Thursday, September 29, 2005
On Six Months...
I can't believe it's been six months already! I'm officially a quarter done my pre-designated time here in Japan. Here are my thoughts on the last six months:
Being in Japan is a challenge every day; one cannot just pop into the conbini (convenience store), find what one needs, and chit-chat with the clerk; it is often nightmarish to pre-plan meals with exotic (or even staple) ingredients because of the inability to decifer lables at the grocery; it's impossible to stroll into a clothier and grab something to wear... women's clothes are literally size 6 and under; driving in Japan is still as trying as the first time behind the wheel: ever stressful, slow-paced, and annoying... not to mention that getting lost is usually unavoidable. Living in Japan will never be as carefree as living in Canada. There is not only a language barrier (which is supposedly surmountable at some point) but also a cultural one; to be on the receiving end of racism is a great lesson, and although I've experienced a fairly mild version, I would encourage everyone to walk a mile. And, of course, every day I am reminded, in some small way, that I am an ocean away from my friends and family and despite my usual positive exuberance, I miss everyone terribly. There is this feeling that no one will ever truly understand my life here, while it would mean more than anything to share it with my loved ones; this is my greatest saddness.
On the plus side, I considered the idea of living abroad for years before I came, which, I think, emotionally prepared me for the move. I researched and collected second-hand information about Japan in an effort to reduce the effects of culture shock; to date, it's been a fairly smooth transition. If I could change anything about my preparation for and early time in Japan it would be to have taken Japanese language classes before my departure.
At six months, I think I can honestly say that coming to Japan was the best decision I have ever made. I feel lucky every day to be here (especially in the position I am in). I now have relationships with people from all over the world; our common lost-in-a-foreign-land aura has united us in bonds that I know will last a lifetime.
Having spent the entirety of my pre-Japan life in school, I think I have learned an important lesson: school is not life. Sure, I learned how to write a well-formatted and grammatically correct essay, but university provided me almost no actual LIFE experience. I will never be able to truly express in words what I have learned about myself and the "important things" here in Japan, but I know it has a lot to do with maturity, perserverance, committment and responsiblity.
I will conclude this long-winded and terribly melodramatic rant with a comment on the beauty of Japan: majestic and intrepid, Japan is not only visually impressive, but also culturally and spiritually so. The Japanese people are uniquely and perfectly suited to their lives, and in this perfection, they are able to almost merge with the landscape. Japan is in itself an oxymoron, a contrast, that allows a profound respect and admiration for this place, but also, I have found, encourages a truer appreciation of my home.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
As you can see, I changed my blog format. I also, finally, figured out how to add my display picture, which is why that damn cherry pic of me appears yet AGAIN. Sorry.Today was fairly eventful. Jody called early in the day, while Tress and I were finishing up some cutting-and-pasting of Tanpopos' (3-age kids) art projects (since I didn't want them to do their own cutting), and suggested dinner. Since I had to go to Tsukuba this afternoon to meet with my private student, Yoshiko, anyhow, Tressa and Jody decided to come along. They shopped during my hour-long lesson and afterward we went to a Turkish restaurant. Mmmmm! The food was excellent! I had a falafel pita sandwich, a tomato kebab, and some chicken/tomato soup. Amazing. What's more, I got to watch my first music videos (current Western top 10's even!) in nearly six months as MTV was being played on a big-screen at the restaurant! We then headed home and watched a few episodes of "Chappelle's Show," which Joey recently mailed to Tressa. Funny.So my lessons with Yoshiko are going tremendously well. I have found a website that is a terrific resource for lesson ideas and conversation topics/questions. Yoshiko seems to like the lessons as well, as she is constantly complimenting me on my teaching abilities. She is a 23-year-old student at the University of Tsukuba (one of the top universities in Japan), working toward her Master's Degree in Genetics. Crazy! She is a total sweetheart and speaks English quite well; our lessons are fun and she is easy to teach. Today Yoshiko presented me with a gift: a Japanese tablecloth (smallish, like a large doily) that had been hand-dyed with wasabi (yes, it is green). Very beautiful! The best part of these private students... earning close to $40. CN for one hour of chit-chat! Yee-haw!So tomorrow is back to work. Tressa and I have been commenting on how little we have been working lately. After a lazy summer work schedule we had both geared ourselves up for full fall schedules, but there is still much free time; last week there were two stat. holidays - Monday and Friday. Additionally, all of our Kindergartens are preparing for their annual Sports Days; this is basically a performance-based fun day where the kids show off their amazing marching band, human pyramid-building, and athletic abilities. Quite impressive at any age, let alone youngsters of 3-5 years old! In attempts to perfect their techniques, many classes are canceled or at least combined, making our daily schedules less full. What's more, we have some work days canceled altogether: this week I will work two full days, two days under two hours each, and have Thursday off completely. Livin' the life, livin' the life... I have included some previously taken pictures of me teaching, and of some of my kids (3-age, soooo cute!). You may have already seen these, but I thought this post needed some spice. Enjoy.
