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  • Man with Wings Statue
  • Week 4

    Friday, August 22, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Bihoku JETs are Best

      * * STUPID THING OF THE DAY * * I wrote Sakugi wrong! I was at the yakuba (town hall) and they were giving me a wad of cash for my 'culture and language class.' I had to write my address and stamp the form. Now, being all cool, I memorized my address in kanji and have been writing it that way all month. For some reason, this time I decided that "Gi-Saku" was the proper way. We're not talking hard kanji, here, but I managed to write it backwards twice before I overheard them noticing my mistake. I crossed it out quickly, but they told me it was no big deal and that they would understand it. (Note: I've also been writing the three-stroke kanji for "Shimo" wrong until last week, and this was one of the first kanji I ever learned. Sigh.)

      Meeting the Next Door Obaachan I randomly met my neighbor when I was spontaneously going to the bread shop. I talked to her over the wall for a bit, and she invited me in. The poor woman could barely walk, but somehow, she managed to get me juice anyway. She was very nice and had a very nifty welcoming, traditional house (quite different from mine). Her front doors were wide open, but I did not see any creepy crawlies around. How does she do that? The minute I open my door, I'm hounded by moths, mosquitoes, spiders and other insects whom I think should pay room and board. Anyway, she has lived there 14 years and is 88. At one point, though, she asked me to guess her age. Yikes. I keep hearing how this can be a dangerous question if you guess to old. I guessed around 60, though, so I lucked out. I never did make it to the bread shop.

      Bihoku Party Tonight was the Bihoku group dinner (Bihoku being the northeastern region of Hiroshima prefecture). It was my first drive to Miyoshi! But, with Carina's help, we found "Italian Farm" and parked somewhere which I THINK was legal. I thought Miyoshi would be more happening on a Friday night, but it was fairly empty. Anyway, we walked downstairs to the party room and the only people there were four Japanese guys. Um. We double-checked that this was the right time and place, and it was, so we hesitantly sat down on the other side of the long table. At this point, it was five minutes after we were supposed to meet. Shortly later, a Japanese woman walked in. Carina and I were like, we are meeting other JETs here, aren't we? Anyway, a few minutes later, some other JETs finally arrived, then they came en masse. It turned out that the Japanese people across from me at the table (I talked to one fellow who lived in New York as a child and a woman who had studied in Canada) were way cool and had excellent English. The dinner was surprisingly good given some of the crappy Italian food I had in Tokyo. It was different, though, doing Italian food Japanese style, with plates of pizza, pasta, etc coming out in courses and being put along the table in the center for each group of four to eat.

      Karaoke With Cute Japanese Guys I always love the Karaoke! After dinner (and dessert) we went to the only karaoke place in Miyoshi that could hold the 15 of us: "Pal." It was the biggest karaoke room I've been in (and I have been out with 15 people before). It was also the only karaoke room I've ever had to take off my shoes before entering. I got everything started (because I'm impatient and because I always walk in with at least six or seven songs I know I want to sing so I don't have to look at the list very long) with We Built This City which turned out to be the theme of the night: 80s Retro night! We sung LOTS of 80s songs (Madonna, Bangles, etc) and a bit of John Denver and Beatles since "Country Road" and nearly every Fab 4 song is still popular in Japan. I was singing along to everything so I was rather hoarse at the end of the night. My voice also went bad because they were only serving beer (which I did not drink since I was driving and I don't like beer much anyway) and I only managed to get a water toward the end. The cigarette smoke may have affected my voice as well. But anyway, I talked to a cute Japanese guy named Makoto for awhile. He is 24, so not too young. Since I was in 'having a good time mode' I didn't even bother with the polite form, but he started out with desu and masu. It was kind of unusual having a conversation by talking right into each other's ear since the music was so loud, but I actually was having a nice Up night and we managed to have a cool exchange. He kept promising to sing a song, but when the song would arrive, he would get someone else to sing it entirely, or do a duo and wimp out through half of it. But I felt all proud when the Japanese fellows marveled at my ability to karaoke in Japanese. I explained to some equally impressed JETs how long I had sat down with the lyrics, after hiraganizing the kanji, and practiced. Still, I fudged through a few kanji that rudely had no furigana.

