First Stupid Thing of the Day I was just hanging out at my desk at the bunka center, looking through some of my many materials, when Kato-san suddenly said, "Aren't you supposed to be in a meeting at the Jr. High?" What?! HUH?! Keep in mind that I have been making an extreme effort to keep current on my crazy August schedule and know exactly what is going on when, even if I don't exactly know what it is (for example, what is going on in the "Cooking Room" a week from Thursday anyway?). I am a punctuality fanatic, to say the least. When she told me this, I was a little panicked, and double checked my schedule. I gave her my schedule, pointed to today and said "Kaite nai" ("It's not written here!") She looked embarrassed and showed me the schedule she was looking at. It had newly added things! Was anyone going to bother to tell me about them? Curiously, I looked at a clean (not full of markings and translations) copy of the schedule I had and, lo and behold, there was the meeting. How did that get there? Jicho-san had mentioned when he gave me the schedule that there were a couple corrections, but I had written them and so thought that was fine. Earlier, I kept seeing copies of the schedule on my desk but, assuming they were just leftover copies of the original schedule, I put them away. Little did I realize that they had put on my desk for me to look at BECAUSE THEY HAD CHANGES! Come on, it was NEARLY identical! I was supposed to read through the whole thing to find the few differences? Argh! Nearly in tears (mostly because I was really tired again and already stressed about the number of things I have to somehow do before school starts) I let Kato-san drive me to the Jr. High (due to Typhoon wetness, I had no bike). I realized some time during the morning that I never put my futon up on the shelf.
This Made Up For It Luckily, the Jr High meeting did not seem to be a formal staff introduction thing (if it was, it certainly did not include all the staff, since only a few were there). Instead, this meeting was THE MOST PRODUCTIVE HOUR I'VE HAD so far in Sakugi. I finally learned my school schedule! I learned how many classes I had, when they were, what grade they were and who I would be teaching with. I learned that I had 7 classes all together, 3 on Tuesday, 1 on Wednesday (also Nursery school day), 1 on Thursday, and 2 on Friday (Monday is shogakko day). Nosohara-san (airport lady) showed me my desk, told me exactly what computers/A.V. equipment was available, and some things that my predecessor had done. She had lots of notes separated by grade. I also received the textbooks (I had been coincidentally wondering whether to ask for this the previous night) and she told me what page they had reached so far for each grade. Oh Mai Goddo, Useful information! Best of all, I got to speak ENGLISH! For the first time since I got here, I actually had a conversation in English with someone who was fairly decent at it. (I also got to read a bit of English newspaper and get a copy of the excellent speech in Hiroshima, as well as meet a few staff members: I met someone who had the same last name as Tomomi (cute English teacher guy). He is big and tall while Tomomi is short and skinny so they go by Big and Little of their last name -- too funny!).
Second Stupid Thing of the Day In high spirits, I got a call from Kato-san asking if I had the necessary materials to get my gaijin card (which she had earlier said could not happen today). I said yes because I had my passport and inkan (personal seal) with me. She picked me up and we went over to the yakuba (town hall) and I was all psyched that, with this magic alien registration card in hand, I would finally be able to do things like register my car and get a mobile phone. We went over and I was again asked if I had this mysterious piece of paper. Kato-san had also asked me, but I assumed I had everything I needed. He showed me what it was and of course I recognized it, but I thought it had been a receipt. Upon reading the text (VERY closely since I missed it during the first skim) it said that I needed to bring the sheet back with me when I went to get my card. Pissed (mostly at myself) I was asking why it was so important, and that my copy wasn't an original or anything, and in general probably being rude. He kept showing me my card in the distance, then saying I needed to give him this piece of paper. Why did he give me the piece of paper in the first place if I was just going to give it back to him? He said something about sealing it with my inkan, but did I not have an inkan at the time we filled out the sheet?? I understand that maybe in a big city with gaijin galore, having a sheet with pertinent information might be useful, but I'm the only foreigner for miles! This is probably the reason he eventually relented, gave me my card, and told me to bring in the sheet Monday. Argh. I still felt really bad, though, close to tears again because I was so stressed about getting everything done right and not causing extra work for already fairly busy (and pregnant with an aching back) Kato-san.