Just Another Eighties Lady
...the 80's ROCK!!
Nearly 20 people were in attendance for a night of drunken debauchery on Friday. As three-quarters of the guests were Japanese and as such had little knowledge of what constituted 80's-wear, the costumes were varied... but at least everyone dressed up!
The prize for Best Costume was awared to Jody, who looked like a cross between Blondie and Hedwig. She descried her own costume by saying, "F#*^, it looks like I was smacked in the face by a rainbow!" Indeed it did. Bravest Costume was split between Brad and Trav, true rockers at heart. Winners received boxed bottles of Sake.
My best anicdote from the evening is this: as you may have noted, I was rather Flashdancesque in costume; for the early part of the evening I had considerable trouble keeping my shirt on! Ha! -nothing new there! So there I am, chatting with Tressa in my living room, handing her my glass as it is her turn to refill our drinks, when we both look down to find my shirt has vacated the brassiere region. Our mouths drop, and so do our drinks. Tressa, in a vein attempt to salvage my dignity, hurls our glasses into the air so that she has free hands to return my shirt into its appropriate position. Thankfully the glasses were empty and they fell onto tatami so it wasn't a major disaster. We had a terrific laugh, nonetheless and, needless to say, promptly fastened my shirt to my bra with safety pins.
The party was made official by the appearance of the KOBAN (Japanese police) who were called by neighbours before 10:30pm. I was more than a little disgruntled about complainers at such an early hour, but had to remind myself that this is, in fact, Japan. In any case, the Koban were congenial and simply asked us to try to keep our windows and doors shut; we turned down the music and behaved ourselves after that... at least until they were out of sight.Tressa and I downloaded four CDs worth of 80's tunes to add to my already considerable collection. Let me tell you, this spelled out G-O-O-D-T-I-M-E-S! My boudoire was transformed into a disco where moves were not only a-busted, but airbands were concocted! I haven't danced so much since Canada.
Three novelty items made their way through the crowd: a blow-up guitar, a cushion/hat, and an afro-wig. Hilarious. Guestlist: Tressa, Trav, Daichi, Michiko, Yoshihiro, Fumiyuki, Amy, Brad, Mie, Hidenori, Yuka, Hideki, Jody, Nori, Yoko, Cowlu, & Me (aka Diana Ross).Saturday consisted of sifting through the debris, general laziness, and shit-shooting with overnight guests. Later, Tressa and I ventured to Utsunomiya for Subway (first sub experience since Canada: good, but not the same as home) and a quick drink at the gaijin pub, The Lion's Head. We spend much of our little road trip wondering where were headed and where we had come from (insert, LOST)... story of my life.
Monday, September 19, 2005
The Duck Bit Me
As I mentioned, our Tokai camping trip scheduled for this weekend was canceled. Instead, the Unit (myself, Tressa, Trav & Daichi) met up in a local park for Camping in Shimo. We brought a tent and everything... although it didn't exactly get set up. There is a beautiful park close to Trav's place, with waterfalls, streams, marble picnic tables and the like. So we basically just had some drinks, fooled around and played at the playground; here is a picture of Trav and Daichi doing a bit of fooling around, so to speak (this was just after Daichi insisted that Trav hurl him through the air by his ankles... needless to say his body did not even leave the ground).
I was very excited to see my old friend the Spring Duck (you know, one of those playground things where you bounce back and forth on a giant spring animal?) To my chagrin the duck was not as excited to see me and promptly bucked me off. That damn duck's tail plowed me in the thigh and I awoke the next morning with a rather large black bruise (at least this time I can place where the bruise came from). Having apparently not learned from my brush with death that this is one mean duck, Daichi was then taken for a ride, literally, by the devilish creature. I'm sure he also sports some war-wounds as we speak. Friggin duck!
Sometime during our mischeif we came up with yet another set of nicknames: I shall now fondly be known as Lurlene (only to be said with a red-neck accent) and Tressa as Currrrly. This picture, if you can't guess, is of Curl and Lurl.
Sunday night Tressa and I didn't have much on the agenda, so we decided to partake in a good ole fashioned one-on-one kareoke outing. Good fun. Approximately 8 full grapefruits went into the making of my night, no word of a lie. See, I have recently discovered a drink consisting of a Japanese vodka-like alcohol called Sho Chu, soda water and grapefruit juice. At this particular establishment one receives a whole grapefruit with their drink and must squeeze it for themselves before dumping it into their glass. Quite the production, let me tell you. So anyhow, the whole grapefruit experience will probably lead to my complete recovery from this darn cold if my mother is at all founded in her faith in the cure-all powers of vitamin C (and echinacea). These are pictures of Curl and I acting like morons in front of 7/11; nothing unusual there. Until next time...