    Saturday, August 23, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: High Tech Phones, Low Tech Roads

      Yay for the 100-yen Store! Yay for Deodeo! Yay for Sungreen! I had a successful trip to Miyoshi today. The hundred-yen store had lots of stuff I needed (and did not realize I needed) like a tray, de-moisturizers, posterboard, a cutting knife, really nifty dragon-design bowls, and stackable shelves. Then I went to Deodeo. Deodeo is a beautiful wonderful electronics chain full of everything you could possibly want. The Miyoshi Deodeo actually had the USB memory stick reader I needed! Later, at the supermarket next door, I managed to make my desire for a 'small bag that goes inside your vacuum cleaner' clear to a Sungreen worker, despite that I did not know any of the key words like vacuum or cleaner. (I keep calling Sungreen "sunscreen," too, which isn't helping.) I'm still getting used to driving around the insanely narrow and alien streets of Miyoshi. I did pretty well except for once, when I drove right into a wide area in front of the bus station. (Later, I found out it said Do Not Enter in kanji.) My purpose was to figure out where I could park on Monday when me and Carina are going to bus to Hiroshima. But I had driven right into the bus exit and, within two minutes, had a bus coming right at me. I reversed as fast as possible, but the bus was not even thinking about noticing my little car or stopping or anything. I finally put it back in gear and drove forward on the right side of the bus where there was some room. Watashi no baka! (Stupid me!) In retrospect, the area looked like a car entrance in the states would, but I should have realized that no car entrance in Japan will be wider than it absolutely has to be. I did find the parking lot (the narrow entrance behind the big bus exit). I still need to look up what all the kanji on the parking sign said to make sure I can park there for a week, though. Unsurprisingly, the lot is made for really, really narrow cars.

      Why No One Uses Route 375 Every time I've driven, or been driven, back from Miyoshi, I've noticed a sign that says if I turn left at this light and take Route 375, I can get to Sakugi. We always go straight, pass through Funo (where Carina lives) and get to Sakugi another way. Curious, I decided to go ahead an take that mysterious left turn and see where it led. I knew Route 375 went right near my house in Sakugi because I had seen it on a map, so I had no doubt I would end up back home eventually. 'Eventually' being the key word. Due to some kind of construction going on over the whole stretch, the majority of the road was one lane. One narrow lane. Driving with a hilly jungle on one side, trees hanging over the road, and a guard rail on the other side with only my headlights to guide me was a sufficiently spooky experience. As I made my way along the empty, curvy road, my high beams would occasionally flash on a sign filled with kanji. I usually could only read the last part, the part that read "go-chui" ("Caution".) Sometimes the lane would get dramatically thinner after that, and sometimes it seemed the sign did not warn of anything specifically. Somewhere in the middle, I found a sign I could read. It said "Sakugi Village." Next to the sign was a building that looked like it had been long abandoned. In fact, a lot of buildings I passed seemed old or unused, but I did come upon a brightly lit oasis of vending machines near a cluster of houses as well as a few new-looking cars. I met a total of four cars during the hour long journey. Two I let pass me and the other two were coming from the opposite direction. In both cases, I could just see reflections of headlights approaching. The first time, we both pulled over (there were at least, lots of places to pull over during long stretched of one lane) to let the other pass. I eventually passed him and tried to honk to say thank you, but my horn did not work. When I passed a very large bridge, I realized I had been driving along the river all this time. I became a little nervous when the road signs (saying things like 35km to Ota) stopped mentioning Sakugi, but I soon found my familiar stretch of this route that they presume to give a number. 375.

      Happy With Technology I am VERY VERY happy! My memory stick works! I can save any size pic I take with my camera to my memory stick and copy it to my computer. NO PROBLEM! I love memory sticks and glad the Docomo guy told me to get one. If my phone survives the abuse I will put it through during the next year or two, I can use it as a digital camera! Did I mention I loved Deodeo!

    Sunday, August 24, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Discovering Odd Things in my Kitchen

      We Like Sunday Postmen This morning, I received my package! I had been worrying about it because I sent it almost a month ago and I had received the other two already. Since I'm leaving tomorrow, I thought that it might come when I was gone, which would be irritating, but lo and behold, it arrived! Wow, postal deliverypersons in the states don't work on Sunday! Anyway, this one did not appear to have been opened by customs (maybe they open them at random) and now I am FULLY stocked with cereal, granola bars, my winter robe, spare sheets, jello, bathroom products, videos, and most importantly: Nutella!

      Maybe It's a Cookie Cutter? I decided to clean since it is always nice to come home to a sparkling house after a long trip. I ended up instead just cleaning the kitchen. I still had not sorted through the two upper shelves o' food nor the pantry, so I spent most of the day doing that. I found some bizarre stuff in the second drawer down. Some were definitely cookie cutters, but some were just odd white plastic things. One looked sort of like an overly fancy cheese cutter. Anyway, I threw out a bunch of mystery spices and bottles because I did not know how old they were nor how and when to use them. I am really going to try to learn this whole cooking thing, but I'll buy my own ingredients when the time comes. I found lots of American stuff again, which is even harder to separate into trash bins, but at least I can read it.

