Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Notes on Tokyo

I uploaded a ton of pictures from Tokyo, but no blog post yet. As I'm going to Fukuoka next weekend, I might not update for a while... :(

This time I had to stay in a dorm because the hostel got booked out fast. And it was the mixed dorm because the women's dorm was full. :P Not that anyone behaved unprofessionally. In fact the first night, everyone came in very quietly during the wee hours of the night so that I didn't even notice people had finally returned until I woke up in the morning! But even so some guys snored (I had ear plugs) and there was one awkward moment where I walked in and two guys were talking, one was just in shorts. He self-consciously pulled the blanket up when I came in but even so I kind of ignored him when he said, "Hey, how's it going?" Like no. I'm getting stuff from my bed with no human interaction, thank you.

Next time I'm staying at my friend Akiko's place for sure! She pressed me this time, so I don't care if it's imposing. I'm not dealing with any more random dudes!

Another note: in practically every picture I'm wearing a black winter coat. Cuz the weather was cold and occasionally rainy every day! I have zero regrets about bringing a heavy duty coat. It was a lifesaver, and with a coat and  sweater I was able to walk outside even in the evening and continue to see the sights. I prepared for both cold and warm weather, and turns out cold was the way to go.

Maple is quite happy. He was able to put another stamp on his passport, so to speak. For a stuffed deer, he has been many places.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Adventures in Illegal Piercing

So Friday night I got a little crazy and went out and pierced something.  Actually, it was a long time in the planning, but I couldn't actually make the appointment until this week because of scheduling difficulties. (Note to self: Never believe sharemate when she says she definitely will make an appointment for you and won't forget this time.) My bud Yuka volunteered to come with me and translate the medical details.

The shop itself was kind of a hole in the wall place in the middle of Hondori. I actually never would have guessed it was a piercing/tattoo shop if Tomomi hadn't told me about it. Turns out, there's a reason why it doesn't look like a piercing shop, which I was only to discover later.

The shop owner was very nice to us and proceeded throughout the piercing with a calm thoroughness, telling us all about how the skin healed and what to watch out for. First thing, we went up to the second floor where the shop was set up. (Accompanied by a pomeranian.)

Weirdly, the place reminded me of somewhere run-down in Berkeley of all things. There were psychedelic posters, a human skeleton, new age CDs...Weirdly enough, the shop owner himself seemed more than a little hippy to me. Japanese hippy, if it exists. He had long hair, which he pinned up on his head. And he wore a loose jacket and pants. And those clogs that are used on mountain roads and only have a bar in the middle. Of course, a sizable hole in each earlobe. He looked pretty sketchy but was very polite to us.

While Yuka and I were waiting we noticed a display of plastic body parts with examples of different piercings. Leading to the following exchange:

Me: Wow! So those are all the piercings they do here...
Yuka: Yeah, there's a lot.
Me: Ha, some of them are pretty..."gender specific."
Yuka: Not really. I've seen girls with those tongue studs and nose studs.
Me: I didn't mean that. Look at the far left.
Yuka: ...the ear?
Me: No, next to that. The one standing up.
Yuka: Oh! Hahahaha Oh my gosh.
Me: Owwww I would never do that even if they could. Oh, there's a girl only one in the back, I think...

The explanation went on for over an hour by which point I was like, "Argh I just want to get this over with and eat dinner!" But finally I got the piercing done. I sat on an examining table and the shop owner put marks on my ears to show were the piercing would be. I couldn't feel it at all, even when he poked my ear with a metal rod until my whole ear turned red.

Right before we started the actually procedure, Yuka and I noticed a certificate with English on it. The owner explained that he had gotten the license at a conference in American and in fact is not licensed to work in Japan. Only clinics can do piercing, not private businesses. But he was adamant that you shouldn't get piercing from some doctor who doesn't do it for a living and can't even have piercing himself because of his job. He rationalized the legality of what we were doing by explaining, "This is just my workshop upstairs, and I can give piercings to friends if I want as long as no one sees the money..."

