Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas all!! I love holidays, mostly because of the parties that are involved. Since I couldn't get home to see the family, I spent Christmas Eve with some friends and went for yakiniku. Unfortunately, the meat overload did a number on my stomach, not to mention only the day before was I released from my teetotaler status. After dinner, a few of us headed to another izakaya for a second party, and finally Tracey and I headed to our favorite Sunset bar to celebrate midnight arriving.

Tracey couldn't control herself and opened all her presents on the 23rd. It's a good thing I didn't do my shopping til the 24th, so when we got back she actually had a present to open. Same for me, though for a different reason, I think the presents from my family got stuck in customs. Dad must've slipped something illicit into the package. I'm hoping for persimmon pudding, but it's probably a small monkey.

So to welcome Christmas, let's all start off by reviewing how Canadians can ruin even the best things, like AC/DC:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I can see clearly now....

Well, at least mostly clearly. More clearly than I've ever seen in my entire life. Yesterday I had my lasik surgery. Friday night was an end-of-year party for an English society that I occasionally attend, so I ended up drinking too much and singing lots of karaoke, then waking up early to go to Tokyo.

The clinic has to be the most relaxing place I've ever been to. There are lots of people coming and going, the nurses come to the waiting room every few seconds to call a patient, but still, the atmosphere is so entirely calming that I just want to close my eyes and fall asleep. Probably this is partly an effect of the aforementioned party, but most definitely the very soft lighting and music box sounds did most of the work. Coming off the streets of busy Tokyo, with cars roaring by and people shoving every which way for Christmas shopping, I stepped off the elevator and into napland. The lighting wasn't dim, but very diffuse, so you couldn't look at a fixture and think, boy, that's bright. The nurses were all very sweet and cute, and of course wearing matching pink outfits. It wouldn't be Japan without that. They didn't speak much English, but they managed to get a doctor whose English was passable to examine me and explain everything about the operation.

First I was gowned up and given dilation drops. Then they took me to a room where I lied down and the English-speaking doctor cut the corneal flaps. They put pressure on your eye, to pin it down, then the sight in that eye goes dark, and stays that way for a bit. It wasn't bad when they did my right eye, but when they did the left one, I knew what it felt like to be blind: you know your eyes are open, but you can't see a thing. Afterwards, the vision came back and everything was really fuzzy, understandable since I'd just had my eyeballs sliced open.

I was a bit off balance, so they guided me into the next room for the lasering. After lying down again, and being sternly warned not to move by myself, they positioned my head directly beneath the laser. After taping my eye open and flushing it with some liquid, they put a tube or something over it to hold it in place and line it up directly with the laser. There's a red light shining in your eye, and it refracts just when it hits your misalinged cornea, so you see this weird refracted circle hovering in that position. It was strange. Then they peel back the flap and tell you to look directly at the green light. Then the laser goes.

I'd been warned about it by someone else, but I wasn't really prepared for the strange burned/ionized smell that came out. It was rather strange thinking it was my eyeball that was causing it. My vision went black, but I could still make out the green light in the center of my field of vision, with 2 red lights that would flash on and off on either side. Eventually it stopped and my vision came back. Then it was time for the left eye, which took a little longer. I was starting to get nervous, but they said later that it wasn't anything bad, just took a little longer. Which would make sense since my vision is worse there. Well, I hope that was all.

After all was said and done, they took me back to the waiting room and told me to take care on my way back and gave me some sunglasses (that weren't half bad - I'd been expecting to have some bug-eyed coverings taped on) and sent me on my way. I was starving, so I stopped in at a Yoshinoya at the station and had a quick lunch, where I was constantly interrupted by some old guy who wanted to ask me questions. Normally, I could strike up a conversation, but after that experience, it was the last thing I wanted. I grunted answers and pretty much ignored him, which probably contributed further to the national dislike of foreigners, but I didn't care at that point. By the time I got on the train, the anasthetic had worn off and I was in agony. My eyes wree stinging like no tomorrow, I could hardly keep them open to see in my bag for eye drops. It was at that point that I realized I had absolutely no idea which of the five or six eye drops and one pill were the painkillers. Yay. I tried the pill and one kind of eye drops, to no avail, and sat there with my eyes shut all the way to Hitatsuka, at which point I called my friend Miwa and made her come down and meet me, so she could read the instructions and tell me which one I had to take. Within seconds, I felt totally better and could actually begin to realize I could see everything around me. It was amazing!

Now that I knew what medicine did what, and Miwa had helpfully translated the other parts, which nobody thought to explain to me, like I had to wait five minutes between drops and do them in a specific order. I took the bus home and from that point, about 5pm, until I went to bed, I had nothing to do. I couldn't watch TV, read, or use the computer. And I couldn't take a nap because I had to put eye drops in every hour, so I was basically trapped. Mercifully, my parents called and I was able to talk to them.

Sunday (today) was basically the same, although I cheated (not really, I realized later I could) and watched a movie. I went for a follow-up checkup in the early evening, and I have to go back in a week to make sure everything's ok.

Besides a bit of a halo/glare effect at night, which should wear off in a couple weeks, my visual acuity is 1.5. What that means, I'm not entirely sure. The doc said anywhere between one and two is good, so I'm going to accept that. If anyone knows of any information about it, like what's considered average or normal, please let me know.

I'll let you know how it goes. I have to follow a strict regimen of eye drops, not getting water in my eyes, no alcohol, and taping these stupid-looking plastic shields over my eyes when I sleep.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Well, glad that's over

I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) today. I went for level 3 this year, despite passing level 4 with a 65% (60% is passing). It has no real meaning or conesequence for me, besides dropping 5,000 yen on it, but I hope to use it to spur my lagging studies. The bad thing was that I've been very busy up to and including today, so it really ended up being just another headache.

My weakness is grammer. Japanese adds all sorts of little post-positions (like prepositions in English, but, you know, post) and combine them with various verb forms to give a particular nuance. I suppose I could learn those faster in a class, but I'm too cheap to pay for a class, and the free lessons offered by city hall aren't that great. But, gift horse and all that. It's funny because it contrasts with my learning Spanish, where I had the grammer down pat, but didn't have the vocabulary to actually say anything.

Coming on the heels of Sam's visit, evidently my social calendar is filling up with end-of-year parties. The schools have them, the gym (even though I haven't been in 2 weeks) is having one, an English-discussion group I visit occasionally has invited me. Looks like I don't get a weekend off for a while. Not that I'm complaining.

Big things coming up this month are, especially, lasik surgury on the 16th, and beginning some semblance of apartment hunting. My lease is up at the end of February, and depending on my work situation next spring, I'll decide if I want to stay in Hiratsuka or move to Fujisawa, where I'll have easier access to Tokyo if I decide to try for a graduate school up there. Then there's that little matter of what to do for the week on either side of New Year's. I think I'll take it easy, go to the gym and work on that six-pack (hah!), and visit an onsen or 10 and unwind, all while trying to catch up on the backlog of reading I haven't been doing.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A vistor from home

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week. My friend from Purdue, Sam, dropped by over Thanksgiving holiday. We had a good time here. She's not very much the tourist, so it was a bit challenging for me not to just drag her to the usual touristy places.

I met her up in Tokyo on the 18th, right after a preliminary visit to the eye clinic to determine my odds for successful lasik eye surgury. That was quite an interesting experience. After the standard eye check, they took me into a darkened room with rows of machines, each with a young lady, decked out in identical nurse outfits, behind it. So this is where they keep all the cute, just-out-of-university girls! It looked like something out of the next Austin Powers flick. One machine would light up a bright orange spinning spiral when you looked at it, like one of those old hypnotizing machines, then the candystriper would tell you to move on to the next machine. At the end, the matron of the flock of birds gave me some funny eyedrops and had me exit to a waiting room. After a while, my eyes were sufficiently dilated, and they had me lie down and put some anasthetic drops in, then used a funny little machine to tap on my eyeball, I presume to test the pressure or thickness of the cornea. It was really bizarre because the lack of sensory feedback from your eyeball means you notice your eyelid blinking over your eye. In addition, every time the machine would tap, you'd see a ripple go out from the point of contact. Really strange. I wonder what the surgury's gonna look like.

Anyways, after a while I spoke with a doctor, in English luckily, who informed me I have very healthy eyes (besides the obvious) and a thick cornea, which makes me a good candidate for lasik. I'm scheduled for December 16th. Wish me luck.

So after that, I ended up walking to meet Sam at the hotel she got for us. I have to say, I'm quite impressed. When Aaron and Molly came, I found a decently located place, but the rooms were pretty boring and bland. Sam got a really nice European style pension. It wasn't huge, and while it was in the middle of Ginza, the ritzy shopping district, it wasn't terribly convenient like my first pick. But I have to say I was impressed, I'll definitely head back there if I need to stay in Tokyo anytime soon. Sorry Aaron and Molly, maybe next time.

