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July 13th, 2009

Did anyone see the Women’s US Open this weekend? I didn’t, however I did see the highlights this morning on the Golf Channel. It was a riveting finish, as South Korean Eun-Hee Ji sank a birdie putt on 18 to win a one shot victory over a former USC golfer from Taiwan named Candie Kung, who made a furious charge over the course of the last round. American Christie Kerr lost her 2 shot lead over the course of the day with some nervous putting, and tied for 3rd with South Korean In-Kyung Kim. This is the second year that a South Korean woman has won the US Open.

You would not believe the consternation that the previous paragraph would cause were I to post it in a golf messageboard. Read reaction to the event on ESPN and other sports-dedicated websites, and you’d swear we were back in the 1940s. Some gems: “Why the LPGA is struggling: fans can’t identify with players because most of the time, the winners can’t speak English!”; “Maybe with the winners check she can buy Rosetta Stone”; “You know that queasy feeling you get when you feel like you’re about to be attacked? That’s kinda how this feels like.”; “There needs to be a “cap” on Oriental players. PERIOD.”; “The Koreans et al are fine players but they lack personalities and all resemble one another. The Asian names are also confusing and don’t realy distinquish one from another.”; “I get very upset over people coming to this country and living the American Dream, but don’t become citizens. They should get taxed extra heavy.”; “WHY DO WE WANT TO WATCH A PROGRAM FILLED WITH PEOPLE WHO DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH AND HAVE TO TALK THRU AN INTERPRETER-HOW REDICULUOUS-THE LPGA CONTINUES DOWN THE TUBE FOR THE AMERICAN VIEWER-CALL IT THE ORIENTAL GOLF CONTEST.” Racism, as American’s know and understand it, seems only to apply to issues of black of white. That players in other sports – heck even on the men’s tour – aren’t criticized for their lack of English skills seems not to bother these people. Rafael Nadal’s English is passable at best. Angel Cabrerra’s speech at the Masters was a stuttering mess of English words, which proceeded what sounded like an eloquent outpouring of emotional Spanish. Young Europeans in the NHL struggle with English when they start in the League; Evgeni Malkin’s English is unintelligible most of the time. There are plenty of baseball players from Latin America who do not speak English well, many of them prominent and important players. And heck, have you heard half of the NBA speak English? It doesn’t matter if athletes are black, white, european, or asian; post game interviews in any sport are excercises in skewering the English language on a spit of slang, ebonics, and poor grammar.

My point is that the excuse that people are using to mask their blatant racism – language – is exactly that, an excuse. Are the plethora of Chinese and Korean girls that have won on tour in the last 5 years a little bland? Maybe. But that’s part of the culture – women don’t exactly enjoy a free and open society in East Asia. Is this wrong? Yeah, probably, but that’s another discussion. The fact of the matter is, the contingent of very strong Korean female golfers is here to stay. If others cannot keep up, that’s sport. Sports are supposed to be a meritocracy – you get by on your skill and your luck, regardless of things like your race or the language you speak. Particularly in a sport like golf, in which an international field competes on a regular basis, to say that only those who speak perfect English should be allowed to win an American tournament is ludicrous.

I have no problem with the LPGA requiring it’s constituents to learn English – that’s marketing and that’s business. In the end, the LPGA is pushing entertainment, and it’s EASIER to get reaction from a player who speaks English than it is to get it from someone who doesn’t. And yet, post-round/post-game interviews are so little of what constitutes entertainment. What made Tiger’s US Open victory last year memorable? 3 things: 1) it went into a playoff, 2) it was at Torrey Pines, a course he had grown up winning on as an amateur and a junior, and 3) we found out later that he had played the entire tournament on one leg. Do ANY of those things have to do with race, language, or interviews? They have entirely to do with excellent play, supreme grit and toughness, and backstory. Tell me this: other than Annika Sorrenstam, do you know the backstory of ANY LPGA golfer currently on tour? Do you know the backstory of ANY LPGA golfer – EVER? I don’t. The LPGA does so little to market anything other than the sexuality of their players (and even then, they do a poor job of that) that they’re completely missing the point. Stories are what engage people for more than a few minutes. Sex sells … hot wings and t-shirts. To men. It doesn’t sell entire sports leagues with a conservative tradition and an older following. It doesn’t help you sell a product to women. Look at what Kournikova did for tennis: nothing. Sharapova came along and furthered the cause by – guess what – winning. Serena Williams furthered the cause by winning AND showing young women that you can do whatever you want by working hard enough for it (i.e. creating your own fashion line, slack off practicing and still win, etc.) You can sell sex after you sell the product. And you sell the product when you grab people’s attention with humanizing stories and the skill of the players.

So don’t blame the Koreans or the “Asians” for ruining the LPGA. They’re doing what they should be doing – playing good golf, providing exciting finishes and an excellent product. Do I care what language the winner happens to speak if she sinks a nervy 12 foot putt on 18 for birdie and the win? No. I marvel at her giant, watermelon-sized cajones for rolling the rock that confidently, knowing full well that if she missed the hole, she would need to make a difficult putt coming back just to get into a playoff. Blame the LPGA for doing nothing to help the players gain true noteriety or a dedicated following.
July 7th, 2009

When I think about classy, I think one of two things: Ron Burgundy (as in, “you stay classy, San Diego”) and one of my favorite hockey players, Joe Sakic. Has there been a more consumate pro throughout the course of their career? Sakic was drafted to the Quebec Nordiques in a typically lean time (when wasn’t there a lean time when it came to the Nordique’s?) in the team’s history. While he enjoyed instant success as a young player, the Nords were awful, generally finishing low in the league standings. And yet, despite some injuries and having to play with some truly awful players (with the exception of maybe Peter Stasny), Sakic produced like clockwork, game after game, horrible season after horrible season. That’s what endeared him to his many fans; while his skills were outstanding, while his speed, quickness and agility were otherworldly, while his vision was uncanny, it was his lunch-pail attitude and respect for the game that made him stand out from so many other scoring stars. One of his most famous (and one of my favorite) quotes from him came in reference to the Eric Lindros fiasco. Lindros, as I’m sure you know, refused to play for the Nordiques, holding out for a trade to a better team. Sakic, who, like his teammates were constantly asked about the situation, responded: “We only want players here who have the passion to play the game. I’m tired of hearing that name. He’s not here and there are a lot of others in this locker room who really care about the game.” Sakic understood not just hockey, but the culture that hockey endeavored to inhabit, the way people wanted things to be. That’s why when you look at his career stats, you’ll see only 2 names in the team column: Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche. He is a model of loyalty, consistency, quiet leadership and hockey.

I didn’t really get to see Gretzky or Lemieux do their thing; I was a little bit too young to fully appreciate them. But I did grow up watching Sakic terrorize the Canucks. I even remember watching that one playoffs in 95-96 in which he scored 18 goals (record for a single postseason). For some reason, I seem to remember about 15 of those were against the Canucks. Every time we got some momentum going, he’d kill us with a timely goal, or an incredible pass onto the tape of a teammate for a goal. Sakic got up for big games, and played his best in big moments. He holds the record for most overtime goals in the playoffs, with 8. While he scored 7 points (4-3-7) in the 2002 Olympics, he scored 4 of those (2-2-4) in the finals. If the game was big, Joe Sakic came up big. If it involved the best of the best, Sakic got better. He is 1st all time in All-Star game assists (yes, more than Gretzky) and 3rd all time in points. He was about as clutch and dependable as any player over the course of his career.

What I will remember most about Joe Sakic though, is his wrist shot. I tried to make my wrist shot like his. There has been much written about his hockey. Sakic, in his prime, was a sublime skater: fast, quick, and he could change direction on a dime. His vision was Gretzky-like; he could kill you with the pass just as well as he could with the puck on his stick. He was unafraid to go into corners, even late in his career with his chronically bad back. His hockey sense was unbelievably high. To my eye, he played as though he understood the game better than guys like Francis and Yzerman, and that’s saying a lot. But more than anything, that wicked, heavy, quick, accurate wrister will always stand out for me. It haunted goalies, particularly Canucks goalies. Not only could he shoot it through a wall, but he could get it off from almost anywhere. He could hit small spaces, shoot it around defencemen, fire a floater, or pick a corner. If Brett Hull had the ideal snap shot, and MacCinnis had the ideal slap shot, I’d take Sakic’s wrister over anyone who’s ever played the game. I will miss seeing him unload it.

It is sad when your childhood heroes grow old. In these last few years of his career, Sakic has been no less consistent or productive. Just 3 years ago, he topped the 100 point plateau again. But time marches on, and injuries over the last 2 seasons have taken their toll, not so much physically, but mentally on him. In the 2002 Olympics, on a team of professional standouts, Sakic was the star, and tournament MVP. This was a team who, almost in it’s entirety, will go or have gone into the hockey hall of fame. And that, really, is where Sakic should go too. I don’t know if there has been a less debatable HOF pick in the last 5 years. Thank you Joe, for your 20 years of hockey, but also for 20 years of service to a game that you have demonstrated you really care about. You will be missed.
July 6th, 2009

I have not been very good at updating my website! There are a lot of blog postings that have been started, but not finished that I’ve had to delete. I’m not even going to attempt to re-cap. Things haven’t changed TOO much. I’m still employed at Tireco. I moved in with Shannon into a larger 2 bed/2 bath place just down the road from my old place. It is quite a bit nicer, and I’ve been enjoying the extra space, as well as my Man room (the second bedroom). I’ve been playing golf A LOT more since last year, although, recently I haven’t been able to due to my broken collarbone. I don’t know how I broke it. I’ve come to realize that I just don’t do enough interesting things on a regular basis to warrant keeping an online journal/ blog, however, I do have enough random thoughts and mini-events to warrant a micro-blog. Hence, you can now find me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ryansung.

I’ll keep the posts here to important thing that require me going into more detail. Like, for example, the Canucks. I can’t decide whether Mike Gillis is a genius (not caving to the twins’ demand for 12 year contracts) or a retard (not getting Bouwmeester, Mikael Sammuelsson for 3 years at $7.5 million). On one hand, I like the overall plan. We’re younger, faster, and probably more skilled up and down the lineup. However, we have some real, as Michael like to call them, millstones too, like Pavol Demitra, Sami Salo, and I would submit, guys like Steve Bernier and Willie Mitchell. I feel like with the exception of a few players, the hockey IQ of our team is low. Too many guys who can skate, but like chickens with their heads cut off. Combine the fact that all the teams in our division probably got better while we probably stayed the same at best, and we could have a down year on our hands.

Also, I read an article about Jim Brown (NFL great) calling out Tiger Woods for not supporting social change, particularly in the forum of race relations, and specifically race relations between blacks and society. This happens a lot because a) Tiger is very private and tends to stay on the sidelines when it has to do with political and social debates, and b) he doesn’t necessarily like to be classified as Black. In fact, he is just as much Thai and Chinese as he is Black, per the ethnic make-up of his parents. And yet, the Black community loves to claim him as their own. I think beyond the ethnic mathematics, I’m curious as to why it is a necessity for athletes, particularly athletes of color, to voice an opinion about societal ills like racism. These are things that, outside of perhaps personal experience, they know little about. Why would I want to hear Tiger Woods’s stance on the healthcare system? Should I care whether he supports the Dems or Reps? No. I care more about the golf courses he likes, or about hearing him talk golf (which is very impressive, by the way – few know more about the science and art of the swing than he does, and his course management is other-worldly). He does his charity through his organizations, The TW Foundation and The TW Learning Center, among others, putting his focus on education and the impact that goals and sport can have on development. Isn’t this just as important and worthy a cause as throwing another voice into the fray for minorities?

This past weekend, Roger Federer won his 15th grand slam in a long 5 set match with Andy Roddick. It was a GREAT match, lots of aces and winners and exciting points. And, of course, a lot of legends on hand to congratulate Federer were he to win. I must say, with the exception of maybe Nadal, who, based on his physical prowess, I think might be some sort of lab-bred superhuman or being from another planet, Federer in his prime is practically unbeatable. Power off both wings, a huge variety of shots, an accurate serve, enough mobility to get to a lot of balls, and an excellent tactician. Watching him craft some points out there against Roddick, it was like watching a pro versus and amateur. He can beat you in so many ways.

What I didn’t enjoy was Andy Roddick acting like a brat after the match. Yeah, he’s disappointed. I can understand that, given that he pushed Federer all the way to the end in, what, his 4th loss in the Wimbledon finals to Federer? Fine. I understand that. But show a little class, and just take heart in the fact that you pushed the greatest player in the history of the game to the limit. Don’t throw your racket, and talk during his acceptance speech, and be a big baby.

Anyways, I’m waiting to see what else Gillis does in the next few weeks. The whole Chicago Blackhawks qualifying offer snaffu may turn out poorly (for Chicago), so we might (and should) be bidding for the services of some excellent players. In the meantime, I have my collarbone follow-up today, so I’m hoping it is no longer broken and can go back to golf and hockey. I’ve been stir crazy for weeks, trying to figure out ways to occupy my time. I have posted my birthday list here, in case you want to get me something and don’t know what to get. Until next time!
July 7th, 2008

Shannon and I went to Disneyland yesterday. I have to tell you, even when you’re a little older, and you see precisely what an incredible marketing machine Disney and Disneyland is, the place is really quite enjoyable. Perhaps it is my childhood speaking, but the atmosphere of the park, the old rides, the characters, the expensive food, it still invokes evokes some powerful magic. We were going to go on the 4th, but Kevin arrived back from Peru (foreign language study), so we picked him up and hung out with him. We went yesterday instead and it was a good thing we did; one of the staff members was telling us how incredibly busy it was on Friday. It was actually quite sane when we went. Most rides we were able to get on in less than 10 or 15 minutes. Of course, we hit all the old standards, like the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, the Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones, etc. etc. etc. but there were also a few new ones. Of particular note was the new Buzz Lightyear ride on which you get to shoot things as you slowly troll your way through this little automated maze. It calculates the number of targets you hit, and gives you a score, with which you can compare to others’ scores. There’s also the new Tomorrowland Thing of the Future exposition, which basically showcases new technologies that will likely change the way we live or do business or receive healthcare etc. in the future. This was incredible. It was a house built with ALL SORTS of interesting and handy devices, such as the touchscreen monitor in each room that allows you to change the thermostat, turn on lights, open and close window shades, share media like music, and watch security cameras. There were large touch screen tables that allowed you to manipulate pictures (a la the iPhone), do digital puzzles, use the internet, and sync with other memory devices. In one instance, the guy who was showing us some of these things put a phone down on the kitchen table (which had 4 of these screens), and then shook it, and all the pictures in the phone “fell out” and scattered across all the screens. That was neat. There was also one of these screens in a coffee table that showed the original, hand-written and drawn manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Wonderland, streaming directly from the British Museum. you could flip pages by dragging your finger across the screen, zoom in, rotate it, browse … it was pretty cool. Even cooler was this one child’s room that had LCD screens on the walls and windows. We were told the story of Peter Pan. The entire room interacted with the story. So when Peter’s shadow jumps into the dresser, the dresser shakes, and when Shannon opened it up, the shadow reappeared on the screen. I got to “shoot a canon” at Peter, which made pretty accurate holes in the projected clouds on the far wall. All in all, probably the coolest experience in the park (and one we didn’t have enough time to explore).

I haven’t been to Disneyland in … oooooh … probably about a good 10 years. It hasn’t changed that much, although some of my old favorites, like Captain Eo, have been relegated to the Disney archives. But quite honestly, that was probably one of the most enjoyable Sundays I’ve had in years. And if you don’t eat too much, and avoid the merchandise, not all that expensive either. I highly recommend visiting if you haven’t been in a while and are in the area.

Other than that, we didn’t do too much this weekend. Oh, we saw Wall-E with Kevin, which was pretty good. Not as epic as I thought it would be, but a lot cuter and more … heartful. But I have to say, while it was a secondary objective of the film, Wall-E showed a very scary and real possibility in terms of how humans could evolve.

*** Possible Spoiler Alert ***

So basically, Wall-E takes place 700 years after humans take off into space, hoping to tool around space some before landing back on a robotically cleaned up earth. The scary part is a) this sounds like a solution that we would come up with, instead of trying to stop the degredation of the planet in the first place, b) everyone is relegated to these hover chairs that connect them to a powerful intranet/internet. All their food is delivered to them, all their needs taken care of by subservient robots. The fact that everyone does everything in this chair, and is utterly without need to get out of it lends itself to an incredible obesity problem; all the humans look like jiggly, beached whales with stout little appendages,and stubby little tiny fingers and toes. In fact, there’s one part where all the people are shaken out of their chairs, and the ensuing sliding mass of Pixar-rendered human Jello is actually quite hilarious. And scary. When you think about this, how eerily similar does this seem to our everyday lives? I know I sit in a chair all day, connected to an intranet/ internet. I guess I get up for food and to go to the bathroom, but even that isn’t that necessary these days. The most interesting sub-plot (if you can call it that) is when two people who get interrupted by Wall-E turn off their chairs and start noticing all the things around them, like the pool, and the beauty of the stars. It was a sort-of-subtle nudge off the couch from Pixar.

*** End of Spoiler ***

Thankfully, Wall-E does not delve too far into the whole “attack of the out of control robot” too much (that theme is so played out … Matrix…), instead asking the viewer to just take it for granted that the robots are capable of human emotions. Pretty funny in parts, sad in others, and overall a bit allegorical.

Anyways, not too much else to tell. The Canucks are firmly in the trenches of rebuilding, so expect a rough season from them. Of course, had we jettisoned Morrison and Naslund et. all as I had been saying all of the last 3 seasons, we might have more assets with which to rebuild. Ah well. Till next time!

June 11th, 2008

I have a bad memory. Well, that’s not entirely true; I actually have a good memory, but a poor one for remembering my childhood. However, I do remember certain images with strangely brilliant clarity. One such memory involves Trevor Linden putting Jeff Norton through the glass in the ’95 playoffs.

I remember thinking “How hard would you need to hit a guy to do THAT?!

The reason I can remember this is because it happened in 1995, the year AFTER the Canucks lost in game 7 (another clear memory, though much less pleasant), so I was watching avidly to see if they could make another run at the cup. I remember seeing it in slow motion about 40 times that evening, and have seen it probably a few hundred times since then; that probably aids my recall. Unfortunately, Linden’s Herculean effort would not equate to a successful post-season for his team, a theme that would typify his career.

Linden never struck me as a good player. When I look at his numbers early in his career, I am consistently shocked at how good they are. Perhaps it was because his offensive contributions were overshadowed by Pavel Bure at the time, or perhaps it was because his enormous popularity as a leader, as the consumate pro athlete – as the consumate Canuck – always took precedence in my mind. I have always considered Linden an integral member of the Canucks team because he brought so many other things to the table beyond the statistics. In an ego-driven, me-first industry, Linden was selfless, humble and always put his team and his teammates before himself or his personal goals. He often led by example, but he always struck me as the kind of guy that when he said something in the dressing room, everyone would listen. How do you quantify others’ respect? More than Messier, who often seemed moody and petulant during his stint in Vancouver, Linden seemed an ideal leader – optimistic, level-headed, poised, eloquent, and dignified. Instead of withering glares, Linden gave effort. And then more effort. And when things went bad, he tried harder. When that didn’t work, he’d try harder again, all while completely accepting the team’s inadequacies as his own. One of the most enduring images in Linden history is the picture after Game 6 in the 1994 finals, in which a tired and broken down Linden with blood on his jersey and a grimace on his face, hugs Kirk McLean in exhausted congratulations.

“He will play. You know he’ll play. He’ll play on crutches.”

The great Jim Robson, having seen Linden’s weariness from the press box during the game and as it ended, with Vancouver celebrating out of it’s mind, uttered in his own, almost-epic style that night: “He will play. You know he’ll play. He’ll play on crutches. He will play and he will play at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.” And on that Tuesday night, game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Linden scored both of the Canucks’ goals before he finally couldn’t go anymore, and the Canucks fell to the Rangers. When you speak of players putting an organization on their back, you should be refering to a player like Linden; someone who carried his team in every way they humanly could, on and off the ice.

There is another enduring image I have of Linden in my mind, the one of him, a young, beaming captain, holding the Campbell trophy after the Western Conference Finals.

I don’t remember the top falling off of this trophy, but it did when he thrust it over his head.

I think this one stands out for me because the playoffs is where Linden truly stood among the giants of the league. Have the Canucks ever had more of a gamer than Trevor Linden? Whether he was playing for Canada or the Canucks, his level of play would always rachet up a few notches for playoff games or important, must-win games. Even at the end of his career, in the 2007 playoffs and the 2008 drive for the playoffs down the stretch, when the Canucks looked dead in the water, Linden could always be counted on for the energy shift that would change the momentum of the game, or a timely goal, or a big hit that would wake up his teammates. Fans went away from the games feeling that at least one player always vindicated the expense of purchasing a ticket. It is of no wonder that Linden is as loved as he is in Vancouver.

It is a curious phenomenon that a team that has always struggled with performing up to it’s potential was led by a guy who, it seemed to me, far surpassed his potential on a nightly basis through sheer will and effort. The Canucks will miss him. He is an irreplaceable presence in the locker room and the organization. I will miss him. I will miss his effort on the ice, and his familiar face and voice as the frontman of the Canucks. The final image of Linden that I will remember is of his back, and his indomitable “LINDEN 16” in blue and green.

Taking the long walk down the tunnel of retirement.

It is a perspective his teammates have always seen, on and off the ice, as they followed him into every battle. And as he walks off into retirement and into the next stage of his life (mayor of Vancouver? I’d vote for him), I want to thank him for 20 years of his supreme loyalty and effort. Maybe Gretzky and Lemieux are larger than life heroes; once-in-a-generation geniuses, whose talents inspired everyone. But if that’s the case, then Linden is a real life hero, a man who you might call a genius of effort, one who brought his game with him day in and day out, and suddenly, 20 years later, has created a career to be proud of. In many ways, it’s the real life heroes that have a lasting, more profound impact on you. Thank you Trevor for showing us all your back. We truly appreciate it.

June 4th, 2008

It has been AAAAAAAAAaaaaaages since I last updated this site. Good lord! So much has happened since October of last year! Where do I begin? I guess the better question is do you really want to know? I think I’ll probably change the direction of the site a little, and post whatever I feel like, instead of what basically has come to amount to an activity log. When I read all the posts since Japan, I get bored out of my mind, so I have no idea how anyone else reads this drivel.

The end of October was punctuated by SEMA, the 3rd largest trade show in the world. The Specialty Equipment Manufacturer Association (SEMA) show is where all the auto-related companies bring out their bling to show off to prospective dealers and end consumers. It was crazy. There were plenty of models, showing plenty of skin, some insane cars pretty much everywhere you looked, ridiculous wheels (30 inch+, plexiglass wheels anyone?) on display, and pretty much every car-related doo dad or doohickey I could ever dream of, including some incredible drifting remote controlled cars (and a couple of Japanese guys who were drifting them all day). I have some pictures; who knows if I will post them! I will say that it was a crushing week of work; I was part of set up and take down, and I stayed the entire week. All told, I was in Vegas for 10 days. 10 days of grueling labor, 10 hour on your feet days, with client dinners at night, and damn Vegas. I came to hate the bright lights of the city.

Christmas was fun. It was the first time I had been home since … well, since last Christmas, and I had a good week and a bit off this time. It was nice to see family, and celebrate in the traditional Sung fashion. I believe it was the last Christmas at Aunty Linda and Uncle Gerry’s old house in Burnaby, as most of the family is moving into Vancouver, into condos. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t win the hat contest this year (Congrats to David), but truth be told I faced some stiff competition from not only David, but Chris and his velcro fauxhawk, and Elysse, our whiter cousin, who inexplicably wore a turtleneck, but actually managed to get it off (or so she says) at the end of the night. Fun times as usual.

Since then, I’ve been playing golf. A lot. I’ve slowly replaced every club in my bag, and got fitted for more appropriate equipment. Did you know that my average club head speed is about 107-110 MPH? Neither did I. Golf equipment is like a nerd’s dream. I’ve learned so much about MOI, COR, center of gravity, how weight in different areas of the club head affects ball flight, dimples (!), and metal alloys and composite materials. These are things you definitely don’t learn in the tire industry! I’ve played my way down to about a 13-15 handicap. If I can only putt with some consistency, I might be able to get that lower. I can drive the bejeezus out of the ball now though. I guess that was never my problem in the first place …

Hockey has been frustrating, mostly because of the touch football that Michael convinced me to sign up for. I was rushing a quarterback and jumping up to block his pass (which I got a piece of), when I landed awkwardly on his foot … and sprained my ankle badly coming down. I’m JUST NOW returning to hockey (2 assists in my first game back). My first game back, this past Sunday, was surreal. Our regular goalie had e-mailed us saying that he wasn’t going to be available for the game, and one of the new players on our team is the current goalie for the Surrey Eagles (Junior A? Junior B?). Except he couldn’t get into his house to get his equipment. So he shows up, and we offer to rent him equipment, or else someone who lives close run home to get theirs. This guy says “no, if it’s not my equipment, it won’t feel right and I’ll just be miserable.” So he proceeded to play goalie. In his regular equipment. We won 3-1. It was weird. He made probably 12 or 15 saves. I cannot imagine him in regular equipment. He’d be so good.

In the middle of May, a lot of the family trekked to Boston to watch Katie and Elysse walk. It was a pretty fun weekend, with much revelry, too much food, and some incredible pictures. It brought back memories of my last moments of college, replete with the fear of not knowing what the next step was. The best part is that we reconvene in Boston in 5 years when Kim graduates, and I hope we get to play “Who’s going to barf in their hands first?” again. Really, one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever played. The Bell syblings did well; Austin won that evening with his excellent choice (he even got a picture with his “horse”, and Elysse (picking Michael) probably would have won over all if we were including the next day (when Michael tossed his cookies in an alley).

Other than that, life’s been pretty much normal. Shannon and I went down to San Diego on Memorial day weekend. It was fun. We only went down for one night because she found a good rate on a hotel downtown. We went to the Zoo, and looked around the Gas Lamp district. By the way, I looked for the bronze rhino; I could not find it. Sadly, I think they have replaced it. We also hit up the outlets in Carlsbad and San Ysidro. I have now driven EVERY MILE of the 5 freeway, from the Canadian to the Mexican border. That’s a lot of road. Shannon got some REALLY good deals on some Kenneth Cole shoes, $15-$30 a pair for dress and work shoes. I love deals.

Not much else to tell. Summer is here, bringing with it the promises of really high temperatures (ugh.). I keep hoping that the weather will stay relatively cool, but I know it won’t last. Till next time!

October 9th, 2007
I still remember the feeling of dread, heavy on my heart, when I got off the phone with Michael. At school, Michael rarely called me, and usually only did so when he had some business out east near Claremont. At 9 at night, I knew there must have been something wrong if Michael had told me that he was coming out my way. I remember walking South from Whit’s that night, crossing all 5 campuses, running through in my head what possibly could have happened that would induce Michael to make the 45 minute drive out from downtown LA. Even so, I was unprepared for the news that was waiting for me: “Dad died tonight.”

Five years later, that news still weighs heavily on each of us, my mother, my brothers and me. There is not a day in my life that goes by that I don’t think “this would be so much easier if I could ask dad” or “I bet dad knew someone who could help me out.” At the time, the realization of what it meant not to have a father, what it was to be like not having him around, co-mingled with the harsh realities of life. It was a struggle on two fronts, both to stave off the grief and to learn from Life, the School of Hard Knocks. Now, perhaps the grief has subsided, but the feeling of loss and being lost is no less. It has been no less difficult, I am sure, for the rest of my family. We’ve all struggled with his absence.

More importantly though, I believe that we’ve all persevered in his absence as well. In a way, the night my dad died was the night I grew up for good. Having to face real life early on, I find myself far more capable of tackling the daily challenges that come my way. Both Michael and Christopher are good examples of this same phenomenon, both maturing overnight, and becoming more independent, more able almost instantly. I don’t think my mother has been this self-sufficient in years. I think each of us, in our own way, have grown immeasurably. In a strange way, his death galvanized our family such that we were able to carry on without him, a rare phenomenon of a headless army persevering without its general. The way we have gone about our lives gives me confidence moving forward; I know that each of us can overcome whatever might come our way.

It is a little sad when I think about it though. While everyone has found their own way to cope, geographical limitations and time have made it difficult to cope together. Independence and capability have, in some ways, come at the cost of familial closeness, that sense of home or belonging that we used to share. Perhaps that is also a function of growing up and getting older, but I think I feel it a little more acutely than I might if Dad were still alive.

And yet, despite that small distance between each of us, the 5 year anniversary of Dad’s death has the power to bring us close together again. “Happy Dad’s Death Day” I e-mail out this morning. The responses I got were both light hearted and infused with the kind of recollections that only those closest to our father could give. “I will try and eat it with the same noises Dad made when eating proscuitto (lots of lip smacking and grunts of appreciation).” “I celebrated early by getting out of my car on the highway and threatening to beat up a motorcyclist that made me miss my exit.” “I celebrated by christening the work bathroom with a fluorescent pink poop this morning. Man, whenever you eat beets and poop …” Clearly, the memory of Dad’s peculiar traits remains strong. From cousins and aunts and uncles, the examples were less crude, but just as poignant. One cousin remember him “lining up for 20 minutes at the returns department at superstore in order to ream out some poor minimum-wage lady about a $2 package of danishes which were like two weeks old because they were moldy. MUST GET MONEY BACK!” Classic Randy.

In a way, these recollections are a ritual of sorts, kind of like the Japanese Obon festival, a time of year in August when all Japanese return home and celebrate their ancestors. It’s a deeply spiritual time of year for some, and they perform ceremonies like burning certain woods, and observing certain superstitions designed to call back the dead. For us, we don’t really have a ritual, per se, but we can all readily bring to mind Randy’s most cherished characteristic traits, the ones that were and remain unforgettable. In some small way, it’s our way of bringing back our dead; by recalling everything that made him him, by refreshing the memory of what we collectively remember, we essentially bring him back to life by painting him, stroke by stroke, with our individual recollections. So long as this painting gets painted every so often, I don’t feel so sad about his death. As a wise cartoon pirate-turned-doctor once said: “When do you think people die? When their heart is pierced by a bullet from a pistol? No. When they succumb to an incurable disease? No. When they drink soup made with a poisonous mushroom? No. It’s when a person is forgotten!”

I know 9/11 is supposed to be the defining event of my life, that second when everything changed, like the Kennedy Assassination, or the Gretzky Trade. Yet I can unequivocally say that my father’s death has had a much more profound impact on my life; where 9/11 brought America’s (and, indeed, the world’s) focus on the vulnerability of the nation, my father’s death brought my attention not only to the vulnerability of our family in almost every facet of life without him , but also a much more real and visceral reminder of the brevity of mortality and of the fragile nature of the ties that bind even the closest of families. Yet in the face of these realizations, I find that his mere memory is enough to dispel any of the doubts I have about our competence, our closeness, and our ability as a family to persevere. One of the constant barometers of how I run my life is the question “would Dad be proud of me if I did that?” I hope, in some small way, he would be proud of what we’ve accomplished up to this point, and I also hope that he would expect more from us. I urge you to celebrate, in your own way, your private reminiscences on this, the 5th anniversary of Randy’s death. Take care.

August 31st, 2007
The end of August is upon us, which means that summer is over. Lots has happened this month; a lot of people came in and out of town. Hockey season ended after our first game of the playoffs. It was a bit disappointing, because we really could have beaten the team we were playing against. We had so many great scoring chances, but just could not finish. Ah well. The new season starts on the 7th of September, so there’s definitely not a lot of lag time. I’ll be happy to get back on the ice. It’s great fun.

My birthday has come and gone, and it feels weird being 24. It feels like an old number. The weekend before my birthday, my mom came into town after having helped Christopher move into his place in Columbus. It was nice to have her around, and she liked my new apartment. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire the friday night she came in, so we couldn’t go to all the places she wanted to go to, but she was tired anyways, so driving around locally on my spare was actually ok. We went out for a couple dinners, one at Restaurant Christine’s (a 27 for food in Zagat’s, but everyone agreed it was much worse) and Cafe Pierre (which was only rated a 21, but most of the party agreed should be maybe a little higher). Shannon met us on Sunday, and graciously drove us around. My mom and Shannon got along very well, much to the relief of everyone. Mom left on Sunday afternoon. I hope she had a good time! It was too bad I got a flat (and kind of ironic too …). The next day, I picked up some Yokohama H4/V4s, which have run very well so far. They are a touring tire, with an incredible UTQG rating of 500AA! … Ok, so no one I expect that reads this site will know what that means, but basically, it means that the tire wears very well.

On the 17th, Emrah, my co-worker, and I had a dinner. We invited our friends and ate at this Italian restaurant, Mangiamo’s, in Manhattan Beach. The food was ok, and it was fun to get together. Afterwards, everyone treked to a local bar, but, as Michael had described it, it was a veritable cougar’s den (lots of 30 something single women dressed scantily, on the prowl for younger, single men). Kevin was tired, having just started medical school at USC, and we all drove together, so we headed back home. On Saturday, I spent a very chill day, just hanging around the house with Shannon. It was a beautiful day, particularly in Torrance, so it was a great, lazy day. That evening, we were supposed to go to The Little Door, but Shannon got sick, so we cancelled, let her rest, and hit up Flemmings instead. As “romantic” as the Little Door is supposed to be, it’s hard to beat a nice, thick, Prime-grade steak on your birthday.

This past weekend, Jenine was in town to visit before she moves to Calgary to start her job as a lawyer. We met up with her at Venice Beach, which is a pretty eclectic little area. Having never been to Venice beach, it was quite a surprise to go and see all the weirdness of LA, all jam packed into one little area. Aynne Kokas, one of Jenine’s good friends, as well as a couple of her other friends were there. It was nice to get together. We left around 6ish to head up to Shannon’s aunt’s house to go to dinner. Shannon’s cousin was having a small birthday dinner at Benihana.

Now, I’ve eaten at Benihana’s before. It’s been awhile, but I know I’ve been to one. I understand the point of Benihana, and I kind of understand the allure of watching your food prepared in front of you by a guy flinging around hot food, cooked in hot grease (in the case of Benihana, hot butter), with sharp utensils. But I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT understand why people would pay the prices they do for it. Does the food taste any better prepared by the guy in front of you than it would if it were prepared in the back, sans tossing? No. Is the food even that good? No! At $35 a head, the food had better be pretty damn decent. Trust me; it wasn’t. The whole time, I was a) reminded of the Office episode where Steve Carrell meets the two Asian waitresses, then later on, can’t tell them apart, so he marks one on the arm with a sharpie, and b) kept wondering what would happen if our chef, Agus, would miss on one of his nifty tricks and accidently slice a finger off, which would fall on the hot griddle in front of him, and immediately start searing. The best part of it was thinking that I was going to get the candle holder that they brought all the birthday people (they said it was mine, along with 3 other people whose birthday it was within a couple days). We didn’t get the little statues.

This weekend is Labour Day (or Labor Day for all the Americans), but I don’t have any big plans. Ryan Murphy, a friend from school, is in town, so I think I’m going out with him tonight, but other than that, it might be a good weekend to finally finish putting everything away, getting the place cleaned really well, and start building my Madden franchise. Fall is coming! That means heavier food! Woohoo! Till next time.

August 7th, 2007
Hello again. Writing from this side of the August sales meeting, things seem much less hectic around here than they were a week ago. A full week of 10 hour days took it’s toll on me though, as Saturday I didn’t get up in time for the company picnic. Ah well.

I’ve been enjoying the cooling breezes of Torrance for a good 2 and a half weeks now. I have to say, I am so happy that I’m out of my previous place. I’m still exploring the new neighborhood, but so far, it has been a boon. Its literally right behind one of the top malls in the area, an AMC movie theatre, about 2 blocks from the intersection of Torrance Boulevard and Hawthorne Boulevarde, which pretty much puts it within 15 minutes of anywhere in Southbay. I’m about 20 minutes from work, 15 if you push it, 20 minutes to a half hour from the airport, and about the same into Los Angeles. Most notably, though, it’s like 15-20 degrees cooler in temperature! It’s just so pleasant in the area, and so convenient. There are a bunch of restaurants nearby (though the quality pales a bit in comparison to the Asian bounty near my old place), and a nice Albertsons just up the road. It’s great! I think the best thing, however, is having a big fridge and a sanitary kitchen. I miss cooking! I’ve made a roast chicken, a whole side of wild salmon, and some sandwiches for lunch. I used the ice cream maker Kevin got me to make some fresh strawberry ice cream. It’s great being able to use the kitchen without having to worry about that spot on the floor crawling away. *shudder*

Hockey has been better each week. My skating is starting to come back, and though my defensive reads are a little off, even my D has been improving. For a while, I had trouble with tying sticks up instead of bodying guys, but lately, I’ve figured out how to play defence by controlling how the other players is able to use his stick. Offensively, my passing is good, but sometimes my teammates don’t know what to do with the puck when I get it to them. Shooting has never been a problem, and that’s still true, although, I’m not shooting to score enough (shooting for rebounds instead). It’s been a lot of fun, despite the fact that we’ve lost 4 of our last 5 or so. I’m going to try to get in some pick up after the end of the season, so that I’m better prepared for next season.

What else to tell you? Mom comes into town this Friday and she’ll have dinner with Michael and I, get a day or so to shop, then is back to Vancouver. My birthday is coming up. I can’t believe I’m going to be 24. 24 is an age that sounds like you’re starting to get old. I mean, 23 is the year after college, so it’s pretty young still, but 24 is mid-twenties, kind of that twightlight zone during which no one really is young or old anymore. Suddenly, when you’re approaching 30, you look back and – CRAP! You’re old! Life really sneaks up on you like that, the bastard. Until next time.

July 25th, 2007
I’ve moved! In case you haven’t been in touch with me, the situation at my apartment reached dire in June, when the burgeoning roach population (yes, I know, gross) took over the kitchen. I stopped cooking (I couldn’t stand cooking in there, Ratatouille be damned), and pushed the apartment search into overdrive. I finally found a place in Torrance, in a nice area, right behind the Del Amo mall. It really is a world of difference. I moved in on Saturday, and I couldn’t sleep Saturday night because it was too quiet. Not having to ignore the unsavoury people outside my building, not having to dodge burning trees or abandoned debris, not having to worry about my car, my belongings, my safety … I tell you, after 5 days, it’s been absolutely worth it. Next week, I get my fridge (I rented) and today, I set up my internet. I’m so excited to use my kitchen again. Having cleaned and disinfected everything, I’m almost ready to go. The fridge (a big one this time!) will be the final piece.

Saturday, Kevin came over (he’s back from China and Vancouver) to help me move my stuff. Kevin knows how much stuff I generally have, so I’m very appreciative he didn’t bail on me. The plan was to hire a couple of guys out front of Home Depot to help me move, and the three of us would just kind of point and give orders. Well, me being the cheapass that I am, thought, well, you know, there’s not THAT much stuff, and the only realy things that are heavy are the bed … So what the hell. Let’s just do it ourselves. Let me tell you: worst decision ever. My back at the end of the day was destroyed. My legs felt like I had just spent a day running in mud. I was sweating like a pig. My legs had bruises and cuts all over them. My hands, arms, and neck hurt like crazy. And I’m sure Shannon and Kevin felt the exact same way. We rented a U-haul, and got this crazy plan that covers the vehicle for any damage, as well as unlimited mileage. Kevin wanted to take the U-haul and go joy riding, crashing it into other things, and running up some miles on it. We did take it to 7-Eleven, just because. We forgot that you still pay for gas, and U-hauls get like 2 miles to the gallon.

Kevin’s parents took us to Lucille’s for dinner. If I haven’t mentioned before, Lucille’s is a pretty good barbeque place here in Torrance. There are almost always lines, and it’s a popular place. The food is quite good. The ribs are fantastic, the BBQ chicken is very tender, and the portions are big. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Kevin’s dad so excited. He was amazed at the portions! Like … hopping in his chair, flabberghasted excited. It was funny to see. We had dinner, and Kevin headed back east. They were going up to San Jose the next morning to visit his god parents.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Kevin got a new car! We both have TSXs now. Kevin got the charcoal grey colour that I coveted back when I got mine (they didn’t have it in Canada at the time). It’s nice. Comes with bluetooth now (there is a new law in California that says that you can’t hold the phone while you talk on it and drive at the same time; stupid), and 10-15 more horsepower, due to a new testing method. Nice car.

I read Harry Potter last night in 8 hours. I could have made better time, but I stopped to eat.

**** SPOILER ALERT ****

It was tough to read the end of the whole Harry Potter arc. The plot moved along at a fast paced, and there were many parts where very important things happened in the blink of an eye. What I didn’t like about the book was the extensive use of “Deus ex Machina” or, literally, “God in a Machine”. The term is used in literary analysis when the writer or playwright uses a miraculous and often times jarring plot device to write him or herself out of a corner. So, for example, when the patronus doe leads both Harry AND Ron to the same point, and lo and behold, there is Gryffindor’s sword, that’s J.K. Rowling writing herself out of a bind (“How can I bring Ron back into the fold, get Harry the sword, and move the story along, since I’ve been writing about them slogging through winter doing nothing for a long time?”). The fact that Ron and Hermione are able to get into the chamber of secrets because Ron was magically able to use parseltongue: another example (“Wait! They need something to destroy the horcruxes”!).

I thought, though, all in all, it was a pretty satisfying ending. It was pretty heavy on the Christian symbolism, but not in an in-your-face kind of way. Rowling did a great job of tying all the ends of the story up in one chapter, really, the chapter in which Snape reveals his life story and ambition. What I didn’t like was how she dragged the whole “Harry and friends wander around aimlessly and get mad at each other” thing WAAAY too long. I mean, yes, in effect, the story was basically a huge drawn out romantic quest. But when you draw out the suffering portion of the tale SOOOO much … well, it’s a bit like Sam and Frodo dragging themselves through Mordor: maybe necessary, but incredibly boring. A good half the book consists of Harry and his two friends trying to figure out what to do, facing their inadequacies and their personal demons. This made for a very compact and very quick reconciliation, where Harry finally understands what he was meant to learn during the length of his entire quest. This, of course, is the chapters in which Snape reveals his secrets, and Dumbledore clears up all the remaining loose ends in the plot.

The most interesting part of the book was the idea of the deathly hallows. In truth, the whole idea of Harry Potter revolves around life and death, and the cheating of death. Harry is the “Boy who lived”. The chamber of secrets is Salazar Slytherin’s legacy, something that makes him and his line immortal (only parseltongues can get in). The Goblet of Fire is to gain immortal fame, and allowed the resurrection of Voldemort. Peter Pettigrew escapes death through transfiguration. The very idea of Horcruxes, to rend one’s soul apart in order to attain immortality, is born from this desire to cheat death. So the deathly hallows, three objects created to oppose death, are firmly rooted in the Rowling world. But really, who would EVER – EVER – choose the stone? Can you tell me? Whoop de doo! A rock that brings back the ghosts of dead people. GREAT! If I was that brother, I’d feel COMPLETELY screwed. I think the ending of the hallows story, where the third brother accepts the inevitability of death is very fitting, just as Harry walks towards his death and accepts his fate. In a way, the three most powerful characters, Voldemort, Dumbledore and Harry mirror the three brothers of the tale. The first brother, desirous of power, gets a wand more powerful than all the others, completely blind to the consequences of that power. The second, desirous of those long lost, gets a stone that brings them (halfway) back. Dumbledore reveals that his search for the hallows was motivated out of his remorse and guilt over his sister. And the third brother, understanding death better than the other two, hides from it until he is able to accept it and understand the reason for it. In a way, a fitting name for the book, and a fitting concept to wrap the final chapter of the tale around.

I think the toughest part of all was leaving Harry behind though. Reading the last few pages of the epilogue, it kind of hit me that we really were leaving the world of Harry Potter and wizards and witches for good. I hope that Rowling does not return to this world, unless she plans to make it her life’s work, a la Tolkien. But if so, like Tolkien, she’ll likely suffer from her new work never being as magical or as good as her old. I have appreciated everything about the Harry Potter phenomenon. It was satisfying in almost every way. I think it is this generation’s Narnia, a kind of magical world that transcends the imagination, a world that could be, if only we could see it. As a kid, as a young adult, heck, as an adult even, these fantasies are the ones that are most dear to us, the ones that let us escape and revel in the uncertainty as to whether or not it is a fantasy at all. So thank you, Joanne Rowling (the K is made up), for the magical world of Harry Potter. May we revisit that world many times and find it equally imaginative each time.

**** END OF SPOILER ****

What else to tell you other than that? Time is flying. Chris will start his first job in August. I think he’s found a place to move into in Columbus. Michael has big things happening at this work. Mom is coming down to visit in early August, after she moves Chris in. I guess there is plenty coming up. Good lord, I’m turning 24 in 4 weeks or so! I’m really breathing down the neck of that quarter century mark! I’ve made a kind of haphazard wishlist, so if you’re looking for ideas, check it out. I’ll hopefully update in a few days with pictures of the apartment. Till then!

May 24th, 2007
Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve updated. It’s been a full 6 months (actually almost 7) since I moved down to California. There’s been a lot that’s happened, so strap in!

Heck, where do I begin? I guess just some highlights. For New years, I went to my boss’s, Justin’s house, for hot pot and karaoke (yes, I was just as bad). That was fun, one of the better new years parties I’ve ever been to. It was pretty chill. Some of his friends came over, and Elaine (his girlfriend) and her brother were there. A good time seemed to be had by all.

In February, I started dating a girl named Shannon, who has been great. She invited me to a Clippers game and we hit it off almost right away. Even better, is that she likes hockey (even though she roots for the Kings…)! She works at Tireco, where I work, although we are in different departments. We’ve been pretty successful at separating work and personal life, and it’s pretty easy since we work on different sides of the office. It’s been fun so far. She’s a native Los Angelite, and lives up in North Hollywood, a long hour and a bit drive to work. Seems crazy to me.

At the beginning of May, Christopher graduated from Duke. Michael and I flew out the Durham on the red-eye connecting through Atlanta. I’d just like to say that air travel is a) an incredible hassle these days because of the new security regulations b) uncomfortable because of the hospital-smelling airports, the disgusting and expensive food, the cramped seats, the lack of leg room and the general ambience of unease and anger among the passengers, and c) incredibly annoying because of flight attendants and ticket agents, neither of whom seem to be held to any sort of quality control standards or customer service standards. Let’s face it, air travel is not convenient anymore. If there was a half decent train system in the States, I’d seriously consider taking the train over any means of air travel. I wouldn’t have to strip and be irradiated just to get on the train. I wouldn’t have to cram my ass into a small seat, only to find that the fatty next to me has already crammed his or her big ass into the seat beside me, causing his or her extra fat to bulge out below and above the arm rest, seriously infringing on my personal space. Still, sitting crooked for 12 hours wouldn’t be quite so bad if the person across the aisle didn’t smell like something died in his or her armpits, nor would it be so bad if the flight attendant didn’t cheerfully slam her plucky little cart into my shoulder/ elbow repeatedly while yelling, effectively “Look out in front! Coming through!” Of course, this is all without mention of having to fold my legs into a space that used to be the amount of room you got for your “personal item” under the seat in front of you. You ever try using a laptop on the plane these days? Unless you can type with your nipples, it’s practically impossible to do anything.

Anyways, we land around 9AM, after an awful 12 hour flight, mom picks us up, and we head into downtown Durham, unload our bags at the hotel, grab a quick 2 hours of sleep, and head to Chris’s dorm. There, we met his roommates, as well as the rest of the Sung clan that had gathered for this momentous occasion. Right away, there’s a ceremony, which I promptly fell asleep at (still can’t sleep on planes; probably why it’s so uncomfortable). I must say that Duke is a beautiful campus. Lots of old, cathedral like buildings, well tended lawns and foliage and flowers, and some interesting landscaping combine to really give you a sense of “Wow, we aren’t in Durham anymore; we’re on Duke’s campus”. The ceremony was long, lots of long and a bit boring speeches. It was also pouring rain, and thundering outside. The pews in this cathedral-like hall did nothing to deter the drowsiness that crept over me. Michael kept turning around and poking me in the forehead; apparently I’ve started to snore. I knew I couldn’t escape that Sung gene. Afterwards, there was a congregation on the lawn, followed by some pictures, and then it was back to Chris’s apartment. We hung out there for a bit, making sure everyone know where they were going, then it was back to the hotel for more sleep, a shower, and a change of clothes. We had a so-so dinner at the restaurant very close to Chris’s apartment, called George’s Garage. We were celebrating not only Chris’s graduation, but also Michael’s birthday. We also came to celebrate what will be known from this day forward as ‘5/12/07’, or the day that I came into posession of a PS3.

I think for something like 8 of the last 10 years, I’ve won the annual Christmas paper hat contest. The contest, for those readers outside the family, consists of everyone wearing one of the thin, paper crowns you get int he crackers for as long as one can. This generally lasts into the next day, Christmas morning, and there have to be people around to verify the time it came off. Sounds a bit … weird, but it really does take a large amount of patience for boring and mundane things, endurance, and the ability to either not sleep, or sleep sitting up, all of which I have in abundance (heck, I’m an English major). I might add that one of those 2 losses is due to my being in Japan last year, so technically, I wasn’t part of the competition.

Anyways, the winner usually gets a prize. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a PS3! Let me tell you, even without an HDTV (which, I really should get), the machine is awesome. It is truly a landmark in nextgen gaming. I can connect to the internet and surf the web, I can play all sorts of media from movies to music to pictures, and – here’s the best part – I can download games, game demos, game add-ons, movie trailers and other goodies from the online store some free, some for a nominal charge. The commercial possibilities are endless. Sony’s “Home” – basically, their version of “The Second Life” – is going to be rolled out soonish, and there is talk of screening movies (Sony Productions), previewing music, games, etc. inside the virtual world. There is apparently also the ability to have your own space where you can show, online, movies to anyone else you invite to your private virtual space. It’s pretty awesome. Right now, I sometimes watch Youtube on the TV, which is great fun. It has wireless capability, built in memory card reader, Wireless controllers that are tilt-sensitive (combinging the wirelessness of the Xbox controller, with some tilt functionality of the Wii controller, with the ergonomics and familiarity of the PS2 controller), and a 60 gig hard drive. It is computer, entertainment system and game console all in one. I’ve played the Xbox360 and if I had to compare the two, based on functions alone, I’d have to choose the PS3. The debate over which console’s games are better is clearly in favour of the Xbox currently, but even Xbox fanboys admit that the PS3 is the more powerful console. This means that as soon as game studios figure out how to utilize this power (say, like give it a year, like the Xbox has had), and we’ll be seeing some pretty incredible stuff. Personally, I’m waiting for Littlebigplanet, which looks like great fun.

Anyways, after dinner, Michael and Christopher went out with Chris’s friends. I was still sick from the week previous, so I went back to sleep. The next day was the real graduation, where everyone speaks. It was, however, raining outside in the morning, and my mother and I were unsure as to whether the graduation would be held or not (the program said that if it was raining, the large ceremony would be cancelled, and degrees would be conferred in departmental graduations). About the time the ceremony was supposed to start, Christopher calls us to tell us where he is on the field. So we get dressed hurriedly, and rush to the football stadium. We get there in time for the guest speaker, and there were plenty of seats. The dean conferred degrees on not only the undergrads, but all the med school, business school, nursing school, law school, grad school and PhD students also. Once that ceremony ended, we all went to Christopher’s Political Science faculty graduation, where we all sat in the blazing sun at nicely laid out tables, while we ate plastic box turkey wraps and Lays potato chips. A strange juxtaposition, kind of like … well, like Duke and Durham. We met Chris and Mike and the rest of the family at the table. Chris and Michael looked like they hit the party hard the night before. In fact, Christopher was holding, along with this weird bouquet of flowers, a bottle of vodka. I have to add that Chris had some form of pink eye, or infection in his left eye which looked GROSS. Needless to say, he looked like hell. Chris got his diploma, we all took a lot of pictures, then went back to his place to bask in the sense of his accomplishment. Then back to the apartment for a change of clothes, and off to dinner.

On the way to dinner, Michael stopped to fulfill a promise he made to Christopher – to buy him some … er … liquid gifts – and then we went to Nana’s, a local restaurant. It was fantastic. I had chicken liver pate, a Kobe beef flatiron steak with braised collards, and a blueberry torte. Delicious southern/ French food. After dinner, the rest of the family (the Toms and Maks) said their goodbyes. Michael, mom and I went back to the hotel to sleep. Christopher … I can only imagine what he went to do.

The next day, we went to Chris’s apartment to help him finish packing. Well, I should say start packing, because it had appeared that he had indeed packed nothing. We got most of his room finished by the time we had to leave for the airport. We said our goodbyes, as he is off to Southeast Asia, and caught a ride with mom back to the airport. 6 hours later, we were in LA.

It was kind of weird to see Chris graduate. I’ve always considered him my younger brother, but now that’s he’s finished school, now that we’re all out of school, the whole younger/older thing doesn’t seem to matter. When he starts working (making more than I do currently, by the way), I think it’ll really hit that we’ve all grown up. Makes me feel old.

Anyways, this has been a long post, so I’ll end it here. You’re pretty much caught up. The sales meeting went fine, although Emrah was out for the week leading up to the meeting, so I put in some loooooong hours to get the presentation running how we wanted it to. Lately, we’ve been doing more interesting projects, which is great. A lot of what we do seems to be formatting or graphics stuff, which is fun, but not that rigorous. I like the nitty gritty, business side of marketing, which, mixed with guaging the market AND the graphics stuff is really what true marketing is. I hope I get to update more often, but it’s been busy. Check out the pictures from Chris’s graduation at my Picasa Page. Check it out if you have time. Some reeeeeeal winners. Till next time.

December 31st/ January 1st

I can’t believe it’s 2007.
I think that’s the phrase that best sums up 2006, since it seems that ’06 passed in such a blur.  What a memorable year; what an amalgamation of experiences, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, people, places and things, all smashed together into one, colourful slurry, and downed in a rush.  Just thinking back over the last 5 months and trying to detail it all gives me headaches.  From Tsushima to Compton, from Hanoi to Vancouver, it was Here and Back Again, except there was no frightening dragon; only the most treasured experience of my short life.
Despite having written many words about Japan, I would be remiss to omit it from any recollection of 2006.  I have compared it many times to a dream, and there really is no better metaphor.  Sure, there were trials, but there were many more triumphs of courage, of youth, of appetite, of the desire to see something more than what was readily apparent.  I think ultimately, it was this desire that drove me to Japan, and it was the discovery of that ‘something more’ that, even now, calls me back.  What that something is, I’m not sure I’ll ever know.  I found it on the fashionable, beautiful streets of Fukuoka, and in the sobering halls of the A-bomb museums.  It was so readily apparent in all of the shrines I went to all over Japan, but also on Dotom-bori, with its takoyaki and grilled crab legs.  I found it in nature, however painfully trained or wildly uninhibited nature was.  I found it in the artificial, the man-made skyscrapers of the cities.  It was given to me by friends who invited me into their homes, or friends who went out of their way to show me a good time, or friends who let me share in their life, however intrusive and rude I unwittingly was.  And yes, I even found it on a corner in Shibuya, surrounded by the neon lights, the crazy fashions, and by the crush of young people punching madly away at their keitais.  I cannot describe it more precisely than this:

Peace.

Maybe it was peace after 4 years of silent grieving for my father.  Or maybe it was peace after a lifetime of worrying about living up to some expectation.  I went to Japan, not knowing what I would find.  I came back glad that I had found it.  I am not a religious man, and yet Japan evokes strangely holy and spiritual images for me: a mountain lake, frozen solid, the gathering dusk lending an ethereal atmosphere to the scene, the hard and jagged lines of the frozen waves and jutted peaks, softened by the gentle curve of the shore and the muted colours of the sky; a late night conversation with an old friend over coffee atop Tokyo tower, with the blinking lights and all of Tokyo on display at my feet; a bamboo forest, thick with bright green moss so uniform and undisturbed that it could only be the work of centuries and the meticulous care of generations; a kaiseki meal, each aspect – from service to location of plates – deliberate, each atom of food in it’s exact place, the gentle breeze through the Japanese maples, and the soft trickle of a natural stream beside me outside the window, flowing by; an island shrine and a slow wedding procession – deeply spiritual, highly ritualized and utterly fascinating – passing solemnly by; these images, and many more, are seared into my brain.  It is in these moments that I found that elusive something that I came back with; it is something that will hopefully stay with me for the rest of my life.
The JET experience has had such a powerful impact on me.  It’s not so much the things that I saw, which were compelling and impressive and alluring, but it was more what I learned about people, culture, and myself that made the trip unforgettable.  For the first time, I felt truly free, which seems ridiculous to say in one of the most restrictive and reserved cultures in the world.  And perhaps it was some aspect of that restraint that made the experience so pleasurable.  The Japanese are some of the kindest people I have ever known.  That kindness, whether genuine or not, is built into their culture, kind of a real life example of why manners still matter.  Yet underneath that polite veneer is a real depth of emotion and care.  It was a culture with which I could easily identify.
At the same time, I learned what it is to be truly independent.  When you’re in another country, you speak another language, and you don’t know your way around, you survive and succeed by your tenacity, your bravado, and your wits.  I learned that the best way to find my way around a city was to get lost.  I became fearless in asking questions.  I picked up enough Japanese to be a semi-functional adult.  When I look back at the year, I’m a little puzzled at how I overcame obstacles that never really seemed like obstacles.  To take such difficulties in stride, to learn so quickly that problems never became problems, I am, as conceited as it sounds, proud of myself.  It is an experience I can draw on in the most difficult of times, the knowledge of what I have done, and what I can do.  And Michael said JET wouldn’t be valuable.
Of course, I could not have done all the things that I got to do without the help and support of a few special people.  First and foremost, my mother, who financed a large portion of my year with special no interest loans to me.  I could not have seen what I have seen without her help and support.  I was surprised at how agreeable she was to the whole venture, and to top it off, she came to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to lend me her traveling experience.  I’d like to thank her for her support, both financially and in making me feel that I could run away for the year and do what I wanted.
I think the year could not have been what it had been without my JET friends, Leanne, Alli, Dave and Aaron, all of whom helped me immensely throughout the year.  I wrote above that you get by on your own, but it’s your support network of friends that make that possible.  Without Leanne’s considerable experience, without the language skills of the others, without their connections, my year probably would have been far less magical.
If there are bright spots during my year in Japan, moments that will stand in my memory forever, they are likely somehow attributed to Mina Yoshioka, who graciously played host to me three times throughout the year.  My trips to Tokyo will always remain memorable because of her planning, her arranging, her kindness, and her uncanny ability to put together parties of people who are strangely compatible.  She was the epitome of Japanese kindness, the paradigm of the Japanese people that will forever be rooted in my mind.  More than that, it was just great to see her again and find out that, after these past 6 or 7 years, she is still the same incredible person that I remember her to be.
I think I would be remiss if I did not thank Michael, my brother, for taking on the brunt of the family issues such that I could fly half way around the world and enjoy myself.  He may not see the value in such a venture, but when he understood that I was serious about going, he was blessedly quiet about it.  To top it off, he even helped make Jook Man a reality, along with help from Chris, and David, my cousin.  More than that, Michael has helped me get up on my feet upon my return.  I owe him a lot.
When you think about it, Japan was only part of my 2006.  A large part of the year was spent back here in North America.  It has felt like a bit of a let down.  I guess having seen such fascinating things for a whole year, it can only be expected that I’m a bit underwhelmed by the events in my everyday life.  While every day in Japan held new wonders and new challenges, North America has seemed a bit mundane.  Perhaps that’s just a function of being jaded to the pleasures of the Western world.
I will say it is nice to be back in a place where I can communicate with the locals (sometimes), even communicate on a high and intellectual level.  While I actually appreciated the rigidness of Japan, it is nice to not have to worry about things like eating or drinking while walking.  Grocery stores stocked with reasonably priced produce and meat, wide open spaces and wide open roads, the pro sports I’m used to – it has taken some time to get used to these things again, and I appreciate them a lot more now that I’ve gone a year without them.
I guess what I can’t believe most is that I got to do what I got to do, and how it changed me.  For an entire year, I lived fully in the moment, fully engaged with what I was doing and what was happening around me.  In real life, one can only hope to be so lucky to have such awareness.  It’s so easy to get caught up in small things that don’t matter, and completely miss the things in life that do.  For a whole year, I saw some incredible things with an open mind and open eyes.  I can only hope that those two aspects of my personality remain that way as I move on to experiences beyond Japan.

Happy 2007; believe it, it’s here.

December 13th, 2006Ugh. Last night, Kevin and I went to this place, B & R Burger, a burger place we saw in Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphalt, a show about road food. In the show, Alton starts on the East coast and drives his motorcycle across the US with a bunch of friends and camera crew, stopping at all sorts of diners and restaurants along the way; it’s kind of a survey of American road food. Well, when he gets to the West coast, he enlists the help of a police officer in Hawthorne (for those of you who aren’t familiar with LA geography, Hawthorne is south of downtown, just northwest of where I live in Gardena), who takes him to some truly ridiculous places, one of which is B & R Burger. In the show, they get what is called the Royal burger. It looked truly massive, a 1 pound patty, loaded with pastrami, a fried egg, chili, and some perfunctory vegetables.

WELL! Being the idiots that we are, we went in search of this place after hitting the driving range yesterday. Truthfully, we were actually looking to go this empanada place he also goes to, but it was closed. It is in a small strip mall, in a kind of unassuming location on Rosecrans and Cerise. It’s a small place, a handful of tables with chairs, a small TV on top of a drink fridge, and an old, Street Fighter 2 arcade game. The counter is fitted with plexiglass, kind of like a bank or a post office in a seedy neighborhood. The service is not bad, though a little slow with the food. Of course, it might be because we ordered 2 (!) Royal Burgers and a plate dinner of chicken wings between us. The burgers are HUGE! Each comes out on it’s own plate (with oil artfully dripped around the plate on a yellow sheet of sandwich paper, I might add), piled high – and I mean HIGH – with the above mentioned. The burger is heavy, and hard to pick up, with the oil and chili soaking into the bread. Kevin and I took to propping it up on our plate, and just sticking our face into the steaming mass. They were good. They were really good. Of course, about half way through though, you’re looking at what’s left, thinking “I’ve only eaten half!?” It’s monstrous, truly a burger made for Americans. Transfats? Saturated fats? I don’t even want to think about how much fat we ate last night. Suggestion? If you go to B & R Burger, DON’T get a Royal Burger AND something else. Trust me: the burger is probably 2000 calories on its own.

Tomorrow is a big sales meeting, and I’m a little nervous. I put the presentation together with the other marketing assistant, Emrah, but she’s out sick, so if there are any questions about the data, they come to me. Wish me luck!

December 5th, 2006Apparently, New York passed a LAW banning oils with transfat in them, based on evidence that transfats contribute to heart disease. Restaurants are scrambling now to find alternatives, including McDonalds. McDonalds officials say that the taste and texture of their fries suffer when fried in any other oil.

Now, I’m not going to refute the fact that transfats are bad for you. They are, and we should eat less of them. However, the operative word is should. Should implies that we have a choice to eat them or not. Having choice means that we have a responsibility to choose appropriately. Instead, lawmakers – likely across America – will make the many who can make their own judgements as far as how much junk to eat, suffer for the few who cannot. I think that’s ridiculous. Shouldn’t we be banning liquor and tabacco too? Shouldn’t be banning we cars too, since those are directly responsible for all vehicular deaths? Heck, shouldn’t we be taking TV’s out of every house in America, so that fat kids can go outside and run around?

The point is that everyone has a choice and a responsibility to make their own decisions. People have gotten so lazy and weak that they want other people to make their decisions for them! If Americans can’t choke down a bloody salad once in a while, or get off their lazy asses and walk around for a half hour, then I guess they deserve to have their food choices made for them. New York has absolved its responsibility for its obesity and poor health by enacting this ban. You know that scene in the first Matrix, where everyone is in the cafeteria, and Dozer is explaining what that jook-like gruel is? Well, that’s where we’re heading, people. I hope you enjoy eating bak jook as much as I do.

November 28th, 2006*SSIIIIIIIIIGH* “Well, I’m back” as Sam says at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Truthfully, I’ve been back for a long time, almost 4 months at this writing, and I’ve already started at my new job. It’s very much felt how I would imagine Sam must have felt at the end of the book, happy to be home, but kind of sad because everything and everyone he came to know during his adventure – the magic of it all – was gone. Japan … Japan was everything I hoped it would be. A lot of people say that when you visit a place, everything is new and cool, so usually you’ll come away with an inflated impression. It was not so with Japan. If anything, my appreciation for the country only grew; my love for Japanese cities and food and culture and people only got bigger. It’s hard to recap over 5 months of history, without selling something short, so I’ll just kind of give a brief highlight montage of my last few weeks in Japan.

The last few weeks of my stay in Tsushima were sad. I guess the teachers at the high school are used to the turnover, so for much of the farewell month, it seemed they were a little cold and distant. That was ok though, because it made it easier for me to leave. This was with the exception of Tomomatsu sensei, who invited me over to her house in reciprocation. I brought lamb chops, which seemed to go over well. I forgot to trim them though, so good as they were, they were a little fatty. That prompted cries of “Aburai aburai!” (fatty, fatty!) from her brother, who also works at the school. Kurokawa sensei also made efforts to be kind and helped me with a lot of things in the last few weeks. A few of the other English teachers also lent a hand, but it seemed very much because they had to. Ah well.

The farewell parties varied in both length and quality. The high school one was not so good. Half of the teachers showed up SUUUUUUPPPPPEEEER late, or else didn’t come at all. Still, they gave me a gift, and the food was quite good. The Junior highschool one was great; I really enjoyed it. It was at the Mitsushima Grand Hotel, and it was barbeque in a big room. Katsumi sensei brought her kids, and they are super cute. There were a lot of speeches, and everyone got properly drunk. It was a good time. The elementary school one was also good. They invited a few of the teachers who had left in March, and we had a good time. It was a little sad to say goodbye, but truthfully, it is the kids that I miss.

Ah, the kids. What can I say that I haven’t said already? In the last few weeks, I wanted so badly to be with the kids, any kids, that I was staying later and later at school, watching their club activities, talking with them as they waited for their rides, eating lunch with different classes; I’m not sure that I had the kind of impact on them as they had on me, so I don’t really know how they felt about me leaving. At the elementary school, the younger kids didn’t really seem to understand it, and the older kids were visibly saddened. At the junior high, some cared, and other didn’t. At the high school, they were too far indoctrinated into that Japanese culture of stoicness, and I got barely a tremor from them. Still, all my classes (or most of them) did something for me, whether it was a big card with messages of thanks, or a song (which, I must say, was amazing). One of the third year classes all drew and wrote a small card, which was then pasted into a big, decorative book. Another class wrote me … well, it was either a song or a poem. There were many invitations for dinner, a few gifts of traditional Japanese clothing, or small charms, many offers to drink, a couple inappropriate advances from 3rd year girls, and some good times with other JETs.

I miss my JET experience. I lived a dream for an entire year. I saw things that few from North America ever get to see. I caught a glimpse of a culture so different from ours, a society, a national consciousness a world apart from what I was used to. I met or reacquainted myself with a vast spectrum of people, from the seedy and dispicable, to the helpful and kind. I wrote a list of goals before I left for Japan, and reading through those, I believe I accomplished a great many. Do I have regrets? Of course: I regret not being able to stay. I regret not bringing or having enough money and free time to do all the things that I wanted to do, and see all the places I wanted to see. But these are the restraints of life, and those are regrets that anyone in any situation can appreciate. If I have advice to give for a prospective JET, I would advise to set some goals, think about what you want to take from the experience, and don’t get sucked into that ex-pat lifestyle, where you go out with your foreign friends every night, and do things you could be doing back at home. “It’s a magical world,” a popular cartoon child tells his stuffed friend, ” … go exploring!”

And exploring I went, after I left Tsushima for good. Kevin came out and met me in Fukuoka, and let me tell you … we created an entirely new Japan experience. If I miss Tsushima because of the kids, I will miss Japan as a whole for Kuidaore. Kuidaore, if I haven’t already told you this, literally means to eat oneself to ruin. So the idea was that Kevin would come out and join me on my last romp across Japan, travelling from the west, in Fukuoka, to Tokyo, where it all started. What it BECAME was a no-holds-barred, culinary pilgrimage across the major cities of Japan, with a little sight-seeing and some great people thrown in.

We started in Fukuoka, where we both went out immediately after checking into our capsule hotel to eat at the yatai. There, we were treated to dinner by some out of town businessmen who worked for Goodyear (ironic that I am now working in the tire industry). They were hilarious! And drunk. Then, we kind of traipsed around Fukuoka, running into Lawson’s to find Yakitate! JAPAN!! bread. I’m pretty sure we went to Dazaifu somewhere in there, and to Canal City for Ramen stadium and crepes (and shopping, of course). Next city was Hiroshima, where we had a quick stop at the atomic bomb museum (aiya … still just as bad the second time), and we also discovered WeGo, a used clothing store with bargains on T-shirts. It became our mission to find awesome t-shirts at WeGos across Japan. We had Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, and then hopped on a train for Kobe. In Kobe, we had REAL Kobe beef (which was … U N R E A L). I don’t think we had enough time in .. well, any of these places, but Kobe and Hiroshima especially. Then, it was on to Osaka, where we discovered Dotom-bori, a street of … well, food and food shops and restaurants. It is in Osaka that the concept of kuidaore was created, and boy, it sure shows. There is this plaza called Ebisu Plaza, where the idea is that regional foods from all over Japan and specialties, and … basically any good food you could think of associated with Japan are gathered into one building, and laid out matsuri-style, with atmospheric stalls. It was AWESOME! You get a card as you go in, and everything is charged to this card, the balance of which you pay at the end. There was everything from motsu-nabe to different kinds of dango, to barbeque, to taiyaki … it was amazing. I think we ate somewhere in the area of 4000 calories. In 3 hours. And this was the day after a “dry run” of Dotom-bori. It was glorious. I also stopped in to the restaurant supply area, and picked up a few things, including a couple knives. This was a mistake, as I found out later on.

We did other things in Osaka, but I promised this would be a highlight montage (whatever that is …), so on to Kyoto. I must say, Kyoto seemed like kind of a downer after Osaka. Maybe it was because I felt like it was the penultimate stop before reality, or maybe it was because of the completely divergent nature of Kyoto and Osaka people, or maybe it was just because I had already succumbed to my appetite, and kuidaore was still going strong. Whereas in Osaka, we could eat, shop, do whatever we wanted to with the appropriate gusto, in Kyoto, everything is much more polite, much more quiet. Not to say that it was bad. We had some kaiseki food that was OUT OF THIS WORLD! We paid for it, but it wasn’t even the food; it was the experience. I swear, I have never felt so satisfied – mind and body – after a meal than after the kaiseki meal we had out west of Kyoto. Truthfully, it was just what I needed after Osaka. We also looked around the temples and gardens. I miss the temples of Japan. I miss having that slice of the distant past, sublimely kept and preserved, quiet and peaceful, in the middle of the urban mass. We rented bikes, and biked around Kyoto, into Gion, the old pleasure district, and around neighborhoods that seemed right out of a movie set. It blew my mind to think that these places were pretty much as they were centuries ago.

And finally, Tokyo. The final stop of my dream tour was where it all began for me 6 years ago; it didn’t disappoint. We had a day or so to ourselves, and we traipsed from area to area, mini city to mini city. We went to Kappabashi, the kilometer-long stretch of kitchen supply stores. Here, they sold premium Japanese knives, the kind that you can’t get in the states. I spent quite a bit here, on gifts as well as knives. We spent a whole day on Kappabashi, and I have to thank Kevin for being so patient as I price shopped up and down the street. We went to Harajuku and scoped out some of the crazy costumes. We were staying in Shinjuku, but not the nice part of Shinjuku. Some of you may know that Shinjuku is where many of the goverment buildings are, but unbeknownst to me, Shinjuku is divided by the JR train station. The West side of the station is the nice side, very prim, proper and ritzy. That’s where JET had put us up when we first got here, at the Keio Plaza. The east side, however, is Kabuki-cho, which is pretty much a red light district. Our walk home every night was always the most harrowing part of our day, as pimps and touts would always jump out at us with their strangely coiffed hair and slick suits. There were also an alarming number of what I think were male snack bars.

We met up with Mina, who, being the doll that she is, organized a whole bunch of different events and dinners and such. As much fun as I had the first time I came to Tokyo in 2000, I had an even better time when I came during Golden week, and an even BETTER time this last time around. We went to Alcatraz, which you may have seen on TV, where they lock you in cells, and serve you food in giant syringes and stuff like that. It actually wasn’t that cool. Kind of just gimicky. The next night, Mina organized a dinner with Kevin and I and a bunch of her friends from Goldman. It just happened that all of her friends were girls. The Japanese place we ate at was much nicer than Alkatraz, and the food was great. Best of all, they had these rubber samurai bald caps, and plastic swords, and we took crazy pictures with them on. Good stuff. Afterwards, we were going to go out, but the club wouldn’t let me in cause of my flip flops (damn the formality of big cities!). So, given that we wanted to walk around some more, we bid farewell, and went exploring more. The next day, we met up with Mina AGAIN for lunch and Karaoke, because her friend, Novem, was leaving to go back to Thailand. We sang Karaoke (yes, for the 2nd time, and yes, it was bad again), and ate. When it was time to say goodbye to Mina, I was pretty sad. She’s awesome, and so much fun to be around, and probably one of the best hosts anywhere. She always has ideas for restaurants and things to do that are cool in the area. That, and I think I had a crush on her in summer school. Hah!

