Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lets See How They Roll

End of the year party tonight. All I know is that I better make use of the money I'm paying. I won't drink because I need to come home and tie up any loose ends before leaving. But it's for the best. Why do Japanese parties have to be so expensive though? It makes me not want to go. I'm sure it will be fun because everyone changes with a little alcohol flushing through the veins. I'll exploit this angle in whatever way possible.

While I was picking somethings up today after school I came across an intriguing drink. I had known about this for a few months already but had not seen it in person. Feast your eyes on this beauty.

Hot Cake Drink

Yes that's right. A warm pancake flavored beverage. If there is one thing Japan is good at it's coming up with ridiculous drinks to stock in vending machines. That is why I'm such a sucker for vending machines here. Back home I never let them tempt me. Different story here. Surprisingly this drink had a sublime taste. My only complaint is that I wish it was thicker. I want to feel like I'm drinking pancake batter mixed with maple syrup. Unfortunately the drink will never be like that. Now that I have consumed this absurd creation, no need to buy it again because I'll just make my own...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Down is Out

This past week was an oblivion of time and space. English days were held at two middle schools over a period of two days each. The goal is to encourage deeper English communication and practice. Maybe a dash of culture on the side or something. Who really knows how to teach culture though? I want to know who thought of there is nothing more American than apple pie. How does that make sense? Apples came from the middle east. All culture is fabricated anyway so if we are going to teach it we might as well just invent some new things to go along with it.

English days at the middle school were rather fun. We had an English village that simulated travel to an English speaking country. Students had to go through customs and change money at the bank. Then they had other tasks to complete in English. To prevent students from using Japanese we had a policeman that arrested students who spoke Japanese. They were detained and thrown in jail for a short time. I personally was the policeman for one class period. But the first year students were so timid and quiet I wasn't catching them. I had to resort to devilish tactics to land some poor souls in the prison. So at the restaurant where students could buy drinks I was doing kanpai (equivalent to cheers) to get students to speak Japanese. It's like clock work. When they hear it and see me raise my hand they can't prevent the words slipping from their lips. Seeing as everyone has become ADHD with the advent of internet, I'll just spare you the rest of the sundry details. However, one ALT was playing a cultural game of tag and bashed his head in on a desk. Got six stitches at the local hospital. Last year I heard he gashed his hand open on something and had to go to the hospital at another school.

I managed to make some cookies this week. Too much work in one night. I should have split the labor across two evenings but I needed to take the cookies to school the following day. The kids were happy and told me to open a cookie shop because they were so delicious. I'm sure that is is a lucrative business in these parts.

We worked on Saturday and had school half the day. The second half was disaster prevention education. The best mini lecture was the one about landslides. Really rad videos of mountain sides sliding off. The rest of the event was rather lackluster. The lunch was rice balls and some soup. All of it was bland. I suppose that is why the pickled vegetables are provided. I have developed a strong liking for those and gladly eat them when available.

I managed to pay for and receive my bus tickets today. I was a little unsure of where I was going but I ended up at the right place. I wonder if anyone is a sucker to pay a dollar to park at the station for under 20 minutes when they can just park at the drug store across the street. I'm sure there are tons. As you can see I don't fall into said category. On my way to a used goods store I came across a rug and carpet shop. It also sells snake or crocodile hand bags, maybe. Outside the store was a rack of random backpacks and bags on sale. What a stroke of luck to find a 10 dollar backpack that is bigger than the one I have. Exactly what I was hoping to find. It's big and high quality straight from China. Just what I like. This is probably as cheap as one will find in Japan. It's nothing special with one large inner section and an outside zipper section. Feels unbelievably cheap but it was cheap. Can't be beat.