Bank Miscommunication Anyway, she took me to the bank afterward, and with my gaijin card I was magically able to... (drumroll) get a bill for my car insurance? That seemed to be our primary order of business, though I also received my bank card while we were there, so that could have been the point of going. I did wonder (and ask) why this insurance was at the bank and not at the car place. They said something like that I could do it at either place, but that since the car place is 30 minutes away, the Sakugi bank is more convenient. Still, I do not get why this was prepared so quickly when the car is not even in my name yet (and I can't drive it). Anyway, it was about $500, which is what I expected based on my predecessor's information. They told me I could pay it whenever, but that it would start when I paid (so basically I should not drive until I pay, which I probably will not be able to afford to do until I get my paycheck on the 15th if I also have to pay shaken). Anyway, I spent several minutes trying to ask about optional insurance before giving up since, at this point, I was way too tired to talk in Japanese. I need my handbook, where it has the actual word for this in Japanese and I wonder if I should just carry the pink book around with me wherever I go since it has everything I need in both languages.
Even Better Than "Pocari Sweat" Anyway, we went back to the bunka center for lunch (I had my pizza thing and muffin from yesterday). Maruyama-san gave me, and I'm not making this up, Genki Gyunyu (Happy Milk) to drink with it. I think, every single day I've worked here, Maruyama has given me something to eat or drink, but this is the most amusing yet.
It's Only Insurance Anyway, with my handbook out, I finally tried to ask about optional insurance. How hard can this question get?? I had the right vocabulary and even had the translated handbook in front of me, but somehow, it turned into this confusing conversation between the three women around me. At the end, I still did not understand what they were saying, even when I tried to confirm it saying simple phrases in Japanese like "do I have this?" and "I want this because it is recommended" nothing happened. So how the heck do I go about getting this insurance and is it something I want? Argh. The frustration of this miscommunication prompted me to have some tear time with the bunny toilet slippers. When I got back, Kato-san said "Oh, there you are. Let's go to Miyoshi"
I Just Want A Phone! Do I know what the heck kind of phone I want? No, not really. I tried to go through last night and choose. I figured, having a camera on it would be way cool (and would save me from the whole buying a digital camera thing). I tried really hard to listen to the Docomo rep, but I kept getting lost. He showed me lots of phones. What I wanted, I guessed, was a the cheapest phone I could get with a relatively decent camera thing. Strangely, phones listed at several prices seemed to be the same price and he could not recommend one to me that was both under $80 (I picked this amount mostly out of the air based on the prices I was already looking at) and took a decent picture. (The REALLY fancy camera-phones that he had sample picture quality of were at least $200. I may as well buy a digital camera at that rate) Choosing a phone (and changing my mind once), a plan, and services and having everything repeated to me several times (and, inexplicably having to write my name and address several times on the same sheet) took FOREVER. Poor Kato-san! At one point, I asked three times whether I was supposed to write my name as it was in the previous box. Three times they said yes. I wrote it. He took it, looked at it, then CORRECTED it. Did they correct me when I forgot part of my address? No! (It's interesting that keeps having me fill out everything despite my atrocious kanji - maybe it is just to give me practice like I had asked for). I also wrote a secret pin number for the voice mail (which was a service they had previously skipped because they thought it would be too confusing for me). I realized, when I double-checked, that I wrote my typical PIN wrong (and realized that I may have also written it wrong for my bank card! D'oh!)
Withholding Judgment on the Car Inspectors Whew. We went to the car place afterward, where everyone SEEMS to be very nice (no doubt I will start to feel more ambivalent if they start finding lots of things to fix on my car and charging me). They told me that they would SEND someone to my house to pick up the car and the keys and bring it back to Miyoshi for inspection. As for when (I was hoping any time but Saturday morning since I really needed sleep -- but I did not say anything) they asked, "Is Saturday morning okay?"
