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These Dogs Are Barkin'
I had dinner with one of Kayo's coworkers--an older gentlemen named Uchida-san that really loved talking about his many dogs.  He treated us to this upscale Japanese seafood restaurant.  You could tell it was a nice restaurant because the fish was not only fresh; it was still moving.  The kimono-clad waitress served us fresh, still-moving squid.  The squid looked quite angry at his unfortunate situation, so I asked the waitress in Japanese, "Is he angry?"  She replied, "Yeah, probably."  Then she poked him with a chopstick.  I felt kinda bad eating him as he was watching.  The decorated chef looked on with a satisfied smile.

After a decadent hyper-multi-course meal, Uchida-san insisted on taking us to a "second dinner" of sushi.  At the hole-in-the-wall sushi bar, the bar proved to be the main attraction and the  sushi a mere side dish.  Ok...so it's not really a second dinner.  It's a bar outing.

Uchida-san drank serving after serving of sake, filling my sake cup to the brim after each shot.  I struggled to maintain my composure as a drunken haze engulfed my being.  This skinny old man could drink!  I don't know how he was doing it, but he was staying afloat a lot better than I could.  I ate the sushi hoping that the rice would absorb the 5 gallons of sake in my stomach.  On a side-note, the sushi at this hole-in-the-wall place was and still is the finest sushi I've ever had in my life.  Nothing has ever topped it.

Kayo excused herself to use the restroom.  Worrying that the conversation would suddenly slam to an awkward halt, I turned to Uchida-san and said, "So...please tell me about your dogs."  That's all I needed.  The guy went off on some dog-breeding tangent.  All I had to do was throw in the occasional "hai" or "I see" to keep it going.  Relief swept over me as it gave me a much-needed respite to quietly recapture my sobriety.

Soon after Kayo returned to the table, we thanked Uchida-san warmly for his kindness and stumbled home.

Mondaiji on NHK
I got on TV again--not that it's an impossible challenge in a place like Tottori.  Anyways, it was great exposure even though it was only a local TV show.

Several months ago I visited 2 TV stations in Tottori (NHK and NCN) and gave them my self-made press kit.  I thought NHK was a long shot because they're one of the biggest networks in Japan (and also government-run).  NCN is tiny and has nothing to show because almost nothing happens out here in Tottori.  I find NCN extremely entertaining because they'll show footage of a river for 10 straight minutes.  The newscast looks like it's shot in someone's garage, and the newscasters wear t-shirts.

Having learned that following-up is critically important, I followed up with another in-person visit.  NCN told me that they'll have to check their schedule and see.  I knew that was BS (even in Japanese) considering their station shows a freakin' river for 10 minutes every hour!  Not surprisingly, they never called me back.  The receptionist at NHK told me that some guy would call me.  I thought that too was BS.  "Don't call us. We'll call you."

But later that day, someone actually called me and said he wanted to feature me on a show.  This offer was back in October, so I requested a day off of work for the stated filming day.  In fact, I didn't tell anyone at AEON I was gonna do this.  Last time I was on TV, my boss got annoyed and called the headquarters to ask for "permission."  It was a horrible experience, and it made me feel like chattel property.  If this was going to happen, I did not want to have to dodge around my bosses and work schedule like I did last time.  That was far too stressful and adversely affected my performance.  So this time I did it right.  I don't need your permission, and my free time is none of your business.  I'll just take the day off.  Luckily, I had enough lead-time to request a day-off this time.

The show itself was a lot of fun.  I had much more preparation time, so I knew exactly what questions would be asked of me.  We even had time for a few practice run-throughs.  The 2 hosts spoke slowly and clearly enough for me to understand, and they did not deviate from the set questions.  Like the other show I appeared on, this too was live TV; however, I felt the staff was less rushed and better prepared.  This made for a much better appearance.  Naturally, my non-native Japanese broke up from time-to-time, but I was much happier with this appearance compared with the other one.  And I didn't even have to fall-back on a secret booze bottle to carry me through.

