Thursday, August 28, 2003

number 3 (!)

originally an email


Well, having recovered from writing an email which was longer than my last year-end paper at University, I think I am ready for this next installment. This one is long, too. I just can't help myself. Where did I leave off last time? Ah! just before the orientation!

So, friday morning I woke at an acceptable hour. I now have a reason glad that back in Canada I worked until so shortly before I left. I had gotten accustomed to getting up at around 6.30 or 7.00 in the morning, and it has been easy enough to maintain that habit while here. Of course, the money was reason enough at the time. ;)

So, friday morning I woke at an acceptable hour. (deja vu, anyone?) I had spent enough of thursday cleaning house and laundry to be comfortable taking my time on friday. When I left the house at around 8.40am, I was quite confident that everything at the apartment would be fine for the weekend. Remember that I said that. So I left in a good mood. listening to some good music on the discman left by my predecessor. About 1/3 through the bus ride the discman died on me. I had neglected to charge it. The rest of the ride was noticably less exciting.On arrival in Tokushima, I left my little suitcase (which has been very useful, thanks dad!) at TOPIA (TOkushima Prefecture International Association) and decided to go exploring.

Tom, my british friend from the neighboring town of Katsuura, had asked me whether I could remember the location of the antique shop we had visited. I could not, so I decided to see if I could find it. Sadly, I found it right away, and so had to come up with something else exciting to look for. I decided to see if I could find Dan's apartment (another brit) from a new direction. After a little while, SUCCESS! perhaps everyone was right when they said I'm good with directions; or maybe tokushima is just really small and simple. Anyhow, I was in luck, and Dan was home. What's more, he had a bunch of perishable food that he wanted to dispose of before the orientation. Score! Matthew gets a free lunch! Tasty fried gyoza, french bread with strawberry jam, ice cold water and a vanilla chocolate almond ice cream bar. ("Oh my beloved ice-cream-bar, how i love to lick your creamy filling, and your oh-so-nutty chocolatey coating!" -Ren and Stimpy) Then he kicked me out because he had errands to run. No complaints here; free lunches placate the masses. Truth be told, I did have one errand to do. I had a mission to buy shorts and a shirt from UniQlo (like Old Navy). I tried two different locations; The first had nothing which was the right length. The second store, which was larger, had a bit more selection. Here is my problem: most shorts were just to long, and capris for guys were like shorts that were too long and silly looking. Ultimately I tried on every variety of shorts, several in multiple sizes. At last I found one pair which fit alright, and a shirt to go with it. Difficult. With still more time to wait before catching a bus to Kamiyama, I chilled out at TOPIA and read Calvin&Hobbes books.

At last 4.05 drew near and I went down to join the ever-growing crowd of JETs at the bus stop. We filled the bus up quite well. I felt sorry for the regular passengers; they really had to squeeze in at the next few stops. The ride was about an hour long, and things proceeded rather smoothly from there. In Kamiyama we were led around, did some administrative things like schedules, payment and reciepts, and once everyone had arrived (two busses and several cars total) we were set up with our host families.

My host family was great. The mom, Ikuko, and the 8 year old daughter, Masumi, were the ones who picked me up. We then drove to one of the dad's two jobs; an Ice cream/yakisoba shop, where I tasted every flavour and then ultimately picked yamamomo. Very tasty. Literally translated, it means mountain plum, but for some reason, the correct English term is 'climax peach'. I wonder if there is some kind of double entendre... In japanese art, the plum is a symbol of fertility, but in western art, it is sometimes a peach... or maybe I have just spent too much time in art school. Then we all went to Susumu's (the dad's) other job, which is a campsite called 'cotton field.' There, Masumi introduced be to the two young cats. First, she picked one up and carried it over to me, then the other. At least both cats were quite pleased to be supine; had they been tense it would have made it much more difficult. Masumi LOVES cats, much like Andrea (my sister, if you didn't know) did when she was the same age. But, as I discovered when we got to their home, Masumi also LOVES beetles. She had a big one, larger than a walnut, smaller than a nectarine, which she carried around on her hand and cuddled. She offered me the beetle, putting it on the back of my hand and letting it walk around on my arm. I think the fact that I did not freak out won me a ton of points in Masumi's eyes.Masumi, or 'Ma-chan' was a ton of fun. She didn't speak a word of english, so any communication we managed had to be done with Japanese or hand signals. More than anything else so far, I think playing with her really helped my Japanese.

On friday night, we played with her beetles, played with her Hamtaro laptop (one of those little black and white dealies with 50 games and a 4 inch screen. fewer pixels than half of an origional game-boy screen. It did have a nearly full keyboard, tho.), and looked at pictures of cats. She signed one and gave it to me. Dinner was spaghetti, and the sauce was as good as any home-made sauce I've ever had. A tasty meal indeed. Susumu and Ikuko spoke a little bit of english, but retrospect, I'm really not sure how much. We kept flipping back and forth between english and Japanese. When we were totally unable to communicate what we wanted to, either I used my little pocket dictionary, or we used an internet translator. It worked well enough.Both of them were very kind and light hearted. Ikuko is an artist; she paints sumi-e paintings, makes silk flowers, and a number of other things as well. She had books of kimono, and two famous scrolls printed on accordian fold paper. One was by Sesshu, and the other was the one which is all caricaricatures using animals. (The art students should all know the one I mean, it's the one with drunken frogs singing and rabbits eating, etc.)

