Another successful week! On Wednesday I visited the corporate office for a workshop. It had been months since my last visit so it felt good to return. The focus of the meeting was to brush up on our interview and counseling skills. After nine months on the job I’m definitely comfortable doing both of these things. That said, it’s still nice to get back and review textbook procedure. I left the workshop confident and eager to return to work.
One of the nice parts of meetings at corporate is the chance to see many of my friends. Wednesday afternoon there were roughly 50 teachers in attendance. I knew 10 or 15 of these people and hadn’t seen some of them for a long time. So I arrived early to have a coffee in the cafe downstairs. Sure enough I caught sight of three different friends the moment I stepped in. I gave everyone a wave and ordered a coffee. Upstairs I found my assigned seat and introduced myself to everyone at the table. Everyone was a new face. My social circle suddenly expanded by five.
For all of the good things about workshops there is one draw back. In a room full of westerners I am reminded of my short stature. I shook hands with many people and introduced myself. Every time I would have to crane my neck up to look the men in the eyes. While in the States I’m shorter than average, I am the average height in Japan. And in some cases I tower over people. This has warped my self-identity. Spending time with so many foreigners reminded me of my previous life. Drat.
On Thursday I broke from my normal routine to try something new. I decided to try a voluntary 24-hour water fast. I had never considered doing a fast until earlier this year when a student was doing a three-day fast. Since then I had put a lot of though in to fasting. It was appealing. Everyday I put a wide assortment of foods and drinks into my body. My liver rarely has time to process one thing before I add something else. So I had a reason to fast: detoxification.
I then questioned my will & determination. Could I force myself to abstain from food and drink when I was truly hungry? I wanted to think so. So then my reason for fasting became twofold: detox my body and practice self-control. I did some Internet research and decided a week before that I would fast.
I took my final meal on Wednesday night. I had an extra-large dinner of brown rice and vegetables. I tried to calorie load from green veggies and store up carbohydrates from the rice. I woke on Thursday morning like any other day. I busied myself with the usual chores and reading of the news. I denied myself the simple pleasure of a cup of a coffee. Coffee is an everyday drink for me and not having a cup means the day can be rough. Skipping the joe, I suited up and went to work.
Fortunately Thursday is a very busy day and I didn’t notice my empty stomach until lunch time. I decided it best my coworkers not know I was fasting during the process. I didn’t want a barrage of questions, judgement or concern. So I took a walk around the shopping center for my break. It was during lunch time that I first became very hungry. I had missed two meals and I could feel my body beginning to tap fat reserves for energy. Soon my “lunch” was over and I returned to work. The rest of the evening passed by pleasantly. I was growing more hungry by the minute but it didn’t impede my work. Truthfully I was less energetic than normal but otherwise no different.
After work I went home to my apartment. I now had a strong headache which had been growing throughout the day. I convinced myself this was caffeine withdraw. I reminded myself of the popular adage, that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” I tried to watch television for a form of passive entertainment but found my eyes were acting funny. Everything was slightly blurry. I was fortunate that no one was around me because I’m sure by the end of the night I was very irritable.
I soon decided that I should go to bed. Sleeping seemed a sure-fire way to pass the time. And the sooner I was asleep the sooner I could wake and eat breakfast. So at 11 PM I laid down and passed out. The sleep I got was not what I wanted. It was very erratic. I woke many times and flashed between hot and cold. At midnight my headache became strong enough to wake me. I drank some water and turned over to sleep. My night continued like this until 3 AM.
At three I found myself standing in my bedroom. I was very disoriented and the headache was paralyzing. I decided to break my fast and take some aspirin. While fumbling for the bottle of pills it occurred to me what a dose of acetaminophen might do to a totally empty stomach. It would be fast acting for sure, but would probably destroy my innards. I opened the fridge and looked before me. Yogurt. Yogurt seemed a safe bet. So I took the medicine and had four bites of the yogurt. At the moment it was the most delicious food in the world. I closed the lid and crawled back to bed.
I had unfortunately broken my fast sooner than I had wanted. Four hours short of my goal and I was in too great of pain and disoriented to continue. However I was able to complete a 24-hour fast by going 29 hours between ingesting anything other than water. I fell back asleep feeling partially defeated but ultimately triumphant. When my alarm woke me at 7 I felt much better than I had four hours earlier. I ran to the kitchen to fire up the stove for some hot breakfast and coffee. After eating I relaxed in my seat thankful to have something I’ve always taken for granted: food.
Since my fast I’ve done some reflecting on my experience. It was challenging and painful. But I had also gained something from it. Something intangible. I had passed my own test. I’ve now decided to try it again. Sometime in the coming months I would like to try a 48-hour fast. But for now I’m going to continue enjoying my food and drink.
A good weekend! I went to bed very early on Saturday night to wake up early on Sunday. So after a good nine hours of sleep I awoke to a beautiful sunny sky. I opened my windows and got busy cleaning my apartment. Long before noon I hopped a train to Hon-Atsugi to see my friend Trevor. We had a cup of coffee and caught up. Good times. Next on the agenda was a visit to a vintage clothing store. This particular shop is really neat. They specialize in men’s clothes and have a very wide selection. But the real kicker is the price. Most stores like this in Japan are very expensive, but not here. After some browsing I picked up two pairs of jeans and nice shirt for about $20. Can’t shake a stick at that.
After shopping I returned home for a run. I pounded out seven miles in 60 minutes. I felt great too. Except for my knee. 30 minutes in to my run I took a bad step and jammed my leg into an incline. For the run back my knee throbbed with each step. Even now I’m walking with a slight limp, but I’m sure after a few more days I’ll be as good as new.
