Congratulations to everyone who supported and advocated for same-sex marriage! This event certainly brings a sense of normalcy for many in the queer community, especially those who have found their partners, and those with dreams of finding theirs.

Not only does it provide legal protections (whether it’s 100% is questionable), but it also adds a level of legal commitment. Not many people think about this, and perhaps it comes from the vestiges of the time before all this was ever possible, that anyone looking to marry a same-sex partner had to be financially stable and intellectual enough to navigate the legal system to make legal protections work for them and their partner. This took a lot of work, effort, and money, and it became people’s whole lives. There were enough of these couples who made it their lives to get this movement going.

So when it comes to same-sex marriage, I’m happy for these people.

As for me, I have never been really into marriage, firstly because I was expected to marry a guy, but when I came out and started dating, I realized that I didn’t want to hold someone down. This feeling was especially strong when I dated people I highly respected. I didn’t know whether I could have a place in their lives in the long-term. I wasn’t sure if they’d stay interested. I didn’t know how we could make it work. I had my parents and sister to think about, and I had my own lofty dreams for a kid from a refugee immigrant family who gave up their middle class lives about to come crashing down by a new regime to start over in a foreign country.

They say that you should be with someone who can deal with you at your best and at your worst. The world is a moving so much these days that we don’t give each other a chance.


Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Checklist


Ignoring someone at work because they didn’t respond to your invite to associate
Pressing a junior to have sexual relations
Holding a coworker’s hand in a car during work hours
Asking someone about their sexual experiences
Unnecessary direct touch of one’s body
Touching a coworker of the opposite sex
Posting a nude poster in the office
Showing nude photos of a coworker of the opposite sex
Flippantly showing or reading indecent photos or articles in reading materials.
Asking or saying things about one’s clothes, hair, or physical appearance
Staring or gazing at another’s body.
Having a sexual conversation in front of a coworker of the opposite sex
Asking what color the undergarments of a coworker of the opposite sex is.
Intentionally spreading a sexual rumor about a coworker
Persistent invites for drinks or a date
Forcing a female coworker to sit next to a male boss at drinking parties
Forcing one to do a duet, cheek dance, or pour drinks at a drinking party
Touching a coworker of the opposite sex’s body during a drinking party
Having a sexual conversation on the phone, or sending letters or emails of similar content
Saying things like, “Why aren’t you married yet,” or “That’s why you can’t get married.”
Asking, “You still don’t have kids?”

Saying to female coworkers, “You should have kids.”
Saying to female coworkers, “Be more womanly,” or “But you’re a woman, so…”
Saying to male coworkers, “Be a man!” or “But you’re a man, so…”
Calling female coworkers things like, “Little girl,” “Old lady,” “My wife.”
Calling male coworkers things like, “Little Boy,” “Old man,” “Boy,” “Kid.”
If there are women in the room, forcing them to make tea, clean, or other personal tasks.

– Supplement document to educator disciplinary measures, addressed to all prefectureal school principals and public servants in ethics guidance

English teaching quandaries

One of my main purposes to come on JET is to show and demonstrate America’s diversity. I could not imagine what I would learn about myself.

Recently, I had the kids write letters to a friend’s Japanese language class in Cupertino, California. It is a very diverse school of students who come from diverse backgrounds, including class, ethnicity, and nationality. The majority of them are Asian, and I want to talk a bit about some who have only just started living in Cupertino over the last several years after moving with their families from their original home countries.

I think it is safe to assume that to be able to immigrate to America, and go to a school such as Cupertino’s means that you are from a middle-class family. They are taking Japanese class as an elective for fun, or to maintain their mother tongue.  English is a language to get by in because they live in America, and they have a great environment to grow and get to know American culture as well as mold the language into something of their own.

My students and Japanese teachers of English don’t have that opportunity. They study English in the most sterile and academic way, and while some lack confidence in speaking, they make up for it with incredible grammar and really think about the way English in used at a very high level. When teachers come to me and ask to check sentences and make suggestions, I give them the bare minimum as it makes sense to me at first glance as a native speaker. But when they come back with a suggestion, every now and then it sounds even better or more appropriate.

For example, “Gnus migrate in herds because it is easy for them to avoid predators.” At first glance (and out of context), I thought this was a fine sentence, but teachers asked if it’s more appropriate to use “easier”. Thinking harder about it, of course “easier” would be more appropriate because it is inevitable that gnus encounter predators during their migration, so of course it would be easier to avoid them while traveling in herds.

I think most speakers of English as a second language are careful to be clear and succinct, whereas a native English speaker like me would continue to yammer and ramble because you sound smarter by saying a lot of things.

Then again, long-winded talking is probably easier to digest than speaking in proverbs.

In any case, not looking white has always been a contention for me, especially working with a white, red-haired, blue-green eyed Australian every single day. From the get-go, I did not want to be considered inferior in English because I was not white, so I took every available opportunity to really dig into why English is used the way it is and explain it to the JTEs. With Australian-English also in the mix, I was also learning a lot of differences in English, and learned to leave room for my Australian co-worker to share her native English experience as well. But with shared English usage, I would try to come up with an explanation that was better than “it just is”. And while it might be true that a part of me wants to have a better answer than my white counterpart, having her there to discuss how and why we say things the way we do is reassuring, not because she is white, but because English is so varied, complicated, and creative that there’s never any one way to say something.

