Friday, October 22, 2004

Let's go into the woodwork room. Through the unpeeled wall... Posted by Hello

here's the other bit of the roof Posted by Hello

Oh look! Our Sumo hut is wearing the roof of the gym. That's so not a good look... Posted by Hello

Well blow me down...

Oh hang on, the typhoon nearly did.

The typhoon was crazy. Apparently the worst one since 1991, 68 pople died across the country in accidents and landslides and such. There was also devastation in my area. As I walked home (!!) I had to stop in the town office where it was pointed out to me that the car park sign had fallen down. This sign was 3 foot by 2 foot, made of metal and erected on a large pole. Oops. At the Town Office they insisted on giving me a lift home, but I was wearing my stiff upper lip and wanted to walk. Besides, I had to go to Lawson's. And the last typhoon was a wash out and I was wet already, so it would make no difference.

Well! By the time I got home I was literally wringing out my trousers. Fortunately I had plenty of supplies and a bike light that was pretty strong. This became even more useful as the power was on and off more times than a tart's knickers. The 8th power out was particularly annoying on as I had my rice cooker on...

Although it had seemed very loud and windy, I had no idea of the scale of things until, on my way to school on Thursday, I saw a student walking the other way who said school was cancelled. The day after a typhoon? When I got there it was clarified for me. Because of the typhoon there were no trains and buses to our town. Trees had fallen and lots had happened. And oh yes, the roof had been blown off the gym. What??!!

And there it was. The back third of the roof had been flung of the gym and took out the sumo hut on it's way down. The woodwork room (which is funnily enough made of wood and coated in corrugated steel) had had it's back peeled off like it was a tin of corned beef. Various trees had been uprooted, sports equipment battered, and everything inside the gym was sodden through the heavy rains that got in because of the lack of roof. Although inside the main school buildings, water had managed to get in through concrete walls. At first I was looking for the face of the Virgin Mary thinking this was a Northern Ireland style miracle, but then I realised it was probably just poor workmanship...

It was actually a fun day as all the teachers spent the time cleaning up the school and working together (add songs of peace and love here). When the trains came back on, Johanna came to town and we ended the day with dinner at Wakaba (the best Katsuyama restaurant) and an hour of Karaoke. We murdered Cher, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey and Oasis, but unfortunately not in a way that would make the general public grateful...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Katsuyama festival- pushing the danjiri Posted by Hello

danjiri- big bang cart Posted by Hello

Shaky bangs Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Dance, dance, dance

Hmm... Japan has many traditions and iconic cultural facets (that sounded good didn't it?) such as geisha girls, samurai, martial arts, flower arranging and kimono weaving, but I didn't know much about Japanese traditional dance. All I had seen at school was this dance that the students do where the only words in the song are "yokasou yokasou so ra so ra" (or something along those lines). The movements in the dance are meant to resemble fishermen going out to sea, casting their nets and then hauling in their catch. It's quite interesting to see. The other dance I have seen is one's the schoolgirls made up and performed at the sports day (undokai). They danced to "Mickey". As in "oh Mickey! You're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind..." This also seems to be a national and traditional dance song as many JETs have reported their students doing it. It is mildly underwhelming as most of the girls look like they've just taken 20 valium before performing. And then there are the five who are really going for it.

Anyway, imagine my excitement when I was asked to join a team to dance in the festival. "Ooh," I thought, "a chance to meet other gays". And then I remembered I wasn't in England, so I thought, "Ooh, a chance to meet and talk to Japanese people while learning something cultural." Well, it was something close to that. The majority of my thoughts are invaded by the word "chocolate". I sometimes think I am schizophrenic and that my mind is controlled by Cadburys. So on Thursday night I went to the rehearsal wondering what dance we were doing and how hard it would be, and as I walked in, I thought, "that music seems familiar... hmm." And then I overheard "yokasou yokasou". So I can only assume that the geisha girls in Kyoto hold the rights to all other traditional dances in Japan and stand by their copyright laws vehemently. But it was fun. Being instructed in full Japanese isn't too traumatic when you're learning a dance routine. And it was only for an hour. Everyone was complaining about how hard it was, but I guess they never learned dance routines from Top Of The Pops when they were teenagers.

