Sunday, May 21, 2006

Waterfalls, Gyoza, and Two Pretty Ladies Seeing Stars.

On Saturday Joanna and Lily came up to Kamikatsu. I took them around to see the two waterfalls, which were both spectactular since the week of rain had just ended that morning. We tried to do the caves, but there were four tour buses of people ahead of us, so no chance. We also ate lunch at Ikkyu Chaya and later had a dinner of gyoza from Miyazaki. Lily brought Choco-cro all the way from Kagawa with her, and we had that while enjoying sunbeams in the afternoon. We also watched people get hit in the butt with canes as punishment for laughing in a game where everyone tried to make them laugh. It was funny. And then we went for a drive up the mountain to gaze at the stars, which were nice and clear. There were even a handful of shooting stars. While of course any day I get to spend hanging out with a couple of pretty girls is already a good day, the weather was also prime, and I haven't had a day that pleasantly relaxing in quite some time. Very satisfying.

On Sunday I did a test pack of all my clothes and posessions to see whether I have enough stuff to justify sending a whole cubic meter back. I don't think I have enough stuff. Especially if Phil lets me send a suitcase back with him when he visits.

My apartment is also unusually clean, due to having the girls over and preparing for the test pack. I feel like I could almost leave tomorrow. Living with your bags packed. But I'll need to unpack them again.

Today is Monday, and I only have nine weeks of classes left, inclusive. That's crazy.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I Have Bloated Tiger

Okay, so here's an exercise for you all. Before you read on, grab yourself a scrap of paper and a writing utensil of some kind, like a pencil. Or if you don't have either, just grab a knife and get ready to carve your answers into the desk. You'll be glad you did. But if your desk is stone, maybe don't go that far. So here it is:

You have four pets. They are a cow, a horse, a monkey, a sheep, and a tiger. Name them. Really make them your own. Maybe even briefly describe them if you want to.

Are you ready? Have they all been named? Okay. You love your precious five pets, and don't want to get rid of any of them, but you are going through some tough times, and you can't afford to keep them all, no matter what you try. Which one do you get rid of? Put a number five beside its name. But things continue going downhill for you, and one after another you need to get rid of you beloved pet animals. I'm sure you're well ahead of me now, so just go ahead and number the rest, leaving number one on the animal you get to keep until the very end.

Now to make sure you don't get the answers spoiled by an unfortunate glance, I will tell you about my animals and their names, and you can find out the conclusion at the bottom of the page. And don't go changing your answers after or as you read mine. Feel free to skip down and look when you're ready. I'll give it a nice headline so you can find it easily.

I named the cow Bar-B-Que, because I have heard of a cow named that before and I think it's ironically funny. Bar-B-Que is not a Jersey cow but one of those brown cows, and she gives chocolate milk (I've wanted one since they told me about that when I was a kid).

I named the horse Delicious, which in Japanese I would write as 馬井 and would read as "umai" meaning delicious. I also find this terribly funny, given that I ate horse for the first time a few weeks ago. Delicious would be a good hard working horse. I can't decide if I want to eat him, but I'd probably better not. Horses are higher maintenance than a car.

I had a hard time with the monkey, because I couldn't think what to name it. What is a monkey good for? You can't eat it, it's not really entertaining, it just kinda hangs around. Maybe I can train it to gather mountain vegetables [山菜]. And I couldn't think of a name. So I called it Simon, because that's what I call all the palm-sized spiders when they take up residence in my room from time to time.

The sheep was the easiest. I named it Sheepy-Beepy, after Dave Perry's legendary character. I said it gets into trouble because that's what sheep do. It even jumped through the kitchen window once! Sheep are stupid.

And the tiger I called Cuddles, because it's a fun ironic name. Cuddles is a bengal tiger, and he lives in the jungle outside the back of my apartment. I feed him steaks, and he's an expensive pet, but SO WORTH IT. I imagine myself wrestling and playfighting with Cuddles like you see the trainers at the zoo do. If worse comes to worse, I figured I could just feed the other animals to it.

So then when worse did come to worse, the monkey was the first to go, because I just couldn't sort out what it would be like. No conception at all. Simon - 5. Simon got set free into the wild, just like all those spiders. I don't squash them or kill them like I do other bugs. They're my roommates you see.
Then went the cow, because it's such a boring pet and then there was all that disappointment about the not actually giving chocolate milk and whatnot. Bar-B-Que was partially eaten by me, but mostly frozen to feed to Cuddles. Bar-B-Que - 4.
The next was a debate. The sheep is tastier, so I should save it, but the horse is useful and also more of an expensive delicacy. So the sheep went. Bye-bye Sheepy-Beepy. Sheepy-Beepy - 3.
And then the horse was next, and I don't think I ate it in the end. Either I sold it or Cuddles got it. Cuddles is eating me out of house and home.
But Cuddles I kept. How can you get rid of a tiger anyways? I've already imagined it in a situation where it comes and goes as it pleases, so it's not like I can set it free into the jungle, now, is it? And who wants to buy one? And if I can afford to keep one, I may as well keep the ultimate awesome cool one.

What the Animals Represent

Probably you guessed some. I intuitively understood the first two, and guessed the third only after our answering time was up and it was too late.

The cow represents money. Cash cow, it gives milk, it can be sold for meat.
The horse represents work. Workhorse, work like a horse, we associate it with work.
The monkey represents romance or love. I suppose this is because it is the only one that is a pet by the standard definition.
The sheep represents Children. Sheep are dumb, you need to really take care of them, and look out for them, show them the way to go, but they are all wooly and soft. Just like kids.
The tiger represents pride. It doesn't do anything. It's just there to show impress your friends and others.

"Oh, I feel sheepish."
And no matter what excuse I have tried to conjure up, it is apparent that I kept Cuddles for pride. Mind you, out of all the animals I imagined the most affectionate relationship with the tiger, so maybe he was my 猿役割 replacement monkey as well. At least that is what I have been trying to convince myself. I would have liked to have romance at the top, you see. But as I have thought about it, I have realised that my sister did this test on me when she visited last spring, and last year the monkey was first to go and the tiger the last one to stay. I remember that because she laughed and said it made sense given that I have no love life at all. Fair enough. I'm pleased to know that money was so far down the scale of importance. And since the only kids I have are the ones at school, it makes sense that work and kids would vie with each other. And it probably reflects a reality of my closeness to the kids at the school that work won out. In the end they are more just something to fill the days, goals and tasks than they are my own kids. And given that they are students and I am a teacher, I suppose that is the right order of things. They already have parents.

So I threw out romance (which was easy because I have none and don't know what it's like), didn't care about money, sent my kids away (and I'm leaving the country soon enough anyways, so that's the reality), kept my job almost as long as I could,
and when I had nothing else left, I only had my pride. And that's too bad. I mentioned that to someone else and they told me I have more going on than that. But nonetheless, I think my priorities need some straightening. But how do you get rid of pride? Especially when you've already given it free reign? And who would take it from you?

What confuses me is that when you consider the monumental volume of brain space, thought time, and journal paper that I have spent on various girls, that romance was still the first thing to go. Perhaps the truth is that I have just been too proud for too long a time, always waiting for a girl more perfect, always waiting for a time more perfect, finishing up my school or job or whatever first, waiting for a financial situation more ideal. And so perhaps it does make sense that the monkey is at the bottom. Maybe romance always has been for me. That's a bit of a shocker, since I've long fancied myself a romantic person. Correction: romantic idealist. Aye, there's the rub.

I think life in Japan has fattened my Tiger. My pride gets fed a lot here you see; people tell me how great I am and it goes to my head. I have little to do at home so I work at learning Japanese. I hang out with the kids at school, and have some input into the special education kid's life, perhaps. I try largely unsuccessfully to save money. There are few single Christian girls around, and I am not in a relationship with any of them. Tiger horse sheep cow monkey.

I should be embarrassed that my pride is the thing I clung to the most. What good is pride? Hopefully someday when it has been long enough for me to again forget about this little "just for fun" test, and someone poses it to me again, I will be pleased to find that the sheep and monkey are at the top and the the cow and tiger are at the bottom.

What are some good ways to begin humbling oneself?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Cat Came Back...

(The next kyushu post will have to wait until I get better internet access, so please be patient)

So last night after church was interesting. And by interesting I mean uneasy. Stalker-Girl showed up I guess partway through the service, and afterwards she asked someone who Matthew was and was pointed over my way. Little did that person know. Thankfully after a short while Barbara was close at hand to save me from talking to her. Augh, it made me so uneasy. She started asking me if I was still in contact with Derek yadda yadda, and thankfully this time I could say in all honesty that the last time I saw him was the last time he came here. (Not specifying that here meant Tokushima, and that the last time was like a month ago) And also that I couldn't remember the last time he came to church, which was also true; I don't remember the date. So under the law, everything I said was true, and it came out sounding like I've been out of contact with him since time out of memory. 20 points to me! But minus ten points for not finding a way out of that conversation sooner.

Thankfully Chris was wanting me to try burning a DVD for her again, which meant I got to go hang out in a far corner behind a computer screen and beside a girl, which is pretty good stalker repellant, I think. And stalker girl left! Yes! I hope that some of the others were properly welcoming to offset just how cold I by necessity had to be with her...

So 45 minutes later, after the DVD failed to burn, and we still hadn't sorted out the issue, we gave up. Some folks had gone off to this moderately expensive restaurant called The Saigon Cafe, and corraling those left at the church, we decided to go see if it wasn't too late to join them.

Being the efficient (read: aggressive?) driver that I am, I arrived fully six minutes before the others, even though it was only a 6 block drive. How does that work. There were five people at the table, and a seat in the middle that looked perfect for me, between Noam and Julie, who were sitting accross from Yoko (an english teacher from Naruto JHS) and Kaz (a guy Julie invited to church that night) respectively. It wasn't until I sat down that I realised to my utter shock and horror that I had seated myself directly opposite my stalker. She smiled, and the blood drained from my face, I'm sure. So what went on from there was on my part an exercise in lack of social grace and practical cruelty.

I did my best to ignore her and make as little eye contact as possible. This was picked up by Noam who wrote a note on his cell and showed it to me under the table, asking if this was the infamous stalker girl. I nodded. He said he'd been getting a weird vibe. Later, Julie said the same. I really feel bad when I am ignoring anyone, but it's only going to make trouble if I give the girl attention; who knows how she would interperet it? But that didn't prevent me from having engaging conversation with everyone else at the table, which had gotten five people longer when the others had arrived. Unfortunately, it seems that no matter what I said or did contributed to the obsession of said stalker. I guage this by the claps, gasps of delight, and random photo taking. Even though I was pointedly and icily ignoring her.


Has anyone else noticed their self-esteem taking great jumps since they came to Japan?
Comments from last night directed at me included, "If you stop talking, you look like a Greek god." and "Matthew can get away with being weird because he looks good," and "He has a great butt." To be fair, these all came from Yoko, who is pretty ayashii [umm, suspicious, dodgy, ...?] in general, but she's Japanese and it's from Japanese girls/ladies that I tend to get these kinds of comments. Hahaha... yeah. So though she conjectured that I would look like a Greek god if I would shut up, a) it's hard for me to shut up and b) there is no way I can avoid smiling when all conversation at the table stops and people look at me expectantly. In the end they gave up. Which is fine with me. I'd much rather be known for being smiley normal guy than for looking like an indifferent Greek god. Wouldn't you?
Hah, and I'm sure my butt is no more impressive than the next guy's. A rule I have learned in the course of my graphic design education and many years of observing girl's butts is that it's all about packaging. So I just happen to have a well-chosen pair of shorts. And I've got foreigner mystique here, which is worth like a bazillion points in this country. And I think why I get away with being weird is experience. Everyone knows that experience is cool ("shibui" in Japanese) and I have been doing weird since grade school. I get away with it because I am comfortable with it.

Example: For some reason the word "superfluous nipple" came up in conversation, and we wanted to know what the Japanese word for it would be. This ended in me explaining it in Japanse loud enough for all the other tables around to hear, and there to be a moment of silence (read: mild embarrassment) at our table after. See, if everyone else is embarrassed for me, why should I be, too? I think everyone laughed after that moment of silence though, so it was all okay. Funny is good.
Rejoice, eh.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Part One

This is a story of a trip to Kyushu taken by five Canadians from Tokushima, Two of the Canadians were married. One Canadian tried to pretend he was actually Japanese. Another wasn't actually from Tokushima. And one of the Canucks was actually a Yankee, but Hawaii is barely a State anyway.

Two weeks before departure, the waffling began. The most lily-livered of the five began to panic about trivialities like money and whether he would be granted leave from school to go. But remembering the words of his father, he ultimately decided to spend the money, and try to eat nothing more than peanut butter and bread for the duration of the trip. Perhaps it need not be added that sissy-boy was also naïve.

Sissy-boy cemented his decision by purchasing travel guides in Japanese which enabled him to switch into his alternate identity of Geek-boy. This novelty alone would indeed be enough to commit him.

After a week of travel planning, judo-throws, confusing grammar points, logo design conferences, missing out on cute girls from the mountains visiting his town, our lily-livered protagonist also managed to pack a bag and transport himself to the fashionable concrete earthquake shelter known as B&C's apartment.

There three of the crew were assembled and psyching themselves up by watching the latest episode of The Amazing Race, freshly obtained from out of the air itself (which happened to be filled with wireless internet signals). Jet lag clubbed Lolé unconscious at precisely eight o'clock. Two hours later B&C drew the secret sliding doors out around their plateau-room, leaving Mashuu to fruitlessly scour the interweb for some kind of TV torrent which might intrest him.

Pre-trip morning showers occurred in order of ascending awkwardness and probable length. Breakfast consumed much of time-sensative food in the cool-box, especially the milk was ingested with Muslix.

Picking up the fifth Canadian who wasn't as Canadian as many Japanese were to believe; driving to the port on the other side of the island took three hours. This was enough time for some to get more sleep and for everyone to line up in the least advantageous place for getting on the ferry.

The day was sunny and bright, which meant that the ferry could be a beautiful and wonderful one-hour ride, if it wasn't also three hours long. Some sunburn was had.

Hell turned out to be pretty disappointing. But the hilly green town which contained it was pretty. There were white pillars of billowy steam rising out from random holes and pipes everywhere, as though the town were a green built upon some great engine. It had a feeling of a place from fiction. The town was Beppu.

+= About Beppu =+
Beppu is a tourist trap, and though everyone knows it, they still go. It's an effective trap. It has many onsens (hot spring spas) and it also has a tour of several hells. Hells are not the Christian place of eternal punishment, nor the Greek Hades; they are simply places where water springs and pools from the ground and maintains near-boiling temperatures. Because the island of Kyushu is quite volcanic all around, the hells are hardly unique to Beppu, but Beppu is lucky enough to have a variety of types (regular, white, blue like the sea, red like blood, geyser, mud, etc) in a small enough area to be a minor attraction. Take eight minor attractions, carefully surround each with gaudy concrete, liberally sprinkle zoo animals around one or two of them, make some stamps, and then boil with eggs and cook pudding in the water, decorate with real flowers and fake wood, and voila! Tourist trap. You can now charge exorbitant prices and set up souvenir stores bigger than the attractions themselves.
+= ------------------ =+

Innocently spending their money the five travelers were able to enjoy walking through moderately crowded areas to see the various boiling hells, smell the stench of sulfur, pity the crocodiles and alligators, have their pictures taken with demons, feed the sickly elephant some nutritionless crackers and get snot on their hands, watch the male peacocks try to get some action, eat boiled eggs and sulfury-smoky-custard pudding, and even try the prefectural specialty, "dango" soup. The best hell was the "Pond of Blood Hell," where there was a place to soak their feet in ferrous water, and the worst was the meager geyser, which seemed like a bad joke.

Left to right, top to bottom: Hell to Cook in; Priest Hell, (muddy hell, just what is that man thinking!); boiling Demon Hell where the crocs were near; Sea Hell; disappointing geyser Tornado Hell; White Hell, Mountain Hell where the feeble zoo was, Pool of Blood Hell.

Hellish pudding; hell-boiled eggs, sweet potatoes, and corn; dangojiru soup.

They decided to postpone their bathing in sulfuric mud until the end of the trip, and instead used the daylight to take in the scenic Yamanami Highway on their way to the volcanic Mount Aso. The very hills were different from their "native" Tokushima. More grassland, more volcanically hurled boulders lying in those grasslands, and many of the mountains showed evidence that lava had once flowed down their slopes. Though much had yet to turn properly green, the drive was indeed scenic enough to justify the slight detour. They even had the pleasure of seeing an active volcano belching ash up into the atmosphere.

Their course led them up to area around Kurokawa, another famous onsen town, and to their first campsite. Arriving too late to actually pay for the site they camped anyways, with intentions to pay in the morning. The venerable Mr. Ohnishi, a social studies teacher from Brian's high school, had kindly lent us his in-car navigation system, two expensive tents, a butane lamp (which got stepped on!), mats to lay down inside the tents, and a variety of other things for which there just wasn't room in that over-packed trunk. The joy of a quality tent is the ease with which it is set up. The flaw of these tents turned out to be their zippers.

Examining the standing two-man and four-man tents for the first time, Brian looked at Matthew and said, "There's no way the two of us are going to fit in that two-man tent. If it rains, we'll get soaked. What do you want to do?"
"Well, I'd rather not be in a tent by myself," Matthew replied.
"Okay then, so it's the big tent either with me and Christine or with the girls."
Weighing the awkwardness of being in the tent with two girls against being in the tent with a married couple, and then considering the pros of each option, Matthew responded, "Well, if it's okay with the girls, I'm happy to let the two of you have the small tent." Besides, Matthew thought, if anyone is going to be happy to be squeezed together it will be the two of them.
"Anything is fine with us," Lorraine called out.
"Well, that's that then." Brian said, leaving the slightest impression that he had just gotten precisely what he wanted.

Knowing he may desire to at times hide in the corner, Matthew took the right side of the tent. Julie hid on the other side and Lorraine was left the middle. Now set up, they set out for the onsen (hot spring spa) town of Kurokawa. Though the town's name sounds ominous, translating as Blackriver, it was a lovely town to walk through at night. The roads were tight and somewhat random in layout, such that what lay thirty meters ahead was generally around a bend and out of sight. Yukata-clad (think Japanese bathrobe-clad) patrons sporadically weaved this way and that along the pathways, en route various hot springs.

So it was that they found themselves walking along a river at night, and walking into respective guys and girls caves in the mountainside underneath a large traditional old hotel. Much to Brian and Mat's surprise and confusion, there was no soap or showers unnaturally imposed upon the caves. Japan is really particular on you being clean before you bathe, but since there were nothing more than stone, water, and baskets, they simply shrugged their shoulders and shrugged off their clothes.

The water was quite hot, and the caves dimly lit. The steam gently rising and the sounds of nighttime gently wafting in made for a truly relaxing soak.

Later they encountered signs which explained the lack of showers was to better experience the effects of the unprocessed water, and the lack, nay; ban on soaps was to keep the river and environment clean and healthy. But it meant that the boys and girls weren't as clean at the end of their day of traveling as they had hoped. Nonetheless, late dinners of tempura and pork "katsu" more than made up for it. Soon enough they were back to their tents for what would prove to be their coldest night camping.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New look for Sho mo nai!

I've been wanting to change to this template for a while because my web skills are sadly lacking and it is more intuitively editable than the green beast I've been using for so long. I don't think this will be the permanent colour scheme, but it may stay unchanged for a while given my lack of regular internet access and my general upcoming busyness with moving from country to country and so forth.

A Tax On Car Owners

And there's no joke in that at all. I have to pay $350 in tax because I own a car with a certain size engine.

delinquent group is confusing

My friends are inhaling paint thinner. What should I do?

an exception

an exception, originally uploaded by irodoramatic burnorama.

this is what all the fuss was about. choco-cro. it's okay, the chocolate in the croissant was soft.

My phone has been dead these last many days. Hence the break. Couldnt charge at most camps.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Come back to a different season

I'll have a more detailed post about the vacation later, and this time with ample photos, but for my Japanese class I have to write about it all in Japanese, and that is consuming all my time until Wednesday night.

The trip was good, I was glad I went, and I came back to find Kamikatsu in what feels like a totally different season. Something happened on the the trip that made me finally ready to leave the country, and the arrival at my apartment was the seal on the feeling. When I stepped in, I thought to myself, "I've come home to the fact that I am leaving, and the reality of my leaving has come home to me."

Expect more later. Until then, check out Brian and Christine's first blog entry about the trip.