Later we had some delicious grapes (have I mentioned that they don't eat the skins here? the skins are thick, so if you squeeze them, the inside part just pops right out.) and some home-made plum juice. Very tasty.I also presented them with the thankyou gift I brought. It was a book of pictures from Manitoba. Yes, it was a little early, but the pictures helped me describe what home was like.The only awkward moment of the night was when Ikuko, who is a practicing shinto, offered to use her healing powers on me. mmmmm..... no thanks. It was a good thing the computer was there, using it I managed to explain that because Jesus is my God, I do not participate in spiritual things which do not come from him. She seemed to understand that.

They have an old house, so it is large and has bugs from time to time. It also has no shower, just a bath. If I haven't said so already, in japan you always wash before getting into the bath; the bath is for relaxing, not cleaning. The house was old enough to not be equipped with a tap in the washroom, aside from the one directly over the water. Thus the way you clean is by scooping water out of the tub and pouring it over yourself as you crouch on the tile floor. There is a drain in the floor. It is actually a lot like washing in India, except that the water from the tub is warm. I made a point of always being the last to use the bath, because I am still not confident of my abilities to exfoliate and get rid of loose hairs. Because everyone uses the same bathwater to relax in, it is really disgusting to the Japanese if they see a hair or something in the bath. Now, before you go and get disgusted, just imagine the same situation, except you get to wear a swimsuit. You don't find that so appaling at all, do you? But if you think about it, going into the same water as someone else, unwashed and wearing fabric makes the water much filthier. I think the swimsuit just offers some kind of psychological protection.

After my bath, once I was dressed, we were all getting ready for bed when sususmu spotted a spider on the wall. While not quite a tarantula, this spider was certainly larger than anything we have in canada. It was about 4 inches from left toe to right toe, grey, and hairy. Susumu tried to swat it with the swatter, but didn't hit it hard enough and it ran away. We started pulling things away from the wall to try and find it. Eager to take the next shot, I asked for the swatter. Masumi squealed in fright and pointed to the ground behind me. Turning with great speed I applied the finishing blow with finesse. A lethal smash from above; the spiders legs curled in and it twitched its last. Exhilerating.

The next day was a traditional breakfast. they eat a lot at breakfast. The highlight was definitely Ikuko's homemade plum jam on fat toast. (all the bread here is at least 3/4" thick, and comes 5 slices to a bag.) I still love the reaction I get when I put soy sauce on rice. Either the Japanese reach out to stay my hand from making such a foolish mistake, or the gasp, lean away and stare in shock and horror. So much fun. Susumu had to rush off to work.

Masumi took me to the neighbor's house to see the newborn puppies. Afterwards, she and I watched some baffling Japanese tv for and hour or so before we were to all go out for the day. We watched a variety show for kids which seemed to have some educational value. It was all singing and dancing on a stage. They even had a token white guy. THAT was strange. The sudden realization that I really am a visible minority over here, and that the white guy was on the show probably just because it was good for publicity. He was way less talented than the others. What was the show like? Well, imagine a bunch of pop stars doing a kids show, with a bunch of costumed people stranger than Barney. Along with these were two Japanse kids acting like pop-stars and the token white guy who kind of reminds you of Carrot-Top. Next we watched a Junior High drama. I think I now understand the term 'drama queen', and let me say that no westerner could ever compare to the Japanese in that respect. Then we watched an anime called 'Prince of Tennis'. I could not understand the words, but I could tell how increadibly hammed up the show was. Though it was meant to be tense, it was downright funny.

In the afternoon we went out with a friend of the family who had a 4wd kei-car jeep. What does that mean? It was like a little suzuki jeep, but made by mitsubishi, the engine was less than 660ccs and it had 4 weel drive. Good for the roads we drove on all day, tho. The roads we took were at times unfathomably steep (a car can go up this pitch?) and unreasonably thin (Why is there an oncoming dump truck on this road? We've got to back up 100 yards so he pass!). What's more, the roads were winding, and at times very rough. I have since been informed that the roads play a large part in Tokushima having more accidents than the rest of Japan. At the beginning of the ride they asked me if I get car sick; having never been before i responded in the negative. I was wrong. It's a miracle I did not vomit.I think we drove for around an hour, always going upwards into the mountains, stopping peroidically to admire the view. We stopped for lunch at a camp near the top of one of the mountains. sushi, and other such foods were the order of the day. The meal was so-so. Masumi was super excited when I found a green beetle the size of a cherry. We put it in a bottle so she could take it home.

It started to get a little cloudy, and we headed back. The clouds were descending onto the mountains, and eventually we drove into one. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I could see 30 or so metres up and down the mountain, but beyond that was oblivion; pure white. It was other-worldly. watching trees disappear into the mistwe droveAt one point we approached a cliff (actually a corner) with a sign post on it. It looked like the edge of the world. Then we went to a shinto temple site, which had a waterfall. It was strange, some of the very old buildings now had security blinds on them, much as you expect to see on a convenience store in the middle of the night. Ikuko prayed to the gods at the temple and at the waterfall. Matsumi looked for more beetles. The friend of the family (an older gentleman whose hobby is photography) stood around and took pictures. I stood around shaking my head at the fact that so many people could stop and worship the creation and totally miss the Creator. Wood and Stone. I contemplated parts of Isaiah.

Then it was back down to town for dinner. We joined one of the other host families at their house for a barbeque. They were hosting a JET named Audrey, who is probably the prettiest of the JET girls here in Tokushima-ken (others have said 'hottest'). What is more, my intuition tells me that she has been pursuing me for the past couple of weeks. Pretty though she is, it's still, "No thanks," for a variety of reasons. But how do you say that when she has said nothing? I kept having to get up and start conversations with other people, because I kept discovering her next to me. So very difficult.

