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.