohayo Sensei: http://www.ohayosensei.com
Daves ESL Cafe: http://www.daveseslcafe.com
Jobs In Japan: http://www.jobsinjapan.com
JALT (has university teaching positions):
http://www.jalt-publications.org/tlt/jobs/

The above sites carry job listings Japan wide, and are a good place to start. Below are a few regional websites. Many of the jobs on these sites are part time- but they do carry full time listings as well.

Regional:
Get Hiroshima: http://www.gethiroshima.com
Kansai Time Out: http://kto.co.jp/new/modules/news
Kansai Flea Market: http://www.kfm.to/

Respond to job postings by email. Include a short introductory letter. In the letter, mention that your photo is available on your website (for example: http://www.yourwebsite.blogspot.com ). By mentioning the photo and including a link, you are likely to draw employers to your site-- where they will see the additional
information you have included.

Paste your resume at the bottom of the email, in the body of the email itself (don't send as an attachment).

INTERVIEWS
The purpose of most interviews is to see if you can express yourself clearly in English. They'll also be looking for enthusiasm, flexibility, and a specific interest in Japan. Emphasize these traits during the interview.

You will also get a chance to ask questions. Be sure to ask about the number of teaching hours per week. Also ask for the email addresses of current teachers.

PICK A SCHOOL
Based on the answers to your questions, choose a school that fits. Be especially wary of schools that demand more than 20 hours a week of teaching. Be wary of schools that will not give contact information for teachers at their school. Be wary of schools that have an extremely rigid teaching system or claim to have a "secret" curriculum.

Otherwise, good luck!

...........

Lessons Learned

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
How to Avoid a Terrible Work Situation

Originally published by Transitions Abroad

by AJ/Skald

"We're not teaching another class until we get paid". The teachers room boiled with angry foreigners. Korean staff ran to and fro in a panicked frenzy. Underlings scurried between the owner's office and the break room.

Our pay checks were late again... four weeks late at this point. Finally, we'd had enough: Enough insults, enough threats, enough broken promises.

Each time a Korean staff member entered the room, an angry chorus of English shouted them down. "Tell him we aren't teaching until we get everything he owes us".... "Tell him no more cameras in the classroom". We were mad as hell and we weren't gonna take it anymore.

Unfortunately, teaching abroad isn't always pretty. There are a lot of ugly situations out there. A lot of sleazy employers. A lot of freaks. A lot of broken promises. In fact, most English teaching jobs fall into the "bad" and "ugly" categories.

Most teachers are lured abroad by visions of exotic travel, exploration, and lucrative contracts. But more often than not, things end badly. Most teachers leave with a bad taste in their mouth not only for the job, but for the country. A bad job quickly sours the entire experience.

Some teachers stick out their contract and grow increasingly bitter. They vent their frustrations on web boards... or in bars. Others break contract and leave-- often in a flurry of conflict and argument. Another popular option is the "midnight run"-- the day after pay day, the teacher boards a plane and disappears.

Can the bad and ugly be avoided? Is it possible to find a good English teaching position?

It certainly is, but its not easy. Like most job seekers, employers do their best to paint a good picture. They rarely volunteer unflattering information. Some do this subtlely, while others blatantly lie. If you are applying from your home country, it is very difficult to screen the truth from the lies. In fact, it is
impossible to be completely sure.

But there are some basic precautions.

The best strategy is to ask a lot of questions. The following are essential:

1. How many hours will I be in the classroom per week (exactly)?

2. How many hours will I be expected to be on location (office, school) per week?

3. Are there any required extracurricular activities? (Many schools host mandatory parties, summer camps, winter camps, etc.).

4. What percentage of teachers typically complete their contract? (High turnover is a very bad sign).

5. Have you had any conflicts or arguments with teachers? (Most have. Beware schools that try to paint a perfect picture).

6. Have pay checks ever been late? (Obviously a VERY bad sign).

7. Are teachers observed? (Many schools constantly observe teachers and create a very tense working environment).

8. Do you have cameras in the halls or classrooms? (A sign of paranoia and a controlling management style).

9. Do you have split shifts? How much will I travel each week? (You may "only" be teaching 20 hours per week, but if the first class is at 9am and the last ends at 9pm, it feels like you are working much more).