Kevin and I woke up early one morning to go to Tsukiji fish market. That was incredible too. Now, I’ve been there before, but I think this time, because of my relatively new interest in food, I was able to appreciate more just how incredible it is. We caught the end of the tuna auction, and oogled the cow-sized tuna as they were carted out of the auction area to the merchants’ stalls. We looked over the veritable aquarium of seafood on display, from beautiful langoustines, to hand sized scallops, to rib-roast sized hunks of tuna, to creatures I never really knew existed. It was a crazy experience. We walked out into the outer ring of shops and stalls, and looked at the other things on display: kitchen equipment, knives, preserved snacks, pickles, condiments and other food stuffs. Around 7:30AM, we got hungry, and started looking for food. We first stopped into this donburi place. Big mistake. Donburi is a rice bowl. Kevin, in his infinite wisdom, ordered a donburi with some sashimi on top. I, in my not-so-infinite gluttony, I ordered a tendon, with tempura. I didn’t know that the bowl would come LOADED with huge pieces of battered and fried seafood. There was maybe a huge, fat calamari steak, half a trout, some big oysters, what seemed like uncut vegetables (just the whole carrot, instead of a slice of carrot) … it was disgusting. I ate as much as I could, and walked away, with the shopkeeper’s jibes ringing in my ears.

AFTER this, we looked for sushi. We had asked a shopkeeper what his favorite sushi place was, and he had pointed us to this little sushi bar on the outskirts of the market. There were, of course, the big places in the market, where you saw all the tourists gobbling down sushi, but I wanted to go somewhere authentic, somewhere anyone else would be like “wha …?” if you told them you went there. This place was crazy. We walked in to find the ratio of staff to customers about as close to 1:1 as I’ve ever seen. Each group of customers got their own sushi chef and a dedicated waiter. The seafood was probably the freshest I’ve ever had, and that became evident to Kevin and I when one of the huge cockles started crawling out of the case, with it’s one, very large muscle, which resembled a big, dark tongue. I had REAL sushi for the first time. Man. We had ootoro that was so good, I just sat there, chewing it for 3 or 4 minutes, savouring the flavour that seemed to burst out with each chew. We had tuna, and shrimp and that cockle that had tried to escape … It’s hard to describe the tastes. It’s something, I think, that fails description, an experience that has to be experience. In a way, I understand now, what Anthony Bourdain means when he talks about eating his first oyster.

And then it was time to go. Kevin left early on Sunday, so we packed up, and I saw him off at the train station. It was kind of a sad parting, because we both enjoyed the trip so much. We wrestled my huge luggages into a train locker. We ate some duck soba, and parted ways. Alone again, at the last, I wandered around Tokyo, a little aimlessly. I had that feeling of having so much to do, not enough time to do it, and not knowing where to begin. I didn’t want to leave. I seriously – seriously – considered missing my flight, staging my death, and getting lost in the multitudes in Tokyo. Instead, I went back to Kappabashi, and bought a couple more knives. I wandered back into Shinjuku, walking around in my own thoughts, trying to live in the moment, and to take it all in one last time. This was it, the end of my dream, and it was incredible. I remember wondering if it would all be downhill from here, if life would just be spent reminiscing about that one, short year. When I think back on it now, I have this intense yearning to go back, do it again, really lose my passport this time, and get lost in the back alleys of a big city, or else out in the mountain woods near a temple. A full 4 months after my return, I still miss Japan badly; I wrestle with myself to reconcile that dream world in Japan and this one, an ocean away. I feel like I’m not really living, like I’m not really in either world now. It’s kind of weird.

I came home, and reacquainted myself with Vancouver, and North America. I was happy to see Bobo (the feeling was mutual) and the family, and happy to be home for awhile. I had been living out of a suitcase for two weeks, and as easy as that is to do in Japan, it was nice to finally have a place I could call my own. I looked for a job frantically, as I helped mom around the house. I got her to eat again – really eat, and not “a big pot of soup and that’s all” – and I took Bobo on a bunch of walks. I took him to the dog bakery as well, where he picked out some snacks as well as a biiiig foot-long rawhide chew. For a while, as long as the thing lasted, he carried it with him wherever he went. When we brought it home, he took it right to his bed, curled up with it like an old friend, and started to chew it. It was really funny.

I interviewed with a few companies, and decided on a marketing job down here in Los Angeles at a tire distribution company called Tireco Inc. They are a large company, supplying all sorts of tires and some wheels to wholesalers all over the country and retailers in SoCal and Chicago. So far, it has been great, because I get to do so many different things, from branding to pricing, to market analysis, and my input affects things directly. It’s a bit crazy to think that the report I’m writing will directly impact the decision about what kind of tire to manufacture in China. I like the people I work with, and everyone has treated me very kindly.

My living situation is a little scary. I live in Gardena, which is just west of Compton (I work in Compton). I live on the border between Gardena and Compton, and the area around my apartment is very much in the Ghetto. My building is old, not well kept, a bit dirty, and the other tennants scare me. But it’s close to work, close to grocery shopping (Marukai, 99 Ranch and Vons!), close to a very Asian area, as well as not far from the beach. It’s about half way between LA and the OC, so I can go to Kings as well as Ducks games.

I’ve kind of settled in. I cook a lot still. In the evenings, I spend a lot of time cooking and trying out new things, now that I have so many choices at the grocery store as far as fresh veg and meat. Kevin and I found the restaurant supply stores in West LA, and I bought a stock pot for fairly cheap. I found out there’s actually one just down the road from me too, which is good for smaller things. On Monday nights, Kevin comes over straight from work, and we have a fancy dinner and watch Heroes. Thursdays, we meet at a golf course somewhere inbetween us, and hit some balls on the range. I joined a gym very close to my house (which both Michael and Kevin contend is a gay gym) for very cheap – 100 bucks for the whole year – and I try to work out every other day. I don’t know, life seems a bit pedestrian.

Anyways, I think it’s time to end this massive update. If you made it through that last part, I’m surprised, cause the difference in writing between the descriptions of Japan, and the descriptions of my life here in California is so stark; even I’m amazed when I read over it. I will do my best to process the Japan pictures, and get them up, so you have some idea of what I did. Until next time then.
Birthday Wish List ’06
July 5th, 2006Well, it’s been a long ass time since I’ve written. I’ve been so busy, even during exam week, planning my move home, applying to jobs, packing, planning to entertain the people and the teachers that have made my life what it is here in Tsushima. Where do I start? I think instead of giving you a day-to-day, blow-by-blow account of the last 2 or 3 weeks, I will just give you some high lights.

A couple of weekends ago, my cousin Jenine and her boyfriend Rich came for a visit from Korea. Unfortunately, the weather was not so good, so I was unable to show Tsushima off in all its glory. However, we still had a pretty good time. They came in on Friday, and it was so foggy that I was a bit worried that they might not make it in. I went down there at lunch to pick them up, but the ferry was late, so I had to leave them there at the porch. Thinking of how I could communicate with them, I left them a note on the back of one of the official papers taped to the glass sliding doors, but I doubt they got it. I headed back to the high school for my last class of the week, which was also my last class of speaking tests. I rushed the kids so that I could leave school right after. I took a couple hours of nenkyu, and got back down to the port. Jenine was able to call me and catch me just before I left school. Apparently, she had enlisted the help of a bunch of Japanese ladies, and EVERYONE is Tsushima knows Tsushima High School. I picked them up, and we checked into the hotel. It was pretty basic, and fairly clean. I had no idea where to stay in Izuhara; most people that visit stay up at the Mitsushima Grand.

We spent the day looking around the island (in the rain), and shopping. We had a lot of fun at the 100 yen store. We hit up the grocery store and bought a boatload of food. The next day, we were going to have a barbeque on the beach. We did dinner at Senryo with Leanne, and then went to Kazeneya for a few drinks. We finished up around midnight.

The next day, Jenine and Rich walked over in the morning. It was actually sunny, which was great. We went to the grocery store to pick up some MORE food. I had stayed up a little bit to prepare a few things, like cutting up some pineapple. We picked up a 6 or 7 pound tuna, and some squid. Richard showed us how to clean squid, and I filleted the tuna. That was interesting; being my first time filleting a fish, I had to pick a monstrous one. It was pretty gross pulling out its guts, ripping what looked like the aorta, and having blood gush all over the cutting board and into the sink. But we got it done. I need a boning knife if I am to do that again.

The weather was pretty good about until we got to the beach. We set up the barbeque, had a tough time lighting the coals, and then it started to rain a little bit. We moved everything under the open air picnic huts just off the beach, and continued. We had shrimp, some pork, squid, tuna sashimi, seared tuna, corn, sweet potatoes, red onions, milk tea, and some drinks. We ate for …. maybe 6 hours. It was glorious. We were so stuffed by the time we packed up. Rich went for a swim in the ocean. Mark and Aaron were at the beach, snorkeling, so they lent him a mask and snorkel so that he could look at all the fishes. It was a good day.

We came back from the beach, smelling to high heaven of smoke and food, so we took showers, then I met the two back in town. We decided to try pachinko, since Rich was pretty curious. Having already tried pachinko in Kyoto, I kindof knew what to expect, but the parlors in Tsushima are much quieter. All I remember from Kyoto is the mind-numbing blare of the techno music, the blinding, flashing neon lights, and, of course, flushing that 1000 yen down the toilet faster than … well, flushing 1000 yen down a toilet. This time, it was a much tamer, more calculated approach to the game. Same result. My balls were gone in maybe 15 minutes. You seriously have better odds playing the damn slot machines. After about 20 minutes, we all walked out of the pachinko parlour puzzled by the Japanese fascination with the game. We rented a movie (Constantine)And headed back to my place to watch it on my tiny TV. We broke out the dried cuttlefish, and other snacks (cause we needed to eat MORE food). Here’s something I didn’t know about Jenine: not one for scary movies, or even scary images. Interesting to know. That night, after I drove Jenine and Rich back to the hotel, I baked the best loaf of bread I’ve baked yet using my sourdough starter.

Sunday, since Jenine and Rich were departing from up north in Hitakatsu, we started the drive up fairly early. My plan was to eat at the soba dojo before they left (you know, so that they’d have something to throw up on their way back to Korea in that boat). When we got up there though, we found the dojo not open yet. We went to the port to pick up their tickets, and then came back and had some chicken broth soba, and some soba ice cream (delicious). We said good bye around noon. It was a fun weekend. I think I will try to take a trip out to Korea on the weekend of the 14-17 of July, since I have a holiday on the 17th. Barring that, I will try to make one after the program ends, that is if Kevin doesn’t join me for a trek east across Japan.

Coming down from Hitakatsu, however, the pouring rain made my car hydroplane coming down a hill, and I cracked my car up hitting a guard rail. The ironic thing is that because of the rain, I was going UNDER speed limit! When the weather is good, I usually do my best Inital D impression, and rip around the curves and bends up and down the island. But it was literally raining so hard I had trouble seeing, even with my window wipers on. I was driving like an old grandma, and STILL got into an accident. That was pretty scary. The strange thing is that I just pulled out, and kept going. The car ran fine. When I got back, Kamito sensei knocked on my door to see if I was ok (which I am), and she and Kurokawa sensei came over and helped me report it to the police and everything. We took a trip back to the guard rail, so that the police knew where it happened and could take some pictures. I called the insurance company, and they were pretty helpful. I’m glad I have an English speaking service. Made that much easier. The car’s front end was pushed in a little bit, and the hood was pushed down from the guard rail. The lights had popped out, but like I said, the car runs fine. Imagine my surprise, then, when I got an estimate for fixing it, that it would cost 2000$ to fix! That’s more than the thing is worth! Needless to say, I am scrapping it. My record, however, is still intact: I have only hit stationary objects. Parked cars and pedestrians waiting to cross, beware! Thus I am carless for the last few weeks here in Tsushima. I’d like to say that it’s really bad, but I forgot how much contact with the kids you have when you walk home. A lot of them walk home everyday, so I’ve been able to talk with them again and joke around. In a way, this might make it harder to leave.

This past weekend, there was a teachers’ recreation day up in Toyotama. Dave came down on Friday night, to stay the evening. We went out to dinner with Aaron, then went to play some pool, where Austin, Sylvia and Fiona joined us. It was a pretty good time. Dave and I went back to my place around 10:30, and started up the PS2. We played video games until late. Saturday morning, we drove up to Toyotama, and got up there a bit early, about 11:30. We were praying for rain, since the activity was softball and neither of us really like to play softball. The backup activity was volleyball, which I’m not a big fan of either. I only signed myself up as a reserve, so I didn’t have to play anyways. I played with the kids THE ENTIRE DAY. It was a lot of fun. I taught them all to throw frisbees, and played some basketball. It was a lot of fun. At the end, a bunch of the mothers came up to me and thanked me for my hard work, and apologized to me for foisting their kids on me all day. I guess, since I had sweat all the way through my grey shirt (note to self: grey is a bad colour to wear when it’s hot), I looked like I had worked really hard. In truth, I was just keeping up with the kids, and I had a lot of fun too. I was friggin’ beat by the time I got back to my apartment though, and I smelled to like … like feet wrapped in leathery, burnt bacon (if you haven’t seen that clip, check it out here; hilarious and genious).

At night, we had a big nomikai, with the requisite food. It was quite a bit of fun; there were a lot of teachers, and they were all fresh from a day of fun. Even at the start, without alcohol, they were relaxed and talking. A few of the teachers, I guess having noticed that I get a little lonely during these events, kept telling teachers who were going to sit near me or next to me that they had to be willing to speak English. A few got scared and were like “oh, hell no” in mock terror and went to sit somewhere else. Inada sensei, the really short woman who lives in my building took up the challenge and did admirably. I had a really good time, and if I didn’t have to save money to send all my junk home, I would have gone to the second party (ok, so it was karaoke too, and I’m not that big a fan of the karaoke…). All in all, quite a fun day! I really like the recreation days, because the teachers really let their hair down.

On monday, I received a book from Amazon called Dough: Contemporary Bread Making by Richard Bertinet. It own the James Beard award in the baking catagory. I have to say, it has taken my bread to an entirely different level. Gone are the dense failures that I am sometimes prone to making. Last night, I basically baked the entire evening. I some really nice rolls, some bagguetes, a fougasse, and some small little snacks with leftover dough. All of them are delcious. The crumb is open and airy, they all have a fantastic resilience, and a delicate texture. They are fantastic. If you make bread, or want to learn, pick it up. It teaches a different way of kneading, not the one you picture when you imagine making bread, with all the pushing and mashing with the heel of your hand. I just wish I had a bigger, hotter oven. I wish I had got the book earlier in the year, instead of right before I am about to head home.

And it’s about time to leave! I have about 3 weeks left here in Tsushima, and I have that feeling again. That awful feeling of ‘where has the time gone?’ creeps into my thoughts everyday. A year ago, I was staring a remote, foreign island in the face, realizing just how difficult it is not to be able to communicate with anyone. What has happened in between? This year has been fantastic. I’ve travelled. A lot. I’ve seen a lot of things that are impossible to describe accurately. You need only read this blog to see how, on a daily basis, how great a time I’ve had. They tell you, when you’re getting ready to come here, that you’ll face culture shock, that you’ll be on a high when you get here, you’ll face challenges that will make you depressed, and make you hate the place, and then find enough redeeming qualities that you’ll hit another high. I never had my valley. Sure, I faced challenges. Sure, there were times I wished things were a little more like they were at home. But I have never hated Japan, nor its people, nor its culture.

I feel so much closer to the the heart of Japan in interacting with its people, its places, its food, its culture. And I love it more, the more I understand it. Still, it is an elusive feeling, this understanding, like grasping at the misty ether, floating around and about the trees of a forest; you can never keep hold of it for long before it drifts away, and your attention is drawn to something else. I hope the things I have learned here – about Japan, about people, about myself – I will never forget. I have met so many kind, interesting people, and the kids … what can I say about the kids that I haven’t already said and that would not be entirely inaddequate? I used to bag on teachers. I wondered aloud why they would do something for so little money, why they would put up with the stress from parents, from boards, from committees, from society, and why they do so for 20 or 30 years. When you ask teachers, they usually say something like “oh, I like the vacation time” or “I do it because I can have a huge impact on someone’s life.” That’s bull. Total bull. They do it because they love the kids, and the kids love them. They do it because you can always feel like a kid when you’re surrounded by kids. It’s like being around eternal youth; the faces change, but the kids never get older. It’s sad every year when you send them on their way, out into life, but there’s always next year, when a new crop of kids to get attached to comes in and takes over your life. And this continues for year after year. So don’t believe teachers that tell you they do their job for any other reason other than they love the kids.

Summer has officially started. The weather, while often rainy and misty here (it’s the rainy season), is really warm, and the 90% humidity doesn’t help matters at all. The next few weeks will be extremely busy, as I will be entertaining, packing, being entertained, saying good bye, and soaking up these last vestiges of Japan. The enormity of these tasks are exacerbated by my lack of tranporation. As such, don’t expect the updates to come fast and furious as they often do. I will probably be back around the 5th of August, into Vancouver. I do not have a job yet, despite the 8-10 applications I have put in to various companies for finance, consulting and marketing jobs. If you know of anyone looking for employees in these kinds of jobs, let me know! Happy 4th of July, everyone; I hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend in the States. A belated Happy Canada Day to those in Canada. Now, if only the Canucks would get off their asses and sign some players …

June 21st, 2006It’s Wednesday. Time is flying! I went home on Friday to check the bread. It turned out ok. I think it collapsed as I was putting it in the oven. Well, one side of it collapsed. The other side is not too bad. The crumb is fairly open in some places, and not as nice in others. It makes pretty good bread though. Friday night, Leanne and I went out for dinner at Ohashi, then hit up the Geo to pick up both Predators. We reveled in the awesomeness of watching Arnold and Danny Glover kill two alien head hunters. It’s strange; I remember the second movie to be better than the first one, but watching it this time, I must say the first was way better. Although the second Predator has cooler weapons, and doesn’t rely on his gun as much, the movie is kind of bogged down by the story of the drug wars and such. The first movie also had a big run-up, but it didn’t seem as though it was as instrusive to the meat of the movie. We finished pretty late, and since I was up at all hours the night before, I went to bed almost immediately after I got home.

Saturday was a pretty relaxed day. I cleaned the house mostly, and did some job stuff. Around noonish, I listened to game 6 of the Stanley cup playoffs, and was pretty stoked that Edmonton won. In fact, I was jumping around screaming when they scored their second goal. My neighbors must have thought I finally cracked. I made a trip up to Mitsushima to look for a spray bottle, and ended up shopping for awhile. I bought a few things at the 100 yen store for the house. I found my spray bottle (which I will use for bread), thankfully. I’ve been looking for that for a while. For dinner, I warmed up a couple of the duck confit legs, and made some rice and snap peas. I watched Wedding Crashers which was alright, and this movie called V for Vendetta, which was excellent. It’s a superhero movie in a futuristic UK, where the government has assumed the role of Big Brother. The hero, V, is trying to incite the people to rise up in revolution by mimicing Guy Fawkes, the famous rebel who tried to blow up parliament. Good movie.

Sunday was more cleaning and laundry. I’ve started thinking about the logistics of packing, since I’ve really only got a month from this point. It’s strange to think that it’s been a year! Monday was the last day of classes before exams, and I was a bit disheartened by the kids when we went to review for their speaking test. They’re dreadful (generally). I wonder if my test is too hard. But it really isn’t; if you studied at all, you could probably do ok. Clearly, these kids haven’t studied yet. There was no English club, so I headed home after school. Tuesday, I was at the Sho. I love the little kids, and will miss them tremendously. Sajikibara sensei, the second grade teacher was away, so they asked me if I could teach the class on my own. Now, this is challenging, because these kids aren’t like the high school kids; they understand NO English, and can’t really put things together yet through gestures. I got up there, thinking about how I was going to do this, only to find that all the parents of the kids were standing at the back of the room! Wow! Way to feed me to the fishes! Not only did they say to me right before the class “Ok, we need you to teach this one on your own” but they failed to warm me that it was going to be observed by parents! It was a little nerve wracking, but the kids are so bloody cute that it went ok. That’s my favorite class. We were doing animals, and Ryan sounds like lion, so whenever I asked them to say Lion, they’d shout something that sounded a little like my name. The funniest part was that the parents were all shaking their heads in the back saying to each other “I have no idea what he’s saying!” On top of the “trial by fire” class, Tuesday was also game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. I threw caution to the wind, and listened to the game in the staffroom. How many final round game 7s come along in the NHL? I wasn’t able to listen to the whole game (I started late, and had to go to class in the between), but from what I heard, it seemed like a pretty good game. God, what I would have given to watch it. Carolina won, and they totally deserved it. From what I heard listening to the game, it seemed that they totally outplayed the Oilers. Where was the Oilers team of game 6? The one that took apart Carolina with their fast, desperate play? That was what was missing. It wasn’t their goaltending, or their lack of goal scoring that kept them from the cup; it was their lack of intensity. The Hurricane’s played like a team desperate to not become a footnote in NHL history, and the answer to the question “what is the second team to lose a playoff series after going up 3 games to none? Hint: it happened in the finals.”

Today, I have 3 classes with Ms. Katsumi. I like teaching with her. She gives me pretty clear directions, and a lot of lee way in her classroom, and while I am at the Chu. Her homeroom is a lot of fun too. Well, until next time.

June 16th, 2006Hello. It’s Friday, and I’m finished for the week. It’s 6th period, and I’m just waiting for the day to end. It is freaking hot here today; I’ve been sweltering all day. In fact, it’s been pretty warm all week, with the exception of Wednesday night, when it rained. Tuesday night, I made a jar of pesto and I used it to throw together a pretty simple pasta with some chicken breast and some milk. Pesto is pretty useful. You just keep it in a jar covered in olive oil in your fridge, and it fancy’s up any meal you throw it in. Throw it on some bread for a heavy snack or a light side. Throw it in some pasta for a unique taste. Toss your roast chicken in it for a change. Easy to make and easy to store too.

Wednesday was a pretty easy day. 4 classes at the Chu, and English club. I got home around 6ish after hitting the grocery store up, and cooked myself some dinner. Not wanting to boil water for pasta (the height of laziness), I used some yakisoba noodles, and threw it together with some sauteed mushrooms. Later on, Leanne picked me up, and we went up to the Geo to rent the English club The Lord of the Rings, and pick up some snacks for them. Leanne had some big news: her grad school program at Queens called her back and said that they had a spot to take her off the waiting list. That’s huge, since she was pretty bummed she didn’t get in out and out when she found out a while back. We picked up Friday Night Lights too, which is a pretty decent movie, and watched it that night.

I finally threw a resume in for a job. I found a pretty sweet position at Google, which is made for recent grads or career changers. Hopefully, I’ll get a call back. The stats are not very good for submitting things online. We’ll have to see. I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on various industries and companies. With Michael employed, and Christopher with a pretty decent internship in NY, it’s my turn to come up with something. Let’s hope I don’t disappoint.

Thursday was the same, a pretty tough day with 4 classes and English club. Luckily, English club was just the movie. It’s the extended edition too, so there are a bunch of scenes I haven’t seen. I don’t feel like the scenes add that much to it; so far, most of the scenes seem to have been added to Bilbo’s party scene. We watched until 5:30, then I headed back downstairs to finish my planning for the speaking and listening test for the first years. For some reason, I am worried that the kids will be able to do well on this test.

Thursday night, I had another go at baking bread. Being ridiculous and bored, I didn’t start until 10PM. After having done a heck of a lot of research online, it seems the best way to make a more open crumb (er … holey bread), is to make a wetter dough. So, using my starter (which now smells a lot like fingernail polish remover), I made … well, it was like pancake batter. After “kneading” it for about 20 minutes by hand (a tiring and exhausting job with a wooden spoon), I let it rise until doubled (about 3 hours; you see why I should have started it earlier?). I punched it down, and tried to turn it out onto my big cutting board to knead it, but it was so liquid that it was basically impossible. I kept adding more and more flour. In the end, it was so late, and I was so frustrated, that I shaped it into a loaf, put it on a pan, and left it there to rise. I set my alarm for 4, and went to bed. I didn’t get up. Around 6, when I got up on my own, I ran into the kitchen only to see a deflated mass on top of the oven. I punched it down again, reshaped it into a loaf, and let it rise while I got ready for school. Before I left, I put the risen loaf into the oven. I don’t know how it is; I’m anxious to get out of here to check it out. I think it may have deflated a little bit when I stuck it in, but who knows. Either way, it’s one big loaf of bread.

Today is Leanne’s birthday. I’m not sure what we’re going to do; maybe dinner and some movies. I think there was some discussion as to a Predator marathon. This weekend promises to be very relaxed. Alli’s parents are in town, and I’ll get to meet them on Monday night. I don’t really have any plans this weekend, except looking for job stuff, and cleaning up for Jenine and Rich next week. Well, until next time.

June 13th, 2006I had to write again, cause I wrote the last update in the morning. It’s about … 10PM. I just want to report that Michael, my older brother, has taken a job at First Industrial Realty Trust, a large company and an industry leader. I think it’s awesome that he knows what he wants to do, and went out and got himself a position that allows him to do that. I envy him, even though he worked hard for this and earned it. Congratulations Michael.

June 13th, 2006It’s Tuesday, and I’m at the Sho. This weekend was pretty good. I spent friday night preparing for Saturday. Leanne and I were going to head up north to meet Dave, and do some grilling at the beach. We went to dinner at Agurera, the small restaurant near the port. That place is so good, but really quite expensive. I had no idea that we had eaten 5000 yen worth of food. Afterwards, we were going to head to Lifebase to pick up a barbeque, but found it closed. Instead, we hit up Saeki, picked up the food, and I came back and marinated chicken. I made 3 marinades: a soy-based one, and a spicy honey-garlic one for the wings, and a garlic and lemon one for the legs. We picked up a pineapple that I cut up, some corn, and some red onions. I also prepared some pancake batter for the morning. I got to bed a little late, but not too bad, considering all the prep I did.

Saturday, I woke up early (well, 8:30PM; that’s sleeping in for me nowadays). Leanne came over around 9, and we had pancakes for breakfast. We loaded up the car, and started our trek up north, stopping at Lifebase and the 100 yen shop to grab the barbeque and some barbeque things. We took the coastal road, which was kind of cool. We got a little lost, and ended up offroading a bit, but that was fine. We got up to Dave’s place around noon, picked him up, and went to find a beach we liked. We ended up at … I have no idea what it was called, but it was really nice. The sand wasn’t all that nice – it was very rocky – but it was situated in a kind of open cove. The water was a deep, turquoise blue despite the murkiness, and it was sunny and pretty hot. For a little while, I forgot I was in Japan; it felt more like a Caribbean island. We got the charcoal going, and I kept the grill going all day, grilling chicken wings, pineapple, vegetables … pretty much anything I could get my hands on. We did some wieners too. Anything we dropped, or any garbage, and we’d toss it out of the little picnic shelter where we were onto the stone pathway that curved it’s way around the cove on the parking lot side of the beach, and the tobi (a kind of hawk) would put on a show for us, by dive bombing whatever we threw out there. We spent the whole day doing this. It was awesome.

When it got dark, we headed back to Dave’s place, and hung around a bit. Dave and I played some Playstation, while Leanne responded to her successor’s questions. Man, we already have replacements. Leanne and I left around 930, and got back to Izuhara around 11ish. I was so tired. I basicallly took a shower and passed out. Sunday was a day of relaxation. I unpacked the stuff from the barbeque, cleaned and ate leftovers. Yesterday, I had no classes, since all the first years had tests. I planned lessons all day, since the internet was out. I got quite a bit done. It kind of pisses me off though, that I spend all day making a map from scratch for a lesson using Photoshop. The excercise is exactly what Masuda sensei told me to do. I give them my lesson plans. Later in the day, she comes up to me and tells me it’s too hard for the kids. That they’ll just talk, and that the most important thing is to make an activity that will keep them occupied so that they won’t talk. I thought the point of teaching was to teach something. She wants something in which they actually move around, but she wants to do with 40 kids. What the hell? If your main priority is to keep the kids quiet and keep the order in your classroom, how does getting them up and running around contribute to your cause at all? I also made a very easy crossword, where the clues are all pictures that I’ve drawn on the board for them at least 2 times. That was also deemed too hard. Perhaps I will give them an elementary school lesson, and see what they say. What a waste of time. The thing that pisses me off is that there’s no input. She just says “this is too hard” or “this is boring, they will talk to each other” but doesn’t suggest what we could do to make it easier, more interesting or more useful.

Anyways, today, I’m at the Sho. I had the 2nd graders today, except Sajikibara sensei is on a business trip, and left me a lesson plan. For some reason, since I expect to have to walk in, be given a lesson plan and go, things like that don’t bother me. It got a little hairy when I found out that it’s parents observation day, but I don’t think they understood as much as their kids (as exemplified by the quite “wakaranai!” (“I don’t understand!”) from the back of the room). I always have fun with the second graders, and thus, showed up at the high school all sweaty and gross. It’s hot today; a good day to be outside, not inside teaching. I wonder how I’m ever going to get used to a job. Tonight, I need to do laundry, but other than that, I think I’ll take it easy, and do some research. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a bread like a ciabatta, with a very open, holey crumb. I think it is difficult to do without a stand mixer, but I’m going to try. It’s all about making the dough wetter, and how you handle it. My starter is growing nicely, and gives off a very good aroma. The bread I baked last week is almost gone, so it’s about time to have a go at it again. Until next time.

June 9th, 2006FRIDAY! At last. What a rough week. The cold made everything a big pain in the ass. Wednesday night, I just had the other half of the chicken and a salad for dinner, fed the starter, and hit the sack. I was tired. I was also surfing around on the internet, looking for news about Iron Wok Jan, and came across a reference to this show called Yakitate! JAPAN! Now … get this. It’s about bread and bread making. It is, almsot assuredly, one of the most RIDICULOUS and HILARIOUS animes I’ve ever seen. It’s about this one kid who has “Solar Hands” or hands that are really warm, which are supposed to be helpful in kneading and making bread (although, you know, they’ve never helped me…). He wants to make a bread that’s characteristically Japanese, like the French have their French breads. Thus, he’s making Ja-Pan (pan is Japanese for bread; ha ha ha). The more ridiculous parts are when people try bread. They have these crazy reaction sequences. I can’t really describe them, you have to see them. So check it out.

Thursday is always a busy day. 4 classes and English club. Teaching English with Uchida sensei is such a chore. So I’ve given my lesson to all the teachers, and they’ve had it for almost 2 weeks now. And yet, as we’re walking INTO the classroom – not on the way to the classroom, or as we’re getting ready to leave the staffroom; as we’re crossing the threshold between hall and class – he’s like “I think we should do this, this and this, instead of what you have here.” Look, I’m not trained to be a teacher. Most of these lessons are just things I throw together because they’d be fun to teach, and I think if I were a student, they’d be halfway interesting and I’d be able to pick up on a few useful words or phrases. I have no reservations about changing my lesson plans, cause for the most part, these people have way more experience than me. I also realize my class means almost nothing, a mere filler period to get 20 kids out of the other teachers’ hair. But, man, if he’s had the teaching plan for 2 weeks, he could at least tell me if there’s something he wants to change before we’re in the f’ing lesson. What’s the point of me preparing it in advance? Why don’t just hand it to him as we’re walking into the classroom? I mean, obviously he hasn’t read it until class, or else he’d have told me there was something he wanted to change. I should withhold lesson plans from now on. Like Leanne says, what are they going to do, fire me? That’s the thing about JET. Basically the ultimate job security, and the ultimate dead end job. No opportunity for advancement. No opportunity for a raise (barring exchange rate fluctuations). But also almost no chance of getting fired, too.

Anyways, By the end of the day, I was pretty dead. I went up to the English club room to sleep while waiting for the kids. They came in and woke me up with their little squeals of surprise when they found me passed out sitting on the floor, leaning against a wall. I guess that would look a little weird… English club was short, only a half hour or so. I gave them the same reading comprehension that Iwata sensei and I gave the chu students on Monday. They had trouble with it. That was disheartening. Kids in Japan have a really difficult time working together. They kind of look at each other, reach a silent agreement that they’ll all work individually, and work away without talking to each other. Anyways, they want to watch a movie next week, so I’ll be renting LOTR for them. If I had it my way, they’d be reading the book, but Harry Potter requires a herculean effort for them, so I’m guessing that Tolkien will be entirely over their heads. Ah well.

Thursday night, I made bread with my starter. I only used a cup of starter, and completely went by feel and intuition as far as amounts of flour and water and salt. I actually made a halfway decent dough. Now only if I had a real oven. Still, it turned out quite well. The crumb is fairly open, and the taste is quite good, even with my clogged up nose. I watched the first 13 episodes of Yakitate!! JAPAN, and made a chicken corn chowder. Unfortunately, my bread wasn’t done in time to eat it with the soup, but I had it this morning, and it was good. I hit the sack kind of late, cause I was waiting for the bread to bake.

I was late late late today for work. I moseyed in around 8:13, probably the latest I’ve ever been. Still, no one batted an eye, since others stroll in even later. Weird. Maybe I’ll start going a little later. Masuda sensei did the same thing that Uchida sensei did to me yesterday for the first class of the day. Otherwise, it’s been a pretty chill day. The 1-4s in my last class of the week were acting like little bastards, but it wasn’t a big deal. I’m tired, and wasn’t willing to play games with them. The day is finally over. I think this wekeend, I’m just going to relax. I have 2 fresh loaves of bread, so I’m happy. I should clean the apartment. OK! Until next time, it’s quitting time for meeeee!

June 7th, 2006Oh lord, I’m sick. I spent Sunday afternoon and night sleeping. I hit the pillow at 4:45PM, I woke up around 8, went to the grocery store to get liquids and a small ice cream cup (which was dinner), and then went straight back to bed. I got up the next day at 4AM. I tried to sleep longer, but wasn’t so successful. School started at 9 on Monday, so I had an extra hour. I was feeling a little better. Until I got to school. Monday was a hell of a struggle. Not only was I completely congested (nose and throat), but I’m pretty sure I had a fever. I was dizzy, sweating and achey too. It made for a very uncomfortable day, having to run to the bathroom every 5 or 10 minutes to blow my nose. Thankfully, I didn’t have any classes. I sat at my desk, planned a lesson, and updated and reconfigured Firefox. Michael had told me about the advantages of Internet Explorer 7, which I had tried out for a few days. It wasn’t bad, but there were a couple of annoying things about it, such as the layout of the buttons. The built in RSS feed was handy, and there were a few other interesting features. But then I checked the Mozilla website and saw that my Firefox was pretty old. I updated, then got a bunch of extensions that gave Firefox all the capabilities of IE7 and more. In fact, I can play Frogger in my web browser. How strange is that?

I got home feeling so bad on Monday, I just went to bed. I got up a couple hours later feeling better. I’m sure the Nyquil (which strangely doesn’t put me to sleep) helped a bit. I made some hamburger buns which turned out ok, and finished off the hamburgers from the beach fire. I also tried to make some french fries, but deep frying still eludes me. I couldn’t make them crispy. I guess my oil needed to be hotter. I even blanched them. Go figure.

Tuesday was a day off, and I was feeling quite a bit better. It was probably all the sleep, Pocari Sweat (basically Gatorade) and C.C. Lemon (er … like liquid, carbonated Vitamin C … Literally). I had … obtained … all 28 volumes of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, and managed to read ALL of them throughout the day. I cooked a bit too. For lunch, I had another duck confit salad, and for dinner, roast garlic chicken with roast corn. It was good. Other than that I hit the sack fairly early. A long, hard day, reading 28 volumes of manga! But I have to say, you really feel empty when the story finishes. Kenshin is where it all started for me.

Today I’m at the chu. In my last lesson, Iwata sensei (the new English teacher) asked me to do a little write up about my high school. We turned it into a difficult listening/ reading comprehension. At the bottom is a section where they could write their thoughts about the lesson. EVERYONE wrote about how hard it was: “It is difficult for me to English” or “I think difficult in English” or “I was difficult for the English to hear.” A few wrote that despite the difficulty of the lesson, they enjoyed it: “Wonderful and difficult,” “Good time,” “Today, it is very interesting. But I’m not good at English. It was very interesting for me to game.” A few expressed their trepidation: “English is difficult. I think have to study English,” “English is very hard! I’m really worried….”, “Today class very difficult!!! Many things know.” And others expressed either their great dissatisfaction, or their great satisfaction over the lesson: “I’m very heard. It is difficult for the me to English”, “I was very enjoy English!” Sometimes, you can’t help but finding the humour in the English. Call it the revenge of the foreigner.

Anyways, I’m heading home. I think I have English club, but since it’s pronounciation practice, and that’s officially the responsibility of Uchida sensei, I think I’m heading home to sleep. I’ve been growing some starter in the kitchen, and it’s developing quite well. I think I will make bread tomorrow with it if I feel up to it. Anyways, until next time.

June 4th, 2006Well, it’s Sunday, and I’m working. I’m also kind of sick, with a congested chest and nose, as well as a cough. Not fun. Yesterday, I also came into work. This weekend is the high school sports tournament on the main land, and a lot of kids are off representing the school. The kids that are left behind, for some reason, come to school. There are no classes, but everyone’s here anyways. But first, back to Wednesday. Wednesday, I was at the Chu. 5 classes at the Chu! Matches my career record there. All in all, a draining day, because the chu kids are not nearly as well behaved as the high school kids. After school, I raced to the post office to pay my car bill, only to find the window for paying bills closed. Bah. I went home was all ready to go to bed, basically, but then remembered there was a nomikai! I quickly threw on some clothes, and drove to Chinese Ron, a Chinese restaurant on the river road.

I’m usually kind of suspect about Chinese food in Japan. It’s very Japanified (ie. less flavour, Japanese flavours, etc.). It never seems to taste quite right. Chinese Ron was no exception. First of all, there were flies everywhere. I didn’t eat much sashimi. That’s just an upset stomach waiting to happen. The food was basically pseudo-Chinese versions of Japanese classics: a chicken katsu with honey lemon, sweet and sour pork that was more tangy than sweet or sour, a stir fry; that kind of thing. And, of course, all the oolong tea I could drink. It was a long night, compounded by my fatigue from the Hiroshima trip. I got home around 10ish, had a little dessert (just ice cream) and hit the sack.

Thursday was my usual busy day. 4 Classes and English club. My classes went smoothly for the most part. English club was kind of fun. We read a little more of Harry Potter, looking up vocab as we went, and then I read them passages, after which they had to draw what they thought I was describing. It’s a fun excercise that stresses using the words that you do know and piecing meaning together by context. The pictures were pretty funny. You know how I’m usually amazed by the artistic talents of the kids here? Well, the three that I had in English club on Thursday draw about as well as I do (ok, maybe a little better). In one of them, Hagrid looked like a gigantic, misproportioned woman. In another, a meaty Jesus. All in all, a good English club.

Thursday night, I made a really nice pasta. It was a duck confit and maitake mushroom linguine carbonara. A couple slices of bacon lent a smoky flavour to the whole dish, which went really well with the richness of the duck and the mushrooms. It was pretty heavy though (given a carbonara is cream, parmesan cheese and egg yolk…). Still, it’s a good one to have in my recipe quiver, since it’s fancy enough to serve for a dinner party, easy enough to make on short notice, and good enough to satisfy the pallete.

On Friday, all classes were cancelled. Since most of the teachers were heading to the mainland with the kids, there were only a few teachers in each grade left behind. Amazingly, I was the first person here. I got my pick of parking spaces! I was a little worried that school was cancelled today, and I was the only sucker who had shown up, but people started showing up a little later. Apparently, many had gone to the port early in the morning to see the teams off. If I remember correctly, only Nigel Toy ever did that when I was in high school. I spent Friday trying to upgrade the site. I managed to program an RSS feed, which required me learning XML. Not hard, but different enough to give me headaches! But yes, if you would like to check to see if the site is updated, I will let you know through the RSS feed, as well as post any other random stuff I feel like on there. Like Jie-Jie. Check it out.

I spent Friday de-danying my apartment. Dany are little bugs that like to live in tatami. It’s the season for them. Their bites leave little red spots all over, and it’s kind of itchy. Very annoying. You have to spray something into the tatami after thoroughly cleaning it, then wash everything, spray and air out your futon … what a pain in the ass. Tatami is kind of a cool flooring, but it’s still a natural fiber. In fact, it’s layers of natural fiber, which makes it ideal for critters like dany to live in when it gets warm and humid. I slept in the kitchen room Friday night. Not so comfortable on wood floor, let me tell you.

I also got a few things ready for last night, Saturday night. Allie was going to come down, and we were going to have a beach fire. I was cooking, so I made some hamburger patties, and some pizza dough (for afterwards) on Friday night before I hit the sack. Something about kneading dough that’s very relaxing and therapeutic, at the same time as being back-breaking (or at least shoulder straining) labour. I tried out a new recipe for the pizza dough.

I got up early yesterday to head to school. We cleared the area around the high school of weeds, debris and garbage. I think it’s kind of cool that the school contributes to the community like that. The kids are, at once, unwilling and cooperative, so the job gets done, but with a general tenor of dissent. I helped out class 1-1. They aren’t quite as friendly, nor are there as many characters as last year’s 1-1. After the clean up, the kids all headed to the gym, to watch a recording of the sports tourney. I guess it’s a big event. I stayed in the teacher’s room and studied, answered e-mails, and read. For lunch, the teachers invited me out to an all you can eat buffet at a local hotel. One of the students lives there (and, I assume her parents run the place). It was pretty decent food for 8 bucks. I spent my last hour of the day playing basketball with kids in the gym.

After school, I zipped up to the Lifebase hardware store to pick up a few things, and then came back and made some guacamole. I put everything together, and Leanne and Allie drove by and led the way to a beach out in Mitsushima. By the time we had the fire going, it was pretty dark. It was fun. I set up a rack on top of the fire, and we grilled stuff right on the rack, or else in my cast iron pan (which I love, by the way; it has so many uses: searing, as a wok, as a pizza stone, as a roasting tray, anti-burglar device …). The burgers were good, although I was the only one to have one. Leanne had made some tzatziki, which went well with the cumin, rosemary and coriander spiced burgers. We finished up around 10, at which point we headed for home to shower.

I made the pizzas, which took longer than I had anticipated. I only made one, since it took so long. It was a half tomato salad boconccini (a la Nick’s NY Pizza in Vancouver) and half mushroom and 2 cheese. I was going to make a duck confit, red onion and goat cheese one, but perhaps that will be my dinner for tonight. The crust turned out a little soggy, but I think that has more to do with the oven than it does with the dough. Otherwise it was quite good. I got it over to Leanne’s, dropped my laundry off at the coin laundry (to de-danify), and came back to Leanne’s where there was a piece of banana cream pie waiting for me. Mmmmm. It was delicious. I watched the latter half of a horrible movie with Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston in it, picked up my clothes, and passed out around 2AM.

Which brings me to today. I have a cold (probably from the other ALTs, who all have had it; I’m always the last one to get these things). Today was exactly the same as yesterday: clean, Video, nothing. I joined up with the 2-1 class, my kids from last year. They were strangely distant. I guess that’s to be expected. I answered e-mails during the video and caught up on the mangas that I’m following (Bleach and One Piece). I had lunch, planned a lesson, then headed down to the gym. There wasn’t anyone who was playing basketball, but I shot around anyways, and watched the volleyball practice. Some of those guys can really get up there to spike. Pretty impressive stuff. After they finished their practice a few of them came over and played 2 on 2 with me. It was hilarious. One of the first years I teach in class 1-2 (he was also part of my Souji group) is so funny. If you’ve ever played basketball with volleyball players, you’ll know what it’s like to do so. It’s like playing with the athletic equivalent of the Rainman; incredible athleticism combined with the most awkward body movement you’ll ever see. They’re litterally hurling the ball up. It was so funny when one of them actually made a shot from outside a few feet cause they’d all fall on the floor, or run around the gym, hooting with joy. Ah, I will miss the kids.

I think I should head home. It’s after 4, and my head feels like it’s going to explode. Looks like it’s a tylenol and bed for me. Except I think Tylenol is illegal here. (whoops.) Anyways, until next time.

May 30th, 2006Hello! It’s Tuesday, and I am fresh back from my trip to Hiroshima and Himeji. I’m tired. Friday was a rush. I asked if I could just leave on Friday after school (school actually ends around 3:20), but no go, so I took an hour of nenkyu, and made it up to the airport. I was worried the planes weren’t going to go, because it was both raining and misty in the morning. My hotel reservation had to be cancelled before 4, so I was tracking the flights all day. They all took off though, so I just assumed mine would too. My perfect record stays in tact! I took off, and got into Fukuoka around 5. I picked up some books for my trip, then hopped on a train East. I got into Hiroshima around 8:30. It took me a half hour to find my hotel (The Toyoko Inn had a branch right next to the station, but mine was a ways off; good thing there was a shuttle there). I rolled in around 9, picked up some dinner, looked around a bit and hit the sack.

Saturday, I woke up early, had breakfast in the hotel (it was included; good deal!), and set off for Miyajima. Miyajima is an island not too far from Hiroshima. It’s about a 20 minute boat ride from Hiroshima port. It is the home to one of the most famous pictures in Japan: the Itsukushima Shrine’s Otorii. If you look at post cards from Japan, you’re likely to see a few that picture this famous site. It is a really big gate, painted a brilliant red-orange, seemingly floating in water. Most pictures you’ll see of it are taken at sunset, with the redness of the sky reflecting off the water, so it seems as though the fiery red gate is floating in the sky. The day I went, it was raining. Still, it wasn’t so bad, because there were less crowds, and the grey, misty backdrop actually made for some good pictures.

I fell asleep on the ferry ride over. When we got to the island, I disembarked, figured out where I was and where I should be heading, and set off. The first thing I saw was the deer. There were deer everywhere, just wandering around, like big, 4 legged, wingless pigeons. They evidently were quite used to people and tourists, and would follow those with food around the island. If you fed one … well, you had a companion for your entire visit. There were some hilarious signs around the island, warning people about approaching the deer with horns, accompanied by a picture of the said deer with horns, and an unwitting little girl about to get gored.

To the right of the ferry terminal, a seawalk curved around, passing by a street of restaurants and shops. The seawalk split after that. To the right, through a fairly large stone gate, the seawalk continued around towards the Shrine. To the left was a path up to the 5 level pagoda and the Hall of 1000 Tatami Mats (more on that later). I walked off towards the shrine.

Part of what many foreigners complain of when they come to Japan is that often times, nature seems prepackaged, that, in the desire to provide a scenic backdrop to shrines, castles, and other such sights, nature is so severely trained that it doesn’t resemble nature at all. I think that’s an unfair assessment. For me, historical Japanese buildings (with a few exceptions) are not about clearing nature to make room for the building; they are about the interplay between nature and the building. I think no shrine I’ve seen is as indicative of this notion as Itsukushima-jinja. The sea walk curves around the side of a mountain. While the seawalk has been accented with stone masonry, stone lanterns, and regularly placed trees (along with, of course, statues and the odd deer), it gives you a feeling that you’re walking into a separate world. All entrances to shrines are supposed to give you this feeling. As you round the bend, the great, red, torii comes into view. I took a whole bunch of pictures from different angles, then walked into the compound. It was basically a raised, covered, wooden walkway on the shore. The roof and pilars were painted the same bright orange-red as the torii. This walkway winds around the complex from the south end to the north part of the bay. Looking out over the bay, there is a large porch, where you can stand and view the torii in the distance. The tide was on it’s way out while I was there, but it still covered the base of the torii, and the sands of the bay. The rain was a bit annoying, and was increasing in strength as I snapped pictures on the porch, but it was still pretty warm. That meant a lot of mist and fog, which seemed to enhance the atmosphere of the place.

I walked around the temple a little and saw another wedding. I seem to be lucky in that way; it’s the second or third time I’ve been at a shrine for a wedding. That shrine would make for a pretty sweet wedding. There was also an impressive bridge that was inaccessible, but open for pictures. It was so steep! It seems kind of impractical. There was also a No theatre that faced in from the shore, towards the shrine. In the background, the red gate rose out of the water, giving the stage an almost ethereal feeling. I can imagine on a nice day, it would be a special space to perform.

I left the May 25th, 2006

Yo. Thursday. Yesterday was alright. I woke up at 6AM again, and decided that I’d go for a run. I ran down to the ferry port and back, which took me about 25 minutes. I got back, stretched, showered, and had a pretty solid breakfast. While I felt a little tired all day, I actually felt good. Maybe I’ll try to make that a routine. Still, 6AM everyday seems like a bit of a stretch.

3 classes at the Chu, and I taught 2 of them myself. Well, we’re using “taught” very loosely here, as Katsumi sensei just gave me some handouts, and I just had to make sure the kids were fairly quiet. I tried to motivate them by saying that if they finished early, we could play a game. While that kept them quiet and working, they didn’t finish early enough to play a game. Too bad. I like games, and watching the kids work is pretty boring. That night, I confited the rest of the duck pieces, strained the fat, and poured it in the duck pieces to go in the fridge. I think it helps the preservation.

Today, I have my regular full Thursday, which I haven’t had in a long time. For English club, I made the kids pick the sheets in my left hand, or my right hand. One side was the first Harry Potter. The other was The Neverending Story. Either way, they win. They picked Harry, which I was a little disappointed with, but they didn’t know, so it was completely random. I’ve decided that we will try to read Harry in English, or at least learn vocabulary from it. Of course, we probably won’t get through the first chapter at the rate we’re going, but perhaps they will be faster next time.

I have a lot to do tonight. I have to pack, get the house in order, and get ready to go right after school. The last flight out was booked when I went bought my tickets, so I had to buy the 4:40 PM flight out from TSJ. That’s going to be tight, and the planes might not take off anyways, because of the weather we got going on here. *sigh* When it comes time to travel, I regret being on the island. Anyways, until next time.

May 23rd, 2006Hello! You may have noticed that I’ve upgraded the banner at the top of the page using Flash! That was pretty much my Friday, since I had no classes after lunch. I did have my commercial classes. I like these kids, even if they are a little rowdy. Friday night, Dave came down, and we went out to dinner. Greg, one of the Nagasaki Prefectural office ALTs who helps out a lot with administrative stuff to do with JETs, came out to the island this weekend, and Dave came down to drive him up the next day. We had dinner at Ohashi no Kuni, then went back to my place and played games all evening. Dave left pretty early in the morning, maybe 9 or 10. I was pretty tired, so I went back to bed after he left, but couldn’t really sleep. I got up, cleaned a bit, tidied, and waited all day for one of my family members to come online so we could test the Jook cam. I had bought 3 and a half pounds of clams to make dinner on Friday, but Dave wanted to go out instead. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really feel like cooking that much. Anyways, I had clams in a white wine garlic sauce, with some of the rustic, wheaty bread from the bakery by Leanne’s place. I also started making jook for Sunday.

I only had one carcass in my freezer, and it turned out to be a duck that I had roasted with thyme and sage. That went into a pot of water with an onion. I basically made a weak-ish duck stock, from which I made the jook. It was kind of interesting. It was like a very watery, ricey risotto. It was good. I received my order from themeatguy.jp, and included in it were a couple of smoked duck breasts. I cut one of those up for the big day on Sunday. For dinner, I had jook. I got to try the webcam out around 6. It was nice to see the dog, and the family.

Sunday was a work day, officially. I got to school, and did some planning, until about 9. At 9, I set up the webcam harness that I had made out of a coat hanger, and waited for my brothers to call. The reception was going to start at 6PM PST, 10AM my time. Around 10:15, I was getting impatient and worried. I called Mom’s cell phone, and got Christopher who informed me things were running a little late, and they were almost up and ready. I guess I’m used to Japanese efficiency (things start when they’re supposed to). We got the Jook cam up and running, and they showed me my ‘body’ before the thing started. It was hilarious! I was dressed very well, on both sides of the ocean. I didn’t know how much of me the people were going to see, so I wore a suit to school (it being a special PTA meeting day, I figured I wouldn’t be out of place anyways). Basically, the idea was that Michael and David had mounted a mannequin to a metal stand, with a platform where the head should have been. This is where the laptop sat, which broadcasted my face. I got to talk to some of the cousins for a while, before the real reception began. Then, they loaded me onto a trolley, unplugged the AC adapter, and wheeled me out to where most of the people were. It was pandamonium. Jook Man was a big hit, even though the wireless connection pooped out a couple times, and there were numerous problems. When there was too much background noise, I had a lot of trouble hearing, and I couldn’t see too far in the distance, but I got to hear all the speeches, and talk to a lot of friends and family. I had to actively try to keep my voice down, because I was in the staffroom. It must have seemed strange, the ALT over at his desk talking to himself and the blurry images on his computer screen. I told a few teachers what I was doing, and they were totally interested and amazed. A few of the 30-something single women kept asking me to find them someone at the wedding. HA! Good stuff. They did get to wave to some of the family.

I came home on Sunday, thoroughly beat. I had stayed up Saturday night for no good reason at all, just unable to sleep. I was even in bed, and I was just laying there, wide awake. My sleep schedule has been very strange recently. I’ve been getting up early, like 6AM, and going to bed late. I don’t feel tired when I get up, but I feel tired during the day. I don’t drink much caffiene after 4PM, so I don’t know what it is. I basically went to sleep for the rest of the day and night, another skipped dinner. I have to stop doing that. I woke up early on Monday. It was going to be a good day, since, I had begun to marinate a leg of lamb on Saturday, and now that it was Monday, it was time to roast the sucker. I was a little worried, cause my oven hasn’t always been good with big pieces of meat, but it turned out fine. I also prepared these duck legs to be confited. The lamb was delicious. I prepared some nice roasted potatoes and carrots with it, as well as a mint yoghurt sauce, which went well with the flavours of the lamb.

I also finished the second season of Grey’s Anatomy too. I think I’ve figured out why I’m not a big fan of the show. It has potential, but the writers of the show are writing a teen-age, high school drama, set in a hospital. It just doesn’t work. The characters (mostly the interns, and mostly the women), who are supposedly smart, mature, competent surgeons, have the emotional maturity of 12 year olds. The writers have juxtaposed two dissonant realities: one where these people are incredibly competent, and one where they are wholly incompetent. Take, for example, the end of the second season, where Izzy flouts medical law to get Denny the heart. I can accept this; despite the short relationship that these two share, there have been shorter, more intense love stories written successfully. But then after Denny gets the heart, and Izzy confirms that he asked her to marry him, she spends half the episode pondering over the decision, hesitating to say yes. You have to be joking me. You’re telling me, you’d risk your career, your life’s work, and going to jail and having a murder charge on your criminal record for this guy out of your love for him, but you won’t marry him? Is that plausible? You’re asking me to believe that you’re doing all this only to go on some dates?

Anyways, today was fun. I got to have Japanese class with the first years, who were AMAZED at my hiragana. I got the “perfect” flower on all my worksheets, an unprecedented feat. Mr. Nishimura, the 5th grade teacher had to head into the hopital because of his sciatic nerve, so I didn’t have any class during 4th period. Of course, I forgot that the high school is on 45 minute periods the whole week, and I got back at my usual time, around 2. I had to rush to get to class, and didn’t know what lesson we were on (days off during the week always screw that up …), so I got to class all flustered and sweating, only to find that I brought the wrong lesson, so I had to run back, and get the correct lesson. By the time I was all set up, I was profusely sweating (it was a hot, humid day too). Bah!

I got home, and had dinner. I finished off the jook, with a side of bok choy, and some of that smoked duck breast. I think that might be the first time I’ve finished a pot of jook. I confited the duck legs too, which takes about 3 hours in a pan of duck fat. In order to do this, I not only used the duck fat from a previous roasting, but had to butcher the duck I just got, and render all of it’s fat too. It works out though, cause I started marinating the new duck pieces, and I will confit them today. You can reuse the duck fat. Beautiful. The great thing about confit is that it keeps, and it’s always ready for a quick meal since its already cooked. Stored in the fat, the confit will last about 3 weeks! And you can use it in a bunch of ways: walk it across a pan, for a crispy, delicious piece of duck, shred it and use it in salads, pastas, and sandwiches, or grind it up and make duck rillettes, a kind of paste that can be spread. Tomorrow’s the Chu, which I am strangely looking forward to, and then only a couple more days until I head to Hiroshima. Big-ass okonomiyaki, here I come. Anyways, until next time.

May 18th, 2006 (again)I was reading online that the Da Vinci Code premiers this week. I was also reading online that there are a ton of protests from Christians across the world regarding the movie, and the conjectures it makes into the life of Jesus and Mary. Now, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t seen the movie (although I probably will, since it has two of my favorite actors, Ian Mckellan and Paul Bettany in it). I know very little of the plot. But I’m getting pretty tired of Christianity taking issue with minor, insignificant issues. I’m also tired of christianity trying to pass of their faith as truth, or trying to impose their hoo-hah on everyone. Christians want to ban the movie, want to boycott the movie, want a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie saying that it’s fiction. Er … what? What was the last, big budget, Hollywood movie that you saw that WASN’T, at least in some aspects, fiction? Even in documentaries, what you’re seeing is a clever portrayal of an issue seen through the director’s eyes. Such protests and actions amount to not much more than censorship, yet few are willing to call it what it is.

Ian McKellan in an interview on NBC, said in reaction that the Bible should have a disclaimer at the beginning of it, saying that it’s fiction. Because it is. Damn good fiction, mind you, but fiction nonetheless. It requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. Jesus walks on water! Mary has a virgin birth! Adam and Eve only realize that they’re naked AFTER they eat the apple! I mean, come on. I’m not sure what’s scarier: that the bible is one of the, if not the, most popular novels in history, or that people actually believe this, wholeheartedly, literally, word for word. Tom Hanks is quoted as saying that he thinks audiences are intelligent enough to discern fact from fiction, to think for themselves and evaluate the movie as entertainment, not theology. I think the people who accept the bible literally as the only truth in the world might not be intelligent enough to do the same with faith.

I think this really speaks volumes about the failure of religion, or at least Christianity. It was based on values – values espoused in the writing of a very old text – that are millenia old. These values may not hold true anymore. And unlike a religion such as science (and yes, we’ll call science a religion, since it too, requires a bit of faith [a bit…even though everything is supposed to have some kind of empirical evidence behind it]), Christianity’s belief structure is not made to adapt. You can’t write a new Bible. You can’t update it. For that to happen, you’d need religious followers to understand that the entire religion is open to interpretation, that the Bible is an idea, an allegory. You’d have to understand that faith often changes to accomodate the values of the day. However, that changeability, that malleability seems to defeat the very purpose of religion, the comfort that people find in it, that sense of constancy that humans are attracted to. It would be admitting that God is a construct of humans; that, like the rest of life, there is no sure thing. Surely, it is difficult to keep faith in that. So instead, some Christians will cling to their literal translations, and their outdated faith, and try to impose it on other people in an effort to make order of their own life.

So, in the face of this religious censorship, I am urging you to go see this movie. Vote with your dollars. Show people you are intelligent enough to discern between faith and fiction! Let people know that it’s entertainment! Cause in the end, that’s all it is.

May 18th, 2006Thursday today. No classes, and it turns out my classes for Friday and Sunday have all been cancelled too. Well, my first year ones at least. That means 2 classes tomorrow. A very light week. Last night, I went for a run, then went out to dinner with Leanne. She really needed to vent. I got home around 8:30, watched the new scrubs, a couple more Grey’s anatomies, worked on some job stuff, and hit the sack early. This morning, I worked on ironing out how to broadcast myself to my cousin Leanne’s wedding on Saturday (PST; Sunday morning for me). Affectionately termed “the Jook Cam,” we will use Skype, some speakers, a microphone, a laptop and a mannequine to bring me to life in Vancouver, BC, all while I’m sitting at my desk here in Tsushima, Nagasaki. Isn’t technology wonderful? This hairbrained scheme was cracked ages ago, before I left. That it’s actually coming to fruition … well, let’s just say this one will go down in Sung lore. Oh, and it’s called the Jook Cam, because when we were coming up with the idea, we thought that I would be at home, in my apartment, eating a big, steaming cauldron of jook (congee, okayu, rice porridge; whatever you call it), while watching the wedding. Thus, appropriately, I will be making a big pot of the “J” this weekend, and bringing it to school to eat. Perhaps I will share some with my coworkers.

Tonight I will probably make that clam pasta that I was going to make yesterday. This weekend will be busy, with a whole bunch of visitors to the island, the wedding, and work on Sunday. I get Monday off though, which will be kind of nice. There is a typhoon coming through here, I think, so we’ll see how nice the weather is. Now, only 5 and a half more hours to kill. I think I’ll go for a run today again. I feel ok today. I’m obviously running out of things to write about, so I’ll end this drivel here.

May 17th, 2006Well, it took me DAYS to write that last update, so really, you’ll have to excuse the break in writing again. Last week felt very long, since I basically got back from the trip, then was right into classes. On tuesday, Leanne and I went out to dinner at Senryo, where we were served by one of my past students. It was truly strange, because this girl did not say one word in my class. Literally, not one word. But she was cheery when she brought our drinks and food in, and she seemed either genuinely happy, or genuinely shocked to see me out in the real world. I guess if I had a job at a restaurant and one of my high school teacher’s walked in, it would be a little strange.

By Wednesday, I was BEAT. I came home, lay down, and went to sleep at 4:30. I woke up at 11:45PM, took a shower, then went back to sleep. I was exhausted. I was fine the next day though. Only a little hungry, since I didn’t have dinner the night before. Thursday was busy as usual, although there was no English club because of the upcoming exams. I hit up the post office to send some stuff, then came home to relax a little. Friday, Dave came down after school, and I made some dinner. Leanne came over to eat with us, and we watched some movies. Leanne left after dessert (a pudding out of Jamie Oliver’s book; I didn’t whip the meringue quite to stiff peaks and paid for it with a gummy, deflated top to it). Dave and I stayed up and played video games till quite late. I miss the PS2.

We got up pretty early the next day, since Dave had to be back up north by 11ish the next day. I made some brunch, cleaned up the place a little bit, and worked on some job search stuff. I really gotta get on that. Standing on this side of Golden Week, I find myself with only 10 weeks left. It’s senior year all over again! I called Michael to congratulate him on his graduation from business school. I managed to get him IN the ceremony. He must be kind of glad to be finished, since he will probably be making BAAAAAAANK now that he has an MBA.

Anyways, around 2, I went out to do some errands. It was a really nice day in the morning, but the clouds had moved in since, and it was a little overcast. I picked up some bread from Leanne’s neighbors, then picked up Leanne. I was going to try to make myself a knife roll, so that I can transport my kitchen knives a little more safely. I looked at buying one in Osaka, but they all seemed either WAY too expensive and bulky, or expensive but cheap looking. I was going to check to see if Lifebase had the stuff I might need to make a knife roll. The first and most pressing problem is material. What do I make it out of? Most knife rolls I’ve seen are made of either leather, a heavy-duty nylon-type material, or else heavy duty cotton. I’m not sure where I can get any of those things. I’d also need some elastic straps to hold the knives in place. I’m not sure where I can get those. I suppose I can find a piece of clothing or something that would be sufficient for the roll, but the elastic might be difficult to find.

Anyways, we hit Lifebase, the pharmacy and Saeki. We ran into Aaron, Sylvia, Austin and Fiona at the little cafe next to saeki (we were in there getting soft ice; the obsession continues…). It seems as though everyone had a good golden week. We left for Izuhara to meet Allie. It was laundry day again, so we dropped of the laundry, then went to dinner at that little place with the really good tempura and sushi that I hadn’t been to since maybe October. They have this tempura pork that’s just delicious.

We picked up the laundry, then went back to Leanne’s to watch movies. We saw this movie called Heavyweights, which is about a fat camp. It was pretty funny, until the end, which is very Disney (it’s made by Disney, so …). We also watched The Ringer, Johnny Knoxville’s new movie about a guy who fakes a mental handicap to rig the special Olympics. It was pretty good. The most amazing part is that some of the actors actually are mentally handicapped, and they are fantastic. It’s pretty ballsy and difficult not only to tackle such a difficult topic, but also to do comedy while tackling such a difficult topic in this ridiculously politically correct world. I headed home after, and hit the sack early, since Dave and I had been up to the wee hours of the morning the previous evening.

Sunday was spent resting, and cleaning. I did laundry, cleaned up the kitchen, finished unpacking, basically got my life back in order. I love going on these big trips, but it’s always sad unpacking at the end, knowing that the trip is finally over. I went for a run, since it was so nice outside. It was my first run since I dinged up my knee, and I was happy to find that my knee held up quite well. The rest of my body could have been better, but for a long time not being able to run, it went ok.

I found these nice thick pork chops at Saeki the other day, and they have their bone still in. I cooked one of those guys up, with a star anise flavoured apple sauce. Delicious. I called home around 2AM to say Happy Mother’s day. God, such a busy month.

Monday was uneventful. I had my usual classes, and no English club because of the tests. I found out I would not have to go to the elementary school on Tuesday, so that means more time to job search etc. Tuesday was kind of boring, only one class. I sat at my desk all day, trying to keep myself busy. I did a lot of job stuff, and some website stuff. I thought about going for a run, but my legs were still very stiff from Sunday. Instead I watched 5 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

Now, I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for a little while now. I gotta tell you, for a show that’s come highly recommended to me by a lot of people, it’s not very good. The characters are so whiny. The main character, Merideth, is hot, but so incredibly annoying. They all talk so much, and it’s the kind of dialogue you see in bad books. Seriously, the best characters are the guys, who don’t talk their heads off all the time, are WAY less whiny and neurotic, and are far more interesting characters. And I’m really over hearing about doctors whining about how hard their lives are. If you can’t take it, don’t become a doctor. It’s your choice. You don’t get to bitch about it incessantly if it’s what you choose. Scrubs went through that phase, but Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t seem like it’s going to leave that mindset any time soon. I think the best part about the show are the surgeries. All the relationship things are just annoying distractions from the rest of the show.

Anyways, today has been a little like yesterday. Only 2 classes, both in the morning. I have the rest of the day free to do whatever I want, except I don’t have the internet at my desk. Last night, I made another one of those big porkchops, with a mustard crust. It was only ok. The potatoes I made to go with them though were fantastic. I gotta try that again. I think I will make a clam pasta tonight. I gotta enjoy this fresh seafood while I can. Anyways, until next time.

May 9th, 2006Well, it’s Tuesday, almost a full 2 weeks since my last update. Where to begin? I guess Thursday, April 27th. Thursday was the last day of classes (for me) before golden week. I had my usual 4 classes, as well as English club. I’ve been relying more and more on Calvin and Hobbes comics. Comics are a good way to introduce culture points, idiom, and vocabulary in a fun way, but I really have to sift through the strips; Calvin and Hobbes is pretty advanced, philosophical stuff. Thursday night was spent cleaning, packing, and getting ready for the school hike the next day. I guess Kamito sensei forgot to tell me about ordering a bento for the day, but that was ok, because I had fully expected to make lunch. I made these steak sandwiches on a bagguete…. oh they were good. I didn’t get to bed until late though, since I had a lot of cleaning and packing to do.

On Friday, I got to school, and basically waited for an hour while all the homeroom teachers did all the administrative stuff with the kids. It turned out to be a beautiful day, maybe warmer than I would have liked, having to walk 2 hours each way up and down a mountain. The hike was kind of cool. We took the road that runs behind the junior high school across the street from my apartment. I’ve run up there, and Leanne took me to where we ended up having the picnic way back in September. It was kind of fun, joking around with the kids, and talking with Kamito sensei. It was her birthday. I played some shiritori with the kids, and in Japanese! I had a pretty difficult time, so I had other kids help me. Shiritori is a game where you have to make a word with the last letter of the word that the person before you gave. So, for example, if the last word was “argyle” you might say “enchilada,” to which the next person might say “aardvark.” After a while, I suggested we play in English. That’s my job, right? To my surprise, one student, Rei Abiru, one of my first year students who graduated from the Chu, took up the challenge, and succeeded in playing all the way to the top. It was impressive for a first year student. Very impressive.

At the top, there were a few speeches, and the new teachers did a little show and song that was pretty funny. The student council played a game with the entire student body, where if you matched the criteria that they shouted, then you had to sit down. Anyone left standing at the end would get a prize. Then everyone ate, and then played around. It was a pretty fun day. I thought I would have to hurry on my way back down, so I hustled and made it down in and hour and a half. I would have made better time if I hadn’t been stopping to help kids who had fallen in ditches, or taken a tumble down the road. Seriously, how do you fall in a ditch, walking? Sometimes, I wonder about these kids…

I got to the airport, found a parking, and checked in. I was worried my luggages were too full; since I wanted to go light, I only took a backpack and a small luggage. 8 days of clothes were enough to fill the backpack and half of the luggage. I figured I would do a lot of shopping, but I guess not having space would be a good thing; it would limit me. I had a 2 hour layover in Fukuoka, and got to Tokyo without any problems. It was late though, so instead of trying to find Mina’s house that evening, I stayed in a business hotel near Haneda Airport.

I was staying at Mina’s house in Tokyo, a friend who I met while at Stanford Summer school. She had come out west back in November, and we had a great time in Fukuoka, looking at all the Christmas stuff. She works in Tokyo, and lives with her sister, Maki, who’s a college student. She was kind enough to let me stay with them for the weekend. Saturday morning, I woke up (a little late, since I was so beat from the hike and the late flight), and met up with Mina in Mitaka, where she lives. Since I am without a cell phone, we kind of had to hope that one of us would see the other. We had a little trouble with that, but she eventually found me. I dropped off my stuff at her apartment (she was already late for her appointment), and headed out with her. I went to Harujuku to spend the day, while she went to her hair appointment, then to work (on a Saturday). We would meet up in Roppongi at 6 for dinner.

I don’t really remember going to Harujuku 6 years ago, and I think I would have. It was a pretty spectacular place. The streets are narrow, but down each one are new shops, interesting little restaurants, and some cool things to see. I got to see a bit of the outrageous Harujuku fashion (although I hear the crazy goth look is dying out). It was fun.

I also visited the Meiji shrine. The entrance to it is this huge, wooden mon (gate), that sends you down this wide, gravelled, tree-lined pathway. I guess because it’s spring, the colours were absolutely brilliant. The greens of the new leaves were searingly green, even against the overcast sky. I wandered around the grounds of the shrine for almost 2 hours, looking at the gardens and the shrine. Despite it being overcast, it was still fairly warm, and the air had a hint of the humidity that accompanies summer here in Japan. I was pretty sweaty and tired by the time I hopped on the train to go to Roppongi.

Roppongi is way different than what I remember last time. We stayed in Roppongi when the family came here, at the Prince hotel, but I don’t remember the area being so trendy. Mina works for Goldman Sachs, and they are on the 47th (huh, that number again …) floor. Her office has beautiful views of Tokyo, especially at night, when the city is lit up. We walked around Roppongi, looking around, and looking for a place to eat. We ended up at this little Italian place that was pretty good. After dinner, we looked around a little more, then headed for Tokyo tower, where we went up to the first observation deck, and sat at the cafe and enjoyed the views. We headed home around 11:30 (I think…), and hit the sack. Mina’s place is fairly small, and her mom was staying there. I felt a bit bad, because I think my staying there forced her mom to sleep with her sister. I was treated very, very well while I was there; Mina’s family is really nice.

The next day, we woke up fairly early. We headed to Akihabara early to see if we could get some shopping in before we went to meet Mina’s friend Shan, and his co-worker, Natalie. Most of the stores were closed, but I got to see a little of the area. It was much different from what I remember it as well. There were a lot of new buildings, and a redeveloped area around the rail and subway areas. We went into Yodobashi Camera to find me a charger for my camera, since I had forgotten to bring the cradle in my haste to leave Tsushima. That particular Yodobashi didn’t have one, but they did have one on the other side of town. Mina’s sister, Maki, was kind enough to pick it up for me. Like I said, her family is really nice.

We got a call from Shan not too long after, and went to meet him near Ueno, where he was staying. Shan went to high school with Mina, back in California, and he works in China now as an engineer. His company is rotating him around 4 different locations, so he just finished his stint in NorCal, and is now in Shanghai for a few months, before moving on to, I think, London. Pretty sweet deal. His co-worker, Natalie, is from London, and she also just finished her stint in NorCal. She just got to China too, and had been there only a week before coming over to Japan. She works in on the business side of things, if I remember correctly, doing business development. We headed for the Asakusa shrine, where it seemed there was a festival on. As we passed through the crowded entrance gate, booths selling food and omiyage-like sweet and snacks lined the sides of the walk towards the temple. There was a mass of people, all either shopping or trying to get to the temple. It was pretty cool, and they had these charms on sale that protect you against, or give you some kind of blessing for, evil, safety, health, or employment/exams. Naturally, I bought one of the employment/exam charms. Come on, religion! Solve my problems!

Afterwards, we walked around the area a bit, and window shopped, then headed to get some lunch at a fast food udon joint that I had seen all over the place. It was pretty good, and pretty cheap too.

We did a boat cruise after lunch, which was ok. The bridges we passed under were not as exciting as the commentary was trying to make them out to be, but it was a good way to see more of the city on a hot day. We ended up near Odaiba, kind of a beach area in Tokyo. We hopped on a train that took us across the big, Rainbow bridge, and got off near this boardwalk-esque area, where it didn’t feel like Tokyo at all (well, ok, save for the scaled down Statue of Liberty; only in Japan…). There were lots of trees, a small beach, a park, a pretty nice walk along the riverbank. It was nice.

We hopped back on the train to head back into town. We were going out to dinner with a few other friends of Mina’s, Jack and Chieko, and one of her co-workers at Goldman, Miho. We had met Miho the previous night by chance in the train station. She had a few friends as well, so there were 10 or 11 of us. We went to this restaurant called Gonpachi. It’s the restaurant where Kill Bill Vol. 1 was filmed (the part with the Japanese school girl with the ball and chain). It was much smaller than I imagined it, although it had 3 levels for seating. The food was delicious. It was a yakki-nikku place, and a soba place (and, I think, sushi upstairs). I had this duck soba; it was delicious. I got to know Chieko and Jack a little bit. Jack speaks chinese, Japanese and English with fluency (or near fluency), and Chieko is a professional translator who used to translate for Koizumi (the PM). Pretty interesting stuff. Unfortunately, the way we were seated, I didn’t get to talk much with Miho and her friends. I guess that’s the curse of sitting 11.

After dinner, we headed off a few blocks away to the new Absolut Ice Bar in Tokyo. It’s the first ice bar outside of Europe. Apparently, in Sweden, there exists an ice hotel (like in the last Bond movie), where everything is made of ice. Well, this bar is the same thing. You enter a small room, where you pay your cover. They give you this kind of outrageous silver parka with gloves strapped to the sleeves. Then, you go into this intermediary room, where they make sure the doors are closed so the real bar doesn’t warm up. Then, you go into the bar. It’s out of this world. The walls, the bar, the furniture, the art, the cups are all made out of ice. Apparently, the water used to make the ice is from the Torne river in sweden, and it’s imported just to make the … well, everything. We spent almost an hour in there. It wasn’t much colder than an ice rink, and the parka was quite warm. We all took a lot of pictures. It was fun.