But the meal! The meal was the same kind of barbeque as I had with the sign language club. SOOOO delicious. Once again, a 3 hour gorging process. Afterwards a the kids played with fireworks while we watched. Then some of us played Daifugoo (big boss, little boss; A-hole, Slave), which has its own rule variations. I already knew the game, having been taught by Kuni and Yuta back in winnipeg.

After all that, back at home, there was more playing, talking, and looking at picture books. The friend of the family stayed the night as well. Enjoyable indeed.Sunday was an orientation day. Unfortunately I did not get to bed until after 1, and the neigbor decided to bang on the windows at 6 am. Then at 7.30 Masumi had to go to school (on a sunday? yes, apparrently one of the two days in the summer she had to go). I was unable to sleep any more past 8. Having awoken a couple of other times in the night as it was, I was tired. Once in a while I felt a wave of nausea from the previous day's driving.I had to be at the city cultural centre by 10 am, and seeing as how everyone else left the house before that, the friend of the family took me. Susumu had run off to work and Ikuko was running errands.

The orientation stuff was a junior high class, done just as normal except for the fact that there were 30-odd extra ALTs at the back. After that was Q&A for us, then 30 min free time while we waited for lunch. Lunch was beverages and pastries, but the pastries were Japan style. That means that they look like tasty things, but you never know what is inside. Custard? Curry? Sweet peas? beans? sausage and egg? Which variety is which? Each kind had a different exterior, but the outside did not reveal the contents. I was trying for a sausage and egg one, but i picked poorly. I got a sweet pea one, and a nasty custard one, and another which I can't even remember. The drink I picked was good, tho. I took a CC Lemon, which is a carbonated lemonade. "70 Lemons' Vitamin C" the bottle advertises.Following lunch was another info session on things like driving, what to do WHEN you get into an accident, health things, info about Sr High school, upcoming events, and so forth.

Next we shipped off to the hotel/onsen where we would sleep that night. We changed into swimsuits and I lightened the load in my backpack, and we loaded into a banana truck which took us to the base of the waterfall. Which waterfall? Actually, the same one I had seen the previous day, just WAY farther down along its path. There was a stone trail to one side of it which we hiked up. At the top, or at least the end of the trail there was a small pool. The next stage had to be scaled by three point climbing a 45 degree slippery rock face with the aid of a chain. One word to describe me? Pumped. It was amazing. Everyone removed their bags, shirts, shoes etc and left them in a nook reasonably removed from the spray. The climb itself was only about 30 feet, give or take, so not bad at all. Only one person did not do it out of just under 30. The second level was even more amazing. The fall battered down in a forceful spray, but at least the pool that had formed had a sandy floor at the very bast of the fall (instead of rocky). The water was cold, but the air pushed down with the fall was warm. Refreshing, unusual, contemplative. I regret that I could not bring my camera up.

The rocks were slippery, and I did manage to cut my foot a little, but I did not notice it till later. It's still a little irritating, but not all that bad. The climb down was much slower; I found out afterwards that a lot of people were quite scared. I still have ladder-legs from painting houses, I guess. As long as you give me three points of contact and a surface which doesn't move too much, I'm happy. When I got to the bottom I thought, "Ah, that wasn't bad at all! No worries." Thanks, Boss.

When we got back I got my foot looked after and then hit the onsen. This one was a proper onsen, with a warm pool, a hot pool, a cold pool, a jacuzzi tub, and a couple others. One of the others was labled 'kuuru' so I thought it meant cool. Stepping in, it felt warm and not cool. Confused, I sat down. After a few moments, I felt thousands of light prickles all over. Suspecting the truth, I raised my arm out of the pool and brushed the water off. Lo and behold the hairs on my arm began to stand up straight. Aha! 'kuuru' did not mean 'cool', but rather 'current'. There was a mild electric current running through the pool. People with piercings beware! I imagine if Dan, who has a nipple piercing, sat in that pool, he would be in for a shock.

One side of the onsen faced the parking lot (50 to 75 m away). That side was all glass. There was even a little place where you could stand and feel the breeze. The glass had a few white stripes accross it, and the eight of us who were standing there were wondering if it would be sufficient concealment against any passerbys in the parking lot. Fortunately, one of the other JETs was accross the way so we hollered out to ask how much could be seen. She ran away. (Later that night we found out that she had been too far away to see anything clearly, but she could tell that there were a bunch of naked guys there. She was running to get her camera so she could have some blackmail material, or something. We left before she got back.)

Well, the time was almost up and we had a bus to catch 40 minutes later, so I began to make my way out. I took that opportunity to try out the sauna. It was 90 degrees inside. Celcius. There were little 5 minute hourglasses inside to guage your time. At about 2 minutes, when the air was burning the inside of my nose as I inhaled, and when I realized that I was not drying off at all because my sweat was keeping me soaked, I decide it was time for a cold shower. It was a loooong time in that cold shower before I felt like I was cool again. Wow.

The bus took us back to the culture center where there was a banquet of sorts. All of the Jets and all the host families were there. There were japanese foods as well as pizza and McDs burgers. I spent the evening joking around with Susumu and playing with Masumi. They also had some Awa Odori dancers and a sword demonstation (first with wooden bokken, and then a solo performance with a real sword. Very impressive.)

After that party most of the JETs went drinking by the river, but around 8 of us chilled elsewhere outdoors chatting and some playing music.After that I sat down and read some Ezekiel and some of Proverbs, and then was ready for bed. Sadly, the room next to mine was where all the JETs who had been drinking decided to adjourn to. I was kept up until around 2 am. (from around 11.30). Then, to make matters worse, one of my two roomies came in, and it turns out he snores AND grinds his teeth as loud as a hand-drill. I did not sleep much. The next morning I was VERY tired.