      But What About Route 375? Me and Carina had assumed there was a bus that went from Miyoshi to Higashi Hiroshima (East Hiroshima, which is a separate city) since there was a road that led there. Although that road was none other than the southern part of Route 375, I still thought a bus might use it. Nope. Even in Japanese, I understood the bus station lady when she said 'nai' (there's not any) over the phone. Since Carina knew the buses to Hiroshima backward and forward, we decided to give ourselves three hours to get there and take our chances.

    Monday, August 25, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Language and Culture Class: Day 1

      Bus Issues Although the bus station window was closed and did not open until after our early bus left, I saw a woman who worked there wandering around, so I was able to pay for my week of parking (about 25 bucks). I'm not sure what I would have done had I not spotted her before she went back in the Locked Area. Anyway, we got a seat on the bus no problem and had a very comfortable ride down to Hiroshima. It took just over an hour and a half. Luckily, Carina knew where to get off and where to transfer so we made the bus to Higashi Hiroshima without delay. Unfortunately, however, we assumed that the main station at our destination would be big and therefore obvious. No. In fact, it was so NOT obvious that the bus driver did not stop there and, as far as I could hear, did not even announce it. I realized, when we finally did stop, that the kanji written there was WAY later than we wanted. We got off quickly and wondered what to do next (i.e. how far were we away, was it worth it to look for a bus back, and did taxis come on a regular basis). We crossed the street and Carina, the Londoner that she is, had a taxi hailed before I even saw it. The driver dropped us off at the "Hiroshima International Plaza" and we actually, gasp, made it to the opening ceremony on time.

      A Step Above 'Dorm' I had heard these rooms were like dorms and so had expectations of sharing sparse, worn accommodations. Not so! Our single hotel-like rooms were a lot like the Hokke Club actually, though a bit older. Towels, slippers, a Yukata robe, shampoo and toothpaste were all provided. The facilities of the center were actually quite cool: an internet room, laundry room, a selection of English movies to watch in our rooms which were equipped with TV and VCR, and this ALL FOR FREE. Woah.

      Coolest Thing About the International Center In the courtyard, there is a statue of a Man with Wings!!!!! Oddly, he is flying downward, right into the pedastal, but, hey, there are wings involved, so I cannot complain!

      Courtyard Statue for my viewing pleasure

      You Know You've Been In Japan A Long Time When... I was in the bathroom a full two minutes before I realized I was in my socks. Where did my shoes go? The hotel room was not tatami or the kind of room where one would take your shoes off, so I left them on when I brought my bag in. Where were they now? I discovered them outside the door, neatly lined up. I've apparently become so used to taking off my shoes before using the bathroom that I did it automatically. Note: this is unusual because there were no toilet slippers there; I just acted like there was.

      The Key Thing Again Good thing we're all experts now. These rooms also had a slot for the key that controlled the lights and air conditioner. (My air conditioner kept saying o-souji just like my one at home. I almost decided to clean the filter for them so I would know what a dirty filter looked like, but then I forgot.)

      A Humbling Experience After the opening ceremony (which I can't remember a word of), they started calling off names. The people whose names were called went outside the room to later be guided to 'another' room. After Justin's (a pretty smart fellow and one of the helpers) name was called, I figured they were calling out names for the 'Advanced' class and hoped my name was on the list. It was. But since they seated us in order by FIRST name (not last name), I was called at the end. We went to another secret room. Okay, not so secret, just a regular nice classroom type thing. We were given a test. If this test actually mattered in my life, I probably would have been freaking out. We had to listen to three dialogues from a tape. Three long dialogues. After the first run through, we were given a sheet of questions (all in Japanese) related to the tape, then we listened to each one more time. Wow, I was hopeless. I bombed it. I was all starting to feel proud of my Japanese up until then, especially because the instructor called it kantan ("easy") before we started.

      Portion Hell The biggest complaint of the day that I heard was the SIZE of the lunch. Little cucumber sandwiches plus a small side dish were on the tables for us to eat. It was adequate, but really not enough for our gaijin appetites. Luckily, outside the cafeteria were vending machines with SNACKS in them. (Not even in Tokyo did I ever see a vending machine with food. Coffee, beer, cigarettes, porno items, yes, but never FOOD.) So since we could get Pocky at our convenience, it was not so bad. The very sneaky thing about this was that they specifically made sure we all paid in full for the whole week's lunch BEFORE we ate the first lunch. People were already threatening to ask for their money back if it did not improve.

