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Friday, January 29, 2010

Pleasure Abounds!

Yesterday my friend/coworker Kelly and I made it to see Avatar in 3D. Best part: Alice in Wonderland preview. Second best thing: The Lightning Thief preview. I never saw anything about this movie in the US. I never even knew the book(s?) existed and here is this story that appears to be Harry Potter mashed with "Clash of the Titans". It has my interest.

I enjoyed the movie a lot. The plot isn't anything new, but the approach and context were fresh. What I liked most about the movie was the design of Pandora's flora and fauna. The 3D was excellent and didn't really hinge on gimmickry. The CG was astounding and I found myself marveling at how CGI has grown by leaps and bounds. Motion capture fascinates me and I was astounded at how excellent the facial animation/mo-cap was. If anyone called this movie a technical achievement, I would not argue.

Afterward, I scored my latest quarry in my food collection hunt: green tea Kit Kat. The biggest score was the exchange of shoes, aided by a clerk that barely spoke any English. Between her efforts and my Crapanese, we made the exchange and I determined that she was able to order the right size from a store in Tokyo and it will be mailed to me at the circus lot and it will arrive Sunday or Monday.

This evening, however, I spent the time after show and after practice preparing food. I gave my new skillet a workout and it performed admirably. I am sometimes amazed at how great it is to just make food and graze as I'm making it.

YUUUUUUUUM!

Monday, January 25, 2010

No, Really – They're Enjoying It!

As I was walking back from my trip to accomplish some grocery shopping, I decided on a goofy, yet inappropriate name for my non-existent travelogue of Japan:

Crooked Teeth and Knock-Kneed Girls: A Gaijin's Visits To Japan.

Of course, I wouldn't seriously name a book that. There might be some serious Brazil-vs.-The Simpsons-style fallout from that. Except, you know, Japan mostly has a sense of humor. It might make it a good seller at Urban Outfitters or something like that.

Today I had my first brush with the ugly side of my job. Even though we had only two shows today, the shows are scheduled with about 30-40 minutes in between, After each show except the last of the day, this makes for a real turn-and-burn energy. Sometimes when one of us is retrieving props from the floor, audience members want to shake our hands. This is frowned upon, since people see someone shaking the piero-san's hand and they want to do it, too. At that point, house staff – who are also performers – get a little annoyed and the woman in charge of that part of the show operations gets really ornery and has been known to yell at people.

As I was retrieving the board, two audience members wanted to shake my hand and thank me for the show. I had to express my appreciation and my apologies in what limited Japanese I have. Fortunately, they seemed to understand, but even then, it stunk that I had to do that. It was a bright spot in what was otherwise a slightly frustrating show marked by the textbook Kyoto stoicism. At least I hear that it's pretty textbook.

The big surprise of the day was when I purchased fried shrimp from the grocery store. When I arrived home and pulled it out to eat it, I noticed they still had their heads on. Oh well. I've eaten shrimp heads before.

I just didn't do it today.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tools and Bills

Whoa! Yike! It's been that long since I last posted? Eep.

I received my first bill yesterday! This one is for my internet line. The next one coming should be my internet service and the one after that should be . . . nothing. The cool and convenient thing about paying bills here in Japan is that you can pay all of your bills at the convenience store. WHAT!?

That's right: convenience stores that are actually really convenient. If I had an electric bill, a water bill, cell phone bill, landline phone bill, and gas bill in one pile, I could take them all down to the local convenience store and pay them all right there. Does that rock or what?

I'll be taking advantage of that with my cell phone bill as well. Thursday I finally bought a pre-paid cell phone. One cool thing about cell phones over here is that texting is unlimited with a nominal charge. None of this $10-15 crap in the US. ¥300/month gets me cell phone email and unlimited texting. Eat that, USA!

Of course, there is the difficulty of adapting to a new system of texting. My phone menu and all are in English, but the user interface for texting is vastly different from what I've been used to. No longer will I be ripping out text messages with fully-spelled words at lightning speed. It forces me to slow down, which is very frustrating because as my thoughts are three sentences ahead, I'm busy correcting the typo on the third word of the text message and trying to get correct upper and lower case in my words. I feel slow-brained and inept because of having to slow down. I hope to learn the ins and outs and find out that I can once again work at my normal pace instead of being weighed down like Harrison Bergeron.

Oh! And I finally caught up on uploading photos to my Flickr page!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/misterparks/

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Analyzing Factors

What is this? Two days off? I can't believe it!

Strangely enough, even just one day off doesn't seem to make for an insurmountable week. I'm not yet sure if it's just that my stamina isn't really tapped by three show and two show days, if it's because the show's not so long at 2h10m, or a combination thereof. I have a theory that the proximity of my house plays a major part as well.

