Archive for June 2008

Corneal scarring–Part One

June 30, 2008

A couple of comments asked about the corneal scar I mentioned in my last post. Well, it isn’t as dramatic as Onigiri might imagine–no, I did not get stabbed in the eye like your cousin. Whew! Now that would be a story to tell. My story is much more mundane, but the effects of this “malady” are much more amusing… well as amusing as a handicap can be.

My memory is not perfect, as my regular readers know, but there are photos of me when I was around 5 years old with my right eye patched up with gauze. I vaguely remembered–and I later verified this with my mother–that the eye was suffering from an infection, and I had to wash out my eye two or three times a day. Mom would pour a solution into an eye cup, after which I would face down to place my eye socket onto it and then while holding the cup tightly to my face look upward blinking two or three times as the solution bathed my eye. I hated this ritual, which is probably why I remembered it.

Fast forward 12 years…

One day in the summer of 1973–those glorious days of high school when I was basking in my new found independence and stupidity–I was returning from the beach with my girlfriend, Aileen, when suddenly I realized that I was seeing double. I would see two sets of railroad tracks but would only feel one set as I drove over them. For three days, my vision was strangely blurred. I hoped that it would just pass, but when it didn’t I finally screwed up the courage to see an opthamologist. After a battery of tests, they determined that my vision problem was based on a small scar on my eye. He showed me a blown up photo and pointed out a small imperfection. He said it was smaller than a grain of sand, but that was enough to refract light in a way that would blur my vision. He asked me if I had injured my eye, but when I told him I didn’t, he told me that it was probably the result of an infection when I was younger. When I got home, I recalled the eye patch and the eye baths when I was kid. I pulled out old photos and showed them to mother, which is when she confirmed the infection for me.

So this is the cause, I thought. But the sad thing of this predicament was that the scar was not curable. Perhaps, if laser technology was as it is today, then I may have been able to do something about it. But back then, it was what it was, and you learn to live with scars and injuries. Besides, after a week or so, my vision seemed to revert to normal. I thought it had healed itself, as any scar would heal, and I continued on with my merry summer of ’73.

But life, as I was to learn, was neither so simple nor forgiving.

*   *   *   *

A few years later, I began to notice that I had trouble gauging depth. I had knocked over more than a couple of beers, but I attributed this clumsiness to being drunk. I mean, what else would I attribute it to? Then one day I went to Westwood to see a movie with two of my buddies, Cary and Sam. We were a little early and so we were strolling around the shops and small malls. At one point, we were going to leaving a shopping area that was on the second level. I strode forward and found myself tumbling down a short flight of brick steps. My friends rushed to my side.

“Ray, you okay?” They asked as they helped me get up. “What happened?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m okay.” I assured them as I brushed myself off. But when I looked up I was shocked. “Steps?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I fell down these steps? I don’t get it. I could have sworn it was a ramp.”

“Dude, if that’s a ramp…” But before Sam could finish his sentence, I went up the steps down which I had stumbled. I had to see again what I thought I saw. When I reached the top of the steps, I looked down and in front of me–Huh?–was a short flight of about 5 steps. I don’t get it, I said again to myself. I swear I saw a ramp. But when I took astep side ways toward the center, the steps magically turned into a ramp. “Woah!”

“Woah, what?” Cary asked.

“Shit, you know these stairs? If you stand right in the middle, the lines kinda blend together and they don’t look like steps anymore.”

As Cary and Sam came up to see for themselves, I explained to them that from this particular point of view, the vertical space between the bricks looked like one continuous line making the steps look flat, and thereby appearing like a ramp. But when my buddies stood next to me, they laughed.

“Have you been drinking already? These look like steps to me, no matter where you look from.”

“No, seriously. Stand in the middle. Doesn’t it look like a ramp?” I said flustered. How could they not see it?

“Ray, the only way this is going to look like a ramp is if it was a 2-D picture.”

