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rinku's otakon report

(this entry's long and i'm mainly writing it for my own records, but it's here if anyone would like to wade through it.)

my friend mark was gathering a group to go to otakon this year and convinced me to join (since it was pretty inexpensive); it was only 145$ for my share of the hotel (for 2 nights) and 80$ for the ticket, and since i hadn't traveled in a while and had never stayed at a hotel before i figured it'd be an interesting experience, even though i'm not especially interested in modern anime or manga anymore.

(background: i've known mark and his sister since very early. their parents were friends with my parents. we were childhood friends, with their parents bringing them over our house to play with pretty regularly. there was a big gap of time (about 18 years) during which we didn't interact. i introduced mark to jrpgs like final fantasy 4 and 6, and he got into them as he grew up (perhaps even more into them than i was). earlier this year, after fifteen years of not hearing from mark at all, he suddenly found us on facebook one day and called to thank me for introducing him to those types of games. was nice to know that i had had such an impact on someone's life and not realize it.)

anyway, the first night i stayed over at mark's mother's house so that we could leave early in the morning. i met mark's wife during this time, she's nice. she speaks very good english (she was born/raised in mexico), but kept making amusing little mistakes, like calling a skunk a racoon. i've trouble sleeping in strange places so i only slept about 4 hours, even though it was comfortable. we left early that day, and arrived in baltimore after a 3-4 hour drive. the drive there took less time than the return drive, but was more uncomfortable to me because i was more nervous and felt a little motion-sick for most of the trip.

after we got there we checked in, but the room wasn't ready so we went to get our pre-registered badges. then there was like a 7 block long line on which we waited about 2-3 hours in the hot sun. this was easily the most physically draining part of the trip.

in that line, and everywhere else throughout the convention, people were dressed up as fictional characters. i had no idea who 90% of the cosplayers were cosplaying, but still, there were so many cosplayers that i still recognized hundreds of characters. it was particularly fun to see people dressed up like the guy from minecraft. and also to see old 80s characters like mumm-ra from the thundercats, and a red mage, my favorite class from final fantasy 1.

funnily, mark's wife, while on the line, made a list of things to bring to this line next year: water, a chair, snacks, an umbrella (for the shade), etc. -- she also told me i shouldn't be so shy, that i should ask random people to take my picture with them, etc. etc. -- but i don't really see that totally an issue of me being shy, as i genuinely have no desire to have my picture taken with random strangers, even if they are dressed up as fictional characters.

after we got badges we wandered around (sometimes together, usually separately). i went to a dragon quest panel, which didn't say much i didn't know about the series (it ran through each game and described them). people seemed to cheer the most for dragon quest 8.

i wandered around some more, and saw the dealer's room (where people set up small shops and sell stuff; a huge area) but didn't buy anything there. i saw peter beagle there, who i had previously met before, but his stand/stall was so crowded and his graphic novel that he was selling so expensive (50$! i had only brought 80$ with me total, to use for things to buy / food for the whole 3 days) that i decided to skip talking to him, even though he's one of my favorite authors. i had met him before anyway back in nyc central park, but i doubt he'd remember me from that since there were a lot of people there too. still it was nice seeing him there, even if i didn't talk to him. just knowing that a writer of his caliber (i'd easily put him in the top 10 of fantasy authors, living or dead) was at this convention somehow dignified what is otherwise a pretty silly thing, even if he was only here to make money.

at around 6PM mark called and told me the room was ready and to go up there; i did and he gave me the keycard. miyu_sakura and i had planned to meet at this time (she lives in baltimore currently) so i waited for her till she arrived and called me from the lobby. i hadn't eaten all day except for some fruit and a few spoons of yogurt for breakfast. she walked me to a few places before we decided to eat at a whole foods. even though i hadn't eaten that day, i couldn't even finish the turkey sandwich i bought there (i had two bites and became full), due to the nervousness of the travel event. after that we went back and had drinks at the hotel's bar thing (although i had only cranberry juice since i alcohol makes me feel weird).