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Land of the falling sun
In a maze of neon
Against a sun as pink
As this rose-coloured life
A cloud that is a distant haze:
Land of the falling
Saturday, September 17, 2005
A Galore of Dinner Parties
The past week has been filled with many-a-dinner party. Geez, I'm getting old! Sunday night I had Tressa and Brad over for miso soup and tofu stirfry; Monday Tressa came over for good ole funny spagetti before we met up with Trav and Daichi for our weekly Japanese lesson; Tuesday Tressa had Trav and Daichi and I for dinner... Daichi and Tressa prepared spagetti and meatballs with all the fixins...
Wednesday I met up with Nori in Oyama and we went to see Bewitched. Now, movies get here 5-6 months after North American release, and only the blockbusters make it to the theatre at all, so this was a treat. This is my second theatre outing to date, and I just soaked up the experience. My critique of Bewitched: Nicole Kidman was obnoxious as usual; Will Ferrell adorable and knee-slapping as usual. Overall, the movie was a cute rendition of the original.
By Thursday, however, I was feeling quite ill. After class I decided to go to the doctor. As it turns out, there is an English-speaking doctor just a few blocks from my house. Like Canada, you have to wait a lifetime to see the doctor; unlike Canada, you pay for your appointment and pay for and receive any prescriptions you need right there at the clinic. Thankfully they didn't need any medical insurance information, and it wasn't a scary experience. I turned out to have a bad cold virus, a bit of tonsilitis, and a temperature of 37.2 (normal is 36.8). I was prescribed antibiotics and a cough pill.
Friday I made a breif appearance at a weekly gaijin hangout in Yuki. About 12 minutes from my place is an izakaya (pub) in the city of Yuki (which borders Shimodate) where a slew of gaijin and their Japanese friends meet up every Friday night. Many of the boys we hang out with play on a basketball team that practises Fridays, so after their game the team heads for drinks... into the wee hours. Last night there were about 20 of us. Apparently it is often such a gongshow that people sleepover at the izakaya - the owner is really cool.
The remainder of this long weekend was supposed to be filled with camping in Tokai; however, that trip was canceled due to my lack of health and everyones' lack of money. We will be meeting up for "Camping in Shimodate" in the park near Trav's house tonight instead. Tomorrow I venture to Tsukuba for my first real lesson with my new student Yoshiko! Everyone is gearing up for the First Annual 80's Costume Party that I am hosting next Friday... if I thought my little apartment was crammed at the last party (dinner with 12-13 people) we will truly test the limits with this guestlist (upwards of 25 people confirmed). Should be a regular zoo. I have my costume in the works and have downloaded about 75 80's classics thus far. Be sure to tune in next week for pics.
1. Daichi, Trav, and Kana (Trav's new flame)
2. Nori - isn't she cute!?!
3. Dan (Nori's bf), Trav, and Mike playing with keitais - a favourite past-time of gaijin in Japan.
4. Yoko and Tressa shooting the shit
5. Tressa and Mike - looks like an interesting conversation...
P.S. think I figured out the picture business. :)
Monday, September 12, 2005
Bring it, bitch!
So here's a funny story...
I live in a fourplex, called a Neo Palace. One whole side of our building is empty; below me lives a family consisting of mother, father, pre-teen son and baby. I have never heard a peep from my neighbours, other than the odd "Konnichi wa" (hello). We have had some rip-roaring parties here, and no comment.
Tressa, on the other hand, lives just down the block from me and has had a completely different experience with her neighbours. Her Neo Palace is full; two sets of neighbours having moved in in the last month. Since her arrival in Japan Tressa has been continually bullied by the long-term tenant above her. Keeping in mind that this tenant does nothing to decrease the thunder from above, she nonetheless feels it appropriate to boss Tressa around about so-called noise.
We learned early on that dinner parties and the like were a no-go at Tressa's, so we have them here... but the witch from above still finds reasons to scream at Tressa. She often makes demands (in Japanese) like, "Don't Watch Movies After 9:00pm!!" and "Don't Have One Person Over For Dinner!!" and "Don't Vacuum Day or Night!!" It really is absurd.
So yesterday, I'm chatting online with Tressa and she all-of-a-sudden disappears. I nudge her, no response. I phone her, no response (yes, I am a stalker!! haha - we were in the middle of a converstation, about boys no less!!) She FINALLY comes back online about 10 minutes later and is flabbergasted...
Turns out that the witch took the time to rally up some neighbours who saw Tressa loading a considerable amount of garbage (she had missed a garbage day, or two, or fourteen...) to the dump spot. Problem was that she was doing this the night before pickup. Oh the fury that was unleashed!! Not only did they not knock on Tressa's door, but a number of her neighbours marched right into her apartment, no warning, and started screaming at her in Japanese!! Okay, maybe this is appropriate here in Japan, I don't know for sure, but Tressa was, understandably, appauled.