A wave of events suddenly washed over me, blending together in a very intertextual manner–irreparable scar on cornea, the belief that the scars had healed, knocking over glasses of beer and now this. Was I perceiving the world in two dimension? Was I looking with only one eye? Leave it to my friends to help me put things in perspective, even if it was only a two dimensional one.

With this new insight, I began to figure things out. I fell down the steps at dusk when there are no real shadows. I had knocked over beers only at bars where the light was dim. Did that mean, perhaps, that during the day I would consider other factors unconsciously to calculate distance? The shadow of the can of beer is three inches, and the can itself is five inches, A² + B² = C². Ah, Pythagoras, who knew! I also began to think that some of my other senses were heightened. I have always been able to hear things that others could not–In a car with the stereo up high, I always heard a siren well before other passengers. My olfactory senses seemed pretty sharp even though I was a smoker. I mean, I could smell rain before it actually did–I learned later that it wasn’t really rain, but bacterial spores that are emitted after a long dry spell–not an unusual situation in LA–when the humidity rises right before it rains. Or something like that. But the point being, I could smell things others seemed to miss.

More importantly, I realized that my brain was playing tricks on me. I went to the optometrist to get new glasses soon after. They took photos of my eyes and they asked me if I knew that I had a scar on my cornea.

“Yes, I found out a few years ago.”

“Do you not have trouble seeing? It’s the size of a poppy seed.”

Now what the heck would an optometrist know about poppy seeds? I thought for a moment but was soon overcome by the realization that the scar had grown from a grain of sand to a poppy seed. Oh crap. I am seeing the world in two dimension. But what intrigued me most is that I had not even realized it. My brain would take into account any and all sensory information, then adjust my 2-D world into a 3-D one. The only time it would fail me, I deduced through my own–albeit unscientific–observations, was when I didn’t have enough information, like when there were no shadows to measure. Or when I had headphones on and could not hear other sounds.

Or when I watched 3-D movies?

*   *   *   *

Our school holds an orientation for incoming freshmen every year, and yesterday I participated in the Major Fair, an event where new students have the opportunity to talk to faculty about majors they are interested in pursuing. I was there with a Chinese colleague, a late 20-something, single, and attractive–I am particularly vulnerable to Chinese and Vietnamese women. We had our share of students interested in studying Japanese or Chinese, but as you can imagine, the numbers do not come close to those interested in the “popular” fields such as, say, psychology or political science. Go figure.

Anyway, when there were no students asking us questions, we had an opportunity to chat and get to know each other better–just because we’re in the same department, doesn’t mean we hang out. She is a native of Taiwan and claims her English is not very good, although I would beg to differ. Her English is quite good. But she told me that it can be quite awkward at times when she is the only one in an English speaking setting that doesn’t get the joke. Man, can I relate with that.

Back to the story…

Back in 1973, I went to see Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in 3D with Aileen, Diddly and his girlfriend. It was relatively amusing to watch a tree pass by right in front of your face, and body parts jump off the screen. Well, amusing enough for a 17 year-old. But 16 years later, I went to Disneyland in LA and went on the ride, Michael Jackson’s Captain Eo. This too was in 3D. I didn’t really notice much in terms of the 3D effects, but the ride jostled me up and down, left and right, and the lack of 3D didn’t seem to matter. It was fun anyway. But another ten years later, and it became all to obvious that I was being left out.

I went with my daughter to Tokyo Disneyland and watched “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience”. This particular attraction had its share of physical special effects–tails whipping our ankles when rats escaped sent K sqealing with delight, and the mist spraying on us when the dog sneezed was grossly amusing… or was that amusingly gross? But all the 3D effects on screen just did not happen for me. When glass shatters and shards flew toward the audience, everyone around me screamed and ducked, but all I could do was lean over and ask my daughter:

“Did something happen?”

Seriously, do you know how sad that is? I was like my Chinese colleague, the only person in the room who did not get the joke. Perhaps I had been fooling myself all along. I mean, I had come to terms with my lack of depth perception, but the adjustments in the brain more than made up for the visual acuity I needed to function in everyday life. I felt that I was able to enjoy anything and everything life had to offer. I was wrong. But, hey!–and maybe I’m just trying to rationalize my situation–3D is not the end all of life. It just seemed like it would be a little more fun.