      Test Results Afterward, back in good ol' Room 306, I found out I was on the list for the highest class, "E" Eh?? Well, I want a challenge, so that's good, but how in the world did that happen? Half the people in our room did WORSE than me? I did not think that was possible.

      Cutthroat Movie Selection Today, we had to choose a movie that we would see the next day. They said that we should "go around and see what each movie is about" before signing up. Then, at the end, they made the comment that "there is a limited number for each movie." The result was that people pretty much signed up immediately for the movie they wanted to see, leaving those who even followed the directions a little (as in, asking about two of the seven movies) were stuck with whatever was left. Oddly, me and Kate's first choice ("Love Letter") was NO ONE ELSE's first choice. I was the initial name on the list and the majority of the people who ended up with this movie did not want to see it (including the loud and humorous Arnold-look-alike John, who, during our pre-movie discussion, declared his masculinity).

      Cool Don Dinner I ended up shuttling into Saijo with two very cool people: Kate (who I ended up spending most of the week with) and Joette (the older and wiser JET) who were both great companions. There was a welcome party, but we wanted "real food." We found a great restaurant and had katsu-dons (breaded meat and eggs over rice -- better than it sounds) for cheaper than our 600-yen lunch.

      Fastest Connection in a Month The free internet is FAST, way faster than the fastest connection in Sakugi. I was tempted to clean out my entire inbox right there and then, but I settled for just answering my piled up email.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Language and Culture Class: Day 2

      Hello. My Name Is Inigo Montoya. Our shortened Japanese morning class was kind of silly. We introduced ourselves, then introduced someone else to everyone in the class. The only thing that made it worth it was that we had an equal number of native Japanese speakers to practice on and listen to. Even more silly was we spent the second hour of this so-called "Intensive Japanese Language Course" talking about movies. Normally, that is my favorite subject in the world to talk about, but I did kind of want to, you know, study Japanese not just conversate, which I've been doing all month. ANYWAY, the point is, someone else exists whose favorite movie ever is "The Princess Bride!" Too cool! I now feel very close to the Justin fellow. Anyone who has the same number one movie of all time has to be a soul mate.

      Tired and Grumpy The rest of today, language-wise, was a total waste of time for me. We did even MORE silly introduction exercises. If I have to say 'hajimemashite' to one more person I've already met six times, then I'm going to go insane! The worst part is that they forced us to switch partners every minute so I could not even get a good conversation going with one of the Japanese volunteers. Stupider, they made us put little stickers on each other if we 'said an English word.' I actually got one put on my face for saying "OK," which is well-used in Japan. I started whining rather quickly when I had to write introduction sheets for people IN MY OWN AREA (Bihoku). Finally after lunch (you should have heard the complaints about the cold hamburger and soggy fries we were given -- granted this time, since health risks were involved, I was kind of upset, too), we could sit down and watch a video.

      Love Letter I actually loved this movie and even cried during it (though they could have been leftover tears of frustrated boredom from the morning exercises). It was about a woman who wrote a short letter to the childhood address of her fiance, who had been dead two years. Since the house no longer existed, she felt like she was writing a "letter to Heaven." Then she got a response. We, the privileged audience, saw the story from both points of view: the point of view of the mourning woman and the point of view of the woman who, having the exact same name as the fiance, received these odd letters from a stranger. Through a series of continuing letters, the mourning women learned what her fiance was like as a student in school. Oddly, the same actress played both women. I still enjoyed it a lot. In fact, everyone I talked to afterward LOVED their respective movie (except for the men in our own group). So, I am now going to rent every single one of the following movies:

      A Class to Remember (1993) about a unique night school
      Water Boys (2001) about a male synchronized swimming team
      Sumo do Sumo don't (1992) about a student trying to start up a sumo team among reluctant classmates
      Twilight Samurai (2002) about... well, I did not get the plot of the historical saga, but it sounded like there was a kick ass female character in it
      Shall We Dance (1996) about a quiet businessman who decides to take dancing lessons
      Minna no Ie / All About Our House (2001) which apparently is a very funny movie about people and their house

      Anyway, I think all of them have won awards of some sort or another. I think I will have to rent them on DVD to see them in English though (so I need to buy a DVD player, then?). Ironically, despite that my purpose was to see a happy movie with a happy ending, Love Letter was probably the teariest of them all. During our post-movie discussion, we ran out of things to talk about fairly quickly, so John led us on a nice round of 'What are your Five Favorite Movies?' which was quite fun, actually. We still ended earlier than scheduled.

