Friday, December 19, 2003

nana na na na-nana hey! (number 7)

originally an email

Seven is nana or shichi in Japanese.

Once again I will attempt to make some kind of attempt to account for myself before I go to some kind of major event. I have tried this twice before, and neither time it has worked out. I tried to send off a large email before Visualogue, and failed. I tried to get one done before the soccer tourney, but did not manage to. Now, I will try again to write, and hopefully get this one sent before Christmas vacation.

Also, let me warn you that I generally refer to Christmas Eve as "New Years". Unfortunately I also refer to New Year's Eve as New Years. You may have to determine which I mean based on the context. I will try really hard to get it straight, but for those among my family and friends who recall, I have had this problem for a few years now, and I only get it straight when I try really hard. Ganbarimasu! (I'll do my best!)

Okay, so we left off way back at the soccer tournament, right? Looking at my dayplanner, I see that there was also a week around that time where I taught all my Junior High classes solo. My JTE went on vacation; she was using her "refresh leave" which is a few extra days off every ten years. After ten years of teaching, people get three extra days. After twenty years they get another 5. Usually after 30 they hope to be retired. These few days mean a lot, because unlike the Canadian system, teachers are expected to work nearly every day of the year. That includes about half of winter break, half of spring break, and all of the summer. Any days off have to be used from their "nenkyu" (yearly leave). There is such a thing as "byokyu" (sick leave) but teachers generally use nenkyu instead. To use byokyu, they have to be sick enough to go to the hospital, and need to get a doctor's note. Also, days off due to byokyu are taken out of their annual bonus. As a result, they prefer to take nenkyu, so they can just go home. They are generally allotted around 40 nenkyu days a year. To take days off in summer or during the breaks, they must use their nenkyu.

On the other hand, JETs, like me, are allotted only 20 nenkyu, but we are also allotted 20 byokyu, and are permitted to use them. We get no bonus, so it is no skin off of our back to use them. Because so few Japanese people use byokyu, and then only in extreme circumstances, it is far from unheard of for ALTs to get cold stares for using them. Japanese don't seem to think it is right.

Some of the more fortunate JETs are allowed to do what they wish with their holidays. I am one of those privileged few. If I have no plans, I must come to school rather than sit at home and chill, but I am free to make plans (ie, going into the city, travelling, etc) and merely have to tell them what I am up to in order to get the day off with no charge. It's a sweet deal.

So, as I was saying, Mrs Nakanishi used her special 'refresh'-kyu. I taught the classes by myself. Afterwards I was talking to one of the Jets who has been here three years, and he told me that what I did was a bit touch-and-go. I should not have taken the classes by myself because I do not have a proper teaching degree. My predecessor did. I guess nobody thought about it. So I did something mildly illegal. Ignorance is bliss, right? Anyhow, it was a good learning experience for me, and I got to put my Japanese skills to a little bit of use. Any Japanese I write on a chalkboard is a source of instant applause from the students, especially since my predecessor could only say basic greetings in Japanese, even after two years. Fun as it was, it was by far the most trying week I have had in classes; it made me much more conscious of there being language barrier than I have been at any other time. Talking is way easier than teaching.

Also, that week of trying to teach JHS kids by myself has influenced my days of teaching in the elementary. I couldn't put my finger on exactly how, but I do know that the classes seemed to get way easier to do after that.


On the last Saturday in November there was a party at Dr Otsuka's. Who is Dr Otsuka? My question exactly. He is some guy who lives in Awa-cho, which is in the mid-north part of the prefecture, along the Yoshino river. He is also very affluent, so he throws a massive party for ALTs and locals, and charges a mere $5 to cover some of the food and booze. The party itself needs little more than a cursory mention. The house was huge, there were three bands which each played three or four song sets, and there was a lot of food. The ALTs/JETs (some of the ALTs were not JETs) mostly kept to themselves, and the Japanese mostly kept to themselves. Apparrently that is not normally the case at this annual party, so Dr Otsuka was trying his best to be extra 'genki' to liven things up a bit. It was an OK party, I guess. My original intent had been to drive home after the party, but I underestimated how long it would take to drive to Awa-cho. It took me more than two hours to drive there. The party was going to end at 11.30. I had to be in the City the following morning at 9. that would mean a 2 hour drive home, putting me in bed at 2.00 am at best, and then I would have had to get up at 7.30 in order to be back in the city for 9.00. And all that is an ideal circumstance. In reality, I would probably be restricted to three or four hours sleep, and then miss my appointment in the morning, due to my body taking 8 hours without consulting me first.

So when someone offered to let me crash at their place near the city, I was sorely tempted. When I was told that I would not be the only one crashing there, I accepted. Whose place was it? None other than [A-san] herself. Who else was crashing there? None other than her boyfriend [B-kun]. I probably don't need to tell you that it was a weird weird situation. I am glad that she hooked up with [B-kun], because he had been interested in her from the start, and she had been harrassing me from the start. Once they hooked up, she basically left me alone, which suits me fine. She has a really big place, with two bedrooms separated from eachother by the length of the apartment. Unfortunately the guest room was filled with laundry and other things, so they put me up in the living room, which is right next to the bedroom. Thankfully, they kept quiet.

The foamie that I slept on was moderately comfortable at best. Add to that an odd situation and an unfamiliar ceiling, and what do you get? light sleep. I may have been up before my alarm. With what should have been seven hours sleep, but felt like five, I was up at seven and off to the city. I nabbed myself a McDonald's breakfast (hotto keki, orenji jyusu, soseji mikku-mafin) and even made it to the place early.

Where was I going? I went to ASTY Tokushima, which is some kind of a convention centre in the city. I have no idea what the ASTY stands for. My third year students were participating in an industrial fair. For the preceeding several weeks, they had been visited by students from one of the High Schools in Katsuura (the next town over). The HS that was sending students is an Agricultural school, and they were teaching the JHS 3rd years about growing plants; panzies in particular. Er, that is, the plants were panzies, not the students who were learning.

The industrial fair was mostly High Schools. The main reason for our participation was to give our students some exposure to more High Schools so that they could see what options were out there. The group was divided in half, and day was divided into four one hour shifts, starting from 10.30, after we had gotten set up. One half would stay and mind the booth, and the other half wandered around. I "chaperoned" some of the boys. More accurately, I hung out with them, walking around, buying snacks, such as ice cream or squid tenpura, and chowing down the occasional free plate of steaming "maguro atama" (tuna head). It was delicious. When we returned and told the others that we had found a place that gave out free tuna head, everyone was pumped. It turns out that the meat from inside the cheeks of the tuna is one of the choicest bits. As I have already said, it was tasty. However, I must confess that I passed off the lumps of solid fat to some of the others, and fortunately never got served an eye.