Friday was our first trip to Niimi to see Abby. I met Johanna on the train and appeared to scandalise my Junior High students by talking in a loud voice and sitting with a girl, and then at Niimi we were joined by Saddam (Sarah). Abby lives just outside Niimi city, to the west of Katsuyama, but we ate and drank in Niimi, in the equivalent of a Little Chef called a Joyfull (yes, it has two `l`s, and has cheap and good food too). It was funny (as everything is here). We had a volume contest with a group of 5 under 6's on the next table. We may have just beat them. These kids were so loud even the waitress sneered at them when she came to take our order. The international language of sneering. You can't beat it. Although here you can say pretty much any horrible thing in English and no-one will understand you. But then, you don't know what they're saying about you...

From Joyfull we went to meet some Niimi JETs in a local bar that played Jazz music. Except for some reason it chose to play old 1920s gramophone style music this night. It was quite surreal. The Niimi festival had been on that day and participants had been given big (and I mean BIG) bottles of Sake that no one seemed to want. So Abby told a group of fellas it was my birthday and I had to accept a big bottle of Sake. Not surprisingly we made a quick exit.

On Saturday Abby showed us the delights of Shingo town which included a tree that looked like a giant cotton bud, a massive waterwheel and some koi carp which Johanna tried to feed with a dead crab. She said, "they're Japanese, they'll eat anything." I pointed out that this was wrong. "Only Koreans would eat dead crab". The fish weren't Korean. The Asahi river goes through my town and also through Abby's where it is very shallow, and so we crossed it using stepping stones, and as the time to leave came closer, Saddam and I became distracted by a children's playground. Not many people can say they've been on the swings with Saddam.

We headed back to Katsuyama as I was acting as host for the night to a crazy man who was running a half marathon (which he did in 2hrs and 9mins with Christine from my town) and Chad's friend Tiger. We all went to dinner and Tiger proved his drinking ability. This was even more striking as near everyone else was on soft drinks. Of course, I was the cause of the word near in the last statement, and had some chu hai and some wine at the resturant.

Sunday was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. I woke early but had to wait in for a package to be delivered. I was fooled at 11 by the doorbell. Thinking it was the delivery man, I let him in only for it to be Mr NHK (Japanese telly station, though for the life of me I can't figure out what NHK means- National Hong Kong?). Mr NHK was speaking in fluent Japanese which is always a problem on a Sunday morning. And I knew he wanted money, but thought my continually saying "I don't understand, sorry" must sound a bit false. I ended up giving him my bank details. I'm not sure what I've signed up for. Oh well, you've got to roll with the punches (or something.) Delivery man came at 11:30 and my neighbour made me lunch (her 5 year old son brought it to my door) which was gorgeous. And then I cycled to Kuse. Only three near accidents in my longest ever bike ride (half an hour each way). I almost rode over a snake (I didn't see it when it moved). I nearly fell in a ditch (I stopped at a junction and tried to put my left foot on the floor. Only there was no floor. Oops) and on the way home my shoelaces got caught in the pedals and I nearly went ass over tit into the road. Makes it more fun though I find.

Sunday was in fact a supreme day because a new supermarket opened in Kuse and they had Cadbury's Dairy Milk and Time Out. Made in New Zealand, but still good. And Johanna and I watched "How Stella Got Her Groove Back". If I ever loose my groove, I don't want it back. Apparently to get it back your best friend has to die, you have to lose your job and then some other stuff had to happen. But to be honest, after 2 hours I couldn't have cared if Stella got hit by a bus.

Monday was the start of the Katsuayama festival. This was very interesting. It involved 9 teams each with a large wooden carriage. In turn, 2 teams at a time would run directly at each other and bang their carriages together. It was all very unclear, and I really didn't understand why they did it. But it was fun to watch. The teams are decided on where in town you live, so everyone was cheering on their area. I'm glad I went monday because the rain caused it to be called off last night (too dangerous), so Johanna and I stuffed our face with sushi and cake instead. The only other incident of note on Tuesday was that someone came to school to take my photo. I don't know why. I know it wasn't anything dodgy because he didn't ask me to drop my shirt off my shoulders and pout or anything. I've seen Fame. I know what photographers are like...

