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    Week 4:   22nd   23rd   24th   25th   26th   27th   28th   29th   30th   31st  
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  • My new house
  • River by my house
  • My new car
  • Unicycles at the elementary school
  • Man with Wings Statue
  • Week 1

    Friday, August 1, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Speeches in the Heat and the Peace Ceremony

      Punctuality I told them I would take my bike to work no problem, but the nice, older woman [Maruyama-san!] offered to give me a ride. I was ready with a gift for her (I picked some toffee from the Gift Pile sitting on my couch). Also, I put a whole lot of stuff to read in my backpack afraid I would be stuck in the office with nothing to do all day. (I also put indoor shoes in there so I wouldn't have to wear the guest slippers) She dropped me off at the yakuba (town hall) where they had told me I would be this morning, but I had forgotten about it, so I got to lug my backpack into the mayor's office again instead of bringing it to the culture center. We chatted until 8:30 when the mayor, his number 2, and Takata-san (number 3) led me punctually to this auditorium where I was to give an introduction speech. I was told about this earlier, kind of, when they said that on the 1st of every month, there is a big staff meeting and they wanted to introduce me. I was not really sure when, where, or how, though. Luckily, I had no time to worry over it, I was already being led.

      Melf Embarasses Herself The room had no chairs. There was no air conditioning. Mentally, I was not nervous, but physically I apparently was. I started shaking really badly when I got in front of everyone. The rows of relatively casually dressed staff (only the mayor and number 2 were dressed, like I was, in a suit) seemed bored which was not a bad thing at all. I mentally was not intimidated but I just would not freaking stop shaking, my legs especially. Mind over matter, I had thought, but... anyway, I gave the short speech I had randomly practiced in the mirror last night (not sure if I would need it). It went something like "Ohayou gozaimasu, atarashii ALT de, Amerika no Cororado-shuu kara kimashita. Merissa to mou-shimasu. Merissa dake to yonde kudasai. Minna-ni au no o tanoshimi shite imashita. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu." It all came out, but my voice was not very confident. I listened while Takata-san proceeded to explain my entire history (in Japanese) including my university, my major in school, and so forth. I was leaning against the stage, trying to keep from shaking. Finally, I came upon a desperate solution. FOR FUTURE REFERENCE: to stop the adrenaline-induced shaking, tighten every single muscle in the area. I did so, and by the time the mayor came to me face to face and gave me a really long welcome (in Japanese) at one point saying he was relieved I knew some Japanese, and shook my hand, I was no longer shaking. But I was sweating like the Dickens. Not out of nervousness, no, but because I was wearing a full suit and there was no air conditioning in the extremely hot and humid room. Why is there no air conditioning? Why, why, why? I thought it would be rude to start wiping sweat off my face, so I stood there as calmly as possible. Finally, a woman came up and gave me flowers (really beautiful and obviously expensive pink roses and white... um.. white big flowers and yellow little flowers). I was really surprised. She took a picture of me. I tried to use my hair to cover my dripping face and smile at the same time. Takata then led me to a back empty slot among the rows, taking my flowers for me, and I stood, still sweating, as the mayor made a really long speech about something. I have no idea what since I have the amazing ability to tune out Japanese when I don't need to hear it. There were a few laughs so I assumed that the mayor was a decent guy.

      Yay, I Get To Do A Page, Too! After that was over, Kato-san and I walked to a reception desk in the same building to begin my application for my gaijin card. It was no problem, but during that time I was approached by Tamura-san (I remember her name because I made her, um 'spell' it for me in my datebook) and asked to do a page in Sakugi News! Woo hoo! I was very happy, so I got details from her like what software to use (Word or Photoshop) and when it was due and when it came out. I have one week to do it and I'm VERY excited!

      Making a Peace Lantern I went to the chuugakkou (Jr. High) afterward and had to spontaneously introduce myself to the students gathered there doing some kind of peace ceremony (the sign said "Heiwa no Tsudoi"). I did a kind of similar speech to the morning speech except I was less nervous, I was smiling a lot and I said "ne?" a couple times. I felt a little weird because I had no idea of the tone of the presentations... was I interrupting a very solemn day with a silly introduction? Luckily, it did not seem a big deal since moments later, the students came up for supplies from the stage, gathered in groups, and started drawing their own "peace message" with colored markers. After a little while of watching, Kato-san urged me to join them ("Kodomo-to isshou-ni?") After a little while, I went ahead up to the stage and got my own supplies to find them suddenly being handed to me from every corner. The supplies included: a long sheet of white paper, two cris-crossed pieces of wood and four chopsticks. I sat down with the closest group to the stage and asked for some help from a nearby Jr. High girl. She was very helpful. I didn't know what do to, so I wrote "Peace for Everyone" and drew a sun shining out through some clouds then a little map of the world that looked more like two green amoeba. I noticed that the kids had trouble coming up with ideas on their own. The Jr. High girl wrote 'Heiwa Dai Suki' ("I love peace") and several small children followed suit. One drew flowers, then everyone drew flowers. I went around and complimented everyone ("Kirei! Sugoi! Jouzu!") as cheerfully as possible. I do like kids and I want to make them feel comfortable around the new foreign teacher, so I just kept smiling and trying to sound encouraging. I'm hoping it paid off. Kato-san wanted to get going (I was sweating again... the fan was on the other side of the room as me) so I followed, making happy comments to students on the way. "Love and Peace!" Okay, obviously that show was too long ago for them to remember even though they wrote it.

