Saturday, January 12, 2013

Building L-EGO-s

Ground zero. At my last workplace, there was a significant chunk of time where I was...the man. No way around it. Students enjoyed my class, I enjoyed students, everything was gravy. At this new workplace, however, I get to start over.

This kind of "reset button" is my new favorite part about my profession, in that every time I travel, I get to rebuild myself. Going back to my last workplace, I had become bored of who I was, and had too many not-so-proud moments. I eventually got trapped in being myself and felt like any drastic change simply wouldn't be taken seriously. 'That's not Mark,' people would say, and then I'd lose my drive. Well, luckily this chance for change is inherent in that of a traveling language seller.

What makes this different is that all of my previous 6 years have had an element of temporariness. Either I was going within a few months, or they were going. There was always that comfortable limit of time, and light at the tunnel for any student-teacher-co-worker relationship. That just might be over, and I have mixed feelings. I might be permanently part of the team, locked in with students for not just one year, but their whole experience in middle and/or high school. It's going to be such a huge mutual investment that will probably mark my life significantly.

My experienced of being entrenched into my previous character in the workplace definitely gave me a little empathy for celebrities. My little local world where students knew about me and wanted to take my classes was a giant ego booster, but there was that frustrated chunk of me that wanted students to get a chance to know me firsthand. These thoughts get triggered every once in a while when you read about the latest pop icon tragedy; people who, for one reason or another, just couldn't handle the attention. Yeah, let's ridicule Britney Spears for trying to block the insane amount of responsibility heaped on her. Remember the nation holding her hostage for her choice of dress? Tell me how many 24-year-olds have their lives figured out. Ever laugh at Lindsay Lohan's rapid aging? Disappointed in the abrupt end of the Chappelle show?

I'm lucky in that my students, friends, family and co-workers always supported me after my least-favorite moments. I had a drop of that fame, and peoples' expectations can push you into a corner, and kudos to those who can handle it.

So, I am 3 days into working at the new school, and I have the chance to build my new ego and reputation. Here we go!

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Here with an hour of free time before the plane boards. these 16 days back have been amazingly quick. If I had done EVERYTHING I wanted, I would have been pretty exhausted by now. At this point, I don't really have enough energy to feel guilty about the missed opportunities for dinners, lunches and coffee with friends and colleagues. Also, with bags checked, no more worries about what I forgot to pack or'll all be good. One thing Rachel has helped me with is self-forgiveness. As long as it isn't exercised too much, it's very valuable in stress management (and probably living longer).

But it still sucks that I wasn't able to see everyone. I DID get to call my folks, Mom, Frederick, J and Ashley all sound good, and I'm glad they're together. Over Skype, my brother sounds almost exactly like me. I always thought his voice was more musical, but with enough strain, it flattened out just like mine. It makes sense: he's been keeping his daughter's sleep schedule for the last month.

Final restaurant count in my 2 weeks: 2x Snappy Dragon, 2x Cedars, Din Tai Fung, Papa John's, Dominoes, Saffron Grill, Taco Bell, and a 1.5-lb gain.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top experiences of 2012 (in no strict order):

While some things have always powered me through, like chats with the family, repeated listenings to Gorillaz, BT and M83, good coffee and drinking nights with friends, there are some experiences that really stand out this year. I'm sure there were more, but I want to get this up before 1/1 is over!

(July, December) Playing Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. All of the signature Zelda-isms: Mute hero, cinematic shots, great score, instrument, animals, and a buttload of quests. My end game time was 50hours, and I still had a few things left. You know, they could add a hard mode where you hold the wand in your left hand (Link used to be a leftie before the Wii).

The answer in Twilight Princess was to mirror the entire mode, but the challenge would be that you're a leftie fighting mostly right-handed enemies. That's a different strategy...they'd really only need to change Link's handedness back to the original.

But I digress. The game was filled with classic moments like retrieving the Master Sword and finding the Triforce pieces, but my favorite sequence was this:
Learning your first harp song

(December) Coming back to see friends after 3 months. A close friend told me that with real friends, regardless of time, you pick up where you left off, chiding and talking like you just saw the person. It was nice to run off to Japan and experience so much difference, and come back and hug everyone. It's true that I had business to take care of in Seattle, as I transition my life to overseas. However, any financial and stress cost of logistics is worth being with my own. Apologies to Bruce and Candice for the lack of photographic presence! You can see Candice's red hair in the bridge photo.