I took last Monday off and Thursday was a holiday, so I had some time to spend with Sam, showing her around. She took off on some long walks around Hiratsuka while I worked the other days, and on Friday she hit Yokohama's Chinatown with a girl who lives surprisingly close to me (as in the next building over in the same complex) who we'd met in a bar earlier that week. I can't see the appeal to wandering around Hiratsuka all day, but her curiosity really reminded me of how I felt when I first arrived, how everything was strange and new and goofy. That's worn off in the 2 1/2 years since, but having it rekindled now and then reopens your eyes. On Saturday we went to Hakone, a mountainous area west of Hiratsuka, and did the typical tourist loop around the area. It was a beautiful day and gave Sam her first look at Fuji. We topped it off at an onsen, for which Sam needed a couple stiff drinks before working up the courage to go parading around in front of a bunch of Japanese women in the buff. But she pulled through, and actually stayed so long I was contemplating having her paged so I didn't get too bored.

Sunday I did a 5k run at Tanzawa Lake, in the Tanzawa mountains NW of my town. It's a real pain to get to. The way there was about 1.5 hours, and the return trip was over 2 hours due to an hour wait at a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere. Boring. But the run was fun. I finished in under 26 minutes, which shocked me because I usually just set the treadmill at the gym to do it in about 35 minutes and go, plus the fact that I hadn't been to the gym in over a week since Sam was around.

Sam was smart enough not to come with us, and after sleeping in she hit Kamakura, the ancient capital. She left today, so I'm sad she's gone, since we get along so well, but I'm sure we'll hang out next year when I head back for a visit, probably in March. Now, the question is, who's next to come for a visit?

Monday, November 13, 2006

A slight lack of downtime

Well, with my one anchor, Julian, gone and unable to keep me semi-boozed up after classes during the week, I felt I ought to do something productive with myself. Not only would I get more accomplished, in theory, but I wouldn't have all that free time to go out and blow cash.

Well, it's worked, and then some. Last week I didn't get home before 9pm at all, not to mention time to sit down, relax, and veg out. Saturday, however, was rainy and generally crappy weather, so I stayed in the whole day. Not that it was terribly fun. So that's the balance I've chosen, I suppose. It won't last for long.

My friend Sam from Purdue is coming to visit. She'll arrive Saturday the 18th and hang around for a week or so. I'm taking Monday off to hang out with her in Tokyo, plus a fortuitous holiday gives me Thanksgiving Day off on the 23rd. Ironically, it's also called "Thanksgiving Day," but the meaning is something more akin to Labor Day for Americans. And I don't recall it ever landing on the actual Thanksgiving Day last year or the year before.

I haven't quite thought through what we'll do, but the first couple days we'll be in Tokyo. Sam got us a hotel somewhere up there, so we'll check out places. She swears she'll be able to hold up against the jet lag and wants to go out, so I'm arranging to meet up with some friends her first night out. A not rare sight in Japan is to see 2 or 3 people out at an izakaya (kind of a restaurant with lots of booze available) with one or two people eating food and texting on their mobile while the other is passed out face-first on the table. That might end up being Sam.

After that, she'll probably have to entertain herself for a couple days. The last weekend she'll be here, I'm scheduled to do a 5k run in the mountains northwest of Hiratsuka, so she gets to come cheer me along. We'll probably go up a night or two before and do the onsen thing beforehand. Should be fun.

Anyways, that's my reason for not being so quick with the posts. Not to mention I've got the Japanese Language Proficiency Test coming up on the 3rd. I'm worried about that, I haven't done very well on the practice tests. Oh well, at least they won't deport me if I fail.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Welcome to Aki

I love fall in Japan. I've spent the past 6 months bitching and moaning about sweating day in, day out, the heat keeping me from falling asleep at night. I'd sleep with my windows open, the fan blowing on me, and no sheet or blanket, yet I still felt hot at night. It's that bad, sometimes.

But now, now it's fall. Well, I guess technically fall was in September. At that time, the temperature started dropping at night, it was cool and refreshing. But the days were still hot, and the humidity still lingering like a sweaty T-shirt stuck to your back. It didn't get to really be fall around here until a couple weeks ago. At that time, we had a huge storm blow in, and after that, it hasn't really gotten hot at all. Occasionally, on a sunny mid-day, you might wish for a fan. But any other time, and you've got your jacket on.

My favorite thing about fall is being able to wear jeans and a jacket out, without breaking a sweat while walking a block. The cool air freshens up my lungs, and then there's always the first fall viewing of Mt. Fuji from my house. Sure, I gotta lean over the balcony to glimpse it between buildings, but it's visible. That's what counts. The other thing in my list of favorite things about fall has to be the boots. The girls here seem to favor a nice miniskirt and some tall boots, which is something you just don't see back home.

Ah, fall.

Monday, October 30, 2006

House Fires and Halloween Parties

Last weekend was an adventure. I went to Kamakura with my friend Yuriko, who was down for a visit home. She volunteered to show me some of the smaller temples around, plus a cave of some sort or another that she insisted we go to. The cave wasn't really a cave, it was a place where a tunnel had been carved through a very thin ridge, so the actual ceiling of the tunnel was only a few meters wide. There was a danger sign for falling rocks, but that didn't seem to stop the hikers. I'm waiting for the earthquake that collapses it, although it must be pretty solid rock to have survived to now. It looked like part of a construction project, but when you walk through it, there are some carved-away places with small Buddhist statues placed inside. Altogether rather strange. What happened after was even more unique.

We went through the 'tunnel' and down the hiking trail and came upon a road. Just past the trailhead, there were some houses, all overlooking a small stream. There were some people standing on the side of the road, looking down into the stream. I thought one of the old folks had dropped something down and they were trying to figure out how to get it. But when we got closer, we smelled smoke and realized that they weren't looking down, they were watching the house across the way. There was smoke coming out from under the eaves on the top floor.

Some of the neighbors were around, and we asked if anyone was home. They said a woman in her 70s lived there, but she wasn't answering her phone. Yuriko, myself, and a Japanese couple ran around to the gate. The guy jumped the gate and ran up to the door, knocking and calling out, trying to see if anyone was home. He couldn't open the door, and came back out. Yuriko and I went in, and I promptly walked into a giant spiderweb that everyone else had been too short to run into.

I'm not arachnophobic, don't get me wrong. But I also don't seek out their company. And Japanese spiders are HUGE. I'm not talking those little orb weavers back in Indiana. I'm talking ginormous, brightly-colored spiders that sit in the middle waiting for a moth or small Japanese dog to get tangled up. So I wasn't pleased with the prospect of a big spider running around my head and down the back of my shirt or something, as spiders are wont to do. So I dropped to the ground, pulling silk from my hair, spitting it out of my mouth and in the process completely losing any of the manliness I'd hoped to exude by running into a burning building and saving some poor woman.

By now we could hear sirens, and I figured it's best not to be caught in someone's yard while foreign, fire or no, so we beat a hasty retreat to the road. When I glimpsed back, sure enough, the big-ass spider was still hanging there. Yuck.

The firemen showed up, as did a couple cops on mopeds and finally a couple paramedics. The fire-fighting equipment was interesting, since it's more compact and designed to fit in the narrow alleys they call roads here in Japan. Seriously, some of the roads here wouldn't fit a standard American SUV, let alone an American-sized fire engine. The engine rolls up, they open up the back and this guy drives out on what looks like an industrial-sized Segway and drives toward the house, while the hose unravels from the cart. Guess that's how they get into the REALLY narrow streets.

So while some guys roll up and prep the hoses, a paramedic and firefighter climb up on the roof and try to see if anyone's home. They broke the glass finally and got in to search the house. We hung around until they put out the fire and determined nobody was home. The neighbors had been calling around, they think they lady had gone up to Tokyo for the day and left the electricity on, which led to something or other overheating and set the place on fire.

Speaking of which, I was woken from my slumber one Sunday morning to siren blasts and people making noise. The Hiratsuka fire department had set some small fires in the park outside my balcony and were calling people together for a picnic and lessons on how to put out fires. It's all well and good, we need to be safe, but they could do it some other time when I haven't been out til 4am.


The day after the house fire, I went to a Halloween party. A month or so ago, I went to the culture festival at one of my schools, and met the mother of one of my students. She caught me off guard with her exceptional English, something I certainly wasn't expecting that day. Her family had evidently spent some years living in the US, California and Minnesota to be exact, which was entirely news to me, because her daughter had made no attempt to communicate with me in any way whatsoever. It wasn't until a couple weeks ago when I was doing conversation tests and spoke to her one-on-one that I heard her speak English at all.

Anyway, the mother, Rumi, runs a language school for neighborhood children, and invited me to a Halloween party. She asked that I bring some things related to Halloween from the US. Unfortunately, I had nothing besides a couple greeting cards and stickers from my family, so my roommate Tracey and I came up with "bobbing for apples" and "pin the stem on the pumpkin" to play. The kids went all out with costumes, while I was rather understated in my multi-purpose pirate hat. They went out trick-or-treating, then they came back and we played some games. It was fun to do something Halloween related, seeing as not many people are big on that here. I've only seen adverts for parties at clubs up in Roppongi, the foreigner section of Tokyo, something that doesn't particularly interest me.