Fortunately, breakfast was good: eggs and bacon. A nicer way to start the day. But I was still so very tired. I caught the 9.30am bus back to the city with 15 or so others. I slept most of the way. Origionally, I was going to catch the 12.30 bus home and then go to sleep, but some people were going to go for lunch after a trip to the electronics store. I went with. It was a 40 minute walk, or perhaps more, through blazing heat. At least it was still morning (around 11.00 when we left). After perusing there for quite a while, I was the only one who bought anything. I managed to sort out which pair I wanted through the help of a clerk who did not know a word of english. I can now confidently say that my Japanese is adequate enough to buy socks AND headphones. Aren't you impressed?

After the long walk back, we went for Italian food at the only Italian joint in town. Mmmmm.... garlic. Comfort food.

After lunch it was back to TOPIA to pick up my suitcase. Because I still had an hour left before the 4.30 bus, I thought I'd check my email. All I had was a bunch of ElijahList newsgroup mails sitting in my box which I had not yet gotten around to reading. In one of them, the writer was describing a dream he had dreamt of two people falling in love. At one point in his dream, the female is uncovered to actually be a sinister figure, bent on crushing the guy and his country. As I read the part where she was found out, I recieved a tap on the shoulder. Turning around, who do I see? [A-san]. Not one to believe much in coincidences, it scared the crap out of me. She basically just said hi, asked what I had done that day, and left. Creepy.
But on to tuesday. Tuesday was the day I bought my car. They actually drove it here to Kamikatsu for me, and it was waiting for me when I arrived at school at 9am. Sweet. After paying everything up front and signing papers, the kocho-sensei (principal) took me into town to buy a cell phone. I followed behind him in my new car.

While previously I had intended to buy one of the cell phones which had a great deal, like one of the 100yen phones. But having been to the electronics shop, I had begun to realize that it would be a long while before i could buy a proper digital camera. To buy digicam, i would also need to buy a laptop to dump the images onto. Buying a laptop is looking like it's two years away. The next best thing? Well, I figured the next best option was to buy the cell phone with the highest quality digital camera in it. I am getting one for 22,000yen (over $220cdn). the memory card that comes with it can hold a couple hundred images, and extra cards aren't all that expensive. It is one megapixel, which in some respects isn't much. However, to buy a 5 megapixel camera would likely set one back $1000, so to my mind, to get 1/5 the resolution for 1/5 the price and no need to buy a laptop isn't bad at all. What's more is that I can email pictures directly from my phone, and it has english menus, so it should be easy enough to do.But the best thing about it? It's blue.

I also brought my blue steering wheel cover from home! (thanks Andrea!)

The next event worth describing was Wednesday night. There was a small party to welcome Tom and I to Katsuura-gun. Katsuura-gun is the county I which includes Kamkiatsu town and Katsuura town. Tom is the Katsuura-cho ALT. The party was held at Tsukigatani Onsen here in Kamikatsu. There were a total of six people at the party: Tom, two ladies from his school (who I presume were principal and Japanese Teacher of English), my principal, my JTE, and me. The meal was ginormous.

Sushi, tempura, rice, soup, sweet fish, salad, two other veggie dishes, fruit, chicken fingers (and the chicken fingers here in Japan MUST be the best in the world), beer, tea, little desserts, and a few other things I can't remember. We had out own private room which could have easily accomodated 20 people, and we sat on cushions on the floor at a low table. There was a karaoke machine in the room, too, and it would have been a shame to let it go unused, wouldn't it? So we sang a bunch of karaoke. At one point I tried to do U2's Beautiful Day. Well, I guess you can imagine how that went. But making a fool of yourself on a grand scale and not really caring, at least when it comes to karaoke, gives everyone more boldness to try harder things. We all really enjoyed ourselves. Today is now Friday, and at noon I am going to go pick Tom up. From there we are going to Tokushima city so I can pick up my cell phone (they didn't have blue on hand, they had to order it in). On the way out we are going to stop at Hard-Off, which is the big chain of stores which sell used electronics, furniture, instruments, etc. Unfotrunately, so many people (myself included) keep calling the store by an incorrect name. It's the whole freudian slip thing, you concentrate so hard on not saying "-On" that "-On" is exactly what you say. "-Off" and "-On"; it's harder than you'd think it is.

After that its south for us! All the planned stuff has been north, in and around Tokushima and the Yoshino River valley, so we've not yet had a chance to hit the beaches in the south. The result? Last summer party, friday and saturday down at the beach in Hiwasa and Yuki. Yes!

Ohhhhhhh yeeeeaaaaaaaaah............ at the beginning of the email I mentioned how I THOUGHT everything in the apartment would be fine for the weekend? Well, here's a little tale of my return home school this past Wednesday. If you are eating something, or are about to, maybe save this next bit for later.Have you ever come home to find several gallons of vomit awaiting you on your doorstep? No? Not even once? Can you imagine something worse? I don't need to imagine. What I found at my doorstep was comparable in odour to two or more gallons of vomit in a blue tub. But it was worse, far worse. No drain and hose could fix this problem. And you know what was the most unfortunate part? It was all my fault. 100%. By this time you are wondering what I found. I'm gonna beat around the bush a little more, and maybe you can guess.The system is different here in Japan. They recycle a lot of things, and have different disposal systems. If you live in the city, you just need to worry about burnable, recyclable, and non-burnable. In Kamikatsu, we have 34 subdivisions which we need to sort our junk into at the local recycle/disposal site. It is very inconvenient. For food wastes, you need to have a composter machine, or a neighbor who does. I have a neighbor with a composter. I just haven't been taking advantage of that... until now.

