Summer program

Well, it has certainly been TOO long. I really didn’t mean to abandon this blog for so long, and I wanted to post in it so many times, especially this summer at Japanese school, but English was forbidden and considering how often I broke the rules on the weekends when out with my friends, I thought it would be best to at least be good with online stuff.

So, since the last time I posted, I had my last day at my editor job in June, went to the Pacific Northwest for a week to visit Lil (who I met in Japan when we did the same study abroad program, then we were roommates in LA for my second summer with TOKYOPOP) and we went to Canada (my first time there!), then I went to the north of the second-largest state in the US (I’m being careful since I don’t want to get listed in any search results) for the Japanese program.

The program! Oh… how to even express it. It was hands-down one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life, and I am so happy that I finally bit the bullet and went through with it. I had just the absolute best time, met so many great people, both fellow students and teachers alike, and it was an experience I’ll never forget, even if time dulls our bonds (as it has with most of my Japan study abroad friends). I regard it as nothing short of incredible luck and fortune that everything aligned to bring me together with those people in that place at that time. I’m serious. It was one of those times when you don’t feel any fear or worry about your life, because you know you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing and it’s directly accomplishing your goals. I don’t have that feeling very often, and I miss it already.

We lived in a dorm on a college campus and had our meals in the dining hall. Getting from the dorm to anywhere else always involved walking up and down steep hills; we said at the beginning we’d be used to it by the end but we never were! I was always happy when I could catch a ride with one of the bilingual language assistants (sort of like RAs) in their golf cart to the dining hall.

We had a few days to meet people and get used to things in English, and then the pledge came down and English was forbidden. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that for eight weeks, I communicated with other English speakers (well, and a good handful of exchange students at American universities whose first language wasn’t English) only in Japanese. There are people I met after the pledge began who I hadn’t spoken with in English until the very last day, after the pledge was lifted at our final banquet. It was such a strange feeling! There were people I liked better in English, and people I liked better in Japanese!!

Somehow I fell into a great group of friends. Our rooms were close to each other in the dorm so we originally met in the hallway before walking to get food together, but over time a core group of four emerged, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. I was the oldest at 26, and everyone was two years apart: 26, 24, 22, 20. All at different stages of life: one in college, still figuring out life and majors and careers; one just graduated and about to begin a master’s/PhD program through grant funding; one fresh from grad school and about to start job hunting; and me, just quit my job and about to move to Japan and try and start a new career. Pairs of us were in the same Japanese classes; the 24-year-old (Kris) grad school graduate and me were in upper intermediate, and the 22-year-old (Ai) and 20-year-old (Mon) were in upper beginning. We’re all different skin colors, which is hilarious and we’d always joke how photos of us looked like a college brochure. Ai is black, but her grandmother is Japanese, so that’s her connection, and she has a fabulous grant that will sponsor her studies. I am positive she’ll be incredibly powerful and successful someday. She’s also very athletic and competitive and got so hilariously upset about a girl who didn’t try hard enough on our sports day that just thinking about her righteous outrage brings a smile to my face today. Mon is half-Egyptian and wants to focus on Japanese in her future career, but she speaks Arabic too and kept getting distracted by the Arabic school students sharing our campus. She’s also hilarious and had us cracking up all the time. Kris is Korean by birth but adopted by a white family; she loves to send letters and packages and is so responsible and passionate about her academic/professional pursuits. After the summer ended she got a job as a high school Japanese teacher! Everyone is so beautiful, ambitious, and impressive. I was so happy we fell in together.

And, as I said, we’d escape on the weekends (Mon had a car) and as soon as we got in the car, the language pledge was forgotten. I sort of feel bad about this, and sort of don’t. My Japanese still progressed even with these regular breaks, and our Japanese levels were pretty different, so it was hard to fully express our thoughts and feelings to each other when restricted by the pledge. If we hadn’t had those breaks, we wouldn’t have gotten to know each other so well, and it would have been a real shame. I sort of assumed that everyone who went off campus was doing the same thing—forgetting the pledge—and a few people we knew were, mostly those who were in the complete beginner class, but all of our upper intermediate classmates were so dedicated to the pledge and even when they went out in groups into town, they’d still keep up Japanese. Amazing! I admire them, but that wasn’t for me. So we explored the cities around the college, we went to see fireworks on the Fourth of July together and had late-night doughnuts on our way back, we snuck out to go see The Dark Knight Rises, we had ice cream and dinner and shopped together.

On campus we met in our dorm hallway every morning to walk to breakfast together, and we’d have most meals together too (but as the summer wore on not everyone was present at everything together). Some of us would go to the gym or run together, and the more advanced students would help out the others with Japanese. Of course we all had friends outside of the core 4 who joined us sometimes too. I liked most people at the program, enough that if I went to a meal alone I could find a group to join and sit with (one weekend brunch I sat at a table for hours, leisurely chatting as friends came, ate, stayed, left, and were replaced by new people!), though there were many I couldn’t stand too. Let’s not talk about them; I’m already happily pretending they don’t exist now that I don’t have to interact with them anymore.

We would also have nights in on the weekends in the dorm, and we’d flagrantly flout the rules then too. One night we holed up in Mon’s room (it was during a Japanese program party—that we’d attended for about five minutes before deciding it wasn’t worth it—so no one was around to hear us) and drank and painted our nails and had the best time. Another weekend night we took over the dorm’s common room porch, closed the doors and windows, and kept a sharp eye out for passersby, ready to switch to Japanese if anyone came near. That was deliciously devilish and fun—it was like hiding in plain sight. In a lot of regards our tastes didn’t always align, but our equivalent of a pair of traveling pants was a brand of apple cider we found; everyone loved it, even those like Mon who usually found bitch beers too sweet. That night in the common room porch we worked our way through a pack of it, talking freely and honestly.