It was a cold day to be outside; it was windy and the skies threatened rain, but it never actually rained until after we left. It was the kind of weather in which I would normally be scraping siding off of a house in Winnipeg at the beginning of September.

But despite the weather, the day was a lot of fun. The third years are an intelligent, fun group of students, and many of them speak a good amount of English. I like it when I can hang out with them.


Sometime in the last while, Nakanishi-sensei asked me to help her prepare a test for three towns: Kamikatsu-cho, Katsuura-cho, and Komatsushima-shi (a city). The test would go to all the junior highs in all three places. They alternate who prepares the test from year to year. This year it was Kamikatsu JHS's turn. My part was to draw the pictures for part of the test, and record the spoken English for the listening portion.

I had to do the voice of a girl for one part of it, seeing as how there are no natural female English speakers in the vicinity. My poor attempt at a female voice had the both of us rolling on the floor in laughter when we heard it played back. We kept it. A few thousand students have since listened to that tape. The idea is still funny to me. Sadly, our own students were too focused to laugh when they heard it at the test. At least most of them talked to me afterwards with a smile saying that my voice had been very strange.


On the first Saturday in December we JETs did our annual Christmas visit to an orphanage. Usually they have tried to go to as many as four, but this year it was only possible to do one. All the kids are bought presents for by JETs who are given only the age group and sex and price limit ($10).Then on the day of, we are there for two hours. We blitz the place and decorate a main room with Christmassy stuff, and then do some games and crafts with the kids, followed by carols and presents, and then another game. It's a good tradition to have.


Last weekend was a busy one for me. As I said in the "Judo = fun" letter, I had hurt myself at judo, but was missing the friday anyhow to go our of town. Out of town meant out of Kamikatsu. There is a former JET named Rowan who is now a regular ALT who teaches at a few elementary schools. One of his schools was putting on an "open school" and wanted some international special guests. These guests provided a reason for the open school, and made the day even more fun for the kids.

Because the open school was to start at 9 on the saturday morning, Rowan invited anyone who was so inclined to come to his place for dinner the night before and then crash for the night. That's what I did. It's just as well, too, because I had a nightmare of a time trying to find his place, Though he lives only a little north of Tokushima City.

He did make a delicious dinner, tho. I stuffed myself silly, much to the amazement of everyone watching. That evening, for some reason I was granted the kind of bottomless stomache that could have given the infamous Phil Miners a run for his money, even back in his Junior High prime. Perhaps it was because the food was very flavourful, and pleasantly spicy, a nice change from the Japanese quisine, which though I enjoy, I certainly eat more than enough of.
Unfamiliar ceiling or not, I slept well at Rowan's.

He made french toast for breakfast, and had maple syrup to go with it. Three cheers for comfort food! Banzaaai! Banzaaai! Banzaaai!

When I went back to where I had parked my car (in parking lot) it was surrounded and boxed in. At 7:3o am. It had been an empty lot the night before. It looked like several little league baseball teams were coordinating travel from there. I guess I came at the right time though, because the gridlocked parking lot emptied completely in about fifteen minutes. Only in Japan.

The open school was interesting. There were 14 or so of us, though we were not all ALTs. Rowan is engaged to a Venezuelan university student who is working on her masters, and so there were other South American uni students (their friends) among us foreigners. After the opening ceremonies we were split up into four groups and guided around through the various things by the grade 6 kids. The four areas were: making torn ricepaper collage, calligraphy, making mochi (a kind of snack made by mashing rice into a chewy paste), and traditional japanese games (an ancient ancestor of badminton, shooting paper wads out of bamboo shoots by using compression, spinning tops, a form of cup-and-ball, and a game that resembles tiddly winks.)

After all that was the closing ceremonies. We adjourned to another room where we were given tasty bento (japanese boxed lunches), little souvenirs, and $20 for our trouble (travel expenses, etc.)
after that, I made my way back into the city to audition for the musical and park my car for the xmas party.

That's right. The musical. Tokushima is the only prefecture whose squad of JETs puts on an annual musical, although I think a couple other prefectures have started to consider doing their own. Now, I admit that class is hardly a consideration when coming up with these plays. This year will be the 10th annual AJET musical, and as such we are taking a play from Shakespeare. We have modified "The Taming of the Shrew" to be "The taming of the Brew". There is a role reversal, so now it is two brothers instead of two sisters. Bruce is the name of the beer-drinking, pizza-loving older brother. Groomio is the younger bro.

I wanted the role of Groomio and got it with absolutely no competition. Yatta! So I have one of the leading roles in the play this march. Practices start in January.

As for the party I was referring to, it was the AJET annual christmas party, which was meant to be a twelve location pub crawl; becoming a kind of drunken "Twelve Bars of Christmas". I joined a couple others and just hit three places before the final destination. We met at the starting point: Big Brother's Sandwich Shop, Then went to St Patrick, which is the expensive joint that has Guiness and Kilkenny on tap. We got there while the first two teams were still there, and relaxed there until all the other teams had come and gone. Then we made our way to the Queen Vic, picking up a few others along the way. We beat all the teams to the queen vic, and chilled there until once again everyone had gone through. Then it was on to P's Paradise (which may or may not be a strip club during the day) which was the place we had rented to finish up at. I got there at around 11.30, and the party was well under way. At around 2 am the party was tanking fast. Me and another guy named Stirling were trying to come up with an antonym for "lucid" because it would have been the perfect word to describe the state of most people in the room. I made my exit and went to crash at Dan's place. Which was locked. Rats. Fortunately Drew and Emily (who live two flats over) were in and they provided me and Tom (who had turned up shortly after) a floor to sleep on. I still had all my bedding in my car from crashing in Matsushige, so I was able to drag it out and sleep quite comfortably.

In the morning (or early afternoon) we all woke. After packing my bedding back into my car, I went with Tom to go find some food. We settled for authentic curry at a place in the city called Masala. Very tasty. Good naan.