I stopped in a men's ware shop to find a coat. They were all on sale and cheap. The only problem is that the large sizes make me feel like my arms are going to tear through the shoulders. XL sizes aren't massively huge but fit better. There none to be seen in the style I wanted so I moved to a used clothing store. The prices for coats here are all over the place. Mostly over priced but I stumbled upon a little gem. Most of the down coat-esque items are not actually made with down. Rather they probably have cotton and other synthetics that don't stay as warm. I found an awesome Carhartt down coat that fit perfectly. The down is slowly leaking out at various seems around the coat which I wasn't so sure about. Yet, the price was only about 18 dollars and it's super warm. I'm definitely lugging this to Nagano with me. Probably the best find of the day.

Two and half more days of school. Here I come Honshu.

Monday, December 13, 2010

You Surely Jest

As December marches onward with no stop, the days of shopping dwindle and people have less of a chance of getting the present they really wanted to give someone. There is an odd feeling I get from Christmas season in Japan. In some ways it's a part of home reaching out to me from the other side of the world. On the other hand I wonder how Christmas tradition was even perpetuated throughout Japan. Here in the valleys of the Shikoku mountains I still see Christmas lights on display. They are scattered about the hills and houses. Strung along roads and bridges in the most uncanny spots. It is a surreal feeling to realize that the holiday has been absorbed into Japanese society and people emulate the fundamental elements like perfect clones. Christmas in Japan has roughly only existed 50 or 60 years. How weird would it be to one day decide to adopt all the traditions and practices of the Chinese year and call it the American New Year. Flat out bizarre. Same kind of feeling I get with Christmas here.

The past week we had our mid year conference for teachers in the prefecture. Over a hundred of us inexperienced and lost souls descended to the prefectural education center to be enlightened and reflect on what we are doing. All I remember from now is that I made a chant about liking waffles or something. The rest has faded as quickly as it first came. It must have been a huge success for the lady organizing it, though, because she was moved to tears by our accomplishments over the three days at the conference. She lauded us for being the best prefecture in Japan as she tried to hide behind a tall Australian, choking back some tearful eyes. You can probably hear the awwwws coming out of the text as you read this. While not the most worthwhile event in my life it wouldn't be fair to say it was a waste of time either. I had some pleasant conversations about maggot therapy and MRSA infections. I never discount those worthwhile topics.

I made a pizza that was better than any before. Maybe it's the pan. Maybe it's the new scale. Who knows. It was good. I hope I can win the hearts of Yoko's family at the end of the month. If I don't they may never let me come back to Nagano.

Pizza In a Pan

The kind, well I should say odd, guy I befriended who works at the local sightseeing bureau invited me to an event on Sunday. Such events are small and local so I wouldn't know about them otherwise. That is unless I read the sightseeing webpage which lists such things but I can't be forced to read that consistently. Plus, if I were to show up to this kind of event by myself everyone would be telling me how to get back home because I would surely be lost. I showed up and stood around for several minutes looking like I had been born a black sheep. I was then rescued by some charismatic woman that called out my name. She is the co-worker of the guy that invited me and they had been waiting for me to show up. Needless to say I was thankful to be pulled into the hands of someone with vague relation. What unfolded was an onslaught of jokes and misdirection in the most Japanese of ways. From telling lies about girlfriends and age to poking fun of losing money in an Australian casino, the field was abundant with banter and playful talk. Most of this was directed by that lady I had met. Probably one of the most playful and bold Japanese women I have met. When I say playful I mean someone who can make jokes and be sarcastic. This tends to be a rarity in Japan methinks. It increasingly came to my attention that her awareness of English vocabulary was especially fine tuned. To amuse myself I began to use random English words to test her acuity. Much to my surprise her comprehension level was impressive. There is no telling where she picked it up but she swore she was terrible at English. That's fine. Sometimes Japanese women who speak English are just out to capture a foreigner and lock them in a chicken coop in a remote mountain valley. As long as she swears the opposite I feel mildly safe. I'll keep an eye open.

No pictures because my hands were full of food or dirty. It's about time you had an imagination exercise anyway.