Afterwards, the family treated Tracey and I to a nice dinner out, which was a lot more than I'd expected. It was pretty fantastic. I also got to see a more or less normal Japanese household. That's not something foreigners normally get to experience. I think it was the first time I'd ever been in a real house here in Japan. It was like your average American house, but about a quarter of the size. Everything was smaller and narrower (though the doorjambs were high enough I didn't crack my skull, like I do here in my apartment), but the quality of workmanship was higher, I think. I don't know if this is average or what, but it was nice to see how people live, and that they're not so different.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another one bites the dust

After two of my closest friends in Japan, Ana and Damien, left last December, my closest friend was Julian. When I first met him, I almost couldn't understand a word because of his accent. We did training together at our first job here, lived together for a few months, then quit and started working at the junior high schools at the same time, too. We ended up being really good friends. He was a bit loud for me, and sometimes a bit flakey about hanging out, while I was rather quiet and not nearly as outgoing -- that's why we didn't hang out much during our first year here. But working together, we were the only two people we knew who finished at the same time, so it was easy for us to hang out after work, and having the weekends off, which almost no foreigners we knew had, meant that we could hang out with one another. And so we got to be friends.

We took several fun trips together, the most memorable one being a 3-day trip to O-shima, a trip that would've been an absolute nightmare if I didn't have him to entertain me.

One thing that was nice was having someone to listen to you. Whatever the problem, he was always willing to give me his support. My job isn't the most stressful by far, but some of the nuttier aspects of it can be a pain to deal with. He left yesterday to return to fair England. I wish him the best, and I know for certain I'll see him again. I think we've become good friends and now I've got one more reason to head back to England.

Anyways, best of luck, buddy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

GAH!!! Foiled!

Well, looks like I won't be able to vote this year. I downloaded the registration forms and all that, but the deadline for Indiana was Oct. 10th for absentee registration. It's a bummer because I spent the 9th and 10th trying to find a place that would fax the forms to the US. None of the convenience stores would allow faxes overseas, the post office wouldn't, and the city offices just laughed at me.

So now I won't get to vote. Not that it matters too much in the senatorial campaign, Hoosiers have such a hard-on for Lugar that it won't matter that he voted to give Bush the right to kidnap and torture anyone he chooses. Hell, they'll probably cheer him on, get rid of those god-durned towlheds once and for all, and any liburals that disagree. Sometimes I'm very ashamed of where I come from.

I might have made a difference in voting against Buyer, the wondeful human who thinks we should "turn Afghanistan into a sea of glass." What an ass.

I don't know enough about state and local officials, plus I'm not really living back in Indiana, so I don't want to have a say in that. But still, this sucks.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


This weekend is a long weekend for most people. There's a holiday on Monday, and since it's the beginning of the new term, I'll have Tuesday off as well. It also happens to be Oktoberfest in Yokohama, so I headed up there last night to check it out. Originally, there were going to be quite a few people out. But some people couldn't make it that day, another cancelled because she thought we were going in the daytime, not at night, another couple cancelled to make up a dinner date they'd cancelled before (dunno how that one works), and Julian wanted to spend time with his girlfriend, who's decidedly a non-drinker.

So it turned out being my friend Yuriko, who works in Narita, and me. I'd shown up early to meet people, then they all ditched, and I had to wait for Yuriko to come all the way from Narita. So I ended up wandering around by myself. Oktoberfest was being held at one of the redone wharfs at the harbor, right next to the famous ferris wheel and Landmark Tower, tallest building in Japan. The promenade there is a pleasant stroll, and it's cool enough now to make it possible to walk outside and not sweat buckets. I wandered along, but eventually got bored and booked it over to the festival to grab myself some of that special brew. And man, was it ever expensive. $10 for the mug (refundable if you returned it when finished) plus another $7-15 for the stuff to go in it. Granted, it was quite good, and much better than the local, mass-produced stuff, but still. Well, if I wasn't reeling already from the beer, the prices would've knocked me flat.

Needless to say, when you're in a crowded area by yourself, with a container of alcohol, it tends to go fast. If you don't have anyone to talk to, or anything to do, and lots of people are around but studiously ignoring you, then you tend to focus on what you've got. And what I had was a very large mug of beer in front of me. It went down pretty quickly. By the time Yuriko arrived, I was well into my 2nd mug of special Oktoberfestbier. It was pretty good. She finished it and I went off for some "authentic German food," ie, fried tuna and french fries. Yeah.

The band kicked up around then, with the tubas going and a couple maybe-Germans in lederhosen singing. It was entertaining, but the main tent was packed and we were shunted off to the outside tables and left to watch on the big-screen.

One thing that drives me crazy is that when I head to the big city, everyone wants to speak to me in English. I'll go up to the information booth to ask a question (in Japanese) and the answer I get always comes back in mangled English. I know they're trying to be helpful, but sometimes I can't figure out what they're saying in English, but I can get the gist in Japanese. Maybe I sound the same way to them in Japanese. Who knows. But it happens a lot in (foreign) touristy places, such as this one.

Anyways, as with all things Japanese, the festival ended rather early, by 9pm everyone was dutifully returning mugs and heading home (I guess they have to catch trains or make the torturously time-consuming drive back). Yuriko and I wandered around some of the sights, watched an American street performer/magician, and then took the long route and walked back to Yokohama station, which from the Minato Mirai area we were at, is a long walk indeed. But it was pleasant, since there's a long public walkway almost the whole way. We walked for only a block or two along the street the whole way back. I'd like to see that more often back home.

On the way home, I got a message from Julian, wanting to meet in Fujisawa with a couple others and go for a nightcap. What we realized was that what our friends had in mind was grabbing a tin and standing around the Bridge Bar, not the best bar in the world, but certainly the cheapest, so I swallowed my pride and went. It was full of new teachers I didn't know, and didn't particularly care for. Maybe I've been here too long. Anyway, I decided to use my costly Spaten mug to drink my beer out of. I finished and set it on the ground, when some random friend of theirs came up, greeted them, and promptly kicked my mug over, shattering it. She looked down at it and said, "I didn't do it." and wandered away. So much for that.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Photo contest

The various free English mags here in Japan are having photo contests, where you can submit your photos and there's a chance they'll be printed on the table of contents page. So I'd like to ask you all for your help. Anyone have recommendations for any photos I should send in? They should probably be fairly recent ones, but I know that my eye for composition isn't always the best. What I like isn't necessarily what other people like. So I thought I'd ask you guys. If there's one on my flickr site that you like, post the link in comments and I'll submit it.

Cows on Parade

Saturday I headed up to Tokyo again, which means in the past week I've been to Yokohama twice and Tokyo once. This isn't normal. But I got my camera money refunded to me, which is nice. They tried to get me to pay more for a more expensive model since Casio discontinued the one I'd bought, but I refused and took the cash. The one I would've bought otherwise cost 18,000 yen more there, but I'd seen it for quite a bit less elsewhere. I'll go somewhere closer to home, and save myself the time and money going to Tokyo.

Anyway, on to the fun bit. Since it was early afternoon, I headed up to Tokyo station and checked out the Cow Parade. I was able to photograph quite a few of them, but I ran out of light and my feet were killing me after a few hours, so I gave up. If you look at the cow map, I visited all the ones on the left half of the map, barring the one in the white box and the arrow, saying it's really bloody far away. I did see a few of the ones on the right-hand side, but it was getting dark and the photography wasn't so hot. Also by that point, I was pretty much just running up, taking a shot, then going to the next one. So I didn't notice that a few of them were blurry. Bummer. If you go here, you can see my cow photos. And if you google cow parade tokyo, you can find some other people on flickr who've taken shots, probably of a better quality and better catalogued than mine. I'm having trouble with arranging the individual photos in the set so they are in numerical order, because I'm anal like that.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Why didn't you say so!?

It’s the last week I’m scheduled to be at this school, ever. One of the teachers, and old, crusty science teacher, who’s never said a word to me, comes up and says, “I want to speak more English. I listen to the radio, but I don’t improve.” Granted, it came out quite a bit less grammatically correct, but he said it IN ENGLISH. And it’s the FIRST TIME he’s ever said ANYTHING to me. I’ve been here off and on for 6 months, and these are his first words to me. I’ll never understand some people. The thing is, he just wanted to to inform me of this, there was no request for help or anything, not even hinted at. Usually, if a body wants something, it’s considered too rude to outright ask for it. You've gotta do a little verbal dance, saying how much you like something, or how pleasant something sounds, etc. until the other person gets the hint. So, I either missed a potential student, or this guy just wanted to inform me of something he’d have been better off saying in April. Geez.

Baila al ritmo!

I went salsa dancing up in Yokohama the other night. A couple of girls I know recently began taking lessons up there. You pay about $15 cover, which gets you a free drink and an hour lesson.

Now, I’ve done this both in the US and in Europe, but I wasn’t prepared for the organized warm-up that preceded the lesson. It was just like the warm-up done at my schools before the sports festival, minus the old man calling out stretch positions. Instead, we had one of the salsa instructors leading a bunch of people in tight skirts or dress pants through a routine of knee-bends and the like. I’m glad I didn’t split my pants bending over. That would’ve been embarrassing.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Culture Day - Let's Armwrestle!

Saturday was the culture festival at one of my schools. The students and teachers have been preparing for quite a while, and everything seemed to be pretty smoothly run. It amazes me how a horde of 12-15-year olds can pull together (with lots of teachers riding herd, but still) and create something enjoyable. All of the clubs had something planned - the drama club put on a play, the band had several performances, the photo club had a rather impressive exhibition, and the art club had a crafts and coloring thing going.