So I had the best friends, and I also had the best class. Except two people, I loved all my classmates, and I loved my teachers unabashedly. My class was ten people, and it was the perfect size. The Japanese level was also perfect for me; I’d hoped at the beginning for the very top level, advanced, but upper intermediate suited me well too. Sometimes I feel like after eight years studying this (damn) language I should have gotten past upper intermediate already, but sometimes I realize it’s impressive that four years after my last formal Japanese class, my level is still just as good as it was upon graduation, if not better. Kris was always impressed by that.

Oh, speaking of Kris, she had also applied to everything I’d applied to as well, the 10-month program in Japan, and she’d also gotten accepted and—get this—gotten the whole cost of the program paid for with scholarships! All she had left to take care of was the cost of living! But she still decided it was too expensive and had already rejected it by the time we met on campus! She’d gotten last-minute funding from the summer program only a couple weeks before it started, which made her decide hurriedly to attend, so that’s crazy that we almost could have missed her. Anyway, her decision about the 10-month program definitely affected mine. After thinking it over for a week or two, I ended up deciding to withdraw from it too, and go ahead on the teaching plan. I did get about $11,000 in scholarships in the second round of funding, but that’s only a fifth of the total cost, and I maybe only had another fifth in savings, which still left two-thirds up in the air with no way to fund it. I realized I hadn’t done as good of a job with my essays as I could have, and that it would probably be best to re-try for next year, and hope I got more funding then. It felt like the right decision, and honestly I didn’t have any other options. I’m still not thrilled to be teaching English, which I had really hoped to avoid one way or another, but I’m proving my dedication by moving to Japan anyway, and hopefully that will positively impact my applications for next year, which I’m beginning to prepare now. Of course, I’m still at a giant disadvantage because I’m not a grad student which makes me a very unattractive candidate (to scholarship committees) in comparison, and I still don’t know how I’m going to successfully convince them that I’m just as worthy of funding too (and that yeah, I might be a professional, but that does NOT mean I could pay for this out of my earnings!) but it looks like I’m going to try regardless and see what happens. I’m also going to try to get a non-teaching job starting in the spring, which I’m currently feeling pretty pessimistic about, but I have to try.

Back to Japanese school! My classmates and teachers. We really were the best class, and I think everyone knew it. Other classes (lower intermediate in particular) might have thought they were the best, but they weren’t. Class was every weekday for four hours/periods. For us, it was usually reading comprehension, grammar, conversation, and more reading comprehension, each subject ideally taught by a different teacher. We had four teachers, and I came to love all of them. Three of them were professors of Japanese at American universities during the rest of the year. My first favorite was T-sensei. She was outgoing, fun, and interested in all the students, so she was easy to love. I also liked I-sensei, an intern still in grad school who was Kris’s age; we both recognized her as the sort of person we would have become friends with during study abroad if we’d studied at her university, and at first we nurtured hopes of getting drunk with her and eliminating all the stiff boundaries we had to respect instead since she was our “sensei” (using polite Japanese and so on).

M-sensei and O-sensei, I was lukewarm-to-neutral on at first, because they weren’t immediately as interesting. Then I realized O-sensei had kind of a wry sense of humor, and I liked her better; at first she had seemed too rigid and her clothing style (she would usually wear shapeless dresses that resembled sacks of potatoes in shape and material; she looked like a straight-up Harry Potter professor) was off-putting. She also seemed like the world’s most typical, traditional Japanese woman, but later I learned she had left Japan in part to escape the glass ceiling of careers for women there, and thus shared my views on feminism and other such non-traditional concepts. In her words (translated), “I was coming to hate my own country, so I left it in order to come to love it more, from a distance.” Also, she was a big cat lover (on the first day she told us she liked the smell of cats, haha!) so I liked that about her too. I could always ask her about her cat to keep conversation going in the dining hall (the teachers ate meals with us).

M-sensei, I hadn’t thought much of until the halfway point of the program, and for the past four weeks I was totally all about him (platonically, of course; I also strongly suspect he’s gay). He’s been with this program for more than 20 years, and he’s also the assistant director (“vice principal” since we call the program director “principal”), so he was the first or second person to speak at orientation, when everything was still English. I had no idea he would be my teacher, and my first impression was: gay. This guy is gay. But since he’s also Japanese, I wasn’t 100% certain. (I’m still only 97% certain, and I have a lot more evidence now.)

Then I started having class with him, but I really didn’t take much notice of him or seek him out outside of class (except to repeat with Kris in an imitation of his voice, good-naturedly, some of his more amusing verbal tics, like 「じゃ~あ~あ」which never failed to make us crack up) until our summer festival. Then Kris and I noticed the perfectly festival-themed T-shirt he had chosen to wear, and I realized how he seemed to be hovering awkwardly around the edges of all the booths, unsure whether to join conversations or not. Then I realized: he’s socially awkward! And yet he’s been a teacher for so long, doing exactly what goes against his nature! And he’s a really good teacher, explains everything so well and makes it interesting. I was instantly impressed and charmed. Kris shared my feelings, and Ai and Mon also got their first taste of him too, and were just as enchanted and wanted to get to know him better, especially when we told them about 「じゃ~あ~あ」 and the other not-intentionally-funny things he’d say.

