A Year Without Cigarettes
I quit smoking one year ago, almost eight years after smoking my first. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I smoked my last cigarette outside of Incheon International Airport (IIA, Seoul, South Korea). It was a Marlboro Menthol-Cool-Blast-whatthefuckever, the kind with a flavor bubble in the filter you squeeze to burst and it gives you a minty rush of cold smoke.
Our first night in Seoul one of the guys commented on the tar content of my Lucky Strikes. The three packs I brought with me didn’t last three days. I guess that’s what got me started thinking about quitting. After a week of oscillating between drunk and the worst hangovers I have ever experienced (soju is the devil), I found myself at the airport with only one cigarette left: the Marb Blue Menthol. Hungover from staying out until 6am and on two hours of sleep, it was not particularly satisfying.
Half a day later, back in my apartment in Japan, I was too tired to go out and buy cigarettes. I had work the next day, but I was unable to sleep. I sat down at my computer and tried to write. All I could come up with was this:
I have smoked for seven years. I smoke to punish myself. It is time to stop punishing myself.
So that’s when I made the decision. Not a plan to quit “someday” or “before I’m thirty” or “next year” or for new years. I “just” decided to quit, cold turkey, for real this time.
They say that the first three days are the hardest, and in my experience that’s true. The first three weeks weren’t particularly easy either. Nor were the first three months. It certainly gets easier over time, but a lot of that time is hell. In the beginning there is insomnia, lying awake unable to sleep because your mind is constantly on smoking. You think about it every 15 seconds, like you went to bed without eating dinner.
When you’re quitting an addiction it’s not enough to focus on the negatives, because inevitably you’ll find yourself thinking of all of the negatives you’re going through while quitting and backslide. What about the social aspect—the comraderie and conversation of a smoke break? What about the relaxing feeling? Will I ever feel that way with anything else ever again?
Pictures of black lungs and videos of people talking hoarsely with tubes in their necks do nothing to deter someone who is already addicted because that is only a potential negative consequence. You have to remind yourself what you’re gaining. Better health will become more and more apparent over time. Your sense of smell and taste make a shocking comeback because you never noticed them leave. Increased sex drive, performance and a larger dating pool are pretty big positives. Whatever helps.
As I quit, I came to understand how much thought and energy I put into smoking: making sure I had a pack / papers / lighter / wallet / phone / keys before leaving every day, enough to get through work, one before bed, and one after breakfast. Quitting eventually freed up all of that mental energy I was spending on my addiction and allowed me to channel it elsewhere.
Breaking an addiction is much more complicated than just saying no. Breaking an addiction is making the decision to constantly say no until you stop asking yourself the question.
Japanese Frog Sex Orgy
It’s the sexiest time of year again. The cold weather has broken and you can feel in the air that it’s about to get all hot and steamy up in here. Awwwww yea. You put your heater away weeks ago, and you can’t even remember the last time you peeled off your thermal underwear. These nights, if you fall asleep with the heavy blanket on you wake up all hot and sweaty. Well crack a window, baby, ‘cause the heat is on. Outside, the rice fields are flooding, filling to the brim with the waters of spring. And at night, well… at night are once again treated to the sweet, sensual music of a thousand humping frogs.
I mean, they are really going at it hard out there. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish the sound of one frog’s raging hard-on from the legion other voices adding their song to the beautiful frox-sex-chorus of this beautiful Japanese spring evening. You may find it difficult to sleep with them out there flaunting their raw animal sexuality for all the world to hear. You can be as loud as the hell you want when you’re making frog-love.
If you were getting this kind of action you would be letting everyone know about it too. This is the kind of shit they won’t show you on the Discovery Channel. This is some HBO explicicity; some Cinemax after midnight. No, that doesn’t do justice to the kind of depravity going on out there. Forget that one time in your friend’s hot tub; these dirty mothers only do it in the water, and they have no qualms about incorporating food. (Wash your rice.)
I can tell by the way you’re reacting that your parents probably never told you about amplexus. Let me break it down for you:
Once the female has inevitibly succumbed to the masculine cat croaks of her alpha-amphibian, she slides her smooth green figure up in front of him and turns slowly around, inviting him to mount her. With strong, firm pads he grips her tightly from behind, pulling her firmly but gently closer, until he has literally climbed on top of her. As the light of the moon shines down above, the only thing separating their amphibian genetalia is the waters of the pool they swim in. Days can pass like this, he the big spoon, she the little. This is what Kermit the Frog called “The Rainbow Connection.”