The day after the appearance, my boss was extremely surprised and a little pissed off at me.  She told me I should've told her about the TV appearance.  Well, too late for that, I suppose.  I just stood and listened.  It was a pretty short talk, and well worth it for such a thrilling experience.  I'm out of here soon anyways, so I guess I have a bad case of senior-itis.

The Non-Native Advantage
I visited LA again with Kayo--this time for Christmas and New Year's.  It was sweet seeing everyone again, and we even had time to hit Vegas for a few days.  Being back in America kinda put things in a new perspective for me.  I found myself paying attention to accents and pronunciation when talking with everyone.  I could tell who would be difficult for non-native speakers to understand and who wouldn't.  I wanted to say, "You pronounce very well!" to some people.  I also think that some Japanese culture has rubbed off on me.  I caught myself bowing a little when greeting people, and I felt really uncomfortable wearing shoes in the house.

I also realized that sometimes being a non-native speaker is an advantage.  I noticed that Kayo's "thank yous" sounded much more sincere and genuine, and store clerks and restaurant staff smiled at her like it made their day.  I get the same reaction in Japan when I say "thank you for the meal" at a restaurant.  Being a native speaker of a language sometimes causes the meaning of what you say to be taken for granted--especially in common daily interactions.  Native speak is so automatic that you don't really pay attention to what you're saying.  I don't pay much attention to saying "thank you" at a restaurant, and as such it loses much of its sincerity.  A non-native speaker's "thank you" sounds thought-out, and so it conveys genuine appreciation--a much more powerful "thanks" than an automatic, conditioned "thanks."  Maybe I'll start breaking-up my English and faking a French accent when I visit home from now on.

Almost Out of Here
My last day at AEON is 2/25, so I rented an apartment in Tokyo to continue my IT job search on the battlefield.  Kayo and I went to this rental company called "Leo Palace."  It's a cool system because their apartments are fully furnished and include utilities and Internet service.  I just pre-paid the rent for 3 months--no deposits or stuff like that.

The woman at the rental place found the most perfect apartment, but then realized that the building is for women only.  I said, "No problem.  I'll just wear a dress, wig, and makeup."  I had memories of that old show "Bosom Buddies" with Tom Hanks.  Anyways, she found another one in Nakano-ku (the district I wanted) relatively close to a station.  The apartment is a whopping 13 square meters.  If you do the math, you realize that it's FREAKIN' SMALL!  I move in 3/6.

Final Afterhours Show
I had my very last show at Afterhours.  It went pretty well despite a few technical problems with my loop pedal.  After the show Pancho gave a touching speech and presented me with a farewell gift (an Afterhours mug).  Then Pancho's band dedicated a song to me.  It was an awesome feeling--like I was part of a Japanese countryside musical family.  I broke down in tears and cried like a baby.  Kayo had to carry me out.  Yeah, I'm gonna miss this place.

The Students Make the Class
One thing I realized about being a teacher is that the students really make the class.  Some classes I absolutely dread, while others I very much look forward to.  I have a private lesson with one student that I nicknamed "20 Minutes" because it literally takes her 20 minutes to answer any question.  Even a simple "How are you?" takes an uncanny amount of time.  I don't get it cuz she's actually a pretty decent level.  I get so insanely bored and impatient during that class that I just wanna take a nap.  50 minutes feels like 500.  Maybe next time I'll bring my PSP.  

By far the most uncomfortable class, however, is a private lesson with "Shaky Keiko."  She gets so needlessly nervous throughout the lesson that she is literally shaking in her name-brand Italian leather pumps.  She cannot continue the lesson until she skittishly gulps water from her ever-present water bottle.  My coworkers tell me that she absolutely insists on having a foreign teacher despite the neurotic level of social anxiety when forced to speak only English.  I am dumbfounded.  The only answer is that she enjoys torturing herself.  Contrary to popular belief, English conversation classes are no substitute for social skills therapy.  If you're shy in Japanese, then chances are you're shy in English too.

On the other hand, I have other classes with students that are so energetic and funny they should be on TV.  They're highly-motivated and truly enjoy any and all chances to speak English.  Those classes feel like 10 minutes.  I wish all classes could be as such, but it's not a perfect world we live in.

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