Monday, July 29, 2013

"Introduction, Crowded Trains, and Getting off the Grid"

Back when I started communicating with people via the Internet fairly regularly in 1997, I published a newsletter in which I related experiences from my daily life here in Japan and combined it with contributed text from people in other countries. We all commented on each other's writings, and looking back on it now, I'm finding some elements of it interesting to read from the viewpoint of over a decade later, with the time-warp wall of 2001 sitting in-between. Quoted text (usually italicized) is by someone other than myself, with my text having no quotes. Both are preceded with the year they were written in.

[1997 Scotland] "On the subject of the Japanese being aloof to strangers... when I visit my brother-in-law in London I can't get over how people go about their business and are all crushed together like sardines on the Tube every day and yet don't even acknowledge one another!! Here in Scotland we're a very friendly bunch! Always ready with a smile and a comment about the weather!"

[1997 Tokyo] Well, I can tell you, as a morning passenger on one of the most crowded Tokyo train lines, that when you have as many as six strangers' bodies pressed into you at the same time (not possible? visit me, and I'll prove it to you), it's only a question of protecting yourself from sensory overload and insanity. Never mind how the weather is, it doesn't matter! One crush-rush train ride tires me out more than working all day!! This is one aspect of Tokyo that I would like very much to escape from. (I had a Dutch acquaintance who lived in a nice area and drove to work. She told me just before she moved back to Holland that she could never have stood living here for four years if she had had to go to work by train. I understand that sentiment only too well.)

[2013 Tokyo] The train system in Tokyo has generally gotten better, while people's conduct on the train system has tended to get worse! It's as though tough conditions engendered civilized behavior and better conditions have led to a more self-centered way of thinking and less tolerance for others?

[1997 California] "I just got back from a great weekend of camping and meeting folks from various backgrounds, but who are all strongly drawn to living a step beyond the system - out to the boonies and build yourself a home, dig a well, run some lines, smooth a gravel-dirt road, etc. A h**l of a lot of work, but the benefits far outweight the trouble.
   "I am in the process of preparing myself to 'get off the grid' and do something with solar/wind power. But whatever it is we do, it's our heart's desire, regardless of the price. I'm finding at this late age that I cannot live any other way.
   "Now for the preparation. It will take a few years. First, I will be moving into a live-work space in which the tenants/owners have all expressed some interest in modifying the complex to produce some of its own power from the sun and/or wind. During this first phase, I will learn something about fund-raising. The second phase involves the move out to the 'wilderness'. The third will be spiritually oriented."

[1997] Personally, I like being able to connect to the grid, but I sure would like to get out of the big city for at least three or four days of the week. There is still that element of excitement that I like about Tokyo, but I'm in need of somewhere where I can think. It's not easy to think in Tokyo. Well... you can think of course, but it's a little hard to get into a quiet space and really think in a contemplative way.

[2013] Since the 1997 comment above about it not being easy to think in Tokyo, I've become better at finding pockets of tranquility in the heart of the city that are sometimes created by utilizing selective focus - you focus on the better elements around you and tune out the ones you don't want to think about. This only works within limits of course, but some things that used to irritate me I've come to learn are surprisingly easy to ignore. Acclimatization I suppose....

[1997] A real exchange of different languages in which each person learns from the other is difficult to do. Not impossible, but it requires a real effort from both people. The only really equitable way I've found of doing this is by setting my automatically resetting watch timer to three minutes (0:03-0:02-0:01-0:00/beep-beep-2:59-2:58), so I can do a real 50/50 Japanese and English exchange with someone. For three minutes we speak in English, using absolutely no Japanese, and then "beep beep", and Immediately, even in mid-sentence, we go to Japanese, and use absolutely no English, then back to Japanese after the next three minutes, etc. etc. The interesting thing about doing this, is that after a couple of hours, you lose the sensation of speaking in either language, and it's just talking. In fact it sometimes becomes difficult to remember which language you're speaking in mid-sentence!

[2013] I'm not using a digital watch at the moment, but I still think the above method is a good way to do a language exchange. I experimented with different time lengths - one minute was way too short, two is workable, although still tiring, four feels a little long and something like ten minutes is just way too long. Three minutes is a good balance of each person knowing that they don't have to wait too long to say something in the language not being spoken at the time, and also not getting overly tired forcing themselves to speak in one or the other. If you don't strictly enforce the time like this, then the conversation just about always drifts into one or the other language and then just stays there.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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