      7-11 Dinner Yep, just like it sounds. Took a nice hour-long walk in the rain with Kate-san to get some 7-11 soba. We asked if we could eat in the dining room and the reception desk fellow (who is the coolest and nicest guy in the world) asked the dining room staff for us. Turned out we couldn't, which he apologized for, but he let Kate use the Secret Microwave in return. Anyway, I brought my bento to my room and watched...

      Gymnastics! Yes, NHK Sports loves me. My favorite events, alternating men and women, and NO COMMERICALS. Tonight was very nice, indeed.

    Wednesday, August 27, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Language and Culture Class: Day 3

      Why it is Cool to be a JET At every meal, every breakfast, lunch and dinner both here and at the Orientation two weeks ago, I feel completely comfortable sitting down at a table with other JETs. I don't think I've ever consistently felt so welcomed by people I did not know that well. Granted, I usually pick a table with someone who I have spoken to before, but not always. In fact, it feels strange to sit down alone. For me, who is naturally shy, this is a very neat feeling.

      Trying to Choose a Topic I was confused for the first hour this morning because I had assumed that this 'interview' they wanted to prepare us for had to do with our 'explore/experience' activities today and tomorrow. I was wondering how in the world we could prepare interview questions when we had not even chosen where we were going yet. It turns out that we were just going to interview the Japanese college students who had volunteered for the week. Ah. So I had to quickly figure out something that interested me about Japanese culture AND was appropriate to ask (I was dying to ask adolescent views on sex, for example, but I was told it was not a good idea.) I finally ended up with Marriage as a compromise, but I sure felt like I was being offensive when I tried to explain what I was curious about. I spent a lot of the time afterward trying to make up for whatever I said that was offensive.

      The Voice of the Whining is Heard Under all of our doors this morning was a typed up message saying basically, 'we've heard your complaints about the food and promise to increase the size and keep the food warmer.' I was surprised they cared that much. So, was lunch better? I don't know, since I chose vegetarian that day, but according to others, um, not especially.

      Cutthroat Lists Once Again I swear, a LITTLE flexibility wouldn't kill them. We had to choose what we wanted to see the next day from places like schools, companies, family's houses, and community/rehabilitation centers. I did not get any of my choices because the lists (where there was only exactly enough space) filled up faster than I thought possible. I ended up in the High School / University group. Well, I figured it would still be interesting because when else am I ever going to see the inside of a Japanese high school outside of anime?

      Geek Central During our preparation discussion (in my opinion, far too much time is wasted in preparation activities. As Dark Helmet would say, "Stop preparing, you're always preparing, just go!") I chatted with not one, but two other computer science majors. For future reference, I really want to learn PHP! Why do I always hear about these things two years too late?

      Ordering Fun I was half tempted to catch the early shuttle so I could be back in time for the lobby karate demonstration, but I kind of wanted to wait for Kate, or at least someone I knew better. So I waited, which turned out to be good since Kate called my room. Because the building with all the restaurants was randomly closed only on Wednesday afternoons, we went to a restaurant kind of like Dennys with Chinese food. Lots of people had learned today how to order food in Japanese, so they were excited to try, but I still ended up kind of the translator between the waitress and the others. We ordered rice sets for ourselves then a bunch of dishes to share and, although they were MUCH, MUCH smaller than the pictures suggested, we all managed to fill up for CHEAP! I think I paid a total of 1000 yen, including the drink. Way cool! But, sadly, I missed the karate demonstration. Luckily, some people had recorded bits and pieces of it on their phones/cameras and showed me their sword-cut-bamboo souvenirs.

    Thursday, August 28, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Language and Culture Class: Day 4

      Japanese Views on Marriage Five out of the six college students I interviewed, (an equal number of men and women) all said they were kanarazu (certainly) going to get married. They all wanted exactly two children, too, which was cute. I was surprised by how positive they all were, but should I have been? Would this also be the case if I asked the same question in the States or am I biased by my own ambivalent views on marriage and children? Hmm... Food for thought.

      Spaghetti Buffet Definitely the best lunch so far, probably since we had variety and could have as much as we wanted of the many giant plates of spaghetti available. No lunch whining today (though I imagine the cooks had to deal with a lot of people who ditched the vegetarian in favor of spaghetti, probably not realizing that the buffet was not for everyone).