miyu was fun to talk with (although she did most of the talking, which was fine by me). she's a close internet friend who i've known on livejournal/IM/email for around eight years. we talked about four hours on various subjects -- the ones i can remember (in no order) are: her current career plans (she's going to be a writer now, i offered to read any drafts she sent me and provide feedback), her job (and her absent-minded employer, a research scientist), her travels throughout china and china's differences from america and about the chinese language, baltimore/maryland, how we're both about equally badly near-sighted (we took off our glasses and tried to read the tv in the place), the movie the dark knight rises, the author murakami, how miyu is probably physically stronger than me (since she mainly lifts weights for exercise and i mainly run), on adoption vs having children, what i need to wear to look good (i forgot most of it since i have no mind for fashion), the difference between different bars and their different drinks, a bar that she likes but doesn't want to go to because of a certain guy who hangs around in it, how the secretary of state has no real power, immortality, high heels, our earliest childhood memories, a type of low-level depression that prevents blissful happiness but isn't a strong depression either, how the brain loses memories due to an overactive hypothalamus, tons of other subjects.

i don't know how she manages to be both extremely academically and socially intelligent, knowing almost everything about all the nerd stuff and all the celebrity / regular stuff. most people are either one or the other. i already knew this about her through online interaction, but it was still amazing seeing it in practice. she also taught me how to use the cell phone better (i still don't own a cell phone, so i had no idea how to send or read text messages and stuff until she showed me), and also briefly explained how hotels worked (i had never stayed in one).

(as an aside, it's amazing to me how much today's youth are reliant on cell phones. i had heard that people communicate more with text messages than with voice over those phones. but to actually *see* people mostly do that is a completely different thing. people texted and were texted constantly. even miyu during our meeting was being texted and texting back (although it wasn't as much as with the others, and she apologized for it when it happened). this whole phenomena of youth and text messages is still extremely weird to me.)

anyway, to continue: normally i have trouble looking at people in the eyes when they talk to me, i'd look away or pace back and forth or whatever, especially when i don't know them very well (but even when i do know them i still don't usually look at people when they talk to me or when i talk to them). but with her that wasn't an issue. i don't know how much of that was due to being comfortable since she was a long-time internet friend, or how much of that was just due to it being fun to look at an attractive person. soon i grew tired, i hadn't slept well the night before. so around ten at night miyu walked me up to my room and hugged me twice. which was fun for me since we had some previous romantic attraction online, though that was long ago and has since largely subsided.

we went inside and found mark's sister suzanne there, who i hadn't seen in 18 years, since she was around 4 years old. two friends of mark's sister were there as well (we overpacked the hotel room and had 6 people staying in that one room.). miyu asked one of them to take our picture, and then said goodbye.

i talked with suzanne briefly, but we didn't have much to talk about. i said i remembered her having lighter-colored hair, but she said that that was always her hair color (i had probably been misremembering). she also said i looked younger than 33 (one of her friends, who was a college student, agreed and said i looked like 20). suzanne and her two friends left after that to do more city exploring or something, i tried to sleep, but again wasn't able to. eventually mark and his wife returned, and then suzanne and her group returned, and the lights went out. this time i was able to sleep for the majority of the night, thankfully (perhaps due to just being super tired). this was the only night of the trip that i slept more than a few hours.

the next day we ate breakfast at the hotel's hidden floor that you needed a keycard to get to, then went to the convention and explored it some more separately. this day i learned that one of suzanne's frieds was actually from paterson. even weirder, i learned he was using 4chan since elementary school, and knows about the game 'facade' which is an largely unknown indie game. it's weird to think that there is someone who lives in paterson, besides myself, who has played facade. it's just not something i find comprehensable at all.

i don't remember that much of what i saw, but i do remember that i saw pray for japan, which was a documentary about the tsunami that hit japan in 09. it was very very good. it was also extremely sad/emotional, but slightly more sad is that the room had barely anyone in it (maybe 40 people tops) while next door, the green ranger (the actor who played him) was answering questions for about 1000+ people, and occasionally we'd hear cheering coming from that room. the contrast felt kind of sad actually. i felt then that most anime fans don't actually care about japan, or even japanese culture. they care about being entertained by the media japan produces, and that's the extent of their concern.

anyway, the documentary had a lot i didn't know about the tsunami event (even though i had paid very close attention to news about it when i happened). for instance, they described a group of about a thousand people who had no food or water for three days. when they finally got dropped a shipment of food, they voted not to give it anyone -- because it was only 300 rice balls. they'd rather everyone go hungry equally than risk fighting over an amount not large enough to feed everyone. that struck me as a particularly japanese thing to do. also interesting was that there were more volunteers than they needed -- there were so many volunteers who came from all parts of japan to help the search and rescue that they didn't know what to do with them all.

