Friday, March 25, 2011

Built A Table

Aside from the trip to Kyushu this past weekend not much else that exciting is going on unless you consider cherry blossoms and teacher reassignments exciting. I'm sure some pictures will pop up from that trip sooner or later but the weather was gloomy and cloudy most of the time so it felt useless to take pictures. You can get enough gray from Japanese cities as it is.

Recently I have been working with the principal at my middle school to build a table. Pretty simple table but it was a good experience to build something with him.

The Table

Next week we are building a desk or chair. I think he enjoys working with me. He said the only thing we can't build is a house so I'm going to push him on that one. This should serve as a wonderful nightstand I think because I'm not going to be sitting on it anytime soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In Due Time

Ouch. So much for frequent updates. It's been a week and a half already. I guess when the days slowly slide by and the facts of life don't seem so pressing to report on it gets increasingly difficult to write something of worth. I would be happy to write nonsense for myself but with a few readers out there it seems better to give some content that isn't a complete waste of space.

Over the weekend I was in the city hanging out watching Harry Potter on Friday and then running errands on Saturday. Those errands really didn't amount to much as I can't buy a bus ticket more than a month in advance and getting a reentry permit wasn't possible on the weekend either. So much for all I wanted to accomplish. I did, however, make it to the electronics store to look at ovens. What laid before me were a selection of nice sleek ovens with many features and cooking guides to make the worst cook a gourmet chef. I'm sure there are no lies about the foods you can prepare but none of that I'm remotely interested in. All the lower end models can go up to about 250 degrees Celsius. The catch is that after so many minutes this temperature will reduce 20 degrees rendering high temperature cooking or baking impossible. Perhaps the oven would overheat or is it the innate nature of Japanese to fear fire. The latter was only what I caught in passing from a professor while studying abroad so I can't speak for the validity. Regardless nobody wants a crippled oven. If I want to make a pizza I need temperatures that can go past 250 Celsius. Well for that option I can opt for a more pricey model that goes up to 260 degrees but the benefits don't outweigh the cost.

Faced with these obstacles the only other option for purchasing a proper oven would be to spend 1,000 or more for a legitimate oven but what a waste of money. With three brochures in hand I left the store feeling somewhat defeated faced with the realization that I would have to make too many sacrifices for something that doesn't fit what I need it for. I spent the drive home mulling over the dilemma as I once again started to ponder the prospects of building an oven.

Sunday saw the graduation of the 3rd year students. The graduation was as riveting and exciting as a Japanese ceremony can be. Just when I thought it wasn't possible to bow anymore I was astounded by the countless bows popping off literally left and right. Such formal drivel that has perpetuated every corner of the Japanese mind for ages. The formal aspect of the Japanese language is interesting despite how it encourages such behavior. I'm not sure if there is another language that you can change the politeness factor from 1-10 just by the words you speak. You can't do that in English in anyway shape or form. There is a base level of politeness that streams from our thank yous and other courtesy that can't be increased.

A handful of local representatives from different organizations spoke at the graduation. As with many Japanese ceremonies I at first try to listen for the practice of it but soon see my eyes glaze over from behind my corneas and I start to think how I can warm my feet that feel like they were plunged in ice baths. Now these painful speeches have one redeeming factor and that is finding the people that are falling asleep. You can be assured that heads will nod and slumbers will be invoked by the exciting ceremonies of Japan. Makes me feel somewhat vindicated for not listening. Isn't this the case with speeches in general? Unless it's interesting who is going to remember anything that was said?

This was followed up in the evening with a party for the teachers and parents of the 3rd year students. I had convinced myself I wasn't going but once faced with the problem of every other teacher going I had no choice but to attend. At least I didn't have to drive which meant the opportunity to enjoy some handshakes with those in attendance. You know how handshakes at dinner parties in Japan work. Other than some pleasant conversations with fellow teachers I ended up home in a rather lethargic but peaceful state that was perfect for falling asleep. Blissful unconsciousness having its way with me.

To round things out here I have decided to not buy an oven at all but rather build one. I was unsure of this prospect all winter long after I saw that finding clay would be difficult. After some careful research it looks like I'm ready to drop some money on clay for the sake of this oven I want to build. I haven't ever bought 250 pounds of clay but I'm looking forward to it. Bye bye 120 dollars but you weren't good for anything just sitting in my bank account anyway. While I'm not quite ready to buy I will be moving forward soon. Once I calculate sand costs, some bricks, and a few other materials I will be on the way to earth oven freedom. Over 2 years of dreaming coming to fruition. Even if I spend 200 dollars for materials it will invaluable experience. My undertakings aren't usually the easiest ones but they are satisfying beyond many others. I wouldn't be surprised if I end up on a homestead someday living off the land.