Meanwhile the other male frogs are quite literally fucking everything. It is a pansexual amphibian orgy, and every taste is valid. You’ve got frogs fucking other animals, frogs fucking rocks, male frogs fucking other male frogs. Throw an old shoe into a rice paddy if you want to see a frog fucking your shoe. Hell, try a Hello Kitty doll or a Pokemon figure. Whatever gets your rocks off.
But the alpha-frog isn’t paying attention to the green bacchanalia, he is still firmly mounted after hours, days even, the extacy building in agonizing waves of pleasure and pleasure-bordering-on-pain until finally it’s all too much… “Drop them,” he whispers firmly in her ear. She can no longer contain herself, releasing her eggs into the pool. Finally, the male cries out, “STELLAAAAA!” or “KYOKOOOOO” or whatever-her-name-is as he covers the eggs in his sticky sperm solution. He then promises to call her, and they go their separate ways. After a few years the child-support checks stop coming, and then, well… It’s the circle of life.
Found this written on a desk at my high-level Japanese high school:
I’ve got to move on and be who I am
I just don’t belong here I hope you understand
We might find a place in this world someday
but at least for now… I gotta go my own way
The Only Thing Worse Than Men's Toilets (in Japan)
- Girl 1: Holy fucking shit could those dumb bitches take any longer? I mean, it's like they squat there for twenty minutes doing god-knows-what. Every stall is full, everyone with their panties down trying not to make a single fucking sound. Like it's going to kill you if anyone hears you pee?! We're all in a bathroom! That's what we came to do! Then they sit there at the goddamn mirror for-fucking-ever doing their makeup for the fifteenth time today.
- Girl 2: I know, right! And then they don't even throw away their tampon or pad or whatever, they just stick it to the wall.
- Me: To the wall?!
- Girl 1: Oh yea, I've seen that. Fucking nasty-ass. If I had a dime for every time I've walked into a stall that looked like that prom scene from Carrie.
- Me: Blood?!?
- Girl 1: Blood everywhere. Fuckin' all over the floor, smeared on the walls, flush handle. I swear, fifty percent of the time I use a public restroom in Japan I want to throw up or start stabbing my eyes out with chopsticks.
- Girl 2: At least I've never found a used condom here.
- Me: I've never seen Japanese couples making out in public; I can't imagine they'd ever go at it in a toilet. I mean, love hotels being so cheap and ubiquitous...
- Girl 2: And in a tiolet they might slip on a used pad.
- Girl 1: Or pool of blood.
- Me: So... anyone want more breadsticks?
The Quiet, Impotent Rage of a Japanese Train in the Morning
I hit the platform with about a minute to spare. Ok, guys and gals, I know we’re not going to speak a single word, make eye contact, or in any way acknowledge each other’s presence, but I feel like we’re all in this together. Let’s just make this as painless as possible and we’ll all get where we’re going without wanting to hack each other to tiny pieces. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be on this train for forty-five minutes or so, and I’m not too terribly excited about where I’m going today. I judge by the looks on your faces that you aren’t either.
Alright, train’s here right on time. Metal-on metal screeching rings in my head and I can almost taste the brake dust. Doors opening. Let’s stand off to the side and let everybody clear out. No, don’t push your way on before they’re finished getting out. That’s… alright, I see. You got that one open seat. Good for you. Now, everybody else let’s just… ok, lady, please keep walking once you step onto the train. I know that you saw me behind you. Just because you got on doesn’t mean there aren’t five other people waiting for you to move your tiny ass.
I remember that popular image of Japan: the white-gloved JR workers pushing crowds onto trains. I’ve never actually seen this happen, despite being on some uncomfortably intimate trains in my time. In the winter, the heaters are on full blast and the windows fog and sweat, punctuated by brief blasts of cold at each station. Depending on how packed the train is, this can feel like sweet relief. In the summer trains are air conditioned but with so many bodies it’s like trying to put out a campfire by pissing on it. But today is fine. Not too hot, not too cold. The train is full, but not packed. I push the lady by the top of the back gently but firmly forward and move onto the train.