10. What days will I have off?

11. What teaching methods do you use? (Beware any school that claims to have a "secret" or "special" curriculum, as this is often a sign of a get-rich-quick mentality. Also beware rigid guidelines and formulas).

12. What kinds of materials are available to teachers?

13. What kind of educational background do the management and owner have? (Usually they are businessmen with no background in education whatsoever- not a good situation).

14. Do you provide any orientation or training? (Beware schools that do not. Will you be thrown into a class, jet-lagged and clueless, two days after you arrive?)

***15. Can I have the email addresses and phone numbers of three of your current teachers? (The more the better, as it gives you a more honest picture of the school).

THE LAST QUESTION IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL. You must talk to foreigners who are currently teaching at the school. Any school that refuses this request should instantly be crossed off. Some schools may give contact information for foreign managers. Do not accept these. You must contact teachers, not managers.

Obviously, shady school management will not answer questions honestly. It is vital to contact SEVERAL current teachers and ask all of the questions above. They too may fudge, but if you read between the lines a clearer picture will emerge.

Another strategy is to check blacklists and grey lists. These are web boards that list disreputable schools in various countries. Korea, in particular, has a large number of dedicated blacklists. So many, in fact, that the best advice may be to avoid working in Korea completely. Search the lists for schools you are considering. Post a question to the board... ask if anyone has had problems with the
school you are considering. While this may yield results, blacklists are notoriously unreliable. Just because a school is not on the list does not mean it is a good one. Most bad schools, in fact, will not be found on any of the blacklists.

Here are a few blacklists (again, do not rely solely on these):

English School Watch (International)
http://englishschoolwatch.org/notebook.php

Mark's ESL Blacklist (International)
http://marksesl.com/forums/cgi/access/black-white_lists.cgi

Hogwon Blacklist (Korea):
http://www.geocities.com/hagwonblacklist/

Buxiban.com (Taiwan & China)
http://www.buxiban.com/

Also, for a general overview of a particular country, including common problems, see the teachers' forums at Dave's ESL Cafe:
http://www.daveseslcafe.com

Once you receive a contract, examine it carefully. Does it carry complicated and detailed restrictions? Does it carry built in punishments for "misbehavior"? This is a sign of past conflicts at the school. It is a sign of a hostile working environment. Be wary of such contracts.

Another important part of the contract is the section on sick leave and vacation. Read this very carefully. Does the school offer several days of sick leave out right? They should. Do they require a doctor's note for every day missed? They should not. Is sick leave paid? It should be.

Regarding vacation: can you take vacation when you choose or are vacation days predetermined by the school? Are meetings and training days scheduled on holidays? Scour the contract for these details and ask more questions if necessary.

Working abroad is difficult. Its never easy to adjust to a new culture, new job, new social environment, and new home all at the same time. Its difficult to leave behind friends and family. These adjustments are hard enough with even the best job. However, they are next to impossible when compounded by an ugly employment situation.

Do not jump at the first job offered. Take your time. Ask questions. Compare job offers. Research. Be especially careful about Korean positions.

The English industry is full of cheats, opportunists, petty dictators, and outright liars. Always be wary. Always be skeptical.

Good jobs do exist. But in many countries (Korea, China) the bad and ugly are the majority. Do your homework.

.........

Earthquake

by Kristin

I experienced an earthquake here. I was on the third floor of a building, in a coffee shop, with my friend Lisa. All of a sudden we noticed that we were moving. From that point on everything went very surreal. She asked me if I felt the moving. I said yes and we simultaneously looked under our table (as if to find some sort of answer from that?!). Then, it seemed like it stopped.

I got up from the table still feeling a bit dazed but not really focusing on what had just happened. When I got up from the table, the shaking got stronger. I noticed lamps, that were hanging from the ceiling, really starting to rock back and forth. Then, I felt the building start swaying!!! I started to panic. All I could think about was how a department store in Seoul, Korea had suddenly collapsed, while I had been living there. The only explanation had been the poor construction of it.