One of the more surprising activities was the science club's. Let me tell you, you'd never see a school in the US give a 15-year old kid a bucket of liquid CO2 and a ladle and tell him to go at it. No gloves, no goggles, just a crowd of young boys seeing what they can freeze and shatter. Granted, only the 3rd-year students were allowed to actually handle it, but they let everyone quickly dip their hands in for a feel at how cold it was. The 1st-years were no better off, they were given acetyl alcohol and would ignite it in a can and shoot a paper cup off the top. Little boys and fire. I'm pleased that they all seemed to enjoy these activities, and it makes me wonder if we allowed American kids to have the same freedom to do this, would we have more students interested in science.

The culture stuff was fun, but by far the biggest draw for the students, particularly the boys, was the arm-wrestling competition. Everyone wanted me to join in, but it wouldn't have been fair since I pretty muched wiped out all comers. There were two stages set up, complete with elbow rests and handles for the free hand. Before and after, people were permitted to come up and try their luck with anyone. So when I wandered into the courtyard, immediately I was pulled up and everyone wanted to try. I think I damaged my left shoulder. So I'll take it easy this weekend and try not to do too much. At least that's my excuse.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What I aspire to

This site is about a guy living in Japan. Why can't I write as good as he can. Who know. But I'll be giving it a go from now on. Maybe I need to swear more...

Either way, reading the archives is going to keep me from getting to bed anytime soon tonight.

I think I just found my doctoral thesis

I missed it. Today was Talk Like a Pirate Day. This is the downside of being 13 hours ahead of the States.

Monday, September 18, 2006

3-day weekend wrapup

Well, I can't say this was the best weekend ever, but it wasn't the worst.

The biggest downer was going to the craft beer festival all the way up in Tokyo, only to be told that there were no more tickets available. Apparently, you had to get them online or in specific brewpubs (none of which were closer than Yokohama, 40 minutes away) beforehand. So that didn't make me happy.

Nor did going to the camera shop in Akihabara where I purchased my (now-broken) camera. After half an hour of complaining, they agreed to replace it, only to reveal that they didn't have the model anymore. So I could either take a lower-quality one for roughly the same price, or pay another 19,000 yen for the next model up. I said no thank you, please get me the same model. At which point the manager decided that he wouldn't replace it for me anymore, because there were too many scratches on it (nevermind that it was the floor model that I got stuck with, and I had to carry it around Thailand for 2 weeks with the lens jammed in the out position). So they'll have to send it to Casio to get it repaired. I'm rather put out by this experience. I had expected more from that brand, especially since Ana and Damien were happy with theirs. It SHOULD take about a week, but seeing their treatment of me, I'm sure it will take longer. Japan is famous for its customer service, they will go to great lengths to aid people here. I wonder if it's because I bought it in Akihabara, a place where foreigners seen once aren't expected to return. For what little it will do, anyone reading this and thinking of going to Akihabara would be well-advised to avoid AKKY electronics at all costs. They will foist shoddy goods upon you and the famous Japanese customer service is sorely lacking.

But let's move on. After these two rather sad experiences, I met up with Julian and we headed to the Ebisu Beer Museum. I'd been there once before with Ana and Damien, the time Ana's friends Heather and Jeremy came to visit, but Julian hadn't, so we had a couple of the rarer brews there. His girlfriend Atsumi showed up, then we headed to Shibuya to visit another brewpup, the Auldgate, that I'd been to before. We met up with a friend I'd made last weekend, Yuriko, who lives and works in Narita.

By that time there was a fine mist coming down, the prelude to a tropical storm that blew up and finally passed over this morning (Monday). Yuriko and I went to a Spanish tapas bar near Tokyo station that was excellent, if a bit pricey. It's definitely a place for drinks, though the food can get pricey once you get started. We wrapped up the evening wandering around the area, where we were able to spot a few of the Cow Parade Tokyo cows. I'll try and get back up there soon to see the rest of them, probably when I have to go pick up my camera. Bastards.

So while Sunday was a day of action and moving about, today was a day for not really doing anything. Just a bit of vacuuming and hanging around the house while the storm raged outside. It lightened up about 4pm, so I could get some food shopping in and take in a coffee shop where I launched into An Inconvenient Truth, the global warming book by Al Gore. The book's big and thick, I think I ended up with the coffee table version, released after the movie. The pictures are beautiful, National Geographic-quality, with lots of detailed information. I'm about 20% through it now, so I'll try and write more after I finish. There isn't much writing, it's almost like they pasted the notes from Gore's powerpoint presentation onto the relevant photos. But it's a good read, especially since I won't be able to see the movie itself for a while.

Well, off to cook lunch for this week, and maybe have the bottle of "Bishop's Finger" ale that Julian brought back from England for me.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Weekly update

Last week I was at the handicapped school again. It'll probably be my last time at that school, since the board of education will probably change the schools we go to. I can't say I'm happy about the decision. By the time we start having some sort of stable relationship with the teachers and students (where they're not afraid or feeling contempt for us), they make us change schools and we have to start all over. I don't agree with it, but such is the all-knowing wisdom of the high BoE. Hope they don't read this.

The special school was fun. It wasn't as mentally trying as the first time I went there, perhaps in part because another ALT was scheduled there 3 of the days as well. So we could chat during breaks and I had someone to walk back to the station with when we finished. It was certainly nice, I miss that sort of comraderie sometimes.

This weekend is a 3-day weekend. Monday's some sort of holiday. I don't know which one, and I'm too lazy to look, but I'm sure none of the Japanese know, either. Tomorrow there's a craft beer festival in Tokyo, so I'll head up there with Julian. It'll give me a chance to go to Akihabara and harass the bastards who sold me my camera, which broke halfway into my Thailand trip and prevented me from taking decent photos of the sights there. They've also have Cow Parade Tokyo going now, so I'd like to check that out as well.

That's the plan, anyway. I'm going to play hookey from the gym today and take a walk to Enoshima island with Julian.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Last week was my birthday, the 7th, to be exact. My friends here made sure that I was out celebrating the entire time. It was pretty good. I met Julian, his roommate Todd, and our friend Nicole for drinks on the actual day of my birthday. Since it was a Thursday, I couldn't really be out late. Friday I organized a party for myself. I was worried about exactly how many people would show up, since many of my friends have a tendency to tell me the day before that they can't come because they're too busy. Must be a Japanese thing. But we had enough people turn out to have fun. First we hit a bar, Beck, in Fujisawa for some drinks. I figured that by 8 everyone would've eaten something, but I guess not because within 15 minutes everyone wanted to move somewhere else for dinner. We ended up at a restaurant called Tapa, where we stayed until the last train. I caught it back with the Hiratsuka crew, plus one of the other ALTs, Kim. We proceeded to a small bar to meet up with a couple more of Nicole's friends, then hit the local latino salsa bar.

The bar used to be really good. The owner/bartender, Hector, was awesome as always, but the crowd and atmosphere seems to have declined somewhat. I think it's because the people who show up now seem to be just kids and a very few older guys. There isn't really anybody in their 20s unless I've brought them. Julian, Kim and I finished up the night in a Matsuya downing cheap grub before Kim caught the first train back and Julian and I wobbled home around 5:30am. I guess it's a good night when you have to peel the contacts from your eyeballs.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Supertyphoon Ioke

So there's a supertyphoon called Ioke that started out as a hurricane in the east Pacific Ocean. It then crossed the International Date Line, becoming a typhoon, and bore down on Wake Island. I think it now holds the record for staying a category 4 or 5 storm the longest. Here's a nice picture of her:
That little dot in the upper-lefthand corner? That's Wake Island, which they evacuated some days ago. And here's where Ioke's headed:

Usually, when my area gets hit by a typhoon, it's already run its course over southwestern Japan and used up some of it's energy. Now, it looks like it's going to hit us directly. Yay.

(Via, The Intersection, who's got running reports on it and other storms)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Yeah, yeah...

I know, I'm taking forever getting my Thailand trip written up. Well, in a couple days it'll be old news, and you won't want to read about it anyway, so then I can forget it. Or something like that. In the meantime, please entertain yourself with this math problem:

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I'm alive, just lazy

So you all know, I am actually still alive, but I've been unable to use the internet for a while, what with taking night trains, trekking, then back to Bangkok. Hopefully the last few days here will allow me to catch up on it. But not now. It's hot and I need a siesta.

Update: I've posted photos on my flickr site. You can view them here.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Last Day in Bangkok

Today was our last day in Bangkok, at least for a while. We made the decision to hit the weekend market in Chatpatchuck. Colin and Yusuke had gone the day before, but it wasn't as big on Friday as it gets on the weekend. Hence the name. We headed there with a big group from the hotel, but the only ones who stayed with us in the market were Sarah, an Irishwoman who always seemed a bit manic but fun nonetheless, and Dave, an Aussie finishing up a round-the-world tour who seemed to know an inordinate amount about sewing, stitching, and buying clothes.