      Ooh, I Get A Bulletin Board, Too On the way, walking through the halls, I came upon my predecessor's "Corner" where she had made a little section with lots of colorful cutouts and a goodbye message. I'm impressed how much she did. I'm hoping to continue it.

      Could You Spare a Bento? Once again, I did not pack a lunch. I blame my stupidness (and all my previous stupidness) on the fact that my brain is completely full. I've just spent two intense days in Tokyo (preceded by three intense sleepless days in the States preparing) and two intense days here with only snippets of time in between to do things like unpack, shower, and make a To-Do list. I mean, I'm MOVING. There is a million things to do; there would be if it were a move to a house in the States, but the whole foreign country thing makes it ten times as complicated. I know without Kato-san, I would be a hundred times more stressed, but I still need this weekend big time to rest and organize. The nice woman who took me to lunch yesterday [Maruyama-san!] gave me one of her instant noodles to eat (and gave me some of her lunch which was DELICIOUS). I love this woman! Later, everyone spent the rest of the lunch hour relaxing in the library or watching TV. I went to the library, too, my Ross Dress for Less shoes going 'squeak, squeak'.

      Hints of What Is To Come During the afternoon, I was left to my own devices, but was prepared. I had lots of reading. I decided to put my books in the desk since it sort of seemed to be 'my' desk for the month. And, lo and behold, I found a schedule, in English, of what my predecessor did her first month. WHY WAS I NOT GIVEN THIS SCHEDULE!? I read it so I had some idea of what lay ahead. Looks like a canoe fest is coming up, then the Hiroshima Orientation then a language course. The language course seems to be the mandatory (?) Japanese Culture and Language class I signed up for in Tokyo. It's a FULL WEEK!? So, aside from the orientation, and aside from the JET-sponsored Japanese correspondence course, there is yet ANOTHER course for a full week in Hiroshima! Of course it sounds like fun, but how am I going to find time to get my shaken and re-entry card and other stuff when I only have a few free days left this month? Sigh. I still would have liked this schedule for myself. After a little reading, Takata-san came over and LET ME USE HER LAPTOP for the afternoon (shokku!). Taking full advantage, I went to the IRS homepage and realized that the whole tax thing was not as complicated as I thought. The only thing I'm worried about is that my tax year this year will be a calendar year but I will not live in Japan long enough. If I apply for an extension, I will have been living in Japan enough time, COUNTING NEXT YEAR, but does that mean I still have to pay taxes on Japanese income earned this year? They told me I didn't, but...

      An Online Afternoon I also had a chance to sneak (though I imagine no one cared) a look at email (lots of nice responses to my mass "I'm off to Japan" email) and delete the huge amount of junk mail (why does Lynn have a different last name?). After that, I went to japanese.about.com and studied kanji. Luckily, it was after I'd been doing this for some time that people started paying attention to what I was doing. Some random guy came in (and I have no idea if I'm supposed to greet everyone that comes in like the other staff do - I kind of look up and smile and sometimes pretend to, but I usually don't know if the person coming in is on the staff, a guest, or a delivery person) and looked at my screen. The whole staffroom including Takata-san was interested at one point and looked to see what kanji I was learning (I had a half-page of notes already so it looked good). The lady next to me [Maruyama-san!] gave me a mini-kanji-radical lesson, too which was nifty. They told me I could use the laptop the next day, but I kind of wonder if I could use my own laptop ('cause I have a list of sites like lyrics and teaching sites there) with the Japanese ISP thing. Also, I'm a bit confused. The culture center has two internet-ready public computers. Students have been on them for the last few days, but if the center is open on weekends, why could my predecessor only access email during weekdays? Crowds? When I got ready to leave, I was randomly handed a newspaper filled with fresh asparagus courtesy of Jicho-san. (I was then urged to say thank you, which I would have said sooner, but I was not prepared for such a sudden asparagus treat).

      Hiroshima Subculture Tonight was interesting. First, I made use of my newly-bought food and made a super pork, asparagus (fresh=yum), eggs, noodle, and tofu stir fry with okonomiaki sauce. Not traditional, but who cares. I'm, um, 'experimenting'. Anyway, I had just poured it into a bowl (and put half in the fridge for later) when I decided I needed something from the other room. I walked out into the hallway and saw...


      Oh my God, it was HUGE. Okay, it wasn't a tarantula or anything, but yikes, yikes, yikes, it wasn't far off. I'd never seen anything that big before -- way bigger than any in Colorado and I've seen a fair share. So, freaking out completely, I rapidly breathed and wondered what to do (i.e. how to kill it) I was terrified I would lose it, so I looked around fast. I took one of my predecessor's books that I also had a copy of and brought it back out to the corridor. Afraid to even look at the giant creature crawling along the hallway, I slapped the book on it. I hurt it enough that my next slap killed it. I ran back to the kitchen and returned with several paper towels and cleaned it up. Ick, yikes, rapid breathing, and all that. But it was dead and, you know, out of all the times and places to see a giant spider, the hallway was really the best place.