From that point on, Kris and I sought him out any chance we could get. Most of the time, our timing just wouldn’t match up and his table in the dining hall at lunch would fill up too fast or ours would, but every time we did manage it, the conversation was just so amusing and perfect and we found out so much good stuff. We got him to tell us about how he can see/sense ghosts and hear a few stories about his experiences (learning in the process how a lot of the Japanese teachers had felt a presence on campus and named it Michiko), we found out there had been a crossdress party at the Japanese school one year and he had participated (!), he talked about working as an interpreter in Canada, he was astounded that I don’t eat any seafood (“So no fish. What about shrimp? Eel?? Crab???”) and proceeded to make wry jokes about it later, we learned that he and a few other teachers jogged to the “scary” gas station outside campus some mornings to buy lotto tickets, etc. There was also the amusing revelation in class that as a kid, he’d thought the people on the Titanic died because before they went into the water, they didn’t do 準備運動, or warm-up stretching every Japanese person is conditioned to believe must be done before swimming or there will be dire consequences (including a heart attack). There was so much more I wish I could remember now, or had recorded!

In the first week or two of school, we had had a Japan-style sports day, and one game had been everyone vs. everyone, a sort of cross between the hokey pokey and rock-paper-scissors: music plays for the hokey pokey—in Japanese though, and with the moves not exactly the same—and when it stops, you play rock-paper-scissors against the person you’re facing. Whoever loses has to go stand behind the winner, holding onto his/her shoulders, and you have to do the dance steps together (there’s hopping involved). As the game went on, lines got longer and longer, and the number of champions at the head of lines (now competing as a line of people headed by one person versus another line) shrunk. Somehow… I kept winning! Along the way, I beat M-sensei, and then I just kept winning, and eventually won the entire thing!! It was so insane; it’s not like I’m particularly good at rock-paper-scissors or anything. To my surprise, I was then awarded a special prize: a meal of my choice cooked for me by the director/principal!

I was a mini-celebrity for a little while after winning it; it was mentioned in class, and teachers I didn’t know would mention it right off when we talked in the dining hall. They would always assure me that the director was a great cook. I soon talked with the person himself about this meal, and I asked him if I could invite my three friends, since my first instinct was to share it with them too. I also requested katsu curry as the meal pretty early on. He agreed to both requests!

We didn’t get around to actually scheduling the dinner until the second half of the program, and once we did, an idea occurred to me: we should invite M-sensei too. By that point, I’d realized the director and M-sensei were good friends (one of those friendships between a socially fluent, affable person and a shyer, more awkward person). I knew this because when the director visited our class when we had a guest once, and asked each of our teachers to tell us about their experiences on a theme, he almost referred to M-sensei by his first name. The first mora of M-sensei’s first name came out of his mouth before he corrected himself and called him M-san instead! I was dying inside. Anyway, that made me think M-sensei could attend our dinner too, so I asked the director if he could via email, and hadn’t heard back from him when finally M-sensei told me, looking adorably pleased/flattered that he had been specially requested, between class periods that he would be じゃまする-ing our dinner. Yes!!

Dinner was pretty fun, and definitely tasty, and it was a great opportunity for the director to get to know each of us, but the best thing was how much it felt like having dinner with a pair of gay uncles. Kris and I fell over each other cracking up as soon as we were out the door, giggling about how it had felt exactly like that. Of course, the director is married and M-sensei is also in a relationship of some kind (he wears a thick-banded ring, and he once brought banana bread to class made by someone he referred to as his 大事な人 or “important person”—which I’m pretty sure is code for “gay partner” because if not, why not just say “wife” or “girlfriend”?), but we just love how much they are bros. Once a classmate commented on it too, saying 「二人はbro」 — another thing we repeated, endlessly amused.

At our last karaoke party, all the classes had to prepare a song to sing. But what we didn’t know is that each class’s teachers had also prepared a song! And in our case, it was something unexpectedly hilarious and great, and ultimate proof of how our teachers and our class were the best. We watched and discussed (ad nauseum…) two movies over the summer, and we were halfway through our discussion of the second one when the party rolled around. One of the characters was a guitarist/songwriter, and his song figured prominently in the movie. They had taken the lyrics to that song, altered them to fit the school and our class, and made a video with their lyrics and the karaoke version of the song! Which they sang in front of everyone, wearing identical sunglasses. Oh god, I was dying, we were all dying, every new line was hilarious and fantastic. “What’s love? What’s life?” became things like “What’s a conclusion? What’s grammar?” And it just didn’t stop, it was all so perfect. Absolutely fantastic.

We also had a class party at M-sensei’s apartment, with food and alcohol, and it was so much fun. My favorite moment was when I tried the shochu the teachers had steeped in lemon all summer, and exclaimed how good it was, and M-sensei responded giddily “でしょでしょ!” (Right?!?).

On the last or second-to-last day of real class, one of the other students brought the teachers’ song from karaoke night full circle perfectly: faced with a sentence to read that started もうすぐに just like the beginning line of the lyrics they had re-written and sung, he recited the lyric line instead of the sentence, with a perfectly straight face. I-sensei was our teacher that class period, and she was so confused at first! Then we all burst out laughing. It was wonderful.

On the last day of class, we met one last time, just to chat and eat snacks and sort of say goodbye. The teachers were all late and the pledge had just been lifted the night before, so we had a lot of time to wait for everyone to arrive one by one and talk in English with each other, in many cases for the first time. Then we went into the classroom, arranged desks in a circle, and went around sharing our impressions of the class and our experience. (I had to break mine off early because I was on the verge of tears, and then interrupt someone else beginning to say the rest of what I wanted to say, haha. One girl, one of my closest friends in the class, did end up crying through hers.) Most of us students spoke English, or mostly/partially English, although all of the teachers except M-sensei refused to let us hear their English and spoke Japanese instead. I was so happy that M-sensei indulged us! We had all heard his English at orientation, but since I didn’t know who he was then, I barely remembered it. His English is of course very natural and good. He talked about how he knows he’s 不器用 (awkward) which was just even more charming.