For several minutes Tressa just looks at these shouting Japanese people in horror while they wave about frantically and accost her calendar... they then proceed to force her outside to the garbage spot where they tear open her bags and begin rooting around in their putrid contents, raving and screaming the whole damn time!! Tressa carefully declines fishing in her garbage when they gesture that she should be helping; god knows what they were even looking for! Finally, they pull out a light bulb and a pop can and call it a day. They insist that Tressa lug her bags of garbage back to her apartment (because they smell so good in the entrance way for the whole building!) and return them to the garbage spot the next morning (keeping in mind that the trucks come by anytime between 5:30am and noon). Shocked, distraught and furious, Tressa tells me she would like to move.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
...a long week
Well, here we are at the new blog. It's taken me some time, but I figured out the picture thing, and will try, in the future, to make some sense of the pics I include BEFORE posting them!
This week has been crazy. Started out well, with back-to-school for the kids; not that they ever really get a break, poor guys. But they're troopers. Wednesday we had a long-awaited second meeting with Ninomiya-Dave. I met Dave at the Tochigi Prefecture JET Welcome Party last month. He was shocked to hear that two other ALTs worked in his little town (which closely borders our Prefecture, Ibaraki). We had been planning to hang out in Shimodate, just 20 minutes from Ninomiya, for some time, but with all the summer plans and (unexpected) company, it had been postponed.
At any rate, eight of us met up at an Udon/Soba place called Bando Taro (I think); including Tressa, Daichi (Japanese friend, Shimodate), Trav (Aussie, private ALT, Shimodate), Jody (California, private ALT, Yachiyo - 20 mins from Shimo), Nori (Japanese friend and go-to-gal, Oyama - 35 mins from Shimo) and another newbie to our social engagements, George (American/Asian private ALT, Yuki - 15 mins from Shimo), and of course, Dave (English, JET, Ninomiya - 25 mins from Shimo). Good Times. Later we went to kareoke for a couple hours. Thursday was a long day...
Thursday I got home from school (i.e. work) and checked my email first thing, as usual. Horrible news: a friend from Kamloops died suddenly on Wednesday night when she suffocated in her pillow during a seizure. Ashlee Joly was 22 and will be greatly missed. In the weird psychic way that mothers seem to have, my phone rang about 90 seconds after learning about Ashlee; she is always there when I need her. Although not a super-close friend of mine, Ashlee was close to many of my loved ones; my heart goes out to you Cameron, Jessica, Tannis...
I spent about two days just having some alone-time. Canceled some plans with the so-called "Unit" on Friday ("Unit" = Shimodate crew: Tress, Trav, Daichi and myself); they had a fireworks party in the park near Trav's place. Talked to my friends and family a lot; tried to do what I could to help from 8000 kms away... Finally, my mom convinced me to attend the Tochigi JET BBQ I had committed to attending earlier in the week; it was scheduled for 1pm Saturday.
Saturday morning I found myself actually looking forward to getting out and seeing other human beings. I checked my email shortly after getting up only to find, Horrible news: a friend from Victoria died suddenly on Wednesday night of heart failure. Serious. Brandy Wright was a very close friend of my sister, Rebecca's, and I had the pleasure of spending time with her on numerous occassions during my visits to Victoria. I recall her showing us how to prepare the world's best turkey stuffing when we spent Thanksgiving at her home two Novembers ago. Brandy, also, will be greatly missed; my condolensces to Rebecca, Adam (Brandy's brother), Brian (Brandy's boyfriend), Kevin, Mike, Erin...
I don't know how I was able to pull myself together, but I put on a happy face and made it to the BBQ. It was actually really good for me to get out and meet people, have some laughs and some drinks... I feel a lot less down today, even if my heart is still breaking for my loved ones who aren't in a positition to so quickly recover from these losses. To add a couple more to the count for this horrific week: condolenses to my high-school grad date Jim, and his friends and family for the loss of Connor Maher (Jim's younger brother) in a car accident; and condolenses to Jessica Parkes and family for the loss of her Granny. I can't believe this!
Well, hopefully I didn't depress you all too much; I assure you that I am okay. I am now off to the grocery for some eggplant and mushrooms to add to my wonderful tofu stew. I promise that future entries will be more cheery. Hope all is well.
Just singing a ditty (Tressa & Jody)
Jody, meet Ninomiya Dave
Daichi in his HOT pleather pants!!
"I love the Shidax characters!" - Jody
Mike & Crystal appreciating the bottle
Peter & Me @ boyz nite
Poor, Passed-Out Daichi... It's been a loooong night!
Hideki, Yuka, Mie, Hidenori
Some Party Guests at International Dinner Party