Another Trip to Miyoshi Afterwards Kato-san took me shopping again (and assured me she also needed to shop so I wouldn't feel guilty about having her take the whole afternoon to figure my stuff out). I had dutifully made a shopping list at home. I knew I was going to Miyoshi today to shop. Did I bring the list? No. (Luckily, I remembered a few things on it, but I kind of went crazy on the comfort food. Do I really need all that chocolate?)
Toys First, Exhaustion Second Later that night, looking over my phone and playing with the menus (which I should do when I'm awake, really, since I accidentally left myself a voice memo saying "No, I didn't mean to do that, I'm just kidding, oh, shoot, stop." and have no clue how to get rid of it) I hit some button that removed the memory card. It said that I needed a SECURITY PASSWORD to remove the memory card. Yipes! I tried my 4-digit PIN and it did not work. All I can imagine is that secret number is written in the manual somewhere ("Only Japanese manuals are available for this model"), or is in one of the boxes, since it was probably hardwired in.
In Hot Water I needed to exercise, but instead I laid on the couch for over an hour, not even enough energy to turn on the tube. Then, with effort, I did leg lifts and (this is the best part of the night) TOOK A BATH! I love Japanese baths. Deep and wide, fully immersed, and I could hear the rain outside: Ahhhhhh.
Personal Pick-up Service The Primo Honda guys came at around 10:30 to pick up my car. It had a bit of trouble starting, but not too bad... bye, bye car. I also figured out that I never put my memory card in my phone in the first place. Whew. It's now in and the voice memo was embarrassingly easy to find and delete.
Intrigued By English Textbooks People said the textbooks for English class were not the best, but I have to say, I disagree. Okay, I'm no teaching expert and I may change my mind once I'm actually using it, but from the first glance, I liked it. Mine are called "New Horizon" (one of about a half-dozen 'approved' textbooks.) First off, it is very international. There are color pictures of places and people around the world. Second off, the English dialogue is not nearly as stuffy and formal as I thought it would be. I caught phrases like "What's up?" and "Lucky you." when skimming through. Thirdly, the topics are very up-to-date. They talk about everything from email to Braille to environmental concerns. Fourth, and what impressed me the most, were the short stories. Barely four pages long in big writing with big pictures, they were not long, but almost every single one moved me. There was one about Freddie the leaf who learned how to enjoy his role in life giving people shade. He was scared when wintertime came and it was time for him to die, but another leaf gave him a new perspective on it. "The wind came and took Freddie from his branch. It didn't hurt at all. As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time, He remembered Daniel's words, 'Life lasts forever.'" Another one that stuck with me was the one about the shrine that turned into a hole in the ground. Someone called "Hello?" into the hole but no one answered. They threw a stone into it, but it did not echo. Soon, people started dumping things there since it never filled, including old letters, boxes, and even toxic waste. The clean city soon flourished. Then one day a worker heard someone say "Hello?" Then a stone fell from the sky but he did not notice.
Poetry Reading After spending the day lazing about (read: recovering) and noticing how much better the air conditioner works since I put batteries in the remote, I went to the poetry reading and showing of a documentary. Maruyama-san picked me up (which was nice - she did not want me riding my bike in the dark). The place looked like it could seat the entire town, but it was fairly sparsely attended, which I heard several people comment on. According to the pamphlet, the reading was about Hansen's disease. I looked it up later and found out it was a leprosy-like epidemic that hit an isolated area of Japan. The people mainly affected are now in their 70s since they found a vaccine in the 1940s.
Observation: If I ever go around to various places reading poetry, I'm definitely going to want musical accompaniment, too. Flute and guitar go together surprisingly nicely and the man playing the guitar had the amazing skill to play both base and melody at the same time. It was very pretty.