We meandered that market, which had everything from rattan furniture to pets to fruit shakes. It was giant, too. We saw but a small fraction of it. By that time, we were exhausted and dripping with sweat from walking through the tiny, stuffy pathways. We had to be in Khao Sarn Road for the 8pm bus, so we headed back early. We stopped at a great restaurant that was completely deserted, manned by a confused older woman, with several Thai staff pretty much standing around. We had a girl specifically to pour more beer and cola for us. The interior was beautiful, marble flooring and columns, furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and five tourists in ratty clothes, sweaty and grimy from walking the streets. Talk about incongruous. The atmosphere of the restaurant made us think of a high quality place that had lost its importance.

We got back to our hostel, showered, said our goodbyes, then Colin, Yusuke and I set out to catch the night bus to Koh Tao.

Friday, August 04, 2006

"It Buddhist holiday. (insert attraction here) closed today. You go see Big Buddha, then visit tailor shop."

We ogt off to a late start today, everyone was disorganized and we were trying to figure out what to do. I headed out with Boukje and Matt to see the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Along the way, people kept stopping us and trying an old scam. They'd ask us where we were headed, then say that that place was closed, or the hours were different. But if we wanted, he could hail a tuktuk nearby to take us to some OTHER attractions that were open. All that was required was for us to visit a tailor's afterwards and have a look around. We got burned on that yesterday, so I was determined not to let it happen again.

After running the gauntlet, we made it to the Grand Palace, miraculously still open. The grounds of the palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) were quite impressive. The spires and brightly colored statues were quite amazing. The Emerald Buddha itself, to be honest, wasn't. IT was very small, set far away from view, and packed with tourists and worshippers. Although the inside was covered in beautiful paintings, it didn't feel worth the trouble of wading through the crowds.

Afterwards, I bade my two companions farewell and met up with Colin and Yusuke to find a ticket to Koh Tao tomorrow night.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Making Friends in Bangkok

I met up with the Dutch girl (still don't know how to spell her name) in the morning. She'd stayed in a small dorm in the same hostel, and her bunkmates seemed like pretty cool guys. There was Colin, a tall Missourian who'd come here to teach English; Matt, a New Zealander on a few days stopover en route to London; Yusuke, a Japanese student in the US on holiday; and Andrew, a Vietnamese-American who'd been travelling Southeast Asia for several months.

We went to the old district with the famous temples and Grand Palace. One the way, we took the Sky Train, an elevated train that crosses high above th city. The view is spectacular, but you do catch the occasional glimpse of mounds of trash and homeless people under the freeways that remind you there are still some problems here.

From the end of the Sky Train, we caught a boat bus up the river to the old district. We saw Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Wat Pho (where the Reclining Buddha is), as well as the "Big Buddha," a 32-meter standing statue. It was all interesting, but I wish I'd had something to read so I could understand it better.

Last up, we hit Khao San Road, the infamous backpacker's street. Loads of stalls selling all manner of goods, along with bars and cheap flophouses catering to "farang." A good, but long, day overall.

PS - had Japanese for dinner. Yum!

First Day in Bangkok

(Note: The date has been changed to reflect when the events took place, not when it was written. Enjoy.)

I've arrived in Bangkok and caught a train to my hostel. The guesthouse seems to do a brisk business, with a bar and restaurant on the first floor. The room's pretty tiny, compared to what I got in Vietnam. It's on the second floor, right next to an extension of the restaurant/lounge. There are a couple of Dutch or Germans making plans, as well as a couple of Asians attached to their laptops.

I met a nice girl while checking in, a Dutchwoman named Boukje, or something like that. She's pleasant enough, we had a good conversation and decided to go sightseeing together tomorrow. I have a feeling this country is going to bleed me dry, things aren't terribly cheaper than Japan or the USA, especially given that everyone's purpose is to get your money. We'll see what happens, but I'm betting I run my credit card up again, like I did last year.

Anyways, tomorrow's going to be spent doing basic sightseeing here, then the next day will be for Ayuthaya in the north, then off to the islands for some diving. I hope.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This just in: Bangkok's hot in summer

I got to my hostel last night around 7 or 7:30pm. I was rather surprised, I thought it would take longer. The flight was only 6 hours, and Thailand is two hours earlier. Not bad, overall. The taxi ride was a bit frantic at times, between the driver's crazy maneuverings and the worrying fact that he kept glancing at the address I'd given him like he didn' know it. Sure enough, I had to use his phone to call the place and get directions. Not too difficult.

There was a nice girl at the check-in desk, a Dutch girl who'd arrived just before me. We're both flying solo, so we'll split the taxis and do the basic sights today. Maybe look at some tours up north briefly, before getting down to the islands down south.

The brief cool spell in Japan must've wrecked my heat acclimatization (is that a word), because it's stifling hot here. Even the nights are oppressive. Let's hear it for A/C. The big downside to being here is that people were noisy until almost 2am, while I was trying to get some shuteye. So I'm running on about 3 hours sleep. Yay.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Stuck between boredom and extreme action

Well, now that it's the night before I leave for Thailand, everything seems to be happening at once. I've had several days to myself, during which I've done almost nothing. My roommate Tracey's gone back to Scotland and won't return until after I leave, Julian's out travelling with his dad, who's visiting, and everyone else I know is busy working. So all this free time has left me wondering what to do with it. Well, it turns out I sit around and watch movies a lot. That's not so bad, but I always have that feeling I should be doing more, such as studying Japanese or getting out and seeing the countryside somewhere.

I did get to meet a few friends for dinner recently, and I went out with Julian and his father. Phil's got a wine shop in England, so he knows his stuff. He came well-prepared to visit breweries and pubs around our area. I went with them to Kamakura and, after doing a nice hike through the hills, we stopped off at Kamakura Brewery, a really tiny factory whose employees seemed shocked to have three gaijin turn up on their doorstep asking for a tour. The brewmaster, a young lady about my age who had enough English to supplement our bad Japanese, gave us a short tour with a few tastings. We got to try 4 of their 5 or 6 varieties. They taste quite good, certainly better than the mass-produced crap from Asahi or Kirin. As a present for their hospitality, Phil gave them a bottle of English-made beer called "Kamikaze," complete with a politically-incorrect Japanese guy flying a plane over the WWII Rising Sun flag. Yikes. Well, the people thought it was funny, so I guess no harm, no foul.

Anyways, tonight I just finished a drinking party with teachers from one of my schools. They're really nice people, I always enjoy talking to them, even though I don't get to do that much chatting while I'm at school. Not that I'm busy, they're always scrambling around. I've got some things to pack up still, then I'll take off tomorrow morning.

Btw, I've uploaded some photos to my flickr site, so you can click on the link at the side of this page and check them out. I haven't put descriptions up yet, but you can pretty much guess what they are. I'm saving that for when I'm really bored by myself in Thailand.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Wet and exhausted

Today was fun. One of the people at the gym I go to asked me to help carry an omikoshi, a portable shrine, around town. The deal was, we'd carry it into the ocean. I didn't know exactly what they meant by that, but I said yes. It's something I've always wanted to try out.

I met a group of people from the gym in the early afternoon, and we wandered down to the beach area. I swear people wouldn't do this if there was no alcohol involved. So we started drinking before we even picked up the shrine. They told me to bring a small towel, fold it up, and stuff it under my hanten (the gray coat I'm wearing in the photos), so I wouldn't bruise my shoulders too much. Good advice. When we got there, someone looked at my shoes and said that since we were headed into the ocean, my shoes wouldn't do. Some random person made off with my giant purple shoes and gave me a random pair of flip-flops.

We took that thing into the sea a few meters, but then took it out, set it on sawhorses and went off for a break and a beer. Then we picked it up again and marched it through the streets. I'd signed up to just take it into the ocean, I didn't realize I'd be carrying this monster around for the next few hours also.

We got it to a warehouse-type area and set 'er down again, this time for a food break. We had some potato croquettes, onigiri (rice balls), and juice or tea, rested and washed off our feet, then picked up the big omikoshi and set off for the shrine. I helped out with the big one for awhile, but it was too much for me and my back. I'm about 1.85m tall. The average Japanese person is well below that. So I had to squat down in order to carry the shrine at the same height as everyone else, doing a double number on my back and legs, not to mention my poor shoulders. Around this time, I lost my left flip-flop. I never found it again, either. I spent the next 2 hours walking around with one flip-flop either on my right foot, or jammed in my waistband.

I eventually moved up to help the smaller teens carrying the omikoshi I originally helped with, and stuck with that until the end. We wound up in the dark, bouncing the shrines up and down on our shoulders at the main shrine, then set them down and had a free meal, complete with beer.

After that, we headed to a bar, of course, and drank a lot, then ended up in a ramen restaurant. I wobbled my way home on my bike and here I am. My laundry's done, so I'm going to leave you all so I can hang my stuff up to dry. I'll try and post photos tomorrow, and linkify this post.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Make it stop!

Well, we're almost done with the rainy season for the summer, and it was a rather dry one. Hardly anything worth calling a downpour, a sprinkle, even. Well, Mother Nature's decided to make up for her lack of precipitation. It's been raining pretty much continuously for the past 2 1/2 days, though we're in a lull right now. The afternoons seem to be light showers, and it only really comes down in the morning. Right, oh, about when I go to work. This morning I went to work in shorts and a T-shirt made to dry quickly in the summer heat, and a pair or cheapo sport sandals I got in Vietnam.