Then Tom split to go look for xmas prezzies and I went to look for a bath/onsen. The kind folks at TOPIA pointed me in the right direction. The place I went to was a very old, very busy, very strange onsen in the middle of the city, at the base of Mt Bizan. I don't know what else to say about it other than I just took it in stride and tried to relax. However, when I came out I felt refreshed in one way, and worn down in another. It was like I had been under spiritual attack the whole time, and not realized it. I got hit by this wave of hopelessness as I left the place, and felt like doing something self-destructive. It was bizarre. When I realized what was happening I prayed and walked away, and was fine after. There was a thought in my head thinking that I should frequent that little place. I will probably not go there again, at least not for fun's sake. No, not to that little onsen in the shadow of Bizan with its many shrines.

After that I picked up an Icelandic fellow named Oli, and took him to church. He had come to the party the previous night, and was interested to come. It was our Christmas service, and the last foriegners/english service for the year. It was alright. Because he's stranded here at xmas, I invited Oli over for xmas dinner as well.


I went to the hospital on monday to get xrayed to make sure I had no broken bones. I'm fine, so the doctor gave me some painkillers and a chest-tenser strap thing and sent me on my merry way. ---
I had my schedule rearranged a bit this week so that I could join the junior high schoolers in their marathon on Wednesday. I am usually at the elementary on Wed, but this week they did me a favour and switched me to Tuesday.


The marathon was only 2km for the girls and 3km for the guys. Kuchihodo ni mo nai. Mouth bigger than action. I thought I could pull off the run no problem. I placed 13th out of 23 guys.I ran the 3 kilos in 14 minutes and 39 seconds. I don't think I am quite at the point of doing 5 kilos yet, which would make me very happy.I was glad for the run. It was good.


Thursday (currently last night, but probably longer ago by the time I finish this)Thursday was the Christmas party for my Eikaiwa class. It went well.

I suppose that at this point I should talk a little about what the Eikaiwa class is. It is an evening conversation class which is held once a week. Anyone can come. Most ALTs have eikaiwa classes composed primarily of middle-aged women. I am more fortunate. I have pretty girls my age in my class. In fact, I have nearly stolen one from Tom's eikaiwa class. Her name is Naomi (with a soft "a"). One of the teachers at my school went on a two/three month trip to New Zealand. Naomi was the replacement teacher. She is pretty, and though all the Japanese say she's tall, to western eyes, particulary those covered with bush-goggles, she is just the right hight. Also, she lives in Katsuura, and as such has gone to some of Tom's classes. I casually invited her to mine. She comes. Tom was shocked. Dismayed. Then, he was pleased when she came to his class this past monday. The prettiest girl in Katsuura-gun (county) goes to both our eikaiwa classes. Ironically, neither of us will make a move on her. Why? For me, I wouldn't bother because she is not a Christian. For Tom, he would if he didn't already have a girlfriend. So we both just choose to enjoy the fact that we can have pretty girls in our classes. It makes preparation so much easier to do. I also have a couple of University girls who come to mine, and one of them, Mae, is quite pretty too. Taku-chan, who is a local shop owner and a very funny guy, had tried to set me up with Mae during the first week I was in Kamikatsu.
So what do we do at eikaiwa classes other than talk to pretty girls? Well, we talk to other people too. I have a low-level class one week, and a high-level class the other. With the higher level class we mostly discuss things, and if it comes up, I will teach a grammar point. We also play games, like lateral thinking games.

With the lower level class I generally have some kind of grammar or vocab to teach and have a game or two focused around it. The trick is trying to figure out how to make the class both a social event and a learning experience, because it is meant to be both.

Taku-chan and Mae come to both levels, as their English level is moderate. Tera-san comes to the low-level class. Though her English is better than Taku-chan's, Naomi comes to the low-level class because one of the other teachers from the elementary comes to the low level class as well.

Hiraoka-san, who helped sort out the martial arts stuff and occasionally gives things (like venison or pickes) to me, comes to the advanced class from time to time. The mothers of two of my more skilled students come to the advanced class as well. One of them runs an organic bakery, and the other has traveled the world.

The christmas party went well. We did it pot-luck as far as food goes, and everyone paid $3 to cover drinks and snacks; Taku-chan brought them. Taku-chan did most of the coordination for the evening; he is one of those guys who demonstrates the Law of E. F. Hutton. (cf Maxwell) There was a lot of very good food. I made a curry.

We played a few games; I prepared some, and a couple other people prepared some. Taku-chan smoothed over some rough spots. All the games loosely required English. Then we did the good ol' "White Elephant Gift Exchange" which is the one where you can steal instead of opening.

All in all, it was a highly successful evening, though it felt like Taku-chan carried the weight of it for me. Thanks Taku-chan! (guess who's the real leader?)

Wow! and that's it! Now I have to rush home and shower and shave before heading off to the staff party in the city.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Judo = fun

originally an email

Thinking about it, I realized that I really aught to say more about judo.
Sometime early on I had expressed an intrest in taking a martial art. It turned out that there are both a karate class and a judo class held in the neighboring town of Katsuura. I thought it would be more fun if I went with someone else who spoke the same language as me, so naturally I asked Tom which one he would like to do, if either. He had done judo before, and thought it would be fun to give it another go. Moreover, because of the way the classes were scheduled, he could not have gone to the karate class anyhow. Then I found out that said karate class was of the non-contact variety. There are full contact karate classes in Tokushima-ken, just nowhere near where I live. Given the choice between non-contact karate by myself or full-contact judo with another english speaker, I naturally opted for the latter.

In the first class we took, we borrowed judo-gi (clothes) from the sensei (teacher); of course they were too small. That we both skipped the next class, and with directions from Mrs. Nakanishi (the JTE i work with), we were able to pick up our own, fitting, judo-gi in Tokushima-shi.

That first class was easy; Takagi-sensei, the judo guy, speaks only a little english, so it took a while for us to get the hang of it.

After the class Tom and I were talking about how we hadn't broken a sweat.

The second class was killer. At the end of the class Tom and I faced off against eachother to fight using the two or three throws we had begun to learn. Whereas in soccer you can pace yourself and slow down when you need to, when you are in a fight there is no such option. We were both choking for breath after our three minute fight.

Without a doubt, Tom won. I think he threw me three times, earning himself three points.I did not throw him even once. He was trying things we had not seen in class; obviously being in a match brought back old memories and tricks.
Koji was there that day too. He had not come on out first day. Koji Yamano is a grade 10, 16 year-old student who is a black belt in judo and is unusually large for a Japanese person. He is tall, perhaps 5'10" or 5'11" (160cm?) and bulky in the sense of looking like he lifts weights. Tom is nearly as tall as I am, and our hight (especially our long arms) is the only thing that gives us a fighting chance against him.