Depressing Documentary I can't pretend I understood much. I caught some of the poems because she was reading slowly. (It was a younger woman so maybe she had a relative with Hansen's?) The documentary, though, I barely understood at all. It had lots of close-ups of people who had the disease (shriveled fingers, saggy faces and so forth) accompanied by sad music. It was a rather depressing presentation in total, but interesting to know about, since I had never heard of it before. Nosohara-san sat next to me (I think she was recruited to do so based to the fact that she spoke English) and on my other side was a bashful Jr. high schooler. They gave us a survey (An "ankaato" in katakana -- one of those non-English borrowed words) and I fully intended to fill it out, but I gave up.
Best part of the night Before the music and poetry, there was a welcoming introduction. From the stage, he greeted everyone and bowed. The entire audience, sitting in stadium-style chairs, BOWED BACK, returning the greeting! (I guess this is the cultural equivalent to the person on stage saying "How are you all doing tonight?" and the audience shouting back "Great!")
I Miss My Dryer Already The sun came back, so I got motivated and did laundry. The washing machine works, but doesn't like me very much. I think I put too much stuff in it, so it bounced too much, then beeped at me till I shifted the load. But it all worked out all right. The clothes rack I was left worked nicely except for the lack of clothespins (though nothing fell this time). Question: why is there a half-used box of dryer sheets when the closest dryer is 30 minutes away?
Goings On at the Bunka Center I went to the bunka center to use the internet, and the place was as full of people as a weekday! I got my computer hooked up just as the mayor walked in. Randomly, we went into the couch room and he decided to tell me in more detail about the horrors of Hansen's disease (so I would better understand the previous night's movie). Maruyama served us some tea and joined in. He told me how small children were taken from their parents and exiled to a small island where nurses and doctors would care for them until they were grown. Maruyama-san has to look up several words in the dictionary. Apparently the treatment was quite inhumane. I said "taihen" (that's tough) a lot , though I didn't quite understand everything. I finally got back to my computer and spent several nice hours doing my journal, email, and surfing. I asked Maruyama-san why it was so crowded and she reminded me that the art exhibition had just started. Ah, yes. I had noticed it last night at the documentary, actually, and had checked out the art. It wasn't bad, though I wasn't drooling or anything. The neat thing was that they were scenes from Sakugi, especially a lot of Josei Falls.
Dinotopia! I was flipping the channels and came upon a nifty Western-made fantasy. It looked like a TV show, but it went on for over an hour and seemed to be about a group of people on this planet full of flying dinosaur-type things. The main characters were a teenage boy and girl who nurture a flying dinosaur thing from the time it was in its egg. She had a Magic Light thing that looked suspiciously like the Light of Earendil's Star. The older brother was in a sort of military unit thing, but could not 'call' a Good Flying Dinosaur Thing to ride on at first (though of course he did later when he saved the town from Evil Flying Dinosaur Things). I enjoyed it, but wonder if it is still good in English (i.e. did the dub hide bad acting?). I could not find the bilingual button, if it was even bilingual in the first place. The scenes jumped around a lot and looked hurried and I wondered if they cut out a lot (as if maybe they trimmed down a six-hour miniseries into two hours with commercials). Hmmm, maybe I'll try to check it out someday, but meanwhile, next week's Sunday Night at the Movies is Mask of Zorro! Yeah! Antonio Banderas in Japanese!