What a way to close the school season. My roommate Tracey left today for Scotland. I'll bet this is the one time the weather there isn't as bad as it is here. She'll be gone until just after I leave for Thailand, so the last time I saw her, Monday night, was the last time I'll see her until late August, when I return from vacation. I just hope I can remember to water the plants.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another 3-day weekend!?

Yes, folks, it's that time of year, when I'm almost through with classes for the summer. And right on time, today (Monday) is umi no hi, or Sea Day. Nobody knows what it's for, but we all like a nice holiday. This weekend has been rather busy, full of physical exertions. Saturday Julian and I tooled down to Enoshima on our bicycles. The beaches around there have beach bars set up with music and the beaches are packed. They call themselves the "Miami beach of the East," but that's being too generous. The black sand and trash everywhere don't bring Miami to mind. But it's better than Hiratsuka, where the undertow will suck you out to sea like what happened to an acquaintance of mine.

My old roommate Gavin got a new guy in his apartment, one who liked surfing. Mike took his surfboard down to the beach and went out. I guess it's popular with surfers, so he must've done something wrong, but in any case he ended up getting pulled out into the bay by the current, despite his best efforts to paddle in. He eventually got to a buoy of some sort and clung there for a while, til the tide came in and he was able to paddle back to shore, albeit the next down over. Guess he had a long walk home with his surfboard.

Anyways, Julian and I rode down to Enoshima and checked out the scene. Saturday night was "Pirates of the Caribbean II." I was the only one who brought a pirate hat, so that was discouraging. Everyone else tried it on, and I think Miwa ran off with it. Incidentally, there's a pirate bar in Hiratsuka, the outside is done up with wood planks and fake cannon portholes. The logo is a skull wearing a chef's hat and a knife and fork crossed beneath, in the style of the skull & crossbones.

Yesterday, Sunday, was soccer with some of the foreigners and a few Japanese from around the area. I tried to make up for my lack of skills by constantly running back and forth, exhausting myself. Which meant that riding over to Chigasaki, the city just east of Hiratsuka, for a beach BBQ wasn't the best idea. It was nice to go down there and cook up some steaks, have a few drinks and chat to people, but riding back home tired me out.

Today, Monday, is a holiday, and I'll meet a few people and head to Enoshima again (this time by train) to see a small ceremony with floating lanterns on the water and a small fireworks show, weather permitting. The forecast has been for rain this whole weekend, and aside from a few stray drops yesterday, the weather's held. Hopefully this evening will be nice and clear, the fireworks would be a nice way to finish the weekend.

I've only got 3 more days of real work. I'll finish on the 20th. I have a few things to do the following week, I'll go in for a couple of days to help a student prepare for a speech contest, and I've got a private lesson, but that's it. I'll be off from August 2nd to Thailand for three whole weeks. I still don't quite know what I'll do, hopefully I can get my open-water SCUBA certification, assuming I can find some cheap contacts with my prescription.

Finally, downtime!

Last weekend was the festival weekend. It was Tanabata Festival ("Star Festival") in Hiratsuka. The festival's not all bad, but there's not terribly a lot to do other than walk around and spend money on overpriced carnival food. The first day there was a good taiko drum demonstration, but beyond that, I never found much worth doing. The big draw is the amount of decorations hung from bamboo poles that dangle over the streets. But by the 4th day, it gets a bit old, as does the food and trash, which really starts to reek about that time. And the organizers wonder why attendance has declined in recent years.

Last year, my friend Ana introduced me to the Gion Festival in Narita, the town where she lived and worked on her first trip to Japan. I got acquainted with a few of her friends, Yumi, and the Kiuchis, a couple that is always welcoming to foreigners. They were nice enough to let me and Julian come along and attend their dinner party that evening. It was quite a time. It was a full-course Japanese meal, replete with sashimi, tempura, and a unaji (grilled eel on rice), not to mention all the beer you can drink.

Some of the other highlights that day were coming across a group of old men with a barrel of sake open and offering drinks to the public, and watching the dashi being pulled around the town all day. There were some crazy hairdos that day as well, though I couldn't get a full on shot of them. My favorite was this particular person.

The next day Julian and I took a stroll through a much-quieted Narita. We hit Narita-san temple for a bit, but the heat and humidity was such that not even the beautiful gardens there could cool us off. So we headed back to Hiratsuka in time to have an early night and recover from the weekend's festivities.

More photos here.

The Nature of Nature

This post by David Neiwert at Orcinus was truly beautiful, as well as sad. In our busy, urban nature, we tend to lose track of what Nature is: wonderous but cruel. I only wish I could write half as well as this guy. Anyway, give it a read, it's something we should all understand about life.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Happy Birthday, Little Brother!

Well, it's my little brother's 23rd birthday. And he's gone and joined the military. We may not be very close, we've certainly had our differences and our disagreements. But I love him. I hope he gets through training and can become a medic.

He knows I'm not the biggest fan of him joining the military right now, the pyschological and physical trauma people who've been sent to Iraq come back with is horrifying. So I wish him the best and I hope, if it comes to it, that he can make it back in one piece.

And happy birthday, little bro.

Either the best practical joke in the world, or truly the dumbest person in the world (and that's saying a lot)

Forget the whole abortion debate. I don't devote this blog to covering political topics, and (though I may start another just for that) I don't plan on starting now. But the sheer stupidity of people in the world amazes me. I don't care what side you're on, it's funny, or tragic, depending on your point of view.

A couple posts ago I mentioned the "pro-life" person, Pete, who posted a topic on his anti-babykilling site about an article in which a woman extols the joys and pleasures of having an abortion. She says things like this:

I've got an abortion to plan, and I just know it's going to be the best non-anesthetized invasive uterine surgery ever!
or this:

I seriously cannot wait for all the hemorrhaging and the uterine contractions. This abortion is going to be so amazing.
Now, when you read an article with lines like that, what do you think? I think, 'nobody seriously wishes for these things, so they're probably kidding.' And you'd be right. Because the article is from The Onion, a satire newspaper.

What I don't think is how horrible it is someone would have these thoughts and then write about it on a blog devoted to shutting down women's clinics.

Well, this genius did.

And not only that, after 800 comments telling him, in not so polite words, it's satire, he goes and writes another article claiming he actually knew all along, but then proceeds to post an 'exchange' (I doubt it ever happened, but if it did all the more proof of his naivete) where the woman he talks to proclaims she wouldn't have any problem at all if she were killed and mutilated. Uh-huh.

Anyways, he's become a minor celebrity now. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but I'm beginning to seriously doubt that. I can't imagine anyone would want to donate to this fool's organization now. No more publicity for him. Read those two articles, laugh a lot, maybe leave him a rude comment and then ignore the rest of his idiocy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Photos are updated

Well, my quarterly photo update has finally come about. I was going to write about my weekend, festivals and all, but that isn't going to happen. It's past 11pm, and I haven't gotten a good night's sleep in at least a week. Hopefully, I'll be coherent at work tomorrow and have time to type something up.

Until then, I've uploaded photos through the end of June. There's a lot to see, including horseback archery and the school festivals I mentioned earlier. Next up are festival photos. But that's for another day.

Further proof of our failed education system

I have a lot to write about tonight, I'll get around to it later. But now you all gotta see this. This made my day. And the comments are pretty good as well.

(via Pharyngula, the newest addition to my blog reads)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

New Phone

My old Sharp's been on the fritz lately, causing me some frustration. It would randomly shut down and then start back up, particularly right after I'd closed the clamshell lid. That and some battery problems prompted me to take it, only to find out I was just beyond the warranty period. Yay. Instead of paying to have it repaired, I decided to dump the brick and go for a better one I'd seen before. That's how I ended up with my Samsung. I tried to take some photos to post, but my camera batteries crapped out. That's my next gadget to replace.

It's touted as being the world's thinnest mobile, which is pretty cool. The camera is the same resolution as before, but it seems to take clearer snapshots. And, by the way, there are 2 of them. One camera is on the outside, the other is on the lower right of the clamshell. I don't forsee many videophone calls, but it's nifty. It has some other features, the ones I like the best are the animated shockwave wallpapers (I have a picture of a Japanese castle with cherry blossoms falling in the foreground) and when I receive messages, they letters pop up and the punctuation marks do funny things. I can see this getting old after a week, though.

There are a couple of downsides. One is a lack of removable media storage. There's no SD slot, but it makes up for it with a 140MB internal memory and a USB cable to connect to my PC. Most phones nowadays use either MiniSD or even MicroSD (!) cards, so being able to use my old SD cards has become a moot point. The other downside is that I can't use the mp3 files I can put on my phone as the ringtone. I can't believe they'd actually not allow that, so I'm hoping I just haven't figured it out yet.

So that's what I've been doing with my time and money lately. I'm trying to save up for Thailand, but that's not likely what with the festivals coming up this weekend. Anyways, off to make a snack and to bed.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy Birthday America

Just don't let the morons in charge screw it up before I get back.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

If You Like A Lot Of Trotamundos On Your Biscuit, Join Our Club.