In that second class, after wearing ourselves out on eachother, Tom had to go against Koji. Tom went against him, seeing as how he won against me. Tom was cooked after that. He did ok, but I think he was probably coughing well into the night as his lungs tried to catch up.

After class we were talking about how we hadn't broken a bone.

At the end of the next class, we faced off against eachother again, Tom won, and then it was my turn to be on the recieving end of Koji's throws. However, Koji made one fatal mistake before we fought; he let me know that he was intimidated. That gave me a lot of confidence, and confidence wins fights. I think I threw him once to the four or five times he threw me, but it was so much fun.

I think that to date, we have been to only 5 or 6 classes; there are two classes a week: one on Tuesday and one on Friday.
Last week, at the Tuesday class, when facing Koji, I was trying to perform the new throw that I had learned during that class. He is really good at making a turnaround, and he ended up throwing me. However, I had a wrong thought as he threw me. I thought"If I go down, you are coming down with me." In judo, it is imperative that you land well. When you fall, your first thought should be regarding how best to land, and then from there to foil the next attack by countering or rolling away. Because I had the wrong thought, I hurt myself. I still hurt from that fall. I am glad class is over for the winter break, because I need the time to get my shoulder sorted out. Then, the major irony of that fight was that koji managed to throw me using the very throw I wanted to get him with. I landed wrong again, with my feet too close together, and hurt both of my big toes. That ended the fight. My toes are fine now (though one of them had swelled up afterwards and bruised a little) but my shoulder still hurts.

I had to miss the friday class because I was out of town, and that was just as well. This past monday I went to the hospital to get an xray to make sure I had not fractured anything; I was surprised that my shoulder still hurt. The xray showed nothing, so the doctor gave me some analgesics (painkillers). I asked him if I could still do judo, and consenting he gave me a kind of tenser bandage thing to put around my chest. So I went to Judo yesterday.

Tom was not at class because last night he was on his way to Kansai airport to begin his winter vacation trip to Cambodia and Laos. As a result of that and the fact that I was a little hurt, we had a more relaxed class with more technique. At the end of class, however, I still faced off against Takagi-sensei and then Koji. We avioded one or two throws on account of my shoulder, adn the fights became slower and more strategic. Even so, it was at least helpful for me because I was able to get a feel for what certain tugs, pulls, leans, and pushes can lead into. It was good.

I love going to judo. After every class the endorphins keep me soaring for a very long time. I highly reccommend it for anyone. There are even four or so little elementary kids who come to our class, though it is rare for all of them to be there at once. Koji said he started when he was their age.

So that's Judo; one of my great joys here in Japan. For those of you who know me well, it ranks up there with soccer and driving.


Re: emails

Originally an email

Yeah, I send messages back to myself from time to time, just so I can keep some kind of record of what I have said; I got doubles of all the mails I sent yesterday. It must be something to do with the computer at the Elementary school.

At judo last night I learned how to choke people and break arms. The arm breaking move is meant to be a submission hold, and Takagi-sensei said to perform it very slowly, lest you actually break their arm. the move would break the arm at the elbow. yuk. As it was, I wasn't applying enough pressure to Koji's arm; (koji is the grade 10/ 16 yr old black belt) and the sensei applied a little more pressure to show me what it should be like. Koji's arm made a sickening little pop sound, and I let go. He was ok, but I'll bet it hurt.

After we had tried all the holds, Takagi-sensei showed us how to counter them, and if there were no counters, then how to protect our throats and arms.

I think I'll cc this letter to everyone.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Fletcher's Fives

Article I submitted to "Days of Awa Lives"

Fletcher's Fives
by Matthew "Fletcher" Shettler

Being a first year, I have compiled a few top five lists regarding the whole "Japan" thing.
I thought you might enjoy it.

5 things which upon arrival I have accepted without question:
1. Volumes and volumes of bad english everywhere. (confidence of creating delicious; love is message)
2. Bathroom slippers
3. The fact that my little car can at times accellerate from zero to 60 km/h in neutral.
4. That Tokushima city swells to 4 times its normal size during the month of August.
5. Omiyage

5 things which I have questioned only once:
1. That in the mountains where I live, the sun only takes 15 minutes to set-- a far cry from the hour it usually takes in the prairies.
2. A praying mantis walking accross the outside of my second floor window.
3. Japanese radio DJs see no lack of continuity in following an R&B song with some heavy metal, and then completing the trio with a bit of easy listening.
4. Bob Sapp, his 'massive' popularity, and that his ice cream is the bomb.
5. I had a doubt at first, but it was quickly quelched.

5 things that amaze me about driving in Tokushima:
1. My little Daihatsu Mira can actually scale steep mountain roads.
2. Heavy laden cement trucks can both fit and stop on those same roads.
3. Nobody honks at the driver who is going at 20km/h below the limit, despite the fact that most people drive at 20kn/h above the limit.
4. I have not witnessed a traffic accident yet.
5. That while I can safely avoid being hit by other cars and cement trucks for three months (so far!) only to have my door deeply dented by a sleeping cyclist moving at 5km/h.

5 things which I think will never cease to amaze me:
1. How much my ego has grown since coming here. I now truly believe that I am dead sexy. Even when I examine my mini-pot belly in the mirror.
2. Somehow I managed to move out of a fiercely environmental community in my hometown, and when I get placed in random small-town Japan, I am put into a fiercely environmental community. Go figure.
3. Having managed to maintain a consistant weight through my whole high school and university career, upon arriving in a strange foreign country and eating strange foreign food I have at last put on the freshman 15. Well, more like 8. It must be the rice. That, or all the chocolate, coffee, sudachi products, beer, omiyage, and other food continually dumped down my throat.
4. In a bank of fifteen vending machines, I can consider myself lucky to find one that contains solid food.
5. That we came in dead last in the soccer tournament. How could we lose when we all looked so sexy in our swank uniforms?

5 things which I thought would never cease to amaze me, but which have since ceased to amaze me:
1. Sweet-red-bean-paste flavoured anything.
2. One of Japan's main imports is culture.
3. Jet culture is even more bizarre than Japanese culture, and that is a difficult feat to pull off.
4. A one hour drive into the city feels (and is) both close and brief.
5. I can walk into a bookstore, see thousands of books and hundreds of magazines, and know that none of them are in English. (can you hear my logo-centrism shattering?)

