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Showing posts from 2007

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
An End of the Year

“All I want is Christmas is you,” was playing from the radio in my car. It was a rainy day, past midnight. The windshield wipers swept with raindrops reflecting red signals on Ironwood. On that night, I received the first email about my grandfather. He had been suffering from senile dementia (like Alzheimer’s disease) for a couple of months. His memories were like withered leaves; falling apart from his brain. He is nearly 90 years old, so it may be natural for him to forget about some memories.

My family had been hiding his health problems from me because they did not want me to worry about him; because they were busy taking care of my stubborn grandfather in a wheelchair; because I did not call them for two months with the excuse of concentrating on writing stories. My family and I have a distance between us. The distance seems to be longer every year. It is no longer just between South Bend and Nagoya, Japan. It is somewhere between a local coffee sh…

The IUSB Vision

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
By Naoko Fujimoto

Santa Claus, reindeers, fir trees, illuminations…Christmas is coming! You wonder what gifts you are going to give your family. For your sister’s baby, you may give an Elmo with Pizza toy; for your brother you may give a Nintendo DS if you have a big enough budget; and for your mother, you may buy a cake plate set because they were at a great price in an after Thanksgiving sale. On Christmas holidays, most American people have a wonderful dinner, exchange gifts, and stay together with family.

Unlike American people, Christmas in Japan is not family oriented. Most young Japanese people do not celebrate Christmas with their families when they go to high school. Children in elementary and junior high schools are, of course, looking for Santa Claus. They are seriously worried about how Santa Claus will get inside their Japanese style homes. Because most Japanese people live in apartments, they do not have chimneys.

So their parents make t…

The Preface

Empty Suitcase: No.10 (Wow I already have 10 stories!):
The Pink Washtub

When I came to America for the first time, I was sixteen years old. Escaping from my high school in Japan, I was in Portland, Oregon for the summer of my senior year. The summer was the most important season if I wanted to pass Ivy League-like universities in Japan. Unfortunately, I could not wake up at 7:00am, take a subway at 7:45am, and run in to a private women’s high school before the teachers started to take attendance with a ruler.

In my high school, there was an appearance examination every morning. Students cannot wear their uniforms like characters in Japanese manga do; but of course, the students change their outfits after school just like Sailor Moon. But in the summer, I did not have any chance to wear my uniform because no matter how early I went to bed, I woke up at 3:15pm. My poor mother was stressed out about me, who was failing all her classes.

So, my father bought a one-way ticket. My mother kicked…

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
A Favorite Day

I cannot wait for November 21st—my most favorite day of the year—when I think about the day, I want to waltz around on flaming leaves by the St. Joseph River. The day is not my birthday or another special day with someone that I know. I just like the sound—November twenty-first—as if I have rum raisin ice-cream in my mouth.

November sounds like a sweet vanilla ice-cream before adding the rum. A young miss in an accordion pleated skirt under the autumn sky must have it. But the 21st is wild like bottles of rum. So, the day represents the combination of sweetness and wildness in a year. The sound melts into my ears and makes me feel romantic.

But November 21st is not just another romantic day in autumn. I have important steps to make it the perfect day. I prepare my list for grocery shopping because I deviate from my normal breakfast menu for this particular day. I usually go shopping on Saturday evening. The Saturday before the 21st is November 17th, so I ha…

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
Dear Mr. Black Hair

“You fall in love with…someone…dark…jet-black hair,” a fortuneteller told me last November. It was actually a great suggestion because I had no longer made any mistakes on Friday afternoon while having cups of coffee; perhaps Saturday morning lying next to blond, brown, or bald heads. Every night, I have just meditated on my future black haired man in my mind on a Yoga mat with my drink in a plastic cup.

A year, two weeks, and three days passed. Where is the black hair?

“You have already met the men with dark…jet-black hair!” said the fortuneteller again last week. He looked at me with his bloodshot eyes and added, “Naoko, you need to look carefully.” Before I complained to him, I went to every place for possibilities to meet the black haired man. So I ended up heading toward Club Fever, the Landing, and etc.

