Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interview with Christopher Carr of The Inductive - Part I

Christopher Carr writes on a broad range of subjects on The Inductive and has guest posted on several other blogs, including here (see 'On Teaching a Foreign Language'). Recently he gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts and views as an expat in Japan, something I normally reserve for long bicycle rides when there is no one else listening. Below is the first of five installments, necessary due to my long-winded answers Christopher has promised not to edit too heavily.

It has been a great pleasure working with Kevin Kato for the past several months. Kevin and I have worked together at the same English school in Japan, and we have both done various work for NOK, Fujitsu, and the Japanese government. Kevin has written a guest post for The Inductive comparing and contrasting his trips to Angkor Wat and Yosemite National Park; and he has been kind enough to allow me to post on his blog: Travel. Write. Drink Plenty of Fluids. Kevin is the author of one book, The Tunge Pit, a collection of interconnected short stories which I described before in this blog as a pungent mixture of the American Gothic, ensemble tale, horror nouveau, and pulp suspense genres.
In addition to publishing the Tunge Pit last year, Kevin has recently translated from the Slovenian Damjan Koncnik's Greenland - The End of the World, an account of an adventure to that massive island in the far north.

I was originally planning on reviewing either or both books for this site; but now I believe such reviews might be a superfluous conflict of interest, since Kevin has agreed to write for the Inductive on a regular basis from 2011. Without further ado, I present part I of an interview conducted via email with Kevin Kato over the last month or so, with parts II through V to follow later this week:

Christopher Carr: Please tell me about the changes in your life, outlook, view of Japan, and view of the U.S. since coming here.

Kevin Kato: Wow, you’re going to hit me with all that right off the bat? Can’t we start with something simple like, “Hey are you on Facebook?” Well, for starters, as far as the obvious goes, I came here with three bags of clothes, a bicycle and a camera that used film; now I’ve got a digital camera, two bicycles and three other people in my home – this being my wife and two little boys. I still have three bags of clothes, but now they’re mostly buried under toy trains and picture books.

But regarding my outlook on things, I’d say straight off that I’ve gone from one who lives for today to one who works for tomorrow. This I blame completely on the family I’ve acquired. For the first half of my life here in Japan I put in my classroom time and that was it; everything else was socializing, cycling and sumo on television. Now as a freelance teacher, writer, publisher, husband and father the concept of free time does not exist, unless you count sleeping. When I am not on the floor playing with cars or clay, or at the park with the kids, I am at my computer hoping I turn out to be the one monkey out of the infinite number of monkeys typing away on an infinite number of computers who happens to bang out Shakespeare. I don’t even know when the next sumo tournament is until I happen to catch a glimpse of the broadcast before my boy switches to some show with a dancing chair or a magic peach-headed thing.

Regarding my view on Japan, I think whenever we travel we tend to have this romanticized view of our destination – if we are not scared shitless of course. Our imagination makes either fantasy or nightmare of the horizon, and it rarely turns out to be either of these. Coming to Japan I was on the fantasy side of the coin – I soaked up everything I could about this totally alien environment and – I think at least to a certain degree – I spun it in my mind into the best possible perception. Of course my opinion on some things has not changed since those first days and weeks: I love the atmosphere imbued in traditional Japanese architecture, and sushi and beer is still tough to beat on a summer evening. But other things have lost their magic. I can say with fair authority that not every schoolboy and schoolgirl here is an intellectual prodigy, as seemed to be the ongoing, permeating perception growing up back home. And always sitting on the floor can get old really, really fast.

As far as my perception of home, the U.S., I should note that I came to Japan ten days before 9/11 – thus the world in general was a very different place when I was still in the States versus what it was from almost the moment I got here. Add to this my sudden personal interest in politics and world events beginning on the morning of September 12th and yes, my views have changed appreciably since I arrived in Japan. Perhaps the most telling experience I can relate has been the change in my attitude – that’s not really the right word, though…maybe my inner response is a better term – regarding how I’ve felt when someone asks me where I’m from. In the first few days it was a veritable ego trip. The Japanese, at least the recent generations, love anything relating to the U.S., and when I’d tell someone I’m from America they’d invariably react with something bordering on awe if not mere admiration. It was really kind of silly. Then in those weeks after 9/11, I would answer the same question with a twinge of…oh crap, I need the right word again…Living here so long I’ve begun to lose my English, it’s crazy but it really happens, I swear. I don’t think I used to be this stupid. Anyway, when I told people I was from America they’d have this sudden sadness in their expression, their voice, you know, ‘Oh I’m so sorry what happened’ or whatever. And I mean it was sincere. Turned out I didn’t know anyone personally who died on that day but it was a national tragedy and at least in this part of the world people were mourning with us.
But then G.W. rolled in with his ten-gallon agenda – all right, this has been hashed out a million times, I don’t need to go into it. But as time went on I began feeling embarrassed when I told people, whether in Japan or Malaysia or Chile, that I was from the States. Not because I suddenly thought my country was bad but hey, that fiasco was all the news anyone was getting practically, so for a while, that was the tipping point as far as the world’s view of the U.S.. And it wasn’t entirely unfounded. I would be immensely proud of my son if he stood up to the schoolyard bully to keep another kid from being pounded for his lunch money; I wouldn’t be a proud or a happy dad if he started lying to me about why he was throwing rocks at people. Beyond this, though, I’ve had so many people tell me they loved the U.S. when they visited, or would die for a chance to travel to the States, and this makes me immensely proud.

Also, having done a fair amount of traveling in these nine years, from Asia to South America to Europe and Morocco and Australia, my view of the U.S. has not been shaped merely by whatever my students think and what I can get off the web. To see how so much of the rest of the world lives - and I mean seeing it firsthand, which is worlds apart from watching the same thing on 60 Minutes, or checking out some magazine article on what Brad Pitt and Angelina Voight are doing – actually being in these places, living them, I see how very very lucky we are in the U.S., from our standard of living to our freedoms to just how cheap we get everything. And since the only exposure so many people are getting to the outside world is through TV - where nothing is real, really - so few people can appreciate the extent to which we are blessed. I go home and overhear people complaining about this or that and I want to club them over the head.