5 things which I don't think I will ever get accustomed to:
1. Being expected to bow to tradition and taboo. Going through fine arts at university has indoctrinated me to well for that. I want to break tradition and contradict taboos just because they are there.
2. Not eating while walking. Or when you are on a bus or train. If you are late, where else can you eat?
3. The slurpee void that is Japan. How can 7-11 not have slurpees? It defies all reason.
4. My 15 year old washing machine. It has a separate compartment for the spin cycle. It takes an hour to wash a load of laundry, and I have to monitor the machine the whole time. Then I hang up my clothes and wait three days for them to dry.
5. "kancho"

5 things which I thought I would never get accustomed to, but have:
1. Teaching kindergarden. To quote the Schwartzenagger movie Kindergarden Cop, "Kindergarden is like the ocean; you should never turn your back on it."
2. Eating the whole fish. Or many small whole fish.
3. Devil's tongue and all those other jellies.
4. Eight year old girls cuddling kabuto beatles as though they were hamsters.
5. Driving on the wrong side of the road. It's not right and left, it's right and wrong.

5 delicous Japanese foods:
1. Sushi or sashimi served with sudachi.
2. Anything with 'yaki' in it (so far): yakiniku, teriyaki, yakisoba, dorayaki, takoyaki, yakitori, yakimochi.
3. Chicken fingers done the Japanese way. They use dark meat, which makes them so very juicy.
4. Oden.
5. A steaming plate of tuna head.

5 useful Japanese words/phrases:
1. Kuchihodo no mo nai - lit: "not as much as the mouth" - a set phrase meaning that someone is all talk, or exaggerrates.
2. Hinshuku o kau - lit: "to invite a frown" - behaving scandalously
3. Yakimochi - either it's jealousy, or in Awa-ben, it's a baked mochi. You decide.
4. Ubawareru - (v) to capture. for example: "Boku wa [insert girl's name] ni kokoro wo ubawaremashita." For a while I was using ubawareru instead of wasureru. oops.
5. Dokidoki suru - (v) to feel one's pulse race in anxiety, fear, anticipation, etc.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

number 6

Originally an email.

I figured I had better write another account of what's been going on the last couple weeks seeing as how there is a soccer tournament this weekend, and after that, I won't want to write about anything else. Just like what happened after Visualogue.
If the truth were to be told, you would find that my last few weeks have been busily uneventful, or at least in comparison to how I think they could have been.

The only event worthy of mention that week was my birthday. In Canada, in recent years I have had the somewhat humourous habit of forgetting my own birthday. I generally remember that it is coming a few weeks beforehand as I look at my dayplanner to sort out schedules, but once the week rolls around I am so busy with what I need to do, that I generally neglect the date altogether. The fact that it frequently lands on weekdays only aggrivates the problem.Anyhow, this year would have been no exception, but that someone back in August had asked me when my b-day was. Two days before the 16th my principal, Kunio Seto, asked me if I had any plans for my birthday. If not, he wanted to have me and another teacher over to his apartment (he lives there 4 days a week) for a small party.

Now, the week previous I had contemplated making some kind of plans, but I was having a hard time trying to think of some friends I could do stuff with who would not think the only form of worthy celebration would be getting sloshed. I had no answer.

Thus, when Principal Seto asked me over I was delighted. On the day itself, just after school two of the third year students dropped by my apartment with a cake from my JTE (who had been out that afternoon). After that, it turned out that Tom was on his way up to go to the onsen, and invited me along. It was as relaxing as one could hope.

The party was just Principal Seto, Masutomi-teacher (teaches PE) and me. We chilled out, ate the cake that the principal brought, drank a little bit of beer, and muched on snacks. At one point I ran back to my flat (two apartments over, just up a little hill) to get a couple movies. We ended up watching Tremors. After the movie we talked some more, and ended up talking about Jesus and Christianity, which was in my opinion a good way to finish up the evening.
by the way, that was a thursday the 16th.

On friday I brought to the office the cake that Nakanishi-teacher had given me. It was smallish, but I managed to get enough pieces out of it for everyone.

I read Silence by Shusaku Endo on the saturday and sunday, as there was little else to do. Upon completion, I treated the book with the respect I thought it deserved: I threw it across the room at my door. It was a distasteful book about a man losing his faith in God. Endo successfully leaves no room for hope for the man by following him to his death. If for any reason you feel the need to deprive yourself of hope, then by all means read the book, but otherwise I would not reccommend it.
There is always hope.

On Sunday, while standing in the warm sun outside beside my washing machine, a postman walked up with a package for me. The contents? a birthday present from home! Yatta! (victory! or, Yesss!). The contents:Werther's candiesCadbury Dairy Milk bars (plain and almond)a medium sized tobleronea Prairie Alaphabet BookA white "Schwartzenegger for Governator" t-shirtan Eat-More barcarons d'Ache (face) paints [requested]a carda TwoThirtyEight cd (title: You Should Be Living)small bag of Tostitos nacho chipssome basset's licorice all-sorts

Within a week or so all the candies and foods were gone, but in my life I have never before eaten such a small bag of chips so slowly. I think it lasted three days. I savoured that savoury snack.

I put the CD in my discman and listened as I finished my several loads of laundry. Don't get me started on that washing machine, let's save that tale for another time. The CD was good, and was everything I would have hoped for out of Silence by Endo. The album is perhaps what you would get if you crossed a regular folk musician and christian rock band: most of the topics on the album are pained tales of life's grit, but there is always a thread of hope or promise in the background somewhere. To quote 90% of my students when they describe anything whatsoever: "I like it because it is interesting." (in Japanese, "omoshiroi" means that it holds your intrest, so it can be used to mean any of fascinating, captivating, entertaining, or funny)

That afternoon was soccer, and I wore my new Schwartzenegger shirt out to play. (Where else can I wear a shirt like that?) Our team captain, Anthony Uno asked me, "Mat, you from Cali?" There was similar confusion on everyone else's part. I simply explained it away by saiyng that the members of my family, particularly some members of my extended family, are "Schwartzenegger Freaks". I did not feel that was too much of an exaggeration.

After that was church. I think I neglected to mention in my last mail that I had found a small church to go to. Or rather, it found me. Colin and Jenni, two of the other new JETs this year had the contact info for this place, and after they had been once they invited me along too. They were a young youth pastor couple at a Vineyard church in Perth, Australia before they left. Considering the similarities between Gateway and the Vineyard churches, I figured that if they liked it well enough, so would I.