Then our class broke out the thank-you gifts that Kris and I had made for the teachers (the other students contributed financially, and some sent us photos to use). We had printed out photos of the teachers, and photos of the teachers and us, and photos of the group of us taken throughout the summer, and placed snippets of the lyrics next to the photos. We had hoped for some waterworks when the gifts were received… but unfortunately, that did not happen. I think they were moved anyway though.

I also enjoyed exploring the college campus over the summer; I started jogging around, either with Kris or by myself, and got to know some of the scenic trails scattered around. I also visited the on-campus outdoor pool a couple times, and tried to make it to the fitness center once a week. By the end we were all sick of the cafeteria food, and complaining about it often.

I’ll say again that the best thing about the program was feeling like I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing: studying Japanese and watching my skills noticeably improve in every way. This was one of the best environments to progress your Japanese, even more than living in Japan. And the way everything aligned for me in terms of friendships, teacher relationships, and so forth just enhanced that, and made me convinced that even though I’d waited four years to finally do this program, it had all been worth it for me to eventually decide to go at that time if it meant I could meet those people and have that experience. It’s rare that you get to experience something that feels so right; I hadn’t felt like that since summer 2007 working in LA or study abroad in Japan fall 2006. I can say with no reservations at all that while there were stressful parts too, I truly had a blast.

In contrast to all the cheating I did with my friends, I was better in comparison about online stuff. Before this, I’d used my work day to write on-and-off, alternating spurts of work with reading articles on a series of favorite blogs, many of which I’d check daily if not weekly. Of course, all these were in English, so they had to go. It was hard to suddenly quit them cold turkey for two months when I’d gotten into such a habit, but I was able to do it. Well, mostly; I had a couple weekend moments of weakness where I just checked out the main page of some of them to see what was going on, but I never stayed long enough to get caught up. The midpoint of the program was also a period of leniency; as a much-deserved break/treat, I did more online browsing in English then than I’d done in a while.

I really didn’t do a lot of replacing this English media with Japanese media though. Japanese sites are so text-heavy, and most of them don’t show you a lot of articles on one page (my preference), you have to click on a title to read the full article, and faced with a long list of article titles, it’s just overwhelming. Even if you can read them if you try, which I can, it’s not very fun, and just not how I wanted to spend my free time. I also never found a good Japanese news site (I don’t think it exists, and it’s hard enough for me to read news in English—or watch it—so I might have to give up on this, much as it’s often cited to me as “what to do” when studying a language) so nothing replaced my previous regular reading of Japan Times articles to keep up with Japan news. What I did do successfully, however, was replacing my before bedtime reading with Japanese reading. I made some good progress on my book of Haruki Murakami short stories, and I also read and re-read a lot of the manga volumes I’d brought. Sometimes I would study from JLPT textbooks instead. I also thought maybe I’d watch anime, drama series, or movies, but I didn’t do any of that either. I was a lot more idealistic about how rigorous I’d be before the program began than after I got into it, but I was at least stricter about some things than other students were, like music: I did successfully only listen to Japanese music all summer. Well, unless I was out and about and it was playing somewhere, or in Mon’s car.

I feel like I received so much luck having such a great summer, it’s possible nothing may ever come close again. But it’s all right because I’m so happy with my experience. This really doesn’t happen often in my life, that I feel such undiluted happiness—no misgivings at all—about an experience. I will treasure it forever and I’m forever going to have a heart full of sheer gratefulness that I got to have it.

And now I’m living and working in Japan. I arrived here August 18, and it’s been a whirlwind since that’s only just calming down, finally, to my relief. More later.

Advertisements

Visit to Monterey

Since about 2007 I’ve wanted to attend the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ translation & interpretation program for grad school. I’ll train to be a translator, and since this is one of the premier places in the country from which employers seek out new translators, I’ll hopefully be poised to get a job by graduation. It will not be an academic pursuit that doesn’t stop to consider employment options when it’s over; it will be very much career training.

A short aside: I am sick of people going to grad school without considering how they will be employed when it’s over. (I’m sorry if you’re reading this and it applies to you, especially if you are my friend.) A lot of undergraduates are, and have been, taking one look at the job market (actually, I suspect they didn’t even look, they just knew “I’ll have a hard time because of the economy”) and deciding “On to grad school for me, hopefully things will have improved while I’m in school!” This has not been the case. Things are still crappy and now you are saddled with more debt, more of a feeling of entitlement to a nice job (because now you have a higher degree), and less real-world experience. Also, I’m talking about non-constructive degrees here; something you studied at the graduate level for no other reason than that you liked it and wanted to delay the real world (another reason I see a lot is “this grad school is in [x] city/country, and I want to live there, so this is a good way to move/stay there.” No it isn’t if you don’t have a plan for afterward and you’re not studying something constructive). In those cases you rarely get a better job than you would have with just an undergrad degree, much less one that’s even in your desired field! It’s not a good plan. It never was. But it keeps happening, over and over, and it’s driving me crazy. On my flight back from San Diego, I overheard a girl who was a senior at a school in my state tell someone she had just met, “I’m about to graduate, but I’m definitely going straight on to grad school. I am SOOOO not ready for the real world! Haha!” Ummmm… grad school is not a way for you to prolong and delay your unwillingness to enter the real world. Yeah, it’s gonna suck. But it’s going to suck even MORE if you put it off with no solid plan of what you’ll do when you do graduate. I am also sick of people who never did internships during school graduating and, shockingly, not finding a job in their field, then blaming it on something other than the fact that they didn’t do their utmost to get real work experience in that field, even unpaid, before graduating. The economy has provided a very nice, convenient cover for people who were always going to be too lazy to see real success anyway.