      The Doorbell Phone is Ringing So, now I could finally eat from my waiting bowl of Melf-stir-fry. I was literally taking my first bite when the doorbell rang. To be more accurate, the phone attached to my doorbell intercom rang. Since I had the same setup in Tokyo, I have to assume this system is normal. I wondered if it was the neighbor. I answered the intercom phone and she said who she was. I didn't recognize her voice but I ran to the door (carefully through the hallway) and it was none other than the woman who sits next to me [Maruyama-san!] who had been responsible for keeping me lunched for the past two days. She asked if I still wanted to go to the Peace Lantern Festival thing. I had completely forgotten about this and, in fact, am not sure how specifically I was told. I, meanwhile, looked gross and sweaty and was dressed very casually. I begged 5 minutes and got changed the fastest I could into a collared white shirt and long skirt. While she drove, I told her about the big, scary spider and actually my Japanese seemed to be 'up' tonight (it goes up and down completely at random).

      An Evening Stroll Amongst the Lanterns She took me to the middle school sports grounds where the peace lanterns we had made earlier were arranged in a semi-circular concentric formation, the candles within lighting the message on the paper which was wrapped in a square shape around the chopsticks. It was really beautiful (and actually the first time I had been outside at night and could look at the stars. I expected to see more, then again I was surrounded by lanterns which could have been reducing the effect.) We started walking around the lanterns. We saw Takata-san and lots of parents and students wandering around. Smoothly, she said I had not forgotten about the festival and was rearing to go when Takata-san asked if I remembered. That really touched me - she saved face for me when she didn't have to. She continued to introduce me to everyone we walked by since she knew everyone -- lots of Konbanwas. I found my lantern right away ("Peace for Everyone, Merissa kara") despite that I had only seen a few so far. Toward the front, relaxing music was playing which really set the mood. The best part of the evening was when I was introduced a to nice fellow my age. He was just slightly taller than me and I immediately thought he was cute (though it could have been because I hadn't really met many people my age in Sakugi yet). I found out moments later that he was the Jr. High school English teacher that I would be working with!! Woah! I still thought he was nice-looking and that did explain his astonishingly good accent. I found out quickly that he had a completely dead-pan sense of humor. His name "Tomomi" is apparently a girl's name. He told me with a straight face that he was actually a girl (in English). He chuckled at the "Oooooooi" I aimed at him. At one point, he told me how extremely busy I would be after school started (mimicking sweat pouring down). If my escort had not been laughing her head off behind him, I might have taken him seriously. She called him "Majime" which apparently meant joking with a serious expression instead of serious in general. He was way, way cool. We spoke for a little while (I'm glad I was wearing decent clothes, though I had not a clue if I looked okay). I learned that he did a homestay with students in my predecessor's hometown. I wonder if they want me to try the same thing. I'm worried because I'm really not good at that kind of thing. I don't like to bother people, even if it's for a good cause. Maybe I can find a network of people in Boulder who'd be willing to do it (it's nice to have a mom in the PTA) but I'll see what Tomomi-kun and the kids want to do first.

    Saturday, August 2, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: A Well-Needed Saturday

      I Guess I Own Everything in the House Today, I finally had a chance to finish moving in: organizing all the books left for me (which took several hours since there was so much here and I had much to add) and sorting through the food left for me (not as much went bad as I thought) and doing some cleaning and laundry. I did not leave the house once (except to take the laundry in and out). It was HOT out. For the first time, I put on the AC and left it on for awhile. I left it on so long that even walking to the toilet involved going into the still-hot part of the house. I hope I don't get sick from doing that repeatedly. I still religiously check the corridor wall for bugs and I put two roach catchers by the front and back door. I did discover, however, that NOT ALL THE WINDOWS ARE SCREENED. Do'h. I think now we found out how the giant spider got in. Now, the only windows that are open have screens behind them. Whew!

      Cool thing about the house #52: the set of large lights in the living room have pull-strings. When the lights are out, the tiny globes at the bottom of the pullstring glow like floating moons.

    This is my lovely house!

    Sunday, August 3, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Internet, Internet, Internet

      Connecting to the World After a phone call to the folks (courtesy of the two phone cards Takata-san gave me) from the pay phone down the street, I decided to bring my laptop to the bunka center. I tried out the library computers but they did not seem to want to connect to the internet. Luckily a fellow was in the staff room and smiled and said it was okay if I connected (he turned off his rock music even after I told him it was okay). I wonder if he wasn't here if it would have all been locked? There was only one car in the parking lot. Anyway, I plugged in my laptop to the LAN cord on my desk and spent a good fifteen or twenty minutes trying to make it work. My laptop SAW the connection no problem, it just didn't want to use it until I A: put in the right workgroup, B: put in some ISP numbers I borrowed from Takata-san's computer, and C: played with the proxy settings (unchecking and checking boxes at random). With the help of the connection fairies, I got my browser and my FTP to work and that is why you can read this journal entry right now. Go me!

      Observation: I've almost exclusively spoken Japanese since I got here. Maybe the fact that I keep speaking it is why no one is trying their English on me? The only one I've really talked to at all in English is the English teacher (who'd have thought?). I'm really glad I did some catch-up studying. It seems my predecessor did okay with just some college classes (that's how I did it last time I was here -- there was much more gesturing, silences, and dictionary uses but it worked!) so I suppose no matter how skilled or unskilled you are, you make do. I'm really determined this time with my Japanese, though. The whole kanji studying thing has made a huge difference in my vocabulary alone (though it still took me forever to decode the instructions on my rice cooker).

    Monday, August 4, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Gifts and Schedules!

