I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Excerpt from "Magnanimity" (Cambodia Interruption)

I suppose I should title this in honor of the Monty Python movie, "And now for something completely different", because this blog has little relation to my recent trip to the southeast, and will probably (then again probably not) surprise many of you who know me.

In the fall of 2006 when I arrived to Japan, I pretty much immediately started writing a novel I had been storing and puzzling together in my head for the previous year. My projected title for the book is Magnanimity of the Lonely, and so far I've written in the neighborhood of 100+ pages. Unfortunately the plot is still somewhat scattered due to the fact that I've been writing in chunks with long periods of inactivity between. I've developed the characters, chosen the setting (Atlanta, naturally), and outlined roughly the turn of events.

I'm going to start with the most recent chapter I've written, told from the perspective of the narrator: Angel (tentative name). A brief background on the character: he writes op-ed pieces for the AJC, in particular matters of faith, disgust, politics, fortunes, celebrity obituaries. His favorite topic to cover is "stupid things you humans do." Admittedly, I use him to voice many ideas of my own, although I won't say which ones, but I find that in literature it's nearly impossible not to find a piece of myself in every good character created.

Angel (1/23/2008)

Article: Cans and Ables

You humans have been making gross errors with two simple ideas, two simple words: can and able (get). Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it’s right. Just because you think “you are able” to have steak everyday of the week, doesn’t mean you “should be able”.
You’ve been reversing your power and privileges and screwing yourself in both holes at the same time. Drinking alcohol can be fun, and as long as you do not binge yourselves in kegs, it stays that way. Those who try to make it a daily routine soon show the signs of abuse in the waterlogged tissue swelling beneath lackluster sheets of skin. Do not misunderstand me, I’m no teetotalist on a soapbox––just a common sense seeking angel bitter that the rest of the world chooses to be blind to his simple calls for reason.
This is a very easy idea to understand, so half of you are probably still following up to this point. Allow me then to strike while the iron is hot:
Firstly, cans and ables have little chance of hurting us as long as we learn from our errors. Going back to the earlier metaphor, the alcohol poisoning afflicts over drinkers in such a violent way that it (sometimes, though not often enough) prevents them for repeating the act of binging. This is good. This is nature: psychosomatic learned aversion of something that makes us sick. For most animals this method of learned association is not a choice; however you humans have lately decided to disregard very clear signals for what you should be able to do and replaced with a “I do what I want” motto.
Secondly, because you are humans¬––and by being human able to see across stretches of time unimaginable by other species¬¬––you can also learn from History. But here, yet again, you prove yourselves truculent learners. Here are the wars your country has entered into in the past 100 years: WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan (the last four hardly wars rather than occupations). Here are the wars you could have helped to prevent: Rwanda, Tiananmen Square, Nanking, Darfur, the Holocaust, Cambodia (proximal in space and time to Vietnam).
Which of these were the result of “can” and which should have been prevented with “able”?
Due to a ballooning population, you cannot afford to live the same way you do without destroying your ability to live. Sure, the 2nd and 3rd industrial revolutions may not have been so malignant to the environment, but that was before the population increased by 400% (1.6-5.9 billion) and the life expectancy rose over 30 years on average. Do Americans, the temporary leaders of CO2 discharge, deserve to keep making and driving unnecessary SUVs and similarly inefficient machines because they have the technology to? Does China have the right to continue it’s burning of coal when we all know the harm it causes, just because previous superpowers made similar mistakes in ignorance?
Are you kidding? Think about it this way; do you want your children breathing oxygen or CO and CO2?
Consciously choosing ignorance is the only way that you humans can resolve this cognitive dissonance between what you want to do––“but I’ve always had a TV…why should I stop driving my car when it’s so convenient…if I have the money why don’t I deserve whale meat for dinner”––and what YOU KNOW BY THIS POINT YOU SHOULD DO.
This is a challenge to historians: you have a responsibility to better inform people of the mistakes they are repeating.
For the consumers: learn to live with what you have and not envy what you don’t.
For the politicians: step off your pedestals if you are only using them to further conspire against your people. If you are going to continue standing up there, invest in some rope so that when the truth surfaces and your platform drops out from under the fall will be less shameful.
For the teachers: teach, encourage the youth to ask questions and provide a model of hope and inspiration. Your moral responsibility is to teach others to seek the truth.
For all conspirers against the heart, false prophets who discriminate at the doors of paradise, marketers of empty kisses, lawyers who use words to deceive, pimps who sell their mothers, wives, and daughters short:
I have lived on all sides of the universe. I have seen where you will proceed to after this life and I know that what will happen to your souls over there is beyond any of your conceptions. For your misdeeds your small hearts will be cooked on the sun until they beat with an ache of guilt and regret so powerful you will gnaw off every inch of skin to get a second chance to return to Earth to amend your wrongdoings. It is precisely at this moment that you realize you have not yet died. You are still hanging a pinprick from death with all of your senses a flowing in through the bleeding black hole of your heart. You will hang there, heart baking with grease, sweating in contrite agony, and you never die. There is no afterlife because you never die. Those with little to regret have no trouble finding a peaceful please within themselves to sleep, but not those who trade life for chosen ignorance. You live with the vivid memory of your entire life forever in a wake. Voiceless, paralyzed, dead in all but the heart, the only thing you can do is watch others repeat your steps, your failures, without the ability to warn them, because your chance on Earth has ended.
As the designated Historian of Earth, I felt it was my duty to inform you of your egregious misconceptions about conscious and afterlife before it’s too late. If my time ever comes, unlikely because we angels live forever, I don’t want to contribute to both your and my eternal suffering.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