It turned out that there was actually an English service, perhaps the only one in the city (not counting the english service at one of the Catholic churches). As a result, it is a kind of inter-denominational international service. There are maybe 8 or 9 jets in total who go there, as well as several others from across the globe. There are maybe 30 people in total.
After the service everyone chills out and chats while munching on snacks which everyone has brought.
This then was my second time going. There is not much else to say other than that I made plans for the next weekend as well.

On Moday the 20th I had my first Eikaiwa class, which is an English conversation class I do for the townspeople. Three of my students, the Azumas (sannensei Terumi, ninensei Rieko, and ichinensei Hiroki) all come as well. Aside from them and a two or three university students here as agriculture volunteers, most of my students are parents of the kids I teach.

Another event worthy of mention was the following friday October 24th. Every year every class has some kind of excursion. The second years take four days and go a long way away, to somewhere such as Okinawa, or in this year's case, Tokyo. The first and second year students (grades 7 and 9) on the other hand go somewhere nearer for a day-trip. Each class gets to pick among some options. (The ni-nensei had to pick Tokyo while they were still ichi-nensei. This years first-years have also chosen tokyo) The options for the day trip had to be in Kobe, seeing as how it is the closest major city. The first year kids went to the aquarium, which is kind of like a "Kobe Sea-World". The third year students picked the amusement park. When offered the choice myself, I naturally joined the third-years, both because the amusement park sounded the better option, and because I can actually talk with them.

I suppose there is little to say about the park, but I will probably say a lot anyhow.
Firstly, I have had a track record in Japan of sleeping in for important things. This time I planned ahead. I had to be at the bus stop by 6.50 am. The bus stop is a 7-10 minute walk from my apartment. I planned to get up around 6, which would allow ample time to get ready. Just to be on the safe side, learning from that time back in August, I got ready everything I would need, and made sure I could just run out the door. I chose not to wear my night-guard. As it was, my phone rang at around 6.45. I woke like a man doused with cold water. It was Nakanishi-sensei, asking where I was. I told her I would be there in ten minutes. Somehow I managed to wash my hair, dress, grab an apple and my bag, and bolt to the bus stop in a record 5-7 minutes (the 5 clocks in my house are not syncronised).

Thankfully, I beat two of the students to the bus stop, so nobody was waiting on me. Yatta!It was a charter bus. I went back to sleep for the first 45mins.I suppose I could give all the boring details of the ride, but here I will restrain myself. There is even little to say of Portopialand other than that it was smaller than I expected, and it is located on a man-made port island accessible by a bridge from Kobe.

Aside from the fact that the menus at the park were in Japanese, and that the place was overrun by junior high aged Japanese kids dressed in navy-blue winter school uniforms, it could have been anwhere in medium-sized town North America. It was better than the Red River Ex, but could not hold a candle to a Six Flags or Canada's wonderland. It was a 4-coaster park. NB: Roller coasters are called "jetcoasters" in Japanese.

If you recall, back on culture day the students had been doing different things to raise money. I had helped the san-nensei (3rd year students) make takoyaki (tako = octopus). They raised enough money then to cover all their own entrance fees, ride passes, and more besides. The more besides seems to have included my entrance fee and ride pass as well. Sweet! Three cheers for lending a hand! Also, the park offers a free lunch (up to $5) for teachers acting as chaperones. Once again, this included me. A very slick deal indeed. What's more is that I was able to get a filling and tasty lunch for that 500yen. Gotta love those Japanese chicken fingers. I guess they're less like fingers than lumps, but the principle is the same and they are so very delicious.

One of the attractions was the the cold house. Imagine a tiny haunted house. Now, make all of the decor white. Remove most of the objects. Now imagine that the "house" is more like several very large walk-in freezers linked together. The idea was that you were to experience some kind of unbearable cold and walk through very fast. The first room was a dry minus ten degrees. The second was, at coldest, minus twenty-five. Not a problem for your average winnipegger. Taking the lead, I took off my sweater and casually strolled through, stopping to admire the frost in the colder room, my body blocking the way past and keeping the guys behind me trapped. Eventually I let them pass and followed them out. There was not a single goosebump on me. We went through that house several times that day, and I did the same each time. It was good. I enjoyed the cold.However, when you bring the cold into my apartment, when everyone knows that cold is meant for outside, I am not a happy camper.

So we rode the rides and a good time was had by most. (Some, like Yuji and Ryo, became a little motion-sick, and one of the girls, Terumi, would have preferred the aquarium). Such is the way of amusement parks.

We were there from (I think) 9.30 to 14.30, and that was certainly enough time to get all we wanted from the park. On the bus ride home they played a movie: Lupin III. I had heard of it back in Canada, and had played a mod of a Lupin the Third game for the SNES. It was interesting to see it now. I still didn't understand enough of the words, but I could get the gist from the action.

Sunday, once again was a day filled with plans. I got together with some people from the little church and their friends for breakfast, a hike and a movie. Breakfast was pancakes, the british way, which means "thin like crepes". Even so, they were good enough. Breakfast was meant to be at 11 on Sunday in the city, but I couldn't get my rear in gear quickly enough to get there before 12, but that was no problem. At some point we all packed up and headed for Bizan (mount Bi; in japanese, the suffix -san, when used in reference to mountains, means mountain. With people it is just an honourific. Hence Fuji-san the mountain, and Kuni-san the person). Bizan is is the small mountain (or very very large hill) which is located just west of the middle of Tokushima. It took us a little over an hour from the base to slowly hike/walk all the way up. It was a very good workout, but I felt it more in my lungs/heart than I did in my thighs/legs. I was a good practice run for the hike I did the following week.

After the hike down, I split off from the group to go look for xmas presents to send home. Once all the stores were closed, I called one of the hiker's cell phones and met up with them again to watch a movie. We watched the modern adaptation of Great Expectations, starring Ethan Hawke. It was okay, I guess, but not something I would ever watch again. We skipped bits more than a few times.

Tuesday the 28th held a break from the norm. I joined Tera-san in going to a one day conference in the city, meant to help give some inter-cultural understanding between JETs and supervisors. It was fun-ish. I had the privelege of hanging out with JET people some more, and we did some Role Play stuff, but I'm not sure that anyone came away with anything more than a few snippets of helpful information. Good waste of a day, though.