      Stuff Going Right! I rode my bike to work (go me, being independent and all!) and REMEMBERED MY LUNCH (which was a bento from last night's dinner: tofu, rice, and asparagus)! Also, I had a PLAN for how to give all these people gifts without being rude. My idea was to give a gift to whomever came in first and try to give gifts to people when no one else was in the near area. This worked well for Jicho-san, whom I was able to give a gift very smoothly (a shot glass wrapped in tissue paper in a bag - I never said I was creative) since he came in first. Okay, IGNORE my whining last week about a lack of schedule. In the morning, Jicho-san gave me a schedule very similar to the one I had found in my desk and had done some handwritten translation. Granted, it was not as fully translated or filled as my predecessor's schedule, but still, a schedule, YAY! Oh, and I also found out that they knew my phone number all ALONG. Have I or have I not said several times "My phone is working but I still don't know the number." Whew! Actually, I had seen the number before, written on a form, but I had no idea it was connected to my house.

      Some Notes about Jicho-san First off, I only remembered his name because my predecessor wrote in her note on the living room table "talk to Jicho-san for the bus schedule" and Jicho-san pointed to himself. Second off, it's NOT HIS NAME. His name is Kato-san (same as my supervisor's last name). I'm actually saying "Mr. Vice Superintendent" Third off, he has a strange voice problem. Sometimes he talks fine, then his voice gets funny and high-pitched. He tried to explain it to me at the office briefly, but then we were interrupted. At first, he seemed kind of quiet (he barely said anything on the drive over), but he's actually really, really nice.

      Can't Take My Eyes off the Schedule I did not understand a lot of the kanji on my schedule, even though a great deal of it was translated. Jicho-san gave me flyers for the upcoming documentary night and end-of-summer concert which both sound like a lot of fun.

      Shoulda Kept My Mouth Shut I threw my subtlety to the winds when, referring to the 'reception' listed on the schedule the next night to attend with the mayor, if I should give a gift to him and when. Somehow, the whole office got involved in this conversation and I was mortally embarrassed. Eventually, Takata-san told me to bring two gifts tomorrow since we would be seeing the mayor in his office beforehand. That afternoon, I snuck over to Takata-san's desk to give her a gift (to make sure she knew I was giving it to her out of kindness and not because of the long confusing conversation we'd had on the topic). For future reference, my subtle method (trying to give gifts when I could find the recipient mostly alone) worked better, even if it took longer and was more stressful.

      Fresh Rice, Fresh TV Tonight, I realized the rice I used last night was actually stale and I found a new bag of rice to use instead -- much whiter. Also, I flipped on the TV and lo and behold: Conan! Woo hoo, so now I know, Mondays at 7:30 on channel 6. I think that's when it was on in Tokyo, too. Wow, a show lasted that long? It's like the Simpsons of Japan.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: The Giant Cactus and "Thunder in America?"

      Name That Co-worker! Okay, the name thing is NOT ME BEING STUPID. I heard the older-woman-next-to-me-who-gives-me-lunch-often's name called out multiple times by two different people (i.e. when the phone was for her). First I heard Mariawa-san (and even called her that and she responded) then I heard Akiyama-san later. Argh. I searched through and found the Sakugi news magazine that had staff pictures of everyone who worked for the city of Sakugi (my predecessor included) and found her picture. The kanji for her name was the character for circle followed by the character for mountain. MARU-YAMA. That must be it. I've now gone back and inserted her name into this journal. (Oddly, although I did belatedly find a seating chart that my predecessor had left for me, she was not on it!)

      Sweet Revenge To my credit, Maruyama-san keeps calling me by my predecessor's name. She always corrects herself immediately and apologetically, but I think it is cute.

      The Salary Talk Around mid-morning, me, Kato-san, Takata-san and Jicho-san went into the couch room (where they served coffee and I reluctantly asked for cream when the fellow serving us (yes, a Man was serving us Coffee) asked if black was okay) and we discussed my contract, pay and schedule! I was in a surprisingly relaxed and good mood (though in general, I've gotten a bit less relaxed recently since my To Do list keeps growing) and hopefully put them at their ease over the touchy subject of contracts and pay. It was good to know that everyone now knew my complicated August schedule. A few things were strange. They told me that there was no residents tax like the handbook suggested. Also, in addition to the 300,000 I would receive, I also would receive a monthly "home allowance". I never got the straight of what it was, but it sure seems like they are giving me $100 for whatever I need (though this is mostly taken care of already, thanks to my predecessor). Getting the question: "Since my schedule is so busy, when can I get a new shaken done?" across was really hard. Or else they did understand and are having it taken care of while I'm at Japanese Culture class in Hiroshima (which seems really nice of them).