All of that to say: what I want to do is different. MIIS has very good rates of post-graduation employment, and I would be going there to train for a solid career in an industry that very much needs people. So, this is still my goal. This is everything I am currently working towards.

But I thought I should probably visit the place just to be sure, so last April my boyfriend and I met in Monterey for visitors’ day. Originally I was going to visit the school with my mom in August 2007 at the end of my second summer in LA before my senior year of college, but in the end we decided we didn’t have the energy for the eight-hour drive up the coast and went to the Getty instead. So, this visit was long overdue.

On Friday April 15 I arrived in Monterey first and took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. (I’d had a really stressful couple of flights to get out there; finding the tiny American Eagle outpost at LAX where intra-California flights leave, that you have to reach by bus, was an ordeal in and of itself–when my first flight had already been delayed so I was in a major hurry to make the connection–and then the very small plane I boarded confused me and I messed up how to admit my carry-on. So I arrived very stressed out.) I’d done my research and chosen Hotel Abrego and as soon as I got to my room I knew I’d made the best choice. The window was open, a cool breeze was blowing in, and I just breathed it in, let myself calm down from the travel stress, and felt so happy to be back in California. I can’t recommend the hotel highly enough. It’s not in the city center exactly (though everything is within a short walk) so it’s affordable, but it’s still very, very nice and well appointed. It’s also in a cute, quiet neighborhood close to several restaurants (my favorite was the Wild Plum). I was delighted.

My boyfriend arrived and we had lunch and made our way via bus to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we were going to meet up with Stef, a former TOKYOPOP editorial coworker who now works in the baking industry. We had so much fun exploring the aquarium! So much to look at and do. My favorite part was the coastal birds exhibit; my boyfriend and I were endlessly amused and impressed by the spirit of a one-legged bird that we named Hoppy.


Hoppy!!!

There were also penguins, otters, jellyfish, rays… so much good stuff. I love animals. But, I also don’t think it’s the greatest aquarium I’ve ever been to. I think the aquarium’s conservation and research efforts are of a much better quality and importance than the actual visitor experience. I did make sure to get my sister, whose birthday had just passed and who studied marine biology in college, some things from the gift shop.

After that we wandered around Cannery Row and then Stef gave us a ride back to the hotel. She and I walked back downtown and found a pub where we had dinner and chatted and caught up. Then she went back and I went to bed.

Saturday was visitors’ day at MIIS, so we got up nice and early and had coffee and scones at Peet’s which was on our way to the school, a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Of course once we got to the school they had put out coffee and pastries there too! First there was sort of a reception where we could mingle with other students; I chatted with a few (including two girls who had already been accepted to work with German). Then we were divided up by program; I had sort of forgotten that MIIS does more than just translation & interpretation (or as everyone there called it, TI); there are international business, etc programs as well. In small groups of about 10-15 we received tours of the campus (which is spread out across several streets and blocks), then joined larger groups for some panels. My panel went over every smaller curriculum in the program; there’s also localization management and so on, which works mostly with software and technology type stuff. You can also choose only translation, only interpretation, or both (in your first semester you must take both). I’m still leaning towards translation, even though I do love speaking, but we’ll see how I’d do in an interpretation class. We were also given a lot of literature which included post-graduation employment rates (extremely favorable) and other very heartening information. One, however, was a job posting for a translator position that had a starting salary as $35,000 a year. I definitely asked a question about that; that’s not the kind of money I want to be making after going through all this. The answer I got was reassuring and basically said that’s the very low end of the scale, and not representative of the norm. (Of course, when I got home and showed all the literature to my parents, what piece of information did my dad focus on and not tell me his concerns? That one. I swear, he’s famous for doing that by this point–seeing something about me, jumping to the worst conclusion, but never telling me and I have to eventually figure out he’s made a grossly wrong assumption and set him straight. It is tiresome.)

After the information sessions there was a culture festival put on by the students so we attended that; I think I got some yakisoba from the Japanese students’ booth because I wanted to check out what kinds of people were Japanese students. It was about like you’d imagine… oh well.

Kirk (boyfriend–and he chose this name himself!) and I also got into a heated discussion; he quickly identified the localization management program as the most potentially lucrative and dependable field, while I knew from hearing about it that it’s really not what I want to do and my strengths lie in regular translation. I’m just not cut out for technical fields; whatever the technical version of what I do is, chances are I’m not going to be well suited for it. (Case in point: technical writing, which I briefly flirted with after graduation but it wasn’t coming easily.) Of course, the threat of machine translation eliminating the jobs of human translators is a big concern in the field, and localization management seems to be the one most resistant to that threat, so I could see his points. But I maintain that no matter how good machine translators get, there are so many idioms and nuances that it’s seriously necessary to have a human translator catch. I wouldn’t want to purchase and own and keep a novel or a comic that had been machine-translated. I would want to feel like I’m paying for quality. But that’s for publishing; when it comes to companies who hire translators to aid in overseas relations, I could see them jumping on the first good machine translator as a way to cut costs. So that is indeed worrisome. I would hate to think of myself as one of those aspiring academics, convinced that their talents will be best put to use as a professor/researcher, who refuse to face the fact that supply greatly outweighs demand in that field nowadays and continue to pursue it blindly, accruing debt, until forced to realize that it was all for naught.