Alright, doors closed, right hand grasping one of the hanging straps. Train jolts forward and slowly picks up speed. No space to lean, but that’s alright. I’ll just shift my weight from my right foot to the left… now back to the right. Got my headphones on. Golly, sir, but that is some potent breath you have. You’re like… three feet away. Most impressive. I see you’re reading… well, I can’t tell ‘cause you’ve got a bookstore brown paper dust cover on it, but I do believe if I stand on my tippy-toes… yes, the man next to you is reading a porno comic. My but those are some comically large breasts. They’re like… three times the size of her head. I imagine that would lead to some serious back problems.
Ok, evil eye, I won’t check out your porno comic anymore. I pull out my iPhone and bury myself in it for twenty minutes, just like everyone else.
We reach a popular stop and a few seats open up. I sit down, and the overweight salaryman next to me inhales a short, asthmatic gasp. At the next stop he stands, walks across the cabin as if to exit the train, then finds another seat. Normally, this kind of casual racism would give me some offense but, quite frankly, it is too early for that shit and I appreciate the room to spread myself out. Do what you gotta do, man.
[Ten minute power nap.]
At the end of the line, there’s a fair amount of commotion, and I wake up. Everyone stands and begins taking their marks by the door. The doors open and everyone in the car runs for the nearest escalator. First person there hits the steps, several people vault up the escalator running for a train that has likely already begun loading; the fifth or sixth reaches the first step and… stops. The crowd bottlenecks up behind them in a giant pool of bodies. What kind of asshole runs for the escalator to just fucking stand there as a throng of people wait behind them?
After what seems like five minutes of shuffling slowly forward like a shiny steel ball through a pachinko machine, I get up the steps, through the station (nearly running over several salarymen who couldn’t possibly be Japanese because Japanese people would know that in this country we walk on the left damn side of the damn hallway like the arrows on the ground say), through the turnstile, out the doors.
Alright, not bad today, people. See you all again in eight hours.
FEED THE POKéMON
Japan is a cash society. This means that in most places of business credit cards are either not accepted or terribly inconvenient to use. Personal checks do not exist here, and traveller’s cheques are looked at with much confusion, hand-wringing, and teeth-sucking. It is not uncommon to carry around upwards of 3-Man (30,000 Yen or $300) on your person. If you are, say, walking to the Apple store in Osaka to pick up a new MacBook Pro you will likely have 15—Man ($1500) burning a hole in your pocket.
Most progressive, forward-thinking nations (read: not America) have done away with paper currency in small denominations, as it is expensive to produce. One-upping the Euro’s 2 Euro coin, Japan’s largest coin denomination is 500 Yen. They’re rather large and heavy, much more difficult to lose than a quarter. I’m pretty sure I’ve never lost one or found one on the street.
Early into my first year I began a system of saving money with the secondary goal of discouraging midnight convenience store runs for chicken-mayo rice balls, curry bread, and vending machine sodas. I bought a Pokémon bank for 100 Yen from a local “recycle shop” and began following one very simple rule: Any time I return home with a 500 Yen coin in my pocket, I must FEED THE POKéMON.
After a year and a half of this, my Pokémon is extremely fat with the weight of 65 of these coins. That’s 32,500 Yen ($350 or so). I am told that the Pokémon is a Turtwig #387, but as this number is higher than 151 I haven’t bothered to commit this name to memory.
If you decide to try the FEED THE POKéMON Method™, I recommend setting a goal item or purpose for the bank ahead of time. I can’t think of anything to spend the money on. I keep shaking the coins into the head to make room for more, and now it is next to impossible to keep the Pokémon standing. My no-smoke fund is earmarked for whatever sexy baby the Macbook Pro and Macbook Air lines are in bed right now making, and my rock-and-roll lifestyle does not need much more encouragement. #firstworldproblems
A Blonde Fly on The Wall
There is absolutely nothing going on in this staff room. At this overachieving school, between classes, it is a hive of panic and confusion; teachers scurrying from one crisis to the next with frazzled hair prematurely whitening in front of my very eyes. But today, as the teachers administer the yearly nationwide fitness exams, it feels unnaturally devoid of the buzzing tones of hastily-spoken Japanese. Fluorescent lights illuminate the fifty glass-topped desks like the surface of an Olympic pool after competitions are over and the young participants are off in the Village screwing each others brains out.