      Cows, Cactus and Thunder In the afternoon, Takata-san told me the meeting in the mayor's office (which I had so dutifully brought gifts for) had fallen through, but would I like to take a drive? Sure, I said. So we took a nice drive through the hills of Sakugi. She drove me down to the Canoe Park (air conditioner blasting) and then we went to Upper Sakugi (I'm in Lower Sakugi) and I was introduced to some fellow whom she gave a poster for the End of Summer Concert. She took me up to the top of a hill (neat view of hills) where the tennis courts and electrical station was located (not too close to each other). We went slightly further up a curvy road. At one point, she passed a house and asked if I knew about the 'Saboten'? I said no, having no idea who or what a Saboten was. We stopped and walked back to the house where a few locals were chatting. Takata-san introduced me (one fellow spoke a nice English greeting - I probably should have encouraged him instead of reassuring him that Nihongo-de was fine) and asked about the Saboten. She walked toward the house and I was trying to look inside to see what the Saboten was. Maybe a giant tree? but then she stopped before going inside. Several moments later, I realized she was pointing to a cactus. This cactus had grown, like ivy, up her wall. It was practically to the roof. I used to live in the desert, so cacti were nothing new to me, but I nodded appreciatively. Still, all this fuss over a cactus? I thought, well, if you put a dry-climate plant in the humidity, naturally weird things will happen. Anyway, I swore I heard her say she had a cow. Later, I heard a 'moo' so maybe my Japanese listening skills aren't too bad after all. A cow and a cactus. In the distance were dark clouds and it really looked like it would start pouring soon. Lighting struck in the hills and thunder sounded. At one crash, I looked up and made an 'ooh' sound like a 'ooh, thunder, looks like rain' kind of thing. Then, I SWEAR she asked "Do you have thunder in America too?" A bit startled, I answered "not so much in Colorado, but in Arizona and so forth, oh yeah" (in perfectly polite Japanese of course). I was not sure if I heard her correctly.

      Glad I Was Left An Umbrella Anyway, I wanted to exercise, but it looked like it was about to POUR (and I was very proud of my Japanese expressing this very thought to Takata-san as we arrived back at the bunka center -- ah, complete sentences. People have been so good at guessing what I mean that I've rarely actually had to conjugate a verb) so I thought I better ride back and quick before I get wet. Then I was offered a ride by a really nice lady (only recently introduced to, so I don't remember her name, but I really liked her. She kept telling me to come over if I needed any help because she lived nearby). Seeing that she was in a hurry I just went home with her then (the rain started pouring on the way). At home, I took a shower and dressed for tonight's reception. All I knew about it before I went was that the mayor and number 2 and Takata-san would be there. I had no idea how many people nor what kind of venue (except that it was in a ryokan). I arrived first and luckily a younger woman (maybe even younger than, gasp, 30) working there recognized what I came for (I could hear her thinking, Reception with Foreigner, party of eight? The blonde must be here for that.) took my wet umbrella and led me to the room.

      Seating Arrangement Complexity It was a typical Japanese style dining room -- a low table surrounded by cushions on tatami. Places were set for nine. I did not dare take the 'seat of honor' at the head (if that's what it was) so I hung by the side and watched the TV the ryokan woman inexplicably turned on for me. (what was a TV doing in the dining room anyway?). I had a little bag of gifts just in case, unobtrusively off to the side. Kato-san showed up shortly after and so did Maruyama-san and Takata-san. The reception was pretty much the staff of the Bunka center. The mayor and his number 2 and another number 2 also showed up. Where to seat everyone was major confusion and involved much discussion. (I found out later that seating arrangements are indeed a source of much debate.) They moved the setting out of the 'seat of honor' to the side then placed me in the middle which was good, because I'd rather be part of (or at least pretend to be part of) the conversation.

      A Toast I was toasted a few times and said a brief thanks, with a long pause in the middle. I think I was saying how beautiful Sakugi was and what a warm welcome I'd received (does atatakai yookoso translate?) and thank you, but I don't remember because I was totally winging it (less stressful that way). Anyway, after the kampai's and the pouring of the beer, we ate and chatted. It seemed there was always a waitress in the room serving a new dish. Two servers kept walking in and out when we were giving our toasts (which was kind of distracting). After I talked about my university career, Jicho-san mentioned that he also had a website. I should try to remember to exchange urls with him. The food was fairly good. I had more 'Ayu' which is apparently plentiful in the river and other assorted fish, pickled vegetables, meat, noodles, and eggs. (Oddly, no rice). They were surprised I ate the tako (octopus). Actually, I was surprised too.

      The Dance of Pouring Drinks At one point, the mayor said that Takata-san was my surrogate mother while I was in Japan. He said he was my surrogate brother - because father had too much responsibility attached? Anyway, it was nice to feel taken care of. I did not drink very much, but I could not tell how much since they refilled my glass constantly, even when there was barely room left at the top. (I learned at the Tokyo Orientation that one should take a sip afterward in thanks, which I did. It seemed they also wanted me to take a sip beforehand to give them more room to pour. If my glass was nearly full, why did they pick up the bottle of Asahi in the first place?). Sitting next to the mayor, I suppose I should have been the one doing his pouring, and I did manage to once, but people kept coming over way too fast. It usually did not occur to me to watch his glass, and when it did, I couldn't concentrate on the Japanese.

      No, I'm Serious We heard a crash of thunder outside. The mayor turned to me and said, and I'm not making this up, "They have thunder in America, don't they?" And here I thought after all that I might have misunderstood Takata-san. Apparently not. Then again, the mayor was also surprised that I knew words like Typhoon and Tsunami that we use in America. I suppose the Japanese do have to deal with a fair share of serious weather, but hey, we have oceans (full of weather-causing wind and water) nearby, too. Hasn't he seen Twister and Hard Rain and... okay, technically I haven't either, but...