Yeah. Great time to figure out you're doing something illegal.

When he got ready to do the piercing the guy said, "I'm going to say iizou, then you take a deep breath and relax your tension. You can choose when I'll do it. Say yoshi." So I'm like, "OK, I got this." He clamped my ear, I took some deep breaths, and that's when he stuck me with no warning. I was like, "OMG he didn't wait! Oh, well. I guess that was it..." Then I just tried not to watch Yuka's squicked-out expressions as he put the earring in. The next time, I was still taken off guard even though I knew it was coming...

After EVEN MORE explanation we finally paid and got to go with some ointment and the new earrings safely installed. The shop downstairs was closed and the metal curtain rolled down. Which just shows how determined this guy was to give us our money's worth. He actually stayed about an hour after the official closing time.

When we were finally free, Yuka and I went out to eat curry to celebrate, and had a great time.

I've got to wear my earrings for three months, as long as everything goes well, so I tried to choose a cool color.  In the end I chose ruby because it's my birthstone and the only other jewelry I wear all the time is a ring which also has rubies in it. Also when I saw it against my ear in the shop the color looked nice with my general skin tone.

So that was my first experience in piercing. Overall, not enough pain to get worked up over. Yuka and I were discussing how everyone expects to feel different after piercing but after the initial rush wears off you realize you're the same person as before. (I *think*  coughcough that makes it like losing your virginity. The important change is not the event but becoming the kind of person who's willing to actually go through with it, even though it's scary.)

During dinner, Yuka and I discussed things like living in another country, whether piercing was a rite of passage to adulthood, our experiences with our parents and becoming adults, and so on.

Later that night I showed Tomomi the piercing, and she asked, "That guy!! Did he wait?" And I was like, "NOOO!" And she was like, "It was exactly the same with me. He said iizou and just stuck me!"

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I Can Be Translator???

At the end of last month, one of my coworkers left the company. Since she was the main translator for the team, the higher-ups looked around at us and went, "Well, somebody's got to fill this slot, I guess..." Which meant last Friday both me and the new guy had to do an impromptu translation exercise. We got volume 5 of the manga, and with previous volumes for reference we took a stab at translating as much as possible.

My coworker very nicely explained to me that this wasn't a test, we weren't competing against each other or being graded, she just wanted us to get a feel for what the job would be like...Which of course made me EVEN MORE nerve-wracked than I already was. We went back and forth for a while on "It's a test!" and "No, no, it's not a test..." But anyway I tried to be positive and said, "Honto ni, Kyoumi ga arimasu. Tanoshisou ne..."

One hour never went so fast. I did the introduction and a dozen lines before I had to stop.

Then on Monday my coworker came to me and said, "Thank you for trying the translation on Friday. As you know, both you and Chris tried, but in the end we decided that since you're a girl and the manga is for teenage girls, it's better for you to do the translation. Also, you said you were interested. So even though the quality of the translation was about the same--it wasn't a test!--we're going to ask you do be in charge of the translation."

This week I started training, which means I've been reading manga at my desk at work! As part of my job!!!!!! It feels like cheating...

What I learned from this incident was that the important part of the "test" wasn't actually the test they asked me to do. The thing that my coworker remembered was not the quality of my translation but that I smiled and said I was interested in doing manga translation. (Or maybe I just lucked out that my company is translating a shoujo and not a shonen manga.)

Sometimes asking a question or making an observation at the right time can help you more than a lot of preparation.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How Not to Write Poe (A Tutorial by Stephen King)

For some reason, I ended up reading a collection of Stephen King short stories. I was surprised to find a re-envisioning of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Cask of Amantillado." King did not plagiarize or copy the story--the details are very different and the Poe story is even referenced at one point.

However, since I'm not a huge fan of King's style, the takeaway was, "Gee, now I realize all the things I really liked about Poe."

