I am weary of the system...

You sit there judging me
Trying to measure up to my mind
Comparing what our eyes may hold
But I capture with a single look
And you can only dream of such fame
While burying your nose into a book
A book I wrote
So your memory will fade with time
But my words will live on
So sit there and judge me
That is all you can do

Well, its been awhile since I have written a node, took a break for a bit as I try to sort things out in real life. I recently interviewed for a job at a local company here as a Support Center Specialist. Basically a glorified helpdesk position, and I am currently waiting to hear back from them about the job.

It was my second time interviewing for them, it seems that this job is the starting point for their company and if you choose to you can move up really quickly. So, the interview went great, really good. I talked to the dreaded HR rep for awhile, standard interview questions and then I interviewed with people who would be possible co-workers and both of those went excellent.

They said they would get back to me today, however, I'm at my part-time job today until 10pm, which means if they leave me a message, I can't get to them until tomorrow (I have one of those cheap answering machines that I can't retrieve messages remotely}.

So the wait continues........

Typical day at work. My girlfriend comes online around 9:00pm EST and starts to tell me how tired she was. Only thing I can think of is that I could outlast her on a given day because I have more energy. Must be the vitamins. Anyways, she and I were wishing that we didn't have to live so far apart. She did make the suggestion about using a week of vacation to come up to see me next year, and I told her how I would be splitting up my week of vacation time. I have it set in my mind that I'll quit my current job after 18 months since being hired. I probably should close my mutual fund account before the stock market ass rapes it.

Smoke poured out the seam between the hood and the sidepanel as my Volvo crested up the slight incline of the Sunoco parking lot and, friction getting the best of the last burst of speed I could coax from it, stopped. That's when I turned the music off. Full disclosure: it was not my Volvo, and I was in deep shit.

Luckily the car had made it off the freeway and chugged out in a fairly out-of-the-way swatch of parking lot. That way I didn't have to feel bad about being in anyone's way. When I popped the hood a huge gout of white, oil-smelling air blinded me briefly, and the heat radiating off the engine was enough to tell even someone who doesn't know cars, someone like me, that this particular vehicle was staying put, thank you very much.

Hanging off the concrete poles of the station was a paper towel dispenser and a small reservoir of filthy water, the handle of a squeegee protruding jauntily to one side. I grabbed a mess of towels, soaked them, and used the wet lump of fiber to protect my hand as I twisted the lid off the coolant tank. Bone dry. Next the oil: bone dry. The extent of my car knowledge is that they need gas, oil, and coolant, and that one out of three is bad.

Inside the Sunoco I begged a phone book off the woman behind the counter.

"Car trouble," I said, handing over a few dollars. She looked at the Volvo through the window, whisps of smoke still trailing off the engine, which was clearly visible through the dusty windows of the gas station. "No kidding," she said, and gave me a handful of quarters. "There's a Shell up the street, on East Grand River."

The phonebook listed one Shell station, but the area code placed it back to Ann Arbor, where I'd been, and well outside of Lansing, where I was going. I dialed.

A crackle as the phone on the other side picked up, then: "Hold on." Over the line I could hear someone ordering a triple cheeseburger, lots of mustard, no pickles. Fries. Then: "Yeah?"

"Is this the Shell station on East Grand River?"

A pause. The Shell employee on the other line had, like all garage employees, a faultless college-boy detector, the kind that can tell, in a sample no larger than nine words, that the party on the other end of the line is an overprivileged twit who doesn't know anything about cars and, for the good of society, shouldn't be allowed behind the wheel.

"What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?" he barked. I hung up. Though he had me pegged pretty well, I wasn't in the mood.

The towtruck came and hitched the Volvo up at what looked like a precarious angle. I climbed into the cab and chatted with the driver as we drove no more than 2000 feet to the Shell down the road. $55 / 2000ft. ~= $0.03/ft, which is nice work if you can get it.

At the Shell, the mechanic popped the hood and took one sniff. "Head gasket," he explained. "They have a distinctive smell when they go."