I guess if nothing else, humans will still be needed to proofread machine translations in the future. And real-time machine interpretation isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so there is that as well if I turn out to be able to do that. (And, failing all of that, I could just shoot for a non-translation job that still utilizes the Japanese fluency I will hopefully possess by that time.) I just have to hope that the machine-translation-dominated future doesn’t come true before I get the chance to pursue my dreams and do what I feel like I’m best suited to do. It is a concern, though. I want to think I’ve spent years figuring out the best, most ideal way to give myself a lucrative, successful career in a field I’m eminently qualified for, and I don’t like the idea that something like the rise of good machine translation could come along and ruin it. Sometimes I feel like many regrettable turns in my life have been the result of bad timing (such as graduating right when the manga industry collapsed, as opposed to a few years earlier when I could probably have easily gotten hired somewhere). Success in life is often about luck and timing and sometimes it feels like I don’t have either of those things.

(I really have to hope that’s not the case with this, though. Please, please, please. I’ve worked so hard.)

After the panels and the festival, we were pretty much done for the day (there was some afternoon programming but it was optional and not too relevant for me) so we went to have lunch at a Japanese place. Something we’d failed to do on our LA trip a few months earlier was have Kirk eat seafood/sushi at a Japanese restaurant, since it’s supposedly sooooo much better than what we can get in our state. It really doesn’t look like Monterey is any sort of culinary haven for Japanese food, but I had researched and chosen Ocean Sushi Deli as our best bet. It looked the most authentic and I think it indeed was; it was definitely run by actual Japanese people. I think I got ramen and also had a purin [caramel custard pudding]. Kirk did get some sushi, I think, but he wasn’t blown away or anything.

After that we went back to the hotel to recharge before heading back out. This time we headed downtown by the wharf to wander around. It wasn’t too long of a walk and before long we could hear and then see the sea lions. So loud! I remembered the sea lions in San Francisco and these really weren’t too different. They were very amusing. We spent a lot of time looking at them and laughing.

From there we began to walk northwest along the peninsula coast, eventually headed towards Pacific Grove and Passionfish, the restaurant where we planned to have dinner. We stopped at a beach along the way to take off our shoes and walk around in the sand. Kirk didn’t want to originally, but once we did it he had a really good time and we had fun walking on the beach. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon walking to the restaurant, passing by the outer edges of the aquarium and some sea lion preserve areas. In the end it was about a three-mile walk. Not bad!


Our route!

Dinner at Passionfish was really good; we both enjoyed it a lot. This was another way to make sure this time Kirk tried California seafood. Of course, he just ordered the catfish. Really?! Again, not mindblowing, could-never-get-this-at-home unbelievable fare, but we had a good experience.

Getting home was… interesting. You might recall that we had walked three miles away from our hotel. It was now getting dark and there was no way we had the energy to walk all the way back as well. We had to catch a bus but first we had to figure out which bus to catch and when it would show up. I got us on the right side of the street for the direction we wanted to go, and then we saw a bus pull up on the other side–Kirk insisted that was it, but I didn’t think so because it appeared to be going the wrong way. In the end we figured out that it made a loop along its route and then headed back the way we did want to go, so we should have gotten on it. Meanwhile it was getting chilly and we had to wait in the end about 45-50 minutes for a bus going our way to come (it might have even been the same bus after completing its loop around, and we could have ridden in warmth that whole time!). It wasn’t too frustrating though; I think we actually both look back on it positively now as sort of a silly experience.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Trader Joe’s (yay! Love Trader Joe’s but we don’t have them at home–yet! Soon!) and got a bottle of wine. We took glasses of wine down to the hotel’s hot tub where we soaked and talked to some guys who were already there, in town for a bicycle race competition thing. It was fun! Wow, looking back on it, what a looooong day.

Sunday we had brunch at the Wild Plum (yum!) and then Kirk caught his shared-ride van to the San José airport. I had some more time before my flight so I wandered around the area for a while. I went back to MIIS and thoroughly checked all of it out, then walked around the nearby neighborhoods. Not a lot of things were open on Sunday but I looked at what I could before heading (via taxi) to the airport and flying home.

As a couple it was a really, really good vacation for both of us; we both look back on it and can’t believe how great it was and how much fun we had. It’s probably our favorite trip we’ve taken together so far.

In terms of whether the trip confirmed my future plans… of course. Of course, I loved everything. Loved the school, loved the town, loved that I could get by without a car (I’d bike, walk, and take the bus). But that’s the problem–who wouldn’t? Monterey is a gorgeous place to live that attracts lots of residents, so costs are high too. I’m working really hard to be able to attend MIIS one day, and I just hope I get that chance… if I could really live and study in Monterey, I’d go out of my mind with joy.

San Diego Comic-Con 2011

I have crazy wanderlust right now. I want to go everywhere and travel everywhere. I am dying to explore but in order to save money I must stay right where I am. I am reminiscing hard about my time studying abroad, both in Tokyo and in Paris. I want to go back to Europe and visit as many countries there as I can (otherwise the cost of the plane ticket isn’t worth it!) even if that takes months. I want to go back to Japan so much. I want to go to New York, where I have never been (but have wanted to go since middle school), which seems strange considering I’ve lived in Paris and LA and have been to Tokyo, Edinburgh, Rome, Brussels, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Austin, DC, etc. (I love cities. Someday I want to live somewhere that is public transportation friendly where I won’t need a car.) Plus I’ve since discovered so many cool places to visit in the cities I’ve traveled to that I never got to, that I really want to go back and hit. (It always drives me crazy to find out about an amazing place I didn’t know about while I was there–like all the legit Japanese places in Paris, that I never ever knew where to find.) Can you believe I haven’t been out of the country since I got back from Paris in 2007? And before 2006 I hadn’t ever been out of it.