      After a Few Beers As the evening went on (I'm beginning to think I should have signed up for the Advanced class with how much Japanese I've used over the past week -- then again, who am I kidding?) more and more drinks were poured. The mayor was talking for longer periods of time and at one point went on a long schpiel about how Japanese culture is 'breaking' and how different it was from Europe (where he had recently traveled to) where buildings that were hundreds of years old still stood. Stone versus wood culture, he was talking about. I was trying to get a word in edgewise to say that Japanese culture is very rich and buildings don't define a culture, but he went on without pause, later saying, contrarily that Japanese buildings were strong. I could have misunderstood his point, though. For me, my skills in listening to Japanese are primarily grasping the words I do know and deducing the most likely meaning. I'm not quite as good at that as I'd like to think. When things were winding to a close, Jicho-san noticed my camera and got everyone organized for a photo, which was great, then we all walked to the karaoke joint and it was at this point that I realized how much a certain usually commanding woman had drank. Staggering slightly, she kept leaning against me for assistance and was rather touchy-feely. The mayor earlier joked that he was 'weak' with regard to alcohol, that his number 2 was 'sentimental' and that this woman was 'strong'. Um, no, not especially. Despite the giggling, though, she sung nicely. In fact, everyone (except me of course) had great voices -- all that karaoke training no doubt. The karaoke bar had apparently been CLOSED today, but the owners came out and served us anyway! That seemed above and beyond the call of duty. I could have lived, albeit less happily, without the karaoke. I ate a sashimi and was thinking it was yummy, but when the woman asked me how it was, she bumped into me (as she had been doing often) and I bit my lip hard. In pain, I still said 'oishii' (delicious). As proof I took another one and immediately ran into a sliver of bone. Very subtly (or not) I got tissues out of my pocket and ditched the bony fish. Sigh. What does one do with fish bones? I apparently ate them without realizing it the first night, so maybe it's no big deal to swallow them, but they sure do feel sharp.

      Karaoke Evening Winds to a Close Jicho-san had the sweetest voice ever. At first, he did not sing much and I wondered if it was because of his voice problem, but later he did a few songs. He told me that the voice problem didn't happen when he sung (or something similar). I sung a Beatles song and a couple Japanese songs. My last song was the best, but only a few (including Jicho-san) were left to listen. People left early (and apologetically) most likely because it was a weeknight. Everyone mysteriously had rides waiting (not taxis, though) as they walked outside. Anyway, I wanted to give something to the mayor on his way out, so I thrust a wrapped gift into his hands. The thing is, I wanted to give him two gifts but realized later that the computer screen saver thing probably was not a good idea since old men from the country and computers don't exactly go together all the time, so I gave him one of my wrapped boxes of jellybeans as well as the Colorado book. what I SHOULD have done was just give him the book, then give Number 2 and the other Number 2 the two boxes of jellybeans. Since they left together, I could not give just one of them a gift, so that gesture totally flopped. I still have a box of jellybeans and I still have to give something to the two Number 2s (especially since I think one of them foot the bill).

      It was long before 11 when I got home, though it felt like later, and I stunk of cigarette smoke. Ick. But I had a great time at what was, I realized during the night, my Welcome Party.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Peace and Kayaking

      Peace Ceremony Speakers Were Way Better than Me Maruyama-san picked me up this morning (bike is still at the bunka center) early so I could see the Hiroshima Anniversary Peace Ceremony on the bunka center's flat television. (I think we were ohayou-gozaimasuing through the silence for prayer, though). The ceremony, from what I could tell, was nicely done and I realized that the ruined building (with a rib dome) they always show on TV is a ruin from the atomic bomb. I thought the speech one Japanese official [Editor's Note: The Mayor of the City of Hiroshima] made was fantastic! I had it on in English for awhile until a Japanese elementary schooler came and watched it with me, but I caught most of it. It called on the leaders (including Bush and N. Korea) to visit Hiroshima. He talked about how Bush did not seem to want a peaceful solution anymore and disregarded the UN's intentions. "We've gone from a post-war state to a pre-war state," he said. The translation was worded well and brought up lots of important ideas, like that since Japan is the only country to be A-bombed that it has a responsibility to show the world that such an atrocity can never, ever happen again. The camera panned the audience a lot - it seemed that more than half were foreigners (even an Iraq citizen), though sometimes, it seemed the majority were Japanese. Two children came up and did a speech and, after my terrible speeches here on the Sakugi homefront, I was utterly impressed by the their demeanor (no nervous shaking at ALL, and not a single mistake that I saw). The two schoolchildren (a boy and a girl) did a very intense, emotional speech about the horrors of war and how we need peace for the sake of the parents and children. (At least, I think so -- I heard this in Japanese only.) The Prime Minister made a speech as well (though I heard later it was very formal and not great). Although it was inappropriate to mention during this very serious, nearly tearful ceremony (so I didn't), Koizumi has the coolest hair I've ever seen on a male prime minister.

      On A Narrow Bus With Lots of Little Japanese Kids Anyway, after that was over and bells were ringing (apparently at the same time the bomb had fallen on this day 58 years ago), I went outside with the elementary school students to wait for the bus to the canoe park. This was a little weird since I was doing the canoe thing suddenly and without my bunka center support group - this was just me and the kids (and the bus driver). After a bus mix-up (a group of elementary school students were also going to a pool), we were off. I talked to the only female student on the bus, who was apparently a sixth grader, though looked younger. I was as tall as I am now in fifth grade and she was much shorter than me, maybe that's why.