“Shall we dance?” a guy took my hand—black hair—actually I met him last November in a club. Since then, when he found me, he surely came to me. My…

The Preface

Empty Suitcase No.7 : The Invasion

The Cold Conversation War broke out a couple of weeks ago between my roommate and me, but recently we concluded with a peace treaty to prevent –the Mice Invasion. The invasion is one of the school housing problems; perhaps, houses in South Bend or any place have this kind of trouble. The mice just want to chew cereals through a cardboard box, or they just poked around to prosper their descendants— avoiding tragic death by traps or cats.

On a perfect, peaceful morning, I was drinking a glass of tomato juice, and then I saw two mice on the traps. I screamed like a machine-gun. The tomato juice spilled like blood. My roommate came to the kitchen screaming like grenades. Our kitchen turned into a battlefield. The screaming was absolutely not helpful to the invasion and the dead mice still stayed on the traps. I hoped that she would pick up the victims but she thought the same thing as me. So, we evacuated to the SAC—in order to decide how to remove the tra…

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
Dear Roommates
by Naoko Fujimoto

“Congratulation for three months,” said a card I received. It added, “Try not to dispose your roommate any more.” Even though my roommate and I exchanged a one-way conversation (she asked me where her chicken was and I said yes) last week, we still live together—which means I have not disposed my current roommate yet.

I have had four roommates over the last three years, but all of them moved a couple doors away in school housing after spending a certain amount of time with me. They said, “Naoko, it is not you. It is me”—like a cheesy breaking up situation. Maybe they saw me at the midnight, sharpening a knife; perhaps, a scythe on a whetstone for chopping off a chicken head.

The first roommate, a world-famous Russian pianist, had a passion for studying Philosophy. When she cooked Estonian chicken soup with chicken bones, she told me of Philosophy from the entire world. While I ate her delicious chicken soup, she never stopped talking about …

The IUSB Vision

A Country, which Has Many Names
Naoko Fujimoto

On September 24, Buddhists monks lead a demonstration march by an estimated 100,000 people through Burma’s former capital. They protested the high price of oil—in last two years, their government kept raising it to more than 9 times and the government has recently increased prices by 500%.

The monks and citizens in Myanmar have been perplexed by the gasoline prices, they decided to march against their government—the junta has administrated the country for 19 years. According to CNN News, more than 200 people have died and the deaths will increase; however, each media reports a different number of deaths. Numerous people are arrested by the government.

In addition, many international journalists and activists have difficulties reporting about this political situation. A Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai (50), was shot when he reported the march. His documents, including some notes and memory cards of his digital cameras, were completely erased …

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
A Direction with a Hand for Chopsticks
By Naoko Fujimoto

I sometimes have a difficult time communicating with people. I feel an invisible wall—perhaps a whole galaxy— between them and me. The invisible wall is impossible to go through, even with any kind of wireless signals. Even though my brain signal works perfectly fine, it is suddenly destructed by the invisible wall and my brain becomes just a half of the signal bars—or out of service.

It is not because my mother tongue is Japanese—I catch English conversations most of the time like I catch a dragonfly in harvested fields; in addition, I am clinging to the edge of the English Department as a graduate student. Maybe my strong Asian accent—I switch around ‘R’ and ‘L’ and with other mouthful, painful pronunciation situations. There are a couple of possible reasons for creating those invisible walls between people and me. However, most people understand my ‘Japanglish’ when they talk to me a couple minutes.

Then I remonst…

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
Something Between Toothpaste and Heartbroken
By Naoko Fujimoto

How much can I trust the toothpaste?

In any case, I felt similar hesitation when I had a couple dates with a man from a science class for non-majors. He said that he liked me, so I queried myself “another fun night or prepare for another heartbreak.” It is always fun to meet new people, no matter whether it is a date or not, but what matters is how much I can trust his words—I like you— as same as how much I can trust the toothpaste.

For a young love, casual dates will more than likely bring another broken heart situation even though it they were called ‘casual’ dates—no serious commitment but just for fun—can cause serious heart pain. So, I need to decide an answer based on my heart barometer—measuring the truth between the man and his words; perhaps, the toothpaste and its quality.

In other words, decision-making is like the stock market with a financial advisor. How much I can adapt the advisor’s ideas—perhap…

The IUSB Vision

By Naoko Fujimoto

After taking shower on an ordinary morning, you may wear an Indian cotton shirt, and then your Korean cellular phone rings, which is phone call from your friends in Mexico on their vacation. While you wait for boiling water in a Chinese pot, you eat Chilean grapes. After you drink Italian cappuccino, you drive in a Japanese car to IUSB. In your Taiwanese backpack, international business textbooks and Thai notebooks and perhaps, an American pencil, are inside.