12月26日平成19年 (アンコールワット)

I originally wrote this journal entry in Japanese, but I have also translated it into English below. The final sentence was written in English in my diary, however, because I didn't know how to say it in Japanese at the time (and I'm not sure if I do now either).




-But if people will trade the lives of themselves and their progeny for money, do they deserve to share the paradise of this earth?

(I miss speaking Japanese. Last night at the convenience store I saw three Japanese people but I didn't say anything...I wish I had said something. :-(
Angkor Wat is amazing! But because so many people can visit, I feel like it's losing it's beauty and becoming more commonplace. Anything goes for people who have money, they don't have to obey any rules. There's an excessive number of luxury autos like Lexi. I'm troubled by the world's poverty gap. Half the cars here are Japan-made Toyota Camrys. I think Cambodia is being raped by tourism. There are so many Europeans here that come and do whatever they feel; they drink, they party, and while they're having fun they pollute the natural landscape. This is cleary bad for Cambodia (Cambodia's health). Even though there's litter everwhere, not even the Cambodian people care to clean up. I think Cambodians worship the dollar more than their own country.
I want to live without this ugliness. I want to be a friend to the environment and humanity.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

12/24: Day 4, Cambodia (Phenom Penh)

The following I wrote the day after driving somewhere in the neighborhood of 300km on December 23rd. Due to the grueling pace we set that day on our bikes, we all passed out almost immediately upon returning to Phnom Penh around 8 in the evening. Given the low-visibility with our dusty helmets and the unending, lawless, rush-hour traffic of Cambodia's capital, the last hour leading us back into the city was particularly death-defying.

"Today was day 3 of the motorcycle tour. We woke up on the secluded Kaoh Tonsai (Rabbit Island) after a restless night. Geckos and quite possibly the bungalow owner's dogs took turns in the night shaking the walls of our bamboo hut. The mosquito net saved us from a vicious feasting.

"A soft, slowly rising sun on the backside of the island (our bungalow faced the west) roused the roosters, which also contributed to breaking our sleep. Despite the 'inconveniences' of no electricity (save 3 hours of generation power in the evening), no running water, and no air con, as a fellow Barcelona traveler said, "Nothing is better than waking up in this place."