Unfortunately, it turned out that my vision affected more than my enjoyment of 3D effects. So I had an operation.

Cont’d next.

Dragon Bombed

June 29, 2008

I took the “how much do you now about dragon ball z and dragon ball gt” quiz and I totally bombed it. I got 42% out of 100. Of course, I didn’t review the material before taking the quiz, but I didn’t think I had to. Let this be a lesson to all my students: Always review, regardless of how much you think you know.

Anyway, Dragon Ball was one of my favorite manga. It started to drag on a bit towards the end. And personally, I’m not sure how necessary Dragon Ball GT was. But Dragon Ball up to Majin Bu was fun, and I always looked forward to the next issue. I first picked up a copy of the book back in the summer of 1986. As many of you probably know, Japanese comic books are usually a compilation of the comic that appears in the weekly magazines, like Jump or Magazine. Each weekly carries dozens of titles, each episode ranging anywhere from 12 to 24 pages in length, just long enough for a middle school student to read from one trains station to the next. After about two or three months, when there are enough pages, the publisher compiles them into book form. I don’t read every title in any given weekly, so I appreciate the book form. the first title I ever started to collect was Hokuto no ken (Fist of the north star), a great manga if ever there was one. In fact I still have the complete set and I still read them once every 7 or 8 years.

But I digress….

At a glance, Dragon Ball looks like a kids manga. Indeed, the creator previously created the equally childish looking Dr. Slump. But Toriyama Akira is a satirist and loves to play with words. No more so obvious than in the nameof characters in Dragon Ball. The most obvious are the main characters. Son Goku is an orphaned kid who has extraordinary strength, speed and agility, like a monkey. Indeed, he has a tail like a monkey. For the Japanese reader, the name is immediately associated with the Chinese legendary tale, Saiyuuki (Notes of an Excursion to the West), whose main character is a monkey named Son Goku, who is on a journey of self-redemption. Dragon Ball‘s Goku is also on a journey, his of self-discovery–who he is, where he came from. He soon discovers that when the moon is full, he turns into a humongous monkey that turns ferocious, wild and deadly. Goku has no memory of his transformations until a group of new friends who survived his attack tells him, and he realizes that it was he who made himself an orphan by killing his grandfather. This sounds like serious fare for a manga, but it is told in a light-hearted manner, both sad and joyful, thoughtful and funny, which probably explains Dragon Balls longevity.

But again, I digress…

Goku gains strength only by fighting those who are stronger than him, but he recovers his strength by eating a lot of food. Which would explain the name of his son, Gohan, which means “meals”. Gohan can also mean rice, which would then explain Gohan’s daughter’s name, Pan, the Portuguese word that the Japaense adopted for bread.

Many of the first characers had names that reflected their characters place in the story. The young and teasing female is named Buruma, which is the Japanese pronunciation of the word “bloomer”, the female undergarment–indeed, Kuririn once called her Pantsu (panty) by mistake. The characters that were Goku’s initial rivals represented the Chinese flavor of the story as represented by the name Son Goku and the dragon in the title. But they were all named after foods: Yamucha (dim sum) and Oolong (oolong tea).

Most of the other names involve transpositions of syllables or an alteration of letters. But the names identify each character with a specfic group. We find later Goku was originally from the planet Saiya. If you transpose the syllables, you get the word yasai, which mean vegetables, explaining Goku’s real name, Kakarotto (carrot), his brother Raditchi (Radish), his partner Nappa (the cabbage) and of course the Prince of Saiya, Vegita. Another example is Ginyuu toku-sentai (special battle unit Ginyuu). When twisted a bit, the name gi-nyuu becomse gyuu-nyuu, Japanese for “milk”, which then explains the twisted and transposed name of the captain Ginyuu and the members: Rikuum (cream), Mr. Gurt (yogurt), Bahta (butter), Jiizu (Cheese).

