Okay, another quick post.
As I type this I sit in Hong Kong International Airport, and wait for my final flight to take me in to Nagoya. Thus far I’ve been to Charlotte International, Baltimore-Washington International, Los Angeles International, and now Hong Kong. All places I’ve never seen before this trip. But right now I’m too tired and hungry and fiending for a cigarette to wax philosophical on what I think about all this. Trust me, there’s a lot to say, too.
Just let me get to Nagoya, and a shower and food and a bed, and then we’ll talk, okay? Okay.
I’ve just arrived at the first airport on my five-city, seventy-five hundred mile journey – Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. And I hope I’m not humming Beethoven so loudly that the people sitting next to me get creeped out about it. But it’s Beethoven, and it’s his Violin Concerto, no less.
I hum to myself often. I have full conversations with myself, too. I’m an offbeat kinda guy, in case you had no idea.
The entire six-hour bus ride out here, my mind was curiously blank. No second thoughts, no third guesses. This is happening, and I’m excited.
My last night in Charleston was a good one – the best one, in fact. The perfect way to say good-bye to the Holy City.
But onto new horizons as they say – and by they, I mean me.
It turns out that I’m fifteen hours early for my flight out of Douglas, so I’m sure there’ll be lots of time for reflection. But this isn’t a time for tears, though.
That was actually something that had crossed my mind a few times in the past three-and-a-half months – Would I cry? I’m not the type, but this is a pretty big deal, you know. I figured if the waterworks were going to flow, they would have when I said my final good-byes. But it was pretty standard, and dry. I miss my family, my extended family of friends, and the Holy City like crazy already, but I’m not a five-year-old.
As I sit facing the ticket counter and watch the other travelers walk past me on their way to their gates, I realize that this is really something special. Nobody here has any idea where I’m going, and they’d never guess in a million years, either.
I don’t even know what’s waiting across the horizon yet. But I’m excited as hell.
In Philip K. Dick’s short story “Beyond Lies The Wub,” the eponymous wub is an intelligent and sapient Martian creature that an Earth-bound spaceship crew discovers on a supply mission to the Red Planet – though, more accurately, a single crewmember named Peterson purchases the wub for fifty cents and brings it along on the trip back to Earth. The wub is porcine in appearance (and, as the captain Franco assumes, in taste as well), and most of the crew treat it as such. They abuse it, ignore it’s obvious discomfort and unhappiness – all except Peterson, who thinks that the wub could be more than it appears. And it is, as it’s endowed with some sort of telepathic ability. The wub is well-versed on many subjects, and it explains to the incredulous crew that it is a member of an ancient race that was once plentiful on the Martian surface. When the wub first “speaks” – in an attempt to change the topic of discussion from its slaughter to “other things” – the entire crew is present, and they all “hear” it speak, but it is only Peterson who believes that it has spoken; Franco comes to the conclusion that there has to be a Martian hiding within the wub, and demands it show itself. Well, this turn of events serves to scatter the crew throughout the ship, but Franco sits down with the wub and has an unexpectedly deep conversation with it, trying to convince the wub that it is in its best interests to be eaten. The wub disagrees, citing several strong points in opposition to the captain’s ideas, and brings the conversation (and thus, it’s and the captain’s intellectual level) to a temporary stalemate. Franco returns with a rifle as the wub is engaged in deep conversation with Peterson, but Peterson does next to nothing to prevent its slaughter, as it comes by the hand of his captain. Peterson sits in a confused, reflective silence at dinner, and picks at the wub throughout – Franco, having no such moral impediment, digs in with gusto. Afterward, he’s somehow able to pick up the conversation Peterson and the wub were having before they were so rudely interrupted.
As I’ve said before, this is an awesome story.
I spent a few days with my parents recently, my final visit with them before I leave for Japan. For two days we sat together, and talked about lots of things, trip-related and otherwise. They live about forty-five minutes away from Charleston, in a tiny town where there is literally a single stoplight, no library in sight from the main highway that passes through it, and farms dominate the landscape, with the odd farmhouse providing little variation. They have no internet access there, and I don’t have a phone anymore, so there were no distractions, nothing keeping my mind from reeling as I considered everything that this trip would mean to them as well as me. It wasn’t a sob fest at all, far from it – we laughed; we reminisced and then laughed some more; we drank a little then laughed at the silly things the cat did, or the funny thing that my mother heard the other day – it was a good time. But the ride back home was anything but funny. A strange sort of sadness sat on my chest as we (my sister and I) pulled further and further away from my parents for that last time, and that sadness stayed with me for a while. It wasn’t a mental-breakdown bawl-your-eyes-out sort of sadness – it was a reflective sort of sadness, grief-like… a lot like Peterson, you know? Some part of me had stayed behind in that farmhouse with them, as cliche as that sounds. But it’s true.