As this lot is set up, I'm fewer than ten yards from the dressing room. Just out the door and to the right of the dressing room is the rear flap to enter the tent and the ring. As such, it takes me fewer than 30 seconds to get to work in the morning. I head straight out of my door and I'm slapping on the greasepaint in under two minutes. During the intermission break and between shows I can go to my room and make food or do online "business" (Right! Business?), or I can grab a book or read the English edition of the daily paper, The Yomiuri Shinbun. That makes for a very quick day.

With a show schedule and housing arrangements like that, the six packs feel like nothing and we have six packs every weekend. Sometimes we even get to have three shows on Mondays as well if there's a holiday. The rest of the week is two show days. If I were on a mudshow, I'd have to pack up and move after every day, so that is another bonus to my arrangements. I've got it pretty good.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Discipline and Tastes of Home

Most of the time, I have to have music going in the background. I just like music and I've collected a lot of it and I see no end to that habit in the future. In fact, I've been a subscriber to eMusic for two years now (I think), maybe three and I've recently spent quite a bit of time on their website of late because they have greatly expanded their collection. In three days, my "saved for later" page exploded from 18 to 63 selections. Some of those selections are simple placeholders for artists who have more than one album that I have in my sights.

As a result, I'm currently figuring out who I could invite to eMusic who would join and subsequently score me 45 credits in free music. Hmmm . . . .

However, the past few days have found me streaming MPR 89.3 The Current from the Twin Cities. The Current has been a return to radio for me. I may not always like what song is on, but as a body and what it does, I love almost every minute of The Current. Like most stations, one learns that it's not immune to overplaying songs. The difference is that it's not cruddy commercial radio, which is just lacking something for my tastes.

I've had internet in my room for almost three weeks now and I'm surprised that it took me this long to remember about streaming The Current. I'm both ashamed and relieved.

I have reached a point where I've re-entered an exercise regimen. I'm not out of shape by any means, but I'm not in the physical condition that I prefer. I've started small and haven't gotten back into my full yoga practice, but I do little one-minute stretches of yoga. This will be another stage in my physical maintenance in that I'll be attempting to balance the building of slender muscle mass and maintaining the development of sinewy strength and flexibility through yoga.

We'll see how it goes. I usually don't like to be slow and patient about things. I want to be back up to speed NOW!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Culture Shock Report and Freaking Out Mom

My latest culture shock things is only a one-banger:

I used a rice cooker.

I don't really use rice cookers back in the states. Once I graduated college, I didn't think my independence would mean much as someone who could cook for himself if he couldn't cook rice – a basis of many dishes that's easy as hell to cook – on a stove top with a pan. I never saw any reason to turn back. When I moved in, along with the dirt and disarray, one of the very useful thing I inherited was a rice cooker. I used it for the first time this morning and all went well, despite the fact that I couldn't read any of the buttons. Since I was in the room and wasn't going to be walking away from it any time soon, I just started it up and watched it, which was completely unnecessary as it turned out. No matter. It was success and it was still pretty.

Last night I went out with my friend and work partner Kelly to meet with her and a local friend to celebrate her birthday. This marked the first time that I've eaten sukiyaki and it was good. One of the staple parts of sukiyaki is that the beef and other ingredients that you cook in the skillet are served in a bowl with raw egg in it. So there you go – coming from the United States where the very idea of eating raw egg is enough to give anyone a conniption – raw egg down the hatch with no pause, and it was delicious and I'm still standing the next day, feeling fine. That will go on the list with eating chicken sashimi a few years ago (yes – raw chicken) and an entire fugu dinner.

My mom was watching "CSI" or one of those other cookie cutter crime shows that there are too many spinoffs for (I'm personally fond of "NCSI" and not just because of Abby), and fugu was mentioned as part of the plot development and they said what it was of course. My mom asked me since I've been to Japan a few times if I'd ever eaten fugu. When I told her that I had, she had a heart attack. I could see her playing the fugu-gone-bad scenario in her head, trying to imagine the horror of me having died four years ago in Japan, imagining life without me around. She does that.