Yes, this all sounds a bit childish and all, but it did make for a lot of fun while reading it. Which still doesn’t excuse me for not having reviewed the material before taking the quiz!

Quiz:

A major villain in the Dragon Ball story was Majin Buu (demon Buu). (Again, the name Buu, can be transposed to spell “ubu” which means infantile.) He was created by Bibidi and his dead brother, Babidi. The easy question is, what Disney tale is this supposed to evoke? The more difficult one might be: Why did Toriyama make this association?

Okaeri (Welcome home)

June 27, 2008

M’s home. I’m so happy, I kept playing Ayaka’s song, Okaeri, in my head all day long.

Okaeri by Ayaka is the theme song for the J-drama Zettai kareshi.

I spent all of Wednesday cleaning the house, but I guess I had let the house go too long unattended. I didn’t pass the white glove test. But I don’t care. I’m still happy.

Here’s a list of stuff she got me.

  • 5 volumes of the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji) plus a comprehensive index by Iwanami.
  • 3 packs of 3 skinny Post-its so I can flag pages in my books when I do research and lecture in class. I’ll never figure out why they don’t have these in the US. It’s even made by 3M….
  • 14 volumes of the comic book Rookies. This is the comic book on which the current J-drama Rookies is based.
  • 5 volumes of the Japanese history, Nihon shoki (Japan Documented)
  • 3 cooking spatulas made of bamboo. For some reason, I can never find these here in Virginia. They are light, perfectly shaped for sir-fry and they never scratch non-stick pots and pans.
  • 3 bags of karinto, the deep fried rice cracker smothered in melted black sugar. Yum!

As you can imagine, the books were heavy, but she actually sent most of them by mail and they arrived a few days ago. Also, it should be apparent that my idea of presents is usually related to work–although I have yet to figure out a good angle for the comic books. But then, that actually shows you that I’m one of those lucky guys who has a job he actually enjoys. I mean, I read literature-novels, stories, historical pieces–and discuss it with other people, and I get paid for it. Granted, I don’t get paid a lot, but still, you get my drift.

In any event, M’s home and I couldn’t be happier, presents or not.

Home alone

June 25, 2008

I haven’t mentioned this, but for the past 5 weeks, M has been in Japan. Her mother was diagnosed with Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, a kind of lung cancer located in the small vessels of the lungs that function in the oxygenation of our blood (I think). Apparently it is most prevalent in nonsmokers, elderly women and Asians. This makes M’s mother three for three, not the kind of batting average you want when dealing with the big C.

Fortunately, they found the disease early and the doctors determined it was operable, even though she’s over 80. M went to Japan to help her mother through the operation and for post-op recovery. By all accounts, the operation was successful, and we are, for the time being, relieved. The main issue now is the cost of the operation. Not that we are averse to helping M’s mother out, but we did learn recently that the cost is based on a new system of health insurance in Japan.

後期高齢者医療制度 Kouki koureisha iryou seido

The new system specifically for the elderly can be literally translated as “Medical system for latter term elderly.” This is a health insurance program that is independent from the regular universal health care available in Japan. It is targeted specifically at those who are 75 years of age or older. It is, in other words, a system for those who have lived longer than the regular system can afford to maintain them. Enrollment and premiums are mandatory for all residents and there is now a 10% co-payment for any and all health care treatment that used to be virtually free for those over 65. As you might imagine, there is quite an uproar in Japan among its silver citizens. According to a friend who visited recently, cries of “Do you want to have us die?” fill the airwaves.

There are lots of issues that people point to–long average life span, low birth rate, immigration or lack thereof. It is so complicated, I could never imagine wanting to be a Japanese politician. How do you deal with immigration in a country that believes and prides itself on its racial homogeneity? Do you make people get married and make more babies by what? By threatening to take away their free and consumer oriented lifestyle? Even targeting the elderly is political suicide as the elderly are the most likely to vote on election day. What a mess.

The good news is that the Japanese health care system is not the monster it is in the US. Medical and pharmiceutical costs are reasonable, and helping M’s mother foot the bill, while unexpected, is not a major burden. Thank God for small favors.