But since I can’t go anywhere for now, and I did put the word “travel” right in my blog description, I can at least talk about past vacations. The most recent one was last July, to San Diego for Comic-Con 2011 and to visit my friend Elen who lives in Oceanside now (I’ve known her since middle school). I haven’t really written very much about that trip yet anywhere, mostly because I have so many mixed feelings about it. I mean, I justified the trip and the expense by telling myself I was going to try and network to get more freelance work in the comics industry after TOKYOPOP shut down publishing in April 2011, ending my English adaptation writer gig. In the end, I tried my hardest to do that but no work has materialized at all since then, so I guess it was more or less a failure. And I don’t really like to think about that.

At the same time, I can’t regret it too much. There were some very fun times. I’m very glad I visited Elen, and it was wonderful to see some old TOKYOPOP coworkers again, most for the first time since 2007. As an intern I attended Comic-Cons 2006 and 2007. In exchange for working the booth, all of our expenses were paid: badge, lodging, even food. Even valet parking at the hotel! (Took advantage of that the second year.) Both times were absolutely fabulous and a dream come true in every way. Especially the second year. I had sooooo much fun hanging out with the TP editors at night, attending panels during the day (the first year meeting much of the Veronica Mars cast and getting them to sign my season 1 DVD!), it was just glorious. The second year some of the people from the Tokyo office came so it was nice to see them again. My sister also joined me the second year, though I still hate that she wasn’t able to get into the Heroes panel.

Comic-Con has changed a lot from 2007 to 2011. I used to come home with a bulging bag full of free swag. I’d walk around the exhibitors’ hall and just pick up random giveaway items from each booth, and I’d rack up a LOT of stuff. In the interim, with the economy, that practice has gotten curtailed a lot. There were hardly any swag giveaways at the booths. So strange. Of course, the things I hated hadn’t changed: being forced to purchase crappy, stale, tasteless, insanely overpriced food; the crush of crowds; the impossibility of getting into a super popular panel and how there still isn’t a venue large enough for those events…

It was also hard to attend for the first time without an exhibitors’ badge. I used to go as part of the industry. This time I went from the outside looking in, hoping to be considered part of the industry once again. (At the time I had quit my editor job in publishing so I was feeling insecure from that as well. I have it again now though–which I suppose is a story in and of itself.) But I should say that I did have a professionals’ badge, which I got for free, thanks to my TOKYOPOP freelance work. (The free badge was a pretty big deciding factor on whether I’d go. It was too good to pass up.) But it still sucked to feel like I wasn’t as part of things as I used to be.

I also tried to balance too many different things: hanging out with Elen and Katey, who were going for the first time, vs. attending industry panels and networking with peers. Before going, I had written down a list of the times and rooms of all the industry panels I wanted to attend: Dark Horse, Kodansha USA, Oni Press, Viz, Yen Press, Del Rey, as well as a j-manga panel, a manga translation panel, and a state of the industry panel. I attended, like… two of those (the last bit of the Kodansha panel, and the first half of the translation panel–wish I’d stayed longer but I thought I had to be somewhere earlier than I did), because most of those were on Friday, and I spent most of that day in Hall H with Elen and Katey watching big-name actors promote upcoming movies (including John Cusack [who was so lovely, amusing and charming], Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin) instead. I also missed several media panels I’d considered attending, like the one for The Big Bang Theory (I actually attempted to go, but saw that the line was ridiculous and gave up), the Castle one (but it was on Sunday and I had to get to the airport!), the Lost one (I really regret this because Damon and Carlton showed up by surprise!! Noooo I love them, but I had caught the Lost panels of 2006 & 2007 so it’s okay). But I did make it to a few not on my list, such as the Star Trek one with William Shatner! So cool! In any case, I really wish I’d been more aggressive about attending those industry panels.

Katey and I flew into San Diego (on separate flights) Wednesday morning and Elen picked us up from the airport; we had lunch in SD and then drove to Oceanside where she and her boyfriend live. Only a couple blocks away from their apartment was the hair salon Elen goes to, Lotus Den, and I’d been wanting a haircut badly (my hair had grown long, which had been my goal, but it was driving me crazy) so I went to go get a haircut there and it was soooo amazing. They’ve since moved to a bigger location, but even then it was so quaint and cute with the décor, and they offer you beer! And I got a great short haircut (the last one I’ve had, actually) that still looks good as it’s growing out to shoulder-length, and it only cost $40. Pretty amazing! I also got an eyebrow wax at a place down the street while I was out, then walked back to the apartment.

