Excerpt from the diary I kept as an exchange student in Japan

Happy birthday to me!

I'm sitting on the train right now and a woman just got on wearing a t-shirt that has a picture of bubbles and the word "douche" written on it. I feel like I should say something, but should I? She probably doesn't know what the word means, after all, and very few people in Japan would know either . . . Should I spoil her ignorant bliss? She probably thinks she's just wearing a cool shirt with an obscure foreign word on it . . . Should I just totally ruin her day by telling her what the word means?

For all I know it could be a band t-shirt, right? Then it really wouldn't matter what the word was.

Well, I told them . . . as best I could with my limited speaking abilities, anyway. They seemed like nice people. Weren't terribly phased by it. Just kind of a "huh . . ." reaction . . .

But I couldn't get off the train at my stop, so I had to hop off at the next one and hot foot it all the way back to Kikyo.

Talked to Kana a little bit on my way back from school . . . I learned that she works at the fish market with her mom and brother (which explains why she works there at all) . . . and not much else, honestly. My ears were failing me again . . . but I'm sure that as I practice more, things will only get better . . . part of my problem, I'm coming to realize, is a deeply imbedded fear that I won't understand what they're saying affecting me in some way so that I don't understand . . . Sometimes I am my own greatest adversary.

Anyway, I'm not certain, but I think Kana's brother thought I was hitting on her, or at the very least, he was joking about the idea that I was hitting on her . . . Not really sure which.

Had more tests today . . . Hoping I did better than last time . . . but my test-taking self-esteem is pretty low right now. If I flubbed another one . . . I just don't know what else I can do . . . This is so hard . . . I'm so scared and frustrated, but I have to keep faking confidence and happiness . . .

Met some of the Russian students today . . . they all seemed like really nice (and very attractive!) people. Some of the girls, however, were complaining about how there was nothing to do, so I suggested they might try Goryokakucho, which they hadn't heard of.

I was thinking of going there tonight, myself, to just wander about and enjoy my birthday . . . maybe I could invite them to come along next time, if I can find a place they might be interested in going to.

I'm studying right now, adn I'm stuck by the absolutely momentous proportions of what I'm trying to learn . . . it feels so impossible sometimes (now, for instance). I want somebody, Leah, Sarah, somebody to give me a back rub or at least hug me and tell me it will all be okay . . . That I'll understand somebody . . . that soon I'll look back and wonder how I could not have known what hougaku meant. But they can't. I am alone. And this task feels so daunting. Oh, Gentle Reader, it is you alone in whom I can confide. Please, using your understanding that through quantum physics there is no time or distance, send me some solace?

That was good . . . Thank you, Gentle Reader.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm being payed back for some past life where I was really rude to foreigners . . . I hear myself talking with a big "aaaah" searching for word pauses in my speech. I'd never really understood those pauses before. I have so much empathy for those kind of people now . . . Jeeze, I sound like i'm trying to bargain with some god or something: "Okay! I see your point! Now let me understand!" Something like that, anyway . . .

So it seems that in Hokkaido, Tanabata is treated like Halloween. Little kids put on kimonos and run around chanting for candy and . . . fire crackers, I think. Only, since this is Japan they all just open your door and start chanting right in your foyer.

One kid said he liked my striped socks.

Anyway, this is really making it hard to get any studying done

Will I ever learn this stupid language? I'm in antoher one of my negative turns right now . . .

At least the cute kids are cheering me up a bit. So many freaking words and sentece patterns . . . How did I ever learnd their English equivalents? How did I become a poet and a writer when the medium I hcose to work in is so difficult to manipulate. Carving marble statues would be easier!

I feel like I've made progress yet still know nothing. I am both amazed by my ability to communicate at all, and dismayed at my complete inability to communicate. Everything is so hard . . . so hard . . . I honestly feel intense jealousy for the communicative abilities of those in higher level classes. I wonder if babies feel the same way . . . if some of the first emotions we experience after becoming aware enough to even conceive of communication include extreme jealousy. I want to be verbose and creative . . . expressive . . . sometiems even flirty . . . I want to be myself with those around me.

Right now we're talking about book titles and historical events and somebody in reference to "A Farewell to Arms" called it "Goodbye Gun." I thought that was so funny I just had to write it down.

My birthday dinner was microwaved KFC, 2 squid rings, some soba noodles and a slice of the Japanese interpretation of cheese cake. Pretty wacky, eh? I forgot to take pictures.

However, my host sister got me this neato blue t-shirt with kanji on it.

Now mom is watching Felicity dubbed into Japanese. It's surreal.