A plethora of other random things transpired but catch me later for those. I do have one word of wisdom. If they tell you not to cut yourself while stripping grass for paper making, don't cut yourself because you get blood over the grass and everyone hates you. Well I'll maintain it was the knife that moved and not me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In the City

I had been waiting since August to rid myself of the decrepit pieces of carpet that were left festering in my spare room. It seemed like December would never arrive back at that time because December meant big trash day. This is the day everyone unload what they have been hording for the past 6 months and couldn't get rid of sooner. I went down to the drop off point on Saturday quite happy knowing I no longer would be the keeper of the carpets. When I arrived nobody had left any trash. I thought that maybe they picked up what people had already left. I sat for several minutes wondering what the best course of action was. I could leave my stuff and run the risk of doing things completely wrong or gamble and come back the following day hoping I could get rid of my junk. I opted for the latter because I didn't want to be the fool who didn't know garbage day rules. Sure enough if paid off and on Sunday I disposed of the carpet and futons that made me cringe. The best part is the awesome leather chair I scored out of the junk. I almost took a small piano but the risk of it not working was too high for the size. I know have a great chair for my living room. I'm already looking forward to the next trash day in six months.

On Saturday after not being able to drop of my garbage I headed down towards the city to meet some people for a creativity fest. An ALT had a smorgasbord of craft supplies and other crafty inherent items available to making anything the heart desired. Unfortunately as I showed up the five people there were just getting ready to go into Kochi City. They tried to contact me but seeing as I'm without a cellphone, no dice. It worked out for the best and after some flow charts and calculation on who had to ride with who, we descended into the city. George rode with me in my car and we covered many a topics ranging from guitar and electronic music to the speed of technology spiraling us out of control. It worked out for the best because he ended up graciously giving me some new strings for my guitar after we stopped at his place. I broke mine this past week and had been looking to get new ones. I actually have met George before back in August but this was the first time meeting since then.

Everyone ended up at Hirome the local drinking hole. We have a midyear conference for all ALTs this week and a former ALT from Kochi who now works for the program in Tokyo is speaking. It also happened to be his birthday so a handful of individuals were celebrating. He is into all sorts of hiking and is a trove of information on some regions in the Japanese Alps. I refrained from drinking any alcohol because I had to drive home. This is despite the fact George offered me his place to crash if I wanted to have a beer. I felt a cold coming on in my throat so the appeal of having even a sip of alcohol was zero. The massive amounts of second hand smoke didn't give me much help either. I had great conversation with many a people. Somehow I ended up singing Disney songs and talking about ocean currents on the southern side of Kochi. We maxed out our time at Hirome which closes at 11:00pm. Several of us hauled our bodies to a bar called stylish. Supposedly it is reputed as the foreigner bar but it's more likely people go their because drinks are cheap. I wasn't drinking so I couldn't care much anyway.

After having many a delightful yelling conversations over the DJ playing music, the people we were with slowly drifted away into the night and peaceful slumbers. I stayed on longer with George and another guy and his girlfriend. Some other foreigners had been in the bar earlier and made a grand re-entrance back in at about 2am. One guy went to the dance floor with his sweatshirt tied around his waste. Okay wait a second. What era are we in and who in their right mind ties a sweatshirt around their waste while dancing? Leave it on the chair for crying out loud. Another guy was trying way too hard to talk to a table of Japanese girls. They just would not give him the time of day. At some point he pointed over to our sublime location and George declared something in this paraphrased nature, "Well that's it! We have to show this tool shed up." In George's questionable humor and my coherent state we boldly marched over to the girls and said hello. It's as if our inexplicable charm and character instantly pulled the girls towards us like magnets. In a matter of seconds we were playing card games and learning the names of the girls who that lame guy had exhausted himself over. Unfortunately as George tried to explain an American card game in his fuzzy state the cheetah hat girl relinquished her smile into eyes that were filled with unspeakable horror. Had this girl been too friendly to George and regretted it? We may never know. I had a great thing going with black hat girl and I could have sworn she was going to hand her number over to me with the way she was talking. I caught her looking at me from across the room earlier and tried to hide when I saw her. Alas, as they departed we were back to just George and I. I grasped at the opportunity to see them again as I ran outside to ask for a phone number. Such things I have hardly ever done in my life, let alone to Japanese girls. But the only response that came was we will meet you again at this place which in other words means more like never.