      Kibishii Kamo High School The high school visit was fascinating. Apparently, this is one of the top academic schools in the prefecture and therefore the strictest. We were met by the ESS (English) club and enough of them were there that we could each talk one-on-one with a high school student (all who had quite good English). I first talked with Risa, one half of a twin, then when we switched partners to have a different student tour guide, I was led by Misa, the other half. They were first-years (10th grade?) and very cute. We changed shoes about six times during our tour, which included some gyms where we got a free rhythmic gymnastics show, a girls kendo match, and a bit of handball - like soccer and basketball combined, some classrooms, and the library. The library was packed with studying (and sleeping) students even though it's summer break! I really felt like our little group of gaijin was totally interrupting them, but someone later pointed out to me that it was a nice break from the everyday for them. (The girl sleeping woke up surrounded by Big White people, poor thing). I discovered that there is a bit of sempai-kohai stuff, even with the girls. For example, Risa told me that the third years (12th grade) would not let her roll up her skirt to shorten it like they did. Earlier, I was told that the older boys made the younger ones say 'Ohayou gozaimasu' and other polite greetings when they passed. The work ethic of the students at this school was pretty fantastic.

      No Karaoke for Me The taxi back from the university got back JUST in time to catch the 5:45 shuttle to Saijo. I jumped on the bus, still lugging my backpack and wearing nice clothes, and joined in with Kate and company. We ended up in the same building as the Don restaurant, but this time eating okonomiaki. I stupidly ordered the wrong thing for Nick (he pointed to the wax dish like three times, but I still got it wrong), but it turned out all right. Kate wanted to go shopping, so I ended up with two guys and a girl who were interested in karaoke. According to my watch, if we hurried, we could still get in two hours and make the last bus back. However, it turned out they wanted to wait for some other people first who were stuck at the Indian restaurant (which was invaded by gaijin but only had one chef). So we shopped and wandered and then ended up at a bar. By this time, we could barely get in an hour, if that but I decided to hold out. We were the only people at the bar at first, then, during the next half hour I think EVERY SINGLE JET showed up (all 60 of us). Woah, it was crowded. I ordered myself a 'Two Dogs.' It was sort of a lemon-flavored Australian Smirnoff Ice. (I saw Smirnoff on the shelf, but someone told me it was vodka, so I was very confused and did not order it.) Then I sat and watched people play darts. It was boring as hell. The only interesting part was when I talked to one of the two non-JETs in the place. He could speak five languages and was about to take the 1-kyuu (level 1) test, which means, pretty much fluent in Japanese. He was kind of dodgy, but man, I had to respect that, especially since he had only been living here a year. Overall, though, I would have rather been doing something else. For future reference: no, I still don't like bars. On the bus back, I whined to a very nice fellow I had talked to a few times before and he made me feel better.

    Friday, August 29, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Language and Culture Class: Day 5

      Checking Out I win, I was the first to check out of the hotel. The next person was the Other Melissa so we ate breakfast together while listening to African drums play out of the speaker. (Before it was Jazz and before that was the soundtrack to Full Monty, so at least their music is nice and international.)

      Japanese Speeching Again I'm not sure what it is about getting in front of people and speaking a different language, but it makes me randomly nervous. The worst part is that I don't realize I'm nervous until I'm already speaking and my voice comes out shaky. Anyway, my "Japanese Philosophy of Marriage" happyou (presentation) was okay, but a lot less spontaneous-sounding than Justin who had gone before me and talked about Japanese stereotypes of Americans. My Japanese just died on the spot when they asked me questions. James helped me conclude that people in the States' view on marriage tends to be that it is a 'later' rather than 'sooner' thing. It seems to be true, at least it is for me.

      Speech from the English Lover I was extremely impressed with John. He knew virtually no Japanese, but he worked hard and wrote an over-five minute speech IN JAPANESE and presented it at the closing ceremony. His accent was wrong, but I think it made the natives realize just how hard he had worked. His English version was quite amazing. I don't think I could have written a speech like that if I had been given a week to prepare - the wording alone was fantastic. Otherwise, the closing ceremony was kind of... well, odd, but I can't put my finger on why. Maybe it was because they spent a lot of time saying standard, boring, rehearsed things in two languages, but then sneaking in the 'giving us our certificate' after it was over ("Names A-F, over here," called the JET volunteers). They obviously spent a lot of time and money for the fancy folder and certificate, so why not make a presentation out of giving it to us? They did have one 'representative' person come up to receive a certificate. He did a very good job pretending he was taking it seriously. (He did the same thing while watching 'Love Letter,' pretending he was a true romantic.) Unfortunately, though, when she read the translation of the certificate, she included the representative's name, so it sounded like only he had finished the course. Even the girl next to me said, "What, so the rest of us didn't pass?"