Mina and I headed back after that to hit the hay. The next day, Mina was going to head to work early, and I would meet up with Shan and Natalie to go to the imperial palace before I headed off to Kyoto in the early afternoon. I guess we ran Mina kind of ragged though, because she wasn’t feeling so good the next day. She took the morning off, and we said good bye. I’m very greatful to her for letting me stay at her place. I always seem to have a memorable, good time with Mina.

I dumped my bags in a locker at Tokyo station, and met up with Shan and Natalie. We made our way to the imperial palace, which we found pretty much closed to visitors. Still, the gardens and fountains around the palace were kind of neat, and it was a sunny day, so walking around outside was nice. We did come across the CRAAAAZY Japanese lady though, who, I guess, was a tour guide who had just gotten stiffed by a some foreigners out of money or something. She was just walking around inside the palace grounds in a suit with a backpack on, SCREAMING at the top of her lungs in English at people, mostly foreigners. She would point at them, and say things like “Go back to your country!” or “Fucking foreigners!” Or “Americans go screw themselves! You’ve taken advantage of our country long enough!” Things like that. The funny thing was, the group the it appeared she had started yelling at had a guy who was wearing a shirt with ‘AUSTRALIA’ printed on it in big, bold, block letters. Then she pointed as us, a group consisting of a Canadian, a Brit and an American. I hate being lumped in as American. Anyways, we did our best to ignore her, but we were kind of following her around the palace, so we got a big dose of the crazy. It was just a little bizarre, since you very very VERY rarely see that kind of thing in Japan. You see it a lot in LA or downtown Vancouver.

We stopped for soft ice and ate in the shade under a tree. It was hot hot hot. The soft ice was perfect. The last vestiges of the cherry blossoms and plum blossoms adorned some of the trees, and the lawns were almost immaculate (they were in some parts). Despite the signs to keep off the lawns, people were playing and running around, and sitting on the grass, enjoying the beautiful day. We did too, until it was time for me to head back to the station. I caught my train to Kyoto, sad to say good bye to Tokyo again. An hour and a bit later, I was in Kyoto.

I found my hotel without too much trouble. It was only ok; it was kind of dingy, but clean. I got settled in, then headed back to the station to look around. Kyoto station is pretty impressive by itself. There’s an 11 story department store attached to it, as well as a bunch of small restaurants and boutiques. Half of the station is quite new, and is a glass, metal and black marble, uniquely designed building. I kind of liked it. I met Shan and Natalie, as well as another co-worker of theirs, Grace, around 8ish, and grabbed dinner at an okonomiyaki place at the station. I’m a big fan of the okonomiyaki. Basically, it’s a thick, savoury pancake with a variety of ingredients in it (squid, pork, beef, bacon, noodles, cabbage, cheese … pretty much anything), topped with a special sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. It’s delicious.

We set out afterwards to find the ryokan they had booked at. Now, there’s a good reason why I always book places that are within a 1 minute walk of a subway or train station; generally, their easy to find, and when you’re stuffed of okonomiyaki, you don’t have to drag your luggage too far. This ryokan, however, was not close to a train or subway station, and we ended up tromping all over the little alleys and back streets of Kyoto. I stopped to ask for directions a couple of times. The directions that the inn manager had given them were completely wack. We eventually found it; it was pretty nice. I left them there, and walked back to my place (I got lost). I was pretty beat.

The next day, the others were going to the imperial palace. I didn’t know you had to book it in advance, and when I tried in Tokyo, it was already sold out. That was ok though, because I remember the imperial palace from last time I was in Kyoto, and I remember that the tour was pretty bad. Instead, I went to Nijo castle, which was fantastic. The gardens were beautiful, and the castle itself is quite nice too. The interiors are ornately decorated. Each room has a different theme, and famous ancient Japanese artists’ work adorns the walls, ceiling and doors. The floor was made in a special way; called nightengale floors, they are made to squeak with each step. The emperor or shogun who had made the castle was a pretty paranoid guy, and wanted to make it impossible to sneak up on him. It’s kind of clever, and it really works. I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to go in right behind a school group of little kids, who, to test out the floor, were jumping up and down. It sounded like a flock of nightengale. A very angry flock of nightengale.

I met up with the others, and we set out in search of their new ryokan. For some reason, they were switching places after one night. Their new place was quite a ways away, and though we had less trouble finding it, it was perhaps further from any subway stop than the previos one had been. We dropped their luggage off, and then went in search of Kyoto’s famous kaiseki. Kaiseki is basically a feast that, I believe, is supposed to accompany a tea ceremony. A full kaiseki often takes a couple of hours, and there are plates and plates and plates of food, each one beautifully presented and painfully trained to resemble landscapes or animals or insects. Each plate is a small helping, but you get so many it certainly fills you up. A full kaiseki dinner usually cost more than 10,000 yen (~90$USD), sometimes running into more than a few man! We, on the other hand, were looking for kaiseki bento, a cut down version of the full dinner. The food comes in a nicely presented bento box, along with a few other dishes of sashimi, a couple soups, and tempura. It was good, and for some reason – whether it was the fact that the dining room was almost silent, or perhaps it was the scenic beauty of the tea garden outside the window – it was the most peaceful, relaxing meal I’ve had in ages.

We left the restaurant satisfied and stuffed, hopped on our bikes and rode to the Shimogamo shrine, supposedly quite famous, but I don’t remember for what. The manager of the ryokan had pointed us to it. We rode slowly down the long gravel path, and saw a kind of competition or exhibition of horseback archery. The people would have to ride full gallop, while shooting their bow at three targets. They had to reload and shoot on the fly. It was really cool; I couldn’t figure out how they made it look so easily. When you think about it, you basically have to ride a horse with your legs, while steadying yourself sufficiently to hit a fairly small target. Heck, I can’t even do that standing still.

The shrine itself was ok. There was a lot of that bright orange paint that is more common in China. The buildings inside were ok, and the shrine grounds were really quite beautiful. There was a Japanese bridge, the kind that’s very curved, that spanned across a small, cobbled canal than ran through one side of the temple grounds. The buildings were interesting mostly because of their roofs, which were made by densly layering fairly thin slats of wood. These slats of wood are compressed between wooden planks, and the rood (which is, these days, made of a material sturdier or at least more waterproof than wood, I think). It was very sunny out, and that made the plants’ and flowers’ colors really bright. I think any shrine would have been beautiful.

We left the shrine, and headed towards Kinkakuji. I guess we had misjudged how far it would be, because it took us quite some time to get there on our bikes. Most of it was uphill. We got there a bit too late, and decided instead to ride down to Nijo Castle, bike around the perimeter, then head back to return the bikes. I probably wouldn’t have rented a bike if I were on my own, but I am really glad we did, because it was fun, a rest from the relentless pounding of walking, and it was faster and more active than the buses. On the way back to the rental place, we passed many a pachinko parlour. Shan and I had been joking that we should go in and play some pachinko slots, just so that we could say that we had played some pachinko. Well, on a whim, we actually did enter. For those of you who don’t know what a pachinko slot is, It’s an immensely popular gambling game in Japan, where you pay money to get a bunch of little metal balls, not unlike ballbearings. You feed these into a machine, that shoots them into this vertical maze of metal pegs. You watch as the ball navigates its way down this wall, around these pegs, bouncing down, down, down, until it either enters the small hole in the middle of the lower part of the wall, or the big hole at the bottom. If they go into the small hole, the slot machine starts on the screen in the very middle of the wall. Then it’s just like regular slots, except if you win, you get more of these balls. The object of the game is to get as many of the ball bearings as you can, which you can then trade in for stuff like, watches and hairdryers. I BELIEVE that it is illegal to gamble for money (officially) in Japan, so you have to take these goods, and pawn them, or sell them, or something in order to get money.

Now, when we were in Tokyo, Mina had told us that pachinko is not completely random, that people line up in the mornings because each day, the attendants go around and adjust the angle of the pegs in each of the machines. Apparently, you have to go early, and find the machines in which the alignments are the most advantageous to you. I can tell you, right now, that it is COMPLETELY random. It’s like saying there are hot slot machines. Well, ok, not quite that random; there is a human element to it, in that you can decide how hard the balls shoot out of the machine, and you can pick where the slots fall (you press a button as the slots are going around to match them up; quite difficult). Yet, I don’t think I can find a quicker, more inane way to flush 10 bucks down the toilet, except, maybe actually flushing the 10 bucks down the toilet. Add to that the INCREDIBLY LOUD Initial D techno music, the eyeball-searing, operation-table-intensity of the combination of bright overhead lights and flashing, flourescent coloured machines, the cigarette smoke that permeatted EVERYTHING, and the wacky payment scheme? I don’t understand why the Japanese love their pachinko so.

We dropped our bikes off at the rental place, and caught a bus to the station. We had dinner at a tonkatsu place back at the station, then called it a day. I was beat.

The next day, I checked out and took my stuff to the station to put in a locker. For a big station, there are remarkably few lockers. They do have a bag holding service there though, so I used that instead. I met the others at the station, and took a bus to Kinkakuji. It was CROWDED! Holy. I guess since it was the begining of Golden Week, a lot of people and schools head to the historical attractions. We walked around the temple, and took a whole bunch of pictures. It was a lot nicer than I remember it, even with the crowds. When we left, we got to see a maiko, or trainee geisha. She was dressed in a very colourful kimono, and did not look at all happy about the crowd she was attracting. Of course, it might have been that she was wearing maybe 8 pounds of clothes in the hot, humid weather.

After a quick lunch, and a try at downloading Shan’s pictures onto a CD (which took the camera shop AGES!), we headed to Daisen-in, a famous zen temple, where there were raked rock gardens galore. I think when I have a house, I will have one side of it open to a Japanese garden, replete with pond and rock garden (raked daily, of course). It was very peaceful, sitting on the porch-like landing that led out from the building, soaking in the sun, and enjoying the weather. The rock gardens were raked in various patterns, each representing a miniature panorama. Some were raked to resemble “vigorous” seas (and actually did). Others represented TO BE CONTINUED!

April 26th, 2006Wednesday today. I’m at the Chu. Yesterday, the Iriver came. WOOHOO! But soon after I got it home, it stopped working. BOO. Looks like I have to deal with getting Iriver to replace it. I went to the elementary school yesterday, and that was fun. Since it was warm and sunny yesterday, playing outside with the kids was a lot of fun. The extra lesson today was practicing the dance for the upcoming sports day, so I didn’t get to join in. I’m actually ok with that though.

I came back up to the high school for my last lesson of the day. The kids all forgot their homework, so I made them line up for a little slap on the wrist. It was pretty funny. Everyone, even Kamito sensei, was laughing as the kids would try to dance away, while I held their hand and made a big show of winding up. Ah, that’s what we’re here for, the entertainment of the locals. I came home after school, fooled around with the Iriver, then headed to a first year nomikai (all you can drink). It was at this place called Aguraya, a small restaurant by the port. The food there is really good. They have this beef in miso paste that’s just fantastic, and I had fried chicken … well, they said kotsu, which is bones, but I think someone explained it as something like cartilage. It was good, either way. I had Tomomatsu sensei and … er… nani-nani sensei sitting next to me, both 32 year old, lonely women. You can imagine how things got after a few drinks. Yes, both were quite happy to share with me the loneliness of being single and 30+, as well as the pressures to marry, have kids, etc. etc. It was a bit difficult to follow in Japanese, but interesting all the same. When I looked down the row on both sides of me, actually, there were only 30+, single women. Teaching seems to be the profession for such women.

They also made a big deal about me leaving in 3 months. It made me a bit sad, that I will have to leave these people in a few short weeks. I’ve really grown used to them, and they to me, and we’ve developed a sort of companionship that’s difficult to explain: closer than co-workers, but less than friends. I guess you could it ‘nakama,’ which in Japanese roughly translates into comrades. As in every other place I’ve been, it is this comradery that I will miss the most when I leave. Thus, in honour of my imminent departure (well, kind of imminent), I have put up a “Things I will and will not miss about Japan” page. I will try to add to it periodically.

I went to the nijikai, the second party, but it was a little boring. We went to Kazeneya, so it was nice to see Ueno-san, but I think everyone was a little too tired and a little too drunk to keep any interesting dialogue going. I have to say, Kojima sensei is an AIRHEAD! Holy. I thought her difficulty teaching stemmed from her just being too nice with the kids, and letting them walk all over her. Not at all. I think the difficulty comes from the fact that it’s difficult to teach people who are smarter than you. Her conversation is insipidly tepid, just the most generic of generic. She acts all surprised at things the men have to say, with that shrieking howl of “Eeeeeeeeeeeeh?” God, it’s like fingernails across chalk boards when I hear that. Ugh. Tomomatsu sensei, on the other hand, is like a modern day geisha. She, somehow, just knows how to be interested in what you’re talking about, and finds some way to contribute to or facilitate the conversation, even if that’s just being quiet. She’s always pouring drinks for other people, and works the room continually. I will have to learn to do that. She’s a master.

Anyways, I came home at about 11:30PM, played around with the Iriver some more and did some research. I was pretty frustrated by the time I went to sleep, around 2AM.

Today promises to be a light day. I’ve only got 2 classes (one of which is done), and English club pronounciation. I’ll try to get a swim in today too, but I really have to pack for the upcoming trip. I also gotta deal with the Iriver. Argh. I wish it would just work. Anyways, if you’re bored, check out that list of things I’ll miss. Until next time.

April 24th, 2006It’s been a long time since I’ve written. It’s been pretty busy around here with all the start of year stuff. I feel like I do a lot more lesson planning this year. English club membership has doubled (to 6), but the new members are very serious about it, and want to take the English proficiency tests. Each English club is like another lesson to plan. It’s kind of nice to have a serious English club, but it is more work than just the playing around that we used to do in eikaiwa.

Two Fridays ago, I had my first third year classes. The kids are pretty good. All of them are nice kids, even though they’re not all that enthusiastic about learning English. We also had x-rays (I guess to check for TB?), which was kind of interesting. They call you in to the nurses office, you fill out some forms, and then you go out into this x-ray van, where you change and get your x-ray done. Other than that, it was quite an uneventful day. Allie’s friend was supposed to come over from Korea, but the boat got cancelled. Lately, we’ve been having some pretty ridiculous weather. It will be very nice and sunny, warm with a cool breeze, for a few days, and then we’ll get hurricane-like winds, and that winter chill for a few days, then we’ll get rain plus the hurrican winds for a few days, then it’ll be nice and sunny again. It’s like a crap shoot everytime you step outside the door, because nice and sunny and warm can turn into sideways rain in like … 30 minutes. A bit ridiculous.

Saturday, I boarded the plane to head to Fukuoka. I needed to buy some train tickets for my upcoming trip to the east, and I haven’t figured out how to do that online. I figured that instead of paying a travel agent to do it for me, I’d do a trip to the city. I stayed in a new hotel, a capsule, called the hotel Cabinas. It was awesome. Unfortunately, it’s a men’s only capsule (yes, such things still do exist on this side of the Pacific), so any ladies reading this will have to rely on my testimonial. For 4000 yen (about 36 bucks at today’s exchange rate), you get a little private room with a private locker, and a capsule bed. They have a few spas, including – and this is the kicker – an outdoor rooftop onsen. It was awesome. The restaurant is quite good, and the massages and such are cheaper than the greenland place I stayed in last time. In fact, if my neighbors hadn’t been so loud at 7 in the morning on Sunday, I would have had a FANTASTIC stay. I will stay there from now on, since it’s so cheap! I do enjoy the onsen.

I picked up my train tickets, and looked at a bunch of electronics. I wasn’t really going to buy much, since I was heading to Tokyo and Osaka, two places where the pickings are generally better than FUK. I almost bought an Iriver U10. Now, if you haven’t seen this thing, you should go check it out. It’s a flash based MP3 player that also plays video, FM radio, does voice recording, and supports flash games and text files. It’s battery life far exceeds the Ipod Nano’s (by a good 5 hours at least). The coolest thing though is the navigation interface. Instead of trying to copy Apple’s click wheel (which almost every company has tried to do with little success), they went in a whole new direction. The player is a small rectangular box, with a big screen on the top. To navigate the menus and play games, you press on the sides of the screen, which depress a little bit, and click. It’s an ingenius idea, and although it can cause problems when you put it in your pocket, it’s pretty sweet. The only draw back? Price. For 1 GB of storage, it was over 20,000 yen (about 200 bucks). I did some research and saw there’s a 2 gig one out in Korea, so I waited to get that one. Richard was really nice, and scouted one out for me, and it is on it’s way to Japan! Woot! Thanks Rich.

I also took a lot of time to look for the IMS building. Apparently, they have a Snoopy store there, and my supervisor is a Snoopy fanatic. Since it’s her birthday this Friday, I figured I’d pick up something small for her (since I have no idea where else to find Snoopy stuff). It took me, literally, an entire hour and a half to find the building, and it turns out I was staring at it the entire time. BAH! I’d also been to it before too. I must say, I have a pretty poor sense of direction.

I came back just after 3 on Sunday, unpacked, did some laundry, cooked a pretty good dinner, and got some rest. I had my first 1st year classes on Monday. The first years are … well, kind of shocked. They’re very quiet, and you really have to coax an answer out of them. Even the ones who I’ve worked with at the Chu are quiet. I guess the high school is still new to them. The lessons went well. I had english club for the first time too, and it was, as I said, quite difficult.

Tuesday, I was at the Sho. This year, it seems that they lost the budget for the special English program, so they lost a teacher. But Katsumi sensei is now one of the teachers instead of an English consult. Also, instead of doing 3 classes of English each day, I do 2 classes, and join another random class with a random grade. It’s pretty sweet, actually. Tuesday, I got put in Japanese class with the 4th grade. Oooooh, it was funny. I had little kids teaching me how to write kanji, and reading Japanese to me. We learned the Kanji for writing various body parts, family members, and school subjects. The kids made fun of how poorly I wrote kanji, and I must say, I’ve never been very good at writing Chinese characters. It was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, I was at the Chu. I had a few classes with the new English teacher, who I must say is a pretty good teacher. He tries to push the kids, and tries his best to speak English all the time. His English is quite good too. He looks a little bit like a bridge troll, but, you know, sometimes that’s useful in the classroom too. After school, I drove up to Kechi to pick up some supplies, then back up to the high school, for the half hour English club pronounciation class. I was up at the high school pretty late, making some cardboard horse magnets for Thursday’s 2nd year class. I got home at 7:30PM. I had a lot of trouble sleeping for some reason, and I was up until 4AM. It made Thursday pretty rough.

Thursday is a busy day for me, 4 classes, then English club again. I was pretty beat when I got home. I was going to take a nap, but instead, I went for a swim. I was REALLY beat when I got home. I had some dinner though, which seemed to energize me, and I still didn’t get to sleep until quite late. It seems I’m having trouble sleeping these days, even though I’ve tried limiting the amount of caffiene I drink. It’s kind of weird, like jet lag all over again.

Friday, I had my 3 classes, and the week was finally over. I felt like I had been through a meat grinder, then through a pasta maker. I was beat. There was English department enkai, which was good fun. I actually made it through the evening speaking mostly Japanese, and having Japanese spoken to me. They are a fun group, and I realize that I teach with every member of the English department now. That’s a lot of end of year gifts. At one point in the evening, they started doing impressions of other teachers, and Murahashi sensei, one of the second year teachers, was HILARIOUS! He did the Kyoto sensei to a tee. Kyoto sensei is a bit … er… effeminate. He does the whole limp wrist thing. Leanne speculates if he’s gay sometimes. Still, he’s a really nice kyoto sensei. But, oh it was funny.

Dave came down this weekend, and I met him after the enkai at Coco’s. It was a weekend of video games, and food. Lots of food. I felt like we didn’t stop eating the entire weekend. I made some pizza dough, and we made some pizzas on Sunday. We went out to lunch and dinner on Saturday, and played some pool. It was a fun weekend. Dave left at 3ish yesterday, and I cleaned up a little, and made some dinner. A steak sandwich with sauteed mushrooms and onions, lettuce, tomatoes, with some melted cheese and mustard one top. Oh, good stuff. A little broccoli with Tsushima Salad dressing on top for a side dish. I was pretty tired after a weekend of fun and games, and tried to hit the sack early, but the new episode of “The OC” wasn’t going to watch itself.

Today, I’m kind of dragging ass, but the coffee has helped tremendously. I have English club in a half hour, and I think we’re just going to do some writing practice today. I tried to do a kind of listening comprehension last time, and that seemed impossible for them. The first years are better than the second years, and they are much more serious too. How do I plan activities that keep the second years entertained, but are challenging enough for the first years? Muzukashi….

Anyways, I’ll probably go swimming tonight. Only one week until my big trip east. I’m really excited; I can’t wait to get back to Tokyo. It will probably seem absolutely massive compared to the island, but, well, Tokyo is massive compared to any city. Until next time!

April 13th, 2006I just had to write. It’s Thursday night, and I just enjoyed a nice dinner of sauteed salmon steak with a beurre blanc, some asparagus, and some of that tomato salad. But I’m watching this new cooking show I found on the internet called No Reservations. It features one of my favorite food writers/chef’s, Anthony Bourdain. Basically, it’s the same idea as A Cook’s Tour, but on the Travel channel. The episode I’m watching has Tony in Paris. Oh god. He starts off with this blanquette de veau (basically, braised veal in white sauce). It looked deeeeeelicious. The dessert he had was this dark, sticky rum cake, and it looked so good and gooey and sweet. But the killer was this one scene where he’s in this old school restaurant, and they bring out this cote de boeuf. Man. A cote de boeuf is a plate sized rib steak, about an inch and a half or 2 inches thick, still on the bone. It looked so good, I almost started crying. It’s a good thing that I have finished dinner, because anything I eat after seeing that would just taste like ashes. Then, Tony wanders into a bakery. Man. Those baguettes looked so good. And the brioche. And the pastries. OOOH! It almost makes me wish I had gone to France instead of Japan.

But enough food porn. Today I had my first class at the high school. It was a lot of fun. The class is composed of 12 girls, and 3 guys, and their level of English ranges from very bad to halfway decent. We did introductions today, a pretty standard first lesson. I have to say, I really like working with Kurokawa sensei. He’s a joy to work with in the classroom.

Other than that, it was a pretty boring day. I sat at my desk, tweaked some lessons, and shopped online for some shoes. I desperately need some runners, now that my knee is almost back in working order and the weather is starting to warm up. I’m heading into Fukuoka this weekend, so maybe I’ll find something. Most likely not. I was set to go to Leanne’s eikaiwa, but it got canceled, so here I am, watching cooking shows.

Tomorrow, I have my first classes with the commercial (or shougyou) classes. That’s always scary, because a) there are 40 kids, and b) their English ability is, well, scary. Here’s the thing: they’ve had English lessons for AT LEAST 6 years. They start them out in first year junior high. Some have had it in elementary school, so a good 11 or 12 years. If you look at all the textbooks they use, it’s the same thing, over and over again. Yet, these kids can barely string words together. I mean, when we learned French in the Junior School at Saints, it really felt like the same thing every year. But by the time I went to the senior school, I knew my animals, my fruits, and the passe compose through and through. You have to wonder.

Like I said, I’m headed to Fukuoka this weekend. I need to buy my train tickets for my golden week trip. I’m really looking forward to this trip. I love Tokyo, and I hear Osaka has good food, and even better shopping. I think I’m gonna love Osaka! I was going to take the fast ferry (the jet foil) over, but I think the weather is going to be crappy, and it might get cancelled. We’ll see. I booked some plane tickets in case, so if the boat gets cancelled, I’ll just drive up and take the plane. That’s the only thing that I hate about this place – getting off of it. Well, I think I’ll go and watch the Iceland episode of No Reservations. That promises to be interesting. Until next time.

April 12th, 2006It’s Wednesday, and the week is half over. After a few days of pouring, unrelenting rain, it is beautifully sunny and warm today. It definitely feels like spring. The cherry blossoms, for the most part, have bloomed and fallen, leaving the trees looking full with green instead of the white-pink. It is seriously beautiful weather over here, Kyushu at its finest. And I’m in teacher’s room.

Actually I just arrived in the teachers room at the Chu (it’s 10:30AM). I was under the impression that I wouldn’t start at the Chu until they called, but apparently, the letter had already come, and I was supposed to come this morning. Instead, I was up at the high school, enjoying the internet at my desk. Either way, I don’t have much to do. I guess I will have a few classes today after all. My first class up at the high school is tomorrow, but that should be a piece of cake, 2-5 with Kurokawa sensei. He’s very easy to work with, a lot of fun, and has good control over the class. And 2-5 loves both him and me. Friday, I get a sample of the commercial classes in the 3rd grade, with Urata sensei and Masuda sensei. I’m dreading those a little, but I think they will be fine. Then, come monday next, I start in with my new first years. I’m also dreading that a little bit, since I’ll have 3 new teachers to work with, but at least I have Kamito sensei as well, and we know each other well enough that I can count on an stress free (or relatively stress free) couple classes with her.

Yesterday, I didn’t have much to do. Uchida sensei, one of my new first year teachers, came up to me to discuss the lesson plan I had given him on Monday. He had a few very useful suggestions, but he also wanted me to base the lessons more on the textbook. Now, I’d be happy to do that, because it would mean much less planning for me. However, the textbook is, literally, not worth the paper it’s printed on. I mean, I understand that English is a difficult language to learn – heck, even as a native speaker, sometimes English doesn’t always make sense – but these textbooks are truly awful, and anyone would have difficult learning from them. I mean, if you were going to learn how to speak a language, you’d want to learn useful things, right? Instead, all the text books I’ve seen invariably follow either a Japanese kid studying abroad in another country, or else a gaikoku-jin studying in Japan. The lessons are based on what the kid (in either case) happens to experience. So the first chapter in this year’s text is entitled “Sarah invites Mayumi”, and teaches the reader how you might invite someone over to your house, or how to accept such an invitation. … Now, I’m not saying that’s not useful, but if you were to rank such a situation in terms of importance and priority, I’m going to go ahead and assume that it wouldn’t be so high on the list. What about introductions? What about telling time? What about directions? And how the hey do you expect to fill 50 minutes with 2 pages worth of textbook material? Not even 2 pages, since most of it is pictures anyways. Chapter 3 is entitled “Questions”. How do you expect to cover ‘questions’ in 50 minutes? You could probably do the questions WORDS (who, what, when, why, where, how) in 50 minutes. Maybe. All I have to say is that if I’m expected to come up with lessons based on the textbook, it will be a difficult final 3 months.

I came home, totally expecting to go to the pool. I got all my stuff together, and went up there, only to find the pool closed. I forgot it is closed on Tuesdays. I drove back down, and hit up the grocery store on the way back. I pot roasted some chicken (with pineapples, peppers, onions, and garlic), which was pretty good, but I didn’t finish that until 9:30 PM. Other than that, it was a pretty quiet evening. I read some more Memoirs …. I really like it. It’s much better than the movie.

I decided to pack my own lunch today, which was a mistake, considering that I will get kyuushoku (school lunch). Still, maybe I can chow down on it if I’m still hungry later (it’s leftover from last night). Kyuushoku is never enough anyways. Tonight, I’ll do laundry, go out to dinner with Leanne, and if I can fit it in, go for a swim.

April 10th, 2006Monday today, and it has flown by a lot faster than the last two weeks have. I guess that’s the effect of having active things to do, like ceremonies, and seeing kids. It’s the first day of the new school year, and it was great to see all the kids again. Everyone was busy, of course, so I didn’t really get to talk to any of them. There were two ceremonies that I went to today: the opening ceremonies for the second and third year students, and the opening ceremonies for the new first year students. The former was much more relaxed. They introduced the new teachers, the new principal did his little song and dance, and then the told the kids who their homeroom teachers would be. Some classes cheered heartily when they were told they got whatever teacher they got; other classes only clapped half-heartedly for their new homeroom teacher.

The second ceremony was much more formal, akin to the closing ceremonies and the 100 year anniversary ceremony. All the parents were there. The kids have orientation all this week. The parents ALSO have orientation. They really take their education seriously here. Can you imagine a mandatory orientation for parents back in North America? I can’t. There’d be protests. Instead, the parents get told everything from school rules, to reminders about packing proper lunches. I think it’s a great idea; education is a group effort, not just a solitary pursuit by the kid.

Tonight, I’ll probably go to the pool, although it’s been pouring rain all day. Since the teachers had to park behind the school, I felt like I had to swim in to work. I’m just glad I have a car nowadays, and didn’t have to walk in this downpour. I’m pretty hungry. I think I’ll rifle through my desk to see if I’ve got any left over omiyage to eat. Until next time.

April 9th, 2006The most glorious thing happened to me last week when it was time to switch desks: I found the router! Throughout the last few months, I could have sworn seeing teachers surf the internet from their desk. I had continually tried to find a wireless signal to no avail. Last week, it was moving day, and instead of moving all my stuff from my desk into the next desk to my right, I just pulled out the empty desk, and shoved mine over. And there it was, sitting in a thick layer of dust, with wires protruding out both sides like a short, fat millipede: The Router. The next day, I brought a spare LAN cable, hooked it up, and VOILA! I’m on the internet from my desk! It is, seriously, the best thing that’s happened to me since … I dunno, maybe Hokkaido. Awesome.

Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful week. Last weekend, I just kind of recovered from the basketball practices of the week before, and cleaned the place up a little bit. The weather has warmed up considerably, and we get a few days of sun interspersed with a few days of rain. The apartment really needed a good airing out. Sunday, I visited the pool to try to work some of the stiffness out of my legs. It was a rough time; I guess the rapid increase in muscle mass (from a week’s worth of 4 hour basketball practices) really increased my density, so it felt like I was sinking the whole time. Either that, or my legs were WAY more tired that I thought they were. Either way, it was struggle to swim 750 meters.

This whole week was spent either playing basketball, or doing busy work like planning lessons, cleaning, helping other teachers move, and meeting the new teachers. Wednesday, there was a whole day of meetings, only 2 of which I had to go to. I have no idea why I had to go to them. One was an English department meeting, which was held almost entirely in Japanese. There are no new teachers in the English department, unless you count the new Kim sensei, who’s actually the Korean teacher, and who I helped move into her apartment the previous week. At the end of the day, I should have left at 4 (since that’s when I’m contracted to leave), but I got caught up reading Memoirs of a Geisha at my desk, and was dragged into the first year meeting. Now THIS one was boring. I had to introduce myself, as there are 3 or 4 new first year teachers. Other than that, I sat at the end of the table trying to come up with a feasible ‘N’ logo, while everyone else droned on about who knows what. I was sure to get out of there at the first chance.

That evening, there was the welcome enkai, where we got to meet all the new teachers, as well as the new principal. He certainly doesn’t look as benevolent as the old principal, but he’s also more lively and energetic than the outgoing pricipal(especially, I guess, when you get him liquored up). I tried my best to go around and meet all the new teachers. Mostly though, I played with the office lady’s kids, who are 4 and 9 years old. I decided I would make an appearance at the second party, since it was at Billy’s Bar, the sister bar of Roxy. I actually had a good time, even though it cost me 40 bucks. Kurokawa sensei and I talked for awhile, and then I got talking with a bunch of the new teachers, many of whom are quite young. Tomomatsu sensei’s younger brother is a new PE teacher, and he was good and drunk; drunk enough not to be restrained at all in trying out his English. The second year social studies teacher (whose name … heck, let’s face it – I forget all the new teachers’ names) has almost perfect English. Her English is better than one of the teachers with whom I will be teaching 2 or 3 classes a week! I got home around 11:30, and prepared to go to practice at 9AM. All the cola I drank kept me up Laaaaaaaate. Ugh.

OTher than that, it was an uneventful week. My last basketball practice was on Friday, and it was just as well, since the new coach has started a lot of strategy/systems stuff that I feel like I shouldn’t take part in. I spent half of Friday’s practice just shooting around at the other end of the court. I made these lemon bars for the team, as a thank you. I think they liked them, cause they dragged them into the change room, and I never saw the tupperware I gave it to them in again. I had one or two; they were pretty good. Very lemony, and not too sweet. The shortbread base was quite crisp too, not soggy or pasty. I think I’m in much better shape than I was 2 weeks ago. By the end, I could actually keep up with the girls for the whole 4 hours, although I’m still crap at left handed lay-ups. It was fun to be a part of a team again, even though I certainly made things hard for them (you know, like elbowing people in the mouth, or passing balls right into someone’s face). Still, I feel like I was of some help at least, since they will probably not play a high school girl as wide, as tall or as strong as me. By the end, they could play with me too, so I guess they got better. Or maybe I got worse …

This weekend was another relaxing weekend. I wasn’t nearly as sore, although Friday, I played basketball from 1-5, then tennis from 5-7. I came home, showered, and went to bed at 8. I got up at 6, wanting to hit up the supermarket for some breakfast stuff. The market doesn’t open until 9, so I spent my time cleaning, and making a ragu sauce for lunch. I had a really nice lunch of spagetthi with that really nice ragu sauce, and a tomato, mozzarella, caper and red onion salad with a light balsamic vinagrette. It was really good. I spent the day reading more Memoirs …. Dave came down that evening, and he, Leanne and I went out to dinner. Dave and I came back and watched anime for the rest of the evening.

Today was basically more anime, until Dave left, then I cleaned up, and lazed about until dinner. Which brings me to now.

This week is orientation for the new kids. Like Leanne says, they’ll be like deer in headlights. Let’s hope so, cause some of the kids that I know are coming up from the Chu are little miscreants. The high school will probably beat that out of them (literally, in some cases). I’m looking forward to having students again. They really make this job worth it. It’s always gratifying when you get an unsolicited e-mail from one of your kids, like I got from Yuko last week, asking how my spring vacation was going, and asking about the new teachers. I will definitely miss this place. A little over 3 months left. Yikes! Till next time.

March 31st, 2006 (again)I was just reading an article on ESPN.com that talked about this season’s Calder trophy race, and how the ultra-intense scruitiny of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby has all but taken other worthy candidates, like Dion Phaneuf or Henrik Lundqvist, out of the running. I think that’s fair, especially in Lundqvist’s case (30-11; 2.18 GAA, .924 SP%; 2 SO). I think he’s a big reason for the resurgence of the Rangers, along with Jagr. However, to consider the race between Ovechkin and Crosby “close” is ludicrous. One need only look at the numbers to confirm.

Ovechkin is 3rd in league scoring (48-46-94). Crosby is 10th (33-50-83). Both are doing well, and both totals are stunning achievements for rookies. Still, 94 points is a lot more than 83, especially considering that Crosby’s played one more game than Ovechkin. Ovechkin, on the HORRIBLE Capitals, is actually a respectable +4. Crosby, on an equally HORRIBLE Penguins team, is -9. Ovechkin, despite his penchant for physical play, has exactly half the penalty minutes (48 to 96), and is more useful to his team on the power play (21-24-45 vs. 15-24-39).

If this wasn’t enough evidence already, have a look at the Capitals roster. The only other players other than Ovechkin of note are Olaf Kolzig (their starting goalie), and, perhaps, Danius Zubrus (but only because he was in the mini-game in EA Sports’ NHL 2006). We are literally talking about a team of scrubs. You have to wonder how he got 46 assists. Who is scoring those goals?! Check out the Pittsburgh line up, and you’ll see it boasts (or boasted) some pretty talented, established scorers: Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, John LeClair, Mario Lemiuex, and Ziggy Palffy. Look at the second leading scorer after Crosby, and you’ll see Recchi (recently departed, but had 57 points with the Pens), Gonchar, LeClair, and Palffy (now retired, but scoring a point per game), all above 40 points. Now, check out the names after Ovechkin on the Caps’ player stats: Zubrus has 45 points. That’s it. no one else has more than 36 points. Although I confess that Crosby has only LeClair and Gonchar to work with now, they are two big money talents more than Ovechkin has had to work with all season.

I think the only reason the Calder race could be close is if people buy into the hype surrounding Crosby. He’s a really good player; I’m not taking anything away from him. He’s accomplished a lot this season. He has faced incredible scrutiny, scrutiny that Ovechkin was spared in part because of the lockout, and Crosby’s playing in the NHL. Watch him play, and it’s clear that he is, and he will be, a special player. But when I watch Ovechkin, I see flashbacks of Pavel Bure from my Childhood, except in a 6-2, 212 pound body that can give a hit as well as it takes one. I see a player that brings people to the edge of their seats everytime he steps on the ice, because they just KNOW something magical is going to happen. I hear a player that’s unafraid to be candid, a player who doesn’t use the word “obviously” in EVERY interview he gives, a refreshing personality in a sport that could really use one. And, I see a player with a good jersey number. And if that wasn’t enough, consider these points: the horrendously overmatched Caps are 8 points ahead of the Pens; Ovechkin needs 6 goals to pass Mike Bossy for having second-most goals as a rookie (second to Teemu Selanne’s ungodly 72 goals in his rookie season); the knock on Crosby is that he’s a whiner (other players around the league have even dissed him in the media), whereas the knock on Ovechkin is that his shifts are too long (heck, on that team, I’m amazed that they aren’t longer; who else is gonna score the goals?!). This really shouldn’t be a race anymore. It’s clear who the winner should be.

March 31st, 2006Well, it’s Friday. Yesterday, I worked on lesson planning in the morning. I didn’t know that we could order lunch (I’m still not really sure if we can), so I dropped by the post office pay bills, and then grabbed some lunch at home. I made it back to school in time for the basketball practice. I tell you, if I was sore the day before, it was nothing compared to how I was yesterday. Practice was a struggle. A 4 HOUR struggle. And I elbowed one of the second years, a sweet girl named Miku, in the mouth. I thought for a moment that her tooth had gone through her lip, but thankfully, it was just cut. I felt really bad afterwards, but the teethmarks in my elbow mitigated the guilt a little bit. Needless to say, I was beat by the time I got home.

I was contemplating hitting up the pool for a dip in the hot tub, but I figured that I was too sore and too tired, not to mention that the practice was at 9AM the next morning. A hot bath would only make the soreness worse the next day. I cooked those pork chops with apples and onions again, and called it a night.

Today was an eventful day. I went to basketball practice again, but it was clear that I was running on empty. My legs are so sore that I have a hard time walking, or putting on shoes. Still, I practiced for 2 and a half hours. At 11:30, I left practice to run home and take a shower. The English department was heading to the ferry port to welcome the new Korean teacher. We hit up Ohashi no Kuni for lunch, and then headed to the port with these two signs in Korean, which, I think I heard, had been made by Kojima sensei. The principal and vice-principal joined us. We waited for a while as people walked out of the customs area with their fishing stuff and golf bags. The new Kim sensei walked out wheeling a big-ass purple luggage. She’s nice enough, but I like the old Kim sensei better, to tell you the truth. She spoke English, at least.

We took her to the school first to meet people. Then, we took her back to the apartment, got her settled into her house, and took care of setting up her utilities and such. Then, it was off to the port again, except this time to say good bye to the principal. A lot of staff showed up to see him off. In Tsushima, when people leave on the ferry, people who are seeing the person off hold on to coloured paper tape, which is attached to the ferry railing. As the ferry pulls away, the tape unwinds, leaving a streaming, billowing tangle of these coloured streamers. It’s kind of cool, except that when it’s windy, you don’t want to stand downwind, or you get whipped in the face with the ends of all the streamers (as I found out the hard way). They sang the school song, did the “yell” again, and some banzais, and a lot (COPIOUS amounts) of waving. It was kind of neat.

And now, I’m back at my desk. It’s quitting time, so that ends my week. I am incredibly sore right now. My legs have seized up, and everytime I try to use the muscles, it’s just shooting pain up and down the leg. I have two days to rest, and then I’m going back to practice. I don’t know how those girls do it, to tell you the truth. I didn’t expect it would be a bunch of 16 and 17 year old girls who would whip my ass back into shape, but you don’t really want to be beaten by said girls. It pushes you really hard. They are in good shape. Well, until next time. No plans this weekend, except for a lot of laundry; I forgot when you play sports how much laundry accumulates.

OH, and I found out which teachers I will be working with next year. Kamito sensei is my new supervisor, which is pretty good. Uchida sensei is one of the new first year teachers which is AWESOME. I really like him. He’ll also be doing the English club with me. Unfortunately, Kojima sensei is the other first year teacher, so I’d better be prepared to lay down the law in her classes, cause I sure as hell know she isn’t. Kurokawa sensei is the 2-5 teacher, and Urata sensei and Masuda sensei will take the third year commercial classes. So no new teachers other than Ushida sensei, who I really like. Not bad at all. See ya.

March 29th, 2006Wednesday today. I got home monday night, and cooked the duck. It was pretty good, but the garlic sauce called for port, which I didn’t have. I substituted white wine, and it wasn’t that good. Still, duck is duck, and it’s almost always good. I had a leftover breast, and a left over leg. Had the leg for snack after school yesterday, after heating it up with some honey drizzled on it. Mmmmmmm….leftover duck with honey glaze. I love duck.

Yesterday was another uneventful day. I got to school on time, and sat at my desk doing … nothing. I answered e-mails, planned a couple lessons for next year, played some spider solitaire, cleaned my desk a bit, and ordered lunch. I went down to see the basketball practice. Monday afternoon, I had gone down, and shot around with them. Today, figuring it the best way to kill my time at school, I brought my shoes and a t-shirt. I helped out with the girls practice (the guys are too good), helping to play defence for the drills and such. It’s a good way to kill time. I came back up later in the afternoon, only to find out that I, too, will probably be moving desks, although, not far. No problem. It only took me an hour to shred/throw away all the crap that was in my desk. It’s all in a box, and ready to move. I got home at 5, and started making that cheese stuffed focaccia for the potluck at Leanne’s that night. It took a lot longer that I thought it would. David and Allie had come down to do laundry and see Leanne and I. They stayed for the dinner. Leanne needed my table, so I quickly finished rolling out the dough, and sent it over with Dave, who had stopped by my house before dinner. I finished making the bread, and got there almost an hour late (man, that’s way past fashionably late, into the rude kind of late). Still, there were SO MANY PEOPLE in the little dinning room at Leanne’s. I think when I got there, there were 15 (FIFTEEN!) people around the table. It was ridiculous. This is a space the size of like … my dormroom at Pomona. Maybe not even. And as usual, there was a whole bunch of food. The focaccia didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted it to; the bottom is always not quite cooked right, it seems, and the spinach had let off WAY too much water. I guess if I had let it cool, it would have been better, or at least cut and looked better.

We ate and talked. There were 4 ALTs, Leanne’s mom and sister, 5 members of Leanne’s Eikaiwa, three of their kids, and one of Leanne’s JTEs. A few left not long after I arrived, so that helped the space issues a little bit, but not too much. After we ate, we took a lot of pictures. Two of the Eikaiwa members were leaving in the next couple days, so there were many pleasantries, and some exchanged phone numbers. Once one person started leaving, everyone did. I left with Allie and Dave, to head back home. I promptly fell asleep, exhausted from the combined basketball practice and rushing to make the bread.

Today, I went down to the gym early. The girls’ practice started at 9, and I figured if I was going to do this, I might as well do it right. I brought my shoes, some shorts and a t-shirt. I did all the drills. Good way to stay in shape. Of course, I wasn’t aware that practices are 4 HOURS long during spring vacation. By the end, I was cramping up something bad. Still, I lasted all 4 hours. It’s a sign of how far I need to go to get back in shape, but a testament to how far I’ve come just by swimming. They are on again tomorrow at 1, a full 24 hours to rest. I don’t know what kind of spring vacation this is.

I went home and showered, and paid some bills at the post office. I’m back at the high school. Apparently, there’s an English department staff meeting that I’m supposed to go to at 3, but it’s almost 3:20, and I haven’t see any of the English department around. It might be that they started REALLY early, but you’d think they’d have told me. Very strange. Ah well, I’d probably fall asleep anyways. It’s not like they’d really value anything I said anyways, so I’m ok with missing it. I mean, I’m really not a teacher. I’m just here to play with the kids, and make them speak English. Until next time.

March 27th, 2006It’s the beginning of spring vacation. I’m at school with nothing to do, so it’s a good chance to work on the site, read, program, write, draw – pretty much anything that’s quiet. The teachers seem to be teaching classes still, and there are a lot of students still at school, so I don’t really know what kind of “spring break” this really is. I decided that since I don’t have much nenkyu left, I’m not going to make any big trips during the break. I might go to Beppu on a weekend, or somewhere else in Kyushu, or I might see if I can take the train to Hiroshima. Leanne and Allie are lucky, because their BOEs just say they don’t have to come in. Man, that’s like an extra 2 weeks of vacation!

Friday was kind of a long day. There was a ceremony in the morning for all the departing teachers as well as a kind of end of the school year ceremony for the kids. There are 17 teachers moving on from Tsushima High School, including a few of my friends (or at least those teachers willing to talk to me at enkais). There are a couple of teachers retiring as well. They presented all the teachers one by one, and the principal talked about their careers or their contributions to the school in the years that they served. Then, they all go to come up and say thanks, and reminisce in front of the school. Some were funny (even though I couldn’t understand everything), and some were sad. Some teachers just started bawling. It reminded me that I should start working on my good bye speech. I’ve gotta get the thing translated!

After school, I fooled around until 7ish. There was a farewell enkai. For some reason, I was under the impression that there was a bus to the place (there usually is), but I guess since it was in town, everyone was expected to take a taxi there. I got there late (I’m sure that’s incredibly rude), and walked in while they were introducing the departing teachers. I wasn’t the last one there though. A few minutes later, the music teacher burst into the room with his crazy Japanese mullet and a loud, flourescent pink shirt. He’s hilarious.

The enkai was fun. There wasn’t too much food, but everyone socialized a lot. each of the teachers was called up, and was given kind of a fake, funny graduation certificate, given to them by a friend or coworker. These were really hard to understand, especially since they were all about inside jokes. Still, it was kind of funny to see all those teachers get embarassed, and laughing is kind of infectious, so I enjoyed myself. There was a lot of crying, and good byes. I will be sad to see a few of those teachers go, like Maiguma sensei (“atama warui” teacher) and Tatehara sensei (the young, funny science teacher). I think the principal is leaving too! I wonder how the new guy will be.

They moved on to the second stage, and I was going to join them. On the way, I met up with the junior high school teachers, and they tried to drag me into their party. The creepy turkish guy kept trying to get my phone number. I told him I had to go to Hitakatsu, and I guess he misheard me, thinking I had to go get a hirakatsu, which he explained was a pork cutlet. Hahahahah. I think he was trying to get my phone number to call me after I had enjoyed my pork cutlet. Anyways, the high school teachers rescued me, but I told them that I was going to head back. I felt a little bad, cause I wanted to join in the frivolity, but 40 bucks for some oolong and karaoke just doesn’t seem like very prudent or judicious spending. I grabbed a taxi back to the apartment, changed and quickly packed up some clothes, my computer and the futon. I actually WAS going to go to Hitakatsu, to visit Allie and Dave. I was going to see how I felt after the enkai, to see if I was up to driving the 2 hour drive at night. I figured I had drunk enough Oolong that I’d stay awake. I also bought some coffee for the drive. I will miss the bottled coffee when I go back home.

So, the drive takes about 2 hours at speed limit. Allie and Dave do it in about and hour and a half. The problem is that there is usually traffic. Remember, there’s one road that runs the island (well there are others, but I don’t acknowledge their existence, because I can’t find them; there’s one main road). So if you get stuck behind some farmer in one of those little white pick-ups, you’re kind of screwed. The road goes through a whole bunch of mountains, so there are relatively few places to pass. It’s also one lane, both ways, and sometimes, just one lane. The reason why I wanted to go at night is because there is no traffic. I made EEEEEXCELLENT time, at an hour and fifteen minutes. I think if I were more familiar with the roads, I could push an hour. The roads here are ridiculous. I think they are harder to drive than any video game I’ve ever played. Nasty hairpins, sharp, blind, corners, lots of hills – it has it all except straitaways. And no lights, except in the towns. It was a pretty crazy drive.

I got to Allie’s house around 12:30AM, and we stayed up watching TV for awhile. I think we went to bed at 2:30ish. I woke up at like 8, and made some breakfast. we were going to watch the Georgetown-Florida game, streamed from the internet. Allie went to Georgetown. It was a pretty close game that could have gone either way for a while, but Georgetown went to sleep, and Florida woke up. Georgetown lost. Dave came over around half time, and watched with us. After that, we headed out to grab some lunch, which we got at the grocery store. We took our lunch to the Korean lookout point, where, on clear days, you can see Korea. It wasn’t so clear (although it was sunny), so I couldn’t seen anything. We had a little picnic. We headed back to the grocery store to get stuff for dinner. Allie wanted me to teach her how to make gyoza, so we grabbed a whole bunch of veg (she’s a vegetarian), and some things to make that semifreddo again. When we got home, however, ALL the kids in Allie’s apartment complex were playing outside. So we played with the kids for like 3 hours. It was a lot of fun. I played baseball, and David was off in the field, using sticks like Kendo swords with the kids, while Allie was tossing these funny, spiky balls with the two little girls. It was a lot of fun. When we finally got down to making dinner it was almost 7. We made the semifreddo first, which I ruined by adding too much sugar. I thought Allie’s measuring cup was one of those that stopped at 200ml (a Japanese cup is 200 ml, instead of 250ml, as in the States), when in fact it stopped at 300 ml. It actually came out ok, just very creamy, and not quite as icy as last time.

We got that in the freezer, and I worked on chopping all the vegetables for the gyoza while we watched American Idol (bleargh). we all sat around the table and wrapped gyoza. I fried some, boiled some, and tried steaming some, but those didn’t turn out so good. We watched Office Space while we ate, then a few episodes of “Entourage” (which was horrible, by the way; I can’t believe people were billing it as “what men want to see”, or “the male Sex in the City”), then Into the Blue, with Paul walker and Jessica Alba. That movie was entertaining, basically because Jessica Alba wanders around in a bikini for the entire thing. It was also interesting because it’s about treasure hunters on the ocean, people who salvage old wreckages, looking for treasure. How sweet would that job be? I mean, I guess they do live in trailers, and have trouble scrounging $30k together, but still, it’s an interesting life style. I guess that’s what Alan wants to do, or something like that. A very MTV movie, in case you want to watch it.

Sunday was a lazy day. I woke up late (9ish), and we didn’t get out of the house until late, maybe 1:30 or 2. We went to the beach, and read a while, then we hit up the lifebase. I picked up a few things, and headed back to Allie’s place. I picked up my stuff, and headed back down to Izuhara. Ran into some traffic, so it took me about an hour and half, hour and 45 minutes. It was a fun weekend. Hopefully, Allie will come down sometime this week, and maybe Dave will come down next weekend. We’ll see.

I got home around 6ish, unpacked. I didn’t really feel like eating, since I had a late lunch, so I ate 3 or 4 oranges, and lazed about a bit. I have to get swimming again this week. My allergies are in full swing; I was miserable at Allie’s house, and in mine as well. Reactine seems to work for now. We’ll see. I hate – HATE – hayfever. My eyes burn and water all the time, and my nose is just a pain in the ass. I hit the hay around 10:30.

Which brings me to today. I got to work a few minutes late, but there were few teachers here. They all wandered in even later than me. I read a chapter of my marketing text book, answered a whole bunch of e-mails, and ate lunch. It’s only 12:25PM. I’m going to go crazy here. I think I will walk down and get some coffee milk. Tonight, I will make a duck. Delicious. Until next time.

March 23rd, 2006Oy. Thursday today, and I’ve been unbelievably lazy this week! Tuesday was a day off (some religious holiday – I’m not complaining), and instead of doing all the cooking that I had planned to do, I did almost nothing! I did do laundry, and cleaned the kitchen (finally), but I just didn’t feel like messing it up again. I did make some cheese filled focaccia, but that was easy, and not time consuming. It is delicious though. I went out to lunch with Leanne, since she needed to pick up her car at the airport. We ate at the italian place in Kechi. We saw Aaron, Sylvia and Austin there; they were in the middle of eating when we walked in. At another table, one of Leanne’s JTEs was sitting with some other teachers from that school.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many very mysterious things that happen in Japan. I’ve learned since I’ve been here that Japanese people are very good at seeing things in extreme detail, but often fail to see the big picture. They are extremely kind, but incredibly (though unintentionally) racist. In some ways they are hypocrites. The education system is a bit strange. The thing is, all nations have their thing. Lordy, as a US citizen, I really shouldn’t be calling other countries hypocritical, or critizing education systems. Yet when Leanne tells me yesterday that the teacher at the restaurant that she works with was embarassed and hurt by the constant stream of ALT Japan bashing coming from the Aaron-Austin-Sylvia table, it just makes me embarassed. I mean, if you don’t want to be here, go home. Seriously, the $28,000 USD (and falling …) that you make on this program is peanuts to what you could make back in Canada or the US. Starbucks barristas make more than that. Yes, the job is cushy, but most complain about the job anyways! “I don’t get used enough” or “I’m just a human tape recorder.” Well, if you had done any research at all, you’d have known what you were getting yourself into. This has nothing to do with the ‘gaman’ culture in Japan; this has everything to do with just being a malcontent, and not having the balls to change a situation that is disadvantageous to you. I don’t understand people. You’d figure if something was wrong, they’d do something to change it. Instead, they’d rather wallow in their misery, and complain about it. You’ve got to be either stupid or lazy to do that. I’m just embarassed; embarassed for those ALTs, embarassed BY those ALTs, embarassed for the entire program. Way to cultivate international relationships, guys.

Anyways, Wednesday was a busy day at the Chu. I had 4 classes, and they were all pretty busy-work lessons. There was a reading test, some handouts for the kids to do, and some practice reading passages from the book. It’s a little different here in Japan; whereas back in Canada, the couple weeks before the end of the year were pretty cake (just games and movies and fooling around), here, they push to get through the text book, and prepare the kids for the next year. Pretty tough on the kids and the teachers, especially those expecting to get transferred. Nakagawa-sensei, at the end of the day, told me that she had been transferred to a special need school in the south of Nagasaki. I think she was crying. She said she wouldn’t be able to teach English, so she didn’t know what she could offer the kids, the poor woman. I headed home, grabbed something to eat, and headed to baketball practice. The girls had a new coach, so I practiced with the boys, not wanting to interfere with his very technical practice. It was fun; the boys just do 2 ond 2s, 3 on 3s, 4 on 4s, things like that. Or, that’s what they were doing. I played for an hour or so, until the practice ended.

I headed home, and made these porkchops for dinner. They were gooooood. Apples, onions, cinnamon, nutmeg, and thyme went into the cast iron, sauteed for a bit in butter and oil, then I seared the chops while the moisture was cooking out of the apple/onion mix. I stuck it in a preheated oven for 15 minutes, with a little white wine in the bottom. It came out, and the chops were nicely cooked, and the sauce smelled great. I deglazed and reduced the sauce, and had some of that cheese-filled focaccia with it. Man. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

Anyways, today, I have 2 or 3 classes. There’s an enkai tonight, so that’s something to look forward to. It’s the last English department enkai of the school year. Tomorrow, there’s the final enkai, and after that people leave. I think next week, most teachers help other teachers move out, so perhaps I’ll be doing that. I don’t really even know who’s leaving at the high school; there’s so many teachers. Heck, I still don’t know half of their names. This weekend, I will probably head up north, to Hitakatsu to see Aaron and Allie. They always come down here, so I figure it’s time I went up. Alright, until next time.

March 20th, 2006YO! It’s Monday, and I am fresh back from FUK. On Friday, I met Allie and Dave at the airport, and we flew to the city on the last flight out. It’s funny; if there are any foreigners on the plane, they put you all together in one row. I guess it’s kind of nice, since we all got to sit next to each other, but they put us at the VERY BACK of the plane. It’s a good thing that it’s a short flight. We got in, picked up Allie’s checked bag, and headed out to find the hotel we were staying in.

Now, I had tried to book a hotel, but Allie had proposed we stay in a capsule, and David had caught onto the idea. When the hotel told me they were booked, I thought ‘oh, what the hell. I might as well’ (yes, I think in iambic couplets). So Allie had booked us into a capsule hotel in Tenjin. We walked around for awhile, looking for it. It was on a bit of a back street, but we got to it without too much problem. The lobby was full of lockers along the walls where you put your shoes. They give you a locker key on a wrist strap that opens and closes your personal clothes locker. There is an onsen, a restaurant, a lounge area, and a few other ammenities. All in all, it’s a pretty decent place if you needed somewhere to sleep for the night.

We dropped our bags into the lockers, and met two English girls, Julie and Ellie, in the lobby, both JETs from Hiroshima. The JET community is very small, I guess. We headed out for food. We ended up at a ramen place. It was pretty standard, good ramen. Afterwards, we headed out to bowling at a place that Allie suggested. This place was hilarious. The bowling alley is built above an arcade/pachinko parlour. They have bowling shoe vending machines (although Dave and I had to special request our sizes). It was an experience. The actual bowling itself is similar, although they have huge screens with Japanese music videos playing above the pins. It’s kind of distracting with scantily clad women are gyrating all over the giant TVs, right in front of you. In addition, there is a screen above the waiting area that shows the score, and a short animation or video after every throw. If throw one into the gutter, the video shows a guy who’s got his hands on his head and his face screwed up, and two women who are making fun of you, shouting “GUTTER!” Or if you miss, a woman comes on the screen and is like “You missed!” Nothing like rubbing it in to stoke the old competitive fires, I guess. There’s also a giant bowling pin costume that anyone can wear. The group next to us wore it to bowl. It was funny.

David won the first game (I came in last), and I won the second game (David came in last). Allie had the highest score over two games, so I guess we were all winners, in a way. It’s been FOREVER since I went real bowling (the Ridge doesn’t really count, cause you can literally throw those balls all the way down the lane). It was fun. We played two games before our arms and fingers were tired.

After, we headed out to get dessert and met one of Allie’s friends from her study abroad program. He was pretty drunk, I think, and was also doing JET in Kitakyushu. The Donutman we were loitering in front of was closed, so we hit up a Lawson’s convenience store, and got some ice cream. Allie was leaving to meet her mom in Hong Kong the next morning, so we said bye, and Dave and I took a dip in the onsen before hitting the hay.

So if you’ve never seen a picture of a capsule hotel, the idea is that drunk salarymen, and those looking for a really cheap place to sleep stumble into one of these places and get a locker and capsule. There are very fast cleaning services for your clothes, all the toiletries you’d need for a night’s stay (hairspray anyone?), and they even provide pajamas and towels. You sleep in what looks like a kennel; basically pods stacked on top of each other. These pods or capsules have futons in them, a pillow, a blanket, a TV, a radio, and an alarm clock. You can pull down a screen over the opening. Here’s a picture of our capsules:


Though it looks a little cramped, it is actually not too bad. You can sit up in it, and maybe half roll over. It was more comfortable than I had anticipated. Quite an experience.

On Saturday, Dave and I basically just shopped and ate. We grabbed breakfast at one of the station bakeries. I picked up some books, a few presents for teachers, and some electronics. We had Korean barbeque (I dragged Dave to the place I always go), and hit up the ramen stadium for dinner. We were going to see a movie, but there wasn’t anything worth seeing playing, so we went back to Tenjin and hit up the onsen again. We went to try the capsule hotel restaurant, which was fine, and read until about 10:30PM. We took our reading back to the capsules, where I lasted about 10 minutes before I fell asleep. It was a good day.

Dave had to head back to the island early on Sunday, and I was going to stay in the city for awhile longer, but I didn’t really want to spend anymore money, and I was pretty tired, so we headed to the airport around 8:30AM and caught the 10 AM flight. I was back at home by 11. I went about cleaning the apartment; the kitchen was a disaster area, exacerbated by the flour that had gotten everywhere in my frustration while baking those chocolate tarts. I fixed my heater with the multitool I bought in FUK, and read a bit more. I picked up a Jamie Oliver cookbook (cause it was surprisingly cheap – I swear 2000 yen cheaper than when I last checked), so I skimmed through that. For dinner, I butterflied a griller chicken, and stuck it under the roaster. That oven isn’t very good, I tell you. Good thing it was cheap.

This week, I get Tuesday as a holiday, and I have enkais on Thursday and Friday. The school year officially ends on Friday, so I think the teachers I work with will change around, and I’ll also get a new supervisor. I’m curious to see who I will get. I kind of like working with who I’ve got right now, and I can’t imagine having to get used to a new set of teachers; that whole feeling-out process is a pain. I’m not heading anywhere for spring break – I don’t really have the nenkyu – but I think most teachers help other teachers move out, so maybe I’ll get to do that. It’s starting to get warmer, and I’m very thankful for that. It’s beautiful outside these days on the island. I just dread the coming of hayfever. Well, until next time.

March 17th, 2006Hello. Still sore. I went swimming after school last night, to see if I could loosen those muscles up. I only swam 500 m, and spent some time stretching in the hot tub. It worked for awhile, but when I woke up this morning, it was still a struggle to get out of bed. I went to Leanne’s eikaiwa last night, and it was kind of a free talk. We talked about pyramid schemes, fashion, and food. It was pretty good; I am consistently impressed with the level of English in that class. We went up to the grocery store after class, and I picked up some Mos Burger. Not the healthiest of dinners, but hey. It’s been ages since I’ve had fast food. I saw some of my graduated 3rd years there, their hair colour completely different and all bling-ed up. It was kind of funny.

Today, I had one class – my last class with 1-4 – and then I was off to the graduation at the sho. Since there were only about 30 kids graduating, I thought that it might be a short ceremony. WRONG. Holy, they found so many ways to stretch it out. Each graduating kid got to say a little spiel before he or she got up in front of the principal, and there was, of course, speeches by almost everyone. At the part where the graduates thank the rest of the student body, EACH CLASS had a little speech prepared for the graduates, congratulating them. They wouldn’t all do it in unison, either, alternating from student to student or group of students to group of students. Then, there were songs, more speeches … it just kept going and going. I guess it only lasted an hour and a half, but remember, the chu one was 2 hours, and they had 3 classes of kids. The high school one was a streamlined hour or hour and a half, even with 8 classes! What the hell! The coolest part was that I got to sit with the PTA and venerated guests. I felt a little out of place.

I’m pretty much done for the week. I don’t have anymore classes. I guess I could begin planning my last lesson, but I already have a good idea for it, so it’s basically done. At this point, I’m waiting for lunch. The staff are following the World Baseball thingamajig pretty closely here. Every so often, teachers will start yelling across the room about scores and who won and lost. Apparently, America lost to Mexico 2-1, not that I much care. I will have to clean up my house and pack quickly when I get home, cause at 6ish, I should head to the airport to go to FUK. I’m looking forward to getting into the city. It feels like it’s been awhile; it’s been three weeks, I guess. Well, until next time, probably Monday.

March 16th, 2006

 

Yo. I am sore. More on that later. Monday night’s enkai was pretty good. The food was excellent. We went to this place called Mikan. My supervisor had told me about it before. It was really good food. They served foie gras for one dish, which was a little shocking (mostly because … where do you get foie gras here?!), but delicious. It was the last enkai that this group of first year teachers will have together; everyone will change next week, and a few will leave. I went home, and started making these Portugese chocolate tarts I had found a recipe for. It was SO FRUSTRATING! So I can make pastry dough without too much problem. However, the recipe calls for you to roll the dough out, spread it with egg yolk and sprinkle a mixture of sugar, orange zest, cinnamon and allspice. Then, you have to roll it up tightly, cut across the roll, flatten it out, and roll it flat, so there’s a spiral pattern on this circle of dough. You put these on the bottom of some cups or pastry molds, and bake them.

 

 

 

WELL! If you’ve ever tried to roll pastry dough, you’ll know it’s pretty delicate. The more your work with it, the more gummy and hard it becomes later on as well, so you can’t really play with it. I rolled it up as best I could, but then when I tried to flatten it out later on, not only did the egg yolk come spurting out, making the dough stick to the rolling pin, thus ripping the dough saucers I was making, but also, if I managed to get one flat, it would rip apart along the spiral, because, I guess it wasn’t rolled tightly enough. I don’t really have any cups with rounded bottoms, so when I tried to bake them on cups with flat bottoms, a lot of them ripped, or didn’t come out right. I had to make 2 of these little pastry shells at a time, at about 10-15 minutes per shell. In a double recipe that was supposed to yield 16 tart shells, I came out with 6 passable ones, and they look like they were put together by my elementary students.

 

 

 

When it came time to make the chocolate filling, I couldn’t find any unsalted butter at the market. I had to use salted butter, which made the filling taste a little strange, not quite like chocolate. By the time I was finished, I was so angry and frustrated, I just turned off the lights to the kitchen. It is a mess in there. I ate one the next day, and they’re not so bad, but TOTALLY not worth the time and effort I put in, nor the time and effort it will take to clean the kitchen.

 

 

 

Tuesday, the first year students had a class tournament. There are 8 classes of students, and they all compete by gender in either basketball, volleyball, or soccer. Boys played basketball or soccer, and girls played basketball or volleyball. Class 1-5 only had 2 boys, so I played basketball with them and 2 other teachers. I have been swimming very regularly, so I thought I would be ok, even if I haven’t played basketball since … well, since maybe Pomona. That was true for the first game. My knee felt fine, and I was actually running almost normally. Of course for the subsequent games, things just got worse and worse. By the end of the day, I was so stiff, I could barely walk. I got home, took a shower, and went to bed. When I woke up at 9PM, I basically, lay in bed for an hour, unable to move. I finally rolled myself onto my stomach, and crawled into the kitchen, where I was able to get my cast iron pan, some things I could grill, and the nabe burner, and had a little korean barbeque on the floor. Then I crawled back into bed, unable to move OR sleep for another 2 hours. It was a painful – and humourous – night. I’m getting old.

 

 

 

Yesterday was the graduation at the junior high. I was still very stiff, so getting into a suit was a pain. I took some advil, so that I would be able to walk around half normally. The ceremony was long, almost 2 hours. They called each student up, and presented their certificate after a lot of bowing. There were a lot of speeches, some by teachers, some by the PTA, and some by students. Afterwards, I just kind of hung out in the staffroom, chatting and joking with the teachers. I went to the basketball practice at 4 to try to loosen up my muscles. I didn’t do too much, and it helped a bit.

 

 

 

Now here’s why that 70 bucks I spend every month on this new gym membership is worth it. I took off for the pool after practice, meaning to go for a short swim. Instead, I got in the hot tub. It was heaven! I stretched for about 20 minutes and that helped immensely, but getting in the pool, I made it maybe 250 meters before I thought I was going to drown. I got out of the pool and back into the hot tub. Ohhhhhh … bliss. I came home warm, and much less stiff. Oh, and since I shower at the pool, it cuts my water and gas bill considerably.

 

 

 

Today, I don’t have too much going on. There’s no classes today. This morning, I guess they posted who got into the high school. Around 9, I heard a big, girly scream from outside. I went to the window to see what was up, and it turns out that a WHOLE BUNCH of people had shown up to see the scores. They post them just like they do at university, on big bill boards. I went down to congratulate the kids I knew, and the teachers from the Chu, who I guess had walked their kids up. ALL the kids from the chu got in. Not a lot of culling the wheat from the chaff, obviously, because I know that there is a very wide level of abilities among the 3rd year Chu students. Still, it’ll be nice to know some kids going into the next year. Kind of makes me wish I was staying another couple years, to see the 1st years at the high school graduate, and see how this incoming crop of first years turns out.

 

 

 

Tomorrow, I have one class, the Sho grad, and then I’m off to Fukuoka to do some shopping for teachers. This is always really hard, because I want to get them things that they’d personally want, but I don’t know them very well, and I’m afraid of offending them somehow (you know those crazy Asian things, like don’t give knives as presents). Since I have Tuesday off because of a national holiday, I was going to take Monday off as well, and go somewhere like Hiroshima, but they already planned lessons for me on Monday, and it will be my last lessons with a couple of classes. I figure I should save my money for Golden week anyways, since it’s going to be costly to travel. It’s not like Fukuoka is a cheap trip, but still, it’ll be much cheaper than Hiroshima. well, until next time. It’s hiru-gohan time! WOOHOO!

 

March 13th, 2006

 

Hello. I had a pretty busy weekend! Friday night, I was supposed to go out to dinner with Leanne, but I went swimming, and totally forgot that I was getting shipments of groceries and meat. I had dinner at home, and spent the evening going through my fridge and freezer, trying to make space for everything, as well as breaking big pieces of meat down to more storable sizes. I tell you, veal bones are a pain in the ass to store. They’re very big and clunky, and not really of any use except for stock making. Still, I picked up some herb sausages (that are much leaner than I expected), some smoked meats (speck, some bacon), some cheap herbs, a couple of griller chickens, and a small “cube roll” which is apparently Australian for rib roast without the ribs. I cut that into 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch steaks. Can’t wait to get into those.

 

 

 

Saturday morning, there was an Easter event at the elementary school in town. Since I had been going to Leanne’s eikaiwa, Midori had invited me (she put it together). I actually don’t mind doing these community things. Basically, all we had to do was introduce Easter a little bit (Leanne did that; she’s an old pro by now), and help decorate eggs. It’s been a long time (maybe I’ve never done the real thing?) since I’ve decorated eggs. The kids had a pretty tough time putting holes in the egg shells. It was fun to do. I kept having to trade my egg with other kids who couldn’t get their eggs going, so in the end, I ended up with a plain black egg. C’est dommage.

 

 

 

After the Easter day, I went back home to get ready for dinner with the Matsumuras. I made pastry dough from scratch, and made one of the Jamie Oliver chocolate tarts. It was good, but I had wanted to make 1) an apple tart at first, using phyllo pastry (what a pain in the ass it is to work with), and then 2) a chocolate pear tart, except I couldn’t find any pears. Ah well. I bought some strawberries and some ice cream, and those with my chocolate tart. It was pretty good.

 

 

 

I went over to Leanne’s house around 6ish. I helped her sear her kebabs (lamb and chicken) for which she had made a really strong and delicious tzatziki. It was very garlicy; just how I like it. She also made some cheesy potatoes, steamed brocolli and cauliflower with a cheese sauce, and a greek salad. There were also pork tenderloin medallions that didn’t quite get cooked, so I seared those off in the cast iron as well, just to finish them out of the oven. I think I might have overcooked a few of them, but I made a pan sauce with the drippings. You know what they say: a little bit of sauce masks a lot of mistakes. In addition to all this food, the Matsumuras brought over a TON of make it yourself sushi, and a lot of fruit. It was enough food for maybe 11 people to eat comfortable. We had 6.

 

 

 

The Matsumuras are a really nice family. The parents are both teachers, and Yuko is a stellar student (she’s one of my first years). Her English is top notch, better than a lot of the teachers I work with. I understand that she scores very high in other subjects, and on the preliminary entrance tests for Kyoto University (the 2nd best school in Japan) she got a C, which means maybe-maybe not. In Japan, to get into university, you have to take entrance tests. They are usually very difficult, so for schools like Tokyo University, they are supposed to be outrageously hard. What kids do these days is go to cram schools, where they get extra tutoring not only in the subjects that they will be tested on, but, like an SAT prep school, some experience doing the test. The thing is, once you get into Japanese university, I hear, it’s a cakewalk. Basically, it’s 4 years to relax before going out into the working world. She also scored an A for Kyushu university, the best in Kyushu. She’s a smart girl.

 

 

 

Mr. Matsumura is HILARIOUS. He’s very unreserved for a Japanese person, and while his English isn’t as good as his daughter’s, he tries very hard to get his meaning across. I really liked him. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer a while ago, but had two thirds of his stomach removed as well as some of his intestine, so I guess it’s in remission. Given that he has a stomach that’s 1/3 the size of the rest of us, it was AMAZING how much he ate. He had seconds of my pie! And keep in mind that that was at the end of that food orgy. He left at one point in the evening to walk back to his house to get pictures of his family. His wife also left at one point to get their wedding pictures. In Japan, they change like 3 or 4 times for their wedding pictures. So there’s one in the wedding dress, and a number in different kimonos. They had some pretty awesome pictures.

 

 

 

We had a good dinner. The Matsumuras are just so generous. At one point, when he found out that Allie had driven down from Hitakatsu, he offered her the use of the apartment building he owns (I think …) whenever she wanted. He also invited us all over to their place in the near future. They are a very nice family. Mrs. Matsumura is very quiet. She barely spoke the entire dinner, and when she did, she would have Yuko translate for her. Poor Yuko. Unbeknownst to us, she had been up studying until 4:30 AM the night previous. I was wondering why she was so tired. The ridiculous thing about it is that there was no school this week, as the junior high students were taking entrance tests. AND there’s only 2 weeks left of school. When I think about the last 2 weeks of school every year, I only remember fun lessons and fooling around. Here? They’re still teaching them grammar and stuff they couldn’t fit in before the tests! And they’re still testing them! Even though the grades are in. It’s kind of weird. And Kamito sensei wonders why the kids are getting scores like 2 out of 100 ….

 

 

 

After dinner, Leanne, Allie and I walked to the pool hall, not far from the 18 Bank that I bank at. It was a lot of fun. I think the pool was free, or very cheap, but it is generally accepted that you buy drinks when you’re there, and the drinks are outrageously overpriced. If we only paid for drinks, 2 cokes and 2 beers cost 2700 yen. I think we must have paid to play pool. But you can play as many games as you want, for as long as you want. And it’s open late, a big plus in a town in which things close pretty early. It’s no Claremont here, but pretty close. We played something like 4 games of pool, and chatted. The other guys (and there were only guys there) were kind of bewildered by us: two Japanese people and a white person speaking English and playing pool. I thought it was kidn of funny.

 

 

 

Sunday, I got up late. I guess I drank too much coke on Saturday, cause I was up LAAaaaate. I had a good breakfast, fooled around for awhile, and then headed to Leanne’s to try to drag those two out of the house. To no avail. I walked in on them still in bed, watching their second movie of the day, 4 Weddings and Funeral. We chatted some more, then when Allie left, Leanne was going for a walk, and I went to swim. I swam a kilometer! Or more, because I lost count. I was counting ’32’ when I thought to myself ‘Is that right?’ I started back at 22, just to be sure. So I might have swum 1250 meters. I also did some running in the pool, which is hard. After 250 meters, I was cramping up something bad, so I hit the hot tub, then the showers. I was beat.