Better not get my hands on old farming and machinery books....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Back Up

With my new found passion to update nearly everyday and include a picture, I am starting to get a slight backlog of images. Well I'll figure that out. Here is a picture from my outing yesterday.

One More Turn

And the current weather report for Sunday evening at 6:45PM.

Another Rainy Night

I made pizza bread tonight which was very good. Made a simple sauce from canned tomatoes and used regular slices of bread. Used the toaster oven to bake the mini pizzas. Success.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Korean Foods

The weather was wonderful today. Crisp but sunny. Hardly any clouds floating about. When I have time making pancakes is quickly becoming a favorite hobby of mine. Each time I improve the quality of my flapjacks. I'm still working out the perfect recipe though. Most recipes are generally the same with small variations. I want the easiest and most delicious. Anyway the stack of five pancakes I made went down like a limp body into a grave. Not sure if I felt good or sick after eating those...

After that I took a drive up north of my house and explored a road that looked like it might lead somewhere or to something interesting. These valley roads that wind around and around feel very similar but all of them are different obviously. At one point I couldn't tell where the main road went so I ended up by some houses. Now for the life of me I can't understand why I thought it might be the right way to go but I proceeded up this extremely narrow drive with a drop off to the right. No railing to keep me safe. On the left a little shed. As soon as I passed this point I realized my mistake and knew I would have to backup along this dicey six yards of road. My biggest fear was letting a wheel go off the edge. Plus the shed was so close to the car as well that I had to make sure I didn't clip it with my mirror. Normally backing up isn't such a big deal but with the possibility of sliding down a wall into the river below isn't hart warming either. After several careful minutes of navigation I made it out alive. All the time I was hoping nobody would come out or drive up and bother me. I luckily made a clean get away back to the main road.

After another 10 or 15 minutes of driving I came to the end of the line, that is if you don't have a vehicle that is suitable for unpaved forestry roads. I probably should have bought a vehicle with four wheel drive and a higher suspension merely for the sake of traversing these roads. Then again without a cell phone it probably isn't a great idea even with the right car. Despite the dead end of sorts I came across a small trail to a little park at the top of a mountain. The path was snowy and I didn't feel like reliving last weekend so I took a picture of the sign to remind me to come back when its warmer and the snow has melted. I'm highly skeptical of such parks though. Sometimes they are worthless places to visit. There might be a good view at the top because there were several nice little glimpses of the mountains to the west from the road. I will hope for the best when I return.

I got back home around one o'clock and sat down to think what was next for the day. I had some options in the city but I just wasn't feeling it this weekend. I really wanted to make pizza bread or play in the kitchen. I wasn't about to spend two or three dollars on a small container of cheese from the mini grocery so I made the trek to my go to store for cheese. This place is farther than I wanted to go but 800 grams of cheese for 8 dollars is great. Plus, the taste of this bulk cheese is better than the smaller quantities I have found. One of my bigger problems is that I usually haven't eaten much before I actually go to the store. My mouth waters as I pass by coolers and shelves of food. With this being said I have a strong level of self control and stick to my necessities as best as possible. Lately this is large amounts of fresh vegetables and tofu. One awesome thing about Kochi is that there is a plethora of local vegetables and they are usually very cheap. It's great because that money is going directly back into the local communities. Unfortunately I don't think farming makes much money for anyone. I don't know how anyone has been able to sustain their life on agriculture here.

Instead of making pizza bread I went a completely different route. After eating a Korean inspired dish for school lunch this past week I looked up some simple Korean recipes. I acquired all the ingredients needed today and figured I would change my cooking up. I made bibimbap which is a rice bowl topped with various vegetables. I used spinach, mushrooms, beansprouts, and raw carrot. Normally meat would go on top as well but I substituted tofu. I made a marinade for the tofu that contained soy sauce, onions, green onion, brown sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper. I let this sit for an hour while I cooked the vegetables and rice. I then used the little grill function on my stove to heat the tofu up and give it a little crisp on the outside. So lets see how this all turned out.

Blaine's Bibimbap

The red sauce is made from Gochuchang Paste. The paste itself is made with red pepper so it is a bit spicy. The paste is mixed with sugar, sesame, and sesame oil. This creates a very tasty sauce. I also opted for a fried egg. After everything is assembled you destroy it and mix the entire bowl together with the rice below. You get some wonderful tastes of red pepper and sesame throughout. I could have stood to make some more of the sauce to mix in because I used too much rice. Regardless this was a great accomplishment in the kitchen department. Not too difficult to make either. This will go down on the regular menu for me.

Tomorrow should be pretty slow so a picture from the outing today will probably pop up.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ice Creaming

When I awoke from my slumber this morning and looked out the window I was delightfully greeted by thick puffy wisps of snow falling from the sky. There was a nice coating on all the trees and the hills. As the morning wore on the snow diminished and it was hardly falling by the time I arrived at school. I thought to take a picture but it would have looked like the one I posted several days ago. Also, to my expectations by noon time all the snow had melted anyway. It still remains a bit cold.