But more than anything else, I miss my wife. She’s been gone since the third week of May, and I miss her. She is coming home tomorrow, but now I have to do five weeks worth of house cleaning and laundry. Yikes! I’ll be happy to see her tomorrow when I pick her up at the airport, but I’ll probably be too exhausted to even give her a hug.

Postscript

Thanks to Booyahman for recommending my last post, The death of seven dirty words. It was picked up by a few others who also recommended it, resulting in more visitors than I have had in a long while. Much appreciation.

Post-postscript

Sometimes, these horoscopes can be so uncanny. No, no, no, I don’t read them for advice, just for fun. No, really…

Wednesday, Jun 25, 2008

You should be in a fairly hard-working frame of mind right now, and you’ll probably be perfectly willing to deal with any responsibilities you might have at this time. You should be willing to be as supportive as possible right now. And if your family ends up requiring a bit of your attention today, you should be happy to do whatever you can for them.

A lot will probably be expected of you today, and you might be called upon to be of service to a variety of different people before the day is through. You’re likely to be getting along well with your family and will probably feel like spending a lot of time around the house right now. And there may be quite a few things that will need to be dealt with on the home front today.

The death of seven dirty words

June 24, 2008

George CarlinBack in the ’70s, my friends and I used to enjoy the comedy of George Carlin, who died of heart failure on Sunday, June 22. He was irreverent and represented a lot of what we thought back then.

He started out as a coat and tie comedian in the ’60s, appearing on such fair as The Ed Sullivan Show. He was not run-of-the-mill but he didn’t really stand out either. One of the characters he would play in his routine was the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

“Tonight’s forecast: Dark. Continued dark tonight, turning to partly light in the morning.”

Fair warning: The content in the links and text below may contain offensive language… which is what made it all the more fun back in the ’70s.

The weatherman was mildly amusing, and typified most of his early routines. But in the ’70s, Carlin shed his coat and tie and seemed to take on the persona of the Hippy Dippy Weatherman –long hair and beard–except the new weatherman was less wasted, was more socially opinionated and conveyed a political consciousness that stood up to the establishment, left or right. As a result, many of his routines were considered too radical, and certainly too hardcore for main stream media. He critiqued society, especially American society for it obsessions, such as its fear of germs: “In prison, before they give you a lethal injection, they swab your arm with alcohol!” And he also pointed out that eating unhealthily leads to overweight people: “Huge piles of redundant protoplasm.” He was over the top and his humor was very crude, usually insulting large sectors of society while he was at it.

But above all, Carlin was a word-meister, and he was most amusing when he talked about language and how some of it is too politically correct or simply didn’t make sense, like legally drunk: “Well if its legal, what’s the fuckin’ problem? Leave my friend alone, officer. He’s legally drunk!” But he was most famous for the Seven dirty words you can’t say on TV: Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits. He later added three more: fart, turd and twat. He talked about the hypocrisy of these TV standards. According to Carlin: Even kids know what a “fart” is–taking a shit without the mess–but you couldn’t use the word on TV. But you could use the word “prick” because it was only a part-time dirty word; you could prick your finger, just don’t finger your prick.

His routines were not for the fainthearted or holier-than-thou crowd, but his humor, in many cases, was simply an expression of a lot of things we had thought of before with new twists, which is what made it so funny. Sadly, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC announced on June 18, four days before he died, that they would award Carlin the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in November. I’m sorry that this award will be awarded posthumously.

Cocoons

June 20, 2008

I have bad eye sight. I’ve mentioned this before, but I can only see out of my left eye–albeit with glasses or a contact lens. My right eye is legally blind. I have a scar on my cornea that prevents me from seeing anything with any clarity. If you taped wax paper on your glasses or sunglasses, you would see exactly as I do. And I mean exactly–since the scar is in the center of my cornea, my peripheral vision is alright, but I can’t see straight ahead. Eyesight notwithstanding, this scar has another unfortunate affect. My left eye hurts when I’m outside. I’m not really sure why, and the opthamologists who I have asked never give me a specific answer, but I suspect that the light refracts abnormally through the scar and ends up striking the retina in an uneven distribution.