 

 

 

After swimming, I went home, and ate some meat (protein for after the workout). Then, it was off to Leanne’s eikaiwa’s enkai. 2 of the people were leaving the island to move to other places, and a former participant was too, so it was kind of a goodbye party. We had it at this kushiage place. Basically, it’s like shabushabu, except instead of soup, it’s oil! So, basically, you fry everything yourself. It was awesome! I guess I would have liked more stuff to fry, but it was an enkai anyways, so I was being polite and not eating much.

 

 

 

Afterwards, we went to karaoke. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Japanese people are really good at singing. Even the people who are bad, are good, because they do it without reservation. Even the songs that were in English were sung with gusto. Midori, especially, is a really REALLY good singer. Leanne is pretty good; she has a very unique voice. Kind of husky with a clear and solid timbre. She sang maybe 3 or 4 songs. I sung one song (out of politeness; you gotta), and of ALL the songs I could have chosen, I chose ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ by Radiohead. If you know the song, or if you know Radiohead, you’ll know what a mistake this is. Thom Yorke has a big vocal range. Ryan Sung does not. Let the debacle begin. I came home late and hit the sack.

 

 

 

Today, I have one class, then in the afternoon, the high school students are going to clean … Izuhara. The whole town. … well, when you got the time …. I’m going to help class 1-1 mostly because I always help them clean at the end of the day, but also because their area is the area close to the school. Kamito sensei’s class is all the way south, near Kuta. That’s going to suck. Tonight, there’s a first year enkai. I’m thinking we don’t have English club, because Kamito sensei has a meeting. That means I’ll get to swim. since tomorrow’s my day off, I’ll probably swim another km. I’m sore afterwards, but I can already see and feel a difference. Tomorrow is class tournament day, so I think I’ll join 1-5 cause they only have 2 boys. We’ll be playing soccer (which I might skip to avoid embarassing myself and undue stress on my knee) and basketball, which I can play without moving too much. Wednesday is the chu grad, Thursday is eikaiwa and Friday is the Kita grad, and I think I’m going to head to Fukuoka with David Lees, from up north, in Hitakatsu. We’ve been talking about this trip for ages. Well, until next time. You know, I keep writing these things, but always forget to upload the page. The next time you read this, there will be a good couple hours worth of reading! Have a good one.

 

March 10th, 2006

 

That last update was SUPER long, so I will keep this one shorter. I don’t really have that much to say anyways. This week has been pretty normal and regular. Tuesday, I hit up the sho for the last time this school year. I had a fun day. The kids were great as usual, and the lessons were basically just playing. We played this one game where everyone gets a sheet of newspaper, and they have one minute to rip the longest snake. I’d like to say that I won, but one girl kicked my butt. Twice. Very embarassing to lose to a third grader. There’s not much to do at the high school these days, but I had to go up there after the Sho. I sat around for awhile, then planned the next lesson (for NEXT monday). I’m a bit glad that the school year’s ending; I’m running out of ideas for lessons. Everything I can think of starts to get a little too difficult. Of course, at this point, these kids should have a good enough base of English to do things like start telling stories, but the teachers sure don’t believe so, and really, with a few exceptions, I don’t really believe they do either.

 

 

 

That evening, since the pool wasn’t open, I hung around the house and relaxed. I was going to have a go at making an apple tart, since Leanne has invited some people over to her house this coming Saturday, and I will be making dessert, but I really didn’t feel so much like cooking. I made a quick dinner (fried rice! It’s been so long), and watched some TV on my computer. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that. Lately I’ve been reading a lot, and have blown through 3 books in a couple weeks.

 

 

 

Wednesday was my last day teaching classes at the Chu. I had a couple of classes with Katsumi sensei, who I am liking more and more. Even though she is unhappy with her job, it’s not because of some random reason, like the commute. She doesn’t like the Izuhara parents. I sympathize with her; I think the hardest part of being a teacher on a daily basis would be dealing with parents. It brings to mind a certain incident with a Mr. G. Statter and my parents. Poor guy.

 

 

 

The third year Chu students were up at the high school taking entrance tests, so the third year teachers shuttled back and forth between the two schools. I found out that the Chu has 8 teachers leaving. Eight! And they don’t come until like a week before the new school year starts. How’s that for hitting the ground running? Man, I can’t imagine getting here, having to get used to life here and having to teach right away, all the while knowing that I’d been sentenced to exile for 6 years (teachers have to do their 6 years of island time in Nagasaki prefecture). It’s no wonder why so many new teachers are kind of weird at first.

 

 

 

That evening, I hit up the pool and swam 750 m. It doesn’t sound like much – people run 800 meters in about 2 or 2.5 minutes – but that’s 30 laps of an Olympic sized pool. For someone who’s grossly out of shape, that’s not bad. I stopped at Saeki on my way back from the pool, and picked up some ingredients for the apple tart that I would be making that night, as well as some stuff for dinner. The apple tarts weren’t difficult, per se, but the recipe I was adapting called for dried figs as a filling for the tart. I had to look up the kanji for fig, although I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to find them at the grocery store. Instead, I picked up some prunes, and decided to try 2 different tarts: one with a raisin-apple base, and one with a prune base. I think the prune one, mysteriously, turned out better. I think I will have another crack at it today, using a custard base, and an apricot jam base. Dinner was yakinikku, using my cast iron skillet and the portable nabe burner

 

 

 

Yesterday, Thursday, I was up at the high school. I had nothing to do, however, so I sat at my desk, doing busy work for awhile. I checked my e-mail a half dozen times BEFORE lunch. I was BOOOoooored. I finally gave up, and started writing a short story. That killed a few hours. I then found out that Professor Andresen is retiring, and the English department is compiling reactions and creative pieces from her students to bind and give to her as a retirement present. I think it’s kind of fitting, since she has always said that “my students are my teachers.” I worked on a piece for her for most of the rest of the day. I have only a month to write it, but I feel like it should be a masterpiece, given the amount of time she spent with me, mentoring me, giving me advice, and lifting my spirits. She was a damn good advisor. And she kept her promise to stay until I graduated.

 

 

 

After school, I went swimming – a lighter day than yesterday, only 600 m – then hurried back to Izuhara for Leanne’s eikaiwa. I must say, I am not a good ESL teacher. I have great difficulty dumbing down English. I guess you could call that the curse of being sensitive to the nuances of each word. This class, however, is quite advanced. Midori, a lady who works in the museum in town, is in it, and she speaks practically perfect English. She also used to work in marketing in Osaka and, I think, Kobe. She had to come back to Tsushima to take care of her parents, I think. Imagine giving up your high paying job in marketing in a big city to come back to Tsushima, where jobs are rapidly drying up. In fact, she informed me last night that Izuhara’s prefectural board of education (the satalite office of the prefecture, situated in Tsushima) is closing, which means that I will have no direct supervisor here in Tsushima, no one higher than the principal at my school. This will probably affect her job, as well as many others. And Leanne wonders why she’s cold sometimes …

 

 

 

Today, I have no classes again. All the teachers are off marking the entrance exams, so I have no one to talk to either. I’m getting used to living my life in silence. I asked if I could help in any way, but they said that it was an official thing, so I’m not really allowed to help. That’s fine. I guess I could write more short stories today. This weekend will be a busy weekend. Tomorrow morning, there is an Easter event in town that I will attend, and then I will be doing some of the cooking for the Matsumuras, the family of one of my students, Yuko. She’s one of my best students, always cheery and enthusiastic about English. It probably helps that she speaks very good English, and has spent many of her summers abroad. On Sunday evening, Leanne’s eikaiwa class is having a farewell party, as two of the members are leaving. There are many army families on this island, so I guess they get moved around a lot. It’s too bad, because there are only 4 people in the class (all women). I wonder if Leanne can run it with only two participants come April. Next week will be busy, not so much because I have a lot of work to do, but there’s an enkai on Monday (which is also Mom’s birthday [well, on this side of the world, at least]), a recreation day on Tuesday (basketball and soccer), the Chu graduation on Wednesday, and the Sho grad on Friday. I only have something like 10 classes left to teach in the next 2 weeks, so that’s not a big concern. I have a lot of down time, so it’s a good time to do other things these next few weeks. Well, I promised a short update, but it turned out to be fairly long. Until next time.

 

March 6th, 2006

 

Been a while since I’ve updated. This blog always seems to go on a little hiatus every time I go away. Hokkaido was awesome. While it was cold (-10ish), there was less wind, so for some reason it didn’t feel quite so bad. Some of the things we got to see were incredible! We started out at the airport (about an hour away from Sapporo), got on a bus and headed east. I gotta say, the bus they had us on coming from the airport was a bit ridiculous. Ok, a lot ridiculous. We’re talking a fake, plastic chandelier, pink paterned interior, with plastic wall sconces. It was like riding in a pimp bus. It’s hard to describe. About half way through the ride, I was feeling a little nauseus. I’m sure enduring the tail end of the flu on the plane didn’t really help, nor the late night and early morning, but the colours of the pimp bus must have had some hand it my malaise. We got to our first hotel, after a few pit stops. We were treated to a buffet dinner (not that great, although the roast “mutton” [I believe it was lamb] was pretty good). our room was a tatami room with futons, except these futons were unbelievably comfortable. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor. I think it was the pad underneath the actual futon. It was really really comfortable.

 

 

 

After dinner, we bundled up and tromped out into the snow to hit up the local snow festival. When we booked the trip, I was a little disappointed that we would be missing the famous Sapporo snow festival. It is a BIG event each year, and many make the pilgrimage up north to see it. However, when I saw the festival in this little town (name completely forgotten), I was blown away. They basically had a little village made out of snow, including this CASTLE. It was AWESOME. you paid your 100 yen entrance fee (which got you a post card, I might add), and you walked down these stair, completely iced over (not the safest of places, but it looked cool, cause it looked like the steps were made of snow). This gave you a great view of the river, and the little snow village. On the right side of the river, there was a wide walkway. On both sides of this walk way were rather large snow huts, each of which was sponsored by companies or the community. Each of these snow huts were made entirely of hard packed snow or ice, and had a pedestal and a sculpture in each. These sculptures were usually animals, and were beautifully and intricately sculpted. Each hut was lit up like the caves in Halong Bay, with neon lights that reflected off the snow such that a soft glow surrounded us as we walked in. People had stuck coins to the sculptures by pressing the coins to the surface of the ice until the melted water had made the coin stick. The water would freeze again, giving each of the sculptures a rather unique texture and look. One of the huts had a snow temple it in. We were blown away by this one especially.

 

 

 

If you crossed the bridge – which was elaborately built up with snow – over the river to the otherside, a veritable snow fortress stood in front of you, replete with turrets (!). I kept thinking to myself “how sweet would it be to take this puppy into a snowball fight?” It was beyond impressive. Made entirely of snow and ice packed around wooden beams, the fortress was a architectural marvel. It was too bad some parts of it were closed off. We walked in the side door and up a long set of narrow stairs. At the top, there were corridors that led off in a few different directions. You could see down them into a couple of the rooms. The castle was lit up like the huts, with the soft neon lights. Inside, many icicles hung from the ceiling; some were connected to the ground. The lights glistened off these icicles, which made the whole thing look like a big palace of crystal. It is, without doubt, one of the most interesting and aweinspiring things I’ve seen since I’ve been over here in Asia.

 

 

 

I was freezing by the time we got back. It was snowing and a bit windy that night, so that combined with the sub-zero temperatures made for a cold evening. We got back to the room, and decided to try out the onsen. Now, if you’ve never gone to the onsen, it really is an experience. I’m told that if you’re white (or, really anything other than Asian), you get stared at. A lot. We changed into the bathrobes they gave us (though, they were a bit small…) and tromped downstairs. Traditional onsens are created from hot springs. This one was made from water pumped into 3 pools. One was hot, one was really hot, and one was quite cold. In addition, there was a sauna and a washing area. The idea is that you get undressed (butt naked), go to the washing area, and clean yourself, as you would in a normal shower, then tromp around these pools, relaxing in the different temperature water. You wouldn’t think that going from, say, the really hot pool to the really cold pool is that relaxing, but you’d be surprised. Other than that inital shock, it really is quite nice. And once you get over the whole “I’m naked and bathing with a bunch of other, naked men” thing, it’s actually quite nice. We did get stared at a little bit, but it wasn’t that bad. I think mostly, they were interested in Aaron, the Kechi ALT that I was travelling with. I doubt it was me, the ninja ALT. We finished up at the onsen after the sauna and another dip in the three pools, then headed to bed.

 

 

 

The next day, we woke up early to partake in the buffet breakfast. The Japanese (like the Chinese) don’t really have breakfast foods, per se, or at least not food designated as such. Where bacon, eggs, and toast could be called traditional breakfast foods in North America, the Japanese kind of just recycle. So there was grilled salmon, miso soup, jook, some veg … it was like having left overs, except they were cooked fresh. You get used to it. We boarded the bus and set off. It was a long day of bus. Our first stop was very close by, a very scenic spot at the ground level of some waterfalls. Since it was winter, the water was frozen, and the clefts in the cliffs were snowed under. Still, like I said, it was very scenic, and there were maybe 30 busloads of people there from Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan. From there, we continued on our way, making pit stops in various places where they would herd us off the bus, take us into souvineer shops to use the bathroom (and where we could do some shopping, I guess), and then herd us all back onto the bus. I must say, travelling on a Japanese tour was a heck of an experience. No one is ever late (except, of course, the two gaijin), and the times are absolutely precise. We times a couple of the intervals as they have them noted on the schedule, and they were EXACT. It was scary.

 

 

 

We stopped for lunch at this kind of non descript place for lunch. We rode two or three sets of escalators up to a restaurant. There was a big tatami room, where they had a pretty impressive spread laid out for us. Basically, it was crab, crab, more crab, and some fried rice. There was a whole, very spiny, crab for us to take apart and eat, there was crab nabe, there was crab with vegetables … heck I don’t even remember all the crab dishes we had. The waiter, seeing Aaron’s look of “what do I do with this?” came over and did a little demonstration for the whole group on how to take apart a crab. She was obviously a pro. It took us awhile to become adept at it, but by the end, we were ripping meat out of those legs as well as anyone.

 

 

 

Our next stop was this port on the northern coast of Hokkaido. From here, we would take a boat out into the ocean and see the ice floes that drift down from Russia. I was looking forward to this, as the pictures promised ice breaking boats, the kind you see in social studies way back in 8th or 9th grade when you learn about the explorers that settled Canada. I was disappointed, then, to find that most of the ice had melted long ago, only a few, small blocks of ice were left, hanging around near the harbour. Way off in the distance, we could see what looked like a huge sheet of ice, but as the alotted time for the boat was only 1 hour (round trip), we didn’t come close enough to confirm it. Too bad. However, there were some pretty spectacular views of some of the mountains from the side of the boat. Aaron speculated on whether or not it was Shiratoko we were looking at; it was pretty cool nonetheless. After that, it was back on the bus to head to the next onsen hotel.

 

 

 

We got in a little late. Driving through the town, we saw a whole section near our hotel that was heavily Ainu influenced. The Ainu are Japan’s equivalent to the First Nation’s People in Canada, or the Native Americans in the States. They’ve suffered the same fate as well, having been colonized, and had their culture and whatnot diluted. Still, it would appear as though Japan has taken some steps to try to preserve the culture. Our hotel was very close to the “Ainu Kotan” as it was called (I have no idea what Kotan means). We got in, dumped our stuff, played a few hands of rummy (I was addicted by this point), and headed down for a buffet dinner. This buffet was much better than the last. They had a good selection of Japanese and Western food. This hotel was so packed, however, that they had to sit a Japanese couple at our table. Luckily, they were very very nice, and both of them spoke some English. In fact, the husband’s English was better than most of my JTEs. They were from Tokyo, and he worked as a security software designer for a company that sells to many foreign securities firms and ibanks. We chatted quite amiably the entire dinner.

 

 

 

The evening, however, was just starting at that point. The hotel was putting on an imaginary festival of it’s own for the plethora of tourists staying there, and after dinner, we were invited outside onto the lake where they had a stage with a GIANT owl made of snow on it. There was an annoying MC (all the MCs in Japan speak in a very strange way), mini-curling, snacks, an Ainu hut where you could buy tickets to a show later on, and you could even ride inflatable bananas pulled behind snow mobiles. I really wanted to do that, but before we could make our way over there, the fireworks started. So we watched the fireworks, then hustled to the van that would take us to the Ainu show. I’m a little disappointed that we missed the inflatable banana ride, but … c’est la vie.

 

 

 

We walked around the Ainu Kotan for a while before the performance. I had managed to get on the first bus to the theatre (Aaron says there was a line that I just skipped, but I didn’t see any line), so we had time to kill. We did some souvineer shopping, and looked a bunch of the interesting wood crafts on display. The show was interesting, but probably not as interesting as that banana ride behind the snow mobile. It started with a video bit on the Ainu in Japan, and then performers came out and danced and sang. Worth the 900 yen we paid? Probably not.

 

 

 

We walked back to the hotel, and hit up the onsen. This onsen was a little nicer, with fake rocks that marked the sides of the pools instead of the concrete wall or smooth tile. The cold pool was much colder in this place, and instead of a hot pool and a hotter pool, there was just one big hot pool. There was also a kiddie wading pool, but I didn’t dare to venture into it. The sauna was closed, but I was ok with that. The sauna kind of burns my sinuses … we played some more rummy, then turned on the TV, on which there was a pretty good movie about the cuban missile crisis with Kevin Costner in it. We both fell asleep halfway through. It was a long, busy day.

 

 

 

The next day, we were heading into Sapporo. The bus ride was long, and since we were stopping at the airport to drop off the people who were on the 3 day tour, we were going a little out of our way. We rolled into Sapporo around 5:30 (after a number of pit stops where we were subjected to tourist traps). The hotel we were in was pretty nice, but the onsen wasn’t free. Too bad. Aaron’s surrogate mother had paid for an all you can eat dinner for us that night (for his birthday), so we went to the restaurant around 7ish. It was a CRAB FEST! It was ridiculous. They brought us each one of those small, spiky whole crabs, and 3 different kinds of crab legs. In addition, they had this Mongolian lamb stew. It was AWESOME! I ate crab, but I had thirds of the lamb stew. Damn that was good. Mom would have killed to eat that meal. It was just neverending flow of crab. It was fair to say that after that meal, I’d be ok if I didn’t eat crab for another 5 years.

 

 

 

After that, we walked around Sapporo for awhile. I like Sapporo. For one, like the rest of Hokkaido, they have insulated everything, so the buildings are as warm as they would be at home. The shopping is good, the food is great, and the layout of the city makes sense. Unlike, say, Tokyo, with it’s labyrinth of streets and alleys, Sapporo is a grid. It makes it easy to navigate. There were a few sights to see, but they were pretty unspectacular. We saw the remnants of the snow festival, and it must have been pretty big, cause there were HUGE snow drifts on the side of the road, where they had cleared the snow they had used for the sculptures. The clock tower was supposed to be a big attraction, but it was surprisingly small. There was a TV tower that was unspectacular, save for the Christmas lights that were on the trees near the base. Still, it was nice to be in a city again. We went back to the hotel, found out the onsen was something like 30 bucks to use, decided against it and went back tot he room to play rummy. We hit the sack fairly early after making plans for the next day.

 

 

 

We got up pretty early on Monday, had a nice breakfast in the restaurant in the hotel, and headed out to do some shopping. They had really good shopping there, but given the lack of space I had in my luggage, as well as, well… not really needing anything, I didn’t buy much. The only thing I bought was an arm band for my ipod. Damn thing was expensive too. We rushed back to the hotel so that we could catch the right train to the airport. The airport is about 45 minutes away from the city by train. At the airport, we did our omiyage shopping. When we were checking in though, who was checking in with us but the Power Rangers! Or, at least a bunch of nuts dressed up as the Power Rangers. I’m not sure if it was a promotional stunt, a gag, or the actors and actresses, but there they were. The yellow ranger checked in in front of me, while the pink ranger checked in behind me. The blue, green and black rangers waited off to the side. It was a bit surreal. We got on the flight with no problem, and got into Fukuoka around 330ish. We put our bags in an airport locker, and headed to Hakata station to do some book shopping. I picked up a book and a couple mangas. Around 5ish, we headed back to the airport to go through security, and finally made it back to Tsushima around 630. I was beat!

 

 

 

The next day I had school and classes, and I certainly felt like I was dragging ass. I was at the Sho, which is usually a good thing, but the kids were a bit too unruly, and I was a bit too tired for it to be a good experience. Still, it was the second to last day with these kids, so I tried my best to enjoy it. There was nothing to do at the high school, so I planned some lessons. Wednesday, I was supposed to go to the Chu, but it was graduation for the third year students at the high school. I had requested to skip the Chu and go the graduation, and to my surprise, they let me. The graduation ceremony was a bit long, but I think that’s mostly because I couldn’t understand what was going on. It was really nice to see the kids again, even if it was for the last time. During the ceremony, instead of all the kids going up to get their diploma, the class leader from each class went up and got the entire classes. After the ceremony, the kids went back to their classrooms, and the diplomas were distributed. Some teachers had the kids come up one at a time and say good bye to the class. There was A LOT of crying. Even if I understood Japanese, I wouldn’t be able to understand what the kids were saying. I waited in the halls, listening to the tearful farewells, and when the kids came out, I congratulated them. Downstairs in the parking lot, all the third years congregated to take pictures and such. People were giving them flowers. It wasn’t too much different than my high school graduations at that point. A few kids wanted to take pictures with me, so I went around taking pictures with the kids. Kind of a sad day.

 

 

 

That evening, there was an enkai. All the homeroom teachers of the third years went up on stage and said thank you, and said a little something about their classes. There was more crying, except this time, from the teachers. It’s weird; it’s very acceptable here in Japan to cry. It’s even encouraged. Leanne told me that if you don’t cry at these kinds of ceremonies, people think you don’t really care. When someone would start crying, and be unable to continue, there would be shouts of “Ganbare!” or … how do you translate that? “Keep going!” or “Try hard!” or “Suck it up!” Something like that, I guess. Basically, encouragement. One of the third year teachers was getting married come Saturday as well, so there was a big presentation by one of the PTA members (the PTA is VERY powerful over here, so powerful that they get to come to the teachers’ enkai) of a fat envelope of money. That was probably one of the worst enkais I’ve been to. I guess cause there were PTA members there, everyone was getting up and walking around and talking to each other and drinking. I was pretty tired at that point, after an emotionally draining day of having to watch people bawling their eyes out while trying to talk, and I didn’t feel like struggling through a Japanese conversation, let alone a number of them. I basically sat there and ate. The entire night. At one point, I was the only person at my table, all my tablemates having gone off to socialize. I was feeling a little down and embarassed, but I got over it pretty quickly, because food kept coming out. If I hadn’t sat there and ate, I wouldn’t have been able to get through it all. No one else finished their food.

 

 

 

Thursday I had a couple classes, which were no problem. There was no English club, so I got home early. I took care of some insurance things with my car. My JTEs were being insufferably unhelpful on the car front, so I found an insurer online that’s backed by AIU (the American International Underwriters) and does its business in English. I pay a bit of a premium on the insurance, but if I get into an accident, I won’t have to rely on my useless JTEs. It surprises me; no one really knows how to do anything for themselves in this country. Like at home, if someone came to me asking how to get car insurance, I’d at least know where to look, or how to find some companies. You ask people here? All they say is that the car company where they buy their car takes care of it, so they don’t know. No clue. Pain in the ass for me.

 

 

 

On Friday, all the ALTs were invited up to Nishi Sho, and elementary school up in Mine (by the way, that’s pronounced “mee-nee”, not mine). Leanne drove us up there. I love these days because a) I get to play with kids, b) their usually short days, and c) … I get to play with kids. They had us paraded into the gym again, and we introduced ourselves … again. The day was to celebrate the doll festival. This particular school had been given a doll by some guy named Dr. Guric. They celebrate this every year. Don’t ask me.

 

 

 

We played a few opening games first. Shark attack (basically tag), and then we split into two groups and played duck duck goose. After that, the kids introduced the stations. They had maybe 12 stations, each with an interesting game or activity. I spent a couple hours playing the Japanese version of POGs, some Daruma Otoshi, folding some origami, painting a fan, and talking with the kids. After that, we had lunch with classes. I had the 6th graders, which was fun. We headed right after lunch, as both Leanne and Allie were heading off the island. i got back to the house around 3ish, finished dealing with the insurance stuff, and kicked it for the rest of the day. I was pretty tired.

 

 

 

Saturday was a cooking day. I made some bread, broiled a small, whole, butterflied chicken. It was good. I wanted to try to make some ciabatta, but my food processor wasn’t big enough to make the biga. We’ll see if I can figure out some other way to do it. Sunday, I went for a swim, then drove up north in the afternoon to pick up Leanne. We stopped at Saeki on the way home, and I picked up some nice, thick salmon fillets. I had those for dinner, marinated in a ginger lime honey marinade. It was only ok. Needed something.

 

 

 

Today I have 3 classes, but then nothing else at the high school for the rest of the week. I don’t think we have English club either. This week, the Chu students from all over the island come to take entrance exams for the high school, so all the high school students get the week off pretty much. That means also that I have nothing to do. I guess I can read and write and such. Well, until next time.

 

February 22nd, 2006

 

Ugh. I am sick. Sick sick sick. Again. Except this time, it’s really bad. I might actually have the flu, although I ain’t suggesting to anyone that I do, because they’ll try to make me take nenkyu (paid time off), and I just don’t want to get in to a big fight over my PTO right now. I also have precious few days left. It should be byokyu anyways (sick leave). I have a pretty bad cough, my nose has started running all over the place, and I think I have a fever. On top of that, I seem to be allergic to SOMETHING, because my eyes won’t stop watering or itching.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I was at the sho. It was hard, since my voice was all croaky, and the kids were extra rambunctious. I had nearly lost my voice by the 4th period. I came back up to the high school, and essentially sat at my desk, trying not to cough or sneeze too much. I hate being that guy in the plane who, by the 2nd or 3rd hour, everyone wishes would just die because he keeps coughing or sniffling, or sneezing. Damn pain in the ass. I got home, and decided to take my paycheck to the post office bank by car. HOOO boy that was a bad idea. So, the post office near my house is a small one, but they have an ATM there. It’s not too far, but far enough to warrant a drive. It is, however, down an alley, and all the alleys in Tsushima are narrow. I got there without too much problem. The parking is on a hill, however, and for some reason, I always stall going up hills to park. This is probably due to my reluctance to hit anything (we all know that moving objects have nothing to fear when I’m driving; it’s those stationary ones that have to watch out). Of course, when I had finished my business at the ATM, I had to back out into this alley. Which I did just fine, but then a car pulls into the alley, looking to go the opposite direction. I am, at this point, half backed out of this driveway, staring at this car, and another that pulls in behind it. I’m thinking, oh great. So I have to pull back up into the parking lot. But I stall it. And stall it again. And again. And again. And yet one more time. I finally (but absolutely gunning it) get back up into the parking lot, and she goes by. I’ve decided to call my car “Stall”.

 

 

 

Last night, Leanne and I went to Sennyo, a Chinese/Italian restaurant downtown that has been renovating since September. It’s really nice now. Sennyo was the first restaurant I went to after I got to Tsushima. I haven’t been back since. It was delicious! I ordered this yakinikku platter, and it had a huge variety of things on it, including chicken heart, liver, skin, and beef tongue, along with the standard cuts of pork, chicken and beef. Leanne suggested this spicy noodle, which was excellent (not so spicy). This Chinese food is essentially Schescwan, but the Japanese don’t flavour things quite as powerfully as, well, any other cuisine. It’s actually quite nice, because you get the flavour without too much of the heat. It was good. Oh, and I drove to the book store by Leanne’s to park (so I could drive myself home), and going up the ramp, into the parking lot, I stalled, and rolled into the parking spot. It was pretty cool, but I gotta stop doing that.

 

 

 

Today, I have no classes and nothing to do. I’ve been studying and reading, so that’s kept me busy, and I’ve been working on that spreadsheet of students’ Oral Communication scores (my class). It’s finally finished, so my part of their English grade has been decided. I’m responsible for a full 16% of their grade! Tonight, I will probably pack for Hokkaido. It’s going to suck travelling sick, but I’ve already paid for the trip, and I ain’t going to waste it. Hopefully, I can shake the worst of this cold by Friday, and not have to suffer too much during the flight and bus rides. We’ll see. Till next time.

 

February 20th, 2006

 

Yo. It’s Monday. I had a pretty relaxing weekend. On Saturday, I woke up late, did some laundry, then Leanne came over and we hopped in my car (I have a car!) and drove up to Kechi, where I had lunch at Mos Burger. Leanne gave me a quick review lesson on how to drive a standard (yes, the car is standard, unfortunately), and I proceeded to stall the thing all over the auxilliary parking lot of the Super Saeki. I got the hang of it pretty quickly again though, so that worked out ok. We visited a couple bakeries, so I picked up bread (instead of making any), and some pastries. We were heading up to Toyotama to have dinner with David, who turned 22 the weekend before. We met him in downtown Toyotama (if such a thing exists), and went to the famous Watazumi shrine, which is a normal shrine, with a couple of Japanese gates out in the middle of the bay. When the tide is in, it looks like their floating on the water. I can imagine it would be quite cool at night. We also went up to this lookout point not too far away, and ate the cakes and tarts we brought.

 

 

 

We did a little grocery shopping in Toyotama, then hit up Ji’s, the best yakinikku place on the island. Damn, that place is good. They don’t cook the crap out of the meat, so it’s still juicy and tender when you eat it. The three of us ate and drank 8000 yen worth of food and drink (they always undercharge us, it seems; it was probably closer to 10,000 yen), then we parted ways. I drove all the way back down to Izuhara. It was harrowing at points, as the roads are very windy and everyone likes to drive with high beams on. I guess I don’t blame them, since it’s very poorly lit as well, but usually, it’s good ettiquette to turn off your high beams when you see another car heading your way. NO! They just leave them on. I started high beaming cars who had their high beams on as I passed. When in Rome …

 

 

 

At one intersection, the police were dealing with a crash. We thought they were doing breathalizer tests. This made me nervous, not because I was worried that I was drinking and driving, but rather because I’d have to stop the car, and start it again. Sure enough, the traffic cop stopped me cause the police car was backing up, and when he signaled me forward again, I stalled the car. Leanne started laughing, saying “You’re going to be walking the line, buddy!” which did nothing to assuage my anxiety. I started the car back up, and, THANKFULLY, got it going ok. I like it; it drives well, and the clutch is very forgiving. The only thing I don’t like is the spaces between all the gears are very small. Sometimes, if you’re not careful, you can shift way up or down unintentionally. Kind of dangerous, but I figure I’ll get used to it.

 

 

 

Sunday, I took all day to clean the kitchen. I washed ALL my dishes (and I mean all; I didn’t have any clean ones anymore), and washed the stove, behind the stove, the walls around my stove, and my work surfaces. I got rid of and consolodated food and seasonings, and cleaned the oven. It took the ENTIRE day. Damn cleaning.

 

 

 

I was having dinner with Aaron, and he called and told me that the Toyotas were throwing him a birthday dinner. He asked if I wanted to go to that instead. That was fine with me. The Toyotas had nabe, and it was delicious. I made Aaron stop at a bakery and picked up some pastries and cakes to bring. There was so much food; I walked out of there (or, waddled, I guess I should say) absolutely stuffed. They are such nice people. Their daughter is a bit strange however, or deathly shy, because she didn’t show her face the entire evening, despite the continued cajoling of both her parents, as well as cake. I don’t know when she ate.

 

 

 

Today, I have the final 3 speaking tests I have to give, and then I’m home free. I’m looking forward to Hokkaido, so this will be a long week of waiting. Ah well. Until next time.

 

February 17th, 2006

 

I decided to take my shower this morning, and it was NOT fun. My gas got shut off last night, so it was a cold, cold shower. Again, I had to sit in front of the heater for 20 minutes to get feeling back in my feet and hands. There’s more speaking tests today, so an easy day for me. I have to record the listening tests today after school though, so I’m not looking forward to that so much. I’m getting pretty fed up with Masuda sensei, my supervisor. Anytime I ask her something, she says “I don’t know” and tells me to ask someone else. She’s responsible for me. I can understand her being busy, and her not knowing some things, but lately, I’ve begun to question whether she knows anything about … well, anything. I mean, how does she live day to day if she doesn’t know how to do these things? For example, I asked her how to turn my gas back on (she did it last time by calling the gas company), and she said she didn’t know, ask another teacher. Would it take more than 5 minutes to call the gas company and ask them why it was turned off in the first place, and if they could please turn it back on? How can she not know how to buy car insurance? Well, truthfully, no one here does. It’s very strange. It’s like they just let other people lead them around to do these things. When I ask, they tell me “oh, usually the car company does that for us.” I asked Leanne, and she gave me all the details of where I can get insurance and the process. Ridiculous. I love how a foreigner can tell you these kinds of things, while a resident cannot. And it’s not just that they don’t know, they don’t even know where to look.

 

 

 

I think there was some trouble up here at the high school involving some of the first year students. Masuda sensei and Kurokawa sensei were in a tizzy when I left yesterday, and Masuda sensei was late to class and always on the phone with parents. I’ll have to ask some of my kids what happened. No one in the staff room will tell me. Man, this day is turning out great. Turns out the bento place forgot to bring my lunch. Well, at least they’re making and bringing it now. Maybe it’ll be hot and fresh. That’ll be nice. God, I’m hungry. Wow, that was fast. They brought it just as I finished typing “-gry”. No such luck on the hot and fresh though. I think it’s extra cold.

 

 

 

My plan this weekend is just to relax, and clean the house a bit. The kitchen is a mess, and I’ve really been craving some bread. I don’t really want to buy any, cause it’s all sandwich loaves. I haven’t been able to get to Mami’s or Belne. I’ll make some. February 16th, 2006

 

Well, I don’t really like to make fun of other nations – ever really – but this time, it is just too good to pass up the chance. If you have a chance, you should go to the ESPN Olympic hockey page, and check out the predictions of where the teams will end up. The writer has the “dark horse Americans” knocking off the Chzechs in the bronze medal game. HA! I’ve never read more biased writing. EVER. Well, maybe that’s not quite true, but it’s pretty funny. So imagine my amusement when I read today that the US team tied the LATVIANS 3 all. The Latvians. I mean, they have 2 NHL players: Arturs Irbe, who is no longer playing in the NHL, and Sandis Ozolinch, who was playing his first game back from knee surgery and is fresh out of substance abuse rehab. Good luck knocking off the Chzechs. The article I was reading (on excite.com, a US news service) cited the lack of time the players had to play with each other. It said that the Latvian team had since Feb. 5th to play together. Er… there’s a reason the Latvian team had since Feb. 5th to play together: they don’t make millions of dollars playing hockey EVERY DAY, and having their every need taken care of by an equipment and medical staff. Oh Americans. Even when they’re good, they can’t win at hockey. Take the WJC for example. The Americans were the favorites going into that one. They had some top notch talent. What happened? They didn’t even medal. Choke.

 

 

 

I thought it was also funny that Italy scored 2 goals on team Canada. How did that happen? I guess even a blind squirrel will find a nut once in a while. At least Canada won though. It would have been truly embarassing if they had even come close to a tie.

 

 

 

Today was my usual 3 classes. I’m doing speaking tests now, and classes are much easier. I don’t have to stand up in front of a class of 15-20 kids and do my little song and dance. I had my second year class as well, and Urata sensei walked in a told me he had something wrong with his stomach. He explained, while miming, that it had been coming out both ends today. What a delightful topic for class. He said he needed to go to the hospital, and feeling his pain (well, not quite, but I know what it’s like to have to go to the hospital and not being able to), I told him I’d be able to do the rest of the lesson myself. He left, and the class got a little unruly, but I kept it together until the end of the period. That class loves word searches, so it’s always handy to have one on hand. You can tell them that if they get through the class, they’ll have time for the word search.

 

 

 

At night, I went to an enkai for first year English teachers. I think we were feting Kamito sensei, perhaps because she’s finished her first year. It was really small, only 5 people. I think everyone else was sick or on vacation. It was, however, one of the most enjoyable enkais I’ve had yet. We went to this small bar/restaurant that had a pretty cool atmosphere. The walls were plastered with movie and music posters, comic book pages (I can’t believe they destroyed that many comics; they had the Death and Return of Superman on the walls of the bathroom!), and what looked like ads from magazines. The lighting was dark, except for some dark, flourescent blue lighting. There were maybe 3 tables – 2 big ones and a small one – as well as a bar. There was a lot of food for 5 people, probably because there was supposed to be 8. At the end of the evening, Kurokawa sensei was saying “Ok, what else do we want? We have all this cash!” It was pretty funny. He was also pretty drunk. He’s a figity drunk. He just doesn’t stop moving or eating. I got home around 10, to find my gas shut off for some reason. That means it’s going to be a cold shower. GREAT!

 

 

 

Tomorrow is Friday, finally. It’s been a long week for some reason. Next weekend, I head to Hokkaido, and I’m really looking forward to it. One of the teachers at the Chu has been up there 6 times, and she says it’s pretty awesome. The food is supposed to be really good. I just hope I can shake this cold before I go. It’s almost gone. Next week is also tests, so that means nothing to do for me. I guess I can read or study or write. School year is winding down fast. Not looking forward to the end. Till next time.

 

February 15th, 2006

 

At the Chu today. I’ve been writing so many opinion pieces that I haven’t really been updating about my life here very much. I’ll try to keep this update unopinionated. Today, I have 4 classes here for the first time in weeks. The classes are not demanding at all. Three of the the classes are just me reading for 45 minutes, and the other is a reading test, where I get to “evaluate” the kids (ie. give random marks for their speed, volume, pronounciation and attitude). How do you mark attitude anyways? I just give them all full marks for attitude as long as they don’t talk while someone else is doing their bit.

 

 

 

Yesterday was actually pretty normal. I guess I got 4 or 5 Valentines from the kids, almost all of which were cookies or sweets. It was kind of nice. I gave small boxes of chocolate covered orange peels and truffles to the teachers I work with and my friends on the faculty. I think they were surprised, since on Valentine’s day, usually women get men gifts. I found out that one month later, on March 14th, men are supposed to return the favour. An interesting way to do it, I guess. After school, Toyota-san, Aaron’s landlord, dropped by to pick up the paperwork for the car. If the stars align themselves, and the tides are right, I could have a car by this weekend. WOOHOO! That means I’ll be able to make my OWN Saeki runs. That’s big news, believe me. Leanne will probably be quite relieved.

 

 

 

Last Friday, I was going to head off the island that evening, but there were two parties: one for the residents of my apartment building, and a multiple birthday party for some ALTs. I was going to go to the enkai first, then the birthday party, but I was so tired after the enkai that I just went home and hit the sack. The enkai was pretty good though. I got to know some teachers who I had never really met before. We also got to eat motsu nabe, which is (and this took a long time to explain to me) innards. It’s like tripe, and intestine, and all that good stuff in a nabe. It was SO GOOD! It’s the best nabe I’ve had, by strides and bounds. Good lord, I’m not sure I’ve put something more delicious in my mouth since I’ve been here. Just remembering it now is making me salivate (that could also be that fourth period just started, and I need lunch NOW). I kept the map to the restaurant that Masuda sensei drew for me, in the event that I can drag someone else to go there.

 

 

 

This past weekend, I went to Fukuoka to pick up some warm stuff for Hokkaido. I head off the weekend after next for 4 days. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing the big snow festival, the one in Sapporo, but I’ll get to see another smaller one. It’s a pretty jam packed 4 days, but I think it’ll be fun. Fukuoka was great as usual. I went to Hawk’s Town to do some shopping, but it was kind of disappointing. I picked up some cooking supplies at the big department stores, and hit up Canal City for the winter clothes. It’s nice when you know your way around a city well enough to navigate easily without a map. I ate some beef (it’s been a while, curiously) at this Korean barbeque place, and I walked around the city, enjoying the feeling of being in a city again. I really like FUK.

 

 

 

Monday was pretty normal. I had my normal 3 classes. English club got cancelled, so I got off early. I picked up one of those physiotherapy balls in FUK, and I started doing excercises on it. I think I’ve gotten a little fat, especially since I can’t run or be very active. My knee still hurts. I will strive to eat a little healthier from here on out, although, if someone offers me some motsu nabe, I’m not going to pass that up. Until next time.

 

February 14th, 2006

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

So, I’m sitting here at the elementary school, mooching wireless from the staff room, and I’m reading about the Olympics. I keep reading about a number of things, some of which really get my goat (where did that saying come from?), and others which make me really think about the nature of the Olympics. Let’s start with the latter.

 

 

 

Is there a more consumate Olympian than Michelle Kwan? To ask why she went to Torino in the first place is like asking the US men’s hockey team why Chris Chelios is playing for them still, or why Steve Yzerman was still considered for the Canadian team. It’s the Olympics, the pinnacle of her sport. Do you really begrudge her a last shot at the gold, given all that’s she’s done for the sport and for US figure skating? What awaits figure skaters after their Olympic career is the dark and dreary life of ‘Stars on Ice’. Let’s face it, the US just lost someone who’s been a huge part of their Olympic teams for 12 years, and a face of the USOC. When she decided to withdraw from the competition because it would be unfair to her country and her sport, it makes you think about what the Olympics are all about. You think about the grace and dignity she has carried herself with, now and in the past. You think about the respect she has, for her sport, for her competitors, and for her country. You understand how much of an honour and a responsibility she believes it to be to represent the US, even if she might never, and likely will never, bring home the gold she so desperately coveted. She decided to leave Turin before the skating started, so that she wouldn’t be a distraction. Has any athlete understood and demonstrated the Olympic spirit better in defeat? It was speculated that the long opening ceremony in the cold air probably contributed to the aggravation of her injury. Would she have considered missing it? “It’s an honor to represent your country. I didn’t think twice about not going to the opening ceremony …. It’s the Olympics.” Now compare this attitude to the many Olympians the US is promoting these games.

 

 

 

Now, compare that attitude to that of the plethora of NHLers who decided to skip the Olympics because of minor injuries or on account of needing rest. I understand how many teams would not want their players playing in the Olympics. It is a short, intense tournament with little rest between games. The quality of play is as high as it gets, and emotions run higher than even the playoffs when you have your country rooting for you. That’s just a recipe for injury. But at the same time, I can’t understand why the NHL isn’t forcing clubs to make their players go. They are coming off a one year lock out, during which the NHL has become nothing but a pimple on the backside of the US sports entertainment market. They need all the good press they can get, and remind people that hockey is an exciting sport. What better venue to do that than the biggest international sporting event in the world, with national pride on the line? Add to that that this is the final year of a 3 Olympic agreement that allows NHL players to represent their country, and you’d think the NHL would want to send as many players as possible.

 

 

 

I think the NHL players should take their cue from the two Chinese figure skaters who, after a nasty looking spill, took to the ice again to finish their program. This, from CBC.ca: “Chinese skaters Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, who are known for their technically difficult routines, blundered on an attempted throw quadruple Salchow. Dan fell to the ice face first and slid into the boards. She limped off the ice with the help of her partner and talked to paramedics for two minutes. The pair then returned to the ice and completed their routine. ” Face first. Into the ice. And she still got up and finished the routine. Now, if a Chinese figure skater can suck it up and skate hard to win a silver (and she probably knew at that point she wasn’t going to win a gold), then why can’t the big, burly men of the NHL do it? Why? Because to some NHLers (I don’t want to say many, but …), the Olympics are just another tournament, a blip in the middle of the NHL season. Because they haven’t learned, like Kwan has, that the Olympics aren’t “about the gold, it’s about the spirit of it and about the sport itself.” Lemieux understood in 2002 when he played just 24 games the entire NHL season, but suited up for and played an integral part in the Canadian gold medal win. Michelle Kwan understood when she fought to get onto the team, and tried everything to compete in these Olympics. When the NHL announced that it would be participating in the Olympics, I was as enthused and supportive as anyone. Everyone knew the hockey would be good, and we haven’t been disappointed. But this year, it is as though few of the players care. If that’s the case, I think the NHL should take a page out of a real Olympian’s book and excuse itself gracefully from these games.

 

 

 

The other thing that’s really pissing me off is this whole scandal with the betting ring involving Rick Tocchet. NOT Wayne Gretzky. I don’t really understand why the media has latched onto this, but Gretzky isn’t implicated at all by the investigation. So why do they keep speculating if he’s guilty or not? Guilty of what? Trying to protect his wife? Who, I might add, probably only placed bets with this “gambling ring”. That’s not a crime. What is this sudden hostility against Gretzky? Hasn’t he been a good ambassador for the game? Didn’t he give his all during his career? And suddenly, the media is in a shit-slinging contest over something he had nothing to do with? Man, they’d be better off covering the bloody Olympics, or writing about Rick Tocchet, who actually IS implicated as a part of the gambling ring. I can’t tell you how many articles about this whole deal I’ve read online by different writers, many of which talk about Gretzky as though he’s some high roller/shot caller, gambling his fortunes on horses, football and dog races. What? He’s probably gambled about as much as I’ve had to drink. You think a guy who’s been in the public spotlight since he was a pre-teen would be stupid enough to think that if he were involved in a gambling ring, it wouldn’t get out? Come on, give the guy a little credit for his intelligence.

 

 

 

Alright, I’m done. Happy Valentine’s Day. I’ll probably spend mine watching the Olympics or some anime.

 

February 10th, 2006

 

Friday, at last. Last night, my English club got canceled, so I went home, had a snack, and helped Mike Park not make a big mistake. I went to Leanne’s community eikaiwa at 7:30 to watch and discuss Memoirs of a Geisha. To tell you the truth, the students don’t seem very interested in discussing the movie. It’s pretty clear that they didn’t like it for a number of reasons: there are Chinese actors playing Japanese people, the movie isn’t precisely accurate in terms of Japanese manner, and some of the sets are, apparently, more Chinese than Japanese. Leanne doesn’t seem to like it either, as she doesn’t like Zhang Ziyi, nor does she like the chinese accents that become apparent at times throughout the movie. I thought a lot of that was inconsequential. The story was great, the movie was beautifully shot, and to a westerner, the movie would be a great introduction into Japanese culture, despite the inaccuracies.

 

 

 

Frankly, I am surprised by the reaction of many Asians to the movie. If you don’t like the movie, you don’t like the movie, but so many I’ve talked to have evaluated the movie on nationalistic or ethnic terms. I think that’s incredibly small minded. Like Ken watanabe said when he was queried about the casting choices, the nationality or ethnicity of an actor makes no difference; it is talent that is king. If you pay to watch hockey in Canada, should the players only be Canadian? Should only the French cook French food? It would be our incredible loss if we really believed this. We would never have seen Pavel Bure, or gotten to eat food cooked by Thomas Keller. This is a land mark film, the first big budget movie made in Hollywood that has all Asian actors in the major roles. Could it have been cast with Japanese actors in all the roles? Of course. But In a cultural period piece with little action (I mean, of course, action like explosions and gun fights), can you justify using actors unknown to your primary market, the US? I think one has to realize how few well-known Asian actors there are in Hollywood who could play these roles. Try to name all of the big name Asian actors in Hollywood who are NOT primarily martial artists. Pretty difficult, huh? Perhaps there are more talented Japanese actresses, but they don’t have the same kind of star cachet as Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.

 

 

 

I think this underscores one of the primary reasons that African Americans and Jews have been able to bring their fight against racism to the fore in American society, while Asians have had difficulty in doing so. Blacks and Jews support each other; they support the art, the music, the work, the business, the way of life of other blacks and Jews. Asians, meanwhile, hold fast to their historical prejudices; it continually divides them, and keeps them from being united on any front. That’s why so few people know that Asian Americans actually got the right to vote a long time after African Americans did. That’s why so few people know about the trials and tribulations the Chinese “immigrants” (basically slaves) endured to build the railroad in the west at the lightning pace that they did back in the early 20th century. That’s why so few people know that the Japanese were kept in internment camps in Canada, and had their land and material possessions taken from them during World War II. The fact that Asians have prospered in North America exemplifies their industry, endurance and silent courage. Yet, if Asians wonder why the first big budget film in which all the main roles are played by Asians has to be the way it is, they only have to look as far as the nationalistic nonsense they try to pass off as criticism.

 

February 9th, 2006

 

Yo. It’s thursday today, and I have 3 classes as usual. It’s the beginning of the Valentine’s Day lesson. It’s an easy lesson for me, a fun lesson for the kids, and a cakewalk for the JTE. Not all the classes have it, so it is basically filler until the exams. It’s been bloody freezing here the last few days. The wind has been vicious, blowing so hard it makes the windows rattle and a high pitched whining sound throughout the halls. Today, it is relatively calm, with a slight breeze blowing over the school. The sun has come out as well, and the sky, for once, is a brilliant blue.

 

 

 

I’ve been sick since the end of last week. On friday, there was a big school run. It was akin to the wing run we had back at Saints. The students ran separated by gender. I think the girls ran 5 km, and the guys ran 6 km. The times were pretty good. The first girls started trickling in at 20 minutes, and the first guys came in at 23 or 24 minutes. I think the last guy came in at around an hour. It was, of course, the coldest day we’ve had here, and, being the good ALT that I am, I stood outside and cheered the kids as they came in. I believe that’s how I caught the cold. It really is strange here; they all wonder why so many kids are sick these days, but they want them – FORCE them – to run around in freezing wind in shorts and t-shirts. They also seem to forbid wearing any clothes on top of the uniform, which is ridiculous. I watch in horror as the kids set off for home in pants, a shirt and a blazer, or a skirt a shirt and a blazer. I feel sorry for the girls. Their legs must be freezing.

 

 

I was laid up in bed the entire weekend. It was hard, because lying on my back made my nose drain into my sinuses, but I couldn’t lie on my side because the futon is too thin; it’s too hard on my shoulders. I would get a few hours of sleep, then have to wake up and blow my nose. Not so good on the sleep. I’ve been going to bed pretty early for the last few days though, so it’s been ok. Yesterday was the 8th, the day the 3rd years were back at school for a day. Unfortunately, I was at the Chu, freezing my ass off in the unheated rooms with open windows. I was pretty disappointed, but I guess that’s life. It’s been a long week because of this cold. While my nose is almost clear, the coughing has started, and that’s pretty annoying. Still, there’s a lot to look forward to.

 

 

Tomorrow, I was going to head to Fukuoka, but there are two parties – one for my apartment complex and a multiple birthday party for some ALTs. Hopefully I’ll make it to both, but I’m still not sure. I’ll head to Fukuoka on Saturday morning, stay the evening and come back on Sunday. The week after next, I head to Hokkaido, and before that, God willing, I will have a car. I’m meeting a lot of resistance (or at least some unintended resistance [read: ignorance]) about the car. However, I think I will get one eventually. My knee will love me all the more for it. The Olympics start this weekend, and thus, so does Canadian Hockey’s Quest for Gold: Part II. The teams are a lot less talented this year due to injuries, so it should be more of a cakewalk. However, the Canucks lost to St. Louis tonight, so, obviously, anything can happen.

 

 

 

I really need to clean my apartment. Actually, just the kitchen. It’s a mess. The stove really needs a good cleaning, and the sink is full of dirty dishes. Man, it’s been a long week. Hope yours has been better. Till next time.

 

February 7th, 2006

 

Alright, today’s topic is the Canucks. Michael and I have been discussing a few of the moves that’ve happened in the NHL(most notably the deal that sent Weight to the Hurricanes), and we’ve been talking about what the Canucks need to do in order to become a better team. We both agree that the Canucks are going nowhere without better goaltending. I mean, come on, do you really think they’re going to make a Cup run with Alex Auld (who’s been solid, but not spectacular), and the Payton Manning of today’s goalie’s, Dan Cloutier? Take a look at any of the past 10 or 15 Cup winning teams, and they all have a fantastic goalie (or at least a goalie playing fantastically) in net. Khabibulin, Brodeur, Roy, and Hasek all served as the backbone of their teams.

 

 

 

The other conundrum that the ‘Nucks are in though (I contend at least), is their lack of depth on the wings. They have a dangerous top line, a mediocre second line in the Sedins and Carter (though improving steadily), but from that point down, things get pretty scary. Jarko Ruutu/Matt Cooke and Richard Park, then some combination of Alex Burrows, Josh Green, Lee Goren, Tyler Bouck, or some guy named Josef Balej. Ouch. While Ruutu, Park and Cooke are reliable checkers and good energy guys who will pop a few goals now and then, they can’t really be relied on to score regularly or step into roles on the top two lines. The Sedins basically disappear when they’re played physically, and without the twins, Anson Carter is about as useful as a pylon at practice. That leaves the top line to produce come crunch time, and, with no offence to my neighbor or his linemates, they aren’t talented enough to beat teams single handedly.

 

 

 

So what to do? To further add to this snaffu, our top players (Naslund, Bertuzzi, and Morrison, Jovo, Ohlund) are all pushing 30. This team’s core is not getting any younger. It’s about time to start renting talent to make a run or start rebuilding. I suggest we start rebuilding. The first step: get rid of Bertuzzi. I have never been a big fan of Bertuzzi. He’s always been a lazy player who is actually quite skilled. If he tried, he could be a powerhouse. The problem is, the guy plays most of the game with his head in the clouds. A guy who’s 6’4″, 240 pounds should throw his weight around a bit, make the defence pay for having played that puck, and head to the net with authority. Bertuzzi does neither of these things on a regular basis. Bertuzzi fancies himself a small man in a big man’s body. He has the stickhandling skills and the hands of a smaller player, but not the speed. Despite his lack of fleet feet, he insists on holding the puck way too long. Why bother playing with BMo and Naslund if you’re going to hang onto the puck? You have one of the slickest players in the league in Naslund, and a decent set up guy in Morrison playing on your line; why try taking the other team on 1-5? Above all that though, is his incredible laziness. This is a guy who dogs it back into his own zone consistently. This is a guy who floats through the neutral zone if he isn’t involved in the play. He has 94 penalty minutes this season. Most people use penalty minutes as a ridiculous indicator of “toughness.” However, in this new NHL, most penalties are obstruction penalties (read: lazy penalties). Look at the kinds of the vast majority of the penalties that Bertuzzi takes: holding, interference, holding the stick, hooking. These aren’t any indicator of toughness. They exemplify his laziness as a player.

 

 

 

So far, he’s only been useful on the powerplay, when he parks his gigantic ass in front of the net, and his more talented linemates bounce pucks off him, or shoot around him and through a hapless goalie. Over 40% of his points have come on the powerplay. But why pay a guy 5-7 million to do that? Heck, let’s go get the biggest guy we can get then, and park him in front of the net on powerplays. It worked for the Oilers in George Laraque. Last I checked, he wasn’t making more than a million, and that was before the new CBA. And heck, at least Laraque fought and hit. Many believed that this season, because it is no longer legal to clear the front of the net, Bertuzzi would dominate. That hasn’t happened so far. As of this writing, he is 43rd in the league in points – pretty horrendous for a guy who’s billed as your top winger, and one of the best power forwards in the league. There are 2 players with moreassists than he has points, and Ilya Kovalchuk and Jaromir Jagr are getting there with goals. There are 2 rookies and a defenceman either ahead of him, or tied with him in points, and he is being outscored by 4 rookies. Even if you consider that this rookie class has been stellar, Ovechkin is playing in Washington. Washington is horrible. He certainly doesn’t have the kind of talent that even Sidney Crosby has around him in Pittsburgh, and he’s got 66 points.

 

 

 

Bertuzzi has had one, maybe two good seasons. On top of all of this, he has the whole Steve Moore thing hanging over his head, that makes him useless when playing against Colorado. His market value right now is high. We could get a fantastic goalie and maybe a good winger for him. The problem that leaves the Canucks with is a hole on the top line. I would package Bertuzzi, Cloutier, a defenceman and maybe a draft pick for a star goalie, a winger who can play well on the top 2 lines, and some top tier depth players. Good luck finding that deal though. The closest thing that was rumored was Cloutier and Jovo for Luongo. Given Florida’s lack of top line talent, however, I would be induced into also taking Bouwemeester and a 1st round draft pick in exchange for Bertuzzi and some draft picks or prospects. I’d then flip maybe Salo or Ohlund (probably Ohlund) and the first rounder (oh, and maybe a prospect if I must) to another team for that winger and a Cooke/Ruutu-like player. That way, we’d get younger and better, although our defence would not be quite as deep. I am more enthused about our young defenceman than I am about your young forwards though.

 

 

 

Anyways, just a thought. E-mail me if you have comments. I love talking hockey and miss watching it.

 

February 2nd, 2006

 

This season in the NHL, there have been so many retirements, it’s been hard to keep track of who’s still in the league. Once in a while, someone important retires, and the league just stops for a second to bring the spotlight on that player. It happened when Messier retired earlier in the season. A short 10 days ago, it happened again.

 

 

 

Mario Lemieux was a special player. Even late in his career, after his comeback from retirement, he never ceased to show how spectacular a talent he was. I remember at the 2002 Olympics in the US-Canada game, where Lemieux was barrelling down on the 2 US defencemen. He deked the first one off balance, then pulled a move I still cannot imagine how to replicate. I can’t even do it with a tennis ball standing still. Let’s not forget that that was a man playing, essentially, on one leg.

 

 

 

That was what Mario did best though. Not deke defencemen out (although he was pretty bloody good at that), but rather make the impossible become possible. When you look at his career in its entirety, you cannot help but marvel. This is a man who has only played a full season once, and approached playing a full season only 4 other times; someone who had cancer, and did chemotherapy WHILE he played, and scored at almost a 3 point-per-game pace that season; someone who faced an incredible amount of injury and misfortune throughout his career, including a herniated disc in his back. One of my college friends, Ryan Murphy, has a herniated disc, and he had trouble standing up and walking, let alone going out to play hockey and scoring 123 points (in 59 games). When he retired the first time, no one could really blame him; and really, he retired with a point-per-game average over 2. It was a good time. I think we were all surprised and a bit skeptical when he came back 3 years later. Those feelings of trepidation, those feelings of “oh, another star athlete, back to take some of the luster off his star”, were quickly dispelled. I guess we could have anticipated the whirlwind that was to come if you look at the reasons he came back; he missed the comradery, he missed the game, and he wanted to show his son what kind of hockey player his dad was. That’s no small statement; when someone comes back claiming “I want to show my kid how good I can be,” either he’s bluffing, or you’d better watch out. In Lemieux, a man well-practiced in the art of understatement, we should have seen that this comeback wasn’t just a media stunt. In that season, Lemieux scored 76 points in 40 some-odd games. He was tied for the 26th leading scorer, having played HALF a season. Once again, you could only shake your head and wonder. You’d wonder how he does it. You’d wonder what planet he was from. You’d wonder what would be if he had played that full season.

 

 

 

So many have speculated what would have happened if Lemieux had the good luck that Wayne Gretzky enjoyed. I have nothing against Gretzky. He is the greatest player ever to play the game; the sheer weight of his statistics are more than enough evidence to convince me of that. But if you look at the amount of time Gretzky was injured during his career, if you look at the teams he played on, and if you compare those circumstances to those that Lemieux suffered, you just have to wonder what the Penguins’ captain could have done if he hadn’t been drafted to such a horrible team, or if he had enjoyed good health. Until a young kid named Jaromir Jagr came along, Lemieux had no playmates like Gretzky had Kurri, Messier, Anderson, Coffey and Lowe. I mean, can you even name the Penguins’ second line center during their back to back cup wins? I can’t. But I can name the top two lines on the Oilers of the 80s. I think a lot of people can.

 

 

 

I envy the fans of Buffallo. They got to see what would be the last game of Mario Lemieux’s playing days. What I would give to be at that game, knowing it would be his last. I’ve seen Lemieux play in person. I tried to ignore everyone and everything else when he was on the ice. He’s completely different than watching Gretzky. Gretzky seemed to come out of nowhere. He just materialized in the right spot way too often for it to be coincidence. Watch him without the puck, and you understand how he does it. He’s always skating, hard, to places on the ice away from the puck. You would watch him thinking to yourself “where is he going?” Minutes later, you’d understand. Watching Lemiuex, however, is like watching a seagull flying over the sea, seemingly caught in midair by the wind. You barely see the guy skate; he just glides around. No one hits him and he hits no one. He’ll be sculling his way through traffic like a 3 year old enjoying a sunday skate at the community centre, when all of a sudden, like that seagull diving for a fish, he’ll pounce on the puck, take a quick couple strides, and before you know it, it’s in the net. Where Gretzky was like a ninja, disappearing and appearing, Lemieux was more like a black hole of attention. You couldn’t help but watch him. I still remember the goal he scored against the Canucks that night. Short side, with Cloutier hugging the post square up to him. How do you do that? And why would you shoot there? I guess that’s why he’s Mario Lemieux, and the reason I’m sitting here writing about him, but I have a feeling not too many other NHL players would shoot there either.

 

 

 

When you look at Lemieux’s childhood, and his younger playing days, you realize that the astounding talent and that ironic aloofness have always been his mix. “By the time I was twelve, I knew I had a lot of talent” he said. At 18, just 6 years after realizing he “had a lot of talent” he dropped 282 points on the QMJHL. In 70 games. While the ‘Q’ isn’t exactly known for its tight defence, that’s 282 points. That’s like Kobe score 80 points per game for half the season – and 40 a game for the rest of the season. In his last game in major junior, just to show he had outgrown the league, he scored 11 points. I guess those are the kind of nights you have to have if you want to score 282 points. You can understand the claim then, that, in this “new NHL” where the emphasis is on speed and skill, a point-per-game Lemieux believes he can no longer “play this game at a decent level.” It is this pursuit of excellence, this desire to be the best or nothing at all, that burns Lemieux’s image onto my brain. It’s the same words that echo in Gretzky, or Jordan, or Niklaus, or Sampras, or any of the other greats in any other sport. In the end, it wasn’t a defender, or the business of the NHL, or old age, or lack of fire that took Lemieux from hockey. It was that his body had betrayed him one too many times, and that his pride would not let him be merely good. I guess I can say it no better than former Penguin’s owner Howard Ballard: “Remember him for his gifts, his grace and beauty on the ice. And most of all, remember his courage.” Farewell to the Magnificent One, a talent so superior that the NHL served only as his canvas.

 

February 1st, 2006

 

Here’s why I could never be a teacher: I care for the kids too much. Yesterday was the last day that the third year students at the high school showed up for school. While they don’t graduate until March, they have no more classes, no more tests, and thus, no more school. They are free until the graduation ceremony on March 1st. Some go straight to work, like most of my kids in classes 3-7 and 3-8 (the commercial classes), while others – those going to college and those not going anywhere – get a month off to hang around, and enjoy their young lives.

 

 

 

In the past 3 weeks, I’ve gotten to know a few of them very well. I gave out my e-mail address, and encouraged them to write to me when they have time. While many of them don’t bother, there are a few that write constantly, despite their (let’s face it) low ability in English. One student, Sayaka, has taken to leaving elaborately decorated letters on my desk. I like those letters; they offer me real insight into these kids’ lives. On top of that, everyday after school, there are a few kids who stay at school for awhile. Since the third years don’t participate in clubs anymore, they have a lot of free time after school. I’ve been going up there and talking with them, playing games with them, and playing cards. I’m really going to miss this all.

 

 

 

So yesterday, knowing that it was their last day, I went up early. There was an hour long cleaning time, because they had to clear the classrooms out for entrance exams. Most of the kids I know are in one class, 3-4, so I helped the class clean their room. Cleaning and joking, I couldn’t have felt closer to these kids than I did just then. We cleared all the desks to the side, and set up three desks in a row, facing one lone chair. The room was to be used for interviewing the incoming applicants. After the cleaning was done, they sat me down in the chair, and asked me all sorts of questions. Then we played this hilarious game, where everyone puts their fists into the middle, and you have to call out a number. Everyone can raise one or both of their thumbs when someone calls out the number. If the number of thumbs raised matches the number you call out, then you get to take one hand out. You’re safe if you have both hand out. Whoever is last, has to draw their name with their butt, while everyone else sings … something. There is nothing funnier than seeing someone trying to draw their name with their ass. It’s even harder in English, because the names are longer. In Japanese, each character (hiragana, katakana) is a consonant and a vowel, with the exception of the 5 vowel sounds and the ‘n’ sound. So, for example, Mizuki is three characters: MI ZU KI. In English, however, that’s 6 letters.

 

 

 

Then, just like that, the teacher came in, gave a little speech, and it was over. The students gave a little cheer, gave their final aisatsu (greeting/goodbye/thank you) to their teacher, and filed out of the room. The kids I knew were either heading home, or else to karaoke, to celebrate. Naomi, the girl who I played cards with everyday, stayed awhile with Sonomi and another friend. We talked for a bit, then they were going to head home. Since it was quitting time for me too, I walked down the mountain with them. They were heading south, towards the other end of town, so we parted ways at the bottom. Walking home in the light rain, I felt a little empty.

 

 

 

It’s an important and wonderful part of their life, high school graduation. I remember graduating from high school, and I remember having college and everything ahead of me to look forward to. It was a happy time, and a little bit sad. However, I never considered how my teachers felt. They, like us, had put time and effort into the endeavor, and along the way, in a way, we had become comrades too. In this case, I had never even taught these kids. I had put no time or effort into their education, other than to show up everyday for three weeks, and talk to them and beat them at card games. If we had become comrades, it was either based solely on the fact that I was the token foreigner, or else that we bonded on some level other than student-teacher, as friends. I think, in the end, it felt like I was losing some friends. They say that whenever Virginia Woolf finished a novel, she felt like the characters had died for her. To her they were real, and she had been so involved in their lives while writing the story that when it was over, she would fall into severe depression. In the end, it became too much for her. For me, these people were real. They were lively, uninhibited, funny, and enthusiastic, and on top of it all, they didn’t treat me like an outsider, but as an equal. They made me feel real. That’s not something I get from any of the other students or teachers.

 

 

 

I realized that my time here in Japan was beginning to end. At that moment, when I parted ways with the kids and headed north back to my apartment, it was as though I noticed the doors I had walked through 6 months ago beginning to close. I don’t want to leave. And yet, I know I cannot stay, that I must leave – as Masuda sensei said when I told her I wasn’t staying – “for my future.” I just wonder, as I look back on these past few weeks, how difficult it will be to return. Welcome to February. Only 6 months left.

 

January 23rd, 2006

 

Where to begin? It’s been a full month and a half since I last wrote an update (if you don’t count the new year piece). I don’t think I’ll include an account of my trip in this space; I’ll provide a separate page for that. I have a full 8 gigs of pictures, videos, and sound recordings from the trip, many of which are no good. They have to be sorted and processed still, and that will likely take me a good month. Still, wait for them, because there are some really spectacular things that I saw on that trip. A great big thank you to mom for coming out here to walk around SE Asia with me, even if she refused to eat off the street (although she broke down in Thailand. Finally).

 

 

 

The week before I left was RIDICULOUS. Around tuesday, I was pretty sick, and since there was so much to do, I just got sicker. On the weekend previous, I had hosted a few ALTs at my place, which is always great, but is a lot of work on Sunday. I still had to bake cookies, not only for my classes, but also because I got a lot of requests from other kids and teachers to bake cookies for their classes. I’m happy to do it, but BOY it took time and energy. On top of it all, I had to clean the place so that it’s not a filty mould village when I get back, and I had to wrap the numerous Christmas presents I had bought by thursday night. Oh yeah, and I had to pack, which is always a tough task to do.

 

 

 

On thursday night, I had a few teachers over for a little dinner. I roasted a pork tenderloin, and made a brandy cream sauce, and threw some lemon, garlic, rosemary roasted potatoes together. I served some asparagus on the side. I think it was good, but since I was so sick, I couldn’t really taste anything. The brandy sauce either had no flavour, or was WAY too salty, because I couldn’t taste it, and I kept adding flavouring. The one thing that was really good was the apple, ginger, rum sorbetto I had thrown together as an easy dessert. That went over well. Ah well, it was fun, even if it was hard to understand everything. Yagi sensei, Tomomatsu sensei, and Kamito sensei came over. It was kind of funny to see Kamito sensei in a social situation; she’s way different than she is at school. Much more open.

 

 

 

Anyways, after that, it was kind of a rush to finish things, and finish up school. At the airport on friday night, I saw Leanne; we were on the same flight to Fukuoka, which worked out really well, since she showed me this really cheap hotel that we stayed at for the night. In the morning, we took a cab to the international airport, and caught our flights.

 

 

 

I got back on the 6th of January. I was BEAT. In fact, by the time I got into Cambodia, I was beat. Tromping around Ankor took a lot of will power; I was tired and my knee was sore almost the entire time. I checked into the Green hotel, had a good dinner, and pretty much kicked it for the evening. The next day, I got up and checked out early. I left my heavy heavy bags with the hotel. I offered to help the little girl behind the counter, but she said it was ok. The poor girl came out and tried to lift them to take them into the storage room, but just couldn’t do it. I wandered around Fukuoka, wondering what I should do. I figured since I could take any plane back that I wanted to, I would just wander around, soak up some Japan again before I headed back to the island. I did a little shopping, ate some pretty decent food, and relished in not having to safeguard my wallet and belongings. It was great. Yodobashi had this cool sale on. At Yodobashi, you get a card, and you get 10 percent of your purchase back in points, which are used just like yen. Well, at the time I was there they were giving an extra 3 percent back, as well as upping the percentage you get back from everything. So I shopped there for a long time, thinking of what I wanted. I already had a good 5500 points, and I figured it would be a good time to use it. I eventually decided on a food processor, which I’ve always wanted. It’s fantastic! I made curry with it, and smoothies, and a strawberry semifreddo that was really good. But more on that later.

 

 

 

Around 5 PM, I got tired, and headed to the airport. At least that way, I wouldn’t have to worry about lugging my luggage for a while. I got their early enough to get on the flight that was leaving in 15 minutes, so I dumped my bags, and hopped on the flight. It was uneventful, although I saw a few students on my flight. They all said hello, and we chatted for awhile. That made me feel like I was home. When I got back to Tsushima, I caught a taxi back to the apartment, and thankfully, it was fine. No mould, no bugs, and it even smelled ok, like Pinesol. Unpacking was a bit of a chore. I had accumulated so much stuff over the course of my trip that finding places to put them all was a challenge. I love my new mortar and pestle though, despite the difficulty we had bringing it home.

 

 

 

I had the next couple days to myself, during which I relaxed and got back into the swing of things here in Tsushima. School started Tuesday, and there was a short opening ceremony, I didn’t have any classes until thursday, so I planned that lesson the whole day. Wednesday was more of the same. Since the junior high hadn’t started yet (or wasn’t ready to have me come), I stayed up at the high school and planned. The students had tests all day. I started teaching again on Thursday. By Friday, I was thoroughly beat. On Friday night, Allie came down to Izuhara because she was heading off the island. She got in a car accident on the way to the airport, only to find that her plane got cancelled. She was going to take the very early ferry to Fukuoka the next morning, so she came over with Leanne. We had some food, and talked a bit. Since it was late by the time we were done, Allie stayed over and watched the OC and movies until about 430 in the morning, at which point, I drove her to the ferry terminal. It wasn’t so bad; I got to use her car all weekend. Strangely enough, I didn’t really use it at all, only to drive over to Leanne’s place to get a bagguette. The bakery that Leanne’s land lord runs makes some killer bagguettes.

 

 

 

Saturday evening, I had a whole bunch of ALTs over as a sort of welcome back to the island party. I made dinner, and we showed each other some pictures, and talked about the various places we went. I made that rum, apple and ginger sorbetto again, except it had WAY too much rum. I think I was actually drunk for the first time ever, because I was feeling a bit tired. Of course, that might just be because I stayed up all night the night before. Sunday was a day of rest for me. I didn’t even clean up from the night before. I was beat. I got up at noonish.

 

 

 

Last week was a normal week. Nothing really special. I put in an order at the meatguy.jptheflyingpig.com, and the Foreign Buyers Club. Most of it came on Sunday, yesterday. Truly incredible. I was able to get some pancetta, some proscuitto, some veal bones, some nice cheeses, a duck, and a big thing of sunflower oil from the meatguy. He screwed up my order, since he sent me a pork TENDERloin instead of the entire pork loin I ordered, so I’ll have to clear that up with him. HOwever, the driver didn’t collect my money (COD), so as of now, it’s free. I can’t wait for my FBC stuff to come. I ate so much muesli on my trip in SE Asia that I crave it. At least it’s a fairly healthy craving. The big challenge was finding fridge and freezer space for it all.

 

 

 

I invited Allie, David and Leanne over on Saturday to come over and learn a few recipes. They cooked a mushroom pasta, some stirfried spinach, and chicken and potatoes in a bag. It was pretty good. I think I would probably break the bag open and reduce the sauce first before serving the chicken, but it was pretty good. Just a little winey. For dessert, I tried my hand at a strawberry semi freddo, which turned out really well. I can’t help but wondering why strawberries are in season here, but they are, since you can get them EVERYWHERE on the island. I think they’re local too, which really baffles me, because it’s so bloody cold here, I can’t imagine strawberries growing anywhere on this island. We had fun, and David slept over. We played computer games till about midnight, then hit the sack. We were going to go hiking the next day.

 

 

 

We woke up yesterday pretty late. We weren’t going to leave until 1ish, since the Flyingpig stuff and the meatguy stuff were coming sometime between 9 and noon. I made some breakfast while we waited. I took some stuff to the drycleaners, and Leanne and Allie went to use the coin laundry (Allie for clothes, Leanne for bedding). David and I went up to Geio, where I picked up some hangars, and a few other things at the 100 yen store. I tell you, I wish they had dollar stores like that at home. You can get EVERYTHING there. I got some really nice, heavy, thick tumblers for … you guessed it, 100 yen. They’re the equivalent of something you’d get a Bed Bath and Beyond or the Pottery Barn for 3 or 4 bucks each. Instead, I’m getting them for something like 85 cents.