After I had returned to the city, my mind ran across “Beyond Lies The Wub” again, so I read it. And when I finished, I realized that my trip out there was a lot like the wub in the story and, like Peterson, I was lucky enough to have found one – on total radio silence no less.
The wub was a fount of potential knowledge that the crew could have absorbed, had they been willing. Because everyone had refused to believe what they were witnessing, they let it pass them by – that is, everyone except Peterson. The wub could have taught them something about themselves (arguably it had), much how seeing my parents revealed a lot about myself I’d either forgotten I had or didn’t know I possessed. The wub wasn’t just a wasted opportunity, it was wasted knowledge; and though it possessed Franco in the end and was presumably able to continue passing more of its knowledge to someone who would listen (a theme which returns in another of Dick’s short stories “Not By Its Cover” – which I also recommend – ), a grand opportunity was lost the second the other crewmembers refused to believe that something they perceived as beneath them wasn’t worth their attention, much less their respect.
This is what I found in the middle of nowhere with my parents – my first (conscious) wub. Imagine the wubs to be found in Japan – wubs in class, wubs in the street, wubs on planes and aboard trains and in automobiles, wubs in strangers and wubs in new friends I’ve yet to meet, wubs in forests and on mountaintops and seaside cliffs – wubs galore. But there are wubs here I have yet to find, and wubs I remember as something else and not as wubs, which I’ll have to find and identify as such. A wub can be practically anything – that bit of advice someone gave you; the frog squished flat in the road the day after it has rained; a particularly beautiful bank of clouds reflected in the Ashley River on a clear day in June, the person you said hello to, whether they returned the greeting or not… Anything that gives you insight or focus, and allows you to use that insight or focus to better yourself – that is a wub. Everybody has a few wubs that stand out in their memories, but those you missed, those you have to search for and retcon as wubs – those are the jewels, the important nuggets that show you just what you are made of. Again, cliche, but I stand by it.
Total radio silence isn’t such a bad thing, but a little of it sure goes a hell of a long way, I tell you what.
Short post this time.
The following is something I came up with after a long, windy (read wine-dee) conversation with a good friend of mine on Facebook yesterday. He asked me for an absurdist story, two paragraphs long, and it ballooned into this, entitled “Beyond Lies The Wub – Redux.” Other than the eponymous wub appearing in this story, it bears no resemblance to the Philip K. Dick short story that inspired its title. I’m thinking of writing more stories like this one, insanely absurdist with a cliffhanger ending. It was a lot of fun to write.
The purple-yellow school bus was launched with all the trays NOT in their post-landing position, and the wub was nowhere to be found. The three schoolchildren and their personal nun were waiting to see its pig-like nose protrude from behind the captain’s blood-red curtain, steam rising from its nostrils –
But no snout appeared.
“This is drisnap,” said the oldest boy. He turned to the nun and made to slap her in the face, but she caught his wrist and held it tightly in her grasp. He wrenched himself free. “You said we would have wub on this trip. You lied. Some nun you are.”
The nun said nothing, simply stared ahead at the curtain.
The girl spoke up next. “Don’t hit her, you olrescid,” she told her brother. “She can’t help if she’s a liar. Besides, the wub might appear any plorncet now.” The boy blew her a raspberry, the girl hit him with a rock she had smuggled onboard under her sundress, and the two immediately commenced rolling in the aisle, locked in mutual sibling combat. The nun said nothing, and neither captain nor wub appeared from behind the curtain.
The youngest boy, as his brother and sister tried their best to commit simultaneous attempted murder in the school bus’s single aisle, slipped out of his seat and made for the curtain, but the nun was quicker on the uptake and grabbed the collar of his shirt.
“Where’re you goin’?” she spat into his wrinkled face. The boy remained tacit, so the nun put him in a half nelson. He didn’t resist.
“Where’re you goin?” she repeated. When the boy didn’t answer she went for the full, but at the last second the boy spoke up.
“Stop fighting,” he said. His stupid brother and sister stopped fighting, stood without a word, and returned to their seats.
“Curtain open,” he said. The captain’s blood-red curtain parted like a curtain that had been parted.
There, inside the small room separated by the curtain, lay a slimy, slightly-piggish creature. Its nostrils steamed. The whole body was neon green. And it emitted no smell indicating that it had been cooked.