As a result, I always wear sunglasses outside during the day, even if its cloudy. And the lens has to be very dark. This often invites the jokes of students.

“Hey sensei! What’s with the shades?”

“Sensei, we don’t know who… or what you’re looking at!”

Anyway, I usually wear my one contact lens when I go out, but when I’m at home, I’m usually too lazy to put them in. Instead I wear my glasses. My eyes are pretty awful and so the glasses are quite thick–Coke-bottle level. I can function adequately, even drive–although with only one good eye, my depth perception is suspect under certain conditions. However, when I’m puttering around the house, it’s no big deal. But when I step outside, say, to go grocery shopping, I used to have to put in the contacts. Not for narcissistic reasons, mind you, but so I can wear my sunglasses, because typical clip-on sunglasses will not fit–Did I mention my glasses are really thick? And besides, most are flimsy and break very easily.

Fortunately, I recently discovered clip-ons called Cocoons. At first, I thought the name was a play on the animal raccoon, but I learned that is not the case. Originally this company created oversized sunglasses that can be worn over regular glasses. They virtually wrap around the glasses like a cocoon. I considered these but they seemed bulky and lacked a certain aesthetic quality. Okay, maybe I’m a little narcissistic. but I learned they also make clip-ons that are fairly sturdy, easy to take on and off, and come with a lifetime warrantee. they working out very well.

Maybe too well.

Since it’s summer, and I don’t go to campus very often, I’m usually at home and don’t put in my contact lens. When I step out to go shopping (or get a beer ), I don’t even think about putting in my contact lens anymore. I just flick on the Cocoons and I’m gone. But wearing a contact lens takes getting used to–especially hard lens which I am limited to because optometrists say that the chance of an infection through a soft lens is too risky if I only have one eye. So I worry that when I go back to school, I will have to get used to wearing contact lens all over again.

Wow… what a boring post this was. But I want to keep writing. I don’t want to stop again, and risk fading away. If you’ve read this far, thanks for putting up with it.

Kids–I’ll take ’em when I can

June 18, 2008

The other day was Father’s day, but I guess I have no standing as a father anymore. I occasionally e-mail my daughter in Japan, but she hasn’t responded in over a year. I have’t seen her since 1999–the last time I went to Japan–when she was 12 years old. Now she has graduated from a vocational school 専門学校, moved out of the house and is living in Tokyo with her friend, according to her mother. It would be nice to talk to her, but I get the sense that she doesn’t want to talk to me, especially ever since I remarried. She may come around, but all I can do is wait and see.

I also have three stepsons, but they were over 18 by the time I married their mother, Musubichan. As you might imagine, they consider me their mother’s husband but not their father who died in an accident when they were young. So the bottom line is that I am, for all intents and purposes, a non-dad. Kinda sad, when I think about it.

KT-sunglasses

But I have grandkids–my eldest stepsons three boys. They call me grandpa and according to M, the eldest one, KT, who came for a summer two years ago, refers to me when necessary.

“KT, we’re leaving for dinner. Hurry up,” his father will say.

“But Grandpa said that I shouldn’t go out until I finish studying/cleaning my room, so wait a little.”

Or…

“Grandpa says don’t leave the light one when you leave the room.”

Or…

“Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth.”

I’m not sure if I should be used as a foil against his own father–and they must think I’m really anal–but its nice to think that I have a role to play for somebody. I should also mention that he’s Japanese but doesn’t call me ojiichan. Thank goodness for small favors. He refers to me by the English term: guranpa. This is definitely more satisfying.

Anyway, this is all neither her nor there. My daughter has her own life and I wish her well. If the day comes when she wants to get together, I will be there with open arms. In the meantime, I have my students. I am not their father, obviously, but they are my children, so to speak. I teach them, advise them, encourage them, and sometimes scold them. But most of all, I feel lucky to have them.