Well, I still didn't realize what was going on. I just thought that the building was about to collapse. Lisa was still sitting down. I told her we needed to get out of the building, that I thought it was going to collapse. She told me she wasn't going anywhere. In that split moment of feeling like I was in a drugged state as well as trying to figure out what was going on and what I should do, I found myself leaning over a railing as I started getting dizzy and feeling like I was going to throw up.

The building was still swaying, the lamps were still rocking and people were stopped dead in their tracks. Then it was over. That's when the realization hit me...we had been in an earthquake. We were so shocked and out of it...yet we were kind of excited! We went down and back outside to join our Indian friends for the zoo.

They had of course felt the quake outside. They also saw the building, we had just come from, swaying from side to side. Apparently earthquakes are common here. Therefore, the Japanese construct their buildings to sway in a quake and therefore absorb the shock. I have to say that I felt a bit nauseous for a good part of the remainder of the day.

I had thought this was my first earthquake. However, A.J. later told me that we had experienced one in the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok (back in January). We were there getting our visas for Japan when we felt our building shake (this one shook as opposed to swaying). We were on the 9th floor. Once again, I had no idea what was going on. It happened twice and was much less significant than what I experienced here. I didn't think much of it. Apparently he was told later that it was aftershock from the tsunami. He had just neglected to tell me until this earthquake here made him think of it.

I don't know what's going on with this side of the world. You may have heard that Indonesia had a massive quake about a week or so ago. Well, people in Bangkok felt it. In fact, they thought it was going to create another tsunami. On that note (I'm getting dizzy just thinking about that building swaying) I'm going to send this.

.......

Other Hiroshima Impressions

by Kristin

This is such a pedestrian friendly, green city. The cherry blossoms (Japan is famous for the blooming of these trees) are starting to come out. I can't wait to see them and for the weather to get warm!!! The cherry blossoms only stay in bloom for about a week I think. But during that time, people are picnicking, camping and partying all along the river banks (so I've been told). I've already noticed it going on.

Public transportation here consists of trains, street cars (trolleys) and buses. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of people ride bikes which is apparently a national thing and not only a Hiroshima trend. A.J. found a bicycle parking deck next to a train station! People ride their bikes on the sidewalks. A.J. has already gotten a bike. I'm kind of holding off for right now as I like walking everywhere. I've already ridden a couple of times on the back part of A.J.'s bike. It's just a rack over his rear tire for passengers or for strapping something on. It was a little bit difficult to get the hang of riding on the back at first....the Japanese make it look so easy!

I can't wait to explore the countryside! I especially want to get to some onsens soon (natural hot springs). I've heard such good things about them!! Along with the countryside, I'm eager to get to Osaka and especially Tokyo. I'd really like to dig up some of the crazy, quirky, seedy stuff that I'm sure Tokyo has to offer.

One of my favorite restaurants to go to is a place that has really good pasta and yummy Mexican food! It's owned by a guy from Detroit. It's got really good beer, too. However, as most things, it's not cheap. So, I really have to limit myself from going there.

I will say that customer service here is phenomenal! People are friendly and helpful. I don't think I've ever had the kind of service I get simply from a transaction in something such as a convenient store. Even gas stations will stop traffic to let their customers get out onto the street. It's amazing!

I've also noticed that while some things (such as electronics) are superior, other areas are lacking such as an archaic banking system. Also, Japan seems to be king as far as bureaucracy goes. I thought it was bad in the States but it seems to be worse here. For example, one of the new teachers had taught in Japan last year. While here before, he got a speeding ticket. He said that he had to go through about 7 different people just to pay the fine. The obvious downside to this would be the huge headache. However, such a bogged down bureaucratic system does create jobs.

.....
Something else that I've noticed is that many things seem to be created for a purpose. It all seems to be about presentation as well as efficiency. For example, there are machines outside of public buildings which provide plastic bags for you to put your wet umbrella in on rainy days. That way, when you go into say a restaurant, you don't create a wet mess with your umbrella. This also creates jobs, though too...right? Somewhere there's a company that manufactures these plastic umbrella bags. As far as jobs aplenty, I've even seen at certain times of the day (on busy streets) cross guards. Their only job is to wave their flashing wand to let people walk and to stop traffic. It's kind of comical since there is already the crosswalk lights.