 [Lake 22]

[Chloe's Birthday@Din Tai Fung]

(December) Re-experiencing Kyoto after 10 years.

[Every 20 minutes, you'd think they'd be cheaper than $120/way]
This was actually a lot of awesome rolled into one: I took the bullet train,

 got to stay in a really nice hotel, and went with my awesome friend, Ran. 
[What's crackin', monkey-monks?]

 In my 11 years of overseas travels, most of it has been alone. There are tons of benefits: moving at my own pace, being as frugal as I want, and the communication challenge. Most of that time, though, I felt like the experience was discounted without sharing it with someone, and I don't mean sending a photo. It's all about the look on someone's face, and the 'Remember that one time...'s.

[Kinkakuji - yes, it's like the Empire State Building in that you've seen it 100000 times]
[Kiyomizudera - after praying to the god of business and fiscal matters]

 Shopping was great, the food was awesome, and our lunch [yakisoba and okonomiyaki] was a lot more flavorful than its Kanto equivalent.

Movies: (August) AVENGERS! I missed out on this movie for a few weeks, and finally saw this movie with Chloe, Sam and Jaaron. That movie was really well done, had tons of WOW moments, great comedy, looked sweet, and I thought it was really sweet that Jaaron and Sam saved another viewing for me.

(July) The Dark Knight Rises midnight showing. Say what you want to say about the movie (lord knows I've heard it all), but you just can't beat that rising tension with fellow nerds when the lights jam off, and you hear the IMAX emcee say some cheap nerdy quip. This year, they even had some trivia about stuff in the Batman universe and gave out comics! I came late and ended up alone at the back of the line until about 30 minutes til, and we were all together, excitedly chatting about whatever came to mind. We got to experience that movie purely, without the baggage of the unfortunate shooting that happened the same night.

[Nature rocks!]
(February). San Francisco and Yosemite. During Aki's last week in the US, her mom came, and the 3 of us went to California. The first destination was Yosemite - a 5-hour drive from SFO. 

 [Half-Dome, I taught a lesson on this!]

After the day at Yosemite, we drove back to San Francisco to have clam chowder, see the bridge, Ben and Jerry's and make a hurried photo attempt at Lombardi Street, which we never saw.

[Cross-cultural drinking!]
(April). Return to Japan A - Chiba.
Aki and her family hosted me in the province east of Tokyo. For 2.5 weeks, I ate great food, saw famous Japanese sights, and got frightened by trembles of earthquakes.

[Sensouji, on a hella rainy day after some awesome kibidango]

[Tokyo/Tsukiji - The hella famous fish market, having some fresh-ass seafood]


(September). Tokyo Game Show 2012. I'd read about it for more than 10 years, and happen to come to Japan just in time. My friend Wei-Ming is 100% responsible because I never would have looked. Either way, after a few subway transfers and a 20 minute walk to Makuhari Messe, I took this picture:

[Ohh yeah, there are videogames at TGS...]

(April) Radiohead concert. Elizabeth and I went into a warm Key Arena, after some bad security decisions. We were all stopped at one of 4 door entrances to give our tickets to be given a receipt, and sent a quarter turn around Key Arena to get bracelets. With the bracelets, you can enter the arena. You know, instead of having the ticket scanner do BOTH JOBS. Anyway, once you entered, you couldn't exit for security / preventing smoking of any kind protocols. Alas, I forgot my camera that night! Alas....earwax!

(December 11th) Becoming an uncle! J and Ash had a baby. I haven't met Ella Taylor Strong, yet, but she looks cute enough.

(September) Japan B The long-awaited return to Japan. 20 years of videogaming, 8 years of Japanese study, 2 years in university training to become certified, and 6 years of teaching experience later, I've finally made a professional appearance in Chiba. May's trip had a lot to do with me choosing Chiba, and I couldn't be happier with the experience. I taught university students conversational English, and got to meet some incredible people, Japanese and non-!
[Left-to-right: Me, Eda, Raul, Martyn, Kim, Lori, and Wei-Ming. A fine set of teachers, indeed! ]
[My students at a nomikai-gathering]

[Ramen - my new favorite food]

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...