I checked out The Advertising Generator Slogan to see what my blog's slogan should be. This was what came up. Perhaps I'll add it in later.

In other news regarding nifty things that computers can do, I found this site. I'm not sure how well it works:


Amazingly, Julian looks like Jet Li, and Damien is a famous French singer/songwriter.

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OK, enough playing around for me. Off to cook some lunch for this week.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lots to say, but perhaps not today

I've been in a slight funk in the past week or so. It's a normal occurrence, nothing to be terribly alarmed at, just a cyclical thing Jeremy's brain goes through. It's just that this mood has precluded me from putting any serious thoughts down on paper (or on my blog, as the case may be). And now it seems I've ended up with so much to say, it's tough to know where to begin.

For starters, last week I worked at the special education school in the school system I work for. Many schools have special ed classes, but sometimes there are students that can't function in a normal school environment, and that's when they're sent to this place. The teachers there are absolute angels. I spent five days among them, and by the fourth day, I was ready to quit and run out. The students were friendly enough, most of them, but I encountered a little too much stress, not to mention bodily fluids, to soldier on. I made it through, and finished the week with high praises from teachers and students alike, but I have no desire to go back. Too bad I'll head back there in September for another week.

That's not to say it was terrible. The hours were great. I could come in at 10am and leave by 2:30 or so, not to mention being able to wear shorts and a T-shirt in school greatly decreased the sweating that normally occurs. And the kids were truly lovely. They were so happy if you spent any time at all with them. Unlike many of the 15 year-olds I taught who are complete jackasses because they think their friends will respect them more for it. I had lunch with the elementary 3rd-graders. There was one student who loved to just look at me. He would look at me and if I returned the glance, would launch into hysterical laughter. He thought getting to play kickball with me was the greatest thing. Especially because he couldn't walk right and had to wear leg braces and heavy shoes that made him sound about 300 lbs. as he thundered across the floor, chasing a ball.

This experience also rekindled the interest I had in mental problems that left people unable to perform certain functions, especially social ones. The kids were sweet, but they don't always know how to interact with others. But like I said, the teachers were angels. I went to the grocery store to do shopping with high school students, so they could familiarize themselves with money and how to use it. I walked with one kid named "Eight." Literally. It's probably not good to name students, but this is a Japanese name I've never heard before. Anyway, we had to hold hands with our partner students. So I'd hold "Eight's" hand as we walked. Well, it being mid-June with 80% humidity, those clasped palms got a bit sweaty and uncomfortable. So we'd switch hands. Unfortunately, right before that, he'd usually wipe his nose with his free hand and then run to my other side and give me a nice gooey clutch to change hands. Needless to say, I tried to touch as little as possible.

So that gooey experience pretty sums up my time there. I won't mind going back, because I know I have just one more week that I'll do it. I couldn't imagine doing that every day, which makes me respect my mother, a teacher of BLIND mentally handicapped kids, even more.

I'll write some more, but hopefully this weekend.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The heat is on

Well, it's the rainy season now. Which means continuous 80%-plus humidity, constant rainfall, and lots of heat. I did all my washing this weekend, and it's still damp. Soon I won't have any underwear or socks that aren't damp. It's a bit frustrating. Not to mention the sour mood one gets in damp skivvies.

My ankle stopped hurting a few days ago, so for good measure I went to the gym today and yesterday. With all the jumping and hopping around in the body combat classes, my ankle has now resumed its bloated form. Yay. I need to take it easy from now on.

The next Japan game is on in a few minutes, so Julian's gonna pop by. Should be a fun time. Too bad it's a Sunday night. Tomorrow's gonna be rough.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Warudo-Kappu Netsu!!!!

So the USA's buggered its chance in World Cup. 3-0 loss. Oh well, at least it was to Czech, one of the top teams. Japan lost to Australia, which made the aussies here unbearable. The worst part is the earliest game starts at 10pm, just when I go to bed. The USA-Czech match was on at 1am Tokyo time. This means I don't get to watch our boys play. I'll probably stay up til the 4am match this weekend, but I'm not gonna enjoy it.

In other soccer news, I somehow managed to seriously twist my ankle playing 2-on-2 soccer during lunch with a bunch of 13 year-olds yesterday. I never realized how difficult it is to move around this country when it hurts to walk. I bought a brace this afternoon, just in time for most of the pain to stop, but the swelling's still there. Looks like I have a hippo glued to my ankle. Hope it gets better soon, I'm headed to the gym for jumping tomorrow night, and Sunday is my own private little world cup match, when I get to show the guys just how a real American plays soccer (that is, poorly).

PS - at least Spain's winning right now. 3-0, but I keep missing the goals. Curse my low-level ADD!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Man, I need to get back into the real world

I came across this article today. Makes me want to get back into the world of science and studying what I really like.

I've been having some serious thoughts lately on what I want to do when my contract's up next year, and how I can go about doing that. I don't know what'll happen, but every time I see an article like this, it makes me want to jump back into the world of academics.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Beach BBQ

Last weekend I went to a beach barbecue in Chigasaki, the next town over from Hiratsuka, with Julian and some other friends. It was a bit cloudy, but that certainly helped my delicate complexion, since I didn’t fry myself. The food was good, the company even better. I got to meet Julian’s friend Phil, an amateur BMX rider. He’s big into the skateboarding and BMX scene here, I guess. Phil’s also got the ideal job. He does the same thing as me, but directly for the school, so he works 3 days a week and gets paid more than I do. I need to find one of those jobs.

Some of Phil’s Japanese friends showed up with some fish they’d caught off the pier that morning. They just tossed them on the grill directly, no gutting or anything. I swear, Japanese people will eat anything that comes out of the ocean. It was rather amazing. One guy devoured the fish, minus head and guts, in under a minute. It looked like it was out of those cartoons where the cat puts the fish in his mouth and pulls it out completely clean. I guess coming from a landlocked state, it’s just not that normal for me. We also got to play some Frisbee, I was glad to see my Frisbee skills haven’t gotten too rusty since my ultimate days in high school.

In other news, Wednesday was my friend Julian's birthday. We had a couple of drinks this evening, and the big bash for him is Saturday night. Should be a good time. Tomorrow night I'll see "Da Vinci Code." It probably won't be as enjoyable as the book, but I feel obligated to see it. Plus, there'll be a group going, so if it's boring, we can just make fun of it.

A tale with a moral

This is a lesson in meeting people, I guess. At the schools So about 4 months ago, I went to a friend’s birthday party in Fujisawa. I met a bunch of fun people, and a group of about 6 of us headed back to Hiratsuka to for a sort of after-party. On the way back, a few of the guys with us ran into a former high school classmate of theirs. She seemed a bit uptight, but they persuaded her to join our group. We went back to Hiratsuka to the local salsa bar. She was one of the few to actually try dancing salsa. We had a pretty good time. By the end of the night, she’d given me her email and told me to write her so we could go out sometime. She wanted to practice her English, and I always need someone to help me with my Japanese. But she never responded to the mails I sent her. I hate getting blown off like that, especially when the other person seems enthusiastic about going out.

So Monday I got to a different junior high school and meet a bunch of the student teachers. By now you can see where this is going. She didn’t recognize me the first time she saw me, and it wasn’t until Tuesday when I called her by her first name before we’d even been introduced. She had a rather shocked look on her face. So the lesson is, don’t blow someone off or be rude, even if they’re a foreigner you think you won’t ever see again, because you never know when they’ll turn up and be able to say embarrassing things about you to the other teachers.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Another brief, slightly inebriated post

So I've finished my week at the school I dread. I met some teachers for drinks tonight, one of them informed me that the school I just finished has a reputation for not being friendly to teachers. So I guess now I don't feel as bad. After the sports festival, the general atmosphere seemed to get better, maybe the teachers didn't feel under the same pressure as usual.

Tuesday was nice. I went to Yugawara city with my friend Kaori. We went to a hot spring resort I know. For $10.50 you get entrance for the whole day to this place. It has a rooftop onsen (hot spring) with a great view of Sagami Bay. It's co-ed too, which makes it ideal for going with someone of the opposite sex (but you have to wear swimsuits...too bad in that respect). This week I got paid, which meant an overindulgence in going out, especially tonight. I just finished a several-hour drinking binge with Julian and assorted teachers, plus some karaoke. Tomorrow is a beach BBQ in Chigasaki, the next town over, and Sunday is a friendly soccer game with the folks I went camping with. It oughta be fun.

I need to conserve my cash. I'm saving up for a trip to Thailand in August. If I can get the cash for it, I want to sign up for some SCUBA diving if I can. That requires some logistics given my sight capabilities, but I'll see what can be done. Anyway, signing off for now. Take care all.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Short Update

I just got back from the field day at my school. It should've been on Saturday, but got rained out. So guess what I did instead? I worked! We had classes on Saturday instead, and I had to go there in the rain to teach. It turned out to be not so bad. The teachers were a bit friendlier and talked to me more. Last week sort of drove me nuts. I had a long post I wrote at work about how I'm ignored by everyone at work, no one thinks I can speak any Japanese (despite my speaking to them in my --admittedly broken-- Japanese), and how I felt generally awful. But Saturday was a bit of a pick-me-up. Unfortunately, that means for a second week in a row, my days off are being split up. But it'll work out all right.