 

 

 

We came back down to meet the girls at Leanne’s place. From there, we went to the little cafe up in the mountains of Kuta, the town south of Izuhara. That place is really good. This lady runs it who is the wife of a wealthy doctor or dentist on the island. It’s kind of her little pet project. The menu consists of two lunch sets, a Japanese one or a Western one, and they are whatever she feels like cooking. They also have a good selection of crepes, coffee and drinks. The food is really good, the servings are big, and best of all, it’s not expensive. We had a leisurely lunch there, then headed back up to Izuhara. We did a short hike up one of the local mountains (Ariake? Shiratake? I have no idea), and were back around dinner time. My knee was KILLING ME! Bad idea to go hiking. Allie and David headed back up north, and Leanne had dinner with a friend, so I was on my own. It was alright though, I got to relax and ice my knee.

 

 

 

Today I have 3 classes, and English club. I set up this pen pal program between my English club kids and Laura, Kevin and Alan back at home. I give the kids the letters from home today, so I wonder what their reaction will be. This update has been pretty long, so I’ll stop here. I’m tired of writing. Until next time.

 

December 31st, 2005/ January 1st, 2006

 

Happy New Years! It’s about 11:30 PM on New Years eve, and I’m lying here in bed in the Hoi An Hotel (yes, I’m in bed at 11:30 on New Years; another exciting year end in the life of Ryan). It’s that time again, when I reflect on the year that was, and consider the year that’ll be.

 

 

 

And what a year it was; or rather, what a year it should have been. 2005 was supposed to be a big deal for me because of my graduation from college. In last year’s piece, I wondered about how it would be to part from all my friends, and the familiar places in and around Claremont. In a way, it was sad, knowing that my days as a student were over. Yet at the same time, it was a bit anticlimatic; I had braced myself so much for that moment when it would all hit me – that I wouldn’t see some people again, that I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of work I had been doing anymore, that I would be replaced at Pomona College by a freshman class smarter and more accomplished than the last, and that … well, that it was over – but that moment never came. Unlike when Aubrey left Pomona, I guess I was ready to go too, and that made it easier to let everything go.

 

 

 

Yet when I think back about my memories of Pomona, I realize that there is a lot to be sad about. Many people claim that college is the best part of your life; that it just gets harder and more boring from there on out. I realize now – even while teaching English in a country half way around the world and traipsing around south east Asia – that that’s true. I will rarely have the chance, ever again, to be as intellectually, socially or athletically stimulated as I was while I was at Pomona. Some of the unique and incredible people I’ve met there will fade in my memory until I won’t be able to recall anything but their name, and perhaps not even that. When I think of these things, I don’t get sad so much as nostalgic, and maybe I feel a little melancholy. Perhaps all growing up means is getting jaded to this kind of thing.

 

When I think about the future, I feel much more trepidation. For some, the past haunts their present; the future gives me much more trouble. What do I do? Where do I go? More importantly, what do I WANT to do? That is the billion dollar question for everyone at some point in their life, and I don’t believe that very many people ever answer it. It seems to me that most people push themselves into believing that they want something, then wake up one day and realize that they’d been fooling themselves all along. I envy those with real passion, those Jamie Olivers, those Thomas Kellers, who are good at what they do because they love it so much. What is my passion? And do I have the courage to take that path and follow it to it’s fruition, even if it means sacrificing other things that are important to me (money comes readily to mind …)?

 

 

 

Of course, these are the things I worry about every year, and each year they are both resolved and unresolved; each year I find some way to get by, but always, there is another crisis on the horizon. I get the feeling life is like this, just repeated variations on a theme, until you’re so tired of that damn theme that you can’t wait to cash in your chips and check out of the Life Hotel. In seven months, I will return home. That means leaving all the friends I’ve made here, and this wonderful country. For all it’s quirks, for all the ammorality, hedonism, and commercialism, for all it’s outdated traditions, strict family structures, and gender inequalities, I’ve grown to love Japan even more than when it was, for me, just the land of raamen, cutting edge technology, and anime. It’s no longer the great unknown. I’m glad I came on this program, even if I’m out here in the boonies teaching kids who, likely, will never make it off this island. Japan has been everything I expected it to be and more. If nothing else, I won’t look back when I’m fifty, and think to myself, I wonder what it’s like …

 

 

 

When I look back at my other year end pieces, I find myself easily identifying a theme, some construct – such as time, or war – through which I pull the year’s events. This year, there is no theme really; I guess you could call the theme life. Being in Vietnam has opened my eyes to the survival instinct of humans; when put up to the task of taking care of themselves, humans usually come through. I can sense it in the desperation that each merchant bargains with, and the pleading eyes each child begs with. And in a way, I can feel it waking up inside of me, looking forward to July and preparing me for imminent danger. Let’s hope that we can all live our lives with such desparation, that we grab onto and hold each moment like the Vietnamese (and yours truly) hold onto their dong. For one last time, congratulations to the class of 2005, no matter the school, and here’s to the future and the new year. May we bring our passion to the world.

 
Christmas Wish List – Japan Edition

December 9th, 2005

 

Yo. I’m finished my second to last class week of the year. I’m having so much fun here that time is just FLYING! I like the students, and I like the classes, and the teachers. I like most of the ALTs, and my living situation is pretty good. The only thing I don’t like is how weak the bloody yen is compared to the USD and CAD. That, and the grocery store. On a good note, however, I read that Japan has lifted its ban on US beef. I don’t know if that will mean any cheaper meat in the grocery store, but that DOES mean I can order online again! WOOHOO!

 

 

 

Tuesday night was interesting. I got home, and Leanne picked me up to go to the 100 yen store/video rental place, and Saeki. I picked up a few things at the 100 yen store, then wandered over to the video store … AND BOUGHT A PSP! I had been doing some research into the price of the unit, and it turns out that this store was the cheapest of anywhere I could find it! I was so excited. However, when I got back to my place, I saw a big, fat REGION 2 mark on it. I did some research, only to find that while games are region free on the PSP, UMD movies are region encoded. SUCKS! This PSP’s functionality is cut in half, basically (I mean, who’s goign to use it as a music player?!). Urg. That ruined my evening. I’ll have to return it, and order one from the States. It’s just that shipping is exorbitant! Maybe my mom can bring it over with her…

 

 

 

Margaret was going to come over later to bake some cookies for Leanne’s eikaiwa, but before that, I made dinner. I threw together a curry that was pretty good. Maybe a bit too mild (needed more chilies), but good all the same. It had green onions, ginger, garlic, fresh chilies, parsley, cilantro, lemon zest (couldn’t find limes), lemon juice, coriander, garam masala, and some cumin, all blended into a paste. I smeared that on some chicken, and then cooked it all with coconut milk. Mmmmmm…. Margaret came over to make oatmeal cookies and flashcards for Leanne. We chatted for awhile. She’s really nice. I think we would have gotten along quite well; we both like cooking and food. After she left, I tidied up, and hit the sack.

 

 

 

The Chu on wednesday was a pretty normal affair. For the first time in a while, I had 6th period class, so I couldn’t leave early. That was ok though, since it made me sit down and do some other work that needed doing. My first Christmas lessons would be on Thursday, so I prepared for that. I had written on the lesson plan that I would bring Christmas treats for all my students. I went and found a cookie recipe. Of course, this means making cookies EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK. Aiya. However, I will be really good at making cookies by the end of the Christmas lesson. Well, these particular cookies at least.

 

 

 

Wednesday night, I went to an enkai for Kamito sensei. I THINK she had an evaluation on wednesday, and I’m not really sure how it went. From what I gathered at the dinner, one of the evaluators had the hots for her, and his evaluation was rife with this … how shall we say … admiration. All the teachers passed it around and had a good chuckle. When I asked her how it went, she kind of shook her head, and laughed in a wry sort of disappointed way, so I don’t think it went well. Ah well. Nothing like crab nabe to cheer you up. It was really good. We also had this karaage that had cashew nuts on the outside. That was excellent. Everyone spoke lots of Japanese, so it was a bit hard to follow, but my brain was tired, so it was kind of nice to just shut it off. The only problem was when someone would try to include me, and I’d have to come back out of standby. Oog. I think I need to get more sleep. The party finished up around 10. It wasn’t very rowdy, and was attended by mostly English teachers, and Kim sensei, for some reason. She’s the ex-Korean ALT who chose to take a pay cut and stay. She’s tri-lingual, however, and speaks perfect Korean and Japanese, and passable English. Very impressive. She’s kind of scary though. Not like … big scary, but just not very friendly looking. I dunno. She’s nice though. I came home and baked cookies for the next day. They turned out well. I ate maybe two or three, and that had me running for milk. They’re chocolate chocolate chip, and very rich. And soft. You know what that means: BUTTER!

 

 

 

Thursday went well. The Christmas lesson is a hit (I think mostly because everyone gets cookies). One girl offered to marry me if I made her the cookies all the time. Ah, my crazy first years. The third year class was actually not too bad, and the Korean class was ok too. I will really miss these kids when I go. At lunch these days, I usually eat quickly, then go hang out in the first year rooms. I’ve made a lot of friends in class 1, Kurokawa sensei’s class. Since he asked me often and early to come to his class, I’ve kind of hitched up with them. There are some real characters in the class. Friday was pretty good as well. I only had a few classes, and I had the afternoon free. I went down to class one for lunch, and found out that those students in music class were having a little concert during 5th and 6th period. Since I didn’t have anything to do, I went with them to watch and listen. It’s pretty incredible. They have to stand up in front of the class and sing and play instruments. Most of the groups were fantastic. There was one group that was laughably atrocious. They had everyone laughing. Nakamura sensei was actually rolling on the ground in the back of the room. I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t help it. They were trying to be funny, I think. There was one guy with a tamborine, and one morracca, and he was doing tricks like playing the morracca while putting his arm through the tamborine, all while completely off beat. The guy on the guitar sounded like me playing the guitar (not good), and the singing … man … it was gold. I liked the concert, and I got to practice a little guitar too.

 

 

 

Friday night, I stayed in, and threw some clothes and an extra bag into my big backpack. I was heading to Fukuoka for some Christmas shopping. I hadn’t found a hotel yet, but I was confident that I would be able to pick something up when I got there. Japanese people book hotels like they book flights: 5 at a time. Of course that means on the day, there is a lot of open rooms for the taking. The only problem is that it’s usually cheaper to book online. I told my plight to Masuda sensei, and she had taken it upon herself to help me find a hotel with Nakamura sensei, the music teacher with big hair and loud shirts. I got a phone call on Friday night, telling me that they managed to find me a hotel, but it was expensive. Almost 9000 yen! It was a really nice gesture, but 9000 for a room in Tenjin is highway robbery, unless it’s a really nice hotel. I think it was a business hotel, which means a box for a room, with a hard bed, and a small bathroom. Those usually go for around 5000-6000 yen. Anyways, at least I had a back up.

 

 

 

I had found out that Yagi sensei, my neighbor, was going to Fukuoka too with Tomomatsu sensei, the special ed. teacher. We were all booked on the same jet foil, so I caught a ride with them to the ferry terminal in the morning. They helped me fill out all the forms, and it was a pleasure to travel with some people. This being the first time I had ridden the jet foil to Fukuoka, I was a little nervous that it would be like the time I came back from Korea, but it was a beautiful day, cold, crisp and calm. The ride was uneventful; the other two caught some sleep, while I listened to music. We saw a few people we knew on the boat, including an ex-student of Tomomatsu sensei, who was mentally handicapped and (I think) unable to speak, but he was travelling quite competently by himself. It was very impressive. She must be a good teacher.

 

 

 

We got to Fukuoka, where we disembarked, and headed to BIG (or BIK, I’m not sure) Camera, another gigantic electronics store. Unlike Yodobashi, which was in a very big and very tall building, BIG camera was in the the ground floor of several smaller buildings, so it spanned a number of blocks. We went from there to Canal City for lunch. The two teachers showed me something I (and probably Christopher) will never forget: The Canal City Ramen Stadium. It was pretty incredible. Since it was sponsored by SEGA, and you have to go up several floors, I thought it was a big arcade. Imagine my surprise then, when I was coming up the escalator, and saw a HUGE circular room with many stores along the sides. Each was a different ramen shop. It was like the ramen shops I remember in Tokyo from spring break 2000: you ordered by throwing your money in what looks like a ramen vending machine, punch the buttons of what you want, then go into the restaurant where they seat you, and serve you. It was great.

 

 

 

After lunch, we parted, since they were going to Beauty and the Beast, and I had to get down to do some serious shopping. I don’t remember too much after that, except that when I got on the ferry again, my extra bag was COMPLETELY full, and so was my big backpack. And remember, I only brought an extra pair of underwear, a new pair of socks and another t-shirt. Otherwise, the rest was Christmas presents for both family, friends, and … well, me. The two teachers were pretty amazed. I wasn’t really; I had approached it like a mission, and I spent 8 hours on the first day shopping, and 8 hours on the second day shopping. It was like a job. Meals were quick and inexpensive. At the end, my knee hurt something bad, and my feet and legs were tired, but … well, that’s how it is. Christmas is always a difficult time of year for me. I’m notoriously bad at getting people gifts. Leanne had warned me not to get personal things for the teachers, and that kept ringing in my head while I was browsing. I was going to get Kamito sensei some beads, but again, my lack of knowledge about jewelry making stopped me. I was going to get Masuda sensei something to help her relax (she’s very high strung), but I couldn’t figure out what to get her. In the end, I got all the women stuff from LUSH, some candies and some tea, and all the men, I got some booze, and some candy. For Urata sensei, I got him some tea, since he really likes Chinese tea. I chatted up this tea vendor in the basement of one of the department stores, and she gave me a discount because I was Chinese. I think she was too. That’s the first time that’s ever – EVER – happened to me here, that I’ve gotten a discount BECAUSE I was a foreigner. I bought a few things for myself, but all small things, like a spatula, a whisk, and some supplies like oil.

 

 

 

This week has been tough. Each night, I’ve had to make those cookies. While I’ve gotten the process down well, and making them has become almost habit, it still takes a good hour and a half to 2 hours. That really cuts into my night. I think I’m getting sick too. I guess that’s the signal that I should stop writing, and go to bed. Alright, till next time, but I ain’t promising it’s going to be anytime soon. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Years, if I don’t write before then. Take care, and have a warm, safe, and happy holiday season.

 

December 6th, 2005

 

Hello! It seems as though I leave my updates for awhile, then get back on it. It’s been a pretty good weekend. That is, except for Thursday evening. I thought, since I needed space in my freezer, that I’d get rid of the duck carcass that’s been in there for awhile, and make stock. Well, stock takes a long time to make on top of the stove. But, unbeknownst to me, my gas has a safety mechanism that shuts off all the gas if the stove is on too long. I guess this is in case someone leaves the stove on, or the hot water running. WELL! Suddenly, around midnight, the gas poops out, and I’m left with half made stock, and a whooooole bunch of cold water. That means I can’t do the dishes, I can’t finish the stock, and I ALSO CAN’T TAKE A WARM SHOWER. It was horrible. I had to take a shower in cold water. Remember that scene from Batman Begins when Bruce falls through the ice while training with Raz (which was filmed in Iceland, interestingly …)? That’s what I felt like. I had to sit in front of my kerosene heater for a couple of hours before I could even think about getting to sleep. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

 

 

 

Friday, I went to Nishi Elementary, which is up in Mine. I drove up with Leanne. When we got there, we were greeted by these little first years. We were pretty surprised when one little girl said “Hello! Nice to see you again [everyone else had been up here for the Halloween party; I was in Nagasaki for the conference]!” We asked her some questions, and she had no problem responding! I was blown away! This was a first year! Maybe 6 or 7 years old! Anyways, we went inside, and waited for everyone to show up. We were ushered into the gym, where 4th, 5th, and 6th years were waiting for us. The activity of the day was mochi making! It was a lot of fun. we were split up into groups (both ALTs and kids), and we did a few ice breaking activities to start. Then, we got thrown together in bigger groups. Our group made mochi first, on big, blue tarps in the gym. Big batches of the pounded, glutinous rice were brought to us in bowls, where 1 or 2 obaa-sans (old ladies) used their expert hands to make fairly large balls. These balls were doused in a little bit of rice flour, and then given to us. We would pick up a bit of anko (red bean paste), and push it into the middle of the rice ball. We’d seal it up, then roll the mochi in our hands until it formed a nice smooth ball. Most of the ALTs made what Leanne called “special needs mochi,” but the kids were pretty good at it. We got better too. After we ran out of Anko, we move on to ones with peanut powder. We even got to eat a few. They were goooooood. I love the mochi.

 

 

 

The groups switched then, so we got to do some of the pounding. There was a fairly narrow and tall stone bowl outside, where some of the mothers would load up freshly cooked glutinous rice. On a milk crate nearby, a big metal bowl full of water stood, and in the bowl were large, wooden mallets. These were hammers that consisted of 3 pieces: The head, the shaft, and a small wooden wedge that held the head onto the shaft. It looked and seemed dangerous. That didn’t stop me or the kids though. I tell you, there’s something about pounding the crap out of rice that is therapuetic. The second time I tried it, I really got into it. The peg kept flying out, prompting one of the moms to start screaming every time it happened. It was comical. The idea is basically to have two people on opposite sides of this stone bowl, each with one of these large wooden mallets. When the glutinous rice hits the stone bowl, they alternate pounding it with their mallets, as fast as they can. You’re supposed to make an “oy” or a “hoy” noise when you pound, so it kind of sounds like “oyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy.” It’s funny to see.

 

 

 

After taking our frustrations out on the rice, we were all slated to have lunch with the kids. I had lunch with the third grade class. It was a small class, only about 8 or 10 kids. And there was one kid who was … HILARIOUS! He was a fat little kid with the chubbiest cheeks I’ve seen since I’ve been here. He had a little pot belly too; in fact, he would rest his bowl of rice on his belly while he was eating. But the best thing about him: his Coke bottle glasses. And I don’t mean thick glasses. I mean Coke bottle glasses. Imagine, if you will, a glass coke bottle. Now take off the bottom. Do this to another coke bottle. Fuse those two bottoms together, and THAT was how thick his lenses were. I tried them on, and it was like wearing beer goggles. That kid was awesome. We got to go play on the playground for awhile afterwards. Whenever he and I saw each other, we’d stare at each other for a bit, then I’d chase after him to try to take his glasses. That was especially comical, because he’d be pumping his fat little sausage-like arms and legs, squealing as he went. Ah, hilarious.

 

 

 

The day was pretty enjoyable. Allie drove me down, since Leanne was headed to Fukuoka. We stopped at the 18 Bank for me to send some money home, and the airport to pick up Rakesh, who came for a visit. I offered to cook them dinner, so we stopped at the Saeki on the way down as well, to pick up a few things. They dropped me off at home, where David was already waiting in my apartment. He came down with Fionna, who was going to catch a ferry off the island from Izuhara. The bank took FOREVER. In fact, they closed while they were still dealing with me. I was the only customer left. It was ridiculous. I also found out that Masuda sensei called the gas company to clear up the whole mess, so my gas was back on. I’ll have to get her something nice for Christmas.

 

 

 

David and I worked in the kitchen, while Allie and Rakesh went down south to Tsu Tsu, to Ayumedoshi (sp?) and the southern tip of the island. I made a sea food stew, some focaccia bread, and for Rakesh, who is a harsh vegetarian, I threw together a braised leeks and sauteed mushroom cream sauce over pasta. I think Rakesh’s pasta was the best of the three, but the focaccia turned out ok too. The seafood stew was a bit overcooked, especially the shrimp. For dessert, I poached some pears in red wine and rum. Being the impatient being that I am (and due to the fact that I started the dessert pretty late), I didn’t so much poach as boil the pears, but it tasted ok over Rum and Raisin ice cream. Allie and Rakesh left with a serious food coma, which seems to happen to everyone who swings through my place. Dave and I hit the sack.

 

 

 

Saturday was a lot of fun. There was a tri-school teachers’ recreation day (sounds kind of like the Goblet of Fire, huh?). There are 3 high school’s on the island, and they all congregated at Tsushima High school for some friendly competition and fun. Dave and I woke up fairly early, grabbed some breakfast, and walked to the high school. We got there just in time, around 10AM. The Tsushima High School teachers had a pretty poor showing; I was a little disappointed. However, it was EXCELLENT compared to the Toyotama high school attendance. I think they only had 3 teachers. They’re 45 minutes away, and I’d say it’s understandable, except the Kamitsushima high school turnout was INCREDIBLE! They had enough for two teams! And they’re 2 hours away! Ridiculous. The games were badminton and mini volleyball. Even though I couldn’t really move, I played. It was all for fun, right? I got paired with the school nurse in badminton (who’s played, maybe – MAYBE – 3 times in her life), so we got beaten in my first game. We actually could have won, if I hadn’t stopped scoring when it was 12-11 us. For my next game, I got paired with my Kyoutou sensei, who is an older gentleman, but he’s pretty good. The team we were playing was the Toyotama team, but since they had so few people, we loaned them some of ours. Turns out that two of our best badminton players were part of the group that we loaned them. And we were playing those two guys. We got our asses handed to us 15-4 in the second game.

 

 

 

The mini volleyball was actually pretty fun. I’m not a big fan of volleyball; I consider it one of a very few sports that I can’t play with some semblance of coordination. For mini volleyball, we used a big, rubber ball, like a dodgeball, but beachball sized. It was good fun. I think the Kamitsushima team won the volleyball (they had the volleyball coach who was spiking and stuff), as well as the friendly little tournament between the schools, but more importantly, we all had fun. It was a good time.

 

 

 

Afterwards, we all drove to one of Tsushima high school’s teacher’s places, where there was a big blue tarp, some picnic tables and 3 grills set up in the parking lot. There was a nice little barbeque ready to go. They had abalone and, I think, conch straight from the sea to our table. They grilled the conch still in the shell, which you could dig out and eat, and the abalone was prepared sashimi style. It was quite good; crunchy and chewy at the same time. Both of those things are wildly expensive, so I was lucky to be chowing down with the teachers. And for free! The organizing teacher, when I found out about the get together from Masuda sensei, said there’d be no charge for me. Sweet! There were also chicken wings, beef and pork, as well as some grilled veg. It was a good time. I played with the kids mostly, or talked to Yagi sensei, Dave, or his supervisors (who speak English; I met them at the conference). Kids have a strange attraction to me. It doesn’t matter that I speak the equivalent Japanese of a 3 year old; they always stare at me for awhile, then come over and just start playing with me. Even if they’re shy or embarassed, they always end up hanging off of me. I don’t understand it. Around about 4PM, people started heading back home. Dave hitched a ride with one of the other Kamitsushima teachers, so he left. About 10 people stayed, however, and sat on the blue tarp, drinking and chatting. The teachers who lived in the building kept bringing out more and more blankets and jackets, as it was getting increasingly colder. Even though I coudln’t understand everything that was going on, I still had a good time. Yagi sensei, Tomomatsu sensei, and Maiguma sensei (who I had, embarassingly, been calling Mic sensei [that’s what it sounds like when they say it fast, ok?!]) did their best to keep me involved in the conversation, or to translate for me. I was very grateful. Everyone was drinking pretty heavily. They had a couple of those HUGE bottles of Sake or shochuu, beer, and some other hard liquor. I was drinking juice, and trying to keep up with the lightning speed of Japanese conversation. Halfway through, one of the teachers sent his kids to the store for some snacks. He gave them a couple thousand yen, and told them to go as a group. Now, keep in mind, these kids are maybe 7, most of them younger than that. It was no suprise then, when they came back with only a few snacks, and happily munching away on a bunch of candy they had bought instead. Hahaha. Maiguma sensei went back with them, and got some proper snacks.

 

 

 

Around 5PM, we all piled into cabs, and went to a karaoke place on the river road in town. We proceeded to sing almost 4 HOURS of karaoke. Now, I know you’ve all probably sung Karaoke before. But not like the Japanese do it. For one thing, they’re all really good at it, and not at all embarassed (they don’t have much to be embarassed for…). Secondly, the karaoke programs they use (the thing that displays the words and stuff) keep stats on the current singer, such as tone, rythm, volume, vibrato, and a few other things, and gives you a score out of 100 after you sing your song. It’s crazy! crazier still is that everyone scored at least a 70. I sang one song. Wow, I guess years of yelling in ice rinks and on fields have completely done my voice in. It was SO BAD. I was really really embarassed. And, not like … “Oh, I sung poorly,” but more like … “will someone put that dying cow out of its misery? Otherwise, I will cry and poop my pants at the same time, and my brain will start to hemmorage.” Man, that was embarassing. Despite my inability to sing, however, Maiguma sensei was flirting shamelessly with me. It was a bit uncomfortable, since I can’t really speak Japanese, and she can’t really speak English. She’s pretty cute, and we’re the same age, but I think she’s a little slow. She kept saying “I have a bad brain,” and I kept trying to get her to speak Japanese to me, since I might have a shot at understanding the things she was trying to ask me or tell me. Either my Japanese is really that bad, or her brain really is no good, because she continued to consult with Murahashi sensei (3rd year English teacher) about words I could have understood. And what do you say to “I have a bad brain?” “I have … bad brain …” “er… no, I think your brain is good. You have a good brain.” What?

 

 

 

After we got out of Karaoke, people were hungry, so we headed to this barbeque place across the street. It was pretty good. They had a pretty wide selection of things, like okonomiyaki, raamen and some stir fried meat. I found out that Yagi sensei is heading to Alaska for winter break. Alaska of all places, in the winter. She’s quite the globe trotter. Last summer, I think she was in Spain, and before that in Italy, and the States. I think I will give her the scarf I’m making. she’ll need it more than me. Alaska in the winter. Crazy. We got out of the restaurant around 9:30, and made our way back home. I was pretty beat, so I didn’t move for the rest of the day, basically. I cleaned up a bit, watched some cooking shows, and then hit the sack. It was a really enjoyable day, despite the fact that I only won one of the 4 games I played in the tournament.

 

 

 

Sunday was a nice, lazy day. I woke up a little later, had a leisurely breakfast, and cleaned up a little bit. Friday’s dinner had gotten stuff all over the floor, so I vaccuumed, and I wiped down the tables and counters in the kitchen. Then, I started to watch this anime that David had introduced me to, calledBeck: the Mongolian Chop Squad. We had watched the first episode together on Friday night, and it had peaked my interest. I started watching … and kept watching … and watched ALL 26 EPISODES. Man, I haven’t done that in a long time. It was pretty good though, about Japanese rock music, and this kid who goes from harassed middle schooler to rock legend at a big, outdoor live concert that looked like the Japanese equivalent of Woodstock, or a similar big outdoor concert. The last few episodes were magical. There are some animes where you finish because you’ve put so much time into them. It’s like you’re obligated to finish, even though the story or the characters aren’t that interesting. Then there are those animes that you begin, and it’s like opening the Lord of the Rings for the first time: it’s not particularly interesting, but something tells you that whatever happens will be extraordinary, and all you want is for it to keep going. And when it ends, you feel like the characters have died a little for you, as though they’re not part of your life anymore. Anyways, Beck was one of the latter group, and when I finished it at midnight, I felt a) sad that it had ended, b) that I really wanted to learn the guitar, and c) that I should try to listen to some Japanese music. Even though the English was a bit funny in the songs, I actually enjoyed the Japanese rock in the anime. The only problem is where do I start? I did some research on the internet. Not only is it near impossible to find Japanese rock music torrents, but there is, obviously, no real consensus as to where to begin my education. I have tried my hand at guitar though. Leanne has an extra acoustic, so she lent it to me. My fingers hurt. The calluses haven’t formed yet, so the strings just dig in to them. And, my fat fingers make fingering difficult. “The fingers you have used to dial are too fat. Please use a dialing wand. *beep*.” So, the A major chord, which has three fingers in the same fret on three adjacent strings is REALLY hard for me to play. I also have trouble bridging strings, but I think everyone has difficulty with that.

 

 

 

Yesterday was a pretty normal day. Nothing really interesting went on. I didn’t have any classes since all the teachers needed to hand back tests, but I was busy the entire time. I think it was the first time that I’ve had busy work to do ALL day up until quiting time. I came home, practiced the guitar until I couldn’t anymore, grabbed some dinner, and hit the sack. Today, I was really excited to go to the Sho. It was my first lesson with the first graders. They’re soOooOOooo cute. It was a Christmas lesson, so they were drawing pictures of what they wanted, and they would bring them to me so that I could tell them what the name of it was in English. I think half of them wanted Tamagochis, which, if you’ll remember, are those little keychain pets. I think they’ve updated them, and now, they’re extra special with some sort of antenna. Maybe they can socialize now, like Furbies. Remember those? Christopher got one a few years ago. Freaked the hey out of Bobo. Heck, those things freak me out. They’re very strange. And we couldn’t get it to shut up. Anyways, when you do classes with the first graders, you can really feel the love. They’ll come up in the middle of class and hug you for no reason. It’s very gratifying work. I’m at the high school now, but I didn’t have any high school classes today (still returning tests). I think I’ll see if I can make a Saeki run with Leanne and Margaret tonight. We’ll see. Anyways, this update has been rewritten, since my computer crashed and I lost the original. I don’t exactly remember what I wrote down, so if things have been omitted, blame it on the blue screen of death. I think one of my keys got stuck in the down position for some reason. Until next update.

 

December 1st, 2005

 

AH! December already! How did that happen? Suddenly I’m a week and a half behind in my updates. I did get a bunch of picture galleries up, and they took me FOREVER, so go look at those in the Japan Galleries section below. There are even some pictures of my students and my apartment! The pictures of my apartment are a bit old (from August, I think), so the place really doesn’t look like that so much now. It’s messier.

 

 

 

So I promised to tell you about the rest of my trip to Fukuoka. After a week of hospitals, MRIs and torn menisci, I flew to Fukuoka on Friday night. I was going there to meet Mina Yoshioka, a friend who I hadn’t seen in 6 years, since Stanford Summer school way back in 11th grade. Mina is working in Tokyo for Goldman Sachs, and since she has some family in Saga, the prefecture between Fukuoka and Nagasaki, she agreed to meet up with me in Fukuoka for a few days before meeting up with her sister and heading south. I spent Saturday morning hanging around the Hakata-eki area. There are a few malls around the station, including the one on top of it. I found some really nice gray sea salt there for a very reasonable price, so I picked that up. I also hit up the book store for awhile, and bought a couple of books. I tried to find a hotel for the evening, but everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, was booked up. It probably didn’t help that I’m not Japanese. Resigned to the fact that I would not find one, I walked to the Dukes hotel, where Mina was staying, and where we were going to meet. I waited for a bit on the couch in the lobby, then called to find out that her plane was a bit delayed. 15 minutes later, in walks Mina, looking about the same as she was 6 years ago, except maybe a little more tired, and with shorter hair. She looked great.

 

 

 

We caught up a bit as we walked back to the station. We grabbed some of the info brochures, and looked at my Rough Guide to figure out where to go. I hadn’t done any of the cultural things in Fukuoka, and Mina wanted to do some, so it worked out. We went to Oohori-Kouen, the big park in the middle of the city. At the west side of the park, there is a big lake, where you can walk around on a foot path, kind of like the sea wall in Vancouver. There were many people there, but it was pretty quiet. Down the middle of the lake, there is a chain of small islands, all connected by white stone brides. We crossed the long bridge that took us onto the island. There were many people feeding the sea gulls and pigeons, so it was a bit harrowing (I’ve already been pooped on once this year…), but we made it across unmolested. The islands were really cool. I have some good pictures of the view from the middle of the lake. It was very quiet. There was a student playing a saxaphone a few islands further on, and we could hear him all the way across the lake. It was a nice day, not really sunny, but clear and bright. The white sky reflected off the lake, and it looked like a nice, fresh sheet of ice.

 

 

 

We walked around the area, looking for the Fukuoka castle ruins. They are apparently, the main attraction of the park (along with the city art gallery). We couldn’t find it, however, and had to consult the map more than once. When we finally figured out where it was, and where we were going, we had passed it already. We took a path that we thought would put us out near the castle, and we did get to see some ruins of some sort. I’m not sure if they were the castle or not, but it was kind of nice. You could definitely tell it was fall, as the leaves on the trees represented all the shades of red, yellow and brown. There were a few trees with green left on them, and fewer still that were already bare. Right before some very steep, deep stone steps, there was a corridor of trees, a many-coloured canopy, all planted with the familiar Japanese want for symmettry in mind. It was pretty spectacular. We walked up a few flights of stairs, and got a pretty good twilight view of Fukuoka. We could see Fukuoka tower off in the distance. It was quite nice.

 

 

 

We headed back down the mountain, bought a drink at the bottom, then headed back towards Tenjin for dinner, as well as to look for Christmas lights. Tenjin is where many of the big department stores are located, and they take it upon themselves to decorate the buildings festively. We caught the train to Tenjin station, and started walking around. We saw a Beneton, where Mina bought a scarf. I looked around, but nothing fit, as per usual. We started to try to find the Christmas decorations. Mina had picked up this brochure that had all the sites where the decorations where. On our way, I think we found Kawabata-douri, a shopping arcade, so we shopped a bit. Mina bought a pair of shoes. I was surprisingly good, and didn’t buy anything, but that changed very quickly later on. More on that later.

 

 

 

Tenjin was very busy. We had trouble deciding where to eat, since both of us were happy with whatever. We settled on an omelette-rice place in Solaria, one of the department stores, and the food was pretty good. It was nice to have someone to talk to during dinner; I’m kind of used to having to eat alone, especially when I’m travelling. An hour or so later, we walked out, turned the corner and walked into a square that had been decorated really nicely. There were animals shaped out of wire that had been softly lit up, so that they kind of looked like they were made from colour ice. There were trees and animals, and famous cartoon characters, and a big Santa, all lit up with lights. There was also this little house in the middle of the water that was strung with blue Christmas lights. It was pretty spectacular. Mina and I took a lot of pictures (mine turned out pretty blurry; that night function on my camera takes great pictures if you hold the camera still, but if not …), and were looking for a cafe to sit down and have some dessert and tea and coffee. There was an outdoor one there at the square, but the plastic lawn furniture gave it a bit of a suspect air, so we continued on. We shopped a little more as we went. We didn’t find many of the Christmas decorations, but we did manage to find a little cafe that was still open. We had tried one or two others, but they were full. We sat for awhile, talked and ate and drank caffienated drinks. When we decided to head home, it was close to midnight.

 

 

 

We took the train back to Hakata, picked up my luggage from the Green Hotel, and started walking towards The Dukes, when a Korean couple stopped us inside the station, and asked us in broken Japanese where the capsule hotel displayed on a nearby poster was. Mina and I were consulting in English whether or not they would take women (most capsule hotels take men only), when the (I can only assume) husband says “you speak English?” That made it a lot easier. Mina offered to call for them. The hotel didn’t take women, so we looked for another hotel for them. I pulled out my guide book, but I wasn’t very confident that these places weren’t already full (well, except for the Hyatt at Canal City, but that’s probably $300-$400 USD a night). The couple suggested a love hotel, but they were thinking Meinohama, which is one of the last stops on the train, a long ways away from Hakata. Mina suggested the area around Canal City, so we dropped my bags off at the hotel, grabbed a taxi, and went to Canal City, where we drove around love hotel shopping.

 

 

 

Now, for those of you who don’t know what a love hotel is, it’s basically a place where the frustrated youth of Japan, yearning for some privacy, go for, well, some lovin’. I guess older people use them as well, sometimes for all manners of sin. However, I am told and have read that love hotels are not really seedy (well, I’d imagine some are). In fact, some love hotels are really really nice. I’ve heard of themed love hotels, where the room will be decorated lavishly with some theme in mind (I’ve even heard of a video game themed room, where they have all the consoles and a bunch of games in there …). They are, apparently, a clean and pleasant place to stay for the most part. The only thing is that they’re pretty expensive, as I found out. The one we finally found was over 10,000 yen for a full night (10,000 yen = ~85$ at today’s exchange rate). We had tried maybe 3 other places. When we walked in to this one, the sign outside had said vacancy (or so Mina said), but the sign inside said it was full. Mina asked, and they told her a room had just vacated, and they were cleaning it. She put her name down. I tell you, it is SOOOoooo much easier travelling with someone who has a Japanese name, and speaks fluent Japanese. Japanese people trust you so much more. The clerk told us to wait in the waiting area, which was partitioned off with some screens. It was like a little hiding place for people who were waiting. The clerk called us back, and asked, in a bit of a bewildered tone, how many people would be using the room, the 4 of us? We thought that was funny. The Korean couple tried many many times to get our addresses in order to send us gifts. We kindly refused many times, but we eventually gave them our e-mail addresses. The man gave us his card, and Mina gave them her GS card. Luckily, I had some old Miller Group cards, so I gave him one of those with my e-mail addy written on it. Pretty ghetto, but hey…

 

 

 

we left the couple when they got the key, and after refusing any gifts or tokens of thanks one last time, we headed out, and walked back towards the subway station. My knee, at this point, was killing me, so we hailed a taxi back to the Dukes. We took our bags up to the room, showered and hit the sack.

 

 

 

We had set the alarm for 7:30 in the morning, so it was pretty early when we got up. We changed, and headed downstairs for some breakfast. We were going to head to Fukuoka tower, one of the city’s big landmarks. I didn’t think it was going to be all that great (I mean, how do you compare it to the World Trade Center?), but it was actually pretty cool. There were a few Christmas touches there, like a GIANT inflatable Santa hanging out over the observation windows as you looked up from the ground floor of the tower. The day couldn’t have been nicer, and the view from the observation deck was fantastic. On one side, you had a panoramic view of the city. On another side, you had a beautiful view of the ocean, and the small islands in the distance. The sky was deep blue, and water a sparkling blue-green; it made for a spectacular horizon. On the last side presented a view of the coastline, where one could see Hawk’s Town, and the dome the Fukuoka Hawk’s play in (baseball team). You could look down the coast, all the way until where the beach curved around, out of view. It was actually really worth it. I took a lot of pictures.

 

 

 

We headed back down, and chose to walk along the beach. There was an interesting building we saw from the top of the Fukuoka Tower, and we wanted to check it out. It was a man-made island with a wedding chapel-like building on it. It was exactly that, but kind of a tropical version. There were piers on three sides, and the beach ran right up to the sides. It was kind of a nice place. A bit small for a wedding though. We walked on from there along the beach towards Hawk’s Town, where we entered the atrium. The Rough Guide said that the atrium was supposed to give a tropical vibe. They pump extra humidity in there, and have all sorts of tropical plants (or replicas) and animals (or replicas) in there. It was an interesting place, as much for the view and fake scenery as the wedding that we walked in on. Lots of wedding stuff. We shopped for a while in what we thought was the new Hawks Town mall (just opened on the wednesday before!), but we weren’t impressed. That is, until we saw a map that showed the directions to the real Hawk’s Town mall. It was much more impressive, with bargains galore and some pretty good stores. We shopped for awhile, then went to get some dessert at the “Dessert Forest,” Which was actually a forest (well, a fake one) with food stalls that sold all sorts of desserts. The problem with the idea is that you have to walk through the entire thing in order to see everything they have. Unfortunately, we only made it through maybe a few areas of the dessert forest. We got some ice cream, then looked at the time. It was late! We rushed back to the train station, and hopped on the subway. I left Mina at the station for Canal City.

 

 

 

I wandered around Canal City for a while, kind of aimlessly. Then I got serious. I bought a coat, a scarf, some gloves, and a few kitchen things at Muji. I love Muji. I also love this place called the suit company. Their stuff is nice, well made, and quite affordable for nice clothes. If I wasn’t going to Thailand and Vietnam at Christmas, I would probably have bought more. Ah, that Sung shopping gene … sometimes it gets aggressive. Especially after a weekend of behaving myself and not buying much of anything. And ESPECIALLY after being on an island without a shopping mall. After the little shopping orgy, I went back to the Dukes, picked up my bags, and headed to the airport. I was beat. It was a fantastic weekend, not in small part because of Mina. It really was great to see her again. Hopefully, when I make my way back to Tokyo, I’ll get to hang out with her.

 

 

 

Today, it’s the memorial of the school. I thought that meant that it would be a day off (or at least that’s what Masuda sensei first told me when we were marking the calendar). And, it IS a day off … for the kids. I’m the only one here today in shirt and tie; the rest of the teachers have abandoned the dress clothes for track suits or jogging suits. No Sean John today though. Teacher’s are just kind of wandering in and out. Some stay for a while, others, it would appear, just come in to pick some stuff up. I’m basically sitting here trying not to go stir crazy. This whole week’s been like that, since it’s exam week for the kids. I’ve mostly been working on the site (other than writing my updates for it!). Last week was pretty busy. I had all my classes, and I had to record the listening tests for the first and second years. I even wrote the first year one. I hope it’s not too hard. I tried to make it as easy as possible. We’ll see, I guess.

 

 

 

Not much else to report. This past weekend was pretty chill. I cleaned the place a little bit, but mostly just hung around. I’m kind of limited in what I can do because of my knee. I can walk, but not far, and I can’t really run properly yet. It feels a bit hyperextended when I try to run. Weird. On saturday, Allie came down from up north, and she, Leanne, Margaret and a couple of eikaiwa students from Kechi went out to dinner at Roxy’s. I haven’t been to Roxy for a while. It was pretty good, and the Japanese students’ English was pretty good. On Sunday, David came down. He stayed at my place for the night, because he had Monday off, and wanted to get his re-entry permit sorted out at the port here in Izuhara. we swapped some anime, which was great, because I finally got the last episodes of Wolf’s Rain, which I started something like 2 or 3 years ago, back at Pomona. Other than that, life’s been pretty routine here these days. Last weekend, I found some pork ribs, kind of roughly cut, so I bought them, and braised them. They were really good. I’ll see if I can remember the recipe. Anyways, until next time.

 

November 21st, 2005

 

Man, it has been a long time since I’ve written, or it feels like a long time at least. Where to start? The rugby tournament was a lot of fun. We lost our first game to the Gotou Islands team by a pretty close margin. We were ahead for a while. I didn’t play very well, I thought, since it had been so long since I last played that I was constantly nervous about whether or not I was in position. I burned up a lot of energy just being nervous. 2 other ALTs played with the Tsushima team: Greg and Tom. Greg is from England, is 29, and is a third year ALT. He’s very charismatic, a very nice guy, and kept giving me a lot of encouragement. He played fullback. Tom is from New Zealand. He’s also a really nice guy. He played flanker, I think, and was a pretty good player. He made some key tackles. After the game, we drove back to Sasebo (the games were in Hirado, an island connected to the mainland by a bridge), and had a few hours to ourselves. I went shopping, but didn’t buy much; I knew I was going to be in Fukuoka this past weekend, and the shopping there is much better. For dinner, the team went out to yakki nikku. It was delicious. The rest of the team went on to further entertainment, but I was pretty sore and tired, so I made my way back to the hotel and rested.

 

 

 

The next day, we faced the other team that lost their first game. They were much smaller that the Gotou team. I played much better this time around, but about a quarter of the way through, I tackled someone and felt something happen in my leg. I got up, but the leg wouldn’t really cooperate very well. Since I was on powerful painkillers for my foot, I didn’t really feel any pain, but it was kind of numb, and kind of unstable. I felt like I didn’t have much control of it, like I had pinched a nerve or something. Just a complete lack of feeling and control of the leg. I decided to keep playing, since it didn’t really hurt yet. And good thing too! We were down by 4 points, with maybe 30 seconds to a minute left to play. The other team was working the ball down in to our zone, but we took control, and kicked it out of bounds, not too far from our penalty line. We stole the line out, and the ball made its way out of the ensuing ruck to me. I got the ball, looked up, and saw three players, but lined up vertically, instead of in a wall. Now, if they were in a line, it might have been a different story, but as they were, it was just 3 games of one on one down the field. And I’m not going to lose a one on one match up with any 5 foot 7 outside center or winger. I juked the first guy so bad he fell down, I broke the second guy’s tackle with a strong cutback and a stronger straight-arm, and almost did the same to the third guy, but one of the other back’s got me. I was at their penalty line by this time, and as they dragged me down, I dished off to Sei hou, the other center, who took it in for a score. We kicked the point, and the game ended. What a rush!

 

 

 

After the game, one of the players we picked up from Nagasaki (he had worked in Tsushima a while back) offered to drive me to Nagasaki. That was really nice, since it saved me the trouble of having to train it in. By this time, my knee was swelling up something bad, and the painkillers were starting to wear off. And it was unbelievable pain. If I left it in one position too long, moving it was a nightmare. I got to Nagasaki, and checked into my hotel. But I couldn’t get into a room for almost 4 hours, since check-in time was 4PM. I sat in the lobby, mooching free wireless for a while, watching other guests arrive. There were lots of ALTs too, but I guess they thought I was Japanese. At one point, I tried to get up to see if I could get something to eat, but I made it half a block before I had to turn back. It was too painful. I settled for a drink from the vending machine in the lobby. By the time 4 PM rolled around, I was thoroughly beat. My knee was killing me, I was still dirty from the game, there was dried blood all over my knees and legs, and I was tired from waking up at 6:30AM. I took a shower, iced the crap out of my knee, and took some of the extra strength Advil I had with me. It didn’t help much, but it was something. I managed to walk the 2 blocks to Nagasaki Station, where there is a small mall with a food court. I picked up some fast food, ate dinner there, and then bought a couple books. I headed back to the hotel to ice my knee, and hit the sack.

 

 

 

The conference was a snooze fest as usual. It was nice to see some of the people in other places. I got to have lunch with Kelli on Tuesday, and with the other Ikki and Tsushima people on Monday. Monday night, I was supposed to have dinner with Kelli, but her massage ran late (almost 3 hours!), so I wandered out to find some dinner on my own. I ran into some of the Ikki people having dinner at a pretty nice Italian place. I had a tagliatelle with Porcini and wild mushrooms sauce (and by wild mushrooms, I guess they meant shimeji mushrooms, the ones you can get cheaply at the grocery store). It was pretty good. We took some Purikura after that that were pretty hilarious. That was my first time. I always look at the ones that my students have in their pencil cases, but have never been compelled to make any of my own. After that, they were going to hit up a karaoke place, but my leg wasn’t very happy, so I went back to the hotel and iced it. The next day, I had to go to the conference with my luggage. Since I had to play rugby, and dress up for the conference, I had my big luggage. What a pain. And quite literally too, since lugging that thing around entailed a lot of extra work for my leg. Masuda sensei was great though. We get along really well, and she helped me with a lot of things. After the conference was over, Rakesh, one of Allie’s friends from the UK, offered to drive us to the airport, which was awesome. He got us there in what seemed like half the time it usually takes on the bus. We had a whole bunch of time to kill by the time we got there. Masuda sensei wanted to buy more Omiyage (I had picked up 20 … well, they’re kind of like Twinkies, except fancy ones. They’re basically 2 waffle sticks with flavoured whip cream in the middle), so we hung around the airport and shopped for omiyage. I picked something up for Yagi sensei, since she drives me to school every morning, and doesn’t ever complain when she has to wait for me to get my shit together. While we waited for the plane, we chatted about lots of things. She asked me how long did I think I was going to stay, and we got into why I came, and what I wanted to do when I went back. I asked her about why she became a teacher, and she told me about the educational system, and the evaluation and pay scale of teachers is changing. She talked about the hardships of being a teacher, and the responsibilities that they have. She said she barely gets to see her husband sometimes, and has no time to have a kid. I asked her if she ever considered changing careers, but she said it isn’t very normal in Japan to do so. It was interesting.

 

 

 

We got home, and Masuda sensei dropped me off at my place. I made a quick dinner, unpacked a bit, then hit the sack. I woke up with a very very stiff knee. I got ready, and headed to the Chu. I had a rough time walking to school, and started thinking I should head to the doctor and get it checked out. I asked Katsumi sensei (the woman Katsumi, at the Chu) if I could go to the hospital, and she was awesome! Keep in mind that the teachers at the Chu aren’t really responsible for me, since it isn’t my base school. She cancelled my classes, talked to the Kyoutou sensei, packed up her dictionaries, and drove me herself. We got an X-ray and saw the doctor, who told me to get an MRI. We booked the MRI for that afternoon, and returned to the school. I decided to teach the classes anyways, so I taught 3 classes. After school, Katsumi sensei took me back to the hospital. She dropped me off in front, and went to find parking. I walked in, looking for a bench to sit on while I waited, and who was waiting for me but Masuda sensei and my Kyoutou sensei at the high school! I felt so loved. So, in one big group, we went down to radiology, had my MRI (I fell asleep. I tell you, there is nothing more relaxing than having an MRI. In Canada, they give you a pair of headphones, to block out the loud machine. Here in Japan, the don’t give you headphones, but they give you a blanket and tuck you in. The banging/clicking sound becomes like white noise after awhile, and it’s just really relaxing. I woke up, and Katsumi sensei took me home. I have new respect for her, and for my supervisors. I think they actually care about me!

 

 

 

That evening, I made a pork tenderloin that I had found the previous week. It was a bit small – only about 1 pound – but it was a good size for me. I sautéed some onions and apples, and set the browned loin on top, and put it in the over for 15 minutes or so. Took it out, deglazed the pan with white wine, and cut medallions from a perfectly cooked tenderloin. It was slightly pink, not over cooked at all. It was beautiful. I’ll post the recipe sometime if I get a chance. it was good. Sweet and savoury at the same time, with a delicate flavour. It was so good that I had it on Thursday for dinner as well. Thursday is my busy day, and it pretty much was as advertised. In my third year commercial class, I finally lost it when this one kid, who I told to be quiet maybe 15 times during the class, was talking when everyone else had shut up. I jumped down from the little dais and slapped the table really hard, so that it made a big sound, and said “quiet.” Oh man, did they ever become quiet. I couldn’t get them to answer very many questions after that. The English club had a kind of collective birthday, since all three of the members’ birthdays were in the last couple months. It was kind of fun, although they speak a lot of Japanese for an English club. Kamito sensei seems fine with it, and since it was a party, I thought I’d let it slide. I’m going to have to start trying to make them speak English though. I caught a ride home with Kamito sensei (thank god; walking is tough), and packed.

 

 

 

Friday was a better day, since not only was I leaving, but the classes were quite enjoyable. I like teaching with Kurokawa sensei because in addition to having a sense of humour in the classroom, he has good control of his students. I walked home, which was a pretty difficult feat, and then finished packing and cleaned up a bit. I called a taxi around 5:30, checked in around 6:00, and waited for the plane while playing some SNES. I love emulators. I got on the plane, and saw a whole bunch of people I knew. One of the rugby players, a teacher or two, my iaido sensei, and some students. The plane they fly to Fukuoka is much bigger than the one they fly to Nagasaki. It is a lot more comfortable too. I got into Fukuoka, picked up my bags, caught the subway to Hakata-eki, and checked into the Green Hotel. I dropped my stuff off, and went out shopping at Yodobashi Camera. You know, I have a love-hate relationship with that place. I love it because it is just a HUUUUUGE electronics store. They have everything, and at probably the best price you’ll find it for anywhere. But the thing is, they have everything. So it takes, literally, hours to decide. For example, I went to look at hard drives again. I wanted something a little more portable than the one I got. I found 3 major brands of ultra portable hard drives, and maybe 5 or 6 other brands. It took me an hour to narrow it down to 3. I finally chose one based on RPM (5400 vs. 4600), but it was a good buy. I also picked up a USB game controller, since I managed to find a SNES ROM collection with almost 500 ROMS in it. I left Yodobashi around 9:45, hit up a busy ramen place nearby (like I said….) and then went back to my room. Mina called around 1AM to make sure we were going to meet up the next day, and for some reason, I couldn’t get to sleep. I was tired, but didn’t sleep until 4AM. Ridiculous. I’ll save the description of my weekend in Fukuoka with Mina for tomorrow. It deserves a fresh mind. Until then, then.

 

November 11th, 2005

 

Remembrance day today. I guess that doesn’t mean that much here. A couple of days ago, I … obtained … all 7 episodes of Jamie’s Kitchen, Jamie Oliver’s reality TV show in which he takes 15 underprivileged kids, trains them to be chefs, and then opens a non-profit restaurant with them. Now, I know it sounds like a crazy idea, and when I think about it, I’m not really sure what he gets out of it, besides a load of headaches and a big hole in his wallet. I mean, the whole operation cost something like 2 million pounds. That’s like 4 million bucks! On top of that, some of these kids were TOTAL losers. They’re chosen from thousands of kids. The only test was to come in, taste a butternut squash ravioli and a tempura scallop, and tell Jamie and some evaluators (Jamie’s mentor, Genaro, and a food critic friend) what they tasted. I mean, all they were looking for was some description. You should have heard what some of them said! “Tastes … slimy,” “Tastes like shite,” “I don’t like that,” “…..” And Jamie would try to help them out, saying “So, is it, what, sour, sweet, bitter?” And some of the kids were like “…. well it’s not bitter.” WOW! A gourmand! One of the kids they took, actually spit out the ravioli. Good lord. So they choose these 15 people, and send them for a 12 week crash course at a cooking school. Jamie freaking babies them all the way, and what do they do? Half of them don’t even turn up! It’s ridiculous. The entire show, in fact, all you ever hear about the trainees is that they’re truants. By the end of the show, there are only something like 8 of the kids left. All the others have either dropped out or were kicked out. So I almost peed my pants when, at the end of the series, it shows where the graduates went to work. I didn’t recognize a few, since they were in Australia, but one went to Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, one went to Tuscany, and ONE went to the freaking French Laundry! The FRENCH LAUNDRY! With Thomas Keller! Ridiculous! I gotta figure out how to get on that show.

 

 

 

Other than that, last night was basically cleaning and laundry and packing, with a little bit of Rugby thrown in. Leanne and I made a saeki run as well, and I picked up a few things. I stayed up pretty late packing. School the next morning was pretty rough, going on only a few hours of sleep. I kept dozing off at my desk between classes. I headed home afterwards, thinking that my flight was at 5:30, when in fact, my flight wasn’t until 7. That was good though, because it allowed me to make some dinner, clean up, and finish packing. Leanne drove me to the airport a bit early, but I like to go early anyways. At the airport, I saw SO MANY teachers. I guess it makes sense. But it was like a mass exodus off the island. I even saw one of my students, who was dressed in her school clothes, but was fairly heavily made up and had earrings on. I guess that’s not allowed in school, because everytime another teacher walked into the boarding area, she would freak out more. I sat next to her, joking with her. Apparently, she was headed to Nagasaki to meet a friend. I didn’t really want to find out any more details. I got on my plane to Fukuoka with no problems. They use a big plane for Fukuoka, so it’s a much more pleasant ride. I got to Fukuoka, caught the subway 2 stops to Hakata station, and caught a train to Sasebo. At Sasebo station, I got in a cab, and asked him to take me to the Washington Hotel, which he pointed out to me was a block away. But he was very pleasant about it, and told me (I think) that I would be better off walking. Not like that crazy cabbie in Pusan, who started yelling at me, but drove me all the same. I walked to the hotel, checked in (I guess Shingu-san, the captain of the rugby team, had told the hotel to watch out for the gaijin who looks like a Japanese guy, because I got there, stammered out some Japanese, and he told me to wait, and went and got everything for me. “Ryan Sung-sama, desu ne?” Yup that’s me. I dropped my stuff off, went and got some dinner (there is ALWAYS a little ramen place nearby), and picked up a big bottle of Pocari and a big bottle of water at the nearby convenience store.

 

 

 

I don’t know where all the other guys are. I tried calling Shingu, but I guess he’s out on the town tonight. I figure that’s where everyone is, getting sloshed. Ah well, as long as they’re up for the game, they can do whatever they want. I’m hitting the hay early, since I’m freaking beat. Till next time.

 

November 10th, 2005

 

I went to bed early last night. At 10:30, I ran out of steam, and was out like a light, the minute my back hit the futon. I spent the day at the Chu, which was pretty good. Three classes with Katsumi sensei, all of which were pretty good. I got to play some games with the kids, and that’s always fun. After school, I went home, changed into something a bit warmer, and ran to the sports shop on the other side of Izuhara. I found out how I screwed up my foot: my Nike runners are broken. I didn’t think so, but it IS possible to break one of those Shox columns. I was looking for a mouthguard, and perhaps some socks, but the store didn’t have any mouthguards. I guess I’ll have to get one tonight in Kechi. I did pick up some long socks. I ran back to the Chu, and went to basketball practice. It was, again, a difficult time, but less so than the day before. Around 6:30, I headed home, cooked some dinner (pork chops with onions and a pan sauce, bok choy, and rice), and cleaned a little. I’m heading out of town this weekend for the rugby and the conference, so my house has to be in good shape, or it’ll smell like no one’s business when I get back. November 9th, 2005

 

Ooooh, legs hurt. And today is supposed to be my peak training day. Ugh. For the last 2 days, I’ve set my alarm for 6:20 in the morning, have gotten up and fallen right back to sleep. Its like I’m incapable of getting up early here. Well, that’s not quite true; I got up early last Saturday when Yagi sensei had to go at 7:20AM. Maybe I just can’t get up early to go for a run. Yesterday, I went to basketball practice with the Chu students. Holy, my legs are super sore today. I guess I’m going back to basketball practice today, and then maybe a run after that. Or before, since I need to go to the Izuhara sports shop for some rugby socks and a mouthguard.

 

 

 

Monday was a normal day. 3 classes, all of which went well, as well as English club. We tried watching Babe: Pig in the City, but the AV in the room we were in didn’t work properly. So instead, we played 2 HOURS of hangman. They love hangman. I head home, and cooked some meat balls that I saw on one of Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows (which can be … obtained … very easily; I barely watch TV anymore). They were delicious. I did some plyos, but hardly what you’d call a strenuous work out. Instead, I carved half of what I THINK is a squash of some sort. Since I have a Halloween lesson, I thought I’d show them an example of a jack o’ lantern, roast some seeds for them, and maybe give out some candy instead of participation points. I forgot how much fun it is to carve pumpkins. I had to restrain myself from making something gross and complicated. I still think the best pumpkin I ever carved was the year when I used the crap we scooped out of the pumpkins to make it look like my jack o’ lantern was vomiting. Ah, the memories. I hit the sack after cleaning up, which was still fairly early.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I was at the Sho in the morning. You really feel loved when you teach at a Sho. It’s like being a giant celebrity (in both stature and noteriety). The teachers, however, are freaking out since this Friday, they are teaching classes in front of tons of other Tsushima Sho teachers. I am teaching a couple team taught classes for this as well, but I’m not feeling any pressure. I think it’s really funny when the teachers want to make sure I understand, so they give me an English copy of the lesson plan, read the words of the lesson plan in their not-so-good English, then try to explain the activities, which we’ve done, probably for the last 2 months. I think their explanations probably confuse me more than anything. They could just give me the plan, which is in understandable English, and I’d probably be better off. 😛 And I can’t stand Katsumi sensei. Maybe because he’s a “special” English teacher, but for some reason, he gets to tell all the other teachers what’s wrong with their lessons and their English. That, and he thinks his English is SOOOO much better than everyone’s. What a bastard. And anyways, his English is about as good as most of the teachers.

 

 

 

I got up to the high school, and taught my Halloween lesson with Kurokawa sensei. We talked a bit on the way up to the class, and he seems pretty stressed out. I’m not exactly sure, but I think he’s having some trouble regarding the student who commited suicide in his class. Apparently, someone broke his son’s bike. I’m not sure if this is some kind of backlash because he’s the homeroom teacher of the kid, or what. BUt he mentioned it in the same conversation. Maybe he just meant to say “one more thing on my plate.” I feel sorry for the guy. The Halloween lesson seemed to go well. Especially when I asked them to design their own costume. One guy drew what can only be described as a psychopathic serial killer dressed as a male stripper. Well, that IS pretty scary. An interesting bunch, class 1-4.

 

 

 

I came home, and went to basketball at the Chu. It was a pretty good work out. I got home around 6, warmed up the leftover meatballs and made some pasta, as well as brocolli and a porkchop. I was hungry. I lazed around, then did a short plyo workout, then hit the sack, since I had planned on waking up early for a run. That, of course, did not happen. Well, I woke up early, but didn’t run. I have 3 classes today, all with Katsumi sensei at the Chu. She’s kind of weird. When I suggested Hangman for a warm up game (I love the hangman), she said “I don’t like to play that game. It’s bad for the children” … How? Because they get to see a stick man constructed body part by body part attached to a chalk gallows? Now THAT is violence! This from a culture which spawned all sorts of weird and violent anime and manga that children see, watch and read on a daily basis. Then, on our way to our first class, she told me that she took nenkyu yesterday because her kids were sick. Her kids are always sick. In fact, I have never heard of a time when they weren’t sick. Either she’s the most protective mother in the entire world, or she has some super sickly kids. Like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Unbreakable, just destined to be always sick. Weird.

 

 

 

Anyways, I’ll probably run to the sports store after school, pick up what I need, and then get back for basketball practice. My body is pretty sore, but today’s the peak, right? Till next time.

 

November 6th, 2005

 

Ok, first, read this:

 

 

Cruise Ship Escapes Pirate Hijack Attempt 
Nov 6, 4:20 AM (ET)

By RODRIQUE NGOWI 

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Pirates armed with grenade launchers and machine guns tried to hijack a luxury cruise liner off the east African coast Saturday, but the ship outran them, officials said.

Two boats full of pirates approached the Seabourn Spirit about 100 miles off the Somali coast and opened fire while the heavily armed bandits tried to get onboard, said Bruce Good, spokesman for the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp. (CCL)

The ship escaped by shifting to high speed and changing course.

“These are very well-organized pirates,” said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program. “Somalia’s coastline is the most dangerous place in the region in terms of maritime security.”

The attackers never got close enough to board the Spirit, but one member of the 161-person crew was injured by shrapnel, cruise line president Deborah Natansohn said.

The vessel’s 151 passengers, mostly Americans with some Australians and Europeans, were gathered in a lounge for their safety, Good said. None were injured.

“Our suspicion at this time is that the motive was theft,” Good said, adding that the crew had been trained for “various scenarios, including people trying to get on the ship that you don’t want on the ship.”

The British news agency Press Association said passengers awoke to the sound of gunfire as two 25-foot inflatable boats approached the liner.

Edith Laird of Seattle, who was traveling with her daughter and a friend, told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an e-mail that her daughter saw the pirates out the window.

“There were at least three rocket-propelled grenades that hit the ship, one in a state room,” Laird wrote. “We had no idea that this ship could move as fast as it did and (the captain) did his best to run down the pirates.”

The Spirit was bound for Mombasa, Kenya, at the end of a 16-day voyage from Alexandria, Egypt. It was expected to reach the Seychelles on Monday, and then continue on its previous schedule to Singapore, company officials said.

The 440-foot-long, 10,000-ton cruise ship, which is registered in the Bahamas, sustained minor damage, Good said. The liner, which had its maiden voyage in 1989, can accommodate 208 guests.

“They took some fire, but it’s safe to sail,” he said.

There has been a steep rise in piracy this year along Somalia’s nearly 2,000-mile coastline, with 15 violent incidents reported between March and August, compared with just two for all of 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce that tracks trends in piracy.

In June, a U.N.-chartered ship carrying 935 tons of rice for Somali victims of the Asian tsunami was hijacked by pirates, who held crew members hostage for three months before releasing them.

Somalia has had no effective central government since opposition leaders ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The leaders then turned on each other, transforming this nation of 7 million into a patchwork of battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.

Associated Press reporter Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

Ok, does anyone else find this … just a bit … OUT OF THIS WORLD?! Man, you write movies about this kind of stuff. And there have been 15 acts of piracy (REAL piracy, mind you) this year. I wish they would report them all. This makes for good news.

 

 

 

Then, I find out this:

 

 

Unrest Reaches Paris; 28 Cars Torched 
Nov 6, 4:24 AM (ET)

By ELAINE GANLEY 

PARIS (AP) – Ten nights of urban unrest that brought thousands of arson attacks on cars, nursery schools and other targets from the Mediterranean to the German border reached Paris where at least 28 cars were burned overnight in the French capital, government officials said Sunday.

Some 2,300 police poured into the Paris region to bolster security on a restive Saturday night while firefighters moved out around the city to douse blazing vehicles.

At least 918 vehicles – including those in Paris – were burned during the 10th night of violence, said the Interior Ministry’s operational center tracking the violence. There was no word yet on damage in Paris to shops, gymnasiums, nursery schools and other targets which have been attacked around the country.

Police made 186 arrests nationwide overnight.

For the second night in a row, a helicopter equipped with spotlights and video cameras to track bands of marauding youths combed the poor, heavily immigrant Seine-Saint-Denis region, northeast of Paris, where the violence has been concentrated. Small teams of police were deployed to chase down rioters speeding from one attack to another in cars and on motorbikes.

On Friday night, 900 vehicles were torched across France in the worst wave of arson since the urban unrest began.

The violence – originally concentrated in neighborhoods northeast of Paris with large populations of Arab and African Muslim immigrants – has now spread across France, extending west to the rolling fields of Normandy and south to resort cities on the Mediterranean.

The Normandy town of Evreux, 60 miles west of Paris, appeared to suffer the worst damage Saturday. Arsonists burned at least 50 vehicles, part of a shopping center, a post office and two schools, said Patrick Hamon, spokesman for the national police. Five police officers and three firefighters were injured battling the Evreux blazes, Hamon said.

Attacks were also reported in Cannes and Nice.

The violence erupted Oct. 27 following the accidental electrocution of two teenagers who hid in a power substation, apparently believing police were chasing them. One of the dead teenagers was born in Mauritania and the second teenager’s family was from Tunisia – both Muslim countries.

Anger was fanned days ago when a tear gas bomb exploded in a mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois – the northern suburb where the youths were electrocuted.

The unrest is forcing France to confront long-simmering anger in poor suburbs ringing the big cities which are mainly populated by immigrants and their French-born families, often from Muslim North Africa. They are marked by high unemployment, discrimination and despair – fertile terrain for crime of all sorts and Muslim extremists offering frustrated youths a way out.

Government officials have held a series of meetings with Muslim religious leaders, local officials and youths from poor suburbs to try to calm the violence.

The director of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, one of the country’s leading Muslim figures, met Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Saturday and urged the government to choose its words carefully and send a message of peace.

“In such difficult circumstances, every word counts,” Boubakeur said.

The anger over the death of the teenagers spread to the Internet, with sites mourning the youths.

Along with messages of condolence and appeals for calm were insults targeting police, threats of more violence and warnings that the unrest will feed support for France’s anti-immigration extreme right.

Arsonists have also burned grocery stores, video stores and other businesses in what Hamon called “copycat” crimes. “All these hoodlums see others setting fires and say they can do it, too.”

The unrest has taken on unprecedented scope and intensity, reaching far-flung corners of France on Saturday, from Rouen in Normandy to Bordeaux in the southwest to Strasbourg near the German border.

However, the Paris region has borne the brunt.

In quiet Acheres, on the edge of the St. Germain forest west of Paris, arsonists burned a nursery school, where part of the roof caved in, and about a dozen cars.

Children’s photos clung to the blackened walls, and melted plastic toys littered the floor. Residents gathered at the school gate, demanding that the army be deployed or suggesting that citizens band together to protect their neighborhoods.

Cars were torched in the cultural bastion of Avignon in the south and the resort cities of Nice and Cannes, a police officer said.

Arson was reported in Nantes in the southwest, the Lille region in the north and Saint-Dizier in the Ardennes region east of Paris. In the eastern city of Strasbourg, 18 cars were set alight in full daylight, police said.

In one attack, youths in the eastern Paris suburb of Meaux prevented paramedics from evacuating a sick person from a housing project. They pelted rescuers with rocks and then torched the waiting ambulance, an Interior Ministry official said.

Most of the overnight arrests were near Paris. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy warned that those convicted could face severe sentences for burning cars.

“Violence penalizes those who live in the toughest conditions,” he said after a government crisis meeting.

Sarkozy also has inflamed passions by referring to troublemakers as “scum.”

Most rioting has been in towns with low-income housing projects where unemployment and distrust of police run high. But in a new development, arsonists were moving beyond their heavily policed neighborhoods to attack others with less security, Hamon said.

“They are very mobile, in cars or scooters. … It is quite hard to combat” he said. “Most are young, very young, we have even seen young minors.”

There appeared to be no coordination between separate groups in different areas, Hamon said. But within gangs, he added, youths are communicating by cell phones or e-mails.

“They organize themselves, arrange meetings, some prepare the Molotov cocktails,” he said.

In Torcy, close to Disneyland Paris, a youth center and a police station were set ablaze. In Suresnes, on the Seine River west of the capital, 44 cars were burned in a parking lot.

On Saturday morning, more than 1,000 people marched through one of the worst-hit suburbs, Aulnay-sous-Bois. Local officials wore sashes in the red, white and blue of the French flag as they filed past housing projects and the wrecks of burned cars. One white banner read, “No to violence.”

Associated Press reporters Jamey Keaten and Angela Doland in Paris and John Leicester in Acheres contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

What they hey? Suddenly, there are pirates on the high seas, and France is in an American-like civil rights war? Just goes to show you, you go away from the western world for a few months, and such interesting things happen. Sad and scary (I’m not sure if I’m all that keen on going on any more cruises…), but interesting. The thing is, I’m not sure what the point of the arson is. I mean, I don’t know the whole story of why the police were chasing the teenagers, but the whole setting cars and nursery schools on fire doesn’t seem the logical, rational decision. Who’s idea was it to start that? “Oh, man, Jaques and Mohammed were electrocuted. Let’s go burn some cars! Freedom!” I don’t get it.

 

 

 

Life here has not been nearly as interesting. This past week was ESPECIALLY not interesting. Tuesday my ride to the Sho wasn’t there in the morning. I was all pissed off, and caught a taxi (which cost me 600 yen!), until I got there, and saw that all the kids were set to go on a field trip. Apparently, I wasn’t scheduled to be at the Sho that day. Well, could have used a freakin’ heads up. They drove me to the high school, where I sat at my desk and planned lessons all day.

 

 

 

Wednesday, I had planned on an easy day, since last week, Nakagawa sensei told me that they would be practicing for the cultural festival. However, I had my normal 4 classes, which was a bit of a shock, but at least I had something to do. Otherwise, I would have probably found somewhere to pass out. I’m still tired, for some reason. The kids all had to do reading lessons, and I had to mark them for their speed, volume, pronunciation and attitude. How do you mark attitude? I just gave them all 5s if they went up when they were supposed to, and didn’t talk when other people were doing their bit. Since this is Japan, they almost all got 5s. And speed is an interesting metric, because if someone talked at a normal speed, you had to give them a 5 right? But then there were kids who would talk REALLY fast, but you couldn’t give them anything less than a 5, since that’s what they’re being marked on. It’s kind of a difficult position. I supposed I could have given those who talked at a normal pace 5s, and everyone else, slower or faster, lower.

 

 

 

Anyways, I haven’t been going to Iaido lately, because of my foot and my preparation for rugby. I don’t want to screw my foot up before next weekend’s games. Wednesday night, Allie came down from up north, since she was going to leave for Okinawa on Thursday. There’s some big birthday bash for another ALT down there. She came down around 8, and we made yakisoba and watched The OC. The yakisoba was good (mine was too salty though). Leanne came over after her Eikaiwa, hung around for a bit and watched the OC with us. They headed to Leanne’s pretty early, since Allie had to catch an early flight the next morning. I didn’t do much after the left, but I stayed up doing nothing.

 

 

 

Thursday was a holiday, so I got up late. I took another stab at making yakisoba (and was much more successful this time), then found out that rugby practice was moved to 3PM, so I went to rugby, and practiced until 5. I cooked dinner, and chatted online a bit. Friday would be a day of no classes, so I figured stay up late wouldn’t be a problem. On Friday, I planned my next lesson (a Halloween/Thanksgiving double header) all day. I’m kind of running low on inspiration for my lessons, and I tried to find some comics about Halloween or Thanksgiving. I found some good Foxtrot (Bill Amend) ones, but the Japanese don’t really understand sarcasm. I gave up on that idea, and decided to make reading comprehensions in addition to the listening comprehensions. Woohoo. The kids will have a blast …

 

 

 

Friday night, Leanne and I had decided to do a Mediterranean night, so I was going to do pizza (Italy’s on the Mediterranean, right?), and Leanne was going to make some chicken skewers and Tzatziki. I didn’t expect my pizza dough to rise the way it did, so we had SUPER THICK CRUST pizza. There is also a startling lack of processed, smoked meat here in Japan, so it had tomato, garlic, onion and mozzarella (and tomato sauce, of course) on it. I guess I could have thrown in some parmesan too, just for a little kick. The chicken skewers were good, and the Tzatziki was really good. I’m gonna have to try that myself one of these days. Yagi sensei rang the door bell in the middle of dinner to tell me that she would have to leave at 7:20AM the next day. Cripes. That’s early. Leanne left shortly after, and I cut my hair and ironed a shirt for the next day.

 

 

 

The 100 year anniversary was a big deal. I guess that’s to be expected. When I think about it, Saints is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year as well, but that’s not nearly as important as 100 years. I got up early, and drank half a bottle of Blendy (a coffee drink). I had sat through the rehearsal ceremony on Friday, and I KNEW that it was going to be SUUUUUuuuuper boring. I put on a suit, shaved for real, and was out the door when Yagi sensei rang the bell. I got to school, and had nothing to do for 2 and a half hours. It’s kind of strange, even when I want to help, they won’t let me. I don’t get it. So I worked at my desk for awhile, and then wandered around the school. Important guests, and high powered alums were being greeted at the entrance. They were given bags with commemorative books in them, and ushered into holding rooms by some first years, where they could deposit their jackets and these bags. In the courtyard, the same tea ceremony as the cultural festival was going on, and the school was decorated very nicely.

