Friday, May 27, 2005

as easy as falling off a log...

I've been waiting for ages to find out what actually is as easy off a log, and I have come to the conclusion that falling off a bike may be the answer. After my not-so-long-ago trip into the river, I thought I had had it for wobbly endings. But no!

Today I cycled down the hill towards the supermarket, letting the steep hill speed me up, and having checked the mirror that shows any traffic coming from around the corner, I continued speeding and made a wide turn thinking "tra-la-lee, cycling is so much fun, loving the feeling of the wind blowing through my straight-permed haaaiaaAARGH!!!". At which point I caught sight of an oncoming car, slammed on the breaks hard, flipped over the handlebars and bounced down the fortunately-quiet road. On my shoulder. And my hip. Ow. And the poor woman in the car jumped out immediately and was almost in tears. Maybe I brought back memories of Evil Knievel coming to his tragic end.

Continuing my efforts to internationalise, like a true British gentleman I apologised profusely before dusting myself off and heading to the supermarket where I cleaned up in the loos, bought my lunch and waited a while before getting the school nurse to dress my wounds.

I have since realised that dramatically toppling off my bike once each term has replaced August-December's falling into ditches. I think next time it may be the paddy field. At least they're soft.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Eastern Europe is safe.

Greece won.

Saving what promised to be a travesty of justice (as well as saving the whole of Eastern Europe), Greece won the 50th Eurovision song contest with a clear victory (should have been Selma for Iceland though). Fatty/ Aunty Polly's lookalike came second for Malta, Ruby Wax came third for Romania and two boys who looked like they had a syndrome came fourth for Latvia. You can't beat the Eurovision. I shall be doing my utmost to return for it next year. I am already trying to enlist outside help, instructing my brother that it is necessary for him and his wife to make a new baby in August, to be born in May. It's nice to go home and get it all over with at once.

Baby was great too. She was very nice and didn't cry when we visited or when she visited us. And she's cute and lovely, pulling funny faces and flicking her fingers like she has a hand full of glitter and is ready to start performing. She has a full head of hair and blue eyes that may change (both parents have brown eyes, although she may have her uncle's - ie mine- bluey/ greeny/ grey eyes when she grows up). And she makes very funny (ha ha not peculiar) noises when she sleeps. Sarah and John looked well considering they have a three week old baby, and seem to be doing very well.

The third reason for returning was my Pa's birthday. We had a right old family knees-down on Saturday when we had an early dinner and sat down as a family to watch the Eurovision. It's a good job Pa wished to enjoy the contest on his birthday...

The rest of the trip was great too, catching up with friends- visiting the CityLit in it's new building and seeing loads of people I used to work with, seeing Lyn on her birthday, Rachel in Bishopsgate, and shopping at Fortnum and Mason's with Juliette. On Friday night I met Megan, Matt, Lizzie, Emily and Mandy and we went to Grand Bazaar, probably the best Turkish restaurant in London (and cheap to boot). We had a feast of Turkish type foods that you can't get in Japan, more's the pity.

Sunday become an extended drinking session. Having met Jo in Soho at 2:30 and spent a couple of hours chatting and drinking, we went our separate ways, him to meet with Swedish friends and me to meet with Mark. After a good spell of catching up and drinking with Mark, we decided we were tired and both set off to go home. Except I had a (drunken) second wind and called Jo, and toddled off to meet him and Sylvia, Sonia, their boyfriends and brown Terese in a pub off Oxford street. Talk of Eurovision and drink and discussion of mine and Jo's future wedding and our three daughters (Thelma, Selma and Velma) passed the night away until the pub shut and we ended up in a little bar with a dancefloor and mod music playing.

After a busy monday packing, lunching and seeing baby again I got the plane back to Japan. I arrived last night (tuesday) and had planned today to be a quiet day at Junior High. Except the knock on the door at 7:50 alerted me that I had a busy elementary day ahead. Thank God for no jet-lag...

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Iceland did not qualify for the Eurovision grand final.

Lithuania did not qualify for the Eurovision grand final.

Belarus did not qualify for the Eurovision grand final (despite having the gayest performance ever, surely inspired by Army Of Lovers).

Is Europe on crack? I don't understand.

All votes are off. Sweden or Greece must win the grand final on saturday or I will destroy Eastern Europe. Or something like that.

Home again.

Yay! I made it back. After the "excitement" of the previous two days, I made it back yesterday at 5, spent the evening with the family and my new niece, and today? Well, thanks to the marvel of jetlag I woke up at 5:15am (3:15pm Japanese time). D'oh!

Still, it gives me a headstart on that shopping trip, eh? I'll be banging on shop doors before the staff has arrived, screaming "call this service? In Japan you'd have been open already and be happy to serve me!". This may or may not be a lie depending on where you live in Japan...

Ta ta for now!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What a difference a day makes...

24 little hours. What a difference a day makes, and the difference isssss:

the staff at my Junior high school.