After the run came the highlight of the weekend: my big date. Earlier in the week I had asked a girl out for dinner. She accepted. So in the late afternoon I found myself going through my pre-date ritual. Hose off, have a shave, and collect my zen. I left my apartment early to ensure I would be the first to arrive. I waited for her in Machida and she arrived. My jaw hit the floor. She was stunning. She had just come from a festival with her friends but still looked beautiful. We said hello and left the station.
What followed was four hours of excellent conversation. Still a relative mystery to the other, we had much to learn. After dinner we shared an American-sized dish of ice cream. Our eyes often locked during the conversation. The intensity of her gaze sent shivers down my spine. But alas the night grew late and we parted ways for home. I really enjoyed my evening with the young lady, and I do hope to see her again.
After she and I split ways I met up again with Trevor. He was just coming back from the city after his own date. Now it was boys’ time. I recently noticed a whole-in-the-wall reggae bar in my neighborhood. Since Trevor and I both enjoyed the Bob Marley & the Wailers during our college years it seemed like an appropriate place to investigate. At 10:30 pm we dropped in and found the place empty. The sleepy owner/bartender took our order and served us both a Corona. “Kampai,” we said. The Mexican beer was my first in near a year and it was delicious.
So soon the beers started flowing. Willy, the bartender, took a liking to us. So he poured us two complimentary shots of tequila. Willy pushed the shot glass in front of me.
“Willy, my newest friend, I must tell you something. While I like you and I greatly like Mr. Jose Cuervo here, we are beginning down a dark path. I will likely end up somewhere in Korea tonight if I take this shot.” I was actually this eloquent in my speech. It wouldn’t last.
Willy, the nice Nigerian fellow, stood there staring at me. My words had gone in one ear and out through the other. So I pointed at the tequila and said,
“Tequila is dangerous.”
Willy laughed from deep in his big belly.
“You and me like danger!” He said to me.
I looked over at Trevor, who was grinning from ear to ear.
“The man has a point,” Trevor said.
My argument had been soundly beaten and we all three knocked back the hooch. And so the night continued. The last train came and went and still we remained at the bar. Sometime after one but before two I put my foot down. We had spent enough time and money listening to reggae music. It was time to go home. We paid Willy and set out for the short walk home.
Back at my apartment I promptly drank two glasses of water before migrating to the bedroom. There in the middle of the hardwood floor was Trevor, passed out. I climbed over his lifeless body to pull the air mattress from the closet. I inflated the bed and tossed a sheet over it, complete with blanket and pillow. I nudged my friend in the ribs.
“Get up ya bum. You’re sleeping under my roof, there will be no floor tonight.”
He grumbled something hostile under his breath but complied. Finally with the kid asleep and in bed I could brush my teeth and have more water. I drew the drapes tightly shut and kicked on the AC. Time to sleep off that tequila.
Monday morning came just like I knew it would. Guilt got the better of me and I forced myself out of bed at 9 AM. Trevor woke to my shuffling in the room.
“Dude, Willy is the man.”
I laughed out loud. “Jeez man, you’re still drunk!”
We quickly collected ourselves and made a walk for McDonalds. Greasy food would be the quickest cure for our headaches. Trevor was kind enough to pick up the tab and we inhaled our processed breakfast. After that we said goodbye and began our respective days. Back at home I did some laundry and washed the night before off. Feeling better by the minute I took a train to Ikebukuro to meet up with the girls.
We hoped to visit a new aquarium in Tokyo but were turned off by the 30+ minute wait. Instead we spent the day strolling around the city and catching up. Nine months since we first met and we all still get along great. We’re a pretty tight group the three of us.
Sadly the day ended and I took my train home. Leaving Shinjuku at 7:30pm is ridiculous. It’s the peak of rush hour and very busy. I packed into a train and laughed all the way home. Although full trains aren’t fun, they’re amusing for people watching. Back in town I visited the supermarket and picked up some groceries for the coming week. Finally I was home and relaxed from the weekend. I was ready for another week.
As a foreigner I am many things. First and perhaps most important, I am a representative of my country. My words and actions often have far-reaching consequences for people’s perception. For some people I am the only American they know. As such I am a proxy for the USA. I am aware of this responsibility and I like to think I do a good job. I have often reinforced some American stereotypes and I have also worked to break some misconceptions.
I am also an “expert” of all things American. Of course I don’t literally mean this. But many people ask me questions as if I know all the answers. I do my best to answer their questions honestly, even if that may tarnish the image of the States a little. I think I’m a very informed young man with a good understanding of my country. Not a perfect understanding, but maybe a little more than average bear.
As often as I am able to answer questions, I sometimes am unable to. Quiet often I will think of two conflicting answers to one question. I was puzzled by this problem for some time but I have finally figured out why this kept happening. Simply put, America is the most diverse country in the world. What may be a truth for one part of the country, or a group of people, will be the opposite for another.
For example, “Why do Americans love guns?” This is difficult question. Many Americans do own guns. But I also know a lot of people who abhor firearms. And I know a half-dozen good reasons for either side. I tend to alternate how I answer these questions. Sometimes I’ll say, “Well I personally think…” or “In my hometown, we…” and on some occasions “I can’t possibly begin to answer that.” Of course I slightly tailor my answers for the listeners.
I find being an ambassador can be exhausting. I always try to be on my best behavior and to answer every one’s questions. It’s not an easy task but it is a rewarding one. So for now I’ll keep up the good fight and carry on. Oh the burdens of being a privileged white American man…