      Adventures with Verb Man I spoke to a mother (who had her very young daughter introduce herself to me in English) and then later got some personal kayak instruction. Moral of the day: learn more verbs! He was using all sorts of unfamiliar combinations of sounds followed be "ite-iru" and I barely understood what he was saying. It would have helped if he had demonstrated to me only the correct way. Sometimes, he would start explaining something and I would be sort of following his train of conversation and copying what he was doing, then suddenly he would say, but that's "dame" and by the end I wasn't sure which was the correct way. These kayaks were a bit different than the ones I had used before. This time, no steering rudders, but there was a skirt thing I wore that attached to the boat (so I could to flip the kayak over and back up if I, um, desired?). We all bowed to the instructors, collected our lifejackets, skirt-things, paddles, and helmets (helmets??) and walked down. I walked down separately with Verb Man and all the kids were in the water in their yellow kayaks -- it looked just like the picture on the website. I got a red adult kayak. I am SO glad I've done this before and had some steering and maneuvering experience. Remind me to thank my grandparents for taking me to the lesson in Georgia. The water is perfect for beginners. A wide, very calm section of the river is in front of the cottage/camping area, and up a bit is a short fast section to practice on. It was fun, but a bit hot and humid. If we had gone on longer than an hour, I would have gotten a sunburn. The water cooled things off, but we never ended up doing any flipping (unless it was by accident, and Verb Man DID teach me the proper way to escape from a flipped over kayak, though luckily I did not have to test that knowledge).

      Felt Like a Wet Blanket I returned with Verb Man before the children did and so handed him my wet life jacket, helmet, and skirt thing. Later, when the children returned, I was shocked to see them all gather around two giant areas with faucets and start cleaning all their own life jackets, etc, and putting them into a pile! They did not even act like it was work or a chore; they enthusiastically cleaned their gear. Meanwhile I felt kind of stupid and told Verb Man that I was sorry and did not realize I was supposed to clean everything myself. He said it was no problem, that it was a thing the children learned to do. Anyway, I was told to bring a change of clothes, so I brought nice businessy clothes but since I was a bit wet with river water, I wanted to take a quick shower first. There was a shower in the girls locker room (whom I shared with the one other girl while the dozen boys used the other). I'd no sooner started the shower then the girl knocked on the shower door and told me I couldn't use the shower. Huh? What's it there for then? I thought. She pointed out a message in kanji that said something like I needed to give the reception desk 100 yen (maybe for hot water?). Dou shiyou? I changed back into icky wet clothes (not really THAT wet) and realized everyone else had changed into dry clothes. Obviously I'm the only one who did not want to dirty two pairs of clothes with river water. (Ah, it's great to be obsessive-compulsive) So we took the bus back (me hoping I was not wetting the seat) and I asked at the bunka center if I could use the showers I had seen upstairs. Maruyama very nicely showed the way and pressed a button for me on the giant machine to display the water temperature. But hot water NEVER CAME OUT! I stood there waiting for awhile, and the machine did not display the temp very long before randomly blinking '11'. I could not read the directions at all, so I gave up, washed a bit of myself with cold water dried and changed. Luckily I did not wash much of my hair because I, nor anyone else, had a comb or brush.

      Nearly SNAFU! When I got back I was told that Carina had called earlier when I wasn't there, but that Jicho had said when I would be back (and I remembered "tsutaete" from class). I had also in the meanwhile received a box of Miyoshi wine from the mayor, as he had promised the night before. Wow! Anyway, a couple hours later, I was just about finished my page for the Sakugi News (which I've decided to call "Merissa Kai" as in "The World of Melissa" or "Melissa's World" - it can't sound too bad because Takata-san liked it and was telling people about it last night) when I suddenly remembered that Carina called and so called her back. She asked me if I'd heard about Friday's Induction Ceremony. I had, actually, from Glynis, who had emailed a day or two ago. I hadn't thought much of it at the time and assumed that if it was mandatory then my supervisor would be told, but Carina heard the whole scoop from a friend. Apparently, we were all supposed to be in Hiroshima city the day after tomorrow to attend a formal ceremony where we would officially receive teaching certificates and the like. One word: yikes! Neither of us had any official word on this. She told me an email and I found the person's name in the Hiroshima book, so I immediately got off the phone with Carina and called the number. I had to go through a couple people, but I eventually found someone to talk to (the ALT was out). He spoke decent English, but he only said where I should go and what I should do. I told him I didn't know a thing about this ceremony. I put him on the phone with Kato-san, who then called another teacher. Turns out, us country non-BOE folk are not required to go to the ceremony after all! Just the Senior High teachers! Carina was relieved to hear that, as was I because Hiroshima is pretty far away to try to get to for a whole day - a work day no less. Freak out! But okay now. I emailed Chris and told him to keep us in the loop next time. I like Carina a lot... we seem to be on the same wavelength (and she has a gorgeous accent of course). I had given her the wrong phone number though, do'h! Trust me to twiddle the darn 1s and 5s that are all over mine and the bunka center's phone numbers.

      Across the River and Over the Hills I went on a beautiful, beautiful bike ride up north after work (after I changed into shorts, took a picture of the house, and had a conversation with my neighbor). What made it so beautiful was that I rode along a very unused road on the other side of the river. This road was used so rarely that the occasional spider web was completely strung across it. This road was used so rarely that the biggest sign of life I saw was the occasional shiny cemetery plot. The narrow, unlined road ran right next to to the river side by side with the train tracks. (Note: During my entire ride - about forty-five or fifty minutes - I never saw or heard the train, and it was rush hour to boot. I have yet to see it at all. Does it really exist?) It curved, went up and down, and most of the land I passed was empty of people. Totally beautiful, as was the sunset I saw. On the other side, traffic and cars went along they merry way, but I had my side to myself. I passed a few houses, that's it. On the way back I saw a snake in the road.