"Our gluttons' meal from the night before--3 plates of crab, a 5kg white fish, soup, rice--kicked somewhere in my stomach along with the reminder, 'Just because I can afford this much food doesn't mean I should try to eat it all.' (I must clarify here that our 3 plates of crab, 1 plate=6 crabs, came as a result of a rather egregious communication error between us and the cooks.)

"Outside the dogs Eric fed at dinner the night before were loyally awaiting our appearance. Eric had conscripted them to our bidding by enticing them with fancy fish and rice. People in Africa don't eat half as well as the meal these dogs had last night.

"With our new trusty mercenaries, Katie and I walked the stretch of beach on our island. The dogs followed in a militant formation, one on each wing and a third up ahead to sniff out enemies, and they growled down any other canines from the island that came within 30 meters. One would constantly sniff at my thighs if she thought I was in danger, so I pet her head and urged her on ahead. The deputies were also curious little devils, as I learned when they disappeared into a thicket and chased out a squawking bullet of a chicken. That hen tore through the heavy, misty air nearly colliding face to beak with Katie and me.

"Later we all went swimming while the sun still hid in the dense morning clouds. Tiny minnows jumped out of the water in schools like flashes of silver sparks charged by the air.

"Bokor Mountain:
-30km of rocky, muddy trails with potholes and rivets deep enough to flip you if you weren't careful (on the bike).
-near the top misty patches where you can't see more than 20 meters of road ahead and the thick brush edging.
-riding through the jingle, literally, where ferns with leaves 15 feet wide and 40 feet long drape below the canopy.

-and at the top, an open plain with a sundry of derelict houses, a church, a hotel, and a casino. This is the sight of the French fort where Europeans again attempted to enslave a foreign race for money.
-the hotel and the church where Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces battled for months and the rusted frames of machine-gun turrets still stand ready for a new war.
-the rain forests which are being illegally desecrated and destroyed because the government is too corrupt and unwilling to pay for their protection."

Later I added this bit about the Tuol Sleng Prison SR-21 we visited on the 24th. This is the place where tens of thousands of Cambodians were inhumanely (which doesn't mean a thing in light of the brutality no living creature should endure that took place at Tuol Sleng) concentrated and tortured during the years of the Khmer Rouge. This place had so many stories and horrors in it that I didn't feel capable of writing them all down. For more information about the Tuol Sleng SR-21 Security Prison please check out the official site

"-a tile from the prison cells
-an etching from a cell wall
-a caged bed with a car battery on top and leg shackles as the headboard"

12/23: Day 3, Cambodia

(1) Lessons in Khmer (Cambodia's language):
***As a disclaimer, this is only how I heard the words and wrote them myself after listening to them said by native speakers. I don't know how to correctly spell these words***

-A urum sous se reiya = good morning
-cho-moi = cheers
-aw (g)kum = thank you
-koah tonsai = Rabbit Island
-badh = yes
-ag dih = no
-li hai = goodbye
-so moi ited = one more

Later the same day...

(2) 4/23 (I have no idea why I dated this journal as April; I promise it is still December 23rd)

"Yesterday we went to the Dragon Cave (Ganpun Traich?). My guide, Nieb, lead me through the caves, showing me the animal shapes hidden in the rocks (the elephant, the snake, the tiger), Buddhas carved into niches, and hollow stalactites that you could play the drums on. The stalactites felt like dinosaur bones trapped in the rock that you could ring back to a primitive age before the bikes and even temples.

"Nieb is 17 and is studying English at school. He like football (soccer) and plays everyday at school. After that he comes to the Dragon Cave to give tours. His head is box-shaped and he curls his upper-lip to make a seemingly irritated expression when he doesn't understand what I say. Mau(h), his partner took Katie by the hand with a mischievous smile. Mau's pandemonium is teaching us reversed Khmer words and laughing hysterically whenever she succeeded in turning out tongues.