But I'm fine! I'm open-minded, but not stupid or hapless, although some conservative elements of American society would have you believe that the two go hand-in-hand.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Culture Shock Report

People ask about culture shock a lot. Here's my brief list of instances that are most prevalent on this voyage to Japan:

The height issue. The size of my room is not a problem, but the size of a couple of things in my room causes a bit of difficulty. The sink is really low. The lip of my sink reaches just to mid thigh. This means that when I'm washing dishes, I'm leaning over. It would probably be more uncomfortable if I didn't try to turn it into a brief session of yin yoga, but on my feet instead of being on the ground. My bathroom is a pretty tight space, so when I'm sitting down, my feet are against the bottom of the door frame and my knees would be almost against the door if I closed it. I also have to constantly duck while walking to and from my dressing room and through the entryways leading backstage. It's a bit of a relief noticing that the pathways are even a bit short for some of the other cast members.

The food issue. As with my first time in Japan, I'm finding it very difficult to keep my calorie count up. I'm pretty sure my body fat percentage has dropped and that I've been losing weight in the past month. I'm starting to exercise now that I'm more settled and I find myself wondering how I'm going to get any muscle mass built if I don't take in more calories. Without exercising, my metabolism is fast enough as it is and now I'm encouraging my body to digest itself. Sadly enough, I think I'm going to have to start ignoring my sense of being satisfied at meals and stuff more food in my mouth so I'm not hungry two hours later. I find myself trying to keep up by eating more junk food, but even that doesn't help. I'm working on addressing this problem, but do not seek sympathy, as I have a problem that many people (Americans in particular?) would love to have.

The shoes issue. I don't have slippers; none that I brought with me to Japan anyway. I have Goofy slippers and I don't want them to be used for anything other than lounging around. I refuse to leave my shoes outside my room because it's cold and I'll be damned if I'm putting on freezing shoes in the morning. As such, believe I'm going to order some slip-ons online because I'm not holding my breath trying to find a size 30 over here and I don't wear shoes that are too small for me, even if they are slippers.

• During intermission of the second show as I was in my room, I overheard someone whistling a song that I swore was "Macarthur Park". I'd not have expected to have heard that being whistled while I was here.

Keeping this in mind, roaring lions/ligers and stomping zebras are not part of the adjustment issues.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How I Got Here, part 2

It's difficult to believe, but I've been here a month already! I'm mostly settled in, still having a few things to replace and straighten out in my room, but the major portion of cleaning and straightening up and item replacing has been finished. Sah-weet!

I fondly remember my airplane voyage over here – (cue wavy vision)

First of all, the Des Moines *cough* International Airport featured the marvelous two-layered surprise that started the day rolling. When the time came to charge me for an extra bag and for one overweight bag, the charges for both were considerably less than what was outlined online. SWEET! Check-in and security were smooth and quick, seeing as how I arrived before the morning glut, which was coincidentally right on my heels by the time I extracted my computer and PS2 from my carry-on and preset my belt and other items. I really hate being the person to hold up the security line because I'm getting all of my crap out just as much as I hate being behind those people.

"What?" I have to take my computer out?"
"What? I can't take my Coke through security?"

Where have you been for the past nine years? In a hole?

Denver was where things became spotty. My flight out to San Fran was delayed. They said it was an FAA call, based on weather in SF and the flights were being shuffled and delayed to reduce backups for departures and arrivals caused by the fog.

Okay. All right.

At various points, it became increasingly challenging to believe that I'd be able to make my connection to Osaka. Eventually, the point came where it would have been impossible without time travel. People went ape-nuts. I kept my cool in dealing with the desk agent, and as a result received a little bonus in the email later; score one for not acting like a disgruntled dickhead.

The bad news was that there was no "later flight". There is apparently only one flight to Osaka a day. Great. More bad news: United doesn't have flights to Osaka on Tuesdays. You're kidding me. I was presented with a choice: stay the night in Denver or be moved to a flight to San Fran and stay the night in San Fran. I opted for the latter for a couple of reasons:

• I have friends in Denver, but I also know more people in the Bay Area.
• Getting to the centers of town in easier in the Bay Area because of BART. It's not as easy in Denver.
• In SF I had the ability to take the first flight out toward Osaka.

I flew through Honolulu to Osaka and wound up arriving one day later. In the process of this frustration, I befriended a Canadian couple who was traveling to Osaka to visit their son who was teaching English. Furthermore, it was their anniversary (possibly) and the desk agent in Honolulu asked if they were honeymooning. When they mentioned their anniversary, they were bumped up to First Class. I scored a seat at the bulkhead section, so I had insane leg room AND a seat that inclined.

Movies? I watched movies! I saw: 500 Days of Summer, which was a good movie, yet one that touched a nerve and Tajomaru, which was a Japanese movie. There was a third I had either wanted to watch or had started watching, but I forget which it was. The reason being: I had deprived myself of sleep Sunday night, anticipating the trip on Monday, thereby aiding my efforts to fall dead asleep in flight and adjust my schedule to time in Japan. The delay screwed all of that up.