A Load of Rubbish Go me, I managed to remember this morning that it was Burnable Garbage day. The garbage thing is a bit much for me. Burnable and Non-burnable would be more than enough, but they've added Plastics, Used Paper, Toxic (like batteries and light bulbs), and Recyclable. Without the full English chart, I would have been completely wrong at guessing which garbage item went where. Normally, I would have just said "oh, close enough" but I have to WRITE MY NAME on my garbage bags. This system is making it difficult to dispose of some of the food items that were left to me, since I either have to clean the heck out of them or just toss them in Non-Burnable and cross my fingers. (Oddly, glass jars and tin cans, which we recycle in the U.S. go in Non-Burnable)
Business Hours Redefined Today was rather nice since I was mostly left alone to read and study. I did notice things on my desk had shifted since Sunday though I had no trouble finding anything -- maybe they wipe off the desks at night or during the morning cleaning? My only plan was to go to the post office to take care of the mail and bills that have been piling up. Around quarter till 4:00, I started getting organized and Takata-san came over and helped me sort my various postal errands out. She thought the post office closed at 4:00, but I had read SEVERAL TIMES (I do pass the post office every day on my way to and from work) that it closed at 5:00 so I was not worried, even when she had the only-fellow-in-the-office-whose-name-I-don't-know-yet give them a call. WELL, it turns out that the post office ITSELF closes at 5:00, but they only do bill payments until 4:00, and only do registered cash mail until 4:30. ARGH. I wanted to do both of these. Why do they make it so complicated? Wouldn't the extra hour of work be worth the consistency? Anyway I managed to get there right before 4:30...
My purpose: to mail 1,210 yen in order to receive a translated Road Rules book from the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation). Even the Japanese call it 'jaf' despite that this, more than anything, is a Japanese company through and through. I made the call several days ago and gave them my address (I had it all written out before I called) but had been confused about the payment method he explained until I put Maruyama on to talk. She said they would send me an order form that I would fill out and bring to the post office. They sent it (they even spelled my name wrong with an 'S' instead of an 'F' just like the American civil servants do). And, behold, I filled it out.
The most logical way? So, the postal lady read the form for awhile (apparently it was not usual?) and then told me to fill out the sender and recipient's address on an envelope. Okay, I did that. Then, she took the cash I gave her (substituting those funny holed 50 yen pieces for an 100 yen coin) and proceeded to put it in the envelope. Gee, I could have done THAT. I asked if it was safe to just send cash and she said it was. Apparently, these are special cash envelopes. Um. Does anyone else see the fallacy of clearly marking the envelopes that cash is sent in? Anyway, I decided to trust the reputable postal service. Then, she CHARGES ME 500 yen for the service!
In conclusion: The best method for JAF to send me this book, in a place where you can do personal bank transfers from an ATM, is to have me send them cash at the cost of 50% of the total price? Efficiency? Erm.
Anime Glee ANYWAY, back at home, I discovered that Inu Yasha is on before Conan - a full hour of anime, woo hoo! When Glynis called, I felt like I should have more of a life; she has been going out drinking and having a good time with JETs every weekend. Bah humbug, Conan is much more interesting than sake.
Cool thing about my house #14: the toilet seat warms up in winter! (I found the plug the other day)
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Docomo Woes The morning was relaxing and quiet since half the people were gone. I got all into the morning cleaning routine and, da da da duuuuh, put away the teacups in the dishrack. (I probably put all the tea strainers back in the totally wrong place, though.) During the morning I did lots of email and looking up song lyrics and artist history (which likely did not LOOK like research for a teaching lesson, but it was. Yes, that picture of the Barenaked Ladies is for the benefit of my students). At lunch, I was playing with my phone and I realized that I could take high-quality pictures and email them... well, that I COULD if options like "send" and "attach picture" were not grayed out. I double-checked this afternoon. I DO have "i-mode" (the service that enables me to send emails I believe) so what's the deal? Does it take time to activate or something?
Finally Going Postal I meant to go to the post office over the lunch hour, but lunch sort of was over by the time I got on my bike to ride down. I paid my two bills (the very nice fellow there spoke a surprising amount of English!) and opened a postal savings account. I put in about a hundred bucks.