"After the caves Nieb and Mau invited us up onto the mountain above the caves. I say caves, but the area we were exploring actually was a replica of the lagoons Katie and I saw in near Phang Na, Thailand two years ago. In the doughnut hole of the mountain was a mangrove tree sanctuary. Vines tumbled down the walls of the lagoon inside like whisker of a dragon. A resting Buddha laid nestled under a hanging stone wall. Back to the top...
Nieb and Mau scampered straight up the jagged rock in only sandals. At the top Katie drew a picture of the countryside and I talked to the kids. The plains were water-filled paddies with bunches of palm trees jumping out at the to give their coconut offerings. Mountains circled close showing tall limestone faces. Atop the Dragon Cave hills were cacti--what was once the ocean has now become almost desert. Is this the conclusion of the warming trend?"

(3) 12/23/2007

"On the road from Kampot to Phnom Pehn I added lyrics to my 'Merry-go-round' song:

(to help explain the song's theme, here are the lyrics leading up to my recent addition: Merry-go-round My father was a Merry-go-round driver, he took the same path every day, and now I'm out to claim 1,000 lives, to make up for his lack of mistakes)

'If you're waiting for an anchor don't cast your lines here,
if you're looking for gravity ask the sun,
cause I'm the kinda guy who won't be here when breakfast comes.

I'm gonna take you high,
I'm gonna take you low,
take your body leave your soul.'
(sing this chorus with jumping high to low bluesy voice)."

Friday, January 11, 2008

12/21: Day 1, Cambodia

"Is isolation the key? Globalization, on the flip side, shows certain destructive trends:
-monoculture dilemma (in agriculture)
-divorce from and forced mutation of nature (via pollution)
-victory for few at cost of many
-eventual end of human race due to man-made disaster (nuclear, "environmental")

"If we isolate ourselves, would our ignorance offer saving grave from unknown travesties? If we did not know (in the Americas, Asia, Australia) about the Nazi's attempt at world domination, would we have been free from the responsibility of its atrocities? Is it our job to actively patrol the earth? If a man from Mongolia steals a chicken from a Swede, what business is it to a Tanzanian? Perhaps the UN only acts for its own ends. If we give the UN (or the US since America tends to think itself as an ultimate authority) the authority to control, to monitor we are doing so on the assumption that a mono-glot (my neologism for a supreme power) needs be. The universe does not abide by such faulty, human politics. Why should our minds.

"If we believe and act upon an individually derived set of morals, we will not need police and punishment. The goal of a well-functioning organism, a single being or group of individuals, should be autonomy. A worm eats and performs its duty according to nature. No board or committee, let alone active consciousness, tells the worm to turn dead organic material into soil––it just does (and the world is better off for it). I believe that if given the opportunity and encouragement humans can learn to look past the invisible lines on the globe and find where we connect to the earth and each other in an ethically existential way. This means living would be derived from our roles as homo sapiens––hunters, gatherers, farmers––as participants in the food chain, not engineers of it.
(Although I did not state it clearly in my journal, I am implying that by playing our role as animals who contribute to and take away from nature in a sustainable fashion would mean that we fill niches in geographically isolated communities as animals do. Hence why you do not see American rattlesnakes in Australia. Also, the introduction of foreign species, i.e. the Kudzu vine in America's southern states, or Black Bass to Lake Biwa in Japan, often destabilizes the preexisting balances between flora and fauna. By globalizing humans are disrupting patterns woven into the earth in ways that we cannot even begin to fathom, and while not all of these changes are not all necessarily bad, my hypothesis is that by agreeing to the rules nature has provided--that homonids have succeeded by for several million years and the rest of the Earth for billions before that--we have a better chance for autonomous survival and a higher quality of life.)

"Current thinking patterns are entirely self-focused and greedy. We have come to understand that our consciousness is greater than the unknowable process/deity that gave us life. If we are animals, and we biologically/genetically are, we owe respect to the process of miracles (or randomization of evolution) that birthed us. We are not the centerpiece, we are a tip of the iceberg, and we should accept it. If we do this, maybe we can learn to forfeit our authoritarianism dreams and look to a deeper truth that encompasses all life.

"-Would isolation serve as a form of autonomy, geographically defined?