Friday the 31st was an open house at the JHS, and as such we had a demonstration class for English. Nakanishi-sensei was nervous, but not me. I hold no responsability! Once the class got started, I just forgot about the parents standing at the back and conducted things as per normal. In advance, I had picked a game that would be sure to impress the parents with the swiftness and intelligence of their kids, so I am sure it went well. Nakanishi seemed to think so.

The first weekend in November was a fantastic weekend. I took part in the annual JET camp/hike/onsen weekend. To give you the highlights quickly, we hit two fabulous onsens, hiked to the highest point in Tokushima, walked across vine bridges, had two enjoyable evenings around the campfire, and saw one really messed-up museum.

But now it is Friday, and I must be off home to prepare for the soccer tourney tomorrow, so I'll finish this later. Depending on how I feel on monday, this account may be interrupted by endorphin enduced tales of triumph from the tournament.

Well, as you have probably guessed by the fact that this letter is so late in coming compared to when I started it, we did not do so well at the soccer tournament. Believe me, that is a major understatement, but it was fun anyhow. I'll get to that in a moment (ie, a few pages).

Let's talk about that hiking weekend. There was a long weekend (fall is rife with them here) so the trip was a saturday to monday thing, which was good enough for me.It's a two hour + drive from my house to the place where we were meeting, which was in turn a one hour drive from our final destination. Two others, Sally and Vivi by name coordinated with me to get a lift out there from just west of the city. The drive was well enough, and the weather was still nice enough for me to wear a sweater and drive with the window down.

my day in times: woke at 6.45ish, packed my stuff, loaded the car, double-checked, ate etc, left at 8ish. picked the girls up in Kamojima town at 10ish, were in Ikeda at 11ish, were meeting everyone at around 1. What can I say? I way prefer to be stinking early somewhere to being slightly late, especially when there are many things that could go wrong, like getting lost. Suffice to say, the closest we ever got to becoming lost was to miss a turn in Iwate, but we found a roundabout way there anyhow.

All that extra time was at least useful, in that we all still needed to buy some food for the weekend. I picked up some meat and other things to complement the vegetables i had brought for my own yakiniku barbeque.

Of course we still had loads of time, so we parked the car (a small miracle in and of itself: we parked for free!), and went for lunch. I had yakisoba, which is a kind of noodle served mixed with some vegetables and a tasty sauce. There may have been meat too, but if there was, it was only a little. Both of the other girls are older than me, one having a masters in French (that's Sally, she's British) and the other, Vivi, is a Vietnamese-Texan girl who is a reporter. Conversation was standard fare.

We met everyone at one, but our guide was late, as were, to be honest, most everyone. The wait was nice, the sun was warm, and we were wondering if we all really need have bothered bringing warm clothes. Little did we know the difference a little elevation can make. A few were REALLY late, so we left without them, but they found their way in the end. We were a convoy of four Daihatsu Miras (two white, two purple) and a white old Corolla in the middle. At one point, I noticed that the Mira ahead of me was being dwarfed by a biker. Small cars indeed. Austin Minis are white-plate vehicles (ie, larger, or at least faster and more sturdy).

The first major stop along the way was at Piss Boy. He is called Piss Boy (or P-Boy for short) because he is a little bronze statue of a boy peing, and he is fixed to the edge of a cliff, facing outwards, along the roadside. If you happen to look at the Iya Valley pics on Joe's website, the one with all of us posed along a fence (and me on a post) is taken at Piss Boy.I'm not sure what Piss Boy's name is in Japanese, but I imagine it's not nearly as fun as calling him Piss Boy.

From there we went to the camp. The campgound was near the Kazurabashi (Kazura Bridges). We split up into three cabins, and I managed to get into the quiet cabin. There is always a party cabin, and I did not want to be in it. It was a near thing. Dan kindly gave me his place in the quiet cabin and went to the party cabin instead. He's very generous, that guy . Though the cabins were all co-ed, being adults, everyone was surprisingly responsable (at least in the quiet cabin...).

Anyway, once we were all settled, we hit one of the two onsens in the town. This one was a small outdoor onsen higher up on a mountainside. There was a ???? that took us up from the hotel to the onsen. (????= lift? Tram? I'm losing my perspicacity. It was one of those rope-drawn thingies that has a winching-machine on the end, and a counter-balance, and takes you up the slope. What are those things called?) The ???? only went up about 30-40m, but it was a nice touch all the same. The pools were small, and the only thing that kept you from being seen from the hall while changing was a carefully placed imitation-bamboo wall. If, say, you stepped back a pace, you became visible from the hallway. Not that it mattered, I guess, seeing as how there were three sections: men on the right, women on the left, and co-ed in the middle. We all opted for the segregated ones. However, as per normal, our presense drove away all the Japanese in the bath, presumably to the co-ed onsen. It was relaxing. After that, still at the top, there was a complementary tea-house and fire, which we chilled out at for a while before returning down and back to our campsite for dinner over a fire-pit. I made my japanese-style barbeque which I have grown to love so much, and it was good. (beef, eggplants, kabocha squash, onions, green peppers, sweet potato, and shiitake mushrooms all lightly charred and dipped in Yakiniku sauce. MMMMMM. oishii! (tasty!)

Scary thing: the best beer Japan has to offer is a Lager, and I am actually starting to like it. Aren't you worried for me?Send donations to the I.A.F.M Fund. that's the Import Ale for Matthew Fund. Make out cheques to Matthew Shettler, or just send some good ale, why don't you?
Well, then again, maybe I can survive a couple years without a proper beer. But if I come back a mere shadow of the man I
used to be, you'll have some inkling as to why!

The next day, Sunday, we started early and went to the Kazurabashi, which are replica vine bridges, made after the style that the Taira clan used when they were hiding from the Heike back in the days of Feudal Japan. (that war ended around 1340, if memory serves). I can say with confidence that they are replicas, though they look convincing enough. How do I know? The steel corded interior was a dead giveaway. You could see it between some of the vines. Impressive nonetheless. They Taira used vinebridges because they could cut them when on the run, ideally with a few enemies on the bridge at the time.