Cue Matthew walking home from school. With spring in his step he scales the outside stairs to the second floor terrace/walkway. As he reaches his door and readies his keys, he pauses. "What is that smell?" He thinks to himself. Looking down and to his right, the little blue garbage can has a couple of fruitflies or gnats resting upon it. It does not strike him as unusual. Yet, there is that smell. A voice in the back of his mind is screaming, "Danger! Danger Will Robinson! Danger!" but he pays it no heed. Seeking the cause of this distasteful odour, he reaches down and flips up the lid of the little blue can.

The blast would have been enough to choke a horse. The sour stench of rotting death was about all he could handle, but it was the writhing mass of maggots which really did him in. It was all he could do to keep from vomiting as he dropped the lid back in an fumbled with his keys, falling into his apartment in a panic. He managed to shut the door before the evil aroma could waft into his dwelling. How had it happened? No, actually, he knew how it had happened. First the flies laid eggs in the rotting food, which matured and grew an consumed his garbage, maggots that they were. The other question was whether there was still any ex-food amongst the maggots an fluids in the can. And what does one do to dispose of that? He couldn't very well dump that into a composer now. He decided to ask his JTE when she arrived to pick him up for the welcome party. "Bury it," she said. She indicated a patch of land which had probably had garbage buried within it already. Matthew decided that it could wait until Thursday. He needed to find a shovel somewhere first.On Thursday, in between typing a long letter to send to people at home Matthew took a lunch break. Borrowing one of the spades from the school, he walked home.

At his door the distasteful smell was there again, but he now knew better than to open the garbage can. He decided that he had better eat lunch first, because he wasn't sure he'd want to think about food afterwards. The digging was sweaty work. He figured that the deeper the hole was, the better. Nakanishi-sensei was right, there had been garbage buried there before. There were all sorts of things in there. He made sure to dig at least three feet into the ground. Those maggots needed at least a half-decent burial; after all, they couldn't help the fact that they were sickly little creatures. Once the hole was ready, he walked back a picked up the can, careful to hold it as far away from his face as possible. The process of dumping the contents into the hole, throwing the bag on top and filling the hole again was actually very fast. It could have taken less than a minute. Matthew would not have wished that task on his worst enemy. The stench was still rising fromt the filled hole. As Matthew walked away, he made the gravest error of all; wondering how much stench had transferred from the bag to the can itself, he took a whiff.

Once again he managed to keep from vomiting. Barely. He spat, and that seemed to help. He left the garbage can in the far corner of the the little parking lot to air out. He took a shower before returning to the school, needing it in both physically and psychologically. He was nauseous for the rest of the afternoon, but the worst was over.


There you have it. The misadventures of Mat will be continued at a later date. It will become more difficult for me to write letters of this magnitude from now on. This letter took me around 6 hours to write, maybe more. I think the last one was 7 or 8 hours.

School starts on Monday, and from that point, I am only permitted to do personal email between 3 and 5pm. That's only 10h/week.

Even so, I think I enjoy writing these more than anyone else enjoys reading them, so there's some hope. Have a nice weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

number two (I promise they won't all be this long)

originally an email

Wow. Hello Everyone.
I was just reviewing my last email and I realised just how long ago that really was. In actual fact, it was only 9 days ago, but so much has happened since then. This is going to be a REALLY long email. Get yourself a cup of coffee and a doughnut before you sit down and read this puppy.

More events of the week preceeding the last email:
a mostly uneventful taiphoon which killed 4 people nationwide (they were probably the sort of fools who go out in a taiphoon to watch the action), and there was a shack blown over in the next town. Our town's shacks were left intact.

Saturday the 10th was the Tokushima JET drinking party and buffet at the local beer garden. At 10am, Tera-san (who actually lives in Tokushima city) took me into town to a discount shop, then to the 100 yen store, then to his house to meet his wife (who gave me a ton of food and soap) and then he took me out for lunch before dropping me off at the station where I met up with some friends (other JETs).

That evening I met many of the renewing JETs that night, as well as the few newcomers I did not already know. There is a good pub we went to afterwards called the "Queen Vic." A little hole in the wall which caters to westerners is always a plus. I planned ahead to crash at the home of a Brit named Dan (who looks remarkably like Tim Sutherland). I left the third bar ('Bell's') earlier than everyone else, as it was getting rather raunchy. Dan gave me his keys, though he scarcely believed I would find my way back. I am gaining quite a reputation for knowing my way around.

Already, JETs ask me for directions within Tokushima city. I suspect I know my way around better than them simply because I spend far less time inebriated.

On the following Sunday, waking around noon, Dan was home, and so was another Brit named Tom, with whom I am becoming good friends. He lives in the same -gun (county) as I do; in fact, my town derives its name from his town's name. His town is called Katsuura, so called because it is on the Katsuura River. My town, Kamikatsu, literally means "Above Katsuura." I'm sure it could have been called Kamikatsuura, but that is just too long a name for a town. Anyhow, I chilled out with him on that suday afternoon. We ate at the sandwich shop run by an winnipegger (who also was an ALT in my town 10 years ago) whose name is Brad, and an American whose name and town I forget. Then we went to a used record shop, an antique store, the 100yen shop and a grocery store. After all this, Tera-san picked us up on his way home to Kamikatsu.

