2004 Annual Letter


Thirty-plus years after high school, the influence of Herman Hesse has popped up. There has been some journeying to the east this past year. In January I was fortunate to be part of a group that flew to Korea to hang out with kids at a winter English camp. I was lucky enough to be assigned the two best teaching assistants in the camp. Not only did the assistants get along well with the kids, they were both very conscientious about letting me know when my western ways were just too bizarre for Korean sensibilities.


American Diplomacy Unleashed: Even better was that the TAs were willing to indulge me when we went out on public forays. Camp consisted of classes in art, music, and drama, with lots of field trips to break the tedium of English and kimchee. Taking the kids to a museum of Korean history, I had one of the assistants explain to the docent, "The exhibits are lovely, but I can't find any price tags." While politely covering a mouth full of laughter, the confused docent tried to express extreme sorrow, and explain that none of the pieces were for sale. Undeterred, I had my assistant clarify, "No, no. I have American dollars."


Corrupting Korean kids into western humor can be a bit more perilous. Visiting the zoo, we were looking forward to a nice lunch away from camp. I talked the kids into asking the zookeepers which tasted better: Tiger burgers or lion burgers? Koreans are quick learners. I decided to keep my winter gloves on after some of the kids began chanting: "Teacher burger, teacher burger."


In the spring Chris and I stumbled onto the perfect day to get married, calm and clear. We chartered a delightful little ferry boat (photo on back side of this card) and, like the crew of the SS Minnow, headed out for a life-changing afternoon cruise. The weather could not have been better. I don't want to say it was fated in the stars, but choosing a date that added up to nine didn't hurt.


In the summer I had an opportunity to teach juggling at a youth circus camp in Vermont. Again, the kids were great. However without any buffering assistants around, I got in touch with how needy children can be. More interesting was how the experience reminded me even more strongly of how needy I can be. It could well be that Chris is spoiling me even more than I had realized. Apparently impressed by how well I got along with kids, a week later the International Jugglers' Association drafted me to be chairman for the year. Personally, I'm of a mixed mind when congratulated about this. While I am honored and pleased that I am able to be of service, it feels a bit like jury duty. I guess after all these years it makes sense that my number finally came up.


Talk about planting slow-growing seeds & Like a ticking something about to go off, my dice stacking experience reaped interesting fruit this fall. I was invited to teach a Japanese celebrity how to stack dice for a New Year s television special. What a great gig. Essentially, I became a part of his entourage for a couple of weeks. Sakai-san, the star, is a very nice man, who is huge in Japan. Including the full-time masseur, there were usually around twelve people surrounding him. My mini-entourage of two, the translator and the agent who arranged to have me come over, folded into the group rather well.


At least, I think things went well. After a couple of days the agent stopped coming around. I took it as a positive sign that the dice-stacking situation was under control. The agent was free to spend time with more troubling matters. One afternoon, prompted by some balloons in the room, Sakai-san conversationally related a story about a balloonist who ascended and was never heard from again. Not having seen the agent for several days, I wondered aloud if this story was some sort of confession. Did the agent somehow cross or let down Sakai-san and his team? Had he been spirited away by a mysterious balloon? This caused the translator to wonder if perhaps this at-first-innocent-sounding story might actually have been a veiled threat for the two of us to shape up.


After hearing so much about the professional people crammers, I have to admit I was pretty excited about riding the Tokyo subway. Running into my first transit car, expecting the classic Tokyo-sardine experience, I rushed over to a couple of people that were already in the car, standing as closely as I could to them. Then I looked around and saw that there were only about twelve people in the entire coach. Needless to say, my fellow passengers were a bit startled by my overly intimate behavior. With much bowing (and moving to a different car at the next stop) the transit police did not have to be alerted.


Two television events merged into one while I was there. To my foreign eyes the common theme seemed to be "big things that fall over." I arrived during a major sumo tournament. While the tournament was broadcast on one station, there was an almost-nightly fare of Godzilla movies on another. Combining jetlag and squinting with deft use of the remote control, for several days I was sure that the world's favorite thunder lizard was regularly defeating sumo-champion Asahoryu to advance to the rank of yokozuna.


Even though there was a decent per diem, it s hard to eat out every night especially when ordering has the potential to cause an international incident. I noticed there was a microwave in the closet of the hotel room. Stumbling onto a supermarket on the way back one evening, I purchased a deli-style prepared meal. The plan was to spend a casual night in, watching Tokyo be destroyed yet again by Godzilla and friends. (As an aside, I made a trip to Tokyo Tower, just to see if it was as fragile as portrayed. The tower is much more substantial than is shown in the movies. At least, I couldn t knock it over.) When it came time to heat up the plate of noodles, unknown vegetables, and even more unknown protein matter, I discovered the punch line to the great joke I had played on myself. What I thought was a microwave was, in fact, a safe. Turns out that a plate of cold noodles covered with cold what-not isn t that bad.


A belated New Games epiphany regarding the animal roots of Tag came while waiting for a water taxi. A gull had a beak full of some sea creature that left me cold, but must have looked tantalizing to other gulls and probably most of my fellow passengers-to-be. The seafood-laden gull was not willing to fly away, nor did it want to relinquish its bounty. Instead, it chose to zigzag back and forth, continually chased by three or four other gulls. Hmm, Tag. Shortly after, a sandwich and a bench may have played out another evolutionary link. Several pigeons were at the other end of a small park when I sat to enjoy a sandwich. Without appearing at all interested, every one of the pigeons nonchalantly circled over to where I was sitting. Appreciating their group demeanor (We'll just situate ourselves nearer to that sandwich, in the off chance that something good happens. If not, at least we didn't appear too eager.), when a homeless fellow sat down next to me at the bench. Not speaking any English, he still managed to convey the same idea: "I don't know who you are, and I will just situate myself in your proximity, in case anything good happens." Happy Next Year!


copyright 2004 by Todd Strong



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