However this never stopped anyone from eating ice cream. Cold temperatures encourage me to eat ice cream all the more in some bizarre sort of way that I cannot explain properly. It's even better eating ice cream while in falling snow, under a nice lamp post. You have to eat a vanilla ice cream or you ruin the whole experience. It has something to do with the purity of it all. That is why I don't tend to be a fan of chocolate ice cream. While the chocolate flavor is still delicious it detracts from the satisfying and clean taste of vanilla. So for maximum satisfaction when eating ice cream I suggest vanilla over others. Yet, I'll eat chocolate ice cream if none other is available or it's some combination of brownies and fudge that enhance the nature of the chocolate aspect.

As most Friday nights go I purchased my individual size of vanilla ice cream. Usually I accompany the purchase with imitation Oreo cookies that I mash and mix into the vanilla. A poor man's blizzard one might say. Tonight I forwent the cookies and figured I would enjoy the pure form of vanilla on its own merits. Then as I sat eating my dumplings I remembered back to a time in my childhood where I had the experience of a very strange ice cream combination. It must have been when I was around the age of five or maybe six. It's impossible to know anymore. My family was on their way back from vacation and stopped at a Dairy Queen in some rather rural community. One of the better aspects of Illinois is that even in many of the rural areas it's possible to find a Dairy Queen to serve your blizzard and ice cream needs. I'm sure no one has ever thought about this much beside me though. To this day the blizzard I ordered has never been seen again with my eyes. I don't remember liking it much but my it was almost 18 years ago. Behold the resurrection of this combination from tonight.

A Nerdy Blend

Did you get it? It shouldn't take much to see what lurks inside the folds of the vanilla. If you still haven't figured it out. Click the photo to go to the photo page with a title that will reveal what it is. By the way, it was actually quite a great combination. Now you may question me because of my history with odd flavor, food, and sauce experiments. The thing is that when I say it's good people usually don't disagree once they try it. Why would I like something that tastes bad. Oh but it will always just be a matter of preference. Guess not everyone likes a bit of ketchup with their bananas from time to time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

As They Say, Only You...

I came across this little piece of art over the weekend when I was out attempting to hike. It was posted on some metal shack along the road up to the hiking trail. It caught my eye because the artwork made it look like it was rather old. I'm not sure what was posted on the same board the last time I went but that was October so I can't be bothered to really remember.

Seeing as my house is a little bare on the walls and any type of art is welcome (within reason) I got in thief mode and carefully extracted this poster. There were about 20 push pins holding it on an old piece of wood. As I started to remove the pins as quickly as possible I was wondering what it would look like if somebody happened to see me doing it. I nervously kept watching my back half expecting a car to come around the corner and catch me red handed. I hadn't seen another soul or car all afternoon so it was nonsense to be afraid. Maybe it was my guilt that somebody who was sincerely trying to alert the public to the dangers of forest fires was being short changed by my thievery. Then again why let a perfectly good poster go to waste in the rain and elements when it can rest upon my wall. I can enjoy it on a daily basis whereas the souls that traverse the road to the hiking trail won't take time to even appreciate it.

The title reads "Mountain forest fire prevention" and the caption says "Your carelessness will turn the lush forest into a sea of fire."

To me it just looks like a nuclear bomb went off or maybe it WAS the carelessness of one of those chain smoking inaka bumpkins. Lets hope that my removal of the poster doesn't contribute to a forest fire anytime soon.

山火事予防 - Mountain Fire Prevention

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Drear but Cheer

Rain is something that has been a rarity in these parts since November. Today there was plenty of it. I'm waiting for the rainy season to come and then the river will be gushing once again. I live just far enough away that I can faintly hear the river if I have my windows open. Yet, in rainy season I can hear it extremely well. The roar over the concrete barrier by the bridge is not as unpleasant as one might imagine. I look forward to the hot humid and sweaty days of summer with some strange satisfaction. I can smell it in the air. The smell of life in Japan has it's own unique scent. You have to be here to really understand that.

I taught students simple English commands today such as turn left/right, go (____) steps, and stop. We then played a landmine game where they had to guide a blindfolded classmate across the minefield to safety on the other side. The kids were quite fond of the game despite how little English they probably used or learned. At least they were making the effort to? I don't remember being so touchy with other students in elementary school. Well I wasn't, that's why. These kids are ridiculous. They just can't stop touching other classmates. No wonder the middle school students appear as though they are... oh just fill in the blanks yourself.

Blurry and slightly out of focus picture of some flower buds down from my house. The cloudy weather didn't help with getting a good picture so this will do for now. Keep at it.

Dreary Pinks