"Pardon?" I said. The minute he said "head gasket" all my attention was drawn to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Dollarsigns, which was screaming full tilt past my eyes. The mechanic started leafing through catalogues and pounding numbers into his calculator while I watched fifties and hundreds pirouette gracefully into oblivion. The verdict: "$938, parts and labor, plus tax." I winced. "'Course, it could be something else," he went on, his tone implying that the something else was about as likely as me driving away under my own power.

"Could I use your phone?" Now was the great moment of truth. I had to call chancel at work and tell her that her car had just become a very large, very needy paperweight. I didn't have her number, but fifteen minutes and half a dozen calls later I managed to get her on the line. She asked if the car could be repaired where it was (yes), if I could get a ride home (yes), and if that ride could stop at the store and pick up some tomatoes and red pepper (yes). I bought some strawberries for good measure, figuring that it's harder to choke someone to death when one of your hands is busy with delicious red fruit.

Which, it turns out, is true.

around and back again

weill in japan: day 13

Week two of classes has begun, and my body has begun to reject the fact that they start at 8:30 AM. This morning, I woke up at 7:12 AM, giving me just 18 minutes to get out of bed, take a shower, put on clothes, gather my things, and head out the door. I made it, but the week has only just begun. I don't know how long I can make it before I arrive late due to oversleeping. Today, I bought a battery-powered alarm clock in the event that a power outage resets the stereo's timer. The clock can also set itself from radio waves broadcast throughout Japan (and only in Japan). Not bad for a simple-looking gadget I picked up for about ¥1000 ($8.50).

The dollar is now worth about ¥116.50, its lowest level in months. Bad news for people like me who want their dollars to go further. Maybe I should have taken more cash out last week when the rate was slightly better.


Milestone: I had my first shot of espresso this morning, for the explicit purpose of staying awake in class.

I have two professors for Japanese class: one encourages open discussion, while the other has us mindlessly repeat passages as if they were scripts. This recitation helps build diction and accent skills, but is also very bad for morale. I'm not the only student who finds this repetition to be incredibly boring.

Our class lost four or five people after Friday. Those people transferred to the next-lower level after being unable to cut it at this level.

and the rains come again

Barely a week after Typhoon 6 came roaring through Tokyo with high winds and pounding rains, and mere days after a minor earthquake, Typhoon 7 is projected to hit Tokyo on Tuesday morning just in time for my morning commute. It's the same drill as before, except that I'll actually be awake to bear witness to its force. Oh joy.

Typhoon 8 has apparently subsided before coming near Japan, but Typhoon 9 is already showing up on maps. It looks doubtful that another typhoon will hit at least for the time being. Meanwhile, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake was detected fairly far away from Tokyo today. It's not a good time for weather here.

speak english

Since I look, act, and sound American while here, most people get the impression that I only speak English. Other students at ICU have reported the same routine that I go through: I am introduced to a Japanese person, they ask me a question in English, I answer in Japanese, and they act very surprised that I'm able to answer in Japanese. Sometimes, the person I speak to will try to steer towards English, perhaps because he/she wants to practice English with me or he/she doesn't feel my Japanese is good enough to carry on business. Sometimes, they're right on the latter point: for crucial matters like going through Customs or dealing with medical situations, I think I would be more comfortable with English conversation. I don't have nearly a large enough vocabulary to deal with all sorts of specific conversations, although technology and games incorporate a large number of words borrowed or contracted from English.

On a few occasions, I've been asked to speak English with someone just out of the blue. This sort of thing just doesn't work: try asking an actor to perform a scene on the spot, or asking an author to write some fiction at a party. Speaking about nothing in particular leads to awkward conversations like "Hello, how are you? I am fine. (silence)" I've had more involved conversations in chat rooms.

On the other hand, sometimes it can be refreshing to share my feelings in English when I can't do so in Japanese. That's one of the driving forces behind my keeping this journal during the trip, for example. I also can talk with my fellow students in English to explain my circumstances. Of course, English isn't the only language of choice; much like at Carnegie Mellon, there are also groups of students who prefer to share their experience in Chinese or Korean instead. Japanese seems to be a universal language of sorts, since it gives everyone in the class a level playing field.

It's once again getting late, and I should be getting some rest. I only hope that the typhoon stays away until after I get to campus.

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