 

 

 

The actual ceremony itself was incredibly boring. There was a lot of standing up and sitting down involved. And I mean a lot. Every couple minutes, everyone would stand up, wait a bit, bow, then sit down. Every time they introduced someone, we had to stand up, bow, sit down. I got a work out just attending the ceremony. And it was 90 minutes of standing and sitting. Then, there was a small break, followed by a musical interlude, another break, and then an hour long presentation. Then, finally it was over. What a day. The guests then all got on buses to hit up the enkai. Not all the teachers were going, and that included me, apparently. That was ok though, because I wasn’t feeling all that well, and was pretty tired. I walked back home, changed and passed out. I woke up a couple hours later, REALLY hungry, so I made some yakisoba (its easy and delicious!), then called Leanne. We had planned on heading up north that day to drive Allie’s car up there for her, stay at her place for the night, then find the golf course the next day. I was just not feeling very well though, and since Leanne had an enkai, we decided to go the next morning. I found the Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders game online and … obtained … it. I cooked dinner, and ate while watching the game. I have to say, Sidney Crosby looks legit. I remember seeing him at the WJC back when he was like 16, and I remember him being much smaller looking. People are saying that he has the skills of Lemieux, and plays physically like Forberg. I think the Forberg comparison is pretty accurate at least. When Niinimma facewashed him, he gave it right back. Of course, when anyone tried to rough him up though, there were Penguins there in a flash, even Lemieux one time. I guess when you have the kind of vested interest that Lemieux has in Crosby, you’d be in there in a hurry too. Crosby scored a couple goals and had an assist too. He was pretty good. He has that strange ability to be in the right place a lot of the time. On his first goal, the Pens were on the power play (and what a powerplay: Lemieux, Crosby, Recchi, Gonchar and … well, anyone), Lemieux was on the halfboards, Crosby behind the net, and Recchi in the middle of the box. Recchi heads to the net, Lemieux send a no look pass to him, which bounces off a defenceman’s skate back towards Lemieux. And guess who casually skates out from behind the net to put away the rebound. More impressive though, was his second goal, not for what he did, but for the pass Lemieux gave him. I tell you, Lemieux still has the skills to pay the bills man. Two on one with Crosby, and the D-man plays it pretty well. Lemieux lofts a pass over the defenceman’s stick, right onto the tape of Crosby for an easy deflection. Man, it’s beautiful to watch those two. I also … obtained … the 5th episode of The OC, season 3, so I watched that (several times…). By the time I was done, it was 1AM, so, naturally, I decided to bake brownies (I’ve been meaning to do it for a couple weeks). I finished around 3.

 

 

 

Today, I got up when Leanne called, at 9. we were supposed to leave at 9, so I got up in a hurry, slammed back some more Blendy, and got out the door. I was going to drive Allie’s car, so we went to the airport, and picked it up. She was taking the midnight ferry back, which docks in Hitakatsu (way up north), so if we didn’t drive it up, she’d be carless until she could make it back down here. No one knows what its like to be carless better than me. At first, it was kind of weird, the whole driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road-with-the-steering-wheel-on-the-right-side thing. It took me a little while to get used to it, especially looking for the flow of traffic. But once I was off and running, it was fine. We stopped in Toyotama for some grocery shopping, then drove the rest of the way. I made it from Mine to Allie’s house in about 25 minutes. Apparently, that drive is supposed to take an hour. Hmmmmm…. well, what did you expect? Its the first time I’m in a car in 3 months, driving mountain passes with “Running in the 90’s” blaring (I put all the Initial D music onto my Ipod just for the trip). Did you think that I would be driving like the Japanese women here (who drive INCREDIBLY SLOW, by the way)? Allie’ s car, while it lacks the guts of, say, my TSX back at home, held up pretty well, and handled quite well, too. The hardest part was when it started to pour. Seeing around those corners on the mountains using those stupid little mirrors is impossible in good weather; you can imagine the difficulty I had in bad weather. Still, it was fun, even if it was only for the day.

 

 

 

Leanne met me at Allie’s (we got separated), and we hung around with David for awhile over lunch. We rushed back down south, since I had rugby at 3, and Leanne dropped me off at Kita around 3:15PM. Rugby practice lasted until almost 7PM. Man, that was rough. We practiced the set plays over and over and over, and added quite few as well. I’m either going to have had a lot of fun, or be very very sore come Sunday. Maybe both. I have a feeling the Gotou team isn’t going to be very big or skilled. I think it’ll be fun.

 

 

 

Tomorrow, I have 3 classes – a normal day – as well as English club. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the English club. I guess we could play games, or something. Or perhaps I can bring comics in for them. I’ve decided to train really hard until Wednesday, then take it easy until the games this weekend, so I’ll probably go for a run before dinner, then do some plyos after dinner tomorrow. I still have a workout to after I update this. Alright, until next time.

 

November 1st, 2005

 

Holy cats, its November already. Thankfully, Halloween is over, but that means it’s a straight shot to Christmas. Time sure flies, especially when you’re not keeping up with your updates. The business trip was pretty good. Thursday, I came to school, taught a couple classes, and then went home after lunch. Urata sensei had to go back up to Toyotama to pack (I think. He said he forgot something, which, I guess, is true if he talking about his luggage…), and then drove all the way back down to pick me up, and then back up to Mitsushima to the airport. I wish I had a vehicle, so that I wouldn’t be such a bother to everyone. The flight was uneventful, other than the fact that I fell asleep, and woke up with the plane bumped down onto the runway. That was a pee your pants moment, cause I thought we had crashed. We took the bus into Nagasaki city, and got into town around 6ish. We were staying at the Nyupooto (Newport. Ironic, eh?) hotel, right across from the Youme Saito, just off the pier. It wasn’t a very nice hotel, kind of grungy and small, but I wasn’t paying for it. I changed, and headed into the Youme Saito to shop and eat. I didn’t buy anything except for some rock salt (which is very hard to find in Japan. You’d think a nation that is just a big island would have no problems making sea salt…), and I ate at a ton katsu restaurant. It was pretty good. I was in the mood to go wandering again, but my foot wouldn’t let me, so I went back to the hotel, and hit the sack. I had to get up at 7:30 the next morning anyways.

 

 

 

The conference was really a day long workshop. There were maybe 200 or 300 people there, JTE and ALT. We were in the gym, where there was a needlessly long and fancy opening ceremony. Then, they taught 2 classes in front of us, kids and all. I felt really sorry for the kids; they must have been really really nervous with a whole crowd of people, many native English speakers, watching them. The junior high lesson was ok, but a bit advanced. They had them doing debates. I thought it would be an interesting idea for an academic class, but perhaps a bit too advanced for the lower ones. I mean, I could never debate in French. Heck, I can barely debate in English. The high school class was taught by Paul (my predecessor) and his JTE. It was pretty boring. In the intermission, I talked to Greg and Pene about seeing a doctor. They said that Saturday would be a bad time, and that if I wanted to see one, I should just sneak out. They were really helpful; they gave me directions and Greg even walked me down to the train station. I went to Nagasaki University Hospital, but they were unable to take me (too busy), so they gave me directions to another close-by hospital. It took me a while to find it, because I was thinking it would be a hospital hospital. It turned out to be a small orthopedic clinic. To top it all off, no one spoke English. It took me 20 minutes to mime what was wrong, and it took the doctor a good half hour to tell me his diagnosis. Apparently, I have an inflamed tendon in the bottom of my foot. He gave me some extra strength pain meds, and told me to try to stay off it for a week. He kept trying to convince me to get a pain killer injection, but nobody sticks needles in me.

 

 

 

I caught a cab back to the hotel, changed and went out to explore. My foot seemed to be ok, but I took the pills along in case. Good thing too, because by the end of the day, I could barely walk. It was SOOOoooo painful. I felt like something had broken. I was supposed to go out to an ALT party, but I just couldn’t. My foot hurt too much. So instead, I bought some snacks, and watched some OC in the Newport hotel. 😛 The next day, I packed up, and took my stuff to Nagasaki station. I was going to meet Urata sensei there. It was his birthday on Saturday, and it didn’t seem like he wanted to spend it with me. I was ok with that. You should do what you want on your birthday. I put my stuff in a train locker, and went shopping again. This time, I bought a small prep knife, a shirt from the discount rack at the Gap, a small bag at Muji, some omiyage, and some snacks for the trip home. Good thing I got that bag, because I could throw all my laundry (which I had planned to hand carry with me onto the plane in a plastic bag; pretty ghetto) and purchases in there. We got on the plane, and headed back to Tsushima. I tell you, you miss this place. Or maybe because Nagasaki isn’t that great. I’m sure I wouldn’t miss the island so much if I was coming back from the FU (Fukuoka).

 

 

 

That evening, I went out with Leanne and Margaret, an ALT last year up in Mine, and Margaret’s father. She is really nice, and her dad speaks Inuktitut. We ate at Roxy’s, then went to the Banshoin for a lantern festival. I wish I had my camera! It was awesome. We walked into the clearing in front of the shrine, where there were many people gathered and 3 big fire lamps, the kind you see in movies like The Last Samurai and Princess Mononoke. They’re kind of like a small fire on top of a tripod. Anyways, the coordinators give you a little paper lantern, and light the candle inside. Then, you climb a stone staircase all the way up the hill. The stairs were lit with little candles on the sides of each stair, and small lights strung all the way along the rails. If you looked ahead or behind, you could only see the paper lanterns bobbing in the dark. At the top of the stair was a graveyard. There, the lords and their wives were buried, and their graves were marked by huge headstones. There were graves there from the 16th century, and those were of the 20th lord. You never really feel how old things are here in Japan until you realize that Shakespeare wasn’t writing his famous tragedies until the early 17th century. That’s old.

 

 

 

The graveyard was set into the side of the hill, and there were stone steps, and stone bridges, and stone lanterns everywhere, all lit up by candles. It was beautiful. There were also some HUUUUUUGE trees that must have been hundreds of years old. They lit these up with big lights, and the effect was quite something. I really really wish I had my camera. It takes good night shots. It was an awesome experience, probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen so far here. To top it off, when we got back down to the bottom, they gave us mochi in red bean soup. I’m not a big fan of the red bean soup, but I LOVE mochi.

 

 

 

Leanne and Margaret dropped me off at home, and then Allie came over. She had been in Kechi, helping with the Mitsushima Halloween party, and needed a place to stay, since she was going to go kayaking with Leanne the next day. We watched Million Dollar Baby, which was good as usual, even after seeing it a bunch of times. Then we hit the sack. I was beat from the travel.

 

 

 

The next day, Allie left fairly early. I didn’t really have much to do for the day. I should have cleaned, but that trip to Nagasaki really drained me for some reason. I think the whole ordeal with my foot really took it out of me. The painkillers seem to work though, so that’s a plus. I lazed about the whole day, really. For dinner, I roasted one of the tiny chickens that came in the mail. I ordered a chicken off the internet (along with a whole bunch of other things), and the “chickens” were more like game hens. Oh well, that just means they’re meal sized. It turned out ok. I’m not sold on convection ovens though. I got to bed early, in preparation for the school day.

 

 

 

Monday was a breeze. Not having any classes, and it only being a half day, I worked on a few things at my desk until about 1, then headed home. I changed, then paid some bills and grabbed some lunch. I returned home, cleaned the house a bit, and did some laundry. I knitted for awhile, then started preparing dinner, which was nabe. It was good, as usual. I started on my good scarf, then decided that the white and black mixed yarn looked funny. So I undid it, and tried balling the black yarn in double thickness. This mean unballing it, tying the ends together, and balling it up again. Big mistake. When I unballed it, it got all tangled up, so I spent 2 hours untangling it, just to ball it up again. By this time, I was exhausted, so I went to bed. That was probably the hardest puzzle I’ve done in a while.

 

 

 

Today, I went outside to find that my ride to the Sho was no where to be seen. I was pretty pissed at the time, thinking ‘what the hell, if you’re not going to pick me up, then gimme a f**king car.’ I finally called a taxi, and got to the Sho, only to find that they were going out on a school field trip that day, so I wasn’t scheduled to come to the Sho. Doh. Katsumi sensei (my ride) gave me a ride back to the high school, and I basically kicked it all day. I have lots of time to do other things on JET, it seems. I don’t have any classes this week. Anywhere. Tomorrow, and the Chu, they are practicing for their cultural festival, so no classes. Thursday is a holiday. Friday, the high school is practicing for the 100 year anniversary, so no class. Saturday is a half day of ceremony, and then an enkai. A very strange week. Anyways, until next time. Oh yeah, and check out the comic at the bottom of the page that Laura sent me. I think it is perfect.

 

October 25th, 2005

 

Well, I was in the middle of updating, and I fell asleep a few days ago, and my computer took it upon itself to update and restart, so I lost the entire update. This bastard computer. Things have been pretty tough this week, for some reason. But all the way back to the 19th.

 

 

 

Last Wednesday was the weirdest day I’ve had in a while. I rolled into work at the Chu at 8, only to find that the second and third years had been shipped off (the second year’s literally) on a field trip and career day respectively. So only the first years were there at school. That meant I only had 2 classes the entire day. I was thinking it was going to be a boring day, but instead, it was awesome! Since all the third years were working at local businesses, all the teachers would go out to visit them and take pictures and such. Nakagawa sensei had students at Belne, that bakery that makes good stuff, and brought stuff back for everyone. Then there were three third years who were supposed to be working in a restaurant, but the restaurant was closed that day. Instead, they cooked all day in the home economics room. Naturally, when I wasn’t teaching the easiest classes in the world (in one, Katsumi sensei had to hand back some tests, so I got to sit in a desk for half the class), I was either helping to cook, or eating. I felt like I ate all day. It was great. When I wasn’t eating, I was playing Go Fish with one of the third years left behind and Nakagawa sensei. When I got home from “work,” I lay down and mysteriously went to sleep for the entire evening. I went to bed at 4:30PM. 4:30. And I slept until 5AM. I got almost 13 hours of sleep. How often does that happen to me? Like I said, very strange day.

 

 

 

Thursday, I woke up freaking early, since I had gone to bed so early. I just couldn’t sleep anymore. I got up and made myself some breakfast. My right foot was mysteriously painful. Thursday is my busy day: 4 classes, English club, and then straight to rugby. Since Aaron wasn’t going to rugby, I was going to get a ride. School was tiring, and the English club kids didn’t show up until 5:30. I think they are all in other clubs as well. They had to work on the big Disney timeline poster. At 6, I walked home. My foot, at this point, was killing me. I was wracking my brains, trying to figure out what I had done to injure it. By the time one of the other rugby players had come to get me, I still hadn’t figured out how I had made my foot hurt so much. I went to rugby, to see how that would go. The strange thing was that when I was running hard or sprinting on it, it was fine. When I was walking, or standing, it was painful and uncomfortable. After a miserable practice with no lights, I came home, and grabbed some food, took a shower, and was out like a light.

 

 

 

Friday was the Kita Elementary special English day. Leanne had been organising it. It was a big halloween day, where a bunch of the ALTs on the island gather at a school, and play games and explain halloween as best they can to the elementary school kids. In the morning, however, I was at the high school. I sauntered into school with trackpants and sweatsuit on, knowing that my classes were cancelled, and that I would be running around with the kids come noon. However, someone forgot to tell Kojima sensei that my classes were cancelled. Feeling pity for her having to teach the commercial class by herself (a feat which I am completely sure she is incapable of doing), I did the class. The atmosphere, understandably, was much more relaxed and informal. I actually don’t mind that commercial class. They are quite cooperative.

 

 

 

I rushed to the Sho after class. Leanne wasn’t there yet, but a few of the other ALTs were. I had stolen a roll of toilet paper from the high school, intending to wrap my face and arms up in it, thus making myself a mummy. It would have been the most effort I had put into a halloween costume in years. I did wrap my head up, but finding it very difficult to eat school lunch, I ripped it all off after awhile. Luckily for me, Leanne had a pumpkin hand puppet. Boy, I got TONS of mileage out of it. I could make it dance, act shocked, wave, hold its head in embarassment, look pensive, bow, and try to grab things. Oh, and I could make it dance. The kids loved it. They kept calling out “kabu-chan” (little pumpkin, I think). The day was pretty good. We were ushered into the gym in a football-game-like entrance. 6th years held up wires of fake, decorative tissue paper flowers, under which we ran to music, cheering and clapping. When we emerged from this strange tunnel, there were chairs for us. We were all introduced, and Leanne explained Halloween. They split us up, and we all manned a game. Mine was the egg and spoon race, which they all seemed to be quite good at. So naturally, I felt it was my job to try to get one of them to drop an egg. I would put the puppet right in their face, or sneak up and yell something behind them, or blow in their ears … basically just cause general mayhem. It was fun.

 

 

 

After the Halloween day, Leanne drove me home, where I relaxed for awhile. My foot was killing me. Later that evening, the ALTs had planned to have dinner at Roxy (as usual… sigh), so we met up around 7 and ate at Roxy. I hit the sack early after that, since I was pretty tired from the strange week. The weekend was pretty good, even though I did have to head into work. I didn’t have to do anything on Saturday, except sit at my desk and read and program. It was fine. It was such a beautiful day though, and it would have been really nice to go to Ayumedoshi. Ah well. That evening, Allie had come down from up north, so we had our very first nabe party. It was fun, and we bought WAY too much food. We had turned on the first Harry Potter movie, which none of us really enjoyed not only because of Harry’s stilted acting, but also because we had eaten so much that none of us could move to turn it off. The girls headed home around midnight (when we finally regained the ability to walk).

 

 

 

Sunday was the cultural festival. I was dreading it a bit, since Leanne told me Paul wasn’t a big fan, and because I had to sit through the rehearsal on saturday. It was dreadfully dull. However, the ceremony was only about 20 minutes of it. The rest was walking around, looking at all the incredible displays that the students had made. Some were truly spectacular. There was this room full of balloon animals, and balloon sculptures. One was a face of Doraemon, a popular cartoon character. Anpan man was also depicted, in huge, lifesize balloon figure. Some of the animals were fantastic, and there were even balloon vegetables. The peppers and pumpkins were especially impressive. One class had painted pictures and hung them up around the room. I wandered in, wondering why they had newspapered the windows. Then, they closed the door, and turned the lights off. They had used glow in the dark glue and stickers to create an awesome spectacle. There was writing, and constellations, and pictures in glow in the dark. On the floor, on the tissue paper flowers, they had put some glow in the dark glue and made a sort of pathway, so you knew where you were. On one wall, the milky way stretched across, and it actually looked like the milky way. They played relaxing music during the 20 seconds or so that the lights were off. I think I went to that exhibit 4 or 5 times. It was so good, I wanted to see if they could come do my house. What I would give to have the milky way on the roof of my bedroom….

 

 

 

Other interesting exhibits included a room FULL of paper cranes, including a mural of Tsushima made out of paper cranes. I didn’t realize this until I looked at the map closely. I asked one of the girls in the class how long it took, and she said “Oh, not long. All 40 of us worked on it.” So I asked her how many cranes there were. “Oh, about 8000 for the mural.” … 8000! Not to mention the thousand or so decoratively strewn about the floor, and the GIANT one sitting on two tables pushed together. Even if there were 40 of them, that’s 200 cranes each, just for the mural. Ridiculous. In other rooms, there were huge paintings of the three school animals (tiger, eagle, dragon), gigantic origami animals, ikebana, and veggies harvested by the gardening club. In the courtyard, they had a tea ceremony going on, where you could pay 200 yen for tea and a snack. It was great. And relaxing! Holy, maybe it’s because I didn’t have to do seizai (kneeling on your feet; it kills), but sitting at the table, watching the highly ritualized making of the tea on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in crisp, clear, cool weather … well, I came out of the tea ceremony very relaxed. Other classes had taken pictures of many of the teachers, then drew us from the pictures. Mine is pretty funny, actually. Another class had done a before and after survey, replete with pictures of the faculty before and now. Mine was … well, exactly the same, since I haven’t really changed since maybe the 8th grade. Some were HILARIOUS to see though. It’s too bad I couldn’t read Japanese. I’m sure the survey answers were great too.

 

 

 

Then there was the market. The 3rd year commercial classes (the two that I teach) were putting on a market, selling various food from tacoyaki to bread and cakes from Belne. I had mistakenly ordered a bento, but I thought I’d wander around the market anyways. Big mistake. I had to buy something from each stall, since I bought something from one. I felt bad. And all the students were like “Ryan Ryan, over here over here.” So, I ate my bento that I ordered, as well as a plate of tacoyaki, a crepe, and a piece of cake from Belne. I took home some snacks (not really sure what they are, some kind of shrimp cracker), some oranges, some bread, and some buckwheat soba. Man, I’m such a sucker.

 

 

 

I was sad that the cultural festival was over. I had so much fun, and the students are truly talented. My foot was really sore by the end of the day, so I had nabe again. It is such an easy meal. I cut some stuff up, and dump it into a boiling pot of soup. Wait, then eat. I just put a lid on the nabe from the night before, then boiled it for awhile before using it again. Good stuff. I hit the sack pretty late, but I wasn’t doing anything besides watching the OC.

 

 

 

I had yesterday off, so I cleaned a little, and did some laundry. It’s gotten a bit cold lately, and I like it. The only thing is that my feet get really cold on the hardwood floor, and my laundry doesn’t dry very quickly at all. Kamito sensei graciously said she’d take me to the hospital to get my foot checked out, so we drove over the Izuhara byooin around 1030AM. We did a bunch of paperwork and waited for awhile. I got an x-ray, which showed nothing abnormal, and the doctor said (in quite good English) that it was probably a sprain. I didn’t trust him, since I have full range of motion, and can’t remember any event that would have caused a sprain. THe only problem is pain when I step on it. Intense, sharp, pain when I walk. But less pain if I run or sprint. How could that be a sprain? Nevertheless, I took the ace bandages, and paid my 25 bucks or whatever. I took Kamito sensei to lunch in gratitude. At least I knew it wasn’t broken.

 

 

 

The rest of Monday I took it easy. I was kind of forced to, since my foot was out of commission. Using the bandages made it hurt more, so I took them off. An uneventful day, after and eventful week. Today has been pretty easy. Since there were kids at the sho who didn’t get to play all the games, all I’ve had to do today is play those halloween games with them. Lots of fun, especially the balloon pop. Since there was an odd number of kids, I got to go with one. He’s hilariou, little Kazumi. He’s such a little spaz. Anyways, the balloons were the same ones from Halloween, so they were a bit deflated. That made the game WAY harder. I resorted to picking Kazumi up, putting the balloon between us, and squeezing him as hard as I could. It must have been a sight to see. However, that didn’t even work, so I put the balloon on the floor, and dropped Kazumi onto it. That worked. He wasn’t hurt either; in fact he was happy. He got a candy out of the balloon. I’m back at the high school now, waiting for school to end, so I can head back to my apartment. I think I’ll do nabe again tonight. I really don’t feel like cooking, especially with my foot the way it is. I’m heading to Nagasaki for a conference at the end of the week, so that’s something to look forward to. It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten off the island, and it’ll be a good chance for me to test out the new luggage on a business trip. Until next time.

 

October 18th, 2005

 

Hello. It’s Tuesday morning, and I am at the Sho (elementary school). I had a really good weekend. Friday night was super relaxing. I cooked some dinner, watched some OC, and tidied the apartment up a little. I had to wake up early on Saturday for this “stamp rally” so I tried to get to bed early. That never works.

 

 

 

The rally was nothing like I expected it to be. Only having heard of those car rallys back at home, I expected little kids to be running around town, looting the shops and streets of Izuhara for all kinds of paraphenalia. However, all they did was make us stand at certain locations in Izuhara, where the kids would find us, and hand out candy. Pretty easy. There were about 35 or 40 kids at this event, from Izuhara, Mitsushima, and even Toyotama, which is a good 45 minutes away. The kids were dressed in a variety of costumes ranging from decorated garbage bags, to a Burger King crown and some silk Oriental pajamas (I’m not sure what the kid was supposed to be, but he was hilarious). The ALTs told stories about Halloween (I told about having to stop trick or treating because I grew too fast), then we were all assigned places. I was put with the Episcopal priest (yes, there’s an Episcopal church on the island). He was really nice and funny, so spending 3 hours with him was a blast. His wife was at the church when we got there, and she helped us. She actually served us at Roxy the last time we were there. She remembered that I ordered bacon and an egg on my burger, and said that she would name it the Ryan burger. She works there part time, on Monday and Friday nights. The rest of the time, I think she works as a special education teacher. Basically, we had to get the kids to say trick or treat in order for them to get the candy. There was also this weird kind of quiz they had to do, but I don’t think they had to get it right. I don’t know. The best part about the day (other than getting a burger at Roxy named after me), was that they took us out to lunch! Just for standing there for a few hours in a ridiculous paper hat, meeting some nice people, and giving out candy! It was already a good day.

 

 

 

After lunch, I went home. I was stuffed. Leanne called me then to say that she was off to Ayumidoshi (sp?), a fresh water creek where there is a small pond. It is south of Izuhara, and since I haven’t been further south than Kuta (where Iaido and rugby are), I figured I should go. I’m really glad I went, because it was spectacular. The creek runs down the middle of smooth, steadily inclining rock river banks. I brought some books, some snacks, and my ipod shuffle, and lay on the cool rock in the sun. It was really relaxing. I think we stayed for a few hours. Leanne walked around, took pictures and read as well. I was just content with being totally sedentary on the rock. It was great. I hope we go back next week. We drove further south, to the southern tip of the island, Tsu Tsu. Kotomi lives here. It is kind of different; for one thing, it just feels more rural. We passed many abandoned schools that had closed down long ago, it seemed. Off the southern point, I saw the last vestiges of the sunset. It’s a nice spot, if you ignore the GIGANTIC SPIDERS kind of hanging out in the trees on the side of the path.

 

 

 

We headed back into town, and hit up the ramen place for ramen and yakinikku. I saw one of my high school students there. It’s always good to see people you know in restaurants, especially if you’re sitting with them at the bar. That means when they order something that looks good, you can ask what it is.

 

 

 

Leanne and I played with the idea of going golfing on Sunday, but since I have rugby at 3, and the golf course is all the way up north, we decided against it again. I got up fairly early, and cleaned the house instead. Despite my conviction to clean on a weekly basis, it’s been more like a biweekly basis. Still, that’s better than nothing. The thing with tatami is that no matter how much you vacuum, there’s always going to be more little wood shreds coming off of those things. And they get everywhere in the house.

 

 

 

Rugby was pretty difficult on Sunday. They taught me 5 basic plays off a static ball. They have me playing at inside center, so I’m either crashing, or am a dummy. They play kind of weird in Japan. They kept telling me to drop deeper, so that I could have a better run up when I get the ball. In high school, I played shallower, since it allowed for quicker ball movement and less loss of yards with each pass. It’s not like I need 20 feet to get up to speed. I feel like its just a waste of time and energy. And when they run a cross, they want me to curve in the direction of the fly half who just gave me the ball. Well, what’s the point then? The cross is supposed to change the direction of the ball, and throw the defence off. What’s the point of passing the ball if it’s going to go where it would have gone anyways? And you would not believe how difficult it is to learn simple plays when you can’t understand the language. Next time, I’m bringing paper and a pen, so I can just draw what I think I should be doing, and they can say yay or nay. However, I managed to figure out the 5 plays. I just need to get in shape now. I’ve got 4 weeks to get into some kind of game shape. I figure if I run every day, that’ll at least mean that I can play a whole game. If I can do a sprint workout or 5, then so much the better.

 

 

 

For dinner, Leanne and I went to Ohashi no Kuni, the restaurant next to Mogu Mogu. It was pretty good as always. I had yesterday off, so I went home and read till I fell asleep. I love Monday off. Everything is open, so if you need to get something done, its easy to do so. Nothing except the banks are busy, so if you need to do shopping, its a good time to do it. Plus, you just had the weekend, so you can really enjoy the day, not like a Friday off when you feel beat from the week. Anyways, I had breakfast, then headed into town. I bought some local produce, and picked up a few odds and ends. I found a knitting shop, so I picked up some needles and some wool. I figure I’ll try to pick up knitting again. After returning to the apartment, I read some more, and did some laundry. Around 3:30, I went for a half hour run. It felt good, and bad. After my shower, it certainly felt bad. Today, it feels bad. Leanne picked me up around 4:30, and we went up to Life Base to pick up a few things. I bought a mirror (since I only have a small face mirror, I constantly get to school, look at myself in the mirror, and think to myself that Bobo must have dressed me), and we picked up a portable gas burner. It’s nabe season (hot pot, shabu shabu … you get the idea). Then, we came back down to Izuhara, and went to Roxy’s to have dinner with the Korean CIR on the island, Ihm-san. She was very short, and pretty nice. She speaks Japanese and Korean fluently, and her English is pretty good too, as long as you speak slowly. I had the Ryan burger, and it was delicious. I came back home and read and knitted for a while, until I fell asleep.

 

 

 

Today has been pretty relaxed. The lessons at the Sho were pretty fun, and the kids are starting to get used to me. I’m actually at the high school now, and I taught my one high school class of the day as well. That is a good class. In fact, I like all my first year classes. They kids all listen, and are fun and interesting. I don’t mind the 2nd year class, but their level is pretty low, and the third year classes … well, not a big fan. Ah well. I think I will cook duck tonight. So I have that to look forward to. Until next time.

 

October 14th, 2005

 

Friday at last. What was supposed to be a short week (it was only 4 days) felt pretty damn long. I don’t know why though. Yesterday, I actually fell asleep at the computer chair. It was very embarassing. I was checking hockey scores online, when I must have nodded off. Masuda sensei came over to ask me a question about some English, and I must have looked like I had a stroke or something, cause she freaked out, and kind of squealed something in Japanese (probably something like “He’s sleeping!” or “He’s dead!”). That woke me up with a jolt, and I almost fell out of the chair. Kurokawa sensei, who was working at his desk, turned around and chuckled, and asked me if I was alright. Well, that’s what I’m here for, to provide the laughs.

 

 

 

Yesterday is my long day, so I teach 4 classes in addition to English club, then straight to rugby. I had fully intended on going to rugby, even though Aaron wasn’t going. However, I couldn’t get a ride, and by the end of the day, I certainly didn’t want to walk. It’s a good 5 or 10 minutes away by car, and I know now that that means at least 45 minutes walking. So I kicked back and relaxed last night. I seem to have to do a lot of that these days. I don’t know what tires me out so much. I’m getting sleep, I’m exercising, I’m keeping active and social, and I’m eating properly. Maybe, as Leanne suggested a while ago, my difficulty in understanding the language is taking its toll. I’m not making very many strides in Japanese, but I have reached a point where I can figure out most things by context and a the few words I can pick out.

 

 

 

Today, I ordered lunch from a new place. I think the chicken isn’t as good, but there all sorts of value added for a mere 30 yen more. You get half a croquette (like a hash brown), some orange, a kind of daikon and tofu salad, along with the rice, chicken and pickles. I think I might make it a habit. I only have one more class for the week, and then I can enjoy the long weekend. I don’t have too much planned. I know that I was invited to this “stamp rally” which is not really what I thought it would be. I think it is a Halloween thing for kids, and all I have to do is hand out candy and introduce myself, but we’ll see. That’s really all I have planned. I guess I have rugby on Sunday too. I thought about going somewhere, but its not only expensive, but I’m heading to Nagasaki in a couple weeks, and then again in the middle of November. Then I have a trip planned to Fukuoka after that as well. I figure if I save some money I can have a really good Christmas trip too.

 

 

 

Well, I’ve got nothing else, so until next week.

 

October 12th, 2005

 

I’m at the Chu on this fine, grey, blustery Wednesday morning. It is cold today, and I love it! The best part about it is that its drying up too; the humidity is much lower. I got an electric bill yesterday and it was ASTRONOMICAL! I’m not sure if it is a few bills that got rolled into one, but boy, I’m going to have to figure out a way to get the bills down. Still though, the sum of my bills is still under my budget.

 

 

 

I had English club yesterday since Monday was a holiday, and Kamito Sensei will be away next week. We are supposed to be making something for the cultural festival, but I’m not exactly sure what the cultural festival is supposed to be. What we’re making is a gigantic timeline of Disney movies, all the way from Steamboat Willie to The Incredibles. The weird thing is, the Japanese kids in the English club have a very strange priority of Disney. For instance, Pinocchio is more important than Snow White. How do you come up with that ranking? Snow White was a movie milestone, the first full length animated feature ever. It is monumentally important not only for Disney, but for the entire industry. Then, of course, there’s the totally ignoring the Little Mermaid, and the Lion King, both of which signal the Disney Golden age at the beginning of the 90s. It’s very strange. So we worked on the poster until 6PM.

 

 

 

Today is garbage day, and I’m really happy. I don’t have enough trash that I can throw it out twice a week (the frequency that the truck shows up), but one week is enough time for the garbage to get REALLY rank. I would throw out the garbage twice a week, but you have to pay for these specific bags. If you don’t have your trash in these bags, the truck won’t take it. The thing is, these bags don’t fit in my nice big garbage can properly; they’re too short. But a normal, black garbage bag fits, and it also fits in the special bags. Go figure. At least I have a lid on my big garbage can. I tell you, my place would smell really bad if I didn’t.

 

 

 

Well, nothing really else of note to write about (I mean, other than my garbage). Have a good one.

 

October 11th, 2005

 

It’s Tuesday morning after a long weekend, and you know what that means. Er…. Actually I’m not sure what that means. All I know is that I got a lot of sleep last night. Since I wrote last, (a mere 4 days ago), I watched 52 episodes of the OC. Yes, you read that right, 52 episodes, all of which are about 45 minutes long. Almost 40 hours worth of television. I am so caught up in the lives of the characters now. I guess the show reminds me of California and school. And, as I told Leanne, the beautiful people don’t hurt either. Mischa Barton is hauntingly beautiful. Adam Brody reminds me of Whit Scott. And Ben McKenzie looks like Snoopy. By the way, his brother goes to Pomona College! Imagine that. Anyways, since I’m having trouble obtaining the new episodes of the new season, my addiction has been stemmed a bit. I’m going to have to find something else.

 

 

 

Friday was pretty chill. After school, I headed home, and lazed about for awhile. It was a grueling week, and the suicide really was the cherry on top of it all. Leanne and I went out to dinner at Roxy for burgers. It was good. Afterwards, Leanne and I bought some junk food and had an OC marathon. We watched 3 episodes before she fell asleep. I walked home, and continued the marathon. I got to bed really late (or not so early) on Saturday morning.

 

 

 

Saturday was a very lazy affair. I cleaned up the apartment a bit, and watched a WHOLE lot of the OC. Leanne dragged me out of my apartment to head up to Kechi to go to the grocery store. We had dinner at the ramen place beforehand, which is always good. We had planned to go sea kayaking on Sunday with Patrick and the CIR on the island Ihm (she’s from Korea; we have a CIR on the island?!), but since Mr. Ueno had too big of a group for Sunday, that got postponed till the holiday Monday. That was fine, since that would mean I could stay up again to watch the OC, as well as hit up rugby practice on Sunday. So that’s exactly what I did.

 

 

 

Sunday was another casual affair. More OC, a little more cleaning and laundry, and then off to rugby. I’m a bit out of shape, since I haven’t been keeping up with my running. It was fun though. I picked up some ankle weights which I’ve been wearing around school and such. I’m not sure if they’ve helped much, but I do feel much lighter after I take them off. It’s amazing what 10 pounds will do! Hopefully I’ll feel some difference after a few months of them. They are a bit uncomfortable sometimes.

 

 

 

Yesterday, we went sea kayaking. Patrick and Ihm were unable to come, so Leanne, Aaron and I went. It was pretty good. It was much more strenuous than last time one, because I was in a single person kayak, two, because the pace was much faster, and three, because the wind and waves were pretty ridiculous. I think it would have been a bit easier if I was in a tandem kayak; the wind and waves kept blowing me off course. Since my legs are too long to work the pedals for the rudder, I had to steer with my paddle alone. But for some reason, paddling on one side didn’t really steer me at all in the waves. I had to do a backstroke, which would turn me, but it would also stop me. So I did a lot of hard paddling just to keep up with everyone. It was a rough day. I’m sore now.

 

 

 

After sea kayaking, we went to Saeki. For some reason, they had GREAT deals on. I loaded up on some groceries. When I went to get money at the ATM, however, I typed in 50 man by accident (I can’t read the Japanese prompts on the screen). I was trying to get 50,000 yen. Instead I got 50 x 10,000, so 500,000 yen! I took out 5000 bucks! And I couldn’t deposit it again, since the ATM wasn’t my bank’s. Argh. So I am currently walking around with a wallet that doesn’t close. I have to head down to the bank today, and stick it all back in. Great.

 

 

 

I obtained the numerous sound tracks of the OC (I think there are 5). It is a very eclectic collection of indie music and lesser known bands. There are a few songs that aren’t that great, but I really like this song by Imogen Heap (one of the members of Frou Frou; great name … Who names their kid Imogen?) called “Hide and Seek”. Check it out if you have a chance. There’s almost no music. It’s kind of chanting melodiously or acapella. I also like the stuff that Death Cab for Cutie plays. Wow, look at me, getting into music. 😛

 

 

 

I have been looking at getting a motorized vehicle. Since a car is SUPER expensive, and doesn’t make sense if I’m only staying a year, I’ve been scoping out scooters. I finally found one that is AWESOME! It has 3 wheels. I think I’ve seen them being used as delivery scooters. It has an extra large back part for putting stuff on. Its called a Honda Gyro X. I just need someone who speak Japanese to come with me to figure out all the details, but I think I will get Gyro (which, from this point forward, is the scooter’s name, and will be pronounced “hero” as in the Mediterranean sandwich/ wrap). I can’t wait to be able to be able to get around MUCH much more quickly, and go to rugby, iaido, and the grocery store by myself. And … well, my scooter’s name is Hero. Alright, until next time, I’ll be re-watching the OC. Take care!

 

October 7th, 2005

 

Morning at the high school. Yesterday was not very pleasant. EVeryone at the high school was in full regalia, including the teachers, who dressed for a funeral. It was damn lucky that I thought ahead and decided wear a suit. The only problem was that I forgot to set my alarm, so I woke up at 8AM, with Yagi sensei ringing the door bell repeatedly. I answered the door in my pajamas, panicking. Not a strong moment. Anyways, I threw on a suit, and grabbed my stuff. I baked some banana bread (the teachers were very interest in this thing called banana bread) the night before, and actually remembered to bring it to school! I didn’t have any money again, so it was a good thing I decided to bring my screw ups too, cause that was my lunch. I have money today though, so it’s back to bentos for me (thank god).

 

 

 

It was very sombre in the staff room. Kurokawa sensei seemed to be on the verge of tears the entire day. The student who committed suicide was in his class. In fact, it was his class leader, the kid who tells them all to stand and bow in classes. They cancelled all my first year classes, so I only had 2 classes. And Urata sensei cancelled my class with him as well, so I really only had 1 class, and they were my least favorite one. However, even they weren’t as rambunctious as they normally are. I guess death does have that effect on people. At one point, when I was checking on the hockey scores online in the staffroom, Kurokawa sensei pulled me aside and showed me the kid’s file, and told me all about it. It was hard see him very very close to crying.

 

 

 

On a happier note, I now have the first two seasons of the OC. They will provide hours of entertainment. However, for some reason, my X-files tapes have stopped working. I guess the Lord giveth and taketh away. Ah well. I think it has something to do with my VCR. I’ll figure it out. This weekend is Canadian thanksgiving, so I might invite some people over for dinner. I have a duck in the freezer, so I might do something with that. There are, strangely, very few good duck recipes, even though I looooooove duck. It seems like there are only a few ways to do duck, and no one really makes new ways. I guess I can always just roast the thing, and make a pan sauce. We’ll see.

 

 

 

Alright, well since yesterday was such a downer, I don’t have much to talk about. I’ll end this here. Hopefully, I’ll have a good weekend. I think we’ll play golf this weekend, which should be either fun or VEEEEeeery frustrating. Oh yeah, if anyone knows of a good travel agent for flights in Asia, let me know, because I’m trying to book my Christmas vacation plans. Alright. Ja ne.

 

October 5th, 2005

 

Junior high today. The 3rd years were supposed to head up to the high school to observe some classes in the afternoon, but I found out that a first year up at the high school committed suicide. So, understandably, they cancelled the trip up there. What that means, however, is that we were stuck having to plan 3 lessons on the spur of the moment. They had only planned for 3 lessons in the morning. Nakagawa sensei and I came up with this sort of English scavenger hunt. I hid English sentences all over the gym, and the kids had to find them, write them down, and translate them. I got REALLY good at hiding the pieces of paper. I think only one group out of 3 classes found all 10. And they were the third class (there was a fair amount of one class telling the next class where things were). We also played Simon says, which worked pretty well. I could almost always get everyone out by saying “Simon says jump up and down” and the yell “STOP!” Usually, everyone would stop. Good stuff.

 

 

 

The good school lunches that I’ve been enjoying caught up with me today. School lunch was horrible. The rice was this tomato, mystery meat, vegetable combination that was ok. The soup was actually quite good – I think it even had bacon in it. But the main dish was this fish cake tube battered in god knows what and deep fried. Now, it would have been ok if it was actually deep fried, but since it was institutional food, it had been sitting under, probably, plastic wrap all day. It was soggy and gross. To compliment this little crap cake, there was a cucumber and daikon radish salad with a soggy bonito flake topping. Now, bonito flakes have a pretty strong, fishy, smoky flavour. SOGGY bonito flakes have that flavour, times 10. Bleargh. And no dessert! What’s up with that? The lunch very much paled in comparison to yesterday’s at the elementary school, where we had tacoyaki and noodle soup. I guess you can’t win them all.

 

 

 

The elementary school was pretty good yesterday. As usual, the kids were great. Lunch time was much less crazy. I sat in on the school “band” if that is what you want to call it. They’re horrible. I only had a couple classes, so it didn’t wear me out, and back at the high school, there were exams, so there was no work there. I felt guilty though, because I didn’t have any work, but Masuda sensei did, and it was her anniversary. I offered to do something for her, but she said it was ok. No wonder why JETs report having a difficult time getting the teachers to like them. I’d resent someone who has no credentials, and gets to leave at 4PM everyday too!

 

 

 

Well, I’m gonna wrap this up, and think about what tomorrow’s going to be like. I’m at the high school all day, so it’s going to be a sobre day. Till next time.

 

October 3rd, 2005

 

High school today. Since I forgot to go to the post office to get some money last week, I haven’t had lunch. I’m getting hungry, but I might be able to last it out. I hate it when I don’t get lunch. I’m hungry for the rest of the day, regardless of how much I eat. I can’t wait till school ends.

 

 

 

This weekend, Leanne and I went up north to Hitakatsu. Allie and David live up there, and we were going to drive up after school on friday to make a big fire at the beach. It is a 2 hour drive, so we took our futons and such up there. I made a vegetable soup (since Allie’s a vegetarian) that everyone seemed to like. I thought it was missing a little something – meat – but As long as everyone like it. However, since it was kind of drizzly, we stayed at Allie’s house and watched movies. It was a good time. Unfortunately, Allie introduced me to The OC, and … well, I am sorry to say I have the first two seasons queued up. We slept there for the night, then went to this soba restaurant the next day. It was a soba dojo, where you could take soba making lessons. It was pretty good. It was very … how can I say it … wheaty. For dessert, there was some soba ice cream, which was excellent. It was wheaty too, but sweet. Good stuff.

 

 

 

After that, we did go to the beach, but since it was kind of rainy, it wasn’t as nice as it should have been. Regardless, it was a really nice beach. The water is really clear, and still quite warm. We went to a few beaches, drove around up north (since I haven’t been up there before). Since Alli had a dinner to go to, we headed back to her place, only to find that her dinner got cancelled. since we were all going to go sea kayaking the next day, we decided that we’d all head back down south, and Allie and David could stay at our places. we came down, went to dinner, then I spent the night baking, while everyone else watched more OC and other movies. I bought an oven last week, and have yet to put it through its paces. I made some scones and some bread. They turned out quite well. I also made some onigiri for the next day’s kayaking. Being the first time I made them, I made WAY too much rice. They were also really watery and gooey, cause I’m not used to making that much rice. Ah well, nothing ventured and all that jazz.

 

 

 

Sea kayaking was a lot of fun. It’s a great way to see the island, since you can get to places that would be difficult to get to on land. Tsushima has some beautiful coast. There are so many little islands that are fun to land on. Allie and I were in one kayak, David was by himself, and Leanne got stuck with this Japanese lady who couldn’t paddle to save her life. Her son was with one of the guides, and there was another Japanese lady who got put with the other guide, Funboo (that’s what they call him, I think, because that is what’s on his jacket). It was a good time. I’ll post some pictures when I get a chance. We kayaked until about 3:30, and then headed back into Izuhara. David and Allie left to head back up north, and Leanne headed for home, saying that she might have a cold. After a full weekend (literally) of each other, I think we were all ready to be home again. It was a lot of fun though, and I hope we get to do it again soon.

 

 

 

Well, since I’m pretty tired, hungry and bored, I’m going to end this here. Have a good one.

 

September 30th, 2005

 

I’m at the high school today, but it’s really not worth it for me to be here. The kids have midterms today, which means they don’t have any classes. So I’m back to my summer schedule of trying to entertain myself for 8 hours. It’s been a long week. Wednesday, I was at the chu. I had only 3 classes, and since the high school was going to take a school picture to commemorate the 100 year anniversary after school, I got out early to head home to change. However, I got home, lay down for a second … and woke up at 6PM. I totally missed the picture. I went to Iaido, which was a lot of fun, since we got to start learning the katas. There is contact between the Jo and the Boken now, so it’s almost like fighting. Lots of fun. I went over to Leanne’s afterwards. We went to get me some ramen, and then hit up Kazeneya, the bar that is pretty chill. She needed to go see Mr. Ueno, the man who runs the sea kayaking club. We sat talking in the bar for a few hours. We both had a couple of “iced au laits” which are really good. But when I got home around midnight, the caffiene hit me. I was up until 5 AM. It wasn’t all bad; I cleaned the house up, and got a few things done. But come the next day … Well, let’s just say I was dragging ass at school. Thankfully, I only had one class, and they were the 3rd year commercial class.

 

 

 

That was probably my worst class yet. For some reason, Kojima sensei seemed to forget what she had planned, although we were using the same lesson plan that we had used the week previous. She kept stopping and thinking, which meant a lot of down time for the kids. The commercial class is full of kids who really aren’t that interested in class. I know that one of them got a job earlier this week, and I noticed that he just kept falling asleep. There were a couple kids who just wouldn’t shut up, and the disorganized lesson didn’t help at all. I felt like just losing it on this one kid, but I wasn’t sure how effective it would be, since I can’t really speak Japanese well enough to really make it work. Anyways, only one class was fine.

 

 

 

Around 2PM, I ran out of steam, and went to the teacher’s room. I’ve been using this room more and more. It’s kind of a teacher’s locker room, with a tatami room for studying, and a big, comfy couch. I passed out on the couch for a few hours, until it was quitting time. I really did try my best to avoid sleeping at school. I planned all my lessons for the next week, but when I ran out of work … Well, there was no avoiding it. Yagi sensei had invited me to play badminton again, so I changed.

 

 

 

I must say, I enjoy playing badminton. You can really pound the birdie. I do have problems keeping it in the court (I put it out the back a lot). since I had bought a pair of basketball shoes, I had a lot more fun this time. I didn’t feel like I was going to snap an ankle everytime I played a point. What I did snap, however, were strings and rackets. I broke the strings of 2 rackets, and snapped one racket in half during the course of the games. We ended when we didn’t have enough rackets to play 2 on 2 anymore, thanks to yours truly. I felt really bad, since they were all other peoples’ rackets. I offered to have them restrung, but everyone was very kind, and said it was no big deal. I think I will get my own, and just have it strung with piano wire, or something sufficiently sturdy. Still, it was a good time.

 

 

 

I got home from badminton, just in time to catch Aaron’s call to tell me that he was picking me up for rugby practice. We drove out there, but it turns out that there was no practice. I came home, cooked some dinner, and decided to make some stock. Stock making is so frustrating. You’re not supposed to boil it ever, cause that make the oil and scum incorporate into the stock, making it cloudy. You’re also not supposed to cover it completely, because that will “sour” the stock. And it takes a good 5 or 6 hours to make maybe a litre of homemade stock (that’s in the biggest pot I have). Well, hour 4 rolls around, and I decide to go take a shower. I leave the pot with the lid cracked, on a very slow simmer. I come out of the shower to find the pot lid had slipped to cover the entire thing, and opening it, found the stock at a high rolling boil! 4 HOURS DOWN THE DRAIN! Whatever, I finished anyways. I’ll just use this for my purposes. You gotta eat what you make or you won’t learn.

 

 

 

Today’s pretty boring. I’ve been reading, and listening to audio books and such all day. I don’t really have much work to do. I did most of it yesterday. Kamito sensei is sick. I feel sorry for her. She kindly offered me some peach tea, the teabag which I have been using all day. It makes a pretty weak tea now. Tonight, Leanne and I are going to head up north to meet up with Allie and David for a bonfire on the beach. On Sunday, Leanne is going to take me sea kayaking. That should be a lot of fun, as long as they don’t make us do capsizing, like they made us do in high school. I didn’t enjoy that one bit. Have a good weekend.

 

September 27th, 2005

 

I’m at the high school right now, but I was the elementary school this morning. It was a pretty fun day. I got to teach the 3rd year class, who were hilarious. They were so cute! I got to have lunch with them too, which turned out to be my most lively lunch yet. EVERYONE wanted me to sit with them, so I shuttled from table to table, with yakisoba hanging out my mouth. After lunch, they showed me the school library’s Naruto collection (in English, no less!), then took me out onto the playground. I figured out the verb for “Play” is Asobu. Of course, I didn’t know that asobu means “everyone jump on Ryan and make him run around with 40 kids hanging off of him.” Well, if I do that every week, I’ll be in great shape. Good lord. I was absolutely beat by the time I headed back to the high school. It was fine though, because I didn’t have any classes today. In fact, I’m free and clear for the rest of the week at the high school at least, because the students all have midterms! Lucky them.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I went back to the high school for the first time, and taught 3 classes. I kind of like being back at the high school; it gives me some regularity in my life. I like the people too, so I get to see them again. I FINALLY finished giving my self introduction. I’m pretty glad that that is over; I pretty sick of talking about my favorite colours and trying to explain just how big Canada is. I can already predict which parts of the presentation the kids will actually be paying attention at: Bobo’s pictures, my family’s pictures, the Canada map, the first page of the presentation, they’ll all comment on mention or pictures of Totoro, Kenshin, and Bleach, and they will mime the last picture of the presentation of the guy working at the computer then going crazy.

 

Lately, I’ve found out that you can … obtain … episodes of Iron chef online. So I’ve been … obtaining … them and watching them. Man, if you can, watch the pork belly battle. It’s so good! Those dishes look damn good. That’s probably the best battle. I’ve seen the overtime on TV a number of times at home (sorry to ruin it for you; should have mentioned there’d be spoilers), and damn, it’s a good battle, wire to wire. I’ve also found that they made Kitchen Confidential, one of my favorite books, into a television drama. They changed all the names (sort of), and the cast is interesting. Nicholas Brendan (Xander from Buffy), John Cho, who is Harold from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, and Jaime King, the girl from Bullet Proof Monk. Awesome.

 

 

 

Anyways, I went over to Leanne’s for dinner. We watched Mean Girls, which was quite good. Leanne cooked this chicken breast with stuffing, smashed potatoes, and made a salad. It was pretty good. She also broke out her mom’s home made jam, which was really good. I came home, and cleaned up the apartment. Nothing exciting. I’m tired. Still sick, I guess.

 

September 25th, 2005

 

That ferry ride was WAY worse than the one over to Korea. I thought, since it was a nice day, the water would be fine. And since it was after the Korean holiday, I didn’t think it would be too busy. WRONG on both counts. The waves were at least a meter and half, to 3 meters high. I felt ill the whole time, but didn’t puke. I just kept counting the minutes off until we were supposed to get there. Sometimes, the boat would lurch so violently, I could have sworn we were going to capsize. It didn’t help either, that the boat was full of Korean and Japanese people, retching and barfing and spitting into bags the crew was handing out. When 1:15 rolled around, the time the ride was supposed to end, we were still out in the middle of the ocean. I could see Tsushima, but I couldn’t see a port. It didn’t seem like we were moving anywhere but up and down. They announced something on the loud speaker, but, of course, since it was in Korean, I had no idea what was going on. All I know, is at that point, all the Asian people on the boat took that moment to break out some of the most foul smelling food I’ve ever had the misfortune of sniffing. I mean, it’s not like I was ALREADY going to toss my cookies, but now, every time I breathed in through my nose, I would gag. I have no idea what it was, but the reek was everywhere. I think they were all on the same tour, cause there was this one guy, walking up and down the aisles, handing big bentos of this stuff out to people. It was also clear that we were stalled in the middle of the ocean, but oh so close to Tsushima. I was like “Oh Come ON!” That was a bad trip.

 

 

 

I didn’t get in until 3. I caught a taxi back to my apartment, thankfully home at last. I cooked some lunch, lazed around a bit, and unpacked. I was beat. I made some dinner, and hit the sack early (8PM; I’m getting old). Today, I woke up with a head cold. I had slept 12 hours. I must have been tired. I got up, chatted for awhile, then went for a walk. The weather was really nice. I stopped by Belne to get some bread, and a donut, and went to the 100 yen store to pick up a stiff brush for my cast iron. I came back, and made some dinner. Just a relaxing day. After dinner, Leanne came over (she was in Kagoshima for the weekend) to pick me up to go to Saeki. I picked up a few groceries. I’m actually looking forward to work tomorrow, since it’s been awhile since I’ve seen everyone. I enjoyed my trip, but I must say I’m glad to be back in Japan.

 

September 23rd, 2005

 

Well, currently, I am in Pusan, South Korea. I came in from Seoul last evening on the train. I had a great time in Seoul, thanks to Jeff, Richard’s friend from California who is also in the army. He not only picked me up and let me stay at his place, but also gave a great tour on Monday, cooked breakfast for me, and took me out to dinner every night. He also introduced me to a few of his army buddies who were really nice, and Aynne Kokas, one of Jenine’s good friends from the Hawaii program that Jeff, Richard, Jenine and Aynne went on. She was great! I believe Christopher has been in contact with her too, in his efforts to crack the Chinese entertainment industry. On top of all of that, Jeff also took me onto the army base in Seoul, to eat and shop. Let me tell you: the government takes really good care of the soldiers. There was the department store where everything was clearly subsidized. Heavily. Needless to say, I was like a kid in a candy store. The one caveat is that you have to be in the military, or a family member in order to shop there. Good think Sung sounds Korean.

 

 

 

On Friday, Alli, from up north, came down to hang out in Izuhara. I got invited to Kurokawa sensei’s house for dinner, so I couldn’t have dinner with she and Leanne, but I joined up with them afterwards to watch the 40 Year-old Virgin (which is absolutely hilarious, by the way). After a long work week, I was totally falling asleep near the end of the movie, which is pretty incredible, since I don’t fall asleep in movies (that aren’t named Closer). Allie slept at my place, since it takes an hour and a half to drive back up to her house, Leanne’s house has mukade, and Leanne had to get up early the next day for Kayak administration stuff.

 

 

 

The next day, we got up late, ate brunch, and walked into town. I was woefully unprepared for my trip to Korea, and I needed to do some things like get money. It was bloody hot, and we were both sweating by the time we got back to my apartment. We drove up to the 100 yen shop, Lifebase, and Osada, and shopped for awhile, then Allie drove us up to Aso Bay Park, a little north of Mitsushima. We met Fionna there, and walked around the area for awhile. It was really beautiful, but so hot that walking was not so much fun. Add in the fact that there were tons of insects (HUUUUGE insects), and perhaps we could have picked a better day to do it. To top it all off, I was wearing flip flops, so everything that brushed my toes made me freak out, thinking it was one of those killer bees. You think I’m exaggerating, but Allie and I saw a GIGANTIC bee, hauling a berry off down the path. I’m talking a good 2 and a half, or three inches long, here.

 

 

 

By far the most difficult walk was when Allie and I decided to walk along the shore of this inlet to a land bridge not too far out on the water. The tide had receded, leaving tons of large, sharp barnacles on the rocky shore. We both were wearing flip flops or sandals, so the march out to the land bridge felt like it took hours. We had to be careful where we stepped, or 1) we’d sink into the mud, 2) we’d impale our foot on a big, sharp barnacle, or 3) we’d step on a loose rock, turn our ankle, and fall on the big, sharp barnacles. However, when we got out to the land bridge, the view was spectacular. The sun glinted off the water in the bay, which was blue and clear. The numerous islands dotted the sea, all the way out to the horizon. The trees reflected their deep, bright green colour in the afternoon sun, and rustled softly in unison as the cool breeze blew off the water. The shoreline, freshly exposed by the water, crawled with small crabs. It crackled with drying salt, and the air bubbles in the sand popped as they surfaced. It was a total smorgasbord of colour, smells and sounds. This was, of course, counterbalanced by the walk back from the land bridge, which was just as dangerous and unpleasant as the walk there.

 

 

 

We also drove up the hill to this kind of rest stop that had at the middle of it a huge statue in the middle of a fountain in the middle of a square. It was kind of weird, but we were thankful for it, after the walk back. There were bathrooms that had hoses so that we could wash off the sand and mud (and blood) we had collected on our feet during the walk out to the land bridge. We sat down on the fountain ledge to rest … and I totally got crapped on by a hawk. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever had the pleasure of having bird shit hit you, but it is just kind of shocking at first. It was sunny and hot, and all of a sudden you feel a blast of water. You think to yourself ‘what the hey…?” Then you look at it, and you realize what just hit you, and … *shudder*. Anyways, Allie told me that it’s good luck to get hit by bird poop. I, of course, didn’t believe her. I wonder what culture that came from, and why it came about. Was there a group of people that just happened to live under a huge nesting ground of some kind of bird? I mean, if it’s lucky to get hit by bird poop, the next logical step would be something like “if you jump into a big pile of cow shit, you’re sure to be rich!” I certainly didn’t consider myself lucky. I mean, I just got pooped on. POOPED ON!

 

 

 

On the way back into Izuhara, we stopped at the “mall.” I actually didn’t know that we had a mall on the island, and, well, you can hardly call it a mall. It’s a big, building with all the stores running from one to the other, without walls or doors or anything separating them. They had clothes and stationary, and some athletic stuff, as well as cosmetics and beauty products, and all the other things you’d see in a mall. But it just didn’t feel like a mall, as much as it did a Target or a KMart. We drove back down to Izuhara afterwards, and had dinner at Roxy’s. It was pretty good, as usual. Allie and Fionna drove back up North afterwards. It was a good time.

 

 

 

The next day, I walked down to the ferry terminal a little after 1, stopping on the way at the Hachiman shrine, where there was a small festival. It seems that there is a festival every weekend somewhere on the island. I’m not complaining; I love the festivals. The food is always good. I caught the ferry to Pusan, then took the train into Seoul. I never realized how much harder it is to get around in a country when you really know nothing of the language. Thankfully, the ticket agent understood some English, and was able to get me on a train. I was lucky too, since I had unwittingly chosen one of the two busiest travel days in Korea to go there. The train ride was alright. I had the cutest little girl sitting in front of me, and she kept turning around, smiling, and speaking Korean to me. I don’t know what it is about me, but I have a way with small children. Of course I had no idea what she was saying. She could have been like “you’re a stupid foreigner aren’t you? As long as I’m smiling, I talk any shit I want to about you.” But she seemed to be having fun. When she got too loud, I’d put a finger to my lips, and so would she, and instantly quiet up. Ah, the old miming game. I’m so good at it now.

 

 

 

Jeff met me at Seoul station, and drove me to get some dinner. It was delicious; barbequed bugolgi, kimchee, rice and the various other pickled vegetables that they give you as side dishes. We drove back to his apartment and dropped off my stuff. His place is really nice by the way. I told you above that the government takes care of our soldiers; well, his place would have cost $2400 USD a month to rent out. Yes, $2400. It was probably 2 or 3 times the size of my place in Izuhara. It had like 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, two patios, a gigantic living room, and a panaramic view of the river that cuts Seoul in half, as well as part of the south bank. At night, it is breathtaking to look out the window at a night view of Soeul.

 

 

 

We joined up with a few of Jeff’s friends who were drinking it up in Apujeong, the ritzy, classy area of Seoul. apparently, it is where the rich and famous go to party and shop. Jeff’s friends were pretty nice, and were getting very drunk. All the guys were army people, and all Korean. They were all pretty big. I didn’t know where the girls came from, but they seemed to know each other. The girl sitting next to me was a brand manager for Pepsi in Seoul. I talked to her a bit about her job, until she got too drunk to pay attention. It was pretty fun. I played drinking games with them (with water). We went back to Jeff’s place a few hours later.

 

 

 

The next day, we woke up a little late, and Jeff drove me around and gave me a very thorough and informative tour of Seoul. We shopped around for some rugby cleats and some basketball shoes. We had no luck on the rugby cleats, and no one had size 300 basketball shoes that I liked either (in Korea, they use millimeters). Still, it was good to get some bearings in the city. We were going to meet up with some more of Jeff’s friends for dinner, but we couldn’t get a hold of them. In the meantime, we had a snack of this large, seafood pancake, alot like Okonomyake. It was really good. When we gave up in getting a hold of his friends, we went to this famous place that serves what is basically uncut, unsalted bacon, that’s been marinated in various ways. It’s grilled, cut up, and eaten like all the other grilled meat in Korea: in a vegetable wrap with rice, spicy miso paste and pickled vegetables. It was really good. We called it a day, having trooped around quite a bit of the north part of Seoul.

 

 

 

Jeff had to go to work the next day, but he had time to make me some breakfast. I tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good host. I hopped on the subway, and made for Myeong-dong, a pretty awesome shopping area. Korea is a funny place; it looks like Japan, with all it’s neon lights, trendy restaurants and bars, and great people, but walking around the streets reminds me more of China. The people, for one thing, are way more self-centered, a lot like Chinese people. In Japan, people don’t push each other out of the way, or just randomly walk into you, even though they see you. They are generally very quiet, and they often smile and bow, or something. In Korea, people don’t care if you’re in the way. They’re loud, and hock loogies into the street. It was a bit of a shocker, coming from Japan. Shopping in Korea reminded me much more of china as well, since most of the places where you can get good deals are outdoor markets, set up like HUGE swap meets. Bargaining is expected, and there are TONS of people shouting, pushing, touching merchandise or hocking their wares. It’s fun, and a bit overwhelming at the same time. I didn’t buy too much in the market, for fear of overpaying for something of dubious quality. I did buy a compass, which, I will tell you, is incredibly useful when you’re trying to navigate a new city. It has an integrated carabineer too, so it was well worth the 1 dollar. Things were relatively cheap here in Seoul. I loved it. You could eat really well for under 10 or 15 bucks. If you bargained, you could sometimes get things at half of the price that the merchants first quotes you. I picked up a pair of nice, pinstriped dress pants for 5 bucks. Original price? 15. I shopped around Myeong-dong for awhile, then got lost trying to get back to the subway station. I found myself in Namdaemun, another market area. Namdaemun was ridiculous; there were so many people, it was hard to walk, or stop and look at things. I shopped there for awhile, then headed to the stadium, where I wandered in and out of the stadium. It was a pretty large stadium with stadium lights that was turned into an outdoor/indoor market. In fact, it was never used as a stadium anymore because of the market. You could find all sorts of stuff there, from knives and second hand sporting equipment to sex toys and clothes. I wandered through the place, bargaining, but not buying much. I was really just looking around, seeing what was on the market, and for what price. There was some real junk, but also some good stuff too, for very reasonable prices once you bargained.

 

 

 

At that point, Jeff called. He was home, and wondered if I wanted to have dinner with him. We agreed to meet in Jankkuk, where there was a restaurant his girlfriend used to take him to. I took the subway there, and tried to find my way out, but ended up in one of the bookstores that was listed in the Seoul Lonely Planet. They had a pretty good selection of books, so I browsed for awhile, since Jeff wouldn’t be there for a half hour or so. I bought a few books, then headed out onto the street. The area was pretty nice! The crowds were a little younger. I met Jeff, and we went to this place that has basically a paella pan on a recessed flame in the middle of your table, and they make Korea Paella. The only thing was that, like much of Korea food, it was hot. Really hot. Half way through, I could have sworn my tongue was on fire. I think I drank 4 or 5 litres of water. I was crying by the end of it. Even Jeff, who’s Korean and who has lived in Korea for a while, was sweating. Holy, that was hot. Jeff left to go to his full contact karate class, and I walked around for awhile, before heading back to his apartment. I was beat from all the haggling.

 

 

 

The next day, I woke up a little late. It was 9:30AM by the time I stumbled out of bed. Strangely enough, although I thought Jeff had to be in to work at 9, he was still in bed too. He woke up and took him time getting up. I was a bit puzzled by this. He explained that things only get busy for him during a few weeks of the year, when they have training, or when they host the training. Otherwise, as he says, “no one really cares” about him. I left the apartment, and headed to Itaewon, a section of town focused on servicing the foreigners in Seoul. Since there is a lot of military there, many of them go to Itaewon to get things like clothes or shoes. Most of the businesses have someone who speaks English. The prices are supposed to be higher, but I found them to be about on par with the other places I’d been. I really needed some shoes, since Japan doesn’t have any sizes over 10 1/2. I found out Korea doesn’t have much over 11. I did pick up some basketball shoes and a pair of sandals for fairly cheap. I also picked up a small luggage as well. That was probably my greatest conquest. The guy originally quoted me 150,000 won (~1000 won = 1 USD). I was like, that’s crazy. I’ll give you 60,000. He was like, ooooooh nononono. I can’t do that. So I started walking, and he said “Okok, I’ll give it to you for 100,000” to which I said “no way. I’ll give you 60,000. I can get the same luggage for 80,000 in the shop over there (which I could).” He shook his head, so I started walking again, so he said, alright, I’ll do it for 70,000. Rainy day special (it was raining by then). I thought about it. It was a really nice luggage. I had already got him down to less than half of his original price. I figured the luggage was worth about 80 bucks. So I bought it. It’s a Daks of London garment bag that fold into a regular looking carryon rolly luggage. Using only the walking away thing I had seen dad use tons of times at the Hawaiian swap meet, I had got it for a pretty decent price.

 

 

 

At that point, Aynne Kokas called me and asked if I wanted to meet up. She had to go to Namdaemun, another outdoor market, and wondered if I wanted to come. We met in Itaewon, but since I had a luggage and a pair of shoes in tow, I thought I’d head back to the apartment first to drop that stuff off. Well, the trip back to the apartment took us forever! Because we were talking quite a bit, we kept missing stops, or going the wrong way on the train. By the time we made it back to the apartment, it was getting dark, and we had planned to go to dinner with Jeff and his friends Kent and Tom. I felt really bad for Aynne, cause I had totally wasted her day. We went to dinner at a shabu-shabu place. I had a really good time. Jeff’s friend, Kent is in the army as well. Kent Justice is his full name. That’s right. His last name is Justice. I hope he makes captain someday, so he can be Captain Justice. At dinner, Tom and Jeff got into a heated discussion about the army. Jeff contended that there were a ton of boneheads in the army, and that if you really wanted to make a difference in the world, the military was not the way to do it. Tom thought that there were a few good people in the military, and that you could make a difference, though, admittedly it was difficult. I think they were kind of arguing the same point, from different perspectives, but it was very educational to hear what army people thought of the army. In general, these were some educated people (all of them had done at least some graduate studies), and they were all in the army. They had some choice descriptions of the way things were. After that, we went to this place for drinks. I don’t remember much about the interior. I seem to remember a lot of glass, and dark carpet. Anyways, we ordered drinks (I ordered a coke), and the rest of the table ordered fruit flavoured Shouju, a rice liquor. Jeff ordered this HUGE plate of fruit. It was good. Aynne started talking about how a matriarchy would be the best form of government, to which, of course, we all to issue with. They talked about Aynne’s farewell dinner, and how they wanted to go one of these clubs where guys come and pay an incredible amount for a selection of alcohol, and the girls come and are shuttled from table to table by the waiters. It’s kind of like speed dating, but without the intense structure. All in all, it was a fun evening. Aynne was leaving Seoul on Sunday after two months there. She is doing a PhD at UCLA, and they paid for her to study there. She’s very animated, and a lot of fun to hang around with.

 

The next day, ventured out to do some cultural things. I visited the Royal palace, which was pretty impressive, and a few of the gates. Seoul, Jeff tells me, used to be a walled city back in the day. Although the walls no longer stand, the monumental gates that face in the cardinal directions still do. It was interesting, but really not much different from the palaces I’ve seen in China. Aynne and I met up in Namdaemun this time, and shopped around there for awhile. I found out that her father runs a restaurant in Detroit, and she totally grew up a foodie. We had something in common. Like I said, she was a lot of fun to hang around. I said good bye to her around 4 or 5, and headed back to Jeff’s place, where I finished packing. My big suitcase (I had 2 now!) had to have been 90 or 95 pounds. I picked up a couple of Lodge cast iron pots while I was on the army base (they were SO cheap; cheaper than they normally are at home, which is to say something), which, together, weighed about 30 pounds. Jeff had done some grocery shopping for me too, and I had got some things like thyme, oregano, rosemary, Adam’s peanut butter, and some candy for the kids. Jeff dropped me off at the train station (thank god; I wouldn’t have wanted to do that trip on the subway!), and we said good bye. I really had a great time with him.

 

 

 

I caught a train down to Pusan, which wasn’t all that interesting. I had the seat next to me free for most of the ride, until we picked up a few people. That was alright. I got into Pusan around 10, and caught a taxi to my hotel. The website on which I booked it said it was only 2 minutes away from the station, but with 100 lbs of baggage in tow, I didn’t really feel like wandering around Pusan late at night. The taxi driver had no idea where the place was. I even wrote out the address for him, and had Jeff translate it into Korean for me, but the guy was useless. He called his taxi buddies, and they didn’t know, he called the hotel, they weren’t picking up; so he 411ed the place, and found out it was across the street. The whole time, of course, he’s angrily muttering in Korean. After he finds out it’s across the street, he starts yelling at me in Korean. What an ass. Too bad I don’t speak Korean. I get out of the taxi, and find myself in front of a building in an alley, with tinted black glass doors. Hmmmmm…not promising. I believe I’ve booked myself into a love hotel. Good stuff. I check in (well, I go in the doors, and the guy hands me my key), and get to my room which is surprisingly clean and comfortable. There’s a double bed, which feels like sleeping in a field after a week on a couch, air conditioning and English TV. Not bad. I take a shower and hit the sack.

 

 

 

Pusan really isn’t that great of a place. I walked all the way to the ferry terminal to get my tickets for the next day, to find them closed. They only open before the one of the 3 or 4 sailings every week. I guess that’s typical. I picked up a map, however, which was useful, and made my way to a few of the markets. There are these two buildings, both chockablock full of shoes, clothing, house ware, and hand sewn goods like blankets and pillows. I searched and searched and searched, and found some shoes I really liked. Every time I asked, however, they didn’t have my size. I was pretty discouraged at this point. I mean, it’s like being at the gates of Paradise, but forced to wait outside. It was horrible. On top of that, I felt myself catching a cold; probably the combination of late nights and leaving the air-conditioning on the night before. I walked around the outdoor food markets, marveling at the prices, and some of the things they were selling (fresh cinnamon sticks, 3 bug suckers for 60 cents USD). I was pretty tired by then, though. I found myself in front of an Emart, basically the Korean answer to Walmart. I wandered around inside, but didn’t buy anything. I was feeling pretty gross at this point, so I left, picked up some dinner, then packed up. I think I’ll hit the sack pretty soon here, but that’s my trip in a nutshell. Pusan just didn’t compare to Seoul, maybe because of the people I left behind there, but maybe because it just wasn’t Seoul. Anyways, I have the ferry ride to look forward to tomorrow. Till I get back to Japan.

 

September 15th, 2005

 

Still nothing exciting to talk about. I was absolutely beat last night, and had the full intention of skipping Iaido and staying in to sleep. I did skip Iaido (I’m not even sure we had Iaido last night, cause the day wasn’t circled on the schedule), but I went up to Toyotama with Leanne to drop off an extra futon at Austin’s. It wasn’t bad; we went to Ji’s, the yakinikku place that is really very good. The best part about it is that they always charge us so little. We had 10 sticks of various yakinikku, a plate of pork chop with the really good ginger sauce, 3 baskets of fries, and 3 drinks. They charged the three of us 40 bucks, about 13 bucks per person. The meat alone would be more than that usually. It was good as usual.

 

 

 

The staff here have started to catch on to my lunch-ordering habits. They’ve figured out that I always order the Karaage bento, everyday. Hey, I can’t help it. I like chicken karaage. And it’s the cheapest bento they have. Can you ask for more? Something you like eating for cheap? I thought that was the object of the game! At the enkai this weekend, the office lady, who I assume takes care of the ordering of lunch, was like “have some more chicken. I know you like it. You order chicken karaage every day!” It was embarrassing, and very funny at the same time.

 

 

 

I got my bills today for utilities, and they were more than I thought they would be. I’m glad I budgeted more than I thought I’d need for them. I think they will go down a little once summer is over, and I can stop running the air conditioning. It is starting to get cooler, and I think the weather is perfect now. It’s sunny today, but quite breezy, so it’s very pleasant. And the humidity is more like what I’m used to, too. That means I can actually wear shirt, tie and pants without sweating ridiculous amounts. Thank god for that.

 

 

 

I’m glad I’m back at the high school today. I seem to get along with the teachers better. Well, not better, but I am more comfortable with them. I also have a real desk that I’m used to, so that helps a lot. I have been exhausted lately, but it’s not because I’m not getting enough sleep or not eating right (come on… not eating?). Leanne suggested it is the effects of culture shock and trying constantly to think in another language; that could be it. All I can say is that I’m looking forward to Korea next week for some R&R. Anyways, back to work for me.

 

September 14th, 2005

 

At the Chu today. This, for some reason, is always a long day. I like the students, and I don’t mind the staff, but the day just passes so slowly. I hate it. Thankfully, they have sports day practice in 5th and 6th period, so I only taught 3 classes. I’m pretty tired of watching kids practice dancing, or watch them set stuff up, so I’m taking this one off, and kicking it in the staff room. If only they had internet … Or perhaps they do. I will have to check it out when I finish with this update. I only have 50 minutes left anyways, so maybe I’ll just let it ride. Since there’s no one in the staff room, I’m soaking up some Rounders, and reading some Getting to Yes, a negotiating book I picked up in Fukuoka. The book covers what seems like commonsensical advice, and a lot like anthropology, seems just to assign technical terms to everyday occurrences. However, there are a few useful things to learn in it, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

 

 

 

This weekend, I’m heading to Korea, for Seoul and Pusan. Jenine’s boyfriend, Richard, was going to meet me in Seoul, but unfortunately, has live firing range practice during this week, so will be unable to do so. However, his friend Jeff Han will let me stay with him while I’m in Seoul, so that’s a boon. He is knowledgeable about the area, and asked me what I wanted to do. I think he is drawing up a list of things that I’d be interested in, so that’s pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to it. I am in dire need of some basketball or court shoes, and a pair of sandals or good flip-flops wouldn’t hurt either. Also, I’m in the market for a sturdy pair of cleats, if I can find them. We’ll see. I hear Korea is cheap.