Now Back to Your Daytime Drama: The Hondas and the Restless Back in the office, my car had returned! (Yes, interesting things happen at 1:00 only when I'm NOT there) They had my shaken bill. Only a few things needed to be fixed and it was not higher than expected so I was happy about that. Thanks to Takata, I found out three things: one a bummer, one irritating, and one pretty cool. The bummer was that I would need to get a very expensive tune up every year because my car is so old (over ten years old). For a moment, it looked like I would need a shaken every year, but not quite. So basically, it's $600 a year for a check-up and another $600 every other year for inspection. The irritating thing was that I did not KNOW my car was over ten years old. My predecessor told me that it was a 1996 (I even found the exact phrase in the email). It's NOT! It's a 1992! That's a darn big difference, in my opinion, and I'm extremely irritated with my predecessor right now for lying to me on the same email that she named her price in. It COULD have been a mistake, but that sure was SOME oversight on her part. Four years is ages on a car. Most of the other things she said SEEM to be true (though I wish she left the receipt for this 'car tax' I helped her pay). Argh! I'm debating right now how to go about confronting her with this. Despite a few more minor things along this line that keep popping up, I keep giving her the benefit of the doubt. I want to just meet her in person since her emails are hard to follow. Anyway, there is an upside to this. Apparently, my mandatory insurance is included in the shaken price and my OPTIONAL insurance is what I received at the bank on Friday. That's not so bad, then.
To Cash or Not To Cash So, speaking of the bank, we went over there. Now, I think what everyone was saying was that if I paid the optional insurance, I could practice driving my car tonight. Woo Hoo, but Umm. I had barely enough cash to and since I'm about to leave for Hiroshima tomorrow and am responsible for at least three meals, I don't want to cut it close, so I said no. The strange side to all this is that I would have been comfortable if I had just not given that $100 to the post office account (which I can't access yet because I have not received my cash card). I had a very strong feeling I should open the postal account, so maybe it was a sign. Still, ironic. I think the moral of this, for my successor's sake, is: if you want to drive before your paycheck, bring at least $2000 with you. Then again, I get my paycheck at the end of the week, which is the shortest wait I've ever heard of.
Exercise? Me? I, gasp, went for a run today. Yes, that was a gasp. Several gasps. I only ran for ten minutes on a very nice path my predecessor mentioned (see, sometimes she's helpful, too). It was good exercise, but I am really sore now. Come on, I only ran for ten minutes - not even a mile - I can't be sore. Sheesh.
A Paragraph of Whining Tomorrow at 10am I leave for Hiroshima City to attend the Hiroshima orientation. I'm bringing nice clothes. Although they did not specifically remind us to, I'm not taking any chances with the dress-obsessed-JET-Federation. (All we do is sit in workshops with other JETs. Is the business dress for the benefit of the few invited Japanese speakers or do we just, uh, need more practice? Excuse me for getting down on business dress, but it is starting to get annoying. It's at least double the price, itchy, uncomfortable to wear, uncomfortable to walk in and impossible, or expensive, to clean. And when I only have a limited amount of clothing and I'm doing a lot of sweating... well, you see what I mean. Why can't jeans be considered high-class?) Speaking of conservative, I was reading today online about that Jesus movie that Mel Gibson did. I think it is neat that he filmed it using the accurate, dead languages but I was very sad to find out he is part of an ultra-conservative religious group. That doesn't fit Mel at all, who I've heard has a great sense of humor and is from laid-back Australia. Then there's Terminator for Governor, which I also wouldn't have minded so much if Mr. Schwarzenegger wasn't conservative. Progression not Regression, anyone?
Kill Those Bugs! By far, the topic I was most interested in during today's workshops was the bit on mold and mushi (insects). Unfortunately the girl doing it was, out of all the organization committee, the least interested in speaking. She just wanted to say her part and leave, but I held on to every word about how to spot and kill: "Cockroaches, centipedes, beetles, mosquitoes, tatami bugs, spiders, and snakes." I could have spent the entire two hours on this, to be honest -- previously, I had only heard small bits and pieces about the bug situation (whereas most of the other topics I had heard about at the Tokyo Orientation or from the Guidebook). It made me paranoid as hell. I learned you're not supposed to squish cockroaches and those funny triangle-shaped bugs because their eggs scatter when you do so. Ick. Airing, spraying, and de-moisturizing seem to be the key. I really wish I understood the airing-out-the-futon thing better, though. I know it's important because it absorbs body moisture and all the natives do it, but doesn't it just make the futon dirty, more susceptible to bugs and not a whole lot less moist? I do stow it in the closet every day to protect the tatami, but...