      Ah, Feedback I think feedback is a beautiful, wonderful thing that we are not given enough of in life. Therefore, I wrote very long responses on the two feedback sheets I was given, trying to point out both positive and needs-to-be-improved aspects of the 5-day course. My two big things were the bad timing of the course (I'm teaching on Monday! I need more than a weekend of time to prepare!) and that the Day 2 was a waste of time. My conclusion was simplicity in itself - make the course 4 days! Granted, it might be hard to work the next day after spending hours trying to get home by train/bus/ferry but at least we would have one day to meet our teachers and prepare and so forth.

      A Train A Train A Train A Train I could not believe how reminiscent it was to ride a train in Japan again. The odd and colorful advertisements, the robotic station announcements, the sleepy passengers, the squeaky chug chug... all these things I missed. Once I was in the train station in Hiroshima, it was like I was home again. I found the train, platform and price to Miyoshi with no problem, and talked Carina into it. Despite that everyone recommends the bus, the train really did not take us much longer. Maybe the bus is more comfortable, but it also can be slowed due to traffic. Maybe I just secretly like trains for no reason at all.

      A Real Live Japanese Teacher We met some fellow JETs driving by in a car while walking back to the parking lot and so ended up eating at a mom-and-pop Japanese restaurant with a group of nine, about half native Japanese speakers (including the one JET who married a national - go him!). I talked to a Japanese Teacher of English (or the used-often-acronym JTE) which was great since I could get views and advice before going out into the field next Monday. A lot of what she told me (about JTEs who are embarrassed about their English or who have trouble incorporating the JET) I had heard before, but it made it real to hear it from a live Japanese teacher's mouth. I figured out how to make a person's picture appear when they call my cell phone, too. All in all, very cool, and some yummy tofu egg stuff to boot.

    Saturday, August 30, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: End of Summer Concert

      Tetris I spent the day shopping in Miyoshi with Carina. She bought a cell phone today and one of her top reasons for choosing that model was because 'Tetris' was installed on it. I completely did not notice the game section when I bought my phone and so, of course, mine has none. Then again, mine had a Magic Memory Stick which NONE of the others had. I guess having all the features is just impossible.

      SMAP is Everywhere! I made it home just in time for the big End of Summer Concert at the bunka center. It felt like I had not seen my co-workers at the board of education for awhile. Maruyama gave me a nice greeting, as did a couple cute kids who I ended up sitting with in the back. First, a student choir sang a variety of interesting songs, including some 'from America', according to the pamphlet. I only recognized one song, though, and so vaguely that I could not tell you the title. There was a cool song with train sounds, though. The last two songs the kids did were sing-alongs. One was a song from Tonari no Totoro and the other was that famous SMAP song about the world's only flower or something. I can't believe recent pop music is considered sing-along material, but it does contribute to the SMAP Has Taken Over theory.

      Keiko Due to my unskilled kanji reading ability, I was unable to understand why this famous singer 'Keiko' was sitting down while singing. I found out later, due to some sickness, her hands and legs were handicapped. This explained why everyone started clapping when she stood up for a few minutes toward the end. By that point I guessed she had been in an accident or something, but she had stood up to take flowers which confused me. She did have a very nice voice, but no backup musicians, just a playback. It also seemed like she was singing other songs besides her own She did an Enka song and Oh My God, I recognized it! This is the second Enka song I've recognized today! Keiko was reading off a lyrics sheet a fair amount, though, which gave me the impression I was watching someone karaoke. I still enjoyed the concert though.

      Note: Enka is, in at least one person's words, "Music that Old People Listen To." Enka is usually slow, sappy love songs written long ago that are sung in a strange flat (or sharp?) tone by primarily women.

    Sunday, August 31, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Freaky Fruits and Vegetables

      Stupid Salesman I was woken up by the doorbell which, up until now, had consistently been someone important. Not this fellow. He was my age, so I knew he was not from around here, and he did not slow down his Japanese when he talked to me. It took him awhile to get it out, but the gist was that he was from the same prefecture as Mt. Fuji and was selling oranges, which are apparently delicious when grown near Mt. Fuji. After his schpiel, he said he would come back in a moment. Then I realized it was 8:30 am! Baka! How dare he wake me up before 9am on a weekend! I heard him talking to the neighbors and started to write a note that says I refuse to buy anything from anyone who wakes me up that early. Instead, though, because I sympathized (having sold oranges before) I went out to his truck. Then he told me the price. Maybe I'm not used to Japan prices yet but it seemed he wanted a thousand yen per three or four oranges. That's like three bucks an orange or something. Huh? I think what freaked me out is that I clearly said I could never eat more than three by myself but he filled a bag full (for 4000 yen). I said I would never pay more than 1000 yen, so he took a few out and showed me the new price of 3000 yen. The whole long exchange was just weird and he was not very personable. The skeptical part of me was saying 'How do I know you're really from Shizuoka ken?' while another part of me was saying, 'I don't care and I don't really like oranges anyway.' I ended up just saying it was far too strange for me and I couldn't do it, then walked back. So now I was awake. I promised myself not to ever answer the door on Sunday again because Sunday is Salesman Day.