      Everyone say Hello to Mr. Snake!

      But, being on a bike, this was no biggie. I said my greeting and we both moved on. Note: This whole ride was actually in another prefecture. Sakugi borders Shimane-ken. If the train exists, I can take it all the way to the North Shore and see the Sea of Japan. Cool.

    Taken from a bridge right by my house. Pretty, isn't it?

    Thursday, August 7, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Propelling Pet Bottles!

      Daily Tea Ceremony I was fairly tired this morning, and really just wanted to sleep. But I rode my bike to work (hoping to get the juices flowing) and wondered if there was a polite way to get coffee just for me. (See, the thing is, I've never seen anyone get drinks for themselves here. Every time someone gets a drink, which is usually during mid-morning or mid-afternoon tea time, they get the same drink for everyone whether it is green tea, iced tea, or coffee. I have trouble with the idea of doing this since I feel I am forcing an unwanted drink on someone. I am POSITIVE that the first time I try this, I am going to receive lots of "No thank you"s, which would never happen with a Japanese server) I gave up since all I saw was instant coffee and I wasn't exactly clear on how to make it (no doubt it was easy, but the directions were all in Japanese). I was offered tea shortly which was adequate.

      Pet Bottle To Plane in Two Hours Anyway, at 9:30, I was scheduled to go to the monotsukuri lab (literally the "thing-making room") with the children. I did not have a clue what this meant, but I soon found out that I was going to be paid for sitting in a class of about 20 children and putting together an insect airplane propeller thing given a bunch of supplies, including: a Pet Bottle (which is just a plastic drinking bottle, like the kind bottled water comes in. Why is it called Pet? I don't know, but I do know that Pet Bottles are always recyclable, so maybe it's a recycle thing?) extra lids, construction paper, a propeller, metal things, four wheels, a long rubber band, tape, scissors, and some other odds and ends. Along with the kids, I followed the instructions given by the sensei always being sure never to get too far ahead of the boy across from me, who was having some trouble nor the boy next to me, who arrived late and missed the beginning. A side-effect of this was that the friendly girl next to me offered to help me since I was obviously moving slow. She was really, really cute. I love hearing kids speak Japanese. I was exhausted though and forcing a lot of smiles. However, I found it very relaxing and almost meditative to make this neat object out of all the supplies. The pace was nice and slow and I ended up fairly calm (I was earlier stressing about getting my journal uploaded and giving my magazine page to the editor before the end of the day). Because of the rubber band, threaded through the bottle, and the propeller on one end, one could wind it up, set it on the wheels, and off it would go. The kids played with them for awhile and at one point, we all got together and let ours off at the same time. It was lots of fun and I noticed that after this, even more elementary school kids waved hello to me when I passed (or when they came in the building).

      'Cause He Mixes it With Yeast and Makes the World Taste Good During lunch, the Panya-san man came (the Bread seller). Apparently this is a big, weekly thing. We all went out and bought a bunch of bread from the pan man. I was only going to get a dessert, but since Maruyama was stocking up, I decided to follow suit. I bought chocolate desserty bread, a loaf of bread, a muffin, and a mini-pizza. I demolished the dessert breads I bought feeling wonderfully gluttonous. Yum Yum.

      Spinning Melissa's World Getting the magazine page on CD was very complicated due to the fact that the necessary files were on a Japanese computer without a CD burner. I put them on a disk and transferred them to my laptop, then burned the CD. Takata-san wanted to make corrections on paper obviously not realizing how hard it was to make one single correction. It was nice of her to take so much interest in it, though. I made the corrections and finally biked over and gave the CD and a printout to Tamura-san. Tamura-san is really, really nice but I was surprised to hear her when she said she really wasn't a computer person. Eh??? I assumed that the editor of a magazine who said she used Photoshop would naturally be proficient. Maybe she was being polite? I kind of wanted her to do any design fixing that needed it, but I'll find out when the magazine comes out at the end of the month I guess. I wonder if I should just use a floppy disk next time. (It does not appear that I can email her attachments since her email to me was from a phone.)

      The Post Office Pulls Through I had the idea that I would actually get off at my contract-stated time of 4:15 (I'd been staying later without really realizing it but they gave me full permission to go when I was supposed to) and go to the post office to do things like buy stamps (to send my Osaka consulate registration in) and open a postal bank account (which everyone keeps saying to do, including my predecessor and both handbooks). But everything always takes a long time -- washing my tea cup, riding my bike, stopping to talk to the people who run the karaoke place, etc. I did get there before five, but before I could walk inside, I was approached by several postal workers and told that I had a nimotsu (a package). Cool! I signed for it (not using my inkan seal (which is a registered stame with my name on it) for some reason) and followed the guy on the postal moped back to my house since the package was way too heavy to carry there, even on my bike basket. I was happy and relieved to receive the package, which I had mailed in late June, but I will have to do the post office errands later, I guess. I now have my Kashi cereal, granola bars, jello pudding, winter sweaters, fluoride toothpaste, some extra feminine supplies, and lots of novels to read. Woo hoo!

      Sort of Productive Tonight, I vegged, ate a lack of veggies, and watched Who Wants to Be A Millionaire in Japanese while skimming my neglected handbook for team-teaching (surprisingly useful, i.e. I actually learned new information that had not been covered in the previous four or five teaching handbooks and got some great, if elaborate, ideas on what to do while I'm a teacher here.)

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