Stuff To Do In Hiroshima

by Kristin

A.J. and I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It was so incredibly intense!! I had to stop reading everything because I was getting so drained. The museum collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos and other materials that convey the horror of the atomic bombing. It also has exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombing and others that present the current status of the nuclear age.

Hiroshima is a city that very much promotes the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Behind the museum, the "A Bomb Dome" still stands. It's a building that was directly at the center of the bombing. It's just a skeleton of a building that gets illuminated every night....kind of an eerie sight.

Other than Karaoke, a few bars and restaurants I haven't experienced much else of Hiroshima's night life. There are definitely some clubs that I want to check out. There's a decent sized Latino population here. In fact, I've hung out with a guy from Colombia. I'm hoping to take in some Latin clubs at some point.

I also met a guy from Jamaica who seems to be into hip hop. Hip hop seems to be fairly popular here. One of the new teachers went out with a Japanese woman one night whose really into break dancing (in fact, she's going to "study" break dancing at a school in LA soon). Anyway, he said the club was so hilarious....there were different Japanese women that would come out and pop/break dance for an audience.

He also said that before the dancers started performing, there was a BMX (bike) event with Japanese guys doing all sorts of tricks on their bikes. I'm sorry I missed that evening. I might be going to an event where a guy from England that I met will be DJing. I know one thing that I want to save my money for is Fuji Rock. Fuji Rock is in August. It's three days of camping and music near Mt. Fuji. Radio Head will be there and that alone is enough for me to want to go!

......

Getting Settled In Japan

by Kristin

Although I'm liking Japan, I'm not thrilled about the job. I'll find out tomorrow how my life is going to fare over the next 5 months when I get my schedule. The staff at my school are all very nice and helpful when it comes down to school matters. However, they have been extremely unhelpful in things such as setting up a required bank account, getting our foreigner IDs, getting set up with furnishings and necessities for our apartments, etc.

On top of that, during the training they spent the three and half weeks drilling their ineffective teaching method into all of us. It's a method that I don't like and will use as little as possible. After observing several classes taught by the directors, we started teaching while then being observed by a director. We would then have feedback with the observing director, which I found they always tended to focus more on negative aspects rather than positive. I won't turn this into a bitch session.

However, if things just aren't working out with this job I'm not going to let it ruin my Japanese experience (which is what happened in Korea). There are other options (one being a job offer at a university in Bangkok) which I'll explore. Assuming things go o.k. with this job, there's potential to make some decent money. Plus, I'm really going to start pushing to do massage (now that I'm in a country where I can charge what I'm worth again....I just couldn't compete with $3 an hour Thai massages in Bangkok).

I could also have the potential to pick up private students. However, after teaching all week, I don't think I'm going to want to do it on the side. So, a friend of mine and I are probably going to start hostessing. Basically we'll be working in a lounge type setting getting drinks and lighting cigarettes for business men who are wanting to converse in English. It pays $20 an hour to just sit and chat...not bad. I'll give it a try anyway. If there's anything sketchy about it (like the job I had at Rio in Gainesville...the Hispanic/Latino club I got fired from for not following the rules....HA!) then I'll quit.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm just finishing up an 11 day break from the training. During that time, I've gotten an apartment that I absolutely love! And, this time it's a proper apartment. It's tiny but it has a kitchen and dining area in the first room that you walk into. There's a bathroom off of this room, which has an actual tub, hot water, sink, and toilet that flushes. Then there are wooden, sliding doors separating the next room where I sleep. Traditionally, the doors would have the very thin paper square sections. However, mine have frosted glass. Also, there should be a tatami mat (like a bamboo mat) in the bedroom. The landlord took it out, though thinking I would want my apartment "Western style". So, there's linoleum instead.

I'm on the top floor of the building (5th floor) with a balcony looking out at a river. I bought a washing machine yesterday, which my friend and I lugged up (there's no elevator) to my apartment. It's out on the balcony. Driers are not common here, so I have some hemp strung across the balcony to use as a clothes line.

Apartments come with no amenities. So, I had to buy a stove top, refrigerator, washing machine, etc., etc. I've pretty much finished supplying my apartment. I bought the stove top off a couple of teachers that were leaving. I found the refrigerator and washing machine at a recycled (used) shop, which delivered the items to my apartment at no extra cost (but they dropped them off outside, not wanting to help carry them up since I don't have an elevator).