After that, it was off to Tsurugi-san (Mt Tsurugi), the highest point in Tokushima, for an afternoon of hiking bliss(ters). For me, it was one of the highlights of my time in Japan so far. It was a rainy day, though the rain had stopped. I had my backpack on, with my camera and raincoat inside, and I was wearing my rainpants over my jeans. My shoes were mere cross-trainers. I had not hiked like that before, and kind of expected to take up the rear. Ther path up the mountain began, just like Bizan, at a temple at the top of a long flight of massive stone stairs. Stairs are easier for me if I take them in twos, and I wanted to save strength, so I ended up at the front of the column, along with a scottish bloke named Collin, who recently proposed to his girlfriend, Cristin. They will get married next August. Anyway, in my estimation he was far more fit than I, and he took the lead, setting a quick pace. The result? Two pairs of burning thighs, and two people way ahead of the rest of the column. At one point I paused to take off my rain pants, because they were just too stinking hot. We maintained our strong lead all the way to the halfwaypoint, even after I took a turn in the front and intentionally slowed our pace. It turned out he was pushing himself too hard, too. He's a smoker and his lungs don't like all that cardio stuff so much.

There was a restaurant at the halfway point, and that is also where the ski lift ends. Two of the members of our crew took the ski lift up, one because she has bad knees, and the other because she did not want to hike at all, and in the end, she didn't. Collin and I waited a bit in the cold cold blowing mist, and then decided that we were warmer when we were moving, and set off again. The three people who had been closest behind came along with us too. They were Jamie, and Joe and Dea (Joe is a JET, Dea is his fiance, who has joined him here).Seeing as how we were so far ahead of everyone else, we decided to take the longest route to the top. When we reached the top, more than a kilometer later, we were still way ahead of everyone else. We made our way to the marker for the pinnacle, took a couple of pictures, and then doubled back to the restaurant which was down just a little ways. Because everything was shrouded in mist, there was no real view to speak of, but the sense of looking off into oblivion was breathtaking in its own way.

Lunch was a plate of curry-rice with oden potatoes (taters on a stick, cooked in oil and tasty sauce) and a Kirin Lager Beer. The atmosphere of the place was fantastic. It was a place filled with hikers coming in from and going out to the cold, eating drinking and being merry, the sound of the till and the fryers a constant, the TV playing in the background, but largely disappearing into the din. It was like something out of a well directed movie or a nostalgic book. It was great. We sat long enough to see the last of our comrades make it to the top and then decided it was time to head back ourselves.

The hike down was super easy, especially after Joe gave a couple tips on how to save your legs going when down by rocking back and forth. At the bottom, we still had a long time to wait, and being the only person with energy to spare (or raging endorphins, but what's the diff?), I grabbed my soccerball out of my trunk and kicked it around in the parking lot.Could the day get any better? In a word, yes.

After the mountain, we all made our way to the second onsen in the town, which is really new, and by far the best I have been to yet. It had two of these massage things which are just steady, thick gouts of water from massive taps eight feet up the wall which you sit or stand underneath and maneuver to let it massage your back. There were two other stand-up spray massager things, too. There were jacuzzi chairs, and of course the standard massive onsen bath. There was also an outdoor bath. There was a "tea" bath, which is a bath that has two massive bags of fragrant something floating in it. The piece de resistance, however was the salt sauna. It was a little cooler than the standard onsen sauna at only ~90degrees C, but it was shaped like a letter 'O'. You sit with your legs in the interior of the O, at the bottom of which is a ton of salt. in the middle of that, there is a wooden box of salt which you take handfulls from and rub all over your body to exfoliate. Watch out for those cuts! After 5 to 10 minutes in the sauna, you step out and rinse off in a shower, and then smear yourself with a little moisturiser. Admission was only $5. Zounds.

We ate dinner at the onsen hotel restaurant. I once again had those delicious chincken finger things that I have grown so fond of. I am on the verge of remembering what they are called in Japanese. .... Well, maybe another day.
After all that, it was back to the camp for another bonfire.

Monday was uneventful except for nearly walking in on one of the girls changing, and after returning to the city, losing one of my bags out of the back of my car. Some citizen kindly took it to the local Police Box (which is an office/station like the one on Portage and Edmonton in Winnipeg). I was able to reclaim it there, and the policeman gave me the phone number of the person who brought it and told me to phone them and thank them. At home, I did.


sorry, it has been a loooooong time since I have worked on this email, and it is now nearly mid december, a full month after the soccer tournament.

One of the teams in our group couldn't make it and were replaced at the last minute by a local high school team.
Our first game was against Mie, (mee-ay) who were one of the strongest, most disciplined teams of the tournament. We played most of the game in our half, but only conceded two goals. We all came away from that game a little bruised, and our captain, Uno took a blow to the knee hard enough to sit out the next game. Even so, we had nothing against Mie. They were the better team.

Our second game was against the high school team "Tsuna High School." They may have been smaller than us, but they train every day. We are lucky to scrimmage once a week. They dominated us. We conceded 5 goals. That hurt our pride, but the accuracy of those kids was astounding. We should have pressed them more, but we had not the wind to do it. Mie beat them though.

Our third game was against Hyogo, which is the prefecture containing Kobe. They were not a pleasure to play against. Why? because their tactics were foul. Number 7 especially deserved to be red-carded several times. He kicked one of our players, knocked himself unconcious against the head of another (one of our best defenders, who had to stop afterwards), and ultimately fractured the kneecap of Uno's other knee. Regardless of whether it was all ill-intention or if it was just reckless play, by FIFA rules, #7 would have been out. Uno was taken out in the first five minutes of the game. He had to leave the field. After that, our tactics were shot to pieces, and the guy who had been helping Uno was not capable of leading the team. We conceded two goals. Perhaps we may not have been able win, but had Uno been there, I do believe that we would have done much better.

There was a party that night where everyone was meant to mingle with all the other JETs, but most everyone was too tired for that, and it looked like teams mostly kept to themselves.At the party, we got word of the rankings for the first day. Mie was second, Hyogo had gone on to the top 8, and Tsuna HS was 9th. We were at the bottom of the heap. That meant we would face Tsuna again the next morning. I decided to be happy to be playing and enjoy the game. I may have been the only one.
Everyone was quite dispirited the next morning. We lost track of how many goals they scored on us, but the most conservative number was 9. 'nuff said. I think I was the only one who left on a positive note: we had played. Now, I am not at all pleased about losing, but I can still avoid a really bad attitude when I can see it coming. It was a fun tournament, and we played hard. It is true, however, that sport is even more fun when you are winning. Well, maybe this spring. Hopefully Uno will be free of crutches by then, and maybe even able to jog.

I'll try to get to writing more later, and for now I will send out this long overdue, shorter than expected mailing.

later all