 

 

 

I am really tired. I can’t even think of anything to write. I think I will take a nap after school, before I head to Iaido. However, I need to get some dinner before I go to Iaido, or else I’ll die half way through. What to have for dinner though? Last night, Leanne came over, and I made ramen from scratch (well, ok, the noodles were dried, but not the waxy kind). I made a big pot of dashi, and then made ramen and miso soup out of it. It was good. I think I’ve finally figured out how to make Ramen from dashi without having to use regular chicken stock. It isn’t as rich as a regular ramen, but by sautéing some onions and garlic, you can give the simple dashi stock and soy sauce soup a little body. Throw in a bit of thinly sliced pork for flavour and more body, and your ramen is ready! I just have to find the right noodles now. The ones I find at the store aren’t that great. I’ve been looking for the fresh ones, but I haven’t seen them at the place near my house. They have been strangely out of a lot of things lately though, so perhaps when a shipment comes in, I’ll see them.

 

 

 

Anyways, it’s almost quitting time. I don’t have much exciting to tell about, so I’ll leave it at that. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll actually have something worthwhile to talk about. Till then.

 

September 13th, 2005

 

Ahhhh, what a difference a day makes. Sports day went as planned, so I got yesterday off. I slept in, and walked around quite leisurely. It was a beautiful day, sunny with a cool breeze off the water. Sports day was pretty crazy. I was all juiced to compete and help out, but it turns out that everyone had a job except me. So I got to wander around and take a crapload of pictures. You can’t wait to see them. Trust me. I will post them when I get a few hours free.

 

 

 

The sports day started with ceremony, as the Japanese are wont to do. There were a few speeches, and all the students marched in in unison, following flags marked I, II, and III. Each team was split between first, second and third years. Each team had a colour as well, and each student of each team had their respective coloured headbands. Then, a few students presented a spear (which, I believe, signified the winner of the cheering/ dancing contest), and the plaque, for the over all winner in points. Of course, then there was the ceremonial stretching. Oh man. I video taped it all. It was great. Then, the games began!

 

 

 

The first event that I got to participate in was the Mukade race. A mukade is a vicious centipede indigenous to Japan. They grow quite large, and will bite without being provoked. In fact, they’ll chase you. They travel in pairs. If you step on one, the oils it releases attract others. If you cut it up, each part wriggles away. Their bite is reputed to be quite painful, and causes massive swelling. Boy, I’m glad I live on the second floor. Anyways, it was basically a race in which 6 people stand in a line front to back, and have their legs tied together. Then they step in time around the track, and pass a baton to the next team every 50 meters. It was alright. I don’t know who won, since the teachers were part of the bigger teams, but it was pretty fun.

 

 

 

After that, I sat in the medical tent to watch the activities. There was the 100 meter dash, there was this zany game, where kids had to bounce a ball while running with a cardboard box strapped to their back. At one point, near the finish, they had to bounce the ball, and catch it in the box on their back. There was an event called “Women Power,” where teams of girls would hoist a girl up onto their shoulders, and carry her around to snatch the hat off of other girls on other teams’ shoulders. It looked dangerous, and sure enough, I saw one or two of the girls get a finger in the eye, or fall down off their teammates’ shoulders, and have to go to the nurse’s tent.

 

 

 

At 11:45, I participated in a relay race with other first year teachers. I was told that I was racing 50 meters (there were something like 12 passes of the baton). Then, before the race, they told me I’d be doing 100 meters. Then, as we were running out onto the track to get into positions, they told me I’d be running 200 meters, since one of the teachers didn’t show. Er … 50 meters is perfect, 100 meters is pushing it for my endurance. 200 meters is OUT OF THE QUESTION! So I line up, turn around to get the baton from Kamito sensei, and start jogging. I grab the baton, turn around and take off … AND ABSOLUTELY FLATTEN this poor first year girl. Holy, it was like a clean, open ice hit. My body twisted instinctively, so that my shoulder got her smack in the head. Then, I kind of caught her … and dropped her, and took off! Oh that poor girl. I was pretty far behind everyone else now, so I raced to catch up. I was actually doing that, until they passed off to the next station, and I had to keep running. I started to run out of steam at that point. The gap widened, and we lost, especially since the second to last runner was SO SLOW! Ah well, all in good fun. And I never saw what happened to that girl. I don’t even really know who it was. But I’m sure she knows who I am now.

 

 

 

The cheering was incredible. Not only were there the kids in the stands, spelling out words, but also, other students were doing dancing in very colourful costumes to the taiko drum rhythm. It was very impressive. Kurokawa sensei said that the costumes were based on the school uniform, but I didn’t see the resemblance. Still, it was pretty awesome. The rest of the day, I wandered around, met students, watched events, and talked to teachers. It was pretty fun, but since it was so muggy, it was exhausting. I was very glad when the day ended.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I went down to the ferry terminal to get my re-entry permit, and book passage to Korea. Next week, since I get Monday and Friday off for national holidays, I decided to take the rest of the week and head to Pusan and Seoul. For some reason, the immigration office was closed until 5PM, but they officially close at 4:30 PM. I thought something fishy was going on, but I tried my best to kill 3 hours. When I finally got fed up, I went home, cleaned up a bit and did some laundry, then went for a run down to the ferry terminal, to see if they were open. They seemed quite surprised when I just opened the door, and I think they were trying to say that they weren’t open, but since I was sweating profusely all over their floor, they would help me just to get me out. Something like that. I managed to get my re-entry permit after running to the post office to pick up a 6000 yen stamp, then back to the immigration office. I’m not sure why they don’t just have the bloody stamps at the office. It’s the only thing you use them for, and what is the point of getting them if the immigration office is closed? Such is the Japanese bureaucracy.

 

 

 

I came home, cooked some dinner (miso soup – delicious!) and watched some X-files. I found the legs for my couch, so it didn’t feel like I was sitting on the ground anymore. I did some more laundry, read for awhile, then passed out.

 

 

 

Today, I went to the elementary school. It was great, in that the kids are hilarious! There is one kid with a full on mullet, the kind you only see in movies and pictures. They were actually quite nice. I didn’t get punched in the balls, so I can only count today as a smashing success. I did my self introduction PowerPoint (well, a cut down version with more pictures) that they seemed to like. The classes were very different. The first class was slow to start asking questions, then picked up until we had to stop them. The second class just didn’t ask any; I had to start asking them questions. The third class was NON-STOP! They just didn’t shut up. I fielded question after question about topics from my feelings about Japan, Japanese food, and my feelings about my introduction ceremony, to my favorite shape, my favorite colour and my height. I think I liked that a lot better. It was so bloody hot in the school though, and I was sweating pretty badly. Bad day to wear a blue shirt. I don’t know why they won’t open the damn windows. There is a nice breeze blowing today, especially up here in the mountains. Japanese culture is all about the pain. They have long ceremonies, just to make being at school painful. They have a ridiculous bureaucracy, to make doing anything official painful. They work their teachers to death and don’t pay them, and everyone clamors to be a teacher for – you guessed it – the pain. What a strange place.

 

 

 

I came back after lunch (much better than at the junior high), and taught my first class with Masuda sensei. She’s funny, in the strange way. It went ok. And that brings you up to date with my life. Tomorrow I’m at the Chu, and I’ll probably stay for the basketball practice again, although I really need some court shoes. My runners just don’t cut it in the gym, and I continually twist my ankle. I guess I’ll wait till I head to Korea or until I order some online. Anyways, I’m gonna head home. Ja ne.

 

September 9th, 2005

 

Hello again, from the high school. I must say that everyone here is very very nice. When Masuda sensei found out that I hadn’t had lunch yesterday, all the staff around me pulled out all the food they had, and offered it to me. So instead of 3 gallons of green tea, I had a rice bowl, some soup, a pastry-type thing, a piece of cherry fruit cake, some fruit juice, and a calorie-mate (basically a good tasting power bar). Pretty awesome! I thanked them profusely.

 

 

 

My neck is killing me today. Yesterday at rugby, we were practicing scrums, and since there were only 7 people at practice, I was a prop, of all things. What made my neck hurt was the fact that I’m at least a couple inches taller than most of the players, and I’ve NEVER played prop before. I was trying to drive the other person up, off their center of balance, but my neck was getting all bent. It’s hard to keep my head from lolling forward now, cause all the muscles on the back are strained. So either, I’m stuck looking up at the ceiling (which is more comfortable, but makes it impossible to see my computer or any work), or I’m stuck with my head looking down at the table (which means I can see my work, but then my neck hurts). What a predicament. There’s really no work today, but looking up also means no computer screen. Rugby was pretty good though. We did quite a bit of contact. I just ran through a lot of it. I think they have trouble wrapping up after the hit, and they hit too high. They were all trying to grab my waist, which we all know is too hard, given that it’s so round. 😛

 

 

 

The Sean John sweat suit made another appearance today. I will have to somehow snap a secret pic of the guy. He’s actually one of the men I played badminton with a while ago. Masuda sensei said, jokingly, that he was part of the yakuza, but I’m not so sure if that’s a joke. He has that kind of swarthy look.

 

 

 

Today has been really boring. There’s not much to do other than sit at my desk. I started to wander around to look at what the kids are doing. It really is incredible, the amount of work they’re putting into sports day. My recollections of sports day are just that it was a big track meet with some kooky games thrown in. Here in Japan, there is ceremony, and practice for it. Walking down to the gym, I saw all the students seated in the bleachers across the field. At a signal from a small taiko drum, they flashed into action, spelling out words and symbols with their jackets! It is really a sight to see. They are all wearing white t-shirts, and their jackets are dark navy. They also have different coloured towels, so they are able to make coloured words, like “fire” in red. I watched that for a while, then found the art room, where students were making a very colourful mural, panel by panel. When I wandered into the music room, groups of students were practicing in order to perform on sports day. Such a buzz of activity! And I’m part of none of it. I hung with the band for a while. They even let me play the flute a bit. It was fun. All the girls just kind of stare at me, and ask me questions like “How old are you” and “are you single?” All the guys, however, like to come up and practice their English with me, asking me all sorts of questions about sports, or life back at home. It’s gratifying when I can actually communicate with them.

 

 

 

My neck is really starting to hurt. I went to the gym to lie down for awhile. That helped, in that it gave my neck a rest, but it still really hurts. I think I’m gonna have to use some advil when I get home. Tonight, I have the party at Yagi sensei’s. I’ve decided on a simple fruit crumble, cause I was able to find some ripe nectarines and peaches yesterday at the market. I was going to make the mussels in a white wine cream sauce, but I couldn’t find clams or mussels that weren’t already precooked and shelled. The crumble should be good though. The only thing is that I have to go over to Leanne’s place to cook it. I hate to impose on her. Anyways, until next time. I have school tomorrow (Saturday), and the sports festival on Sunday. I was signed up for the 100 meter dash, so I hope I don’t embarrass myself. I believe I’m also taking part in many of the relay races as part of the staff team. We’ll probably get killed, when I look around the staff room. Hahaha. All right, mata ne.

 

September 8th, 2005

 

Back at the high school today. No classes, since everyone is still practicing for sports day. Yesterday, the junior high (now known as the chuu, for chuugakkou, Junior high) was a lot of fun. The kids are great. The seem to be in kind of an awe when they’re around me. I think they still believe I’m Japanese, so when I speak English, they’re like “Damn, that Japanese guy’s English is good.” The classes were fun. I had to do my self introduction 4 times in a row, and I got pretty tired of looking at that presentation. But all the people were very responsive to it. They all loved Bobo, or “Bobo-chan,” and no one understood what ‘extinct’ meant (as in Sagehen, an extinct desert chicken), and everyone was amazed that I knew all sorts of anime and manga. When I mentioned that I was watching Bleach and Naruto, everyone would freak out and ask me all sorts of questions in Japanese, only a few of which I understood. When they figured out I couldn’t understand them, they started asking in English, questions like: who is your favorite character, and who do you think is cooler? It was a lot of fun.

 

 

 

After school, I went home for a while, then went back to the Chu to play basketball. I don’t have any bball shoes, so I had to wear my runners. I just knew I was going to twist my ankle. I got there and the girls were doing their running. He-chan was chilling on the sidelines, so I started shooting around a bit. He challenged me to a one-on-one. We shared a gym with the volleyball team. It’s been a while since I’ve played ball, but I did ok. He-chan is almost my height, but I think my arms are longer, and I jump higher, so I had a small advantage. I started to drill with the girls, many of whom are very short. Very very short. I’m talking half my size, literally. I’m saying, 3 and a half feet tall, maybe – MAYBE – 100 pounds. So it very much surprised me when they started sinking 3s.

 

 

 

At this point, the boys came back from their “mountain workout,” which I can only assume means running up one of the many mountains around here. They started drilling, so I joined them after a while. I was surprised to find that there were boys who were SHORTER than the shortest girls. INCREDIBLE! But the short kids were pretty good. There was this one kid, who I swear was under 3 feet tall. He couldn’t have weighed more than 70 pounds. So it was embarassing when he started jacking up 3s in the drills, and consistently hitting them. Hell, when I was that size … well, when I was that size, I don’t think I had the coordination to play basketball. It was pretty incredible. They started to play 3 on 3, which was pretty awesome. I got the short kid on my team (who was a point guard), and a taller kid, who the coach said was a center. It was a lot of fun. I blocked the bejeezus out of one kid (I didn’t think I’d get it, but, oh, I got it with a full swipe just as it left his hand). My team won, the first game, but I had to go right after that, in order to get to Iaido.

 

 

 

Iaido was hard. I haven’t been in what seems like forever (but really only a week). We did all the jo moves, at a very fast pace. Of course, I forgot a few of them, and had loads of trouble. Aaron had less trouble keeping up. I wasn’t tired, interestingly enough. My endurance must be improving. I heated up the stew I made a couple of days ago, and that was dinner.

 

 

 

Today, I have rugby at 7. It is under the lights, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m still looking for rugby cleats. I think I’ve settled on the Nike Speed D Low, a football cleat. I’m hoping that they will be sufficient. Heck, anything will probably be sturdier than what I’ve got now, a soccer cleat, and a super light one at that. I love them, but they probably aren’t so sturdy. The only problem is how to get them. I could order them off of Eastbay, because they ship Worldwide, but the cost of shipping them is 30 bucks. So even if I get them on sale, those shoes are gonna be expensive. I could try my best to find a pair in Korea, when I go. I hear that people are bigger over there, so it might be easier. Things are also cheap over there, so that might be a plus. We’ll see.

 

 

 

Damn, I forgot to order lunch, so now, I’m stuck without one. BAH! I’ll drink my weight in green tea. That’ll tide me over for … probably about half an hour tops. This is gonna be a long day without lunch. Tomorrow, I got invited to a party by Yagi sensei. Pretty awesome; I feel pretty accepted! I’m going to skip Iaido for it. Now, my problem is what to make to bring. It’s hard to bake, cause I don’t have an oven. I’d have to use Leanne’s and I’d have to do it tonight. Very difficult. We’ll see. Till next time. Mata ne.

 

September 7th, 2005

 

Today, I’m at the Junior High. I had 4 classes today, in all of which I did my PowerPoint presentation about myself. It wasn’t too bad. In Nakagawa sensei’s class, she made all the students stand up, and everyone had to ask me a question. It made for some long, tangible silences. I gave up and started asking them questions, but that didn’t really help, cause when I’d pick someone, they’d get so flustered that they wouldn’t answer. The other thing is, is that these kids can’t think for themselves. Literally, you ask someone what their favorite food or color is (in Japanese, no less), and they’re looking at their friends for the answer. In one exercise, the drill was to say “Hello, my name is _____. It’s nice to meet you.” There were kids who forgot their name! Their friends had to remind them what it was! Holy…

 

 

 

It was only 4 classes today because the junior high is also preparing for sports day. They are all training to dance this song called Sorambushi. I am told it is a fishing dance from Hokkaido. It looks pretty crazy, and the music is pretty awesome. I really wanted to jump in and join, but for some reason I am pretty tired. I don’t think the futon is really allowing me to sleep how I should be. it’s kind of deflated and all the padding is packed down. My shoulders are killing me during the day now. It might just be from rugby, but it’s been 3 days since rugby, so I’m guessing it’s not. I’m gonna have to figure out how to make it more comfy.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I didn’t have any school. In fact, all the schools on the island were closed because of Typhoon Tsushima. Well, ok, it wasn’t actually called Typhoon Tsushima, but that what it was for me. Actually, it wasn’t so bad during the day. I went walking around in the typhoon, and aside from the odd gust of wind and the sideways rain, it was alright. I stayed in for most of the day. I made Dashi, a Japanese stock made from Konbu (dried kelp) and bonito flakes. It has an interesting flavour, very smoky and a bit fishy. It is the base for a lot of Japanese cooking. I made ramen with it for dinner, as well as more gyoza, half of which I froze. I was able to make enough Dashi to freeze some, so I can have ramen again in the future. They sell fresh ramen noodles everywhere. They’re delicious.

 

 

 

For lack of anything to do, I delved into the X-Files tapes again. That show is pretty good, I must say. I can recognize that the settings are all Vancouver, too, so it reminds me of home. I have to say though, if I was Moulder, I would have ditched Skully. She’s not a very supportive partner. In 3 of the 4 episodes that I saw last night, there was always a point where Skully was like “Ok, it’s pretty clear what’s happening here” and propose something very rational that didn’t completely describe the situation. Then Moulder would propose a theory that would be TOTALLY out there, but completely described everything that was going on. In addition, Moulder was always right. But ALWAYS, without fail, Skully would be like “oh, you’re just saying that because your sister was abducted and that has traumatized you,” or “you identify with the victim too much. you’re not thinking clearly.” She always doubts him! No faith, no trust; you have to wonder what their working relationship is all about.

 

 

 

Anyways, today I have Iaido, and I might go to the Junior high bball practice. I’m not sure what I’ll cook tonight, but I did defrost some porkchops. I could have those, but I might not have time till after practice. Maybe I’ll just have gyoza. Easier. Gyoza and some stirfried vegetables. Alright, quitting time. I’m off. Mata ne.

 

September 5th, 2005 (afternoon)

 

I have seen the mass game. What I thought was the “math game” (I wondered how that qualified for sports day …), was actually the MASS game. The name reflects the absolutely ridiculous nature of the exercise. So, I’m sitting here at my desk, reading a book, and Kurokawa sensei walks up to me and asks me if I’m doing anything special (no, never), and if I have time (always, almost). He takes me down to the gym, where all the high school girls are lined up in 6 phalanxes of four lines each. The girls in front are squatting, the girls behind them are on their knees, the girls behind them are in what looks like a very uncomfortable half squat with both knees off the ground, and the last row is just standing. Suddenly, the teacher up on stage at the front starts counting, and these phalanxes spring into action. It’s kind of an arm-connected wave, but instead of your arms to create the wave, it’s your upper body. The terracing effect makes it resemble a wave even more. Then, they all break formation, and start what looks like the hakka (New Zealand All-Blacks), combined with jogging in a circle. Looks difficult. Then at another word from the teacher, they all spring back into phalanx formation, all of them squatting down. In another wave pattern, then spring up, turn and then squat down again, one phalanx after another. It is a bit intimidating.

 

 

 

Now that was only the girls, and the women’s mass game isn’t so ridiculous. HOWEVER. The men’s mass game is retarded! They make all the guys do this kind of haywire gymnastics. It’s like gymnastics gone wrong. These kids are like climbing all over each other, launching each other in the air, helping each other to do back flips over other people. There were so many times I thought someone was going to break their neck, or a wrist, or an ankle or something. There were some drills that just astounded me. Why do they not only let their kids do this kind of thing, but MAKE them do it? There are kids there who can barely lift their own weight when they stand up, let alone haul some fat kid around over their head. Yet there they were, trying their best. And the best part of it? You “performed” in groups. If someone in your group didn’t manage to do it? Everyone has to do pushups or squats. It’s a bit unreasonable.

 

 

 

The second and third year guys had to do their practice outside on the field. I mentioned in my previous post today that it is very windy. Well, imagine skiing down a good slope, and that’s the kind of wind there is today. Now the field is not so much a field as it is a fine gravel pit with some weeds on the edges of the space. So these poor kids are doing this bastardized style of gymnastics, in bare feet, in a gravel pit, in high winds. Tiny pieces of gravel and sand are blowing about in their eyes and ears and up their noses as they struggle to launch each other into the wind. It’s ridiculous. I couldn’t watch it (mostly because of the flying sand and rocks). I turned around and watched phalanx practice instead. I can’t wait for sports day.

 

September 5th, 2005

 

Hello, monday morning again. A typhoon is coming, and should be here sometime tonight. That means that power could go out, or windows could get shattered, or water service could be cut off. I sincerely hope that none of that will happen, but whatever happens, happens. I should be ready. I’d just have to keep the door of the refrigerator closed, or else things will start to get warm and gross. The freezer should be fine. There should be enough stuff frozen solid to keep it cold for a while.

 

 

 

The weekend was interesting. Friday night, I had my first welcome enkai, with the junior high. It was at this place called Haccho, which was in the middle of snack bar territory. In case you don’t know, snack bars are where you can go for … female companionship. Not quite a whorehouse, not quite a strip bar. Anyways, in this seedy section of Izuhara, we walked into this place where they put us in this big long room, where we were served sashimi, nigiri sushi, rolls, what, I guess, was supposed to be some kind of Chinese stir-fry, this kind of yucky clam stew, miso soup, tempura and a kind of salad with bamboo shoots. It was, overall quite good. The staff were a lot of fun, and the guy sitting across from me was HILARious. I mean, imagine an anime character in real life, and he was that guy. One of the guys who came in late, Hema-san, came over half way through, plopped himself down between me and Leanne, and we started talking. He was hilarious too. He called me “Sung-chan”, and I am supposed to call him “He-chan” (chan is a term of endearment, used for children and significant others). He and the guy sitting across from me are both lifelong Tsushima people, but I believe they both went to the mainland for university. Everyone drank a lot. A couple of them had that condition where they lacked the ability to metabolize alcohol, and thus were VERY very red. We’re talking like … beets. It was incredible. One guy passed out at one point. It was a bit crazy.

 

 

 

Afterwards, there’s supposed to be a second party (and sometimes a 3rd and 4th), but they hadn’t planned on anything, and I wasn’t really up for another 2 hours of drinking, carousing, and perhaps, singing Karaoke. I politely declined, and accompanied Leanne to Kazenea, a local bar that is very laid back. We went in, and lo and behold, the elementary school was having a get together! Out of one party, and into the next! They insisted we sit down and join them. The … Holy crap it’s windy. The windows are rattling, and the trees are bending something mean. Anyways, the elementary school teachers are REALLY nice, which I would expect, given that they are elementary school teachers. We chatted for a while at the bar, then they dragged us to a karaoke bar. Aiya! I drank coke and ate dried cuttle fish and fresh fruit (!), and watched the others howl into the mic. It was pretty good fun. The woman sitting next to me, Sajikibara sensei (yes, that is the name of the area where I live), was really nice, and a bit strange. She talked about a lot of different things, all in a kind of willowy, shy, squeaky voice. she said the alcohol had loosened her tongue, and that she wasn’t normally very talkative at all. Well, she did down a lot of alcohol. They had actually poured me a drink, before I told them I don’t drink, and so Sajikibara took it and downed that too. Ridiculous. Anyways, at about midnight, the party ended and headed home.

 

 

 

I had the full intention to clean this weekend, because my gallon and a quarter tub of Pinesol came in from Costco. I did clean the kitchen thoroughly, however, I haven’t vacuumed or mopped yet. Perhaps tonight I’ll do it, when the typhoon is making a racket, the neighbors won’t mind if I make a lot of noise. Saturday, I slept in a little, got up and tidied a bit, before Leanne messaged me and asked if I wanted to go shopping at the Super Saeki, the big grocery store up in Kechi. I figured it was time for a meat run, so I went. I also stopped at Lifebase, kind of a hardware/house wares place. I picked up a water kettle, and a French coffee press (it was cheap), so I had coffee this morning. It makes a difference come 9AM, when my ass is dragging cause breakfast has been digested and lunch is a few hours away. I also got a real garbage can, so that I can actually throw out meat scraps and not have to bug spray the garbage. Saturday, I also ate at Mos Burger for the first time. It’s the only fast food place on the island. The burger was quite good, actually, although the serving was a little small. Well, ok, very small. But you get onion rings with your fries. All in all, it was much nearer to the good end of the spectrum than I had expected it to be.

 

 

 

On Sunday, I really slept in, then went to rugby. They had contact for the first time, although, not on each other. It was all bags. Still though, I was glad to actually get in some hitting. At the end, we played this crazy game of touch, where any kind of passing was allowed (football, forward, it didn’t matter). You could only take 2 steps too. It was a lot of fun, and I did well. I need to get some rugby cleats though, cause the fields are not really fields, but gravel with some grass on it. It’s really playing havoc on my ultimate cleats. I’d rather get some metal studded rugby cleats, but it’s a) hard to find my size ANYwhere in Japan, and 2) hard to find rugby cleats that are light enough. Maybe if I can find some good football ones for cheap, I’ll order them. We’ll see though. At night, Austin and Aaron came down from up north, and we were going to head to the all you can eat Korean bbq place nearby my apartment, but they refused us service. The guy at the entrance looked at us and grimaced, then gave us the arm cross, the Japanese sign for “hell no, gaijin.” I guess we looked a bit like we were gonna eat the crap out of the restaurant. At that point, I think I would have; I was bloody starving after rugby. Instead, we headed to Roxy, the foreigners bar/restaurant and chowed down there. I went home, finished cleaning the kitchen, and got ready for school.

 

 

 

Today, it is ridiculously windy. I guess that’s the typhoon talking. This week, there are no classes, so I’m pretty much back to summer work, except my days are longer. It’s kind of weird though, 8 hours feels a lot like 4 to me. Those extra 4 hours are pretty easy. Sportsday seems like a big deal. I have detailed maps, schedules, and a list of events on my desk this morning. There seems to be ceremonies before and after. And a ceremonial stretch. I wonder what that’s going to be like. I, unfortunately, forgot my camera on Friday night, but I have another enkai coming up, and it’ll be much bigger (there are like 50 teachers at the high school, whereas the junior high has something like 20), it should be proportionately more wild. Yagi sensei was saying that if the typhoon is bad enough, we might not have school tomorrow, so I might have a day off! However, that might mean I have to go in on Saturday. Oh well. Anyways, I better go order lunch before they take the sheet away, so until next time.

 

September 2nd, 2005

 

I had my first class today. It was crazy. It was the commercial class, and they were third years, so not much is expected of them. They were pretty rambunctious, but they were really nice. I did my “All About Me” presentation, which went over pretty well. I had also made a crossword, and a short quiz on my presentation, that Kojima Sensei (who I was team teaching with) wanted to give before my presentation, for some reason. Ah well. They seemed to enjoy the pictures, even if they didn’t understand things like “there are 10 provinces and 3 territories in Canada.” They really like Bobo. All the girls were like “EEeeeeeeeeeh Kawaii!” He is kawaii. Also chiisai, futotta, and hen (small, fat and weird). I miss him. Kojima sensei says that the class was remarkably well behaved today, perhaps because I was new. Normally, they are more lawless.

 

 

 

Speaking of lawlessness, I was reading today that New Orleans is starting to resemble the Narrows of Gotham City, after Raz Algoul sprayed his fear vapor all over it. People are pillaging and looting, raping and assaulting each other. The Superdome is supposed to carry a mean stench now too, and people are dissatisfied with the rescue efforts. Law enforcement is helpless and scared. In fact, police are turning in their badges, saying that it’s not worth it. I don’t really blame them. What amazes me is that tourists are still there, and they’re going to the Superdome and places like that to check it out. Reports have it that they’re the one’s being targeted. Well, duh. What are these people thinking? It sure is scary to see how humans would be without the law, or civilization, or society. My favorite quote is one that this guy who was looting a Rite Aid gave to the AP: “I wouldn’t do this normally. I’m a Christian, you know.” That’s pretty funny stuff. I guess human nature is stronger than faith after all.

 

 

 

They are importing troops in there, fresh from Iraq. That sounds like fun. I can never understand why people sign on with the military. Can you imagine coming back from Iraq, happy because you’re out of the middle east and on your way home to your family, then a message comes over the radio “oh by the by, we need all of you to go to New Orleans, which has degenerated into a lawless war zone. People have stolen guns and are shootin’ up the neighborhood. Have fun guys.” Don’t make sense to me. They’ve also approved 10 billion dollars for the relief. That’s a lot of money. And apparently, an official from New Orleans said that the approved rescue efforts were appalling and a joke. If 10 billion dollars is a joke, please play some jokes on me.

 

 

 

I haven’t been to the elementary school yet, but I spent last night perfecting my sideways shuffle so that I can keep my ass to the wall. Tonight I have my junior high enkai, so that should be fun. I’ll get to meet everyone. I’m definitely bringing the camera. Life here at school has gotten better, since it’s usually busy these days. Kamito sensei has started to talk to me, and I’m getting much more comfortable with not only her, but Yagi sensei, Masuda sensei, and Kurokawa sensei. Even teachers who can’t really speak English are getting more friendly with me. They just speak Japanese at me. I nod and smile, usually able to pick maybe 2 words out of it all. It’s getting better though. Anyways, only an hour or so before I’m off to the elementary school. I’m looking forward to it; I just hope I don’t get hit in the balls today. That’d be a horrible start to the weekend. Mata ne.

 

September 1st, 2005 (afternoon)

 

So, having nothing to do in the office, I decided to read up on the news. I had no idea that hurricane Katrina had had such a devastating effect. Reading the reports of the damage, I am shocked. New Orleans is basically underwater. It’s the kind of thing that you see in anime, a vision of a post apocalyptic world. It makes me feel great sympathy for those directly affected by the hurricane. How must it feel, to have all of your personal belongings destroyed in a matter of days? What must it be like, to have to abandon your home, and realize that you may not be able to go back for months, if there is anything to go back to at all? And what must the football stadium smell like, with thousands more people living there than it has capacity for? Disaster and devastation really hit home for Americans when it happens to them. How much do you want to bet that hurricane Katrina will garner far more media coverage and public aid than the tsunami that ravaged Indonesia? Now, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t get a lot of attention and money. It looks horrible, and the damage seems immeasurable. But for a brief moment, I understood the reason for all of the fund raising, protest and activism at Pomona. It was clear for a moment that Americans are apathetic by nature, and it takes something shocking, something close to home to spur them into action. It makes me wonder whether Kerry Dunn’s absurdity last year was really so far out of line. Thank god that this was a brief moment of lunacy.

 

 

 

But it also made me wonder why there have been so many hurricanes in the last few years. Literally, in the last 3 years, there have been tons of hurricanes in the Southeastern US. Every year, there’s one that savages a town or city or state. You’ve got to wonder whether environmental doomsayers are right. Is global warming behind this? Is it some result of an imbalance created by the impact of humans on the earth? Yesterday, while surfing around on the internet, I read a literature review by Verlyn Klinkenborg (one of my profs at school) highlighting the dangers of ignoring environmental warning signs. I came across the article on a site called “The Timeswatch,” a group that trolls the New York Times, trying to prove that it has stopped being a newspaper that reports the news, and become another liberal media outpost. The reaction to Verlyn’s article was ridiculous at best. It smacked of downright denial. At one point, the writer noted that one of Verlyn’s citations was by a scientist that had predicted that overpopulation would lead to the world’s end in the 70’s. ‘If Verlyn trusts this scientist,’ he reasoned, ‘can we really trust Verlyn?’ But the Times Watch completely missed the point of the article. Regardless of whether or not the sources that Verlyn cites are correct or not (in that their science may one day be proven wrong), there is overwhelming evidence that pollution is having negative effects on the world. The Times Watch also claimed that the Kyoto protocol would do nothing, besides have an adverse effect on GDP. They reasoned that the changes would be so negligible that it wasn’t worth it. But that’s so typically American: if it can’t be fixed right away, it’s not worth fixing at all. Just go buy a new one, or just bomb the shit out of them, and set it up all over again, or, hell, who cares, it won’t affect me. The point is that the planet is so ruined that yes, the results of any changes we make now probably won’t be felt for a half century. Does that mean we shouldn’t take measures to control and prevent pollution? That seems absurd. That’s like saying, well, if I invest money now, I won’t be rich for 20 years. I might as well not invest at all. Oh wait, lots of people already think like that. Does anyone wonder why we’re in a crisis here?

 

 

 

Man, while I’ve been ranting on this piece of paper, Masuda sensei’s been chewing this kid out. It’s weird; in Japan, they don’t just yell at you and that’s it. It’s like a mind game. They make you stand there and they talk Japanese at you very angrily for like … AN HOUR! And they stare you down. Most kids break and just look at the floor and cry. This kid’s holding up well.  The worst part of this is that it’s happening right behind me, so I can’t really escape at all, cause I don’t want to get in the way of Masuda Sensei’s mind games and punishment, but my butt is starting to fall asleep and cramp up. It’s not very comfortable.

 

 

 

Anyways, I don’t consider myself a crazy, tree hugging liberal hippie, but at some point you have to wonder if those people have a point. It makes me think of Lesley, who would get angry at you if you took a paper cup in the cafeteria. It makes me see her struggle to make the 5 colleges adopt a biodegradable disposable cup in a much more heroic light. I think I will resolve to try to have less of an impact on the world. Heck, I’ve been walking everywhere, so already I’m better than I was back at home. Ok, enough ranting.

 

September 1st, 2005

 

The school year is officially started. Today, there was an opening ceremony of sorts, where they made everyone stand in the gym, which was damn hot and stuffy (as the weather has gone back to being ridiculously hot and humid). Meanwhile, the principal gave a speech, brought me up on stage, made me sit in a chair by myself, while, I can only assume, he talked about me. Yesterday, Urata sensei sat me down and interviewed me for facts about my life. I think the principal said some of those things. Then I got up in front of almost a thousand people, and spoke some Japanese. Then the principal went back on stage and talked for another 20 minutes. Everyone was dying. The poor kids are standing there sweating their asses off. Hell I was standing there sweating my ass off. And with that, the school year officially started.

 

 

 

Yesterday was a long day. Since I had gotten a ride with Yagi sensei, I was compelled to go back with her. She took me to the Super Saeki up north, and that took awhile. I felt bad, cause I took quite a bit longer than her, but at least we brought another teacher who sits across from me. She’s really nice, but doesn’t speak any English. When Yagi sensei was driving me home, after we had dropped of the other teacher, she was like “do you drink?” and I said, no, do you? And she said “a little” but then pointed to the seat where the other teacher was sitting and said “she’s heavy drinker. By herself. At night.” Hahahaha! Good stuff. Teachers talking trash about each other. But I guess they’re friends, cause they go grocery shopping with each other. I like Yagi sensei. She doesn’t speak much English, but I speak enough Japanese and she speaks enough English such that we can half communicate. She’s really funny too.

 

 

 

I got back late, around 6:30pm, and I had Iaido at 7. I didn’t get a chance to have any dinner, so I threw some of the frozen gyoza into some boiling water. Thank god for the gyoza! Iaido was, for some reason, very hard last night. I guess that’s what I get for missing a couple weeks. I got home, took a shower, and headed to Leanne’s place to bake some banana bread. She has an oven, and I, in a fit of lunacy, had bought bananas 3 or 4 weeks ago that were very very ripe. I had thrown them into a freezer (thankfully), so they were still perfect for banana bread. We didn’t really have a loaf pan, but Leanne did have this … glass cake dish. So we stuck the thing in there, and baked it for a good hour and a half, almost 2 hours. Meanwhile, we watched Princess Mononoke. I was falling asleep by the end (I mean I probably got over there around 10:30, and we didn’t start baking till 11:15 or so). The Costco shipment that Leanne had put in had come the day before, so I also picked up a big tub of Pine-sol, some cheese, and some bacon. Aaaaah….what would I do without cheese and bacon? I walked home, very tired, and fell asleep after arguing about theology with Mike Park, who had a crazy dream. Not just crazy, but CRAZY.

 

 

 

Anyways, today has been very boring. I’m really tired, since it was such an early morning today. I think I will not go to rugby not only because I’m really tired, but also because my blisters are just too painful. I’m going to wait for them to heal. Too bad though, cause it’s rugby under the lights. Sounds like fun. Tomorrow, I go to the elementary school for the first time. Everyone has told me that elementary school is not as fun as you might think. The kids are great, if they behave themselves. But apparently, it is popular among kids that age to run around punch you in the nuts and (no joke) stick their fingers up your butt. If you’ve seen Naruto, it’s the “1000 years of pain” that Kakashi does to Naruto when he gives them their first test (get the bells). Personally, I think having a little kid bust you in the nuts would be more aptly named “1000 Years of Pain” but, hey, I’m not naming these things. The only advice I’ve been given is have your back against the wall, and protect yourself. I’m looking forward to it …

 

 

 

Also, tomorrow night is my first welcome enkai. Basically, it’s a chance for the teachers to get to know me, and for them to loosen up and let their hair down. From rumor, some teachers get absolutely sloshed, take clothes off, flirt with each other shamelessly, pass out, etc. etc. But it’s not nice to come to school the next day and say “Hey, so and so sensei! You were ABSOLUTELY shit faced last night! I don’t think I’ve seen anyone’s belly jiggle quite like that! I wish you had kept your shirt on!” It’s kind like Vegas: what happens at the enkai, stays at the enkai. Might bring my camera.

 

 

 

Well, I got nothing else, so until tomorrow then. I have my first class tomorrow, but, you know, it’s for the remedial English class, so I’m not expecting too much. I have a whole presentation and everything, but who knows how much they’ll understand. It’ll be good to see what it’s like though. This weekend, I think I’ll just take it easy. I’ve been really tired lately, and I could use some rest. The apartment could also use some cleaning, so that’ll get done this weekend. Leanne was also talking about showing me the castle ruins, so hopefully that happens too. Well, have a good day!

 

August 31st, 2005

 

It’s the last day of August, and it is apparent that summer vacation is coming to a close. The teachers are all busy preparing for tomorrow, when they will give a whole day of tests to everyone in the school. How’s that for a welcome back present? How was your summer vacation? Ok, good, now sit down, we’re having exams for two days. I, however, am not busy, so I just get to sit here and watch as the teachers all work busily. It wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t so bloody tired for some reason. I’m having trouble not falling asleep, and I don’t have any coffee, so I’m going to have to stick this one out.

 

 

 

Yesterday, some teachers invited me to play badminton. I was glad, since I have gotten to know only a few teachers. Yagi sensei, the home ec. teacher was among the group, and she’s really nice and funny. I didn’t know what to expect though. Asian people are good at racquet sports, and the last time I played badminton was in high school PE class, almost 6 years ago. I show up at the gym, pretty ready to go. I taped up my blisters (which are hugantic, by the way … in case you wanted to know), and watched them rally for a bit. The guy, whose name I don’t know, was pretty good. Yagi sensei was ok; the nurse that sits facing me was no good at all, and the woman who sits behind me was ok. She’s kind of strange… I think she’s a hunch back. A Japanese hunchback, so imagine how short that is. Anyways, another guy came after our first game (in which I lost 11-7 with Yagi sensei). I was actually ok; my only problem was putting the damn birdie out the back of the court. It was fun. The new guy was pretty good. We played 3 or 4 more games. I didn’t win one game, but my team was close in the last game, 11-10. I guess they don’t play win-by-two here. My calves were sore from Rugby, but now they were killing me. I got a ride home from Yagi sensei (thankfully), who I found out is my neighbor! Weird. Like I might have said before, I think I live in the same building as 5 or 6 of my teachers, but I never, ever see them.

 

 

 

I got home, and showered, but my lower calf (the soleus muscle) seized up in both legs, so I couldn’t really move that well. I felt sorry for the person below me, cause it must have sounded like I was stomping around. In addition, I added another blister, this time on my hand. Awesome! And I have Iaido tonight. That’s going to be fun with a fat blister between my thumb and pointer finger.

 

 

 

I cooked up some dinner, and watched some X-files. You know, I realized something about the X-Files. Moulder and Skully almost NEVER solve any of the mysteries or cases they get assigned to. I wonder how they keep their jobs. I mean, it seems they always guess right, but nothing ever gets resolved. If there’s a prophecy that 5 people will die, 5 people die. Moulder comes up with some crazy batshit theory that Skully scoffs at, but turns out to be true anyways, and they go back to Washington without accomplishing anything. I wonder where I can get a job like that. I’d get to travel, make up crazy stories, hang around and watch the action for awhile, then head back to the office.

 

 

 

By the by, internet is so fast here, that I am glad I got a big hard drive in Tokyo. In the last 3 days, I think I’ve … obtained … 10 movies and 100 episodes of anime. In 3 days! Even at school, that would take me at least a week. Keep in mind that my computer’s not connected all day, either, like it would be at school. Ridiculous. I love it.

 

 

 

Today, I caught a ride to school with Yagi sensei, which means that I, for once, did not turn up a sweaty mess. She also offered to take me grocery shopping at the Super Saeki in Mitsushima after school, which is excellent. I need a meat run. In fact, I should make a list right now, so that I have something to do. Tomorrow, I have to make a speech in front of the school, but it shouldn’t be so bad, since they probably won’t understand what I’m saying anyways, whether it be in Japanese or English. I asked Leanne what they’re expecting, and she said basically anything, doesn’t have to be long, and it can be in a mixture of Japanese and English. I’ll probably try for all Japanese. That way, they’ll understand if it’s pretty short.

 

 

 

I asked Masuda sensei to go through the schedule for the next few months with me. MAN! I have so many days off! And if I have to come to school on the weekend for like, sports day, coming up on the 11th, I get a day off during the week! So on the 11th, I get to come to school, play games for a day, then chill at home on Monday. How sweet is that? The 19th is the Respect for the Aged day, and I get that off, and then the 23rd is the Autumnal Equinox. I think I might just take that week off and maybe go to Korea. I guess we’ll see. At Christmas, I was afraid that I wouldn’t get any days off, except for New Years, but I was wrong, to a point. The Emperor’s Birthday is on the 23rd, and I get the 29th, and 30th off, as well as the 2nd and 3rd of the New Year. If I take 7 days of PTO, I can get 18 days worth of vacation around Christmas. That should be good enough for a trip to Thailand and Vietnam. WOOHOO! Better start saving!

 

 

 

Anyways, I’m hungry and lunch is here. It really is the highlight of my day. Well, that and the Sean John sweat suit, but I doubt that will make an appearance again, unfortunately. So, I will have to rely on lunch for my excitement. Till next time.

 

August 30th, 2005

 

Holy, August flew by pretty quickly. Without realizing it, one month has passed here. Did I accomplish enough? Well, I accomplished all that I set out to do this month (except run 20 minutes a day). Surprisingly, I don’t mind Tsushima at all. Life here is quite simple, and all the people I’ve met at school are interesting and very kind. In addition, I got to go to two of the cities on my list of places to go, joined a few community activities, and set up my apartment. I think I can be more ambitious going forward, but it’s a good start to getting settled here.

 

 

 

I am a bit more apprehensive about starting classes. I mean, right now, I get paid to do pretty much nothing, and I kind of like that. I mean … who wouldn’t? But it’s also true that I’m going a little stir crazy at my desk everyday, and getting into the class room, where English is no longer a novelty, but a requirement, will be good. For the first time, I will be the one speaking the language that no one understands, but has to try to understand anyways. Bwaahahahahah. On Thursday, I have to give my self introduction to the entire school. Not being one fond of public speaking, and given the fact that it has to be in Japanese, I am a bit nervous about that. But I don’t think very much is expected of me, since anytime I speak any Japanese at all, Japanese people are impressed (after they learn I’m from Canada, that is).

 

 

 

Anyways, for the last couple days, I’ve been watching the Bleach anime. Last night, I basically watched the entire series. Pretty awesome. I like the manga better – it’s funnier – but there’s something to having the music and seeing the pictures animated that really make it that much more enjoyable. In addition, I’ve been reading a lot more since I bought a bunch of books in Fukuoka. On Michael’s suggestion, I picked up a copy of What Color is your Parachute?, so I’m making my way through that. It’s about finding a job that you’ll like. Very applicable.

 

No special plans for this weekend, since I spent too much money last week. I think I’ll prolly relax a bit, and plan some lessons. I might try to get some help from Leanne, since she’s quite experienced, though she teaches different grades than I do.

 

 

 

Well, I don’t really have anything interesting to say, so I’ll wrap up. Oh wait, yes I do: the Sean John, velour sweat suit made a reappearance yesterday. I wish I had had my camera on me. One day, Mr. Sean John Jumpsuit, one day.

 

August 29th, 2005

 

Hello again! It’s Monday, and I’m back at school after 4 days in Fukuoka. Fukuoka was pretty awesome; it was a bit like Nagasaki – parts of it really reminded me of that city – but then every so often, there’d be something really cool, like Canal City. I had a great time, but spent a bit too much money. Ah well. There’s not much to spend it on in Tsushima.

 

 

 

On wednesday, the 24th, I woke up late and missed my jet foil (basically a fast ferry). Good thing I didn’t pay for it. However, I made it to the ferry terminal in time to catch the slow ferry, which was good, because the next jet foil left at 2PM. Although it is 2 hours faster than the slow ferry, I would get to Fukuoka on the slow ferry before I even got on the next jet foil! So I paid and boarded the ferry. I was walking around on the top floor, wondering where everyone was. Since I couldn’t find any people (even though I knew that there were people on the boat with me), I sat down in this little lounge, and started playing on my computer. We started off from the port, and began the 4 and a half hour journey to Hakata port. Now, the ferries will still run in some pretty inclement weather. I hear that the jet foil will run with 2 meter waves, and the regular ferry will run if there are waves up to 4 meters. To give you some perspective, 4 meters is about 12 or 13 feet. A basketball hoop is 10 feet. I am not quite 6 feet tall. The day I left Izuhara, the wind was pretty blustery, and the waves were pretty big. I would feel the boat sway side to side, one side rising up, then a moment where everything was still, then weightlessness, as the other side rose up. I barely registered this motion, until, about an hour and a half in to the trip, I suddenly felt a bit ill. I closed my computer and ran out onto the deck, and HURLED over the railing, all over the deck of the ferry. Boy, am I glad that there was no one around. I went back inside, feeling much better, and started playing on my computer again. Not more than 10 minutes later, I had to rush out and again, barf on the deck. It was a good thing I didn’t have any breakfast.

 

 

 

At that point, I decided to maybe lie down, cause sitting sure wasn’t doing me any good. I walked into one of the empty rooms, where there were pillows and blankets laid out. I couldn’t read the signs, but I felt too ill to try to figure it out. I pulled my luggage into the room, took my shoes off, and lay down. I felt much better. The next thing I know, I’m being woken up by one of the ship’s attendants (dressed in white shirts and bowties). He’s just speaking Japanese at me (the curse of being Asian here), and I’m kind of waking up, giving him a bleary-eyed, quizzical look. I give him my ticket, assuming that’s what he’s after, and he points to a number 2 on the ticket and points down. I figure out that I’m on the wrong floor, and I should be downstairs with all the other riff raff. No wonder! Oh well, at least no one saw me toss my cookies all over the deck. I don’t envy the guy that has to clean that up.

 

 

 

I made my way downstairs, into the communal sleeping rooms, where everyone just kind of stakes out a spot. I have much more trouble sleeping here, since I’m pretty paranoid about someone swiping my stuff, and it’s a long 2 hours more to Fukuoka. When I got there, I took a cab to my hotel, the Green Hotel, which was a decent place. It was 50 bucks a night, and very conveniently located, so I wasn’t complaining. I dropped my stuff off, and went to explore. I walked around Hakata station, the main Shinkansen and train hub of Kyuushu. There are shops, and ramen stalls, and all sorts of interesting things to see around there. Surrounding the station (which is gigantic, the size of a big airport), there were karaoke parlors, and pachinko places, and little yakitori joints. I wandered into the Yodobashi Camera, a HUUUUUUUGGGGEEE electronics store. We’re talking 7 floors – huge, silo-sized floors – of basically everything, from cameras to computers, to cooking appliances, fridges, pans, DVDs, CDs … pretty much anything you can think of, it was there, and there were probably 10 to 50 brands of each product. Shopping was so hard!

 

 

 

I took the subway to a large arcade, much like the one in Nagasaki. It was basically the same thing, but the shops were way worse. I walked through it, and next made my way to Canal City, a shopping mall that is really cool. It’s built in a kind of ‘w’ shape, with a hotel connecting the two outside lines of the ‘w’ in the middle. A canal runs through the middle of all the buildings, and in some places, the water shoots up periodically in rythmic jets. There were tons of boutiques and stores here, including places like Gap. There is also a theatre (for plays or musicals) as well as an AMC cinema, where, for 18 bucks you can see movies that came out in the states 3 months ago. I shopped for the rest of the day, and ate a crepe (WHOO, that’s what I remember from Tokyo in 2000. Crepes and okonomiyake). That evening, I came back to the hotel, and found this korean restaurant where they give you meat to barbeque yourself. The beef was incredible: very marbled and delicious. Starving from having tossed my cookies earlier, the food tasted great.

 

 

 

The next day, I checked out the Tenjin area, the downtown of Fukuoka. There were lots of big building here, and the more upscale boutiques, like Louis Viton and Armani. There were also big department stores, where the prices were a little better. I must have come at the right time, cause there were lots of good sales on. I shopped for kitchenware and some clothes. Global knives here? Incredibly cheap! I was looking for a different knife, the Kershaw Shun Classic or Stainless series, but I couldn’t pass up the cheap price for the global. For the 8 inch chef knife, an 80 dollar purchase in the states, it cost about 55 bucks! I picked one of those up, needless to say. I went to visit one of the shrines in the city as well, which was pretty cool. I was wandering around the shrine grounds, taking pictures and stuff, when I got to this large building, with lots of relics and colourful tapestries and such inside. It was an open building, so the sides were open, and the roof held up by post and beam architecture (Ah! Monuments of Asia, Art History 52 at Scripps!). And this woman and a guy dressed in funny robes enter the building from stage right. She sits down on this square bench with a fat pillow on it, and he goes over to the small taiko drum, and starts pounding a rhythm and chanting. Then she gets up, he takes this feather duster or mop or something and wipes her down, while chanting. The whole time, I’m wondering a) what was happening, b) what she was being blessed/cleansed for, and c) how I could get blessed/cleansed. I remember reading in my Rough Guide that one of the temples in the area is very popular, because it’s something like the temple for learning. Many students will make pilgrimages there before they take exams and such. I wondered if that was where I was. It was pretty cool.

 

 

 

Also, there was this GIANT rendition of a float for the festival that I had just missed. The idea is that teams of like 7 or 10 people carry these floats, racing through town. I think the float has people sitting on it too. Along the sides of the track, people have water, and they’re supposed to throw it at the racers. Apparently, this tradition was born from when monks threw water on people to ward off disease. Kind of strange, but AWESOME pictures! In the subway, instead of advertisements in some places, there were big, blown up pictures of this year’s festival. They’re awesome! You can see guys getting the water right in their grill, which makes them stumble, I’d imagine. But if they fall, they get trampled, their side has one less person on it, and the whole thing collapses. hahahah. I wish I had been there for the festival.

 

 

 

Anyways, I did see a movie, but I didn’t pay 18 bucks for it. I only paid 10, since the last showing is cheaper. That suited me just fine, actually, since a lot of things are closed during the evening, and I don’t go drinking or clubbing. Walking to the movie theatre in the evening, I was kind of surprised to see the young women of Fukuoka dressed to the nines (we’re talking like prom dresses, but more revealing [less coverage of the legs]) walking the street with young guys dressed in suits. A very well dressed city! Fukuoka is reputed to have the most beautiful women in Japan. Not having much to compare them with (Tsushima is … well… the Japanese equivalent of, say, Surrey), I can’t really say, but they do dress well here. Of course, then there was me, wandering around in shorts and a golf shirt (yes, since everyone was dressed well, I thought I’d throw on a golf shirt at least. That’s semi formal, you know). Star Wars 3 was ok, but man, the guy who plays Anikin really … sucked. I mean first of all, and this was aparent in the last movie too, he and Natalie Portman have little to NEGATIVE chemistry. I mean, the whole love story aspect of it all – whether it be George Lucas’s or Anikin’s or Natalie Portman’s fault – was so poorly done that you felt no sympathy for either character. And I was a bit confused: at one point, Anikin’s like “I’m turning you in, Sith Lord,” then, after he chops of Windu’s arms, he’s like, “Ok, I’ll do your bidding.” WTF?! I will admit, I don’t have a comprehensive knowledge of the force; however, you have to make the turning of Anikin to the dark side PLAUSIBLE at least. The other thing was when did Obi Wan get so freaking good? I mean, at the beginning, he and Anikin are talking about all the times that Anikin saves him, then, at the end, Obiwan not only fights him evenly, but is able to chop off all his arms and legs. Er …

 

 

 

My main gripe about the movie is the absolute lack of subtlety. In Shakespearean tragedy, a small act, like the dropping of a handkerchief, can serve as the fatal action for the hero. Well, in Starwars, there are no small acts. Everything is over the top, and if there’s a point at which you should pay attention (because this part of the movie dictates the motivation of a character or some future action or crisis), you KNOW that you should pay attention. The dialogue supports this (they repeat it over and over again [see Anikin talk about his freakin’ dream like 497 times during the movie]) and so does the music. It’s ridiculous.

 

 

 

Anyways, I came back to Izuhara on Saturday, and went out to dinner with Leanne, the other Izuhara ALT. We went to this place called Ji’s, this yakitori place in Toyotama. It was pretty good! I had heart Yakitori, which was delicious. We then went up to Fionna’s house (the Mine ALT). She has a really nice place! Huge, and a real oven. Most of the JETs on the island were there, and it was ok. We drove back down around 1ish (it takes an hour).

 

 

 

On Sunday, I slept in. I was tired from traveling, and from staying up to talk to friends from home. Aaron picked me up to go to Rugby around 230PM. Now, it’s been about 6 years since I last played rugby. I remember it fairly well, and all the positions and rules and stuff, but it’s been a long time since I’ve actually played. My skills haven’t really deteriorated too much – still can’t throw a spin pass to the left – but keeping up with the play took everything I had! I’m sure that it doesn’t help that I’m horrendously out of shape, but I was always lagging behind the play and out of position. I told them I played inside/outside centers, which was the last position I played, and they were like … really? I’m quite big here (surprise surprise), and they were pretty interested that a guy my size played center. There aren’t really any huge guys here, and they’re all pretty friendly people. There’s one guy who’s a little too friendly, and liked to pat me on the ass a little more than I was comfortable with. Weird. I drilled for an hour, then ran uncontested simulations for awhile too. It’s hard when you don’t know the language! People are yelling plays and stuff, and you have no idea what’s going on. Ah well, I didn’t do too badly for not having played for a long time. It was fun, but I’m pretty sore today. Later that evening, Leanne came over, and I taught her how to wrap gyoza. So we had boiled gyoza for dinner. It was good. A little too salty. We chatted for awhile about why we came to Japan, and schools and stuff. Leanne has a lot of information about the island and the schools, and she’s very nice.

 

 

 

And that brings me to today. I came to school and gave my omiyage out. The place where I got it had a special going, 3 boxes for 3000 yen. It was a great deal! They are these little pastry things with red bean paste inside. They’re shaped like little birds (for real). I thought they were kind of funny, but I think they have some special meaning or attachment to Fukuoka. All the better for me. Kurokawa sensei was like … damn, you brought so much back. Usually, people just bring enough for the people around them. I’ll keep that in mind for next time. People have talked about getting together with me to plan lessons, which means that I’ll finally have an idea about what I’ll be doing. My first lesson will actually be on Friday, but it’s for the commercial (read: remedial) class, so, hardly a lesson. I have to do my ‘All about me’ power point, and then we listen to my favorite song (?), and then a crossword of my hobbies and stuff. And that’s the lesson! 50 minutes. No problem. I’m more worried about the massive blister on the heel of my left foot, from the cleats I brought. It hurts like hell. Ah well, nothing new. Until next time. Oh yeah, I have internet now.

 

August 23rd, 2005

 

Today, it is really windy. This could be a good sign that autumn is approaching. The walk to school wasn’t so bad, until I got to the hill. I don’t think it really matters so much what the weather is, I will always turn up to school sweaty. The golf shirt I’m wearing is kind of thin too, and blue, so the sweat just shows up. It’s pretty gross. I got paid today. Wow, my pay is higher than I thought, even after the deductions. I was counting on about 2100 USD per month, but it turns out to be about 2250 USD per month after tax and housing is taken out. Pretty good. I’ll have to redo my budget, which will probably take me a whole day.

 

 

 

I decided to sit in on Kamito sensei’s class. Man, talk about not having control of your classroom. Kids were just talking, or throwing shit at each other. At one point, I couldn’t take it and snuck up on this kid about to throw something, and asked him, mid-wind up, if I could share his book with him. The whole class was shocked (maybe you’re not supposed to do that?), but they all quieted down after that. I squatted next to him until the end of the page of grammar (and a good thing it wasn’t much longer, or my legs would have cramped up something real bad), then went back to the back of the room. Kamito sensei made me introduce myself, and the kids were kind of mystified that I can cook and play sports. I guess those things are antithetical in Japan. I had a couple questions, then went back to the back of the room. The lesson was pretty boring (no wonder the kids just dick around the whole time), but I guess it’s like high school French. That was pretty boring too. But it is weird what kids get in trouble for here. I hear that if they go through the door before a teacher, or fail to open the door for a teacher, they get in big shit. But fool around in class, don’t do your work, nothing happens. Now what the hey ….

 

 

 

Anyways, today’s my last day for the week. Tomorrow, I head to Fukuoka early in the morning on the Jet foil. I’m a little skeptical as to finding my way around and all, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I have so much to do before I go though, like cleaning the apartment of trash, and old food, so that it doesn’t rot in my garbage can or fridge. I figure I should vacuum as well. Ah well. I guess until Fukuoka, or after that, have a good one!

 

August 22nd, 2005

 

So, I’m sitting here on the couch, eating my siu yeh style dinner (bak jook even!), and I turn on the TV, and start watching this CRAZY game show. So, I think it’s like battle of the sexes, or generations or something, and when I came into the show, these 5 older women were up at these Jeopardy-like booths. A question would pop up, and they would each have to enter one part of the word (one character) that was the answer. It was hilarious! One of them wouldn’t know what to put, and she’d start freaking out, but the others aren’t allowed to help her. So they’re freaking out too. Meanwhile, the other team is in another room, and sometimes the camera will pan to them, and they’ll be like… what the, why didn’t they know that one. And if one team gets it wrong? The HUGE screen behind them flashes to the other team, and the other team, the one in the room, is free to mock them as they see fit! Great!

 

 

 

After the Jeopardy style game, it got EVEN BETTER! So the point of the next game is how well do you know your obscure kanji. So they get in this little moving platform, and get put in front of a big screen. Then, think Captain Eeo, with Michael Jackson. You know that ride, with the 3D effects, and the air they shot at your legs and stuff? Made you feel like you were right there with MJ. Or that other ride, I think it was space mountain, where they actually put you in a moving room. Just like that! Anyways, the younger team was first, and the first guy looks like the guy in Shaolin Soccer, the guy who uses Iron Head. Anyways, he’s yelling something, I can only assume he’s bragging, and the game starts. The first Kanji comes up (after a needlessly flashy animation of a gigantic space bee flying up and stinging the ship with the kanji), and he’s like …. aaaaaaa…. So he goes down, and they rotate. The second guy takes them ALL THE WAY TO THE BOSS! He’s incredible, but he doesn’t know the last one. No one knows the last one, including this guy that is, basically, a Japanese Willem Defoe, crazy mouth, screaming and all. It’s awesome. The last guy steps up and nails it. The best part is when the other team flashes up when you lose. I love seeing them mock the losing team, forget the fact that I can’t understand what they’re saying.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I basically slept and ate and cleaned the whole day. I was, for some inexplicable reason, exhausted, so I didn’t end up doing much. That’s ok though, because that means I didn’t spend much money. I’m going to Fukuoka this week, so whatever money I save is good. Not a big day yesterday.

 

 

 

Today I went to school in what has felt like a long time! There were a ton of faculty there this time, and it was a bit intimidating all over again. Nevertheless, I resolutely wandered around and offered many teachers the omiyage that I had brought back from Nagasaki. I had also bought some Starbucks coffee (something I know you can’t get on the island) for the teachers that I would be working with. The one girl who sits next to me, Kamito sensei, is really really shy, and I haven’t been able to even introduce myself to her. When I gave her the coffee though (Paul told me she likes Starbucks), she opened up a bit. Thank god; that means I won’t have to see her run away whenever I try to talk to her.

 

 

 

I forgot to order lunch, since I was so excited that they have the internet back on! YES!! So I spent some time check my e-mail, and looking up exchange rates and news, then booked my hotel to Fukuoka (65 bucks a night! Gah!). This is going to be an expensive trip! I studied Japanese for awhile, then it was time to go. Thank god for half days during summer, or else I would have starved. I headed home because I forgot to bring my inkan (name stamp), then I headed for the post office to pick up a couple packages that had come in. I was hoping it would be the modem, but unfortunately, they were only my bank cards (which, I guess is pretty important). I went home again, wondering when my modem was going to come, then remembered that I had gotten another piece of paper from NTT. I called the number on it, and feared the worst: that the person on the other end could speak no English. Fears substantiated. I tell you, nothing is harder than being robbed of the miming aspect of speech here. It took us 20 minutes of her just saying a ton of Japanese at me, and me guessing at what she wanted for me to figure out that they wanted to deliver the modem, and were wondering if I was home. Well, I was, so they brought it over. I was so excited, I ripped it open, didn’t bother to read the instructions (cause, really, who needs to? They’re the same in Japan and North America) and set it all up. Then I put the CD that came with the installation package that had come a few days ago. Then, I hit a wall. My operating system doesn’t recognize Japanese, so everything comes out as gibberish. I was following the pictures on the installation guide and trying to call NTT’s bloody English support line (which is ALWAYS busy), and managed to get myself most of the way through. However, at one point, I believe it needs a DNS server address, which I don’t have the info for. I’m going to assume that that is coming in the mail, but …

 

 

 

I gave up trying to get internet, and started cooking dinner (my siu yeh special; see above). After a while of watching the best game show ever, I thought that I would start on the X-Files tapes that one of the JETs that have stayed in the apartment left. There is, literally, 11 seasons worth of X-files VHS tapes. So I started with the first one. The pilot for X-files! Wow. It was pretty impressive. The best part was that it was in English, so I didn’t have to guess at what was going on. Kotomi called and said she would bring watermelons over tomorrow. Sweet! I was actually just looking at watermelons at the grocery store, and they’re like 6 bucks each. Thank god for local farmers! I thought I should give her something in return, so I went out and bought the ingredients for gyoza, and made 50 or 60 gyoza; some for her, some for me. I figured it’s a good idea to keep some in the freezer, in case I get hungry. So basically, I spent my night wrapping gyoza and watching X-Files. Pretty fun, actually. Well, I should wrap this up. I’m pretty tired, and it’s pretty late. I really just wanted to tell you about the game show. Update again tomorrow.

 

August 20th, 2005

 

I’m back from Nagasaki. The JET conference was better than the last ones, in that the info that they gave us was much more relevant. Instead of just telling us “Every situation is different,” they actually made an attempt at giving us useful information. It was pretty fun too, to see everyone in the prefecture that I had met in Tokyo and elsewhere. Monday night, some of the ALTs from up north came down to Izuhara. Leanne, the 3rd year ALT who is just down the road came back on Monday, and invited us all out together. It was pretty fun. We went to the restaurant that Kurokawa sensei took me to a couple weeks ago. Leanne is really nice. She’s from Ontario, and she’s a bit older than the rest of us. She has her masters in modern history, and is considering getting her PhD. She’s great; she knows so much about how to live here is Tsushima, and she’s really really kind. Her living situation is different from ours, in that the apartment that the board of education moved her into was really crappy, so she went out and rented a house on her own. It’s a small place – 2 rooms, on different stories, with about the same amount of space as my place – but it’s more central to downtown. She has a fantastic bakery right next to her too. The family that is her landlord runs the bakery too, and their bread is very good.

 

 

 

Anyways, we went out to eat, then met Patrick at this bar, where he and Leanne knew the owner. It was an interesting place. It was small and tucked away on the second floor of a building. Inside, the place was quite nice, with carpet and some big plasma screens. There was a bar along one wall, with a narrow space between the seats and the other wall, then the room opened up a bit, enough for one row of tables and chairs. You could order drinks from the bar, or bottles of alcohol. If you didn’t finish the bottle of alcohol, they would hold it for you with your picture and your name for the next time you come to the bar. The service was excellent (as usual in Japan). Patrick arranged a deal where we all paid a set amount for all we could drink (called nomihodai). To tell you the truth, it’s not worth it if you don’t drink alcohol (unless you REALLY put away the coke and oolong tea), but it was fun nonetheless. There were some other men there who all took turns singing karaoke from the plasma screens. There was this one old guy … he would just get the mic, and screech into it. It was this horrible, rasping, wailing noise. That was rough, but he didn’t get the mike very often, at least. We stayed until midnight, at which point the JETs that came down from up north, Fionna, Sylvia, Aaron and Austin, went home. Leanne, Patrick and I stayed for a while longer, as Leanne and Patrick caught up. I got home around 1ish, and finished packing. Because I had to iron my shirts, and clean up the apartment a bit, I didn’t get to sleep until late.

 

 

 

I left Tuesday morning, a day earlier than I was supposed to. The school couldn’t get me a flight out on Wednesday. That was ok though, since I stayed with Paul, my predecessor. My flight was at 9:30AM, and my supervisor picked me up at 8. It took about 20 minutes to get to the airport. I’m still amazed that you don’t have to be at the airport 2 hours early. Heck, people show up a half hour before. In fact, the airport advises you to come an hour early, only an hour! I was on the same flight as Sylvia, a girl from Ontario as well, who went to U of Toronto. She’s quite nice, and we chatted for a half hour or so before the flight. When we got to Nagasaki, we took the bus into town from the airport. My supervisor, Masuda sensei, worried that I would have trouble figuring it all out, made me these signs with Japanese on the front, and the English translation on the back. So I had phrases like “Please tell me where I can catch the bus to Nagasaki station” or “can you tell me where I can find somewhere that speaks English?” Heck, it could have been anything in Japanese on the front, and I wouldn’t have known. If it were me, I would have slipped in a sign that said something like “I’m a crazy Gaijin. Give me 50 yen, and watch me do my best impression of a Chinese guy trying to speak Japanese!” just for funsies. I thought it was pretty funny, and those signs came in handy.

 

 

 

Paul met me at Nagasaki eki. I put my luggage in the station lockers, and Paul showed me around Nagasaki. Contrary to what I thought, Nagasaki isn’t a big place. It’s metropolitan, but still a pretty quiet town. I didn’t know it, but Nagasaki is like the 17th biggest city in Japan, with only about 400,000 people in it. I thought it would be a bigger place, considering that almost everyone knows its name. Despite its history as the only port open to foreigners during Japan’s isolation to the rest of the world, Nagasaki isn’t Kyuushu’s main hub either. That would probably be Fukuoka. Anyways, we saw many of the sites that are well known in Nagasaki, like the two temples in the city, as well as the A-bomb hypocenter and museum. That was pretty powerful. I’ve never felt more ashamed to be an American. I tell you, there are times you just don’t want to be wearing an In n’ Out t-shirt with California, USA all over it, no matter how much you love the food.  There was a lot of pieces of the rubble caused by the bomb, but there were also things like a helmet with skull pieces melted into it, or a bottle that had melted with bones stuck in it. The pictures and videos were graphic; at one point, it showed the charred bodies of a woman and her child, basically just carbon when the picture was taken. There were also pictures and videos of survivors that developed cancer, or keloid scars. At the end, there were about 50 or so videos of survivors of the war, both Japanese and foreigners. That was gut wrenching. I only watched a few. There was one with a woman that described how her husband found her and her child with severe burns, dragged them to safety, cared for them. The next day, he went back to their home only to find her parents and the rest of their kids vaporized. He brought their bones back in a bowl, and when the woman picked them up, they disintegrated in her hands. About a month later, her husband died from the radiation, despite him not being injured at all from the blast. Paul told me about this one where a guy found his best friend trapped under a beam that he couldn’t move. The fire was spreading very fast towards them, and he asked his friend “Do you want to die from the fire, or do you want me to shoot you in the head?” It was pretty depressing, but very informative. They gave a history of the bomb’s development, and the events during the war that lead to its use. It gave a fairly balanced perspective on Japan’s role in the war too. There was one part of the museum that documented Japan’s massacre of China and South East Asia. There was another part where foreigners from the States or Europe told how atomic testing affected their lives. They had video of people in Nevada who’s husbands or parents or children died just because of the tests. Scary stuff.

 

 

 

I stayed at Paul’s place for the night, and he was really kind. He gave me the futon, and he slept on the couch. His new place is much much bigger than the apartment in Tsushima, but it’s much older, and smells kind of funky. It really is huge though. The next day, I caught the train back into the downtown area (his place is just a bit out of Nagasaki), and put my stuff in the station locker again. Since I had seen all the temples and stuff the previous day, I thought I’d check out Chinatown, which is supposed to be kind of famous. It was kind of a letdown. I mean, it looks nice, because of the gates and stuff that are in a Chinese style of architecture, and there are Chinese food and goods there, which made it feel a bit like home, but it wasn’t really big or very Chinese at all. The food was all Japanese versions of Chinese food, and I didn’t really see very many Chinese people. And you’d think that that isn’t such a big deal, but in any Chinatown in North America, you’ll find tons of Chinese people. It was also kind of small, just the area of a few blocks. The shopping street, Hamanomachi, was much better. It was this open air street, 3 or four blocks long, that was air conditioned (I dunno how they did that), with lots of cool shops. There were some western ones, like Gap and stuff like that, and there were also lots of the normal Japanese stores like Best and Mos Burger. I shopped for a while there and near the station, then checked into the hotel around 3. I walked around for the rest of the day, looking around and getting a feel for the city. I spent a few hours in an internet cafe as well, updating this site. I tried to get in touch with the others from my island, but not knowing where the majority of them were staying, it was a bit of a fruitless search. This wasn’t helped by the fact that a lot of hotel receptionists don’t speak English, and have trouble with foreign names. I had dinner at a nameless ramen place (most, if not all of them are passably clean and good!).

 

 

 

The next couple days, we had the conference, which, like I said, was not too bad. They had a lot of current JETs running the show, and the info and advice they gave was quite relevant and recent. We also sat through some mock team taught classes, which were pretty good. I’m wondering how well my students speak English. Apparently, the level can vary quite drastically, depending on the quality of the high school. I met up with Kelli again, and I went out to lunch on the first day with her, one other person on Iki, and others from Sasebo and around Nagasaki. On Thursday evening, the conference put on an all you can eat, all you can drink (tabehodai and nomihodai) event at a beer garden not far from my hotel. I didn’t really want to go and spend 35 bucks for 2 hour all you can eat, but since everyone was going, I figured I should if I didn’t want to eat alone on my birthday. I went an hour late cause I lost track of time shopping, but the good thing about that was that the coordinators were really nice and didn’t make me pay. It was pretty fun. At one point, someone found out it was my birthday and everyone sang me happy birthday, even the group of Japanese people behind us. That was pretty embarrassing. Kelli also got me a present! She’s too nice. Not knowing what I wanted, she got me some snacks from the international grocery store, including some of those Snyder Honey Mustard Pretzel pieces. I used to eat those at Pomona! Afterwards, Kelli, Fionna, Sylvia, two South Africans, Vusi and Gilbert, and myself went out for ice cream. I had stopped at this gelato place on the wharf near my hotel during the afternoon, but it wasn’t open, so we just went into another restaurant on the wharf.

 

 

 

Friday was a half day of conference, then a flight back to Tsushima. I had about 3 hours to kill between the end of the conference and the flight back. I had lunch with the island people, then went to Nagasaki station for some last minute shopping. It’s weird how much I miss being in the city! There are things you just can’t get on the island, like decent balsamic vinegar, or affordable grape seed oil. I also found some English manga. I started a series called Bleach which is awesome. It’s been made into an anime too, so I can’t wait to get the internet. I think I remember Charline mentioning that she had some of those episodes, but I can’t remember. Anyways, I caught my flight, got back around 6, and went to Iaido. That was hard. I don’t know why, but I was pretty tired from the week. Louis was there, since he is back for the weekend to do a kendo test. I hit the sack pretty early.

 

 

 

Today, I left early to go grocery shopping. I don’t have much in the apartment, since I cleaned it out before I left. I picked up some bread, had some lunch, then went and grabbed some lemons (cause they were cheap), and other stuff. I spent the rest of the day getting my stuff in order, and unpacking. I leave for Fukuoka on Wednesday, so I should get ready for that. I still need to book a hotel. I thought I would have internet before this, but it looks like I’m going to either have to figure out how to book a room in Japanese, or else ask someone to do it for me. I hate doing that though, because I never know what I’m getting. Well, it’s been an interesting week, but I’ll stop here. Fukuoka promises to be interesting, so wait for pictures of that, as well as the pictures of Nagasaki. Hope everyone at home is well. Mata ne.

 

August 14th, 2005

 

Man, if I thought it was quiet last week … Today is a whole new level of quiet. Apparently, today is a holiday, the first day of Obon. I guess EVERYONE is on the mainland somewhere, because I am the only teacher here today. The ONLY one. There are 2 office workers, and when they saw me, they were amazed. Neither of them speak very good English, so they were like … “You come to work today?” And I was like … well, I’m here. I walked 20 minutes in this ridiculous humidity to be here. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was internet, but it’s still down. Ah well. It’s not like I do a lot of things with the other teachers during the day anyways. They do give me a lot of food though. It’s kind of weird; I know it’s customary to get something for everyone when you go somewhere, but lately, teachers have just been giving food to everyone, even when they haven’t been anywhere. But no snacks for me today.