“Beyond lies the wub,” the little boy said. A surge of steam then poured forth from the nostrils of the wub, filling the cabin of the purple-yellow school bus.
It’s amazing what can be created when you’re running on fumes after being awake for nearly twenty-four hours.
For a couple months now, I’ve been thinking of what this trip to Nagoya really means – or rather, what it SHOULD mean. I’m about to fly halfway around the world and spend a year in a place where I know (almost) no one. This is most certainly not an opportunity to be wasted – to say this is the chance of a lifetime is an understatement of EPIC proportions. I have a few ideas of what I want to do, though. Let me lay ’em on you.
Quite obviously, the first thing on the list is learning Japanese. I’ve been studying for about a year at Clemson and have a pretty good grasp on the basics, but imagining that my brain will somehow magically switch to 日本語モード (Japanese Mode) as a survival mechanism fascinates the hell out of me. I’m looking forward to hearing Japanese spoken on the streets and understanding it, seeing Japanese signage and deciphering them almost instantaneously, even dreaming in Japanese – ESPECIALLY dreaming in Japanese. That’s how I’ll know I’ve hit the big time, I think. When my subconscious begins thinking in Japanese, I’ll be there. In Japanese Mode, I mean.
Until now, learning Japanese has been something… not intangible exactly, but certainly not concrete. It’s something I’ve termed “laboratory learning,” you know? It’s been really filtered and compressed and sterilized – verb tenses, vocabulary drills, listening to native speakers and stumbling through repetitive and dull formulas that answer the questions put to me in the most basic and juvenile of senses. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been helpful and my 先生 (sensei) have been wonderful in helping me reach the level of understanding in the language that I now possess. And I have many sensei too – not only my professors at Clemson, but the Japanese exchange students I’ve met there, and the American students who’ve been to Japan and have come back speaking (what I consider to be) perfect Japanese. Total immersion is what will trigger Japanese Mode, I know.
There are other thoughts I’ve been playing around with, too. Japanese Mode means more than just speaking the language well enough to feed myself and get shitfaced, though of course that’s part of the bargain. It means experiencing everything The Land of the Rising Sun has to offer, and there’s just so much nearly in hand I almost can’t stand it.
One of my major goals is to visit as many cities, towns, and villages as possible, and worm my way through them, beginning with Nagoya. I’m actually looking forward to becoming hopelessly lost and using my wits and linguistic ability to get where I need to be. A baptism by fire is what I need, and by God, a baptism by fire is what I shall have. The whole touristy thing isn’t for me – I get tired of seeing them crawl around the streets of Charleston with their maps and fanny packs and flip-flops, believe me. Nothing against them, but isn’t getting lost and finding your bearings part of the fun of exploring a new environment? Not to mention part of the point. And before you say to yourself “Won’t you be just a tourist there?”, just know I won’t be. This goes beyond a mere visit, as I’ve said in many, many more words. This is about survival in a very, very real sense. I know I’ll get lost anyway, so let’s just call riding a subway line to a random station and working my way back home a preemptive strike of sorts.
Another one – as far-out as it may sound – is to learn to play the violin. I am a musician; I play the clarinet, and was close to professional status until I abruptly dropped it after I graduated from high school. That’s a misgiving I’ve never totally forgiven myself for. I still play when I get the time, but the skills I once had are rusted and weak now, to say the least. I began my musicianship studies with the violin when I was a kid, but there wasn’t much in the way of instruction or space for that sort of thing back then, so I moved off to the trombone, and finally the clarinet. Again, I hear you out there asking yourself, “What do violin lessons have to do with Japanese Mode?” Well, I know that music and language are two intertwined ends of the same cord, and it won’t hurt to try my hand at both simultaneously. Plus, I have a friend in Nagoya who’s a pretty accomplished violinist, and she’s agreed to give me violin lessons. And Japanese lessons, too. See? Many sensei. I love killing two birds.
Trust me, this is merely a shortlist of what I’ll probably do, and Japanese Mode certainly extends well beyond these bounds. It’s speaking well enough that the Japanese understand me, yes. It’s immersing myself so thoroughly in another culture that I become part of it, of course. Japanese Mode is what will ensure that I not only survive the experience, but wring every drop of success out of it, bottle it, and carry it with me for the rest of the time allotted me here, wherever I go.
Word to your mother.
This is the first post in a blog that I have started in preparation of my upcoming trip to Japan. I’m from Charleston, South Carolina (hence the chucktowner moniker), a student at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, and I’m studying abroad at the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (NUFS) just outside of Nagoya, Aichi, Japan.