And today? Today is Wednesday. And what does that mean? It means the 23rd typhoon this year hits Japan. No kids at school, nothing to do. But update my weblog. It's only 9:40 here. I'm going to be so bored for the rest of the day...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The typical American

Thursday was the day we went for dinner to discuss the forthcoming speech contest. It started in a very civilized way; the man who organized the contest was a surgeon and was very friendly and polite, as, it seemed, was his friend, an old teacher who would be on the judging panel.

We finished our small meeting in the restaurant’s tatami room and then went to dinner. And what a good meal it was. As I still had a rum stomach from Monday’s undercooked yaki-nikku I was very glad that the food was solid and western looking (spaghetti- mmm). Only three of the 6 ALTs invited showed up, and that also turned out to be a good thing as it meant less people could be offended. Johanna and Christine, both American, were there with me.

Things were going well until George Bush’s name somehow came up. The old teacher (who may have been somewhat drunk- at least I hope he was) blurted out that George Bush was a typical American. With speedy rebuttals from Christine and Johanna this was modified into, “the typical American is arrogant”. Johanna answered, “hell, that’s fair enough. I’m arrogant, we’re all arrogant. But the French are worse.” But things here got much worse. Mr Old Teacher began expressing his political views starting with George Bush was the only person who could keep America safe and becoming increasingly wrong to the point where he announced that “sometimes, when the world gets a little delinquent, a figure like Hitler is necessary to bring order.” Immediately the surgeon looked embarrassed and tried to argue against the teacher, but this spurred him on- “only Muslims are terrorists” was his next claim. We were able to disprove this through our knowledge of terrorist groups throughout the world and I felt rather rude (as I’m sure it’s not talked about), but I felt it necessary to bring up Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult who attacked the Tokyo subway system in 1995 with sarin nerve gas. This seemed to get the point home. Eventually, when the whole inappropriate mess was over, we moved to different subjects. Christine announced she was going to run the Hiruzen (local mountain town) half marathon. The two men laughed. Again, this was rather rude. And then Mr Old Teacher started giving her advice on how to train as if she’d never done it before. He may have been trying to help, but his advice was a bit rum to say the least... The evening became so cringeworthy that eventually the surgeon decided we had finished and we went home. Even though he knew we had to wait a half hour for our next train. We didn't protest though. Mr Old Teacher was the first person I’ve met here who was not polite and kind, although I’m sure if he hadn’t mentioned any political views we may not have been any the wiser.

The long weekend came and on Friday Abby drove me and Johanna to RayVon’s place in Shin Kurashiki. A long journey in the dark lthrough God-knows-where led to us getting lost when we were only about 10 minutes from our destination. As is always the way. A nice gentleman in a combini helped us find it.

When we arrived I bailed pretty quickly and went to meet Chad for an evening of South Park, chatting and drinking. Then on Saturday we all met at Aeon Kurashiki (the area’s out of town shopping centre). We shopped till we dropped (or at least we shopped till 2:30- the typhoon was supposed to hit at 3). We headed home in anticipation of bits dropping off RayVon’s house, and nothing happened. Oh well. We ate loads of western food (I cooked a big big curry which did us for three meals) and we watched loads of western telly and films. It was a good break from having to figure everything out and get brainstrain on a daily basis.

The rest of the week was fairly quiet. On Wednesday I tried to be more Japanese then my teachers by pulling an over eleven hour day at work. I had to make an activity to teach the kids, and me being me, it couldn’t be simple. I made the board game “Guess Who”. I drew 18 faces (and duplicated some) and made 13 sets of 27 faces, all colour and laminated. I actually took work home and didn’t finish till 10. I’m over being Japanese now. I’ll go babk to being British and doing the bare minimum. The kids enjoyed the game though…

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Surprise sur-bloody-prise

Drink, drink and more drink. That's what Japan is made of. Or at least that's how it seems sometimes.