Marching back from the bar listening to the great color of George's conversation and his raving about smoke flavored string cheese, the night was getting ready to greet the morning once again. If there is anything we learned from this night it is that when you don't have a cell phone you can never make excuses for not purchasing something when you have that extra 3000 yen a month.

And so the Saturday and Sunday gone by, another weekend ended in Kochi.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Onslaught of December

The first day of December coincided with an elementary school visit that I didn't feel prepared for. I would say it wasn't my best showing. The reason for that is the 12 Days of Christmas song that I tried to have the students sing. Naturally I didn't expect them to sing the whole thing because it's a little fast. I should have let them listen to it once first and then tried doing some signing a second time through. I hate that feeling you get when you know whatever you planned out is going down hill faster than you can save it. I have another elementary school tomorrow so I have a chance to redeem myself. I'm going to only do the song with the older students. The young ones get the construct a gingerbread house lesson. They only need to color and cut things out which saves me from trying to teach them to sing with English approximated pronunciation.

Today was a lot better as I had the opportunity to go to a kindergarten and hang out with the kids all morning through the early afternoon. The main reason they asked me to come was because they were making mochi. Mochi is rice that has been hammered in a stone bowl with a giant mallet. It becomes very stretch and chewy. This is then eaten plain with some side toppings or bean paste is put inside. The mochi making was somewhat peripheral to all the funny and cute kids though. The other ALT a half hour north of me said something along the lines of wanting to steal a Japanese kid for himself. It's a known fact that little Japanese kids melt your frontal lobe, causing you to do things against your own will. I arrived at the kindergarten at about 9am and was sent to one of the classrooms. I'm not sure if they stuck me with the only male teacher on purpose or if it was at random. He is a really nice guy and actually lives here in my village somewhere. I often wonder how any of the teachers at the kindergarten I went to keep their sanity. It is a mad house of noise, screaming, yelling, laughing, and a billion other random things going on at once. Students have a lot of general freedom when it comes to free time and they are not always supervised nor are they mandated to all do the same exact thing.

My day started with helping tie handkerchiefs and aprons on all the kids in the classroom. It takes awhile to get everyone tied up. However, I don't know if this getup was all that necessary. It is probably to subliminally reinforce domestication roles that the boys will more than likely never fulfill, save for their estranged wives who have to deal with their intoxicated stupor after work. That is reading far too deep into the use of handkerchiefs and aprons. Everyone had to grab their little chair and proceed outside to the playground area.


Pounding that mochi.


I wasn't kidding about the handkerchiefs and aprons was I?


I'm not sure if all the (I think they were moms) were sick or they were just being hygienic with the mochi serving.







Mouths were getting dirty big time. Some of these kids pounded 6 and 7 balls of mochi down their gullet. They all assured me that they would eat still eat lunch...


After making mochi everyone retreated back inside to change and get ready for play time. All the students were competing to get me to play with them. It was hard to keep them from getting angry at me. One kid almost had a breakdown. I did my best and played some card games that made no sense. I even played a pianca for the first time in my life. Piano that you blow into to make sound. I always wanted to try one so I jumped at the chance. These things are all over the Japanese school system. I'm planning to steal one when I get the chance.


After crawling through a block house filled with ghost pictures and pretending to be scared, we all headed outside for more play time. Too bad there weren't any big unicycles for me to ride. They would have LOVED to see me ride one.


And time to say goodbye after a day of fun and zero responsibility on my part.


Little Japanese kids are so incredibly difficult to understand. It makes for funny conversation because they think I'm either so stupid or just crazy. Generally speaking I could communicate just fine with the kids. It wouldn't be a problem if you didn't know Japanese it's just ten times more fun to say funny things to them in Japanese. These days leave me feeling happy that I have such opportunities. When else in my life am I going to play with Japanese kindergarten kids and make mochi. Probably never so I enjoy it for all it's worth.

Last but not least. They couldn't have the foreigner come and not mallet some mochi. Yours truly.