After a long conversation with LeeJay at 11pm last night where she finally managed to break my thundering rage (yay!), I started to think (almost) rationally and decided the best course of action would be to head to Junior high (chugakko) before school started (today is another elementary day) and get the form stamped.

If I was worried that I had appeared too calm and meek at the BoE yesterday, I shouldn't have. The rapping of the business card on the desk and the curt answers must have given the game away. I guess this is true, because when I got to Junior high, before I'd even spoken, my favourite English teacher walked up to me and asked if I'd had a problem yesterday and told me straight away that everything was OK and that the Junior High didn't have any problems with my going away. My former supervisor had called the school to explain the situation (something I don't think he'd have done if I hadn't been spitying feathers). And although the Principal who needed to stamp the form is away today, my Vice-Principal said he would take care of it.

Thank you so much! I cannot describe the relief, and am now enjoying the same positive state of mind I was experiencing on sunday evening. So tonight I will head to Fiona's in the city and tomorrow will fly home. Yay!

I love chugakko!

Monday, May 16, 2005

It's that time again...

where I say "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH" as loudly as possible in order to stop me from bashing heads together. When we arrived here, we were told to not be aggressive. I thought this was a stupid thing to say as we're all civilised individuals. I didn't realise that people would attempt to goad us into aggression at regular intervals.

After a hurried, but successful weekend where LeeJay and I catered a party for 15 people with lots of help from AbsLance, RayVon and Saddam (Nao chan's birthday party went down so well that I spent most of sunday in bed hungover) the week had to start on the wrong footing.

It was monday morning and I instantly sensed a bad day coming on. As the photocopier refused to play ball spurting out copies of random shapes and sizes, I thought there might be some issues coming, and after briefly considering making an entry on this log in the morning, I thought, no, there's a whole day to go. And what a day it wasn't. My left elbow has swollen up and I have felt sick all day. The kids weren't at their best either. The school lunch was full of mincemeat so I couldn't eat it. And then it came. The school secretary was about to take me to the hospital for the teachers' annual chest x-ray when he gets a phone call to take me to the Board of Education. And immediately the alarm bells set off. The new BoE has been up and running for over 6 weeks. I leave Katsuyama tomorrow night so as to get to the airport on time om wednesday morning, and thus, have very much to do and very little free time. So it's decided that today is the time to introduce me to everyone at the new BoE. And don't get me wrong, they're all very nice, but surely it could have waited until next wednesday. And after 30 minutes of introductions and not understanding anything, I am asked to sit down. By now it's way past 4pm (when my work day finishes). The school secretary asks me what I'm waiting for as he has to wait for me. "I don't know", I tell him. I actually have no idea. And then I'm asked if I filled in a certain form about my holiday and the person asking knows full well I haven't as he authorised the holiday, and when I asked him 8 or 10 weeks ago, he told me there were no forms to fill in. Cue a further 20 minutes where five people talk in Japanese around me and no-one actually asks me the question they're debating: how much annual leave I have. This continued until 4:40 by which time I was seething and then when I was "asked" (read "you have to do this") to get a form stamped at a school I am not attending until next week I nearly lost the plot, and in my head bullets started firing and sad music played until all was gone. Or something. I fumed and seethed and as soon as I could speak to one of the group I raged. Poor AbsLance got it in the neck.

So I have been to the crap shops, because all the good ones were shut and anything I managed to get was rubbish and I'm not very happy. I am looking forward to leaving Katsuyama tomorrow night, even though I love it. I love my schools, I love the people and I love the kids and the teachers I work with. I could just do without the way certain things work (or don't work as the case may be).

Only one thing can make this week worse: Iceland not winning the Eurovision on saturday.

Friday, May 13, 2005

More gratuitous shots of Nagoya. The city at night. Posted by Hello

They really are everywhere. Attempting to dumb down Japan with Posh and Becks. Good News! Good Beauty! Posted by Hello

Mexican treasures! More of Hiyasa Odori... Posted by Hello

Dirty bitch. Copping a feel in Nagoya. Posted by Hello

Pikachu at the bus station. He's eating the children. They're bouncing inside to try and get free. Posted by Hello

Final gratuitous shot of Nagoya - Hisaya Odori Park Posted by Hello

Going in blind

If I still have a weblog in 20 minutes I'll be rather amazed 'cause I'm doing this at school and all the on-screen options are all in kanji. I wouldn't mind if they were colour coded, but only 1 seems to be a different colour. Guess I'll find out which one it is fairly soon...

Anyway, as you could probably tell from the end the the last "me" entry (ie, not the one about Jordan and Javine) I was a bit bored after my return from holiday. Not for long though. This week's going at breakneck speed (though the only real injury is one of my teachers with a broken arm thanks to a cycling incident- I see myself in the not too far future...).