The Key After lugging my bag around during the workshops, I checked into the hotel. It had apparently been intensely remodeled from the "dump" it was the previous year, whew. The single rooms were extremely tiny but very new and clean (I love the bathroom units with the squirting toilets and hand-held showers). I squeezed by bag in, but could not get the air conditioner to work right. I thought maybe it worked by temperature and it was not hot enough to justify it, since it was not really hot, just stuffy. Then I could not get the bathroom light to work and I was amazed they gave me a room with a broken light (the fan worked fine). When I could not get another light switch to work, it finally occurred to me that maybe I needed to insert the key somewhere. Why did this occur to me? Because I had the same thing happen to me in Singapore - I had ended up playing with the fuse box and calling the front desk before I was told you were just supposed to insert the key card. (The reasoning behind this, of course, is so that you don't leave light switches and the air conditioner on when you are not in the room. In Japan, this seems more for energy efficiency than money unlike Singapore where it is hot and humid 365 days of the year.) So, having figured this out only because of my Singapore experience, I had an urge to be a divine messenger to other people checking in. Then, of course, the self-doubt began and I wondered if maybe most people knew and/or could figure this out by themselves more quickly than I did. What happened was that I ended up standing in the hallway in front of the elevator, a sort of Shaman of Keyness for Those Who Wondered. I told several people the trick offhand or if I heard them fumbling with the light switches in vain. Some knew, but most were confused, so I felt useful and justified and stuff.
Lost in Hiroshima City While I stood in the hallway, before I started guiding people toward the Righteous Way of the Key, I met a fellow at the end of the hall, peeking nervously out his door. I asked if he was having trouble with his lights, but he said no, then asked if I was a JET, which I thought was a very strange question since pretty much the whole floor was being attacked en masse by JETS. I found out that he had missed the entire day of workshops not because he was late or lazy, but because he panicked, got off the bus one stop early, and LEFT his map and schedule in the bus! He had wandered downtown for FOUR HOURS, having only a vague memory of the name of the hotel. He found it slightly before the workshops ended. I tried to help him - I gave him an extra copy of the schedule and hooked him up with someone who could get him a ticket for tonight's Beer Party and gave him lots of sympathy. Poor guy.
Worse than the Mafia? There was a rumor going around that the hotel was owned and run by a cult with a similar name (Hokke-Kyou?). Hmmm... Either way, we got a cheap deal for new stuff!
Self Serve Liquor Of course I expected beer at the Beer party, but what I did not expect was something that looked like a soda fountain for liquor that was freely available. About two dozen various bottles were turned upside down with dispensers at the bottom. One word: dangerous. I did not try it, mostly because I could not read many of the liquors, them being written in Japanese and I would not know the proper mixtures. I did find a water machine with settings for Water, Ice and Water/Ice which was interesting because those two kanji are almost identical. The food was Unimpressive. Obviously, the money paid for the beer and random plates of BEEF waitresses put in front ot us carnivorous foreigners and not for the greasy buffet bar food.
Karaoke with Experienced JETs I did not want to go to a bar or club (I am lamo un-party person), but I tagged along with a group going anyway. Lucky for me, I met Cool People outside the club (mostly 2nd year JETs and three Japanese teens who I realized later had come to the orientation to express their interest in meeting and talking with us). Even luckier for me, half of them decided to go to karaoke! I am ALWAYS up for karaoke. We were only supposed to be there an hour (an all-you-can-drink hour so I had a couple of Kahlua-Milks) but ended up there for two because we never heard the 10-minute-warning phone call. Lots of fun, and I got to sing the few Japanese songs I knew and not bore everyone, since everyone knew some Japanese.