The vice principal is sitting at his desk, as he is for 90% of every day, doing whatever it is vice principals do, pecking away at his computer and working through a stack of vacation requests, utility bills, and other administrative reports that require his and probably two or three other personal seals. He is the first person in the door in the morning and the last out the door in the evening. It has to be the worst job in the world for someone who used to be a teacher: to know that you’ll never see another classroom, spending your entire day in this joy vacuum.
I detect a faint hint of cigarette smoke coming off of a teacher sitting near the one-of-two internet-connected computers where I am writing this. Time was, this staff room would be filled with cigarette smoke. It was only about ten years ago, actually, when there was an ashtray on every other desk and you could literally smell the office tension. Nowadays the teachers who smoke slink off to some secret location I was not privy to when I was still sucking down that sweet, beautiful poison. I suspect it is behind the gym, though I did get a pretty good whiff coming out of one of the science classrooms with a fume hood.
Here comes everyone for lunch. The mood appears lighter, as it is a no-classes Friday before a three-day weekend, before a two-day week before a four-day weekend. Still, the room seems to suck the joy from the air. There is some discussion of upcoming vacation plans, but most are resigned to the fact that they will most likely be coming in during the vacation to keep working.
I’ve never understood what exactly they’re doing with all of those hours after school, on weekends, on holidays. Perhaps I don’t want to. The answer might just be depressing. Maybe so-and-so sensei doesn’t really have anything to do, he just sticks around to avoid going home to his wife. Perhaps what-her-name-sensei has become so married to the job that this staffroom is all of the family and friends she keeps in contact with. Maybe they really are killing themselves with work.
I’ll just pick up my bento and say a silent prayer that today isn’t mushroom rice or natto day. Opening that lunch box and finding some delicious fried treat inside is one of the few little pleasures life in this staffroom offers, and a bad lunch day is enough to ruin the second half of even fitness test day. I would rather dip my balls in a beehive than sit in a staffroom filled with fermented soy bean fumes.
The Predipus Complex
Every new English teacher in Japan is, on some level, in a competition with their predecessor. We are thrown into their old job in the middle of the school year and are expected to hit the ground running with next to no formal preparation, few notes on how to do our jobs, and coworkers who are often tired of training a new ALT every one-to-two years. Our teachers and students call us by their names, sometimes for months, and bombard us with anecdotes about how good so-and-so-sensei was at recording listening tests, what their eating habits were like, or how they pronounced wash with an R. Warsh. In many cases, it takes the entire school year to stop feeling like you are being constantly compared to the previous Native English Speaker.
At the beginning, scrambling to cope with an unusually heavy workload and therefore unable to assert myself as the better teacher, I instead cultivated a sense of moral superiority. My predecessor didn’t move out of the apartment until a week after I arrived, forcing me to stay with three different teachers. When he finally did leave, he left his garbage under the staircase and didn’t even bother to clean the apartment after the movers took his things. It was easy to blame all of my work problems on him. I made up my mind to never, ever going to ask for his help or advice on anything.
I’ve heard far worse predecessor stories. One guy opened his microwave to find rotten food crawling with maggots. He threw the whole microwave away. Then he found out that it was Board of Education property and he’d have to pay for a new one. All-in-all most predecessors are pretty good, and most complaints boil down to petty annoyances.
A year and a half in, having experienced the kind of frustration my predecessor had on a daily basis at this school, I don’t blame him for being a bit of a dick on the way out. I can’t say I haven’t daydreamed about going out in a blaze of rage: flipping everyone the bird as I march out the door yelling C’MON POOKIE LETS BURN THIS MOTHER DOWN running to empty my bank account throwing everything I care about into a suitcase and never looking back.
Those thoughts pass. I want to make sure the next foreigner has enough information and support to succeed and thrive here. So how about it, guys? How about we all agree to write some comprehensive notes and clean our apartments before we move out? Break the cycle.
Photo: Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Antoine-Theodore Giroust 1788 French Oil (5) by mharrsch on Flickr.