 

 

 

Saturday was kind of weird. I woke up late, cause I was up late on Friday, and went to the Vodaphone shop to see Kotomi off on her last day. She had some work to do, so we didn’t get to just sit around and shoot the shit like we usually do, but it was ok. When she got off, she drove me to the DoCoMo cell phone shop. I think I’ll get a cell phone. But no one spoke any English, so after trying to communicate for awhile, I gave up. I forgot that the ALTs were having a get-together that day, and by the time I came out of the cell phone shop, my ride had probably already left his apartment. No big deal. I walked around town and picked up some lunch and groceries. I ate lunch outside in the sweltering heat. I asked Koto if she knew of a dry cleaning place in Izuhara, and she looked one up for me. I headed there to see if they could do my suit. They didn’t speak much English, but I’ve become quite proficient at getting my message across with a little Japanese, and a lot of miming. They couldn’t do it before I left for Nagasaki, so no biggie. I decided to head home. I cut my hair with my new wireless hair cutter (the one I brought from home is only 120V, and didn’t work here; buying a voltage converter would be more expensive than just getting a new one!). And that was Saturday.

 

 

 

Sunday, I woke up pretty early, and started cleaning the apartment. I figured I’d really do a good cleaning job, so I moved the stove, cleaned the burners, vacuumed and mopped the floor, lifted up the tatami even to vacuum. Those sucker are heavy. I did 3 loads of laundry, and cleaned the bathroom too. 4 hours later, I headed out to walk around again. For some reason, all the cleaning left me hungry for steak. I had some frozen beef, but it would take forever to defrost, so I thought I’d stop in at this butcher. They spoke no English, and I couldn’t figure out what they were saying, but I managed to get a nice piece of meat. I was wrong: they do have good steak here, you just have to pay for it. 4600 yen! Holy… I got hosed. But I felt bad for making the guy haul out the whole rib roast and cut me a piece, so I bought it. Never again! Anyways, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some other groceries, and then headed home. It was a goooood steak. Good marbling. And I made a demi-glace with red onions to go with it. It was good. I wrote for awhile, then headed to bed.

 

 

 

Which brings me to school on this fine Japanese national holiday. Today, Kotomi offered to pick me up after school, and show me around Tsushima, so I get a guided tour. That’s cool. The other Izuhara ALT, Leanne, from Canada, is back today too, so I think she wanted to do something tonight, like dinner. We’ll see if that actually happens. I have pack tonight for the Nagasaki orientation. I leave tomorrow, and stay with Paul, my predecessor for an evening, before moving to a hotel. It’s kind of nice though, because I get an extra day in Nagasaki. It turns out the large travel expense check is for the Nagasaki trip’s expenses as well, but they gave me a lot. After hotel, I get 60 bucks a day. But food is part of the orientation, so … it’s just like 60 bucks of spending money. Weird. Anyways, until later. Mata ne.

 

August 12th, 2005

Friday late at night. It was a very quiet day at school. This upcoming week is Obon here in Japan. Obon is a period of time, much like New Years and Golden Week, where everyone in Japan is off. The idea is that one is supposed to go back to your hometown and pray for your deceased ancestors. The reason the staff room has been so empty these last few days is because everyone is on their way to their hometowns. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but almost everyone here is from the mainland. To be a teacher in Nagasaki prefecture, one must do “island time,” 6 years on an island somewhere in the prefecture. Since there are a ton of little islands, that can land you in some ass backward places. Tsushima is actually not too bad, compared to some of these places.

Anyways, yesterday, I stopped in at the Vodaphone shop to talk with Kotomi. She sorted out all my internet stuff. She’s so nice. I will be sad to see her switch jobs tomorrow! That means I won’t get to stop in on the way back from the school. Pretty much every other day, I stop in, and we spend 3 or 4 hours teaching each other English or Japanese. Some of the English she’s learned from television is kind of funny. The other day, she busted out “tough bananas” on me, and I damn near almost peed my pants. I know it’s kind of bad to laugh at someone trying to learn a language, but I couldn’t help myself. But then when I was leaving, I said “Ja mata” which Pimsleur says means see you later. She busted out laughing this time, asking where I learned it. So I guess we were even. 😛

Her new job starts right away; she finishes at the Vodaphone shop around 1PM, then her new job starts at 6PM straight through till 10AM! Cripes, talk about initiation. Apparently, she is required to do one all nighter a week. I asked her who looks after her kids, and she said right now, no one. … er … isn’t that illegal or something? But she says her daughter is very responsible. When she gets home, her daughter usually has the house cleaned and a bath drawn for Koto. 7 years old! Ridiculous. She told me that she forgot to put water in with the rice while cooking for dinner, so she had to do it all over again; her daughter asked her if she was ok, and if she needed help. Hahaha. As for the internet, I should be up and running by the end of next week. Hopefully. We’ll see I guess.

Today I had Iaido, and I got home a little late (I was working on my budget and my ‘About Me’ presentation) from school. I began cooking immediately. I cooked this chicken stew; it was delicious! Check out the recipe. No recipe either, just improvising. I had stew with some fresh bread, and then went to Iaido. Thankfully, today we got to do some sword. I’m not a big fan of the bow, but at least I’m getting the hang of it. The other guy who’s doing it with me, Aaron, seems to have some problems getting the finer motions down, but I’m not too bad. I got to use a real sword today too! It was pretty awesome.

Well, not too much else to tell you really. The insects here are HUUUUuuuge. This morning, I was eating breakfast, and looking out the window. I keep them closed, since it’s so hot and humid, but the screen door on the outside was half closed. Suddenly, a GIGANTIC wasp flies into the space between the screen and the sliding door. By gigantic, I’m talking like 4 inches long, and at least 1 inch wide at the widest part of it’s body. It scared the bejezus out of me. I don’t think I have seen a dragonfly smaller than 3 or 4 inches long. I’ve seen 2 preying mantises, both more than a couple inches in length. It’s ridiculous. It’s like they’re all mutants! I bought some bug spray. Let’s hope it works. Till tomorrow.

August 11th, 2005

Today is Thursday, and I am at school. It is before lunch, but I really don’t have anything to do. I forget my power cord and AC adapter for my computer, so the screen setting is on its lowest brightness; as a consequence, I am currently squinting at a dark screen. There is no one here today, it seems. Just a handful of teachers, none that I really know well. Yagi sensei is here, but she doesn’t speak much English, and my Japanese is not up to the point that I can have a meaningful conversation with anyone. Ah well. I was learning Japanese, but Iaido wiped me out last night, so I’m pretty tired and sore today. I’ve been folding tiny paper cranes for the last few minutes, but I guess I’ll write now. I was going to get my internet sorted out today, but there’s no one here to help me. Perhaps I’ll have to rely on Kotomi.

I got paid for the month of July today, even though I didn’t work, really. I guess they pay you for the time you’re in Tokyo. It’s pretty sweet. Anyways, my gross pay was 77,000 yen or so, but I only get half of that. Now THAT is tax! Well, tax, and insurance, and pension stuff, and all that jazz. But still it’s not so bad, considering I did nothing for the money. I also got travel remuneration today for the plane tickets I’ve paid for (Nagasaki – Tsushima, and the upcoming Tsushima-Nagasaki-Tsushima return fare). It was a strangely large envelope of money. I have all the receipts of those expenses, and it doesn’t total up to anywhere NEAR what they gave me. Bonus for me , I guess, but I’m going to wait and see, because maybe the money is for the hotel in Nagasaki too. I doubt it though.

Anyways, until probably later tonight.

August 10th, 2005

It’s Wednesday night, after Iaido. It’s been a busy day! It started early, when Masuda sensei picked me up at 9 to go to city hall. I picked up my Gaijin card finally. This means I can get a cell phone, an internet connection, bank accounts … EVERYTHING! So we went to the bank (strangely enough, called the 18th bank; how fitting) and opened a bank account. I asked if the 18th bank is in many other cities in Japan, and Masuda sensei said that there are many banks in Japan, however, most are under the umbrella of a few companies. That said, you still have to pay fees if you use an affiliated banks’ ATM, where most banking occurs in Japan. So I also opened up a post office account. These are really useful because there are (obviously) post offices all over Japan, and they have an English language option. Those two things took us till about 10:30, then we went to Mitsushima so that I could do some shopping. Man! The prices out there are much better than the place across the street, or the other place down the street. I loaded up on meat, cooking essentials like oil, and some drinks, and I got a sauce pot. That means I can fry stuff in far less oil. And, of course, make sauce, like I did tonight for spaghetti.

After that, Masuda sensei drove back to my apartment so that I could drop my stuff off, and we picked up Yagi sensei, the home economics teacher at the Koukou (high school). She was really nice, and very well traveled. Last year, she went to Spain, and did a whirlwind tour (I mean whirlwind – 9 days, 7 cities, from Barcelona, to Valencia, to Gibraltar … she went EVERYwhere). We went to this crepe place up in the mountains somewhere. It was kind of weird. Normally, the place serves crepes and coffee drinks, like espresso, and cappuccino. However, they serve two set menus for lunch, which change every day. One is Japanese fare, the other Italian. I had the Japanese one, the other two had the Italian, which, I guess, is novel in Japan, or at least Tsushima. The Rough Guide suggested that Italian food was considered more casual food here. It is pretty cas, if you think about it. The Japanese food was good. I had everything from Konyakku (not that good…) to bitter melon and eggs (surprisingly good). There were also these chicken balls… I don’t really know how to describe them. Kind of like deep fried meatballs, but a much more delicate flavour. It was served on a bed of mesclun with some Japanese eggplant, and a sauce of soy, some kind of vinegar, and perhaps sugar. It was quite good.

A note on the whole eating with other people here in Japan: they are AMAZED at the way I use chopsticks. I think I noted this before, but you don’t understand. When the food came, Masuda sensei looked at me reaching for chopsticks and said “Do you need fork?” I said no, and opened the chopsticks, explaining that I was Chinese, and grew up using chopsticks. I started eating, and the two teachers point at my right hand and say “Aaaaa! Sugoi! Jozu desu ne?” which means “Wow! Amazing! He’s skilled, isn’t he?” It’s very embarrassing. Every person that I eat out with comment on it, no matter if it’s the Iaido teacher, or a high school teacher. So learn how to use your chopsticks properly if you come to Japan. It’s a great conversation starter.

After lunch, I went to school, and was picked up by Katsumi Sawori, a teacher at the Junior High in Izuhara. She was very nice. Her English was quite good too, so we hit it off right away. The Junior High is kitty corner to my apartment (sweet!), and is the largest on Tsushima, and one of the biggest in Nagasaki prefecture. It’s a pretty nice place. The staff room is much smaller, but all of the people are really nice. It seems much less formal that the high school. This was reiterated by the teacher who was showing me around, whose name escapes me right now. She said “you don’t have to wear a tie or even a shirt. I come to school in track pants.” … Does life get any better? I submit that it does not. That teacher, let’s call her Ms. K because I think her name starts with a K, spent 15 months in Kamloops! Weird. She says she tries to go back there every couple of years because she has many friends there. In fact, Katsumi sensei studied abroad at UBC of all places! Of course, the one thing she remembers is that during the month or so she was there in the summer, 3 people got killed on campus. I don’t remember that happening in ’95, but hell, I can’t remember what happened last year, so … They are the first two teachers I’ve met that have been to Vancouver or thereabouts. I guess Kamloops is not Vancouver, but you have to go to Vancouver to get to Kamloops.

We went to talk to the principal, which was much more comfortable that doing it at the high school. We go into the office, and the guy is sitting there twiddling his thumbs. Ms. K and Ms. Katsumi ask me a whole bunch of questions, some of them, translations of the principals questions. They thought my name was funny, because it is “Ryan Sung San” which sounds like Ryan San San to the Japanese. That would be Mr. Mr. Ryan. Hell yeah. That’s me. Anyways, we talked about all sorts of things, then I got a tour of the school, then walked home (it took 30 seconds. I love it!). I only get to go there on Wednesdays, but hey, that’s like a rest day! Class in sweatpants? You know it!

Iaido today was difficult. It was all Jodo, actually. I hate the stupid bow. I’d rather do the sword. Anyways, the different positions are pretty hard to do, mostly because it has to be exactly right. So something is always wrong, and you focus on that, and then something else goes out of whack. It takes so much self awareness of your body. If you drift off for one second, you know you’re going to get either Tsukimi sensei the younger, lesser sensei, or the old guy in your face, stuttering some mixture of English and Japanese, trying to convey what I should be doing, and what I’m doing wrong. It’s still fun though. The best part about today’s lesson was that I got my own bo and wooden sword. It’s so fun to swing around! Never mind that I almost broke the light in my room.

Well, I should get to bed. I moved the apartment around last night while I was cleaning. The greatest thing about having a small place is that it takes, literally, an hour to moderately clean the thing. I could clean the place every day if I wanted to. I kind of like the arrangement I have now, with the table and TV in the living room area instead of the tatami room, which is more like my bedroom. It might suit my needs better anyways, since I will have to have my computer near to the phone jack when I get my internet. Internet is coming. Just slowly. Anyways, I’ll write again tomorrow. Mata ne.

August 9th, 2005

Tuesday morning. Yesterday, I finished reading Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. It was a good read, with a lot of practical suggestions as to how one might improve one’s networking skill, and one’s enjoyment of the process. You should read it. I thought the first few chapters, about finding what is interesting to you, your passion, or, as Ferrazzi calls it, your “blue flame” and pursuing that with commitment. I guess it’s interesting to me because that is what I’m trying to do here in Japan. I guess my problem is that I get burnt out fairly easily. I’ll be interested in something, and immerse myself, but then at some point, I either get bored with it, or frustrated, or just plain don’t care anymore. Take ultimate for instance. I went to the Junior Nationals, and was really into in freshman year. Then problems on the team cropped up, and it wasn’t so much fun. Then I sprained my ankle really bad, twice. And that was pretty much it! I mean I haven’t played very seriously since then. I wonder what I will find that will pique my interest, and continue to pique my interest.

Anyways, last night, Kurokawa sensei took me out to dinner. He’s a pretty nice guy, and his English is quite good. It was a pretty good time. When I tried to pay, he told me about the Senpai-Kouhai tradition in Japan. Those who are older/more experienced pay for those who are younger/less experienced. In return the Kouhai use keigo, or respectful language when addressing the Senpai. Of course, when the Kouhai grow up, they become and Senpai, and pay. Seems like a good deal to me, and antithetical to the system in North America, of having rookies pay for veterans. We went to a place next to the Mogu Mogu Bento, which is where the school order’s lunch. It was a pretty nice place! Their menu had few pictures, and was written mostly in Kanji, so it was hard for me to read. It had few pictures too. I just ordered a katsu don.

He told me about his kids, 4 and 2 years old. He said the 4 year old was just learning to write Hiragana, but her friend, the daughter of two doctors, already knew her hiragana, and it was beautiful. Well, it’s good that my Japanese is at the level of a 4 year old. It does wonders for my self esteem. We chatted about his experience in university. He said for the first few years, he just played the guitar. He stayed 6 years, but got his masters in English education. Seems normal enough to me. But then he was telling me about his job here at Tsushima High. He gets here at 7:30AM, and, at the earliest, leaves at 7PM. Normally, he leaves around 7:30 or 8PM. He tells me that some teachers are there until 10 or 11PM on a daily basis. Daily! Man, his days are already 12 hours. The guys who stay until 10 or 11 are working like 15 or 16 hour days. Those are consulting/Ibanking hours (well, almost Ibanking). Officially, however, they only get paid for 8 hours. Ridiculous. Who would want to be a teacher? Strangely enough, however, it is difficult to become a teacher, both because of the credentials you need, as well as the lack of spaces in Nagasaki Prefecture (I’m not sure about the rest of Japan).

Teachers inhabit a very different role here in Japan. In addition to their regular teacherly duties, they are required to lead an after school club. The clubs meet 7 days a week, so really teachers never get a day off. In addition, because the third years are perpetually studying to get into university, they often take them to other locales, or stay in the seminary house with them to teach or lead review sessions. So 60 hours can turn into a hell of a lot more if they happen to be on one of these trips. And it’s not like outdoor education, where we’d go once a year. These kids go like twice a trimester. Crazy.

Also, all teachers are required to be guidance counselors. So in addition to teacher classes, they advise their students on their life after high school. Teachers are seen very much as civil servants, and students go to them with all sorts of problems. They are confidantes, friends, masters, coaches, and boarding house prefect rolled into one. But they’re only paid for their work as teachers. Seems kinda stupid, eh?

Anyways, I STILL don’t have internet, even at school. I might just break down, and ask Kotomi if I can use the internet at the Vodaphone shop. That might be kind of rude though, so I don’t know. I even fooled around with the network adapter on the computer, and the IP and DNS stuff, but everything seems to check out. It’s just that it won’t receive any packages, and no one seems to be in any hurry to fix it. I probably won’t have internet or a car for at least a few weeks. I’m starting to get a bit annoyed, but at least my supervisor, the person who can set all these things up for me, is back. Tomorrow, I can go to City Hall and pick up my Alien Registration Card, which means, I can get a bank account. Yay! I no longer have to worry about the gigantic wad of cash I am forced to carry around all the time. I still have PLENTY of money left. I am on budget (actually below budget!). However, the upcoming trip to Fukuoka might change that, so we’ll see. The Rough Guide quoted prices that are fairly high, but when I talked to Patrick, he said the prices were not as high as they are reported. Thank god. It’ll still cost me a pretty penny, but it won’t break the bank.

Today is a special day, and all the teachers and students are at school. The reason is that today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki A-bomb. Everyone gathered in the gym, and an old man, who was 20 when WW II started, spoke about his experience in the war. Then, a loud siren sounded somewhere in town, and everyone closed their eyes and prayed. It was kind of weird being in a different remembrance ceremony. Not only because I couldn’t understand much, but more so because I realized I was on the other side of it all. You don’t hear much about the Japanese experience in WW II in the States or Canada. You’ll hear it from the Chinese, but it’s a very biased perspective. It’s too bad I couldn’t understand more.

Anyways, I spoke to Masuda sensei, and she will help me get a car, and set up my bank account tomorrow. I will also be visiting the Junior High School tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to that. Apparently the worst junior high in the prefecture. The PREFECTURE. Awesome. Anyways, I’ll tell you about that tomorrow. Until then.

August 8th, 2005

Monday morning, back at school. I had a pretty good weekend. On friday, I walked around the town, trying to find the 100 yen store in Izuhara. I finally found it, down an alley (the whole bloody town is an alley), but it really didn’t compare to the one in Kechi. Oh well; it had essentials like cleaning supplies, kitchen stuff, dishes, wrapping paper and the such. I picked up some cleaning supplies, since I was going to clean a bit this weekend.

I went to my first Iaido class on friday night. It was pretty fun. They started me and this other kid Aaron in Jodo first, which is bow fighting. That was ok, but then they gave us wooden swords, and we did some excercises for that. That was fun. Basically, we spent an hour and a half or so learning how to swing sticks correctly. The hardest part of Iaido, I think, is being aware of your body and what it is doing at all times. The teacher would stop us again and again to fix very very small things in our posture, or where the stick was pointing, or how we were holding it or moving it. It’s the perfect metaphor for Japan. Iaido is kind of like a violent dance, born from fighting with katanas. It is filled with ceremony, and the reverence for the past that is so prevalent in Japan, but it also has a kind of practicality and beauty to it. To perfect it would take a lifetime. And the Japanese only work towards perfection.

I was pretty sore the next day. My right arm was very stiff. I cleaned the apartment a bit, then headed out to walk around the town. I stopped in at the Vodaphone shop again, and chatted with Kotomi again. I found out that she is divorced, and that her parents were divorced too. She never knew her mother. In talking to others, I have found that the divorce rate on Tsushima is quite high, since many get married young, there is nothing to do on the island, and there is little work. She will be switching jobs basically for the higher pay. I tried to ask her whether or not she wanted to do the kind of work that she was going to do, but I couldn’t get it across for some reason. I’m not sure if that is really a consideration in Japan. It seems to me that people just do what they have to do, not so much what they want to do. This was reiterated to me by other JETs, who say that the kids really don’t like the clubs they do. Most of them do it because that’s what they’ve always done. This is true, even if they are very good at it. I did find out that she wanted to be an interpreter in high school.

I got to meet her boss. Now this is an interesting lady. She is well known not only on Tsushima, where she owns a number of businesses (including the Vodaphone franchise, and the old folks home that Kotomi will be working at), but also in the prefecture where she is the prefecture-wide bronze medal ping-pong player. She seems like other small business owners I know. Something about her says initiative and energy. She’s really nice, and gave us coffee and mini donuts, even though she knew that Kotomi wasn’t working. At 6, after 3 or 4 hours, I left the shop.

That evening, I went out with Aaron, the JET from Mitsushima, the neighboring town, and Patrick, a JET from the early 90s, who really never left Tsushima. He’s from Hawaii, and his English still has that inflection. He came in the early 90s (the Golden Years of the JET program – first class airfare, a week in Tokyo, etc. etc.), stayed for 3 years, left for one, then came back and has stayed for 8 now. I thought it was an interesting choice, but I guess Tsushima does kind of remind me of Hawaii. He took us to this bar/cafe called Roxy, where they served Western food and drinks. The prices weren’t too bad. I had my first beef since I’ve been here. It was pretty good. Aaron is from Pennsylvania. He went to Gettysburg College (never heard of it), and he’s a frat boy. ‘Nuff said.

We went to Roxy’s affiliate bar after that, called Billy’s Bar. The guy who owns the two is named Genki. He’s 42. We didn’t get to meet him – he was feeling sick (which is ironic, since Genki means feeling well, or feeling good, or energetic) – but we did get to meet his 22 year old wife. Er… Billy’s wasn’t bad. I got to meet some younger people at last, but the language barrier makes it really hard to interact without an interpreter. Aaron had studied three years of Japanese, and studied abroad in Osaka for a semester, so he’s fairly profficient. I met a good friend of Patrick’s, Daisuke, who’s english was quite good. He had studied abroad in Australia. We talked a bit. The girls in the bar – both bartenders and customers – seemed both very interested and very intimidated by the two foreigners. Heck, the guys in the bar seemed intimidated. It was kind of weird. Kind of like being a celebrity.

On sunday, yesterday, I went down to the port to check out the Ariran festival. Ariran is Korean for port festival. It was pretty cool. I got there just in time to catch the end of the boat races. People will make teams, and get in these old boats. Girls will put on ridiculous costumes and yell and encourage the team onward. The first place team gets a trophy, and other prizes. If I understood correctly at the ceremony for awards, they were giving out money! A lot of it too! Like 20,000 yen and such. That’s not bad. Of course, if I had to wear this … I’m not sure if it’s worth it. I bought some food and wandered around for a bit. They had all kinds off food: little buckets of chicken karage, yakinikku, taconikku (grilled octopus), french fries, corndogs (?), and a lot of shaved ice. It was kind of fun. There weren’t that many people there when I went during the day. I came home, and cooked a light dinner.

Later that evening, Kotomi picked me up, and we drove back down to the port for the fireworks at 9. She brought her two kids. Raie is really cute, but the kid is like greased lightning. He’ll look like he’s just standing there doing nothing, and then all of a sudden, he’s gone. Haruno is very quiet and very clingy to her mother. Ariran at night was very different. It was VERY busy. Many of the young girls were in yukata, or summer kimonos, that were very colorful. Most people, however, were dressed as comfortably as they could be, given the ridiculous heat. Man, I can’t wait for winter.

I wanted to get more Karaege, but those were sold out first. I saw Austin, the block rep for Tsushima/Iki there. I met some of his Japanese friends. It seems all the JETs know bar owners here. It seems all the JETs here hit the bottle hard too. I guess that doens’t so much surprise me; there ain’t much to do on Tsushima. Kotomi, her kids and I wandered around the festival. I got to meet a few of Kotomi’s friends as well. we watched some traditional Korean dancing, which was pretty cool, and listened to an “old” singer, according to Kotomi. After that, we watched fireworks. It was pretty fun.

So, here I am at school again. I still have no internet, either here or at school, so you probably won’t see this until at least a week too late. I’m hoping the hotel they’ve put me up in in Nagasaki has internet, or at least a place that has interenet nearby. It’s hard without any means of communication. I can’t even get a phone card, because no one knows where to get one! My phone is still in Paul’s name, although that will get switched soon. However, calling internationally without a phone service is RIDICULOUSLY expensive, so I will have to wait until I get the internet to do that. *sigh*. Well, until next time. I will try to put up pics of my apartment, as well as those of the Ariran festival soon. Take care.

August 4th, 2005 (Again)

I am finally home. it’s just after 5PM. I decided to stop at the post office on the way home, but didn’t really know where it was. Luckily, I was walking behind two high school students, so I stopped them and asked for directions. People in Japan are so nice. They took me ALL the way there, in this 95 degree, 80% humidity weather. I offered to buy them a drink, but I guess that’s not so kosher in Japan, teachers buying students drinks, cause they looked at me like I was crazy and said no thank you. Ah well.

At the post office, I used the little Japanese that I know to figure out that they were actually going to try to deliver it again, so I went to the post office needlessly. Great. I mean, it’s not like I’m wearing black pants, and carrying a backpack in ridiculous weather. I mean, sweat, at this point, is dripping off my glasses, my shirt is soaked … I’m Gross!

I stopped into the Vodaphone shop on my way back home, and chatted with Koto. In both broken English and Japanese, we talked for 3 hours. I’m beat. This whole teaching thing is tiring! It is sometimes difficult to decipher what the Japanese are saying because although they are quite proficient at using their syllabic alphabet to spell out foreign words, many of the sounds in the English language are very different. So, for example, Smith, the surname, would sound like Sumisu. That’s not too bad. But it gets much more difficult with the ‘L’ sound and the ‘V’ sound. L sounds more like R with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, while V sounds like B. Of course, I’m sure I sound like the retarded illiterate that I am in Japan. Nevertheless, we understood each other well enough to talk about music, movies, anime, what we like to do, etc. etc. I found out that she is 29 and has two kids, Haruno and Raie. Her kids are really cute. She lives in Toyotama (about an hour away!), but is moving to Tsu Tsu, which is about a half hour away to the south. At the end of the month, however, she’ll be moving to an old folks home in Tsu Tsu. Too bad. But we did exchange e-mails and phone numbers, and she might show me around the upcoming festival this weekend with some of her friends.

She also told me about the music that’s big over here. Avril Lavigne? HUGE in Japan. Coldplay? Never heard of them. I thought that was a bit strange, since they are so popular in the States and Europe. She’s a big Van Halen fan, which I thought didn’t really fit; I can’t really imagine her rocking out to Van Halen, but the Japanese people are like that I guess.

Well I think it’s about time to start dinner. I haven’t eaten out myself since I’ve been here; I’ve gotten used to cooking for myself. Koto gave me a recipe for Somen noodles, so I might try that out. From what I understood, you cook the noodles, then cool them, then make a soup out of water, mirin, soy sauce and stock, then cool that too. It’s a summer food in Japan. I think I’ll try that out, since it’s so frickin’ hot here. I’ll write again tomorrow.

August 4th, 2005

Hello. I’m at work again. It is beautiful outside today, which means it is H O T here. I still much prefer this to the rain, however. I went for a run this morning, and it was quite pleasant in the shade, and in the tunnels (if you ignore the smell of fuel and burning). The walk to school was hell though. I turned up, a great, sweaty beast. Good thing I wore a t-shirt, then changed. I’m not looking forward to the trip home. There are even fewer teachers here today. I guess summer vacation is really here. I wonder what some of them are doing here though. I mean, all I hear is talking behind me (I face a wall), so I can only assume they aren’t really doing all that much work. Sounds more like shooting the shit to me.

Last night, Louis, the JET from the neighboring town who’s leaving Japan to go back to Chicago, took me to Iaido practice. It was pretty cool. They practice on Wednesdays in a gym a pretty long ways from my house. It is hot, and there are tons of mosquitoes; I’m not sure how they concentrate at all. They wear black robes (as best as I can describe them in a word), with black, blousy pants. It looks like traditional garb. They all have their swords too (real ones), and practice kata for a couple hours. It was made clear that each kata is based on real life situations. At one point, the teacher stopped Louis to show him something, but when Louis still wasn’t doing it right, he told the other student to pick up his wooden sword. The idea was to draw your sword upwards while moving back, bring the tip of the blade up in an arc, then strike downward while stepping forward. Louis wasn’t getting the up part right. So the sensei demonstrated how it would be used in real life. If the enemy takes a slash at you, you step back as to avoid it, while drawing your sword up, around, and then bring it down on his head as you step forward. It’s pretty awesome to see it at full speed.

After about an hour, they finished up, and said that they were going to the head sensei’s house to watch videos. The Japanese are funny. We picked up all the stuff, cleaned the gym, and closed the windows, then went outside to get in our cars. We drove – literally – 10 seconds. About 2 houses down from the gym. It took 10 seconds because we had to back out of the parking space we were in. Anyways, we get into this pretty nice, spacious home, where this old guy is sitting in front a huge plasma screen TV watching go, the game. It’s like the World Poker Tour, but go instead of poker. This guy, apparently is the island’s authority on Iaido. He’s also the most successful dentist on the island, which makes him rich. We watched some old videos of Jodo, or bow-staff fighting. Jodo originated as a martial art using your bow staff. But by looking at the videos, it looks as though it has evolved into just a staff. Some interesting stuff. Then, we watched some Ray Charles biography (er… ) and listened to lots of jazz. The whole time, the guy’s wife just kept getting up and down, bringing out more and more and more food and drinks. I had just eaten dinner when Louis had picked me up at 7:45 PM. It was maybe 9PM, and here I was stuffing my face again. They were very nice, and seemed amazed that I came from North America. The old dentist commented on how well I used my chopsticks. If he only knew how well I can use them … I was being polite.

Anyways, I think I will be doing Iaido on Wednesdays and Fridays. For the first few months, I will only be doing cutting, which is basically just basics, I guess. I think I’ll see if I can do Kendo at the school too. That would be fun, and I can just borrow equipment. Besides, if any of the kids I teach are in Kendo, and they happen to piss me off … Well, it’ll be a good stress reliever. I can’t wait to get a sword though. They look pretty cool. Of course if you don’t sheath it right, you cut your hand in half, but hey, there’s inherent risk in any sport.

Well, I think I will get out of here, and start the long trip back home. I have a package at the post office, it seems, so I will head over there first. Likely, it is a package for Paul, because I haven’t been able to tell anyone from home my address here, but we’ll see. It might be a package FROM Paul. Anyways, until next time.

August 3rd, 2005

Hello again. Today is the first dry day since I got here. It didn’t rain in the morning before I left for school, nor has it rained since I’ve been here at school. I could actually leave the house without an umbrella! The downside is that it’s even hotter than before. So if I thought it was muggy before… Walking to school (I finally know the way) is hell in the rain, but perhaps is worse in this weather. By the time I show up to school, I’m sweating profusely thanks to the steep hill on which the high school sits. Today I decided to take a chance and dress down a little bit. Since yesterday I saw the dress code change quite drastically (see: Sean John sweat suit), I thought I’d come in a golf shirt today. Thank god.

On my way home, the wind was blowing so hard, it snapped my umbrella in two. Fortunately, on the side of the road, someone had tossed a used, but much sturdier umbrella. So I dumped mine and picked that one up. It bloody poured last night though, so hard that it knocked the power out for a few minutes. Since I have a new schedule these days (10-2), I went home and made stock (for cooking). It’s a good thing that the stove is gas powered, or else I probably would have freaked out unnecessarily. It’s pretty remarkable how little 5 hours worth of work will produce for you. I have 2 cups worth of stock, one of which I’ll prolly use this week at some point. But it is good, homemade stock. I can’t find (or can’t read the label of) any stock in the local grocery stores, and stock is pretty useful.

Last weekend when I walked all the way to Kechi, I picked up a couple of DVDs. Since my school got me a brand spanking new DVD player to go along with the new TV, I thought I should test it out. I figured it only plays region 2 DVDs, so I didn’t want to stick any of the one I have from home in there. Luckily, the 100 yen store is connected to a video rental store that sells DVDs. And for good price too! I got Harry Potter 1 and 2 for less than $20 together. But last night, since it was raining so bloody hard, I watched the first one AGAIN for what has to be the third time. I’m getting pretty sick of Harry. What were they thinking when they cast this kid? No personality, no acting skills, no physical grace or athleticism … I mean the only thing the kid’s got going for him is that he looks like what one would imagine Harry Potter would look like. But hell, with make-up what it is today, you could make ANY kid look like Harry Potter. So what the hell? I think they did much better casting for just about everyone else. But the movies are RUINED by the stupid kid that does Harry. I mean, take, for example, the quidditch scenes. Someone on Slytherin does something dirty; flash to Harry’s face; Harry scrunches up his face and bares his teeth; Slytherin scores; flash to Harry’s face; Harry scrunches up his face and bares his teeth; one of his teammates gets hurt; flash to Harry; Harry scrunches up his face, bares his teeth and does a perfunctory look for the snitch. Where did they get this kid? He’s got four facial expressions: happy, nothing (also passes for confused), surprised (also passes for afraid), and pained/frustrated/constipated (basically used for anything else not covered). Add to that his physical awkwardness – it looks like his brain just got put in his body and he’s still getting used to it (think Krang, in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when he gets a new body) – and you pretty much have one of the worst child actors in the world.

Yesterday afternoon, Urata sensei helped me call NTT Do Co Mo (the phone company that used to be government owned, but is no longer; however they have a monopoly on the phone lines in Japan, so they basically haven’t changed their business practices at all) to set up the internet. It turns out that it will take a couple of weeks, which is not too bad. I still don’t even have internet here at school, because of the rain. I’m hoping that they’ll repair it soon. I’m dying here without e-mail, and I’m sure that everyone is wondering where I am. When I do get internet, there will be like 5 updates at once on my site. That’s a hell of a lot of writing. I guess when you update once a day, that’s what happens.

Speaking of writing, I’ve almost got one character for my book outlined. My goal was to get one outlined in my first month here. We’re coming up on 1 week, so I think I’m on schedule. Other than that, I don’t do much at school. I play a little Transport Tycoon during lunch (my company’s worth is 15 mill and growing. My poor competitor is worth less than $150,000, and has 1.7 million worth of debt to pay. Of course, that’s mostly thanks to my meddling. If you’ve ever played Transport Tycoon, you know that you can build train tracks across the road that your competitor uses, and release the cheapest train on to those train tracks, then destroy the depot. That blocks the road so that no cars can get by. Then you buy all the land around the road, so that your competitor can’t build the road around. That also means he can’t get his cars back to their depot. So they’re just a constant drain on his resources. I think my competitor loses something like $30,000 a year just because of that one little train. Thank god for no law enforcement in this game…

Well, today is Wednesday, so I think I’ll get to go to Iaido tonight. That is, if the phone company hasn’t disconnected the phone in order to switch my predecessor’s name on the phone and internet contract to mine. I hope that I am able to do both Kendo and Iaido, but I’d be happy with one or the other. The teacher is supposed to kick your ass though, so we’ll see how that is. I could use a little ass kicking; I’m a bit out of shape.

Well, it’s almost quitting time for the day. Nothing exciting happened today, other than the fact that there is no one here, basically. I could sit here and play games if I had any. But it’s a good time to make some preliminary lesson plans, write both for my site as well as for my book, and plan my trips to Fukuoka and Nagasaki in the coming weeks. I hope you are all well, and are having a good summer. It is finally starting to look like summer here. Too bad it feels like it too. Until next time.

August 2nd, 2005

It never stops raining here. The weird thing is that it is never cold either. It is always muggy and warm, and always raining. Take this past weekend for example. I have never heard thunder or seen lightening like that. It absolutely POURED on Saturday night. This morning, the second day on which I had to walk to school, it also poured. And I’m not so sure where the school is. Needless to say, I am soaked to the bone, which I wouldn’t think would be so bad, considering that it’s warm and humid. But now my clothes are just kind of clammy on my skin. Very uncomfortable.

Urata sensei came up to me yesterday and showed me what, I guess, is my timecard. I mark when I’m traveling for business (like the upcoming Nagasaki Orientation), or when I take nenkyuu (PTO), or when I am taking special vacation (like the three days I get in the summer for “enhancing [my] mental or physical well-being” or “enriching [my] life,” or so my contract states). So I get to go to Nagasaki City on the 16th – one day early because they couldn’t find me a flight on the 17th – and then the next week I am off Wednesday to Friday and the weekend. I think I will go to Fukuoka, which is supposed to be pretty cool. It has been rated one of the top 5 cities in Asia, unbeknownst to me. The only thing is arranging accommodations and transportation there. The good thing is that those three days will be after I get paid for August/July, so I will have money to go to Fukuoka.

After school yesterday, I went back to the Vodaphone shop where I met Koto to see if she could set up my internet. She spent a good 20 minutes on the phone for me, and then told me that the school had to change the phone contract. It is still in Paul’s name, my predecessor. She even wrote me a note in Japanese, explaining what needed to be done so that I wouldn’t have any trouble explaining it to whatever teacher was helping me out at the high school. She’s so nice. We agreed to chat on a regular basis to help her with her English, and me with my Japanese. I guess it’s good that I’ve made a Japanese friend.

Today, I woke up a little late, but there are no extra classes today. That means that most of the teachers won’t be there, due to pro-D, or study trips. Summer vacation is officially on. I can go late, at 10AM, and leave early, at 2PM. I feel like I’m a bit overdressed in the staff room today too, since one guy has forgone his short sleeved shirt and tie for the Sean John black and gold velour jumpsuit. Wow… look at that thing. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll show up in my sweats and show them how they bum around in North America.

I’ve been studying Japanese fairly diligently at school, but my patience is growing a bit thin. I’ll study for an hour or two and then have to do something else. Usually I’ll walk around the school a bit, to get acquainted with the halls, but lately, I’ve started playing Transport Tycoon again. No one cares, since they all know I have nothing to do for the next 5 weeks. In fact, I’ve only met my supervising JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) once. She only came back to the staff room once between taking the special Korean class to Korea and taking one of the years to study camp. It’s pretty boring so far, but man, I set up 2 really big networks in Transport Tycoon, and my profits are soaring!

Well, I don’t have much else to write about. I’m getting used to cooking. I’m starting to get more comfortable wandering into a grocery store to buy stuff. It still takes me a long time, because I’m stuck 1) trying to figure out exactly what I want to make, 2) thinking of what the hell I’m going to need to make it, 3) looking for all that stuff, and 4) desperately trying to think of substitutes so that I don’t have to go through the process all over again. Nothing makes you appreciate a bloody Albertsons or Safeway more than walking in to a Podunk little corner store as an illiterate foreigner with everyone starting at everything you touch, looking for stuff you’ll never find and at prices that you think just can’t be right. I don’t eat much fruit these days, but local vegetables are fairly affordable. I’ve been exploring the diversity of leeks these days. It’s almost 2, so I’ll end this here. Oh yeah, my home address in Tsushima is:

 

37 Sajikibara
Izuhara-cho, Tsushima-shi, Nagasaki-ken
817-0005 Japan

 

If you feel like sending me postcards or letter, feel free to send them there. Anything bigger than an envelope should be sent to my school. When I figure out that address, I’ll post it here too. My phone number at home is 09-20-52-2140. I think. You’ll have to figure out Japan’s country code, but I think that should get you my home phone. Well, take care everyone. I don’t have internet yet, but I think I should be getting it in a few weeks. The reason I haven’t answered your e-mail would be because the internet at school is down as well (too much rain knocked it out), so I really haven’t had any access to internet at all. Internet cafes, you say? You forget I live on Tsushima, I say. Till I get on the net.

August 1st, 2005

Hello again from Japan. It is Monday, so I am back at school, sitting at my desk and keeping myself busy. Last Friday, I got to see the Seminary house, which everyone kept mentioning, but no one ever said anything about. I was exploring the grounds (mostly because I was bored) when one of my fellow teachers, Kurokawa sensei walked by. We started to chat (his English is quite good), and he said he was on his way to the seminary house. We walked over there, just behind the tennis courts. I wanted to see what it was all about. It is a two story building. As you step into the house, on your right, there is a tatami room with 2 long, low tables. Against the wall to your left as you face the room, there is a large kitchen, where women were busily preparing food. At the tables, I recognized a few teachers that I sit next to. They were tutoring kids there. On the wall facing me was a banner that read: “1000 hour study challenge.” Need I say more? Upstairs, there were two rooms. Both were filled with students with their heads bent over their desks, writing and flipping pages rapidly. Apparently, in order to pass the university entrance exams, 3rd year students will sequester themselves in a place like this to study their asses off. It was a bit awe-inspiring, and pretty scary. When I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever worked that hard in my life. I’m not sure that anyone in the North America does. While their methods of teaching, and the material that they teach may not be as advanced as what they do in North America, the Japanese fill the gap with hard work.

I talked to Kurokawa sensei a bit. He had spent the last few nights there, both looking after the kids and offering extra study help. The women in the kitchen were actually parents, cooking for their kids. It’s not just the students that are committed here. Parents and teachers get involved wholeheartedly as well. They really take their education seriously here.

I had an interesting weekend, during which I explored Izuhara and the surrounding area. On Saturday, I got up early, cleaned the apartment a bit, and headed out before noon to explore. I wanted to go to the 100 yen shop (hyakku en) in the town next to Izuhara, called Mitsushima. I couldn’t remember which way it was from my apartment, so I chose a way and followed it. It was the wrong way, but the street took me through downtown Izuhara, where I wandered around the shops and among the locals. It’s the first time I’ve felt like a celebrity. People would gawk at me when they thought I wasn’t looking, or do a double take, assuming I was Japanese at first glance, then realizing that the clothes I was wearing didn’t look so Japanese. Izuhara is a pretty sleepy town. It reminds me a bit of Durham, in North Carolina. It’s a bit run down, and there are really no big stores or anything. It is lush, and there are the odd points where the scenery is quite beautiful. Interspersed with the houses and shops are historical points of interest; shrines and temples litter the island. I’m not sure if I’ve said before, but Tsushima used to act as the gateway to Korean and Chinese convoys. It was an important island historically. Now, however, one can see just how unimportant and remote it is. Population has dropped from 80,000 people to just over 40,000 in little more than 15 years.

I met a nice lady named Kotomi (Koto for short), who runs the Vodaphone shop. I thought she was close to my age, but then she said she had 2 kids. Her English was fairly good, and she even offered to help me set up my internet! YAY! A little further down the road is the main strip of Izuhara. There are 2 pachinko parlors, and one of the roads coming off of this main strip leads to the docks. I walked around and shopped a bit, picking up groceries and a few items for the apartment. When I found the bento place that Kojima sensei had taken me a few days earlier for lunch called hokka hokka tei, I got lunch, and turned around.

I dropped stuff off at the apartment, then left again, this time, sure that I was going in the right direction for Kechi, where the Hyakkuen shop was (Kechi is part of Mitsushima). I went through a tunnel, then another, and another long one. I walked and walked and walked. I didn’t remember it being so far, nor the scenery being so wild. I passed forests and rivers that led to the sea. I walked over bridges that looked out over the distance between Tsushima and Kyushuu. After some time, I was getting a bit worried. I had been walking for 45 minutes, and still not signs or indication that I was getting near. I decided to walk a bit more. About 10 minutes more, and I saw a sign “Kechi 1.7 km.” GOOD LORD! The distance from my house to the 100 yen shop was something like 6 km. I half jogged, half walked 12 miles of mountainous road there and back on Saturday with stuff in my backpack. The walking alone took about 2 and a half or 3 hours. Needless to say, I was tired and sore come Sunday.

Sunday I woke up a little later, and started really cleaning the apartment. In the early afternoon, the doorbell rang, and I met Louis, one of the outbound JETs from Chicago and Austin, the block representative (I live in the Tsushima/ Iki block; kind of like a prefecture within the Nagasaki prefecture). They were both pretty nice, but I could tell Louis was not really the kind of person that you’d want to hang out with. He was a useful source of information, however. Austin seemed like a bit of a loser, but nice enough. He went to English grad school. Sucks to be him.

Louise and Austin drove me around town, showing me restaurants and shops and bars they frequented. They told me stories of past JETs, and how everyone goes a little crazy on the island. I swore, at that point, to get off the island as much as possible. Getting off the island, however, is an expensive deal. To go by fast ferry is about $110, round trip. Plane is $200 to Fukuoka. Seems a bit excessive to me. And those prices are with my island discount card.

Louise was also helpful in telling me about how to get involved in island life. He had rugby practice that day for the town team, so I thought I’d tag along. Unfortunately, when we got there, there was no one there, and no practice that day. This Wednesday, however, he will take me to Iaido, which is the art of drawing a sword. I wanted to do Kendo, but Louise said that you eventually have to buy the equipment, and it’ll run you $1500 for the cheapest stuff. RIDICULOUS! We’ll see, maybe I can borrow or rent some equipment.

Later that evening, the doorbell rang again. It was Patrick, the ALT who never left Tsushima. He seemed very friendly. He brought over packaged dehumidifiers that you stick in your closet, or by your laundry to help it dry out faster. We chatted a bit about the island, and his experience here. He is from Hawaii, so we hit it off pretty quickly talking about that. I’m a bit amazed that someone could come, and choose to stay on this island for 10 years, but I guess he’s from Hawaii, which is really a similar situation. We promised to get together next weekend for the local festival. I’m looking forward to that.

Well, I should probably get back to learning Japanese at this point. Today is the last day of extra classes for the kids. After this, many of them will head to exotic locales to – guess what – study. The third years are heading to Iki to study for a week. What I’m wondering is when does anyone take a break here? I mean, it’s technically summer break. No matter. I think the weekend after the Nagasaki Prefecture orientation in Nagasaki (the 18th and 19th of August), I’ll prolly head to Fukuoka to look around. I’ll have some money by then too, because I’ll have been paid for the months of August and July. I will also try to get some pictures up in that Shinjuku picture gallery, but I still have no internet, so I have to do it one day when there are few people in the staff room. This coming week seems ideal, since many of them will be off accompanying the students in their studies, or else off on professional development in Nagasaki city. Look forward to that! Hope you are well back at home, CA and BC. Take care.

July 29th, 2005

Yesterday, I went to school for the first time. Even though the kids are technically on summer vacation, many students are still here because they have “extra school.” The poor bastards. By some cruel twist of fate, these kids are the lucky ones who qualify for extra schooling. I can’t figure it out either. Anyways, I basically sat at my desk the whole day and studied Japanese, or worked on my site. I made a few lists as to what I needed for the apartment. I was introduced to a zillion people. I have started to write down the names of people I meet, in hopes that I will remember them better. So far, no such luck.

At lunch time, Ms. Kojima, who lives in the same building as me, took me to the town hall to get my alien registration card. It was a pretty painless process in itself. The painful part came when they told me it would take a good 2-3 weeks to get it! That means I won’t have a bank account – and thus any billable expenses – until after that. That includes internet. DAMN! I got my island discount card, however, which is kind of neat. On transportation off the island, I get a discount because I live here. Pretty good deal.

After all that, we came back and I was shown how to order school lunch. I had picked up lunch when I was out with Kojima sensei, so it wasn’t applicable, but today, I ordered lunch at school. It is both reasonably priced and quite good. I guess I’ll get sick of it at some point, but I like ton katsu and rice. I studied more for the afternoon, then Utara sensei took me to the Japanese Walmart in the neighboring town of Kechi. I dropped almost 30,000 yen getting stuff for the apartment, but I have food, and all the stuff I’ll need now. We also went to the 100 yen shop, which is incredible. Some of the stuff they sell there for 100 yen (about a dollar) is really quite nice. I picked up a couple ties even – decent quality – for 105 yen, tax included. Sweet. We rushed home to meet the guy from the gas company, who turned on my gas. Whoopee! Hot water! Thank god. After that, Urata sensei wrote down a list of the TV channels I get (not that useful, considering it’s ALL in Japanese) and then left. I got cooking. I made a simple chicken stirfry over rice. It was quick and easy. I did some laundry, but I cut myself on the rusty laundry pole (you hang dry everything in Japan), so I hope I don’t have tetanus. I gave up and just hung everything inside, from the underwear hanging rack (lots of clips). Thank god too, because it poured in the early morning.

I moved the apartment around a little more to my liking. I also cleaned the crap out of it. The guy who was there before me did an ok job of cleaning, but there were parts of it that were really dirty. Then, hurting for something to do, I read and worked on my computer till it was time for bed. Exciting night.

Today, it absolutely poured in the morning. Holy, I have never seen anything like that. Apparently, that is normal in Tsushima, or so Urata sensei told me when he picked me up for school. I have been studying Japanese for most of the day, only stopping to check the internet, or write down random ideas that come into my head. I have started to write a book, but I won’t tell you about that until I’m ready. It’s kind of weird, but I feel like I’m at a writers’ colony, as Verlyn Klinkenborg described it to me. I basically have the day free to think and write, and I get accomodations and pay for it. This will only last for the month of August, and not even all of it, but I’m going to take advantage of the free time to learn Japanese, get accomodated to my surroundings, and write and plan. Pretty good deal so far. I wish I had the internet though.

Wow, Fujita sensei, the lady who sits two over from me in the staff room, just tried explaining something to me, and I didn’t understand ANY of it. Something about how to print from my laptop. USB hub, print drivers… Woah… She didn’t know any of the words in english, so it was just a wave of Japanese. I’ve got a long ways to go.

Well it’s about quitting time, so I should plan what I’m going to do for dinner tonite. Vegetables are INCREDIBLY expensive here. We’re talking 450 yen for an apple (about 4 bucks US). Local produce is cheaper, but not by too much. Pretty ridiculous. I hope to post pictures soon, but it’s hard without an internet connection at home. I feel guilty about using the school computer to do so, because it would take so long without an FTP client. Japan pictures are NOT up yet, but have a look at the OC fair pictures. They are up, and are pretty good. Take care.

July 27th, 2005

 

Finally! In Tsushima. We left from Haneda airport late in the morning, and flew to Nagasaki, where we said good bye to the other new JETs. I had met this lady named Kelly from Syracuse, NY. She is 30+, old for the JET program, but she was really nice. It seems as though she has been traveling abroad for awhile, because she has been in Haiti doing missionary work for awhile. Before that, she had worked in marketing and advertising, so we hit it off quite well, talking about her experiences doing both. She has quite a story. After graduating, she was all set to marry this guy, but then “found God.” The guy wasn’t Christian, and that started conflicting with her faith, so she left the guy at the alter, worked a few more years, and then left on a voluntary mission. Pretty crazy. She’ll be on the island of Iki, about halfway between Tsushima and Kyushuu, relatively close compared to the others.

It is a big relief to finally move into my place, and meet some of the people that I’ll be working with. Thankfully, they all are very nice, and quite young too. The oldest English teacher is 37, and he’s the one who picked me up from Nagasaki airport. His name is Urata Hisao, and he’s a funny guy, who is quite outgoing for a Japanese person. Very talkative and willing to talk about anything, from his kids to his career, to the shortcomings of Japanese people. He’s interested in cars (he kept asking me about mine), and was very helpful, offering me advice and information candidly and freely.

From the Nagasaki airport, we immediately bought a flight to Tsushima. It wasn’t leaving for a couple hours, so he took me to a nearby mall, and we looked around at books for awhile. It’s kind of hard being a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language; when you go into a bookstore, you realize that you have the reading and speaking abilities of a 4 year old. The only reading material that was suited for me were the children’s books. Even then, the vocab is a bit advanced for me. I looked around and read a book about a caterpillar that I had seen back at home. I had no idea what the story was about, but the pictures were familiar.

From there, we went back to the airport, and waited for the plane to board. We chatted about Tsushima, and what was popular to eat, where the good beaches were, and the interesting sights. Urata-san seems to like Chinese food, and Chinese things in general. He was surprised when I told him I was Chinese, not Korean. Whoever gave the school an info sheet on me put down that I was Korean American. Jackass. Anyways, Urata-sensei has been to Shanghai 3 times and is going there again in early August. He is a tea officionado, and claimed to have 15 kinds of Chinese tea at his house. He kept pointing to pictures of what looked like Pho with both meat and seafood, and saying that that was his favorite Chinese food. It’s called champon here, and I guess you could say it is Chinese. Dunno though.

As we drove through Tsushima, Urata-sensei showed me shops and restaurants that the staff often frequented. My frist impression of the island was that it reminded me of suburban Honolulu: a bit rundown, people walking around in a laid back, carefree manner. There is more here than I had anticipated. On my way in, I saw some pretty large grocery stores, what looked like a Japanese Wal-mart, a large electronics store, and some pretty decent looking restaurants. I will need a car, however, as the island is quite big. I am told it takes about 3 hours to drive from norther tip to southern tip. The roads wind through the mountainous terrain, sometimes quite treacherously. The roads narrow often to what looks like one lane, but with Japanese cars, the space is enough for two cars, and a bicycle. There are no SUVs here. The closest thing you’ll get is an old Suzuki van, or maybe a CRV.

We met the outgoing JET, Paul, at the police station, picked him up and went to the school to pick up my other luggage. Paul is an Irish guy from Dublin. He’s Japanese sized, skinny and fairly short, but he was quite kind. He told me a lot about the school, and gave me a tour. We met many students during the tour, all of which seemed to love Paul. They were all surprised at me though. “Nihon-jin, desu-ka?” (He’s Japanese?) they kept asking Paul and I, amazed that they’d bring a Japanese guy to help them with their English. When I stammered out my reply in broken Japanese/mumbled English, they were further taken aback, probably by my English, as well as how retarded my Japanese sounded. All the students seemed very nice.

The school is quite run down. On some walls, the paint is peeling quite badly. It reminds me a bit of Shaugnnessy, or at least my memories of Shaugnessy. It’s a big school. Three grades, almost 700 students, and 50 teachers. There are a lot of clubs: basketball, baseball, softball, kendo, ikebana, brass band, orchestra … the list goes on. I think I’ll prolly join a few, like basketball and Kendo. It’ll keep me in shape, and it’ll be fun too. Each grade is split into a number of classes, all streamed on ability. There are 3 academic classes, which seem to be all the smart kids. They are all expected to go on to University. There are 3 commercial classes, where the kids learn more practical skills, and are expected to get jobs, and then there are the rest. I’m not sure what’s in store for these kids, but I guess no one talks about that.

I met the principal, who seemed like a nice enough guy. A bit pompous, but after Nigel Toy, I’m not sure if I can classify many principals as pompous anymore. I met a few teachers, many of whose names escape me. I met Kojima-sensei, another English teacher. Kojima-san lives in the same apartment building as me.  She is quite young, and from Nagasaki City, or nearby there. Apparently, all teachers in Nagasaki prefecture have to do their “island time.” All teachers are required to spend 6 years on an island in the prefecture. I guess even the Japanese understand how crappy it is to be on one of these remote islands, despite the enthusiasm of everyone I’ve met about Tsushima. I lucked out in that Tsushima is the biggest island in the prefecture. However, it is very far away from the mainland, and it is near impossible to get back to Kyushuu during high travel season, or if there is bad weather.

We picked up Kojima-sensei, and drove all my stuff back to the apartment, where Paul showed me how to use some stuff. It is fairly small, but quite livable. I have 3 rooms and they are: The bathroom/laundry room/toilet room, the kitchen/dining room/living room, and the bedroom/study. It’s a very efficiently designed place. My view isn’t that great – mostly trees – but I do have a balcony, which I can only assume is for hanging laundry, because that’s what everyone else does. The school got me a new futon (I thought I’d have to shell out for that) and a new TV and DVD player! I thought that was very thoughtful. Paul informed me that internet will take at least 2 weeks to get, so updates will probably be long. I will have to use the internet at school, which I hear is very slow. Internet in the homes, however, are supposed to be regular speed.

We went out to dinner right away, to a little place not too far away. I was hungry, so I was looking forward to getting there. We were seated immediately, and took our shoes off to go into the little stall. But when I got in there, I noticed that there was just a table on the floor of the stall. Now, I had anticipated many things, many difficulties in adjusting to life in Japan. Kneeling while eating never crossed my mind. My ankles were killing me after a few minutes. My left ankle, which was sprained badly a couple of times just couldn’t take it. I kept squirming around, until I asked Paul how he did it, and he said that he can’t do it either. So I tried every position that I could think of. The damn table was so short, that it dug into my thigh unless I had my legs straight. But my flexibility isn’t good enough to have my legs straight, and still lean over to table. Since I was in dress clothes, I didn’t want to get stuff all over me, so I was forced to contort myself continually. What a painful evening. My legs and butt fell asleep. But the food was quite good. I was surprised by the salad that came out: green lettuce, Italian ham, tomatoes and and oil and balsamic dressing. I wonder where to get some of that balsamic.

After dinner, I came home, and started to unpack and get used to my house. WHoooo boy. I kept running into walls, tripping over stuff, and kicking or kneeing things. I guess living in a small place will take some getting used to. It’s not that there is less space so much as it is the furniture is much smaller. The desk, for instance, just fits my legs. The couch is basically cushions on the ground. when I sit in the chairs, my knees feel like they are up near my ears. I managed to get everything out of my luggage, and away into the drawers and closet.

Taking a shower was an ordeal. I couldn’t get the hot water going, so I had to take a cold one. In Japan, you’re supposed to wash yourself first, and then soak in the tub. Well, I wasn’t going to soak in cold water, so I just showered. And finally, after a long day with many new experiences, here I am, at my computer. Tomorrow, I will go to school early, at 8:30AM, and wait for Ms. Kojima to take me to get all my stuff done, like my alien registration card, my bank accounts, all my utilities, and some shopping, hopefully. I have just realized that I don’t have any food for breakfast. Ah well. I can always get coffee from the vending machines. Till tomorrow.

July 26th, 2005

 

Hello from Tokyo! After 10 hours on a ANA 777, we pulled into Narita on a cloudy, muggy day. The two girls I was sitting next to were getting on my nerves,and I was ready to be off of that plane. One girl kept getting out of her seat (she was the one in the window seat) the other one was just grumpy like crazy, and the girl getting out every 10 minutes wasn’t helping her mood. The food was quite good though. It’s been a long time since I’ve had food on a plane. One time is was teriyaki chicken over rice, the other it was curry over rice. The best part about the ride was the entertainment. Now, I’ve flown to Asia before, and it’s hard. Your ass becomes numb, and if you can’t fall asleep, you have to keep yourself occupied for 10 hours while trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling in your legs from not being able to move. This time, not only were there movies (and descent ones too: Million Dollar Baby, Robots, Hitch, Meet the Fockers), but also video games! So it was 10 hours of movies, Super Tennis, Punch-out, Mah Jong, and Street Fighter. Pretty good.

When we got in to Narita, we were ushered through immigration and customs without a problem, and picked up our luggage (it made it safely, thank god). Then we followed the line of JET volunteers in bright orange shirts to ship one piece of luggage to our contracting organization, while taking the others to the bus that was to take us to Shinjuku. The bus ride was uneventful. I met a girl from LA on there who seemed like she just realized what she had gotten herself into. She looked and acted a bit shocked. Strange from someone who had lived in Hong Kong for a couple years. I took some pictures of some of the spectacular views, but the bus was moving pretty fast, so they didn’t turn out too well. When we pulled up to the Keio Plaza Hotel, I was ready for something to eat, and a shower. It was muggy and warm, and I had been traveling all day. I felt greasy. Check-in was a breeze, as JET had prepared it all for us. My room mate, Aaron, is from California too. He actually worked at Pomona during summers. He’s pretty gross, and has questionable hygiene, but he’s kind at least.

I dropped my stuff, and headed out into Shinjuku to eat and explore. The girl I met on the bus was supposed to meet me in the lobby, but she flaked out, so I was about to head out on my own, when I spotted someone from Pomona! Weird. I didn’t think there were many Sagehens on JET, but there turns out to be 3 or 4, and a few other people from the Claremont Colleges. Small world. So Eddie and I headed out to find food. We had a pretty good meal – noodles and sashimi – for about 10 bucks each. He headed back to the hotel after dinner, but I ventured out to find an internet cafe. I promptly got lost. But my Japanese is actually better than I thought; I was able to ask for directions … AND THEY UNDERSTOOD ME! Even more important, when they answered, I understood them. I walked around for 4 hours, looking for a cafe, and got to see a lot of Shinjuku. Although I found a lot of other stuff, I couldn’t find the internet cafe. I eventually ran to the Hilton up the street and paid 5 bucks for an hour of internet use. I came back to my hotel to find that everyone was getting wireless for free. Damn.

The next day, we had to endure a whole bunch of ceremony and rigmarole. There were lots of speeches by older Japanese guys which were twice as long because it all needed to be translated. There were also a few comical speakers who were Japanese, but had pretty good English. They reminisced about their experiences with foreign exchange students (ie. the foreign exchange student was hot, and they were compelled to learn English in order to talk to her). Mostly, it was boring and hot, because we were all in suit and tie. The person in front of me must have went out to drink the night before, because we were all sitting there quietly, and all of a sudden … BLEARGH! Projectile vomit all over the South African guy in front of him. That was gross. The African guy was, understandably, quite angry, and the British guy was pretty sorry. After all the stuff, I went back into Shinjuku, where I found the electronics stores. Whoops. I got my external hard drive, which was a great deal. 250 gigs, 16mg cache, 7200 RPM for less than 150 bucks. Sweet! I also picked up a wireless mouse that is excellent. A USB hub, a headset, and a laptop lock too. Pretty crazy. I had to stop myself.

Of course, at this point, not sleeping all day the day before caught up with me, and I slept through dinner, the welcome reception and a night of carousing around Tokyo. But I woke up quite refreshed. Today, we had a couple seminars in the morning, which were pretty bad. I skipped the second one, and started to pack for my trip to Tsushima. In the afternoon, we had more of the same. In fact, the afternoon workshops were EXACTLY the ones we had in LA and Vancouver. Ridiculous. Needless to say, I skipped, and kept packing. At 4:15, we had a prefectural seminar, where we got to find out all sorts of stuff about what we’re doing for the next month. Apparently, there is a typhoon coming through Tokyo, so we might not get off the ground tomorrow. Ah well, an extra day in Tokyo is fine by me! After I packed up all my stuff into my suitcase (it must have been at LEAST 80 lbs), I went out to grab dinner. It was raining pretty hard, and a bit windy, but not too bad. I walked into a little restaurant and used my stellar Japanese to order myself some chicken Karage, and a ton katsu donburi. It’s actually not that expensive to eat in Tokyo, as long as you eat in the right places. The little hole in the walls? GREAT food for not too much money. What is expensive is wandering into one of those electronic stores. Aiya. It is CRAZY, I tell you! They have sooooo much stuff in these stores. They sell computer ink like we sell milk and juice: in coolers along the walls. There must be hundreds of different kinds, all stacked on the walls. In the States we have pretty good selection, but is REALLY pales in comparison to what they have in Japan. It’s pretty ridiculous. And awesome.

Well, I guess I should go finish my packing. I have two flights tomorrow: one to Nagasaki, one to Tsushima. The curse of living on the island is getting on and off of it. Otherwise, I hear, it’s quite nice. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. Check out the picks from my first few days. Till I get internet access in Tsushima, this is Ryan, signing off.

July 19th, 2005

Hello from California. Things are fairly busy, and I’ve been keeping active. Laura, Kevin and I went to the Harry Potter opening at the local chapters, which was great fun. I wish there had been more dressed up weirdoes there though; it was more fun last time when I was in Palo Alto with Ben. I guess people in West Covina don’t really like to get dressed up. Too bad. Other than that, Victor and Youngmi came out to the apartment to eat, and we went out with James Mok and his girlfriend from Jersey. It’s nice to see friends from school again before I leave. Makes me regret going a little bit.

On Sunday, we also went to the Orange County Fair, where we basically stuffed ourselves. It was like the PNE, except bigger, with a horrible Showmart. The food was good though. We ate fried chicken, steak wraps, fish and chips, cream puffs, funnel cakes, and crepes. Some of it was really good, like the chicken, and some of it was only mediocre, like the cream puffs, and some of it was pretty bad, like the steak wraps. It was fun though. You can see some pictures here.

Today, I made quite the dinner. Porkchops with applesauce, cornbread, and collard greens. It was really good, especially the collard greens. Here are the recipes, if you care to try. Packing is going pretty slowly, but it’ll get done.

July 15th, 2005

 

And I’m off! I have left Vancouver and the comforts of home, for the comforts of California, at Kevin and Laura’s apartment. My departure from Vancouver was smooth, and it was nice of all my family to come to see me off at some point during the last couple of days. Even Michael and Christopher came to the airport.  I had a lot of fun this summer and I think I will miss being at home for a while. As you may have noticed by coming to the site, I have a new site, and I have revamped the style of the old one. The content is pretty much the same, but feel free to browse around. Most of the site is not up yet, but the main page is; I’ll get around to the rest later on when I have time.

Being at home was pretty fun this summer. Although work was sometimes boring, I got used to it, and go to know my co-workers (well, if that’s what you’d call the merry group that took over the shipping office [read: Sam, Elysse, Paul, Christine, Katie, etc.]) quite well. I got to spend time with my brothers, though not too much, as they were working as well. I also got to visit with friends I hadn’t seen in a good long time. All in all, a busy 6 or 7 weeks.

On the 9th, we had a birthday/graduation/going away party. It was pretty big – almost 60 people – and it was pretty fun, despite the mediocrity of the food at the Arbutus Club. I wish Dad could have been there. The day after that, Leanne had her engagement party, which was a lot of fun too. On Tuesday, the 12th, we had Cousins’ Poker Night, which was a lot of fun too! Thank you to Shelley and Gerald for hosting it. Dan, the groom-to-be, was the big winner, but we just let him win to welcome him into the family … (yeah… right…we wish). I’m looking forward to the next one of those.

It was a mad rush to get packed and do all the little things that still needed to get done before I left. I took my car to get serviced at Burrard Acura, only to find that there was a big fat dent, and some scratches on my door. They had the audacity to claim that they weren’t responsible for what happens in the parking lot, despite the fact that they had my keys and parked the car where it was when I found it. Thankfully, they said they would pay, but it seems ludicrous for me to take my car back there. I took it in to make the car BETTER, not worse. I’d rather drive out to Richmond.

Anyways, I am in the apartment, unpacking EVERYTHING, so that I can repack EVERYTHING. I’m pretty excited for my trip, but also a bit nervous too. How the hey am I going to teach kids who can’t understand me? It’ll be a lot of miming and making a fool of myself. Good thing I’m good at that. Keep coming back, cause the updates will come this year, quite often. I’ll be posting a lot of pictures here too. Talk to you soon!

June 5th, 2005
Well, I am home. It’s rainy today, a full three and a half weeks since I have come home. I miss California. Not because of the weather – it’s probably too hot for me down there right now anyways – but more for my friends, and college. It’s kind of weird really. Looking back on the four years I spent at Pomona, it all kind of seems unreal in a way, like a dream. Now that I’m back, I feel like I’ve woken up from that dream, and found out that all the people I was used to seeing, all the things that I had come to depend on, all the places that I was used to frequenting are gone. It’s that horrible feeling of being woken up and realizing that you were dreaming. Graduation was pretty nice. Aunty Cindy, Aunty Lorraine, Jenine, Kim, Mom and Chris came down to Pomona for my grad, and it was kind of fun having a lot of family around again. Besides a mix-up with Mom and Chris’s airplane (they got bumped willingly from one flight to get free tickets, thought they wouldn’t get on the next plane, but did, and then expected me to read their minds and pick them up), things went pretty smoothly. It was scorching hot during the two days of graduation. On Saturday, there was a rehearsal of the commencement, after which they made all the grads sit out on the football field and roast under the blazing sun for class day. Lots of people got prizes (not me). Victor got one though, and Erica Lai got a couple (I think), so the Vancouver contingent was represented at least. Commencement was a bit anti-climatic. Our speaker was ok, not that great. John Payton, the lawyer who worked on the U. Michigan affirmative action case, spoke about how our class is the first class to have our college education in an entirely post-9/11 world. He called 9/11 our “Vietnam,” and urged us to take action, however rudimentary it may be just as his generation (our parents’) did. You can read his speech here. After that, it was a quick run across the stage, and that, really, was that. 4 years just to run across that stage and grab that diploma out of Oxtoby’s hands. Just like that, the dream was over.

 

 

I hung around in West Covina for a few days, helping Laura and Kevin get their appartment unpacked. They are storing a lot of my stuff, for which I am very grateful, so I had to repack all that, so that it fit better. I set up their kitchen, which is ridiculously tricked out. Not only do they have all my cooking equipment (and I have a lot), but Laura’s parents brought enough for 2 kitchens, and Kevin’s parents brought another kitchen. So they have 4 sets of pots, pans, utensils … you name it, they have it in there. From what I hear, they are getting used to cooking for themselves, and are having fun with it.

Laura and I drove up from LA a few days after grad. We stopped at her house, then Portland before making up to Vancouver. Laura stayed a day here in Vancouver, then flew back down to her home to spend a week. She is back down in West Covina, where she is waiting to begin her new job at The City of Hope, doing research about the quality of life of cancer survivors. I hope she enjoys it. Right now, however, she is shopping for a condo that her parents will buy so that she and Kevin will rent. Kind of a cool idea. Kevin is working two jobs, as an EMT and as a veterinary’s assistant. He is looking for another job, or a job shadow, so if you know of any private practice doctors in the area, let him know. In the meantime, he’s trying to decide if he wants to be a doctor, a dentist, a researcher, a professor, a physiotherapist … and a whole bunch of other things. I feel his pain. I am up in Vancouver until mid-July, working at Uncle Harry’s warehouse. I do a lot of sweeping and cleaning, and take inventory every day. I also check orders that go out to make sure that everything is there. The work is not all that mentally challenging or stimulating, but at least I have something to do that gets me out of the house. My mother drives me nuts when I’m at home. In July, I’ll be back in California for a week, before heading to Japan, to take part in the JET programme. I have been placed in the prefecture of Nagasaki, which looks a little like Hawaii. It is the western-most part of Japan, in the south. Nagasaki has been an important port city, being the only one that remained open to foreigners while Japan tried to shut out the rest of the world. As such, it has a strong Dutch influence (I already knew that from anime!), as well as Chinese and Korean influences. All in all, not too bad. I would have liked to be closer to the rest of Japan, but Nagasaki is where people in Japan go for vacation, so that’s cool. Well, I think I’ll go do something else, since it’s my psuedo-day off. I’ll do anything to keep me from thinking about how much I miss Pomona. There were times during college that I was stressed out, depressed, tired, unloved, and lonely, but I would give almost anything to do it all over again; to get to meet everyone again, and experience that funny feeling that this person will affect you in some momentous way; to eat the institutional slop they tried to pass off as food; to do another Korean grill night with my close friends, even if I have to endure a monster meat hangover the next day. I still remember that 30 second sprint from my broom closet, greenhouse of a room in freshman year to Erin’s room, and the feeling of catching that game winning point against Cal Poly SLO, the sense of security and friendship when I hung around with Aubrey, and the support and love from Laura, the routine of class, meals, snack and work, Kevin’s room, and Free4All, and Kyle Korver, and late night basketball and mix bowl, and Mexican food. I remember also the nights sitting in the dark, trying to figure out why I felt like shit every day, and what was making me so sad, and coming to terms with mortality, love, friendship, and life, and feeling my ankle give way during that change of direction, and again when I was jumping for the chocolate cake, the crush of overlapping deadlines for projects that seemed to matter little in the big scheme of things. It felt like an eternity crammed into 4 years. I think only in the last few months did I realize how valuable and precious these years have been, and tried as best I could to soak it all in. I guess it’s like Anthony Bourdain writes in A Cook’s Tour: “‘Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it – like Thomas Keller [chef at The French Laundry] says – it’s gone.” Congratulations to the class of 2005 at Pomona College, and thank you. It has been a wonderful, painful, fun, stimulating, ridiculous four years.
April 28th, 2005

My my my. Updates are getting very sporadic. It’s hard to figure out what to write on a daily basis, and thing either change too fast, or not enough for me to write about them. Still, I figure I should update, since it will be one of my last posts as a college student. Time grows short here at Pomona. With only 4 days left of classes – 3 for me, since I don’t have class on Fridays – there is not much time left to enjoy being a student. But I think I’m ready to move on. Even though I don’t really have a good grasp of what I want to do in the next few years, I am ready to do something more meaningful than academic work. My time at Pomona has been fun, difficult, sometimes exciting, and definitely rewarding. I’ve been exposed to many things here: new ways to think, knowledge, extreme stupidity, ideologies and ways of life that differ from mine. I’ve made a lot of new friends too, and met many people from very different walks of life.

From here, I am unfettered by any schedule or list of classes or already-determined paths that I’m supposed to follow. I am beginning to realize that life from here on out is just really freedom – to succeed or to fail. Yet it’s also freedom to do whatever it is I want to do, whether that is get lost in another country, start a business, start a family. I’m finally on the other side of my adolescence. Up until this point, in some way or another, someone, somewhere has been holding my hand, whether it be the college, or my family, or any number of other people. From this point forward, I am free to fly solo, and I relish the exhilaration of both the freedom and the challenges.

 

Next year, I will be in Japan, a country that I have become increasingly interested in over the past few years. At the beginning of the year, I stated that I would like to be there next year, and I would do everything I could to make that happen. It didn’t turn out the way I had wanted it to, but perhaps the JET program is a better alternative anyways. I do not know where I will be placed as of yet – I won’t find out until mid-May – but wherever it is, adventures await: there are many things to see, many people to meet, and a lot of food to be eaten.

 

But before we all move on to bigger and better things, before we say farewell and perhaps never meet again, let us revel in this college experience. Let us enjoy the moment, and each others’ company, and the sights, sounds, even smells of Pomona College, such that any insignificant reminder of such sights, sounds or smells will force us to recall our days here.

 

It is getting light outside. It’s my first real all-nighter, and perhaps one of my last true all-nighters. This paper’s not going to write itself. If you want you can check out my graduation wish list. I promise to update sometime around graduation; I’m sure I’ll have many thought floating around in my head by then. Come back soon.