I'm pretty sure I might be remembering the name of that Japanese movie incorrectly.

And that's the story of my voyage over here to Japan.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How I Got Here, part 1

First things first: How did I get this gig?

I'd heard of Kinoshita Circus through the clown grapevine when I was on Ringling Brothers. People know people and former Ringling clowns would come to the show and visit the clown alley and every now and then one would hear about someone having spent some time on Kinoshita Circus. All I had known at that point was: 1)it was a Japanese circus, 2) the pay was good, and 3) IT'S IN JAPAN, MAN! I had thought it would make for a cool gig and a unique experience culturally and career-wise, but I didn't know at all how to get from where I was to there.

Cut to 2003.

My third year on the road with Ringling brought me to Austin, TX, one of my favorite cities in the US. A free roll (a gift usually consisting of great amounts of food, but not always) arrived at the arena for the clowns, courtesy of Gloria and Chuck Van Cleave, parents of former Ringling Red Unit clown Kelly Van Cleave. Kelly and I had been pen pals from years back, when I was still a teenager who was half in denial, half driven to attend Clown College and join Ringling. We had fallen out of touch for a few years and here I was finally on The Show. Her folks told her what I was up to and got us back in touch. It turns out Kelly had been spending the last few years on the road as a clown with Kinoshita Circus.

Cut to 2006.

I was on tour with another Feld Show: Disney Live! Winnie the Pooh as part of a clown trio with good friend and Ringling road associate Leo Acton and the eager, fun, self-educated Tony. We made a great team. I made sure to let Kelly know that I was in Japan for the show and we found out that we'd be in Nagoya when Kinoshita was in Nagoya.

Nagoya came and we saw the show and hung out a couple of times. Kelly, Leo, and I talked about how good the Kinoshita gig is and Kelly suggested that we pursue it if it really interested us. I kept it in mind, as I was still feeling good about where I was.

Cut to 2008.

I had decided in late 2007 that I wasn't going to continue for a fourth year with Disney Live. Nothing was changing with the show and I was sick of living out of a suitcase and moving every week, traveling with people some of whom were Ugly American types who complained about their jobs for one reason or another; others for whom the experience was like a big school field trip or spring break. There was nowhere else for me to go in the show. There was no "up" towards which I could or wanted to move. Three years on the same show was enough. I submitted materials to the agent for Kinoshita, but someone else was hired.

I refilmed some things for my demo, redited, and resubmitted. To be honest, to this day, I still don't think that my demo is strong and nothing I have shows what I can do. That's not even considering that I don't have any fully-baked routines to show. Be that as it may, what I had and what Kelly had to say were good enough to get me the contract once an opening came by.

In the meantime, I formulated plans to move back to the Twin Cities and hand successfully auditioned for the Science Museum of Minnesota and began my employment there in January 2009. While there, I edged my way back into the Brave New Institute's Six Ring Circus. I had a studio apartment that I loved in a great location that would have allowed me to take the bus anywhere I wanted. The only thing was that my jobs were in Roseville and Saint Paul, so bus rides would have carved three or so hours out of each day.

I hadn't heard from the agent and I had settled back in the marvelous Twin Cities. In October I emailed the agent to get a final word on what was happening. The reply came back with an offer. Six weeks out, I had to uproot everything I had gotten rolling in the past ten months. However, there was no telling when I'd get this chance again.

And so here I am. I'm a resident alien in another country, being the best American example I can be, making more money than I've made to date in my entire life doing a job that many would be happy to have. Things are good and I hope to make the most of it.

At Long Last, The Beginning!

It took me long enough, but I have now officially started my blog about my performing adventures. Why didn't I start from my moving back to the Twin Cities and include the marvelous stories of experiences from performing at Science Museum of Minnesota, Brave New Institute's Six Ring Circus, and working retail at Godiva, I don't know. But now, here I am!

Actually, it's quite possible that I didn't believe anything worth writing about for viewing by the general public until I received a contract to be a clown on Kinoshita Circus in Japan. I'm self-conscious that way.

Speaking of which, I do in fact have a LiveJournal that I periodically use to address and unload thoughts. However, that is not necessarily for the general public and most of my entries there are locked, open only to the eyes of friends. I decided not to sully that "sacred" space with generally viewable, general audiences material, so now we find ourselves here.

This is my third week in Japan, so I have some catching up to do. That will include thoughts, tales, and pictures. I won't necessarily have something for every day because I don't even write every day in my own personal ink-and-pen journal.

So welcome to you, and I look forward to greater productivity in my screeds.