Tera-san and I dropped Tom off at his apartment (which is en route to Kamikatsu), and then we went to the Natsu Matsuri (summer festival). I asked if I could shower first, and Tera-san said okay, but be accellerated to make sure I had enough time to shower, and still arrive on time. Driving that fast along those mountain roads was as exciting as riding in any NASCAR event, and perhaps more dangerous. But Tera-san is the most skilled driver I have seen in quite some time, so I wasn't worried. He could give Visakhapatenum's Crazy Bobby a run for his money, and Tera-san is 51! But Tera-san has the distinct advantage of driving Motocross in his free time. He drives a 4WD diesel Toyota van with the back two benches ripped out so as to carry his bike around. In fact, Tera-san is his racing name. His bike says 'TERA' on it. Teranishi is his family name and Shigetsugu is his first name. Calling him Tera-san is kind of like calling me Shetts.

But back to the natsu matsuri...
It was kind of kitschy and quaint, but actually quite fun. It was held on grounds near the local onsen (hot springs). They also had their own Awa Odori which was performed with excellece. And the fire works were spectacular. They were low, they were big, and they lasted a long time. I watched one spark extinguish itself a mere ten feet above the crowd. In a word: spectacular.

The following monday I joined the school's sign language club's barbeque. We barbequed beef, pork, chicken, onions, corn, green peppers, sweet potatoes, eggplants, and a couple other things. The barbeques were oildrums cut in half lengthwise and laid out as pits, with crosshatch grills laid overtop. We barbequed over locally produced char-coal and let me tell you it was delicious. We ate for three hours. (We: a group of deaf and or dumb people, a bunch of junior high girls and teachers, and me.)

The following Tuesday (the day I sent the last email), when I went to the school at around noon, the teachers there were making takoyaki. Takoyaki are balls of dough and vegetables with a chunk of tako (octopus) in the centre. I tried my hand at making them, and showed up at least one of the teachers. They were all impressed; they were excitedly commenting in Japanese how my takoyaki were much prettier than those of the other teacher. I explained that it must be because my faculty in University was Fine Arts. Wednesday the 13th was a day off which I used to prepare for the 5-day orientation which was to begin the next day. I made myself a vegetable heavy curry and rice, leaving half for breakfast the next day. Unfortunately I was unable to fall asleep until quite late, and actually forgot to turn my alarm on. It's a good thing I was prepared.

Thursday, I had planned to get up at 6.30, eat breakfast and clean the dishes and leave the house at 7.00, giving me ample time to get to the bus stop for 7.08 when the bus comes for Tokushima city. Instead I woke at 7.00, realised I had not turned my alarm on, panicked, recovered, dressed, scraped the curry and rice into the garbage, filled the pans with water so they would clean easy five days later, took the garbage out so it would not stink five days later, grabbed my suitcase and umbrella (it was raining) and backpack and ran out the door, locking it as i went. I ran down the street, down the shortcut path (very steep and slippy in the rain) as quickly as I could in the rain, and along the road to the bus stop, a 3 minute run in total. I arrived just on time, but I got to wait a bit after all, as the bus was late. It was only then that I realised the horrible truth, I HAD LEFT MY NIGHTGUARD IN. For those of you who don't know, I wear a nightguard to keep me from grinding my teeth. Its case was up in my room and I had no time to go get it. Very sad. The bus ride took around 2 hours, getting me there for around 9.00. I needed to be at the TOPIA office for 10.30. The next bus from Kamikatsu would have gotten me there around 11.00. TOPIA is at the top floor of the station. At around 10.00 the department store accross the way opened and I was able to buy a little case to put my nightguard into. At the end of the weekend, when I returned home 5 days later, I discovered to my dimay that the nightguard had cracked. I guess the case I bought dried it out too much. It's still wearable, but it's very sad.

Anyhow, on to the orientation. By the way, TOPIA stands for something like TOkushima Prefecture International Association. It has a little English lending library and Internet access with western keyboard layouts, and they have Japanese language and English language courses there.
At 10.30 we had the opening ceremoinies (Japanese events always have opening ceremonies with distinguished guests who leave right after the ceremony) with two high ranking prefecture dudes who left right after the opening ceremonies. Then we had lunch, after which we took all of our luggage by foot to the hotel we would be staying at. Next, we changed into our yukatas (traditional robes) and put on our headbands, and met in a biggish room to eat, drink, and sing karaoke. This party lasted around an hour and a half. Then we hiked through the rain to an indoor venue where we danced the Awa Odori. From three in the afternoon at the hotel, until eight at night at the venue, there was a constant flow of free beer coming from back rooms. After one glass, i decided to opt for juice.

It really is a shame that it rained last thursday, because otherwise we would have been dancing in the streets. By this time I am sure you are asking yourself (or me), "What is this Awa Odori?" Awa is the old name of Tokushima prefecture, so it goes without saying that the Awa Odori is limited to Tokushima. However, that does not mean that it is a small event. Awa Odori is the Mardi Gras of Japan. Yet whereas Mardi Gras is known for alcohol, sex, and drugs, the Awa Odori substitues in more alcohol for the sex, and even more alcohol for the drugs. So, Awa Odori has alcohol alcohol and alcohol, and it has even more dancing than it has alcohol. Also, it's not quite a parade, either. The dancing troupes DO dance through most of the downtown streets, they also take breaks and chill out from time to time. They sometimes stop and the crowd forms a circle around the dancers, and they perform like that. They also occasionally pull people from the crowd to come dance, and there are certain areas where the crowd dances all night long. It's a four day festival, running from Tuesday to Friday, and though it officially ends at 10.30 each night, the drums and flutes can still be heard in the wee hours of the morning. In short, Awa Odori is a blast, and arguably the best festival in Japan.