after that i wandered around, i forget what else i saw (other videos / panels). eventually i started wandering the city, particularly the bay area, and taking pictures. oddly i wasn't actually interested in taking pictures of people's costumes, which is what most people with cameras were taking pictures of. it just didn't appeal to me, particularly after i had the pray for japan with the green ranger cheering next door experience. but the bay interested me, it's weird that a city has water and no beach, and has few to no railings protecting people from falling into very deep water. there was a lot to look at around there, ducks, parks, fountains, mini-waterfalls, so i took pictures of those.

i saw a barnes and nobel book store and went in just to have a look around. i usually prefer buying books on amazon, but before amazon existed i'd go to barnes and nobel very often, and spend all my extra money on books. i bought two books by murakami. when miyu brought him up, i said i'd read him after my japanese language learning had progressed enough to read him in the original. she thought this was funny (even though she is learning other languages too, and is probably better than me at language-learning), and said that the english translations were great. i said maybe i'd read both at the same time. but after our meeting i thought about it some more, and what miyu said had convinced me. besides, if i were to read a novel in japanese, i'd prefer to read one that *had not* been translated into english. i mean, what's really the point of me learning other languages? for me it's mainly to read media which hasn't yet been brought to english, not to read media which has.

so at the barnes & nobel i bought two murakami books: norwegian wood and the wind up bird chronicle. then i went back to the hotel and started reading them. this may sound funny: to go all the way to otakon and pay 80$ and then to not make the most of it, and instead read books at the hotel. but i saw it as 'recharging my batteries'; i prefer at least a little alone time, if i'm constantly in crowds of others it gets overwhelming, and i was already nervous due to the travel. and after reading for a while i was able to finish the turkey sandwich that i had saved from yesterday, so i figure in that sense it was time well spent. i read exactly 100 pages of one of the novels that day, and exactly 100 pages of the other one the next day. (i plan to finish both soon, now that i'm back.)

after that mark, his wife, and i went to see a gundam movie/episode. i didn't really understand it since i'm not a fan of the series, but mark gave me some context for it later. in theory i should like gundam: it's about giant robots and political intrigue and not moe/emo relationships (a trend which sort of destroyed modern anime for me). but i've always found the dialogue/ideas in it kind of dry. it's just not very philosophically interesting (at least as i see it), and its plot is too ornate. i actually don't like art where i need to look stuff up on a wiki to understand it -- this includes everything from star wars and star trek to dwarf fortress, minecraft, and gundam. i like self-contained stories that tell little interesting tales, not these multi-episode things where you need to watch all the episodes and movies in order and keep all the details in mind to understand anything. it just feels too nerdy that way. my tastes are more towards anime like studio ghibli's stuff, and 80s anime stand-alone films. in general i don't like anime television series, unless they last only one season and can be understood without too much outside context (like death note, evangelion, serial experiments lain, that kinda stuff). in the 80s, anime used to be for everyone, especially casual viewers who knew nothing about it, it feels like today, anime is only for japanophiles willing to put in a lot of effort to understand things. nonetheless, i enjoyed the movie as well as i could without knowing what's going on with the plot.

i went back to the hotel after that, read a bit more, and then it was time to sleep. this second night in the hotel was worse than the first, i couldn't sleep very well at all (maybe 3 hours sleep, possibly only 2). but i didn't mind all that much since any sleep is better than none (it was more than i expected), and because i had slept well the previous day.

the next morning we planned on checking out at 2PM, so after breakfast i packed and carried some stuff to the car with mark. while walking around the city a little, someone mentioned to me that he lost his pass. on whim i decided to give him mine, because we were leaving in a few hours anyway so i didn't really need it (i could have used it to see another anime movie or panel or something, but figured that guy who lost his pass would enjoy that kind of stuff more than i would). so i gave him my pass and then wandered around some more, eventually returning to the hotel to read some more. 2PM approached; we checked out, and an hour later we left.

the drive home took 5 hours due to traffic. mark and his wife did almost all of the talking on the return trip. they argued over an EZ pass thing and so on. later on in the trip mark started pretending to be crazy, saying stuff like "i am a car" and "my bladder is full" which was funny (at least to me, not sure about his wife). we also listened to some music cds he had bought, they were of music made by someone called dj cutman. they weren't great but they were listenable, and they were based on classic videogame songs, so mark and i were guessing which song came from what game, so that made the trip better.

one of the first things miyu said to me after we met that day was to ask if i would write a huge LJ entry on the trip. i said that i didn't know, since i don't really write normal LJ entries anymore, but i said something like 'i might, now that you mention it'. so here it is.