Having finished the week of elementary school, and being very tired, I had to go on the celebrating trail. I never really know what it is we're celebrating though. My Junior high was out on Friday at a chicken restaurant. It was good fun. I always struggle with what to say to the teachers because my Japanese doesn't stretch further than "I would like a return ticket to..." and "My hobbies are..." And you can only repeat your hobbies so many times before it gets boring. But the alcohol flowed (as usual) and the food was challenging to say the least. When we first arrived, there was nothing but meat and meat and, ooh, what's that? Potato wedges! So I filled up my plate before informing everyone that my ma is Irish and that the Irish are famous for potato cuisine (whatever that is) and proceeded to eat. Then they brought in the sashimi, so I tucked into that. Thinking I was getting drunk very quickly, I decided to eat more, and reached for a plate of salmon nigiri (sashimi on a rice ball). "Tastes a bit odd," I thought, but hey, I need to eat. So I had another. And as I popped a third into my mouth, the English teacher sat next to me said in Japanese, "now, what are you eating?" to which I replied, "salmon nigiri." She shook her head. Eh? "Raw chicken", she said. "Pardon?" "Raw chicken- see you can eat meat!" As my stomach began to turn to jelly and acid and the standard carrot chunks, I informed everyone at the table that I hadn't eaten meat for 12 years (not strictly true, but I couldn't explain eating a mouthful of turkey every Christmas in Japanese) This was met with cheers of "wasuremasu [forget it], sake deshita [it was salmon]". Well, after the restaurant we went to the karaoke we'd gone to before, and -yay!- my favourite teacher (who'd left the previous week) came. She's hilarious and really good fun, even though she only knows a little English. More boozing and much singing followed, and a good time was had by all.

Saturday was another day for visitors as Fiona and Claire came from Okayama. Claire had stayed at Johanna's on Friday, so we met for lunch and went to a Katsuyama cafe called Te-a. And we ate (surprise sur-bloody-prise) italian food. It was bloody lovely though. Fiona joined us and I showed them the sights of Katsuyama (the non-covered 'covered shopping street' and the temples) before we went for a party at Johanna's where the guest of honour didn't show, largely due to the interference of another individual who we've decided we don't like. And poor Christine is slightly stuck in the middle. Although she's put herself there really. A banquet of good food and more booze led to our returning to the Outback bar in Kuse for another obscene performance from drunken Japanese people and drunken westerners (ie us). Although why we trying to show Japanese people what bump and grind was I really don't know.

Sunday was the day of recovery, and involved eating anything we could lay our hands on (although that may a perfect example of the royal 'we' being used), watching 2 films ('Snatch', which was ok, and 'Dumb and Dumber', or 'Mr Dumb' as they call it here, which was hilarious).

Monday was another interesting day. My first trip to a Japanese doctor. I have been itching for nearly four weeks now and it's bloody irritating. So a teacher took me to the doctors. On the way she showed me where the Samurai House in Katsuyama is, so I have to visit there in the future. The doctor's was bizarre. His office was next to reception. A connecting door was open so the receptionists could see in. Two nurses peered at me with a kind of dull look in their eyes. My teacher explained what it was all about and then left the room so I could show the doctor examples of where I'm itching. And the two nurses and the two receptions looked on! I was like, "er, my arm itches, and my thighs, and my legs". So I pointed to the areas. I thought, sod that, I'm not taking off any clothes with this audience. Which is probably why I have a completely ineffective cream now. Hot damn.

Anyway, monday night was the Board of Education staff party. What a mistake. I joined in and we went to a yaki-nikku restaurant. They ordered me a plate of seafood which was very nice of them, but they really shouldn't have bothered. Really. If I ever see octopus again I will either collapse in a heap or scream like a maniac. Or both. You have to cook your own food on a hotplate. Well, between the octopus, the prawns and the scallops I managed to give myself a spot of food poisoning. I always assumed if your drunk enough alcohol it would kill anything like that, but despite my best efforts on Monday night I woke up with a rum tummy on Tuesday. Other highlights of Monday included various younger staff members (male and female, aged 20- 28) wandered round talking about 'breast festival' and imitating other obscene acts. I spent all my time feeling hugely unimpressed and hugely drunk. Onto the karaoke, where the head and the deputy of the office were greatly entertaining (the head is a very funny man, and fortunately is not obscene). I sang some new karaoke songs without anyone pressing the cancel button and we drank more. After karaoke it was on to Kats bar for one drink before heading home in a heap.

Tuesday was spent tracking down texts for students to read in the speech contest next month, and the evening was our English conversation class. We forgot to do anyplanning again. Very naughty. We have a 2 week break from it now, so we should be able to plan something in that time.

Today? Well, today was fairly quiet too. I'm just hoping my stomach will settle down soon and this itch will stop. I am beautiful, no matter what they say...