      So The Doorbell Rings Again... Actually, before the doorbell rang, there was a funny sound, as if someone was jiggling a door. Then it rang. Without bothering with the intercom, I walked over to the door, which I had locked and really did not want to open, and asked who it was. Turns out, it was my neighbor! He had come over with a bag of tomatoes for me, and proceeded to invite me over. Although it was not clear when he was inviting me over (and he walked away too quickly for me to ask), I sort of felt bad for being rude. I do wonder though if it is typical to try someone's door before ringing the doorbell, though. If my door was sliding, that would make more sense, but it is not.

      Freaking Out Somehow, during the whole doorbell fiasco, I knew, in the back of my mind, that tomorrow is my first day at school! And although I don't actually have any classes tomorrow, I feel quite obligated to be prepared and so am therefore freaking out. Pacing around my house in freaking-out mode, I was also trying to figure out if I should try to go over to my neighbor's house or not. He's already given me veggie gifts twice and I have zilch to give back. I figure maybe I could make a dinner for them or something ('cause, um, I'm so good at that) but when I finally go over, no one is there. So I decided to stop by the Jr. High just to see if it is open on a weekend and if I can make use of the facilities (like a copy machine, etc) and my notes. It's closed and locked. So now what?

      Wedding Photos and Shrines I saw the tomato-gift grandpa walking by and went outside to meet him. He invited me inside the OTHER house (not the house I tried). I think he owns the garden next to the OTHER house and that's why I thought he lived there. God knows what would have happened had the mysterious people in the OTHER house actually been there. I ended up at the same table I sat at when I spontaneously had a conversation with the older woman two weeks ago. Over the next hour, I figure out that he is her son (not her husband) and the woman he was with before in the bug-bite garden was his wife, not his daughter. His real daughter is my age, just recently married and is expecting. They showed me the wedding picture book. It was very fancy: hardback and gold trimmed. There were pictures from both a Japanese-style wedding and a church wedding. In most of the pictures, they wore very serious expressions, but he confided in me that he cried at his daughter's wedding. His mother stood up slowly and showed me the various family shrines in the adjoining room. I was extremely impressed. The shrine was as tall as a person, was placed in a niche in a wall and looked at least as expensive as one you would find in a public shrine - all gold plated. She said it was where they worshipped (or prayed to?) their ancestors. She compared it to Christ, so I was not sure of her exact meaning there. They also had a wooden shrine up near the ceiling and that one was for Kami-sama (God). With the few possessions they seem to have, I'm amazed at the condition and expensive appearance of the shrines.

      Can I Have Some Eggplant with My Enka? One other expensive thing in their house was a full-on karaoke set! Although almost all his songs, which numbered 500 at the very least, were Enka (see yesterday's note on Enka), it was a really cool! Between the cost of the machine, the speakers, the amp, and the huge collection, he said it was in the range of about 20-30 man-en ($2000-$3000). More than a computer, but maybe worth it? He apparently has friends over a lot to drink and sing. After giving me watermelon slices (which I think is expensive here) and coffee, he asked if I was still hungry. It was dinner time, so I said I was a bit hungry, but what I did not expect was for him to wander in the kitchen and return just minutes later with a hot plate of curry rice! Woah! Where did that come from? They must have eaten it earlier because there was no way he could have cooked it that fast. It looked delicious and so I went ahead and dug in, feeling kind of strange that they were not eating anything (even watermelon). He did have a drink with me, though, sharing some of his sweet wine. It was quite good. Then they turned on the 6:00 news and started watching, nodding their heads and making responsive sounds as if the newscaster were actually talking to them - it was very cute. I asked about a few stories and they elaborated. At one point, they pointed to Kim (Mr. North Korea) and said he was a bad man. At the end, I decided I should head out. Before I left, he gave me a little bag with cucumbers and eggplant inside! I swear, if I actually eat all the veggies this fellow has given me before they go bad, I'll really be healthy.

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