The above is the broadest reason I’ve started this blog, reduced to bare bones and honest facts. The below is – well, the juicy flesh that covers those bare bones and honest facts, which will keep you interested in ifoundthewub. I feel if I fully explain to you why this record now exists you’d want to read more of it.
Selfish Reason No. 1 This Record Now Exists – It focuses all my anxieties and apprehension into a single place – a public place – where I can express them and have you fine people read them and scratch your heads over what I’ve written here. You will, I guarantee it.
Truthfully, my motives behind this blog are multifaceted and, at the core of it all, selfish. This is a huge undertaking I have chosen to accept and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive or – dare I say – afraid. I mean, I’m a hulking black guy who’s going to spend a year in Japan for the sole reason of becoming fluent in speaking Japanese. The term 外人 (gaijin, a foreigner) doesn’t even begin to describe the awkwardly out-of-place-edness I’m sure to feel the second I step off that plane and out into some huge metropolis I’ve only read about and seen on television and heard about from others.
Selfish Reason No. 2 This Record Now Exists – I’ll have too much to say, and Facebook won’t cut it.
Another selfish reason I’m doing this is because this is too important for the likes of Facebook to handle single-handedly. This is not to say that I’m going to ignore the ‘book to the exclusion of all else – it has its merits, like anything else. It’s just that this is something worth recording in a more… concrete and formal fashion, I think. I post interesting things on Facebook. Regularly. I’ll post interesting things here, too. Constantly. They’ll be a great deal longer and more personal… like a diary, right? Right.
Selfish Reason No. 3 This Record Now Exists – I want to become the best damn writer I can be.
At Clemson I am a dual Japanese and English major, which means I read and write almost constantly when I’m at school. Oftentimes that entails reading something tedious and largely by force, and then regurgitating well-organized thoughts onto a properly-headed paper of varying length. But that’s not the case here. There are no deadlines to meet. There are no points to defend, or sources to cite, or bullshit to sift through. This is something I have chosen to do of my own volition – yes, because I want to reflect on everything I’ll see and hear and touch and smell and taste and DO, but also because I want you to come as close to seeing and hearing and touching and smelling and tasting it all, and maybe that’ll spur you to DO it all yourself. Maybe not in Nagoya, but perhaps Moscow, or Istanbul, or London, or Toronto, or Chicago – wherever you think you might want to go. The better written this blog is, the more you’ll feel what I write here.
Selfish Reason No. 4 This Record Now Exists – I want you to read my blog.
By now – if you’re still reading this, kudos, by the way – you may be saying that these reasons aren’t really selfish. I mean, I am sharing them with the public at large, after all. Right? Well, yes and no. I guarantee that everything I post here will be the absolute truth and accurate to a fault, but at the end of the day they’re simply my opinions on my observations, not the gospel truth on what your opinions and your observations would/will be if you experienced the exact same things I do. So I guess, in a way, it’s like I’m tricking you into into sharing my experiences with me. And isn’t that what writing basically is?
Selfish Reason No. 5 This Record Now Exists – It’ll prove that I will survive this experience.
This post comes a couple weeks before the adventure of a lifetime begins, at the end of a killer summer that was the most important one in my twenty-six years of breathing. I’m leaving a lot of stuff behind me – family and friends; things I cherish and things I hate; braincells and bar tabs and the Battery – stuff I grew up with and know quite intimately. This will be the first time I’ve ever flown on an airplane. This will be the first time I’ve ever been further west than Atlanta. This will be the first time I’ve ever spent Christmas without my mother. Damn straight I’m feeling apprehensive. But not so much so that I won’t jump in head first. Yeah, I’ll struggle a bit. I won’t feel the bottom, but I’ll learn to swim. And I’ll be fine. I mean, look what I have to look forward to – Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and the Shinkansen and the subway and Fuji-san and walls of skyscrapers and obnoxious neon signage and street food and karaoke dives and used panty machines and God knows what else. I’m a freak for Japanese infrastructure, if you haven’t noticed. And that’s more than enough reason to go.
One more thing, folks. Many of you might be wrinkling those brows at the title of my blog, ifoundthewub. It’s a reference to a Philip K. Dick short story, “Beyond Lies The Wub.” It’s about a spaceship crew that lands on Mars and purchases a wub, a strange creature described as slightly porcine in appearance. They keep it with them and don’t realize that it has telepathic powers until they take off with it and have a few weird “conversations” with it. Then, they all become wary of it, argue amongst themselves about what to with it, and one of them eventually eats it, after which he (named Franco) becomes possessed by the wub. After he had eaten it.
It’s a kick-ass story, I love the title, and I think, metaphorically speaking, it’s quite fitting. So there.
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