Many Japanese people sleep on futons on the tatami matted bedroom floor. To save on buying a futon, I popped my tent up and am sleeping in it. We didn't have our first warm night here until last night. So, I've been having to run the heat. I don't have central heat. There's a dual unit for heat and air on the wall in my bedroom. It can be kind of drafty. However, I've been pretty cozy camping out on my camping pad, in my tent with my sleeping bag. I love it!! A couple of my friends saw it and really liked the concept as well. However, they think it's something temporary until the weather turns warm. Then, they think I'll want to make it more of a "proper" bedroom and really "settle in". It's true, the tent might get hot but I like the way it looks in my room and I also like the fact that I don't have to worry about buying more things to fill space. Seeing as how I tend to move about once a year, I don't really think that "settling in" is in my nature.

Japan Budget

by Kristin

I've realized that I really need to put myself on a budget here. I'm supposed to be saving money. However, I'm already thinking about a few large purchases. Not to mention that Japan is SUPER expensive (i.e. one cantaloupe can go for anywhere from $10 to $100; I tried on a pair of pants that cost over $700; I bought two cds from a Tower Records for over $40...with all of that said, I am finding second hand clothing stores, reasonable restaurants and 100 yen shops - 100 yen is roughly equivalent to $1)!!!

I had heard that Japan was expensive as well, but once again seeing is believing. I've come from the land of year round sunshine; laid back people; cheap, spicy food; cheap clothes (just about cheap everything) whose motto could be "Mai Pen Rai" (no worries!) to the land of harsher, seasonal weather; more rigid/rule bound people; expensive, bland food; expensive clothes (just about everything is expensive) whose motto could be "Kanpai" (keep fighting...don't give up!). All of these things contributed to my culture shock in the beginning.

However, I'm slowly realizing that I'm no longer in Thailand and I've got to find things about this culture to enjoy as well. And I am!!! Every day I'm liking Hiroshima more and more. There is so much quirkiness here. I love such things as seeing GQ looking business men reading manga comics (characters with big eyes that Japanese anime (animation) is known for) in the convenient stores OR seeing everyone riding bicycles....even those GQ looking business men OR seeing adults on these funky, small framed bikes with high seats that look like they would belong in a circus or to a kid OR seeing the crazy, cutesy bunny, frog, Hello Kitty creatures on tv, all kinds of products, etc. OR having to wait at a crosswalk until the sign indicates that I can walk (I'm still not used to such orderliness after living in such a chaotic city as Bangkok!) OR all of the different fashions (i.e. the goth girls, the baby doll girls...yes, they dress like baby dolls, the lacey, Victorian clad women complete with lacey parasols and all, the road warrior chicks (as A.J. refers to them)...they were wearing chest pads, knee pads, dark makeup, etc., the hip hop fashion, etc. etc. (I think my favorite are the women who sport a hairdo that looks like they've come from a prom back in the 70's...

I've also seen some really curly, fro styled hair with definite shades of the 80's by the looks of their clothes) OR having people keep speaking Japanese to me when I tell them I don't understand (i.e. this man came up to me one day wanting to record an interview with me; I still have no clue as to what he was wanting me to say or why; when I told him I wasn't understanding and he still kept shoving the recorder in my face, I just said who I was and why I had come to Japan; who knows, maybe my voice will end up on one of the crazy animal shows I was describing earlier as part of an English lesson ?!) OR finding a shop with nothing but Monchhichis (I remember having one of those little stuffed monkeys when I was younger; I even remember the song...Monchhichi, monchhichi, so soft and cuddly...).

......

Arrival In Japan

by Kristin

A.J. and I had a superb flight from Bangkok to Osaka. We flew Singapore Airlines, which is rated the best in the world (I believe). It's too bad it was a red eye flight. I really wanted to stay awake and take in as much of the wonderful service as I could. I think it was only a six hour flight. We landed in Osaka early in the morning.