Yesterday (Sunday) I went to the yabusame (horseback archery) demonstration with my friend Miwa. It rained all night before, but stopped around 11am, so we went down to Miura Beach. We thought it'd take only an hour, but it turned out to be twice as long. We arrived at 2, an hour late, but they had just started the demonstration, and we got to see lots of shooting.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. They were shooting at targets about 2 meters away. Granted, they're shooting from a galloping horse, but I was expecting something a bit more grand. It must've been quite difficult, because not everyone could hit the main target that was eye-level with the riders, let alone the smaller targets only a foot above the ground. It only lasted until about 2:40, so we spent more time going there than we spent at the actual demonstration, but it was fun to see and got me out of the area I'm so used to being in.

Tomorrow I'm heading down to Yugawara, a well-known hot springs area with my friend Kaori to enjoy soaking in some hot water. Now it's off to the gym, where I've been absent for too long. Need to get back into shape.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Burnout, or something like it

These past several days have been a bit exhausting for me. The taikusai (field day) was pretty good. I took some photos, and will post them later. It was cancelled on Saturday because of rain, so we had it on Sunday. Yesterday (Monday), I started at a different school. They're practicing for their takusai, which means they want me to go to theirs this Saturday. The prospect of working from Sunday to Saturday isn't too appealing right now, and I'm trying to figure out how to get out of it. Not to mention I've been going to bed later than I should, and sleeping is getting more difficult due to the increasing humidity. All this has created a grumpy Jeremy lately. So tonight's dedicated to an early night, which I hope I can get.

Next weekend I hope will be fun. There's a festival in Miura city down the coast, and they have a yabusame (horseback archery) demonstration scheduled. It will be, that is, presuming it doesn't rain. That's all for now, catch you all later.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Saturday will be my school’s undokai, or field day. That is, it will be if the weather holds. I’m actually hoping it doesn’t, and gets rescheduled to Sunday, since that means I can stay out later in Tokyo on Friday. I remember doing field day in my elementary school, and we had them also in middle school and high school at Zionsville. They were ok, but if we’d done events like these, it would’ve been much more exciting. They have the usual dashes and relays, but then there are some other ones that are much more exciting – and dangerous – than what I ever did. There are four colored teams – red, blue, green, and yellow. Each is comprised of a mix of 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-year students. There are team competitions within each grade, as well as competitions that use a mix of ages.

One event is a train of 2nd-year students, 7 or 8 long, their left legs tied together and the same on the right side, so they all have to move their legs in unison to go. Each color team has four sets, two boys and two girls, and they have to run a relay. It’s rather comical to watch, especially when the first one falls down and everyone behind him creates a huge pileup.

If that’s not daring enough, the 1st-year students have to do an event that would have American school board lawyers wringing their hands. There’s a bamboo pole, about 15 or 18 feet (2 or 2 1/2 meters) tall. It’s held straight up by four boys bracing its bottom, as well as four ropes tied to the top, pulled out and held down by three or four students. There are 3 flags about 2/3 of the way up. A team of three kids carry one of their lighter teammates up to the pole and this last one shinnies up and grabs a flag, slides down and races off on his/her “chariot” back to the starting line. This is repeated by 2 other sets of “horse and rider.” Once all the flags are down, they have to go back up and drop the flags in the top hole of the bamboo pole. The first team to do this is the winner.

The 3rd-year students have an odd form of tug-of-war. There are four ropes on the ground. The one in the middle, the longest, is worth two points. The other three are shorter and each is worth 1 point. Two teams face off from a starting line and have to run and pull as many ropes as they can over to their side. Obviously, most kids go for the two-pointer, but the element of strategy enters into it, since even if you get the longest one, you can still lose. It looks like fun.

The Taifun is another unique one, though not nearly as dangerous, although it can cause some damage. Students of all ages on each team line up five abreast, half on one side, half on the other, of a diamond with corners of cones. One line takes a length of bamboo and the five of them have to run to the first cone, go around, run to the next, go around, and so on until they reach the other half of their team. The middle three split off and the two end students have to run the pole underneath their comrades, who all have to jump in perfect time or risk having their legs knocked out from under them. Then they crouch as the pole is brought forward just over the tops of their heads to the first row who take off in the other direction. The first team to have all rows finish crouches down and stands the pole upright in front of them is the winner.

The last competition that I’ve seen them practicing this past week is a sort of team jump-rope. It’s pretty normal, using the bulkiest 3rd-years to swing the rope and everyone else jumping. One team I saw got 31 jumps on the first try, so I’m guessing they’ll win.

It will be fun to go and watch the kids compete, not to mention I’ll get a day off this week so I can relax. I’m scheduled to run at some point with the English club, though not in a teacher competition. I think the gym teachers or PTA are going to do some race, so I might try and get in on that.

An expensive night out

Well, I guess this post has been a bit longer in coming than I’d planned. Things have been a bit hectic and it doesn’t help that I’ve been feeling a bit of apathy lately about most things. I guess I’m just in another one of my funk moods. One of my friends is taking off, and my best friend here, Julian, is talking about leaving in July or August. People come and go, I guess. I have Japanese friends, but I don’t think they can take the place of the foreign friends I’ve had here, Ana, Damien, & Julian. The language barrier here can be quite strong, not to mention the natives never seem to have time to hang out. I don’t mind if I can’t see my friends every day, but when many of them seem to only have time once a month or so, that’s not quite enough. Not to mention I get the feeling from certain ones that they only reason they hang out is to practice their English. Being a walking language lesson gets old, especially when it’s your day job, too.

So enough whining. My Golden Week vacation wasn’t as eventful as Id’ve liked, though it wasn’t too bad. Last Friday I learned an important lesson. Japanese people may have the stereotype of being very punctual and respectful, but that’s just not true. Julian and I organized a party for the ALTs in the school system, as well as various teachers we’d met at different schools. We invited about 25. Fifteen said they’d come, so we reserved that many places at an izakaya (sort of restaurant/drinking establishment). Well, only 9 showed up. Three of our ALTs cancelled the day of, and 2 of the Japanese teachers evidently misunderstood what I told them, as well as the email ,in Japanese, that Julian’s girlfriend wrote, about the date and time. So Julian and I had to pay the $30/person that didn’t show up. It was a fiasco, financially. But we who showed up enjoyed ourselves. On the way out, we passed by some mannequin heads that had been put out on the street. Julian got ahold of one and managed to button his shirt up around his head so he looked abnormally tall. He went all the way to the train station with it like that. He got lots of looks, and we were all in stitches. I don’t know if the other teachers found it funny, but I thought it was hilarious.

So this month I’m trying to keep expenses down, yet every weekend I have some sort of expensive social obligation. This weekend is looking to be a fun one, if everything goes as planned. Friday night I’m meeting a couple people and heading up to Tokyo. The Akihabara district, to be exact. We’re going to head to a maid café. I’ve been wanting to find one and check it out for awhile, especially when my friends Aaron and Molly came to visit. We tried searching Akihabara, but no luck. We did find some girls dressed as maids, but they were advertising their pop band.

A maid café, apparently, is a café where all the workers are young (or young-looking) girls dressed up in skimpy French maid outfits. They were started up a few years ago to serve the otaku crowd: the geek crowd that has taken over Akihabara district, known for being the electronics shopping district. Evidently, they’ve also expanded to shops that offer haircuts, manicures, etc. Now you don’t have to be a greasy-haired dork to be an otaku, you can be a well-kempt dork who gets manicures from 30-year-olds dressed as his favorite anime character. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fun things

So I was planning on today to blog a bit and catch up. Well, since it's past my bedtime here, I guess that has to wait for tomorrow. But in the meantime, check out these two sites. One is a website with a movie timeline that chronicles all the events that have taken place in movies. Ana, you'd love this one.

The other is one that bears a bit more focus. One Red Paperclip is about a guy who's decided to barter his way from one red paperclip all the way up to a house. So far he's traded for an afternoon with Alice Cooper, and he's currently looking for that next trade. So if that's worth a house to you, go for it. Anyway, I think it's amazing he's done so well, though I have to say that TRULY trading up that way, for any average Joe, would be doing it without banking on the fame/notoriety you've gained from what you've decided to do. It's probably possible, but I'm sure it'd take a lot longer, as you wouldn't have famous/wealthy people deciding to do it for kicks. I wonder if anyone could do it surreptitiously. Hmm...

Actually, it reminds me a lot of a short story by Mark Twain I just finished. It's called the "1 million-pound note," and is the story of a man, lost at sea, who's rescued and dumped in London with no friends and no way to get help. He meets a couple of rich old brothers who make a bet. They want to see if a man, with only one 1-million-pound bill in his pocket, can survive for 30 days without starving/dying or being thrown in jail. Obviously, no one will change it for him,
and if he goes to the authorities, he would be tossed in the slammer for theft. It's quite a good story, I highly recommend the Signet Classics volume of Twain's short stories.

Both Twain's story and One Red Paperclip seem quite improbable, yet the short story (ok, so it's fiction) worked out, and the barter project seems to keep going up. I must say I'm impressed.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I'll (hopefully) write some more.