On Friday night we all went out into the streets to enjoy the festival. I kept asking myself, "Where did all these people come from?" Eventually I asked someone else and was informed that Tokushima City is normally around 260,000 in population, but during the Awa Odori it swells to over a million. Yeah, "WOW!" is right.

Friday afternoon had been more lectures, the highlight of which was the one by Genki English: two guys who are pumped about the JET programme, and who talked about teaching to elementary aged kids. It was an encouraging lecture.

Saturday we left the Kenzan hotel (which by the way is a bizarre hole in the wall, going in the front felt like going in the back way) to go to Anrakuji temple, where we would hang out with some Jr and Sr high students, teach english, play games, write and perform skits. I was worried about the prospect of sleeping on Buddhist temple grounds, but I came under no spiritual attack that I was aware of. I suspect this was due to the fact that while the temple is still maintained by monks, it has become a rather commercial tourist attraction. It's on the 88 temple route.

The 88 temple route is a route of 88 temples that belong to a certain sect of Buddhism. Several hundred years ago, a monk named Kobo Daishi established the route as a neccessary pilgrimmage. Many Japanese desire to walk the route at some point in their lives, but most wait until after they retire; it takes two months or more to walk the entire route. The pilgimmage ranges accross all of Shikoku, starting in Tokushima. An essential part of going to a temple is paying money to the Gods. Thus, all of the temples which are part of the route are quite rich. The Head monk at anrakuji wore a silver bead chain around his neck, a silver watch, and on Monday he was wearing a cowboy hat, too.

So, it was commercialised. There was a souvenir shop, too.

Shikoku only really has two attractions that people come here for: the 88 temple route and the Awa Odori.

But back to the temple. The food was good, and I am getting more aquainted with Japanese tastes. On Saturday we arrived around noon and split up into groups. Each group was around 8 or 9 JETS, including a couple of -sempais (senior JETs). We had some time to prepare a few games etc and think about our skits we would have to create. Then there was free time, while the kids arrived between 2 and 3pm. Then was the opening ceremonies, followed by time with our kids. In the evening dinner and then the English Olympics, where all the teams competed.
Our only shower access was in the onsen (hot springs)

Sunday was: breakfast, then free time, then session one, lunch, session two, free time, dinner, ALT performance, enkai.
In session one, our kids worked on their performance for monday, and we came up with our skit and planned a form of scavenger hunt for our kids. In session two, we practiced our skit, and our kids did their scavenger hunt (they had to go find an ALT who ... and ask them to ... , all done in english). Our skit was about the source of genki. Genki is the word for healthy in Japanese, but it emplies being full of energy and excitement. We decied that the source of Genki was Pocari Sweat, which is a sport drink here which many westerners say tastes awful. It's comparable to Gatorade, in my opinion.
But Pocari sweat is funnier. Picture yourself drinking from a can labled "Sweat".

We ended with a song, sung to the tune of "Daylight come and I wanna go home." If anyone wants, I can type in the whole thing, but for now, the chorus, "Genki come when we drink Pocari Sweat."

On sunday morning all the kids performed their bits, and then we had the closing ceremonies. Our kids did "country roads" with the all the words changed to make it "Tokushima roads". Also, through the whole weekend kids came up to us to interview us (there was a competition for who could interview the most ALTs). After the interview, we would give them a 'purikura' which is an abbreviation for 'print club'. We made them on the Friday previous when we had free time.

Print Club are these instant photo booths which are hugely popular here in Japan. You find flocks of these machines at the back of arcades. For 400yen (nearly $5 cdn) you get four different pictures which you write on and add things to before they get printed out. Once they are printed, you separate the pictures using scissors. And guess what? they are stickers! Girls will go to purikura every weekend, and boys will go now and then as well. It's also a first date kind of place, apparrently.

After the closing ceremonies was some time to clean up and pack up, and then it was lunch. I had gotten to know one of the two guys from our group of nine kids, whose name is Katsuya. I ate with him and some other guys his age for nearly every meal. He always ate fast and complained that he was still hungry. A typical junior high boy. He was also always attempting to eat before we were permitted to do so. At Monday lunch we had curry. One of my favorite meals. I too was aching to get started. Katsuya and I sat accross from eachother, our hands poised over our spoons, waiting for the monk to say "Itadakimasu!" We did not say that we would race, but we each knew the other's thoughts. As soon as the monk said it, we dove in. I won round one. Katsuya was not far behind. We ate our meals so fast, some others thought we had started long before we were allowed. Katsuya convinced me to go for another plate. We got up, got more, sat down, and raced. I won round two, but in my mind Katsuya won the whole thing. You see, Two plates of curry and rice plus a bowl of salad is more than I could normally handle. Monday was no exception. My stomache later ached from being over filled. I ate two plates of curry and rice before most people were 2/3 complete their first plate. While eating that second plate, I recognised how much I would hurt later, and thought to myself, "You know, you could slow down now and let Katsuya win." There was a pause. Then I thought "No I can't," and continued to wolf down the food.

But it was fun, and though I say I will never do that again, I probably will.

In the afternoon, back in Tokushima city I chilled out, bought a wallet from Uni Qlo, which is like Old Navy, and sat on the most luxurious beanbag chair in Muji, which is like Ikea, but better.

Tuesday was a big day. I went with Tera-san and the JHSchool principal (whose english is better than Tera-san's) to look at cars and cell phones. Tera-san had a lead on two really good car deals, one of which I ultimately picked.

I will be buying a Daihatsu Mira next week Tuesday. I need all the money up front. It will cost 230,000yen, which is about $2,600 cdn. That is, including the insurance. Without any insurance, the car would have been only 140,000 yen. There is a mandatory insurance which covers the other vehicle and its passengers, and a optional insurance which covers my car and its passengers. I am getting both insurances. If you saw the kind of roads I regularly have to drive, you probably would, too.