It was such a huge ordeal lugging all of our bags through three different train stations. Once we left the airport, we took a regular train for about 45 minutes (JR- Japan Railway) to the Shinkansen station (bullet train). There were no luggage carts in the train stations. So, we dragged our 3 large army duffel bags and carried our other small, various bags throughout the train stations. It was the worst traveling I've ever done. I'm now convinced to ditch the army sea bags and go for large suitcases on wheels (I've got my eye on a couple that are made out of aluminum from Germany).

Anyway, my very first impressions of Japan (just from the airport and train stations) were "Oh shit...people here don`t speak ANY English and there's not nearly the amount of sign-age in English that I thought there would be. I also noticed all of the vending machines, which sell cold and hot canned drinks, cigarettes, phone cards, beer, etc. You can get a plethora of items from the vending machines here. Somebody told me they saw one once with heads of lettuce and other veggies in it.

Going back to the language barrier, I've been in many countries but have never experienced a barrier such as what is here in Japan. When I lived in Korea, everyone was dying to come up and talk to me on the street...just to practice their English. Living in Thailand, English wasn't a problem because it's such a popular tourist destination. I would experience difficulties trying to speak Thai because I would mangle the pronunciations, since it's a tonal language. But the Thais would blurt out the little bit of English they knew and it was always enough to get by. I suppose I've gotten by with bits of English in the other countries I've been to because I would be backpacking around hitting touristy areas.

So, Japan is already proving to be a whole new experience as far as language goes. One positive aspect is that it will force me to pick up some Japanese. Also, the few phrases I've learned thus far have been understood when I speak them. Japanese is not a tonal language and therefore much easier to pronounce (yay! ).

Some other first impressions of Japan was all of the recycling bins (which they're quite strict about; recycling is very regulated here; I happen to be quite excited about that but have been illegally dumping my trash at night because I can't figure out the overcomplicated process of recycling; I have to be careful with the illegal dumping because I read that the police are out at night looking for such activity) and the smoking situation.

The smoking situation is such that some public places have sectioned areas for smoking but others don't. For example, A.J. and I accidentally stumbled onto the smoking car of the Shinkansen train. So, while there was an actual car for smokers, I've been in a Subway eating right next to a guy smoking (and I mean right next to him...he could have been in my lap he was so close...as I've experienced in other countries, space or lack of is an issue here) because the whole second floor was smoking (the first floor, for non smokers, only has a few bar stools to sit at).

Well, we got to Hiroshima after a super fast bullet train ride from Osaka. The train was scheduled to depart at some precise time like 10:17am and it sure as hell did. I had heard of the preciseness of time here but seeing is believing! So, we took off on our smokey train ride, going about 180mph on a sleek looking train that could have been out of a science fiction movie. We were picked up at the Hiroshima station by one of our bosses. We were due to start a three and a half week training 5 days after arriving.

There were 6 other new teachers coming from Vancouver, Canada; somewhere in England (?); Toronto, Canada; San Francisco and NYC. We were all put up in a really nice (but compact...everything seemed so small at first) hotel for the duration of the training. I've finished the training and am just finishing up an 11 day break before getting my schedule tomorrow and starting work on Friday. E-mail has been rather difficult due to money and time. There was a courtesy lap top in the hotel lobby. However, I was basically just reading e-mails and not really able to take up the time to respond. There are a couple of computers at the school. However, it can be difficult to find one that doesn't have somebody on it or waiting to get on it. Plus, they're really slow.

Right now I'm at an internet cafe. I really haven't been utilizing these (like I did in Bangkok) because they're not cheap. I would pay less than a dollar for one hour in Bangkok's internet cafes. These are more complicated...you have to sign up for a specified amount of time. If you go over that time, the charge for each additional minute is pretty high. It's kind of cool, though.

In Bangkok, the internet cafes are simply an open room with tables and chairs and computers. Some of them might have drinks you could buy. This particular internet cafe that I'm in right now is much more of an experience. I'm in my own little cubicle with a desk, desk lamp, phone (to call for an order of food or drinks to be served to my cubicle), etc. It basically feels like my own little office. I can also get courtesy soft drinks, coffee/tea, a blanket, pillow and slippers if I want. People come in here to get on the internet, watch dvds or play video games. I think this place is open 24 hours, too. I could also having my own smoking cubicle if I wanted (of course).