-are we mature enough to handle the world? don't think so"

South Asia: Photos and Diaries

The following is a series of journal entries and corresponding photographs from my recent trip to Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. I will try my best to present the images and diaries in chronological order, though it is difficult because I did not take all of the photographs myself, so I cannot always be certain to their exact date and location.
Here's a summary of the trip:
-Thursday, December 20th Katie and I flew with several friends from Osaka (Japan) to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) via Bangkok.
-Friday, 12/21, through Sunday, 12/23, Katie, Mark, Eric and I took a motorcycle tour of southern Cambodia. We road 250cc off-road beastly machines, which enabled us to go far and beyond any typical tourist trap. We climbed mountains, flew through jungles, mingled with the locals, in places that would have been much more difficult to access with these bikes. Mark and I took a small tumble on the 22nd, but we both survived with no injuries (basically). I will explain more along the way.
-Monday, 12/24, we all spent the day in Phnom Penh, got massages from "Seeing Hands" an organization that provides Cambodia's sightless with a means of livelihood (which is rare because the govt, especially in the means of citizen welfare, is more or less non-existent). After that we visited Toul Sleng, one of the main interrogation and security prison during the Cambodian Civil War between 1975-1978. That afternoon something in the water or food got to Mark, Eric, and me, and we spent the rest of the evening in our respective beds and toilets.
-Tuesday, 12/25, Merry Chirstmas! Here our fearsome foursome halved; Katie and I went north to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat; Mark and Eric stayed in Phnom Penh.
Sunday night Katie and I went to the main temple at Angkor Wat and had a wonderful Indian cuisine Christmas dinner.
-Wednesday, 12/26, We spent the entire day touring various temples of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the name of on of the central temple, however the panoply of 30+ surrounding temples are also referred to as "Angkor Wat". On Christmas we saw THE Angkor Wat. This day we visited Banteay Srei, Ta Phrom, and another place I cannot remember the name of.
-Thursday and Friday, 12/27-28, we spent the days in Siem Reap, doing a little bit of walking, wandering, and relaxing. I sorely needed this days to finish recovering from whatever had found its way into my digestive system a few days before. Siem Reap is unfortunately not a very nice city. It has a riverfront that reminds me of Savannah (without vines hanging from the trees that even resembles Spanish moss), but unfortunately Siem Reap has been sold to the highest bidder. The streets are full of Lexi (plural for Lexus), and the city alternates between local homes (dirty but real) and country club style resorts and $300/night hotels. I think my journal entries from this time spent in Siem Reap will best reflect my honest thoughts on the city.
-Saturday, 12/29, we took a bus back to Phnom Penh. There I found some of the Cambodian instruments I had been searching for, we relaxed a bit more, and generally had a reading day.
-Sunday, 12/30, flew from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, stored some bags at the airport, and took a train to Ayuttuhaya. We wandered a few temples in Ayuttuhaya, ate dinner (fresh, organic fried chicken, corn on the cob, and Tom Kha (coconut) soup--amazing! I also found a guitar and we got to play and sing for an hour or so. That night we continued on the train up to the Laos border.
-Monday to Friday, 12/31-1/4, stayed in Vang Vieng, about 3-4 hours north of the Laos capital, Vietiane. We explored caves, kayaked down the Nam Som river, rented and toured on small bikes, and enjoyed the wonderful weather (cool nights) and cheap meals. I think this was by far my favorite place during the trip. When we were in Cambodia, and sometimes in Thailand, I constantly felt hassled by pushy vendors, tuk tuk drivers, and the like, so it was a glorious change of pace to be in a country where I didn't constantly feel like a target. I could relax, enjoy myself and the countryside. I wish we had spent more time here, but it was worth it to see Cambodia as well.
-Saturday, 1/5 on our way back to Bangkok we stopped off again at Ayuttuhaya to buy some gifts (and because Bangkok is my idea of hell--cars, buildings, any regular city with a lot more chaos on the roads). Saturday night we took an overnight flight from Bangkok back to Osaka.