After that, we looked at cell phones. The only significant things about the cell phone I will get are that it has english menus, a digital camera, and the phone itself will be cheap. $1. The plan I am getting will set me back around $50 cdn per month. For that I get email and around 50 minutes, but all incoming calls are free. In Japan, you only ever pay for outgoing calls, but you always pay for outgoing calls, even from home.

We had come in two vehicles, so at that point the Kocho-sensei (principal) left, and Tera-san was going to take me back. But first he invited me to his house for dinner. Both daughters have moved out by now, but both happened to be home. One, whose name means hope, is a piano teacher like her mother; and the other is a university student in a different prefecture. I can't remember either of their names. Dinner was teriyaki chicken and pork with daikon (massive radish, which tastes like your average lettuce or celery) and rice. Dessert was pears and ice cream. This was not a special meal, they said, just regular food. It reminded me of home. In fact, the Teranishi family is starting to feel like family away from family. Tera-san is practically the same age as my dad, and like my dad is still playing aggressive sports, and is somewhat of a joker. It's nice.

Yesterday I was given a better feel for what school is going to be like. Nakanishi-san (the JTE: Japanese Teacher of English) and I planned the first lesson or two, and I helped a student correct some of the grammer in her speech for the speech contest.

It's bizarre, though it is summer break, there have been students around the school, in uniform, every day I have been here. I understand that it is nearly second term (out of three) and that some of the third years (grade 9s) are preparing for High School entrance exams, but why are there first and second year students here?

Tonight I will pack to go to my last orientation this weekend. I hope that I will not have to write an email this long again. If you have read this email in one sitting, kudos to you! Even I have taken a period of two days to write it. I suppose that shows, eh?

So, goodbye for now, and if you need to get a hold of me, email is still the best way. If you did not get "number one", let me know and I'll send it to you.

jya, mata ne?

Sunday, August 10, 2003

number one

originally an email

Hello all!

Well, I've been in Japan for just under a week and a half now, and I seem to be adjusting quite well. The fact the I have some Japanese language ability has certainly eased my entry.

Now, while I have only been here ten days, it has been an incredibly busy ten days. Even now, when I finally get an opportunity to email, I only have 30 minutes until the school closes. This morning (Monday) I spent with the Junior High sign language club and a few deaf and or dumb people. At the local campsite we had a barbeque using locally produced charcoal. We cooked beef slices, and chicken, and pumpkin, and eggplant, and onions, and shiitake mushrooms; all of which we dipped in tasty red sauce. It was all delicious.

Maybe Japanese food will be alright after all. For a while I was quite worried about how I was going to cope. You see, back when we were in Tokyo we were served primarily western cuisine. At best, it was only so-so. Moreover, my one or two brushes with Tokyo fast food of the Japanese variety left me more concerned than excited. The first was a joint where you put your money in a machine, push the button corresponding to your meal of choice, and a ticket would be dispensed. Once you had aquired all the tickets you wanted (in my case two: a meal and a coke) you sat down and put your ticket on the edge of the table. A dude comes by, takes your tickets, and then brings your food. The food I picked was strange battered chicken with a poached egg on top tons of rice underneath. The second brush was a fast food sushi place; nothing much to be said about that. There were Mc D's and KFCs and Circle Ks and 7-11s and I imagine many other Western franchises in Tokyo, but after I discovered that there were no slurpees at 7-11...

But back to the Japanese food. On My first day in Tokushima I was picked up from the domestic airport by the principals of the JHS and the Elementary along with the superintendant, a Board of Education guy named Teranishi (more on him later) and the JHS teacher, Hitomi Nakanishi. All of them have kids my age. First they took me for a quick bite to eat at the airport: I had the best chicken fingers I have ever had. This was a good thing.
Then they took me to Kamikatsu towm (my town). After depositing my luggage at my apartment and introducing me to several local shopowners we went out for dinner at a little restauraunt with an amazing view; it was perched on the edge of a cliff. Very cool. The food? not so cool.

A man named David Payne once taught me a little prayer for missionaries who are served a meal they just cannot imagine consuming: "God, if I put it down, will you please keep it down." I prayed that prayer several times, especially when I felt that old fashioned gag reflex making a comeback. Thankfully, I managed to eat nearly everything, which really impressed them. "We've never seen a Westerner eat THAT before! Usually they can't handle it!"

Anyhow, my half hour is pretty much up, so I'll have to continue this later.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

test run

originally an email to all my friends and family

Hello everyone! this is just a quick email to say that I have now safely arrived at Kamikatsu town. I will probably write a longer email on Sunday, if I can get into the school.

This is also a kind of a test to get all the people onto my mailing list who want to be on it.

Could someone email me Tom Kliewer's address? (steve or marv)

on a quck note, the two most significant things which have happened yet are that Real Madrid welcomed me to Japan at the airport. (Beckham was 6 feet away from me). the other thing is that a taifuu (taifoon) is currently drenching Japan. Right now it is Friday at 1:00pm, (Thu 11pm Wpg time) and we are told it will hit in earnest around 6pm. We are expecting between 450mm and 800mm of rainfall TODAY.

I am now only waiting for the rain to let up enough for me to go home, two blocks away.
Next week, I'll have to buy some rainworthy shoes. It turns out that my feet are just small enough to buy socks from the convenience store, so I should be alright.

and Japanese food is going to take some getting used to.

Other emails I don't have that I can think of: oral, benita, ...


mata nichiyoobi! (until sunday!)