The next morning Katey and I, who were both on fitness kicks at the time and going to the gym a lot, went for a run on the beach (Elen’s apartment is only a couple blocks from the beach, so we could walk over). This was my first time doing that and it was faaaaantastic. I wish I could go regularly but I have no beach access… So first I went dressed in my usual workout outfit: top, capris, running shoes and socks, and tried to run on mostly dry sand. Then I discovered running on mostly wet sand in shoes was better, but it still got a lot of sand all over and sometimes inside my shoes. After Katey’s shoes got soaked by a wave, I decided to just take mine off (in solidarity?) and carry them because I love walking on the wet sand in bare feet. Then I realized–I could RUN on the wet sand in bare feet, easily! So the next time I went, which wasn’t until a few days later (I believe Sunday morning) and I was by myself, I wore flip-flops and hid them under the stairs that go to the beach and then walked/jogged/ran barefoot on wet sand. It was absolutely wonderful. Again dressed in workout clothes, I began to notice the girls around me in bikinis and realized–here, in California, is one place where it would feel completely natural to work out/run outside in a sports bra, midriff exposed, or I could just go all the way and run in a bikini. While normally I wouldn’t be onboard with that idea, somehow there it felt so appealing and I wished I had a chance to do that too. I’ll have to try it sometime. I love California. Also, may I say that while I can only sprint for short distances/periods of time, I love love love full-out running. I’m beginning to think I should have joined track in school, and now it’s too late. It is exhilarating and I adore running as fast as I possibly can (which is something I had recently discovered at that time after trying out incorporating the treadmill into my cardio at the gym).

Hanging out around Elen’s apartment was fun. She had just gotten a new kitten, so I realized this fact: kittens are assholes. One morning I was lying in bed, everyone else had gotten up, and the kitten came tearing across the bed and scratched my cheek. I let out a shocked yelp, and Elen and Katey just laughed. I had forgotten what it’s like to live with a kitten (I was too young to remember when our family cat was a kitten, and I adopted my cat at three years). Now I do. They are jerks. But they also have a wonderful border collie that I adore and a cute soft agreeable bunny, so the other two pets made up for the cat…

As for the con, Thursday was probably the best for me personally (and professionally?). Katey and I rode the Coaster down from Oceanside (this is how we got to the con each day. I think all three of us agreed that should we return, securing accommodations IN San Diego would be a great benefit to make it easier to enjoy the nightlife. Certainly this was true when I went as an intern and TOKYOPOP paid for rooms at the Marriott with everyone else in the industry!). Upon arriving at the con, we separated, I went to the Kodansha panel, found Hope (former TP editor), she led me to a couple other people I recognized (one was a graphic designer at TP but she works for Viz now–and in September Hope began as a Viz editor!). I said goodbye to them and went to take in the exhibitors’ hall. I found the Archaia booth and Tim and Paul (former TOKYOPOP editors–Paul now edits at Archaia and Tim does a lot of freelance work for them); Paul introduced me to his girlfriend Heather, an Archaia writer. Tim told me about an industry party that night at a restaurant in the Gaslamp, and I said I’d be there.

I had a good time at that party, met a lot of new people including an artist named Nichol, and then a group of us including Tim, Paul, Heather, Nichol, and a few other girls who were mostly Tim’s friends went to have dinner. At that point I had been thinking I’d take the Coaster back to Oceanside after dinner (Katey had already gone back by herself), but then I realized I had already missed the last train. Oops. Fortunately, Tim and Nichol’s room had a fourth spot open, so I was able to stay there that night (I paid them, of course). With that secured, we made our way back to the hotels around the convention center (doing a bit of meandering along the way–someone knew of some party at a bar that a friend was involved with, but when we got there it was already full to capacity) and eventually wound up at the Hilton bar.

That was where things got a little interesting and I had a celebrity sighting. (“Celebrity” as defined in Comic-Con terms, of course.) (I spent two summers living in LA, plus I’ve visited numerous times, and I had still never seen a single celebrity out in the wild. I remain extremely jealous of my mom and sister who saw Naveen Andrews [Sayid from Lost] at LAX. So even though it’s silly and makes me seem the opposite of sophisticated, yes, it was exciting to finally have something like that happen.) We were out on the patio that overlooks the pool, which was pretty crowded with mostly comics industry types, just chatting, when someone says, “Johnny Galecki is here.” I didn’t immediately recognize the name but I turned to look, and realized I did know who it was–Leonard from The Big Bang Theory! Nichol orchestrated a covert photo op with him in the background (smooth) and we spent a lot of the rest of the night commenting on his activity (he moved to the pool lounge below and got a little cozy with a male admirer, we thought).

Friday, like I said, I failed to attend the industry panels I should have and instead hung out in Hall H for much of the day with Elen and Katey. But I can’t regret it too much… I saw John Cusack and he was charming and a dreamboat. We did decide against staying for the Spider-Man panel with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, though, and that had been our main reason for spending hours in Hall H watching all the previous panels. (Too bad… I love Emma Stone.)

On Saturday I went around to some manga publisher booths, attempted to network. I found Alexis at the Viz booth and we chatted a little. That night there was a TOKYOPOP reunion at the Marriott poolside bar, and it was pretty fun, though I didn’t see anyone from editorial that I hadn’t already seen. I saw a lot of familiar faces from other departments as well. I also got the chance to congratulate Paul on his Eisner win! Very exciting. Things broke up a little early and I spent the next little bit watching movies with Elen and Katey before we headed to the Hyatt bar, where there was going to be a big meetup of industry people. (The Hyatt bar figures prominently in one of my most hilarious memories of Comic-Con 2006.) It took a long time for the people I knew to show up, though, though I did see and briefly chat with a couple people I remembered from the party Thursday night, and by the time Paul, Tim, Heather, Nichol, Hope, and so on rolled up, Elen’s boyfriend had arrived to take us back home.

Overall, I had a good time, and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with Comic-Con. In terms of networking, I did what I could; I did my best. At the very least, I got to see coworkers who were great mentors to me again, get caught up on their lives, and enjoy their successes. And I had fun spending Elen and Katey’s first Comic-Con with them and getting to know Elen’s new neighborhood where she lives now.

Actually, writing this post inspired me to reach back out to some contacts, and it might have gone well…? We’ll see!