The Most Useful Workshop Ever: The Self-Intro One fellow offered to do his Junior High School Self-Introduction Routine, which he had done literally a hundred times, to us ALTs as if we were students in his class. Everything from the attitude to the Bingo idea was great! I finally got to watch what I would be doing from the outside and I learned a lot of unwritten stuff. One interesting idea I caught was "to try to make the students want to please you" or at least act a bit disappointed sometimes, so they work harder to make you genki again. Also, having people be loud and yell is good. Everyone loved it!
One of the Best? At the Regional Meeting (which was about 20 people in our area of Hiroshima), I found out that I have one of the best housing situations of anyone. In general, the farther from the city one gets, the bigger and less expensive the housing arrangements get. However, what I did not know is that, if you move far enough out of the city, you lose things like flush toilets! One couple just has 'drop toilets.' I never guessed that could happen. Anyway, lots of 2nd years, which is a good sign and everyone seems pretty nifty.
The Other Melissa The moral of my conversation at the Indian restaurant was 'I have NOTHING to complain about.' Melissa had just spent the last two YEARS living in primitive conditions in West Africa! The contract with the Peace Corps was a full two years and she lived among Muslims with their lovely view of women, speaking a dialect of French. She had gone through utter insanity to get the strict application form for JET figured. Just downloading it was nightmarish for her. This poor girl had been going through not only the craziness of getting to the interview, then getting here, but now having mega super intense culture shock (toilets and running water were enough, but neon, flashing lights and Japanese had to be another thing entirely). WOAH! I was impressed not only by her experiences but also of her English. Totally fluent, with a bit of a Latino accent, she said she did not really learn English until she was 18 or 19. How did she do that? (My life felt very superficial after that, but I had renewed hope that I could get really good in Japanese)
Learned How to send an i-shot! In Superficial News, I finally got the straight on emailing myself a picture from my phone. The trick is: has to be an i-shot type picture, not a high-res VGA picture. Thank you! I was on the verge of calling Docomo and whining (read: whining to Kato-san and wondering if she should call Docomo).
Bowling Under a Black Light Not sure who had the idea, but we all walked over to a bowling alley (Erik and I fell behind due to making sure Melissa got back to the hotel all right so we ended up asking random Japanese people where this mysterious bowling alley was in the middle of downtown Hiroshima.) We found it after a helpful Lawsons Clerk showed us and arrived while everyone was still paying for shoes (I'm a size 24 for future reference). Us JETS took up about four lanes with four people each. I had heard of glow in the dark bowling before, but never had the experience of having my bowling shoes, socks and shirt glow as I rolled a small moon down a shiny path toward glowing pins. Pretty psychedelic, no doubt why the place was called "Cosmic Bowling." I kept getting distracted by a TV next to the score screen showing skydiving scenes.
Peace Park I still had energy after bowling (most likely due to my impromptu nap before dinner) so Erik (a 2nd year JET from Utah) invited me for a walk. Normally, if a (somewhat built) fellow I was only acquainted with asked me to go on a walk alone late at night, I would have said "No way!", warning sirens blaring. But my instinct was that this guy was a very decent fellow. Besides being way too good of a listener (he let me babble - very dangerous to those not wanting to be bored to death with whatever thought pops in Melf's brain) he appeared very centered. He seemed spiritually balanced and not prone to anger. (I wondered, of course, if he was a Mormon, being from Salt Lake City. I decided not to open that can of worms, though, and just enjoyed his company.) The night was beautiful and we had a great walk to the Peace Park along the river and I finally saw the Dome, one of the surviving buildings of the bomb. Debris was left around it, which made looking at it intense, but not as intense as the photo on the plaque taken after the bomb had fallen. Eerything for miles and miles around the building had been the same debris. (Although I will most likely go to the Atomic Bomb Peace Museum, I know I will have to work myself up to it) We saw some paper cranes (some of which were earlier burned by a vigilante so now are watched by cameras?) and other monuments. All in all, a very nice night.