So here's a run-down of Poe's "Cask of Amantillado" and King's "Dolan's Cadillac." Both stories follow the same basic structure:

1. The protagonist harbors a grudge against somebody.
2. The protagonist comes up with a clever plan to get revenge.
3. The protagonist lures the victim into the trap.
4. The protagonist buries his victim alive.

Now, the main difference between the stories (aside the face that King's is much, much longer) is that King spends a lot of time on steps 1 and 2, while Poe spends the bulk of the story on steps 3 and 4. We have no idea what Fortunato did to Montessor, only that Montessor is pissed. King, however, gives us the entire backstory of the characters. Dolan is some kind of mobster, who assassinated Robinson's wife before she could testify. He killed his wife.

Oh, wives in popular media! What a thankless task is yours! Always providing some cheap emotional shortcut. Either you die and spur the hero on his manhood-winning quest of revenge, or you cheat and the hero is forced to kill you himself oh-so-sympathetic and tragic homicide.

Do we learn anything about the characters from the added backstory? Well...meh. Robinson is made out to be such an average Joe, there's not much to say about him. In fact, the revenge cycle is what's supposed to raise him to a noteworthy level. The wife has even less personality and only appears in the story as a ghost to spur on his revenge. As for Dolan, we only see him through the eyes of Robinson, who envies his wealth and success with women.

(Note how this trivializes the relationship between Robinson and his wife Elizabeth. Robinson envies not, for example, Dolan's happy family life, but Dolan's many conquests. As if to say, "You have lots of toys, and yet you took my only toy! How mean! My manhood is ruined!" It's David and Uriah all over again.)

Looking to Poe, what do we know about Montessor? Well, what don't we know? We know he's a master manipulator because he understands the way people's minds work. (Note how he gets his servants out of the house by denying them the night off.) He's a good liar. He's proud. He's ironic and keeps making allusions that go over his victim's head. He carries a rapier just cuz.

In both stories the victim is drawn in about equal detail. When we do finally get some lines from Dolan, he shows himself to be shrewd in an almost animal way. And then desperate in an animal way. Fortunato is a pompous douche who's always making patronizing remarks to Montressor right up to when the trap is sprung.

Let's look at that trap. In "The Cask of Amantillado" we don't get a lot of details about how Montessor set up the trap. We don't know exactly what's going on in his head, which makes the sense of impending doom all the stronger. In "Dolan's Cadillac" lots and LOTS of time is spent on how Robinson managed to bury and entire Cadillac in the middle of a road. How he learned to work the machines, the characters he met...Now, there is a suspense that the whole thing will go somehow wrong. But I think the extra detail just makes the plan less believable. It's so complicated you want to say, "But would that even work???" instead of focusing on the story. Montessor's plan is not so ingenious. In fact, it's incredibly simple and therefore easier to believe. The execution of the plan is what we're waiting for, anyway.

Now, when your future victim is traveling in a Cadillac and you're waiting at the road construction site, there's no chance to talk to him or know what he's thinking. Therefore, the most memorable scene in Poe's story--where Montessor lures Fortunato down into the cellar, pretending to urge him to return while actually egging him on--is entirely absent from King's story, just by virtue of the setup.

What both stories have is the burying alive part. And even though King's does take forever to get to the payoff, the payoff itself is pretty good. There are some creative details such as Dolan shooting the driver and the irony of a safe car becoming a deathtrap because the back window is unbreakable bullet-proof glass.

Of course, Poe pretty much invented the modern short story. And the horror genre. So...yep, no comparison. What's ironic to me is that even though Poe was writing a century earlier, his finished product is much closer to what we would consider a "modern" short story. Earlier short stories begin with a lot of exposition and try to make everything clear (often by means of an omniscient narrator), ending with a denouement. More recent short stories start with the action and don't give a lot of explanation. In a strange reversal, King seems to want to explain everything while Poe leaves a lot to the imagination.

Truly, Poe was ahead of his time. A genius with horror and a genius with the short story form.

Edited for to correct the spelling of "Dolan." The character may be forgettable, but at least I could remember to spell his name...