i think meeting her was the best part of the trip. it's just nice to spend time (however little) among great people. not that the people i travelled/roomed with were terrible by any means, they were impressive too in their own ways. but i really don't feel about them: 'this is someone i can aspire to be more similar to' the way i do with miyu. i think it's because largely they felt a bit too silly for me: from what little time i spent with them, their conversation topics were largely about: erotic fanfiction, drunkeness, a 14 year old that flirted with one of them, 4chan, internet memes like nyancat, and so on. cf. the list of conversation topics i had with miyu earlier; there's a big contrast. and it's not that talking about 4chan is inherently worse than talking about the lack of power of the state department, and we talk about some silly things too. it's more that it's a much wider range of interests.

the second best part of the trip for me was the pray for japan documentary. i really do wish more people had gone to see it. there were 33,000 people at that convention, of which about 30 of them chose to see that documentary. i still don't quite understand that. every other movie or panel i saw or looked in on was packed, this was the only one with complete rows of just empty seats. i don't know why this is a "favorite" part of the trip, since it's not really a good thing. but i feel as if, through that contrast with the green ranger, i observed something important that i didn't previously recognize, and as if it added a big piece to the puzzle of humanity or something like that.

i feel like my cousin carrie would have liked the whole convention more than i liked it. although i still did like it of course.

(oh, and this wasn't really "part of the trip" but it was fun returning to find a bunch of emails from newedition for me, saying how much she missed me and wanted to hear about the trip when i get back etc. -- she's the sweetest)

pictures of this trip have now been uploaded on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151081316346263.409357.500426262&type=3

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
eva_jolli
Jul. 30th, 2012 07:46 am (UTC)
u shud hav dressed as gahndi
braveorstupid
Jul. 30th, 2012 11:26 am (UTC)
Most peeps who go to conventions are there for the good times, so I'm not so surprised about Pray for Japan being so badly-attended (though a bit disappointed). But to be honest, I'm not sure if I would have watched that documentary either, if I were there. I can't speak for everyone, but the impression I got is that fan conventions are largely about the chance to embrace your unusual hobbies--that's the reason a lot of people unfortunately lose their social graces at cons: they go overboard!

If conventions were ever intended for learning/experiencing/discussing new things, this faded as these geeky interests became more mainstream and easier to obtain (and not just for free on the internet!) and now they seem largely about the celebration and the spectacle. Which isn't to say they can't be fun, but it might be frustrating for people like you and I.

Watching things I would normally not have the chance to see is part of the appeal of conventions for me, and I'd say I'm unusual in this regard--but I don't know if even I'd want to watch something as sad as a documentary on the tsunami disaster during a weekend where I'm enjoying being a huge nerd. I'm sure I sound callous, but even putting current mental issues aside, I'd have to prepare myself to watch such a film, and also find people to watch it with me. I can't think of any worst place to do either than a large anime convention...

I wouldn't want to squeal at the Green Ranger either mind you. :P

Anyway, I'm glad you had a good time and caught up with great people. I'm reading my first Murakami book (1Q84) and it's been a while since I've been so absorbed by a novel. I'd be interested to hear what you think of your two books.

Good luck with Saturated Dreamers! I've been keeping an eye out for that number changing colour :]
rinku
Jul. 30th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
i saw 1q84 there too, and considered buying that one first, but i figured i should buy some of the older ones first instead (plus i didn't want to carry a big three-volume novel back with me, it might not fit in my bags). i'll probably buy it from amazon later after i finish the two i bought

and yeah i don't really blame people for not going, it just seemed like by far the most poorly attended video i saw; there were also people who came in just for the air conditioning since it was hotter outside of that room (i heard them talking about that as they entered), etc. -- but it's not that i am saying people who see the green ranger instead are worse people or anything, it's more that they're very different in tastes from me so i felt out of place at the convention. it also didn't help that most of the people attending were a lot younger than me (i'd say it was 16 to mid twenties average) -- i was too old for power rangers even when it was *new*
tuftears
Jul. 30th, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you had a great time. ^_^

Yeah, there's no way I'd pay $50 for a graphic novel, even signed, unless it was really, really awesome. By which I mean it would have to be closer to a full-fledged art book with a hardback cover and I would have to be really enthused about the subject and art.

wynand
Jul. 31st, 2012 01:23 am (UTC)
Very glad you're at last reading Norwegian Wood! One of the Best Books and would be totally into hearing your thoughts on it.

The Pray for Japan thing is depressing
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )