Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Day Off Tomorrow!!

Kaori and I are headed to Hiroshima for a nice, relaxing day of Christmas shopping. The only shitty thing is that we have to work on Saturday instead. Oh well, exam time is usually pretty relaxing. In all my glorious wisdom I decided that all the oral exams should be individual this term. So instead of listening to 130 pairs speaking with each other, I now have to speak with 260 students (one-on-one)! The conversations are only 1 or 2 minutes depending on grade. Oh well, it was my idea.

Candice and I are going to The Philippines in less than 3 weeks but it totally hasn't sunk in yet. We made all our plans so long ago that it doesn't seem real these days. Doesn't help that there is massive flooding and death in the Philippines right now (NOT WHERE WE ARE GOING). Let's just say that I am not advertising my holiday plans to the other teachers right now. I can just hear their gasps and warnings.

Christmas cake in cooking class tonight!! For those who do not live in Japan you are probably thinking "why get excited about cake??"

The longer you live here the more you get excited about things that Japanese people get excited about.

For example, in the Spring cherry blossoms bloom and the whole country goes nuts. Wellllll there are cherry blossoms blooming in other countries, that look just as beautiful. When I first arrived I was like "so what? The blossoms in Victoria are just as beautiful". But NOW the frenzy has worn off on me. Cherry blossoms in Japan are a celebration, a reason to throw a party, take a trip, sing a song, write a poem, or even name your child (I know a kid named Sakura).

Christmas cake is the same way. It is special, but really, only because everyone says it is.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Phantom Kagura Posted by Hello

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Ahhhh Magazines!

I found this site (netmagazines) that sends magazines to foreign addresses. The prices are all in US dollars and are pretty competitive. The average English magazine costs about 1000yen here so getting them sent from the states is actually cheaper. Last year I subscribed to Time Asia but I think I would prefer a few women's monthly magazines (which are cheaper) this year. That's makes me sound really dumb doesn't it? I mean trading Time for women's mags. Oh well.
This link will take you directly to the list of magazines that ship to foreign addresses.

Happy English reading!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Stupid Bloody Exchange Rates

The stupid bloody Canadian economy is soaring. This would be a good thing if I were actually in Canada. It is the worst possible time to send money home. It hasn't been this bad the whole time I have been here. As of today I am making $3000.00 less a year, due to the exchange rate!! Of course, I NEED to send money home now, isn't it always like that?

Stupid bloody Canada.

Never Ending Thoughts....

These days I have been thinking a lot about recontracting. The final decision doesn't have to be made until Feb. but it is on my mind CONSTANTLY!! I wish I could just make up my mind and deal with it. I want to stop thinking about it and get on with life. One day I am sure that I will stay. The next day I change my mind. If I could just stick to my original goals then the decision would be easy. Stay, earn more money. BUT it isn't as simple as that anymore.

I am giving a presentation at the mid year conference in three days and I am not at all prepared.

A new English teacher arrived today. He told me he has never taught a conversation class before. How can this be?? He is at least 27 or 28 and has worked at a few high schools. Lucky me, I have 4 conversation classes a week with him. He asked me to "be the lead teacher". No problem, I prefer it that way anyway. I feel sorry for the guy. He was soooo nervous today. He will only have this job until March but he still has to move here, set up an apartment, try to make friends, and to top it all off, he has a mouth full of braces (very uncommon here). He made a point of talking to me today so he's obviously a nice guy.

I made apple lemon spice muffins tonight. They didn't work out due to my stupidity but they will next time. I love having an oven!! Thank you Brad and Stacey!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

At the Sake festival a few weeks ago. Posted by Hello

My Gramma, Wylie, and I at Shian's. Posted by Hello

My Gramma kicks your Gramma's ASS!!!

My Gramma bought herself a condo!!! She already has a house with her boyfriend but this is just HER condo, in a seperate city!!! I am so proud of her. I can't wait to visit her again.

Monday, November 01, 2004

It's November??

November already. It looks like it's going to be a busy month.
Last night I had a "Holy shit I'm in Japan" moment. I get these moments only about once a month these days. Last night was the annual Ootoshi Jinja festival. This is a Shinto shrine in my neighbourhood. Travis and I know the shrine-master because we both did home-stays with the family. The kagura began at 8pm and then when it was finished a new one started, and it went on ALL night. Kagura after kagura. I'm sure some of the hard core fans stayed all night too. For me, Kagura is like watching paint dry, only because I have seen it so many times.

My "Holy Shit" moment came when Travis and I were standing above the crowd looking down on all the people and the performance. It just hit me. Travis described it well. He said that if we were to return to this shrine, a hundred years from now on Nov 1st, the exact same thing would be happening, we would know the family of the shrine-master (the job is passed down from one generation to the next), the buildings and grounds would be exactly the same (as they have been for hundreds of years now), and of course, there would be an all-night Kagura dance performance.

History. History that we just don't have in Canada.

Not that Canada is a bad place because of it. In fact, I would love to be there right now. I would be headed to the nearest Mexican restaurant for lunch. But I am here, so off to Lawsons I go.

Monday, October 25, 2004

What Next??

My god! This poor country is being attacked by Mother Nature. I wouldn't be surprised to find that a swarm of locusts is on its way, or perhaps a volcano that has been dormant for a thousand years is about to explode, and burning hot lava will flow down the streets of Tokyo.

After the last few weeks I really wouldn't be surprised.

The pictures on the news are so horrifying that I can't really grasp that I am living in the same country as all these unfortunate people. Shimane is fine, no real problems from the typhoons or the earthquakes. The earthquake was in Niigata-ken, in a rural area. I swear that all rural areas in Japan look very similar to each other. The pictures on the news could very likely be my crappy town. I look at the ancient buildings in my neighborhood and KNOW that they would never stand up to the beating that Niigata took. My own ugly building would crumble for sure, there are already cracks along the wall in my living room.

Very, very scary.

I asked Tateishi Sensei where I should go if there is an earthquake. She said to come to the school gym. So I asked where I should go if the school gym has collapsed. She had no real answer and said jokingly to head for the hills.

But really, where do I go if the school is destroyed? I can't believe that these things are running through my mind.

Something I noticed about the people being interviewed on the news. Not one of them made comments about losing all their possessions, the destruction of their homes, etc. All the comments were about being happy to be alive, hoping for help, and awe over the power of the earthquake. If the same had happened back home people would be devastated about losing their homes and possessions (as I am sure the Japanese people are, they just think of such things as secondary to the well-being of their family and community.) Do you know what I mean? What I want to say is not coming out right.

Anyway, many people are scared to go inside due to all the aftershocks. They are sleeping in the streets or in their cars. It's getting very cold at night, and there is ANOTHER typhoon expected this weekend!!

Happy to be living in Shimane (for once).

Typhoon Tokage Posted by Hello

This could soooooo easily be my town. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Such a Long Day!

You can tell I'm bored when I post on my blog like 4 times in one day!! I can't believe it is only 2:10. Thank god exams only happen every three months, sitting for so long is really starting to mess with my mind.
Let's see...random stuff that is running through my head today....

One of the movies I saw during my 26 hours of air travel this summer was "Walking Tall". This movie stars that wrestling guy, The Rock. It really is a terrible movie, horrible acting, plot line, everything about it sucked....except that it was filmed in Surrey!

So you should see it, if only for the beautiful scenery (which they try to pass off as Seattle...we all know which country wins in the beauty department).

The other night I downloaded "Without a Paddle". Don't ask me why! Slight case of "I don't really know any new movies so I will download some crap". I laughed a few times and was surprised to spy Burt Reynolds.

About a week ago one of my grade ten boys said to me in the middle of class:

"You light my fire."

Frickin hilarious, I couldn't help laughing and slapping the kid next to him who obviously put him up to it.

Sushi Zou tonight, yummmmmm. Ebi fry maki here I come.

Japan suicide pacts kill nine

Very sad story, but also says a lot about the bullshit pressure placed on the average Japanese person. I had no idea there are "suicide message boards" and self-asphyxiation kits for sale on the internet.
Scary stuff.

It's Been a Year and a Half...

...since I graduated from university. My friend Andrew has decided to create a reunion website for my grad class (not all of UVic education, just us superior elementary program people). It is really interesting to see where people are teaching (or not teaching). I was surprised to see that there are four girls over in South Korea! I really hope to get in contact with them. I am interested in life in Korea. Not that I would consider working there, starting fresh in a new culture would be too difficult for me. The website is still a work in progress.

Why not check out Andrew's photography site as well? I know from personal experience that he takes very nice wedding pictures. Right at this moment it is under construction but when finished it is sure to be impressive.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Fun Times in Hiroshima

Candice, Claudia, Camille and I had a great weekend in Hiroshima. We went to a Sake Festival in Saijo where there were hundreds of different Sake producers offering samples. Only 1500 yen for all the samples you could handle. People brought tarps and blankets to sit on and camped out the entire day. A giant piss-up!

Then we were off to Kemby's restaurant for some delicious Mexican food and cheap drinks. Ahhhh happy hour! Later we went to a club that is popular with the American marines from a local base. Good times!! Shopping and a movie (Van Helsig-piece of crap) the next day and then back to Shimane. A very nice weekend.

Anyone planning a trip to Hiroshima should check out this site.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

A Gotsu Sunset Posted by Hello

Good Times...

Life has been good lately....where to begin?

Candice and I have everything worked out for our fabulous 2 week winter vacation in the Philippines. We are going to the very popular island of Boracay. Everything around Christmas times sells out really fast so the last few weeks we have been working on it everyday. We tried to book our flight to Manila in the middle of Sept. but they were already sold out!!! I wonder how far in advance people book these flights? We were put on the waitlist and then bumped up about a week later after some smooth talking by Candice. She can be very persuasive. Then we started sorting out hotels and such. It is going to be a really great holiday.

I killed my fish. But it's for the best, really. He would have never survived the winter. I bought a small tank heater but it didn't work. After having one of my students look at the instructions I realized that I would need to also buy a pump to move the water around. It wouldn't work without water movement. So I scraped that idea. I read on a Beta message board (yes there are such things, and yes, I went to it for help) that an electric blanket can do the trick. Soooooo I bought the cheapest blanket I could and literally wrapped up the little tank. Everything was going great. As the water got warmer Genki became genki again. BUT I left it on HI all night. In the morning Genki was cooked. Pretty sad day. I flushed him. I told the story to one of my classes and they laughed their asses off. Funny thing is that they said that I should have buried him. Apparently, he will not go to heaven unless he is buried! Where do they learn these things? Not from me, that's for sure!

For a few days I thought about getting a hamster. I love hamsters. But then I would have to find someone to care for him while I travel, and it was difficult enough trying to find someone to care for my fish. So no pets for me. Maybe another Beta in the spring.

Exams are next week. Yeeehaawwww!! So I will be sure to post more often ( due to having no classes).

The Mt. Sanbe welcome party was last weekend. It was fun but it pissed rain the entire time. So many of the new jets are young, really young. Apparently, we were a bunch of pigs and the PAs had to clean up a big mess the next morning and even pay for damages. It wasn't me...I swear!

My wonderful friend Kathy and her wonderful husband Kevin are expecting their first child on Sunday!!!! I am so excited for them and so sad that I can't be there for them. It's times like these that make me hate hate hate Japan. I am hoping for a girl. There are so many cute girl outfits in Japan.

Happy Birthday Sarah!!! My little Meemsey turns 25 today. Miss ya girl.

My students taught me some very useful sentences today:

Watashi wa yukkuri nihongo ga hanasemasu. Watashi wa benkyo o shimasen.

I plan to use them whenever I get that look. The "youhavebeenhereayearandstillcan'tunderstandme?" look.

What else????

Oh... I have officially fought off the NHK lady four times now!!! This is a huge accomplishment. There is a licensing fee for owning a TV in Japan. Yeah, total crap!!! The thing is, there is no penalty for not paying and they come door to door trying to convince you to set up direct debit from your bank account. HELL NO! Twice now they have given me the English version of the pamphlet. I just say thank you and shut the door. Playing stupid, while also being really polite and sweet has kept me from having to pay this fee for over a year now. I don't watch Japanese TV, I don't have cable, I am NOT going to pay just because the TV sits in my house. Plenty of Japanese people don't pay either....

Another long weekend coming up. Should be a good time. I will write about it next week. Promise!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I'm a Lazy Blogger

I haven't posted for so long...the reason? Just laziness. Nothing very exciting has been happening lately. I bought a new vacuum yesterday...not exciting, more annoying really. I spend far too many hours on the internet researching vacation destinations for Christmas. Candice and I pretty much have everything figured out but we are waitlisted for seats so we are stressing.

School is going well, despite major staff changes and a new schedule. My 12th graders really surprised me today. The were given random photos of people and had to make up a story to fit the picture. Some of the groups were so detailed in their storytelling, it was very impressive.

I have a card from the post office meaning I have a parcel waiting for me!! YeHawwwww. More videos from Kathy, I can't wait. I really want to know what's going on on my favorite shows.

I think my fish is dying from the sudden drop in temperature. My mission this weekend will be to find a light to go on his little tank. Genki is genki no more.

Monday, September 13, 2004

It's awfully quiet....

So the staff room has cleared out...
Where did everyone go? I fuckin hate when they do this to me. A simple "we are going to a meeting, but you can stay here" is all I ask for. I saw one guy take his gardening gloves. Are they outside weeding? I know how to weed, I have proven my weeding abilities, so why not just tell me what's up? If they are not going to make the effort to tell me what the hell is going on then I am certainly not going to "look" for them and join in.

This is not the first time this has happened. But they usually will say that they are going to a meeting that will be entirely in Japanese. During those times I am more than happy to sit at my desk and play on the computer, I even turn my music up loud, just because I can. But when no one says a frickin word and all of a sudden I look up from the computer and the entire room has cleared out, arrghhhhh I am not invisible!!!!

I know I will never be accepted as a teacher in this country all I ask is that you tell me what's going on.

On a brighter note....as I was walking to the neighborhood garbage collection area this morning some random little old lady stopped me and took my bag of trash. She was walking in that direction and I wasn't, so it was really nice of her.

Annnnnd I got another basket of flowers from my Mitsubishi Man. The occasion? I renewed my car insurance for another year. So random, so nice.

My favorite "sport". You can't see the big stick, but it's there and they're fighting for it. Posted by Hello

Sports Day opening ceremony Posted by Hello

Nursery school spectators Posted by Hello

Finally, Sports Day

We finally had our Sports Day on Monday. The weather was great, well actually it was hot, jungle hot. Anyone who has been to Japan in the summer knows exactly what I mean by "jungle hot". Every part of your body sweats constantly, even if you are sitting there doing nothing, in the shade. The students worked hard to make it a great day and everyone had fun. My team came in first, just like last year, no thanks to me of course. Some of the traditional Japanese sports would be considered cruel and unusual punishment in Canada. My favorite "sport" was this one where there is a big stick placed in the middle of the field and two teams at opposite ends run towards the stick and try to pull it back to their side. So they are pulling on this stick in opposite directions. This is a sport for girls. Basically it is a huge cat fight, with girls hanging on for dear life and getting dragged in the dirt, kicked, and walked on. I'll put up a picture so that you can see the carnage.

The highlight of the day was a visit from a local nursery school. They came to watch the action. I went over to take some pictures and I got bombarded by questions. They were so dam cute I wanted to steal each and every one. They touched my hair, my earrings, my shirt, my camera all the while asking me questions I couldn't understand. Yes, my Japanese is so bad that I cannot communicate with a 4 year old. One conversation I could understand:

Cutie: You are a foreigner?
Me: Yes
Me: Yes
(she calls over her friend)
Cutie: This is my friend.
Me: Hello. Nice to meet you. (we shake hands)
Cutie (to her friend): She is a FOREIGNER!
Cutie: Are you American?
Me: No, Canadian.

I could have stayed with those kids all day. The were so friendly and inquisitive, so unlike the older students. Not that the older kids are unfriendly, they simply wouldn't come up to a stranger and start talking.

My little Kiyo Posted by Hello

Kagura performer Posted by Hello

Hard core rockin' yukata wearing 18 year olds Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Plagued By Bad Weather

Arrrghhhhh!!! Will the rain ever stop??? Today was supposed to be sports day. There were students at the school as late as 8pm last night preparing. It poured rain all night and into mid-morning. So no sports day, classes instead. I didn't even dare try a real lesson. I wouldn't want to learn if my sports day dreams had just been shattered. So we watched DVDs all day. We are hoping we can have sports day on Monday. Cross your fingers.

Funny thing is...a group of us had ordered this special "sports day lunch" from a local restaurant. No sense canceling a tasty lunch so we had it anyway. All the other teachers gave us a hard time. A nice big special lunch for no good reason. Tonight we have our sports day enkai. No sense canceling a drinking party....

School Festival: Day 2

The school festival this year was awesome. The students worked so hard to make everything perfect. In the morning some students performed a Kagura. Last year it was like a low-budget-ghetto Kagura, with crappy costumes and minimal special effects. This year someone must have injected some money or maybe a local kagura group offered their costumes because it was so much better!! There were three amazing dragon costumes with lots of smoke and fire-breathing. It only lasted 45 mins which was a bonus as well. Kagura is a tradition in this area but once you have seen one, you really don't need to see 15 more (every festival, every weekend at the mall, etc).

Then the drama club performed a very moving play. Or maybe it was a really shitty play. I couldn't understand anything.

The teachers also performed a play, again, didn't understand a thing. BUT at one point one of the English teachers stabbed and killed one of the math teachers with a samurai sword. That part was really funny because it was the math teacher who is really funny looking and who talks to himself all day.

After lunch the students had options. They could go around to all the classrooms and check out the displays, games, etc, or they could watch the concert in the gym. The concert was amazing!! So many of students have these hidden musical talents. At least 5 different bands got on stage to perform various Japanese songs and a few English songs as well. They actually sounded good! One of the teachers described the music as "very hard rock". My favorite was a group of 5 grade 12 girls dressed in flashy neon yukatas. Two on electric guitars, drums, keyboard, and lead vocals. I will post a picture of them soon.

At the closing ceremony the winners of the choral competition were announced. For some reason this is a big thing for the 12th graders. It was made even more dramatic by turning off the lights and having two spot lights scan the crowd in anticipation. Then a drum roll....the overall winner is 3-1 class!!! Instant SCREAMING and wales of joys. The tears start to flow (including the guys) and they all come up on the stage to sing their winning song again.

So it's great to hear their song again because I really don't remember what they sang. BUT they are all crying! Singing and crying and wiping their tears all at the same time. It's great to see such emotion, too bad it's only during sports day and school festival.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

School Festival: Day 1

So the typhoon has passed and the school festival has begun. I did eventually get to go home early yesterday. I went to sleep and didn't wake up until 7pm, which of course screwed up my sleeping schedule and I was awake till midnight. Anyway, the best part of the typhoon was that my favorite student, Kiyo sent me emails on my cell phone to check up on me. She is such a sweetiepie!! Here are her emails:

Hi Koren!! Typhoon is hitting Shimane!! It's OK Koren!!!??

Typhoon is strong, don't be off guard!!!

Our electricity supply often go off!! So I think you should have a flashlight!!! Maybe we have school festival tomorrow, I don't know. Where is you now??!!!

(I told her I would use candles as I didn't have a flashlight)
Her response:

Hoo!!!! But it's OK. I think candles are beautiful!!! But please tread cautiously!!

Isn't she the greatest?? She really knows how to use that electronic dictionary. She brought me a really nice necklace back from her trip to Seattle AND she also gave me a present from around here. Two presents in one day, I sure felt special!

The power never did go off in my neighborhood. It makes you wonder why the power in Canada goes off everytime there is a storm, and here in Tsunozu a frickin typhoon passes through (it was so strong that in other prefectures it blew trucks over on the highway) and the power holds strong.

My sore throat is worse but there is no point trying to do anything about it. I won't go to a Japanese doctor unless I'm at deaths door. I participated in a tea ceremony today. Our tea ceremony club practices all year for this day so I had to go (even though it tastes like shit). Surprisingly it didn't taste that bad today, it actually made my throat feel better. Lots of green tea for me for the next few days. Those poor girls shake as they go through the motions. If even one drop of water falls on the table it looks bad. Talk about a stressful club to join. Compare that to what my English club students did! I was away for all of Aug. so it was up to them to plan something for the school festival. Their plan? Put on the air conditioning and an English DVD! Nice and easy and very popular! They showed Spiderman today and tomorrow will be The Last Samurai. We are expecting a packed house.

I sang "Stand By Me" with 4 other teachers today in the karaoke competition. We really sucked and lost.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Yet Another Typhoon

This was supposed to be the first day of our long-awaiting school festival. But no. Another typhoon is on its way. As I was driving to school this morning all the kids were leaving school. Not a good sign. Apparently, JR was planning to stop all rail services at 9am. So the poor kids who just spent forever (some have hour long rides) getting to school had to turn around and get back on the trains. Sooooo this means no school today, and the school festival is being pushed forward a day.

So you would think that I would be at home, all cozy in my futon, with a nice cup of tea, listening to the chaos outside. NOOOOOOO I am here at school!!! All the teachers still have to sit on their asses at school! One of the English teachers said that eventually the vice principal will tell us all to go home. So here we are, waiting!! The lights are flickering as I write this, the wind and rain are getting stronger and stronger, and we all sit here doing nothing.

I think that it needs to get really bad before they will let us go home. But then we will all be traveling home in the middle of a frickin typhoon!!! Where is the logic?

Normally I wouldn't care because there is nothing for me to do at home either. But today I actually feel like shit. I have a headache and a sore throat. I have NEVER been sick in Japan so this has me really bummed. It turns out that Candice feels the same way. So now I blame her!

For the love of god, let me go home!!

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Shian and Wylie. Note the same facial expression. Posted by Hello

My cute little nephew, Wylie Posted by Hello

A Pretty Good Idea

So I was killing some time today at work by reading the 4 weeks worth of Time magazines that accumulated while I was away. There was this article about innovative businesses in the world. One was about an American company that rents DVDs through the mail. The company was so successful that it has since been copied by a few other countries, including Canada. So, seeing as how I have ENDLESS free time these days I decided to check it out.

It's called Zip. www.zip.ca

If I were living in Canada I would have signed up by now. I think it's a great idea. You pay $25 a month (that's about 4 trips to Blockbuster) and have unlimited DVD rentals. You choose what you want online and they mail them to you. The best part is that there are no time limits or late fees. You can have 4 DVDs at a time. Once you mail one back they send out another from the list that you have created. You don't pay for the shipping because it comes in a special envelope that is prepaid for when you return it. AND they have over 18000 titles including TV shows (1st and 2nd seasons of Three's Company - now that is quality "come n' knock on our door....we'll be waitin' for you....where the kisses are hers and hers and his...."), foreign films, kids movies, educational movies, fitness, classics,travel, and whole bunch of others.

For people who regularly rent movies I think this is a great idea. The number of DVDs you can rent in a given month totally depends on how fast you watch them and return them, and if you really like one you can keep it for as long as you like, lend it to a friend, or make a copy (oh wait, that's illegal right? yeah, whatever).

Too bad there isn't something like this in Japan. And no, I don't work for Zip, I'm just bored today.

Two Large Earthquakes in One Night

From the CNN Website:

TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Two strong earthquakes, one magnitude 6.8 and the second magnitude 7.3, rattled western Japan within hours of each other Sunday night, injuring four people and shaking buildings in Tokyo.
Damage and injuries appeared to be limited because both quakes were far off Japan's coast, and the region shaken most strongly by them was a sparsely populated rural area, Wakayama, 280 miles west of Tokyo.
Still, tall buildings in Tokyo and Osaka shook.

The first quake, with a 6.8 magnitude, struck shortly after 7 p.m., centered 70 miles off the coast of the Kii peninsula and six miles beneath the ocean floor.
At least four people were injured from the first quake, but there were no immediate reports of damage.
A high-speed train service was suspended for about 10 minutes, Kyodo reported. Local commuter lines serving western Japan were also temporarily halted, the news agency said.

The second quake had a magnitude 7.3, and struck just before midnight. It was centered about 80 miles off the coast of Kochi prefecture (state), six miles below the seabed, the Meteorological Agency said.
The agency issued warnings for tsunami, or waves triggered by seismic activity, for large stretches along Japan's Pacific coast. The highest were expected to reach 1 meter (3 feet).
Japan, which rests atop several tectonic plates, is among the world's most earthquake-prone countries.
A magnitude 6 quake can inflict widespread damage in a populated area.

I didn't feel the first one but I sure felt the second!! I was trying to get to sleep and my bed started shaking as if a big truck were driving by right next to the wall. Then it got stronger! It lasted for a while too. Strange thing was I didn't go anything! All those years of earthquake drills in school and all I did was lay there, not scared, actually thinking it felt pretty cool. Isn't that stupid? I did consider for a minute what I would grab if I had to escape quickly. First thought: clothes (it's too hot to sleep with anything on), then my computer, passport and digital camera. Pretty sad to think that everything else in my apartment is expendable. I didn't even think of my fish, now I feel guilty. 7.3, that's pretty impressive. (In 1995, a magnitude-7.2 quake in the western port city of Kobe killed 6,400 people.)

The big one is on it's way, I hope I'm not in this country when it hits!!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Grass is Not the Enemy!!!

Yesterday afternoon the whole school went out to the playing field to prepare it for the Sports Day we are having next week. The playing fields in Japan are just dirt and dust, no grass. But on our field there is a little bit of tough, scratchy grass on the edges trying to survive. Soooooo while the male teachers and grade 12 boys set up the stands (piece by piece) us girls got down on our asses and weeded the field!!! Yes, that's right! About 200 people spread out along the edges of the field, pulling out the dreaded grass, blade by blade.

Most people just pick at the ground a little so that it looks like they are doing something. Other people have the job of collecting the little piles of grass and putting them in the wheelbarrows. Then other people have to dump the wheelbarrows in the corners. It's quite an operation. Really, it's just an opportunity to sit around and chat with your friends, which wouldn't be so bad if the blistering sun wasn't beating down on you. I liked talking to the girls and I taught them a new question. "Do you like weeding?"

So I enjoyed my weeding experience this year. I was prepared, and being prepared in this country is the KEY to everything. I had on my grubby clothes, my hat, my sweat towel, gardening gloves, and runners. We were only out there about an hour and a half and we actually cleared away quite a bit of grass.

Last year was a different story. No one told me it was weeding day. I showed up at school with a skirt and nice shoes on. I didn't actually understand what the hell was going on until we were on the field. Disbelief was the best way to describe my feelings. So I squatted down on the field and started pulling at some grass, trying to avoid getting dirt under my nails, wondering if the other ALTs were doing the same.

Ahhhh, good times!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

It's good to be back!

My trip to Canada was great. I didn't get to see everyone I had planned to but I tried my best. I spent a week with Shian in Calgary and took hundreds of pictures of little Wylie. He is the cutest baby ever! I'm not just saying that because I'm his favorite aunt, he really is a good looking baby.

Traveling back to Japan went well, until I actually got to Japan. What a different feeling it was to arrive in Japan this year (compared to last year). I knew exactly what was going to happen with customs and immigration, I unloaded my bags to the delivery company, and was out of the airport within a 1/2 hour of landing. Not bad, eh? I took the bus to downtown Osaka, found the bus stop I had never been to before (by asking only 2 random people) and then sat down to wait for my 3:20 bus to Izumo. I was feeling pretty competent and happy that everything was going according to plan.

3:20 rolls around and there is no bus for Izumo. My heart starts to beat a little faster. Am I at the wrong bus stop? Is it the wrong day? All my gaijin-concurring-Japan confidence flys out the window and I go up to the ticket counter.

Me- (showing my ticket) Izumo bus?
Ticket guy-NO BUS! TYPHOON! (and then points at the MANY posters up on the windows explaining the cancelled buses, which of course I can't read).
Me-when bus?
Ticket guy-tomorrow
Me (in my head) Muther F*cker!!!!
Me- Arigato

The thought of spending the night in Osaka (quite possibly the ugliest, most cement-encased city in the world) was not appealing to me. I noticed that the Yonago buses were running. Yonago is in Tottori prefecture, right next to Shimane. I had been there once before and knew that once I was there I could figure out the trains to get me back home. So I went to Yonago after being in that shitty little bus station for about 5 hours. I spent the night in a shitty, expensive hotel, and then caught the train home the next day. So really, it wasn't that bad. I got home only 14 hours later then I had originally planned, but it did cost me an extra $200. Gotta love typhoons.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


I managed to get my bus ticket today.  I asked for the ticket, told her the day, she entered the info in the computer, everything seemed fine, and then she looked up at the calendar on the wall.  "One moment please."  No problem, I know what's going on but I keep my mouth shut.  She makes a phone call, calls over another travel agent, makes another phone call, and then tries to explain to me (in Japanese) what the problem is.  Sooooo she tells me that it is all reserved but I will have to come back tomorrow to get the actual ticket.  Then I put on my "confused gaijin" face and told her that I was going to Canada and would not be able to pick up the ticket.  Another phone call, she talks with a different travel agent, then pulls out a different phone book and makes another call.  Then she hands the phone to me:

Random women-hello?
RW-you are going to Osaka tonight so you cannot pick up your ticket tomorrow?

So I hand the phone back.  I have no idea who I talked to, but I don't care because I got my ticket.  They printed me a ticket that says Aug 29 and then crossed out the 29 and wrote 30.  Then the travel agent starts saying all sorts of things so I ask her to write them down instead.  I thank her profusely and I leave, it only took 45 minutes!  Usually it takes about 5 minutes, but I am a happy traveler!  I took the note back to school and asked one of the teachers to translate it.  It was an apology note!!!  Here I thought it was info about my ticket, but no, it was an apology for taking so long.  You just have to love the customer service in this country!!

I start my journey tonight at 11:35 from Hamada.  Hopefully everything will go smoothly. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Only One More Day!!! YeeeeHawwwww

Tomorrow is my last day of school.  I was just talking with Kirstin on messenger and she is going to make me the 7 Layer Dip when I come to Victoria.  So now all I can think about is that dip....drooooooool! I haven't had any dip in Japan, in University we used to have parties entirely devoted to different dips.  Does that sound sad?  Well then you haven't tasted my sourdough bread bowl spinach dip, or Christine's hot artichoke dip!  Mom and I are going for Mexican food when I arrive in PR on Sat.  Ahhhhh, I can see a theme beginning to grow.  My trip home: "the summer of food".  And of course shopping.  I purposely packed very little clothes so I will have to buy new clothes!  My suitcase was whisked off to Kansai airport yesterday.  Worth every yen not to have to drag it down my stairs, on the bus, and to the airport.  It will be waiting for me at the airport when I arrive on Friday.  The Takahashi's gave me a big, heavy gift to give to Mom.  It takes up about 1/4 of my suitcase but I don't mind.  I won't say what it is because Mom may be reading this journal now.

Tomorrow after work I have to go to a travel agency in Hamada and beg for a bus ticket.  It's shit like this that really makes me hate Japan sometimes.  You can only buy bus tickets one month in advance.  So when I come back to Japan I need a bus ticket on Aug 30 that will get me from Osaka to Shimane.  So technically, the first day I can buy such a ticket is this Friday, July 30.  Welllll, I will be a little bit busy flying to China and Canada so I won't be able to buy the ticket.  If I just wait and try to get on the bus on Aug. 30 I will be shit outta luck.  These buses sell out fast!  So the big plan is to go to Hamada tomorrow and ask the travel agent (who doesn't speak English) to sell me a ticket one day early.  Wish me luck!

Monday, July 26, 2004

My Kickass Minica and Mom Posted by Hello

Mitsubishi Rocks My World

I love Hamada Heartbeat Motors.  This is where I bought my kickass Mitsubishi Minica nearly a year ago.  These guys are the definition of excellent customer service.  Let's start at the beginning....

When I bought the car they gave both my supervisor and I a box of laundry soap, a tube of toothpaste, a bottle of soy sauce, and a bunch of coupons.

When it was ready (shakken finished) they delivered it to me here at the school on a flatbed truck.  They didn't just drive it over, they put it on the big truck and pulled in front of the school and made this big deal out of it.

In the following three months they visited the school no less than 4 times to "check that everything was OK".

They stored my winter tires for me because my supervisor asked them to.

They sent me a Christmas present.  One of those fleece blankets that folds up into a pillow.  It's bright red with "Heartbeat Motors" on it!

They changed my tires from regular to winter and then back again for free, and they called to tell me when it was "time for the tire change".  Again, they came to the school, picked up my car, and had it back again within 2 hours.

They gave me a birthday present!  Some members of my immediate family didn't even send a card, but My Mitsubishi remembered.  They delivered to the school a potted flower in a nice basket in a box.  The box had a big Heartbeat Motors on the side!  It was great!

They let me in on a little secret about the insurance company.  When you turn 26 you move into a different pay category for insurance (about 20% cheaper).  Now this sounds great doesn't it?  Well the bastards at the insurance company don't tell you this!  You have to be the one to call and say, "I'm 26, give me the new rate."  Anyway, Mitsubishi told me all about this way back when I bought the car.  So when my birthday rolled around in April I knew to call the insurance company and get the new rate.

Last week I realized it was time for an oil change.  Not two days later I get this letter and coupon in the mail from Mitsubishi.  It was like they were reading my mind.  The coupon was for a FREE oil change and the letter was another apology letter for all the "troubles" the company has been going through.  These "troubles" don't affect me at all.  They have been having some problems with tires and recalls and people dieing or something like that, I don't really care, they give me presents!

So I called (when I say "I" I really mean a Japanese friend) to book an appointment for my oil change.  They came the same day!  Yes they came to the school to pick up my car for the free oil change.  Can you imagine the guys at "Mr.Lube" coming to your place of employment to pick up your car for a free oil change!!!  It was back within 2 hours even though I told them I wouldn't be needing it until the end of the day.

When he arrived to pick up the car I asked if he would also look at the tape player (it hasn't worked for a few months).  Talk about pushing your luck!!  Anyway, of course it was no problem.  Then I told him that if it needed work I didn't want to pay anything, so they should just leave it alone.  Yes, I am the cheapest Gaijin on the block!  So when he returned the car there was no English teacher around to translate for me.  I love conversations when you cannot understand  each other!  Basically, I think, he said that my tape players "engine is broken" and they will look for a used one for me and install it and then I won't have to buy a new one.  And then he spent like 5 minutes telling me about the lube and oil and engine check and all that.  Of course I didn't understand any of it.  I just stood there and smiled.  At the end I said "OK?" and he said yes, so I figure everything is OK!

Now with all this royal treatment you would probably think that I bought a nice shiny brand new car.  I remember when my Mom spent 30 grand on a new Toyota van.  She was given a basket of fruit in her hotel room and a survey to fill out, that's it.  But that was Canada!  I bought a 1993 Minica!  It's a little smaller than a Mini with the power of a hairdryer.  I really don't think they made any money off the sale.  The car was cheap.  Also,  Heartbeat Motors is in Hamada, not Gotsu.  About a 25 minute drive from my school! 

So I love Mitsubishi.



Entertaining Site

I just spent the last hour looking through Awful Plastic Surgery http://www.awfulplasticsurgery.com/
One of the Japanese teachers who has very limited English came up to me to ask what I was looking at.  This man hasn't spoken to me in approximately 5 months when he asked me to explain the difference between a hawk and a falcon (WTF?).  I showed him some of the highlights, like that women who looks like a lion and of course Michael Jackson before and after pictures.  He laughed his ass off!  Totally unheard of in the teachers room!

Now I know that I AM BEING WATCHED!!!  Must censor what I do on the computer from now on!  I've come in the room before and seen people checking out my desktop background and even my messenger conversations.  I don't mind, as long as they don't mind that I am sitting here doing nothing...

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Craig and Erin in Hagi Posted by Hello

Hagi Daytrip

Yesterday Craig and his sister, Erin, and I went for a short trip to Hagi.  Hagi is an ancient samurai town in Yamaguchi prefecture.  It was HOT but we rented bikes and went exploring anyway.  It was a fun trip and it was nice to get the hell out of Shimane.  On the way back we stopped in Tsuwano but the thunder and lightening scared us off after about 45 minutes.  All day we had talked about dinner at Sushi-Zou in Hamada.  When we arrived there were about 30 people waiting!  7pm is NOT the right time to go to Sushi-Zou.  We had to wait a hour so we wasted some money at the dollar store and did PrintClub.

So now I am back at school, sitting on my ass doing nothing.  Only three more days of this and then I am off to China!!  I have a 9 hour lay-over in China before finally getting to Vancouver.  I am thinking of getting a hair cut while I am there.  It really needs to be cut and I'll have the time to kill.

The "new girl" arrives on Weds.  Her name is Eleanor and she is from London.  I have my fingers crossed that she won't mind taking care of my fish for a few weeks.  Absolutely everyone I know is traveling in Aug. so it has been a chore to find someone to look after little Genki.  I will have to suck up to her.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Grrrrrrr Posted by Hello

My ass hurts

I shouldn't really complain,  I'm in an air conditioned room.  But still, arggghhhhh there is only so much websurfing one person can do in a day!  I already took off for an hour and a half today, would they notice if I took half a day?  I tend to leave early too.  Don't want to push my luck and have someone mention something.  I just looked at my friend Amy's pictures from her weekend trip to Okinawa.  It looks really nice but Japan is just so dam expensive, I think I would rather go a little further, stay longer, and spend less money.  Ah hell, what am I talking about?  I'm just jealous, I spent the weekend hanging out around here.  It was fun though.   Last night Rebecca left for good.  I'm going to miss her but I'm interested to see what her replacement is like.  He's from Ireland (yum!).  I'm outta here in less than a week!  Wahooooo