So the quandary is this: As I internally battle and defend my own English proficiency, I can’t help but judge the penpal letters with high standards because it feels like a reflection on me. If some people already question my English to be unreliable because I look Asian, and the quality of English used by the American high school students, with non-white backgrounds to boot, isn’t up to par, then it just confirms their bias, which is the last thing I need…

It’s midterms again, and I have a lot of idle time…


Fun shit

<I’m hanging out at the senior students’ lounge for lunch. Some of the students are loitering around. A baseball boy beyond the partition does what I think is an impression of a foghorn.>
Me: <To the student who’s lingering between our two partitions>Tell him to shut up.
Student: Pecchaaaan, shut up.
Pecchan: すみません (sorry…)

It was much funnier in person.


So as most people know, living in a new place, much less a country, is not all roses. I remember when I first moved to Oakland after 3 months of living at home with my parents in Arizona post-graduating and job searching, desperate to get myself back to the Bay Area and get my career started. I finally found myself a job as a junior programmer at a start-up company, which survived the first dot-com bust, that developed Lawport, knowledge management software  for law firms by wooing them with my name in the credits of a Game Boy Advanced game from my summer internships in Seattle, even though all I did was get Japanese font to appear on the screen.

My coworkers were in their early 30s, and the other junior programmer was an East Coaster. The only Asian people were San Francisco natives and they worked in the office in reception and HR. I got along with the sassy short blond girl who gave presentations to law firms, the big dyke with curly shoulder-length hair who did client support and trouble-shooting (who I always think of whenever I see Boo from OITNB), the gay Latino programmer who made most of the Javascript apps, the Jersey Boy Colombian programmer from Princeton who acted on the side, the quiet giant Irish guy with awesome mutton chops who rode his bike to work from Alameda by ferry, and the lanky bearded and long-haired hippy, who looked the most like one of those self-taught programmers who are shy geniuses. They were a really nice group of people, often dirty-mouthed, and patient with the newcomers. I especially remember the lesbian making comments about my shoes, which was my first critique in fashion and I was so proud of myself when she approved a pair of Maddens that I bought at Bay Street Emeryville. I could finally say I worked in the city, but I never really cared to live there because I didn’t want housemates and couldn’t afford the rent on my own, nor did I want to give up my car.

With the salary they offered me, I found myself an affordable apartment with parking in Oakland in between two BART stops on different lines, so that I could always get home on the next train from the city. I didn’t know anyone, so I found myself scouring Craigslist in the W/W section and PlanetOut’s profiles, trying to find a companion. I spent a lot of weekends visiting my relatives in the south bay, none of whom were my age, and I wasn’t interested in the heteronormative world of my high school friends.  Facebook was still working out its kinks, and MySpace was boring. My only regular friend was a gay college buddy, and we would go out for drinks every now and then. Sometimes I would hang out with my coworkers after work. But I found the people around me were so different that it was hard to connect. All that changed when I found a Craigslist ad that really spoke to me, a woman who just wanted to find friends in the area as well, but also politically conscious and wanted to find her people of color community. I sort of knew where they were, but my friends were still in college, so I had no one to go with, and this person seemed like the best there was in a while. When we met, she was smart, pretty, and fun to be around. I was a nerd still hiding behind outerwear sized too big for me and money-pinching. From then on, I grew and developed my identity as an Asian-American soft butch who worked in tech, found hair stylists that did my hair in ways I didn’t know I would look good in, paid attention to the shoes I wore, and went out to the bars and clubs in the City. I also found a dragonboat team to train with, where I met more lesbians, though older, and as I gained more confidence and went out more, I eventually found a community and partners where I could be myself, and at times, discover more of myself. But I still felt I was searching for something.

I always found myself really excited to be doing something related to Japan, from the Japanese to English localization project I did with Ubisoft on their Dogz product from their flagship Petz line, to translating bug reports from the testers in Japan that Hudson had hired to QA Diner Dash for XBLA. When I worked on Marvel vs. Capcom HD, I was hoping for a lot more correspondence with Capcom Japan, but was disappointed to hear how this was a Capcom America project that HQ didn’t really give a shit about. Nevertheless, we did the best we could, even with a misanthropic programmer whose genius was insurmountable, but whose attendance was unpredictable. With the most unintrusive attitude I could muster to keep him on task and track his updates on days when he was present, I was able to get him to finish the upres algorithms before he completely went AWOL. The rest of the team worked really well together, and I have fond memories of their personalities and quirks (as well discovering my aversion to some of those quirks…)

These anecdotes aren’t so comparable to many others, but they are mine. In this new chapter in Japan, I’m bringing a lot of the confidence gained from these small accomplishments, which certainly help in times when I don’t feel so useful at the school because

1) the students’ level of English are said to be not ready for ALT classes
2) the students are busy studying for tests
3) classes are cut because of sports events
4) teachers are so busy they forget to include the ALT in team-teaching

It’s been a little rough recently, as I’ve been pretty vocal about how available I am since the beginning. Sometimes I wonder if my approach is too aggressive or forceful, or if my approach is so improvised that my teaching style becomes unpredictable and can’t be taken seriously, so I’ve taken a step back for the teachers to decide.  With all this idle time, it’s easy to shift from thinking, “I don’t have time for this, it’s not my fault,” to “What if it’s my fault?”

At least I’m not being used as tape recorder.

These are the same questions I ask myself when I’m not participating with the groups that I’ve put myself in: kyudo, fixie bikes, adult English conversation, the International Association, the lesbians in Sendai and Fukushima, except the question that I’m asking myself these days is, “Do they understand what I’m saying? Did I just ask something offensively?”

How do I stop feeling like I’m losing a little bit of confidence every day?!