Globalization is everywhere—South Bend— the Meijer on Grape Road has become one of the icons of globalization. You may be surprised how much of the merchandise in supermarkets is from foreign countries. Especially, their foreign food section is growing every season, and now they have a whole section for Asian, European, and Mexican food. They have nice collections of sweets, seasonings, staples, and some instant food from Germany, Japan, Thailand and many other countries. Moreover, some local p…

The Preface

Empty Suitcase: High Heels on the Track
By Naoko Fujimoto

Writers need inspiration, just like a spark at first sight, so they need in some flesh experience every day, which was an excuse when I bought my pointed-toe pumps in Chicago last weekend. I believe that those shoes will bring an unexpected spark for me.

My new high heels are streamlined yet elegant in deep ruby. I looked at them hundreds of times before trying them on. How enchanted the high heels are! I took pictures and I even read poems to them. I adore my new pointed-toe pumps.

Putting my shoes on the dining table, I still wonder what extremely unusual experiences I could have in those shoes—dive into the St. Joseph River without a lifesaver, running one mile on Mishawaka Ave. without any clothes on (of course avoiding Police officers,) or sing Over the Rainbow on campus with a microphone. I only came up with these extreme examples, so to refresh my mind, I decided to exercise at the SAC last Thursday with my gym clothes on.…

The Preface: Empty Suitcase

The Exclusive Phone Bill
By Naoko Fujimoto

My phone bill was a couple hundred dollars over my plan and I fainted. I talked 3000 minutes over my free limit last month, so I investigated why it happened by looking over my bill.

I remembered that I talked about stray cats almost every day in early last month. A cat and her four newborn babies were rescued from a narrow gap by my friend’s barn. The conversations started using up all my free minutes because her husband mowed the lawn while she talked to me.

I spent sixteen dollars to talk to someone who has the last four digits, 0987. Even though I had no idea who they ware, I talked to that person for fifty minutes on one Friday evening. The person must be close, but I did not find the phone number in my address book. Did I talk to my imaginary friend when I spent a lonesome Friday night?
My phone usually does not ring at all, but on one Tuesday four people tried to get me at the same time and the four phone numbers were beautifully juggled li…

The IUSB Vision

Toilet Battles—Western or Asian style?
By Naoko Fujimoto

“Oh the bathroom! I wish it was the exact same as Asian style!” screams a student from Japan. A student from Taiwan added, “It is a kind of embarrassing to use American bathrooms” and another student from Thailand said, “American bathrooms have no privacy!” Some Asian students complain about precise differences between Western and Asian style restrooms.

Let’s imagine restrooms at IUSB. When someone is in a bright red stall at Wiekamp, you can see the person’s legs, which means the door has a space to show somebody is in it. The space would be helpful for security reasons, etc; however, the door is one of the reasons Asian students feel uncomfortable.

Most Asian bathrooms have full cover doors, which mean that you cannot see inside and need to knock on the door to make sure nobody is in it. You may think that it is not good for security but there are emergency call buttons in most restrooms and stalls. If you are in a stall and a pe…

Your skipping-stone glides around
as if a flying fish crosses from ocean

to ocean, shines its scales. The ocean
fills up with acerbic sentiments. You give me

the smoothest, ocherous stone
with dirt, but the best kind of skipping-stone. I throw

horizontally but it dives and splashes. The waves
ripple. My tears dribble

into the ocean. I wasted
your stone. I waste another

stone. I waste. I
—waste. But when you find

a new one and gently hold the stone in my hand, our palms
lie together like a bivalve. It carries a pearl-gray

hope. Before sunset, I skip my stone once again. A lamp
comes on in a house. A star fragments the western sky.


My lips rest on the edge of a cup
when your eyes gaze at mine.
I sweat in coffee clouds
as if in a steamy bathtub. Your watery
eyes gently swallow
my bare feet. I drop
my white bath towel. Your long
eye lashes
drag across my wet thigh.
With your eyes
you clean me and I bubble
like a goldfish
wiggling its long tangerine tail,
splashing in crystalline