On monday I decided to cycle to Yubara, half an hour's drive away. I'd been told it takes an hour there and forty minutes to get back. In retrospect, I suspect that to make it in this time you need a) a good bike, b) general/ good levels of fitness and c) experience. So I really stood no chance. It's about 18kms which, I thought "oh, it's only about 12 miles" (!!?!) Have I suddenly gone mad? I cycled on the main road, through roadworks stretching along the mountainside where signs warned of falling rocks. I admired the beautiful scenery. I breathed in the fresh air (and some car fumes). And finally I decided I needed a drink. So I stopped at a shop which had the kanji for Yubara on the front. And I asked the lady inside how far it was from the shop to Yubara. I expected her to say, "5 minutes away", or, "you're here" and I would smile and tell her it was my first time and we'd share a perfect moment (but not in a Martine McCutcheon fashion). "Hmm," she said, "to Yubara it's 10km". Oh. "Thank you," I said, "and goodbye". And I turned the bike round and pissed off back home. I'm not that bloody mental.

On tuesday I broke the school laminator, when a laminating sheet folded back on itself and I lost the ability to do anything but watch it melt itself into the machine. When the machine jammed, I started tugging and pulling wildly at the bit of plastic hanging out, pressing all the buttons on the machine and tugging some more, only to be met with a chorus of "Chris! Stop" from about 3 teachers, all of whom were laughing. They were still laughing two hours later after taking the thing apart, washing it with alcohol and running card through it. If it were up to me we'd have just drunk the alcohol and gone out to buy a new one. Ah well. very good of them to fix it for me.

Wednesday, thursday and today have been crazy days at school with lovely screaming 5-10 year olds, and it been more than a little tiring. Add to that preparing for saturday's party, having Japanese class, prearing to produce the next edition of Okayama's AJET magazine (basically sending out 300,000,000 emails) and planning next week's trip home, I have been slightly run off my feet. It's just like the old days. But without the (actually) mental people or whinging scroungers. Yay! And I'm getting more and more excited!

Iceland had better bloody win though.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"Don't even speak to us you whore!"

This is apparently what Jordan (glamour model, failed at getting onto this year's Eurovision) shouted at Javine Bitch (bitch, this year's UK Eurovision entrant, failed at getting into Girls Aloud) at the British Soap Awards 2 days ago (for non-British readers: the soap awards are for TV soap operas, not cleansing bars).

You see, I may be in Japan, but I still know what's going on and what matters in the world.

Thanks to anyway...

Monday, May 09, 2005

Does Toyota car company have a slogan?

Because they have a city.

Last Monday I headed to Toyota to meet Eugene and Yuko and relax for a few days. I had heard that Toyota wasn't actually named Toyota until the car manufacturers moved in and became the single biggest employer in the town. Thus they changed the name. It's quite leafy and looks almost like countryside, but has some good facilities which match it's population size (ie large karaoke parlours). Toyota turned out to be a nice city, although a fairly standard Japanese one.

Our relaxing started straight away, when after a quick catch up over coffee we headed to a restaurant and had a very long lunch (3 hours maybe?) sitting in the sun and chatting. I don't get to see Eugene and Yuko often. They live in Tokyo, but Yuko comes from Toyota, so this rare chance to meet was not to be missed and it was good to talk about friends from home and discuss life here. And it was also a nice time to wind down and do things I haven't done for a while like bake a cake. Kind of a sudden decision, but Eugene wanted to make something, so I showed him how to make cake and he showed me how to make pastry. We both made it look very easy, though I'm not sure I won't be having more pastry-like-rock incidents again in the future. It was a quiet night of talking and listening to music and was greatly enjoyed.

Tuesday was another hot sunny day, so we walked Yuko's dog and then when to the Toyota recreation facility with Masa, Chinaka, Hiroshi and Mina to play putting golf. I of course was rubbish, a fact Chinaka declared after I took my first shot. I didn't let her down. Sometimes (well, rarely) putting the ball on par, and sometimes taking 14 shots to do it (instead of 4), I proved myself to have the hand-eye co-ordination of a dead person. I'd say a blind person, but they can see with their ears or something, I don't understand... Afterwards we returned to the house and after dinner, we played card games. We drank, we played cheat (or "liar" as it became in Japanese), we played shithead (with aerobic demonstration as a forfeit), and then we played Indian poker (where as a forfeit the winner of the round drew on the loser's face). We all looked rather alarming by the end of it. I looked like the village idiot, Yuko looked like a man, Chinaka just looked scary and words cannot describe how Eugene looked. Moments of panic followed later that night when it initially appeared the ink would not come off. Argh!

Wednesday was exercise day as we decided to climb a mountain. Lord it was hard! Half way up, while we were puffing and panting in a rest stop, a 73 year old man came over to show us the weights he had around his ankles while he was climbing. "1 kilo" he said pointing to them. "73 years old" he said, pointing to himself. "3 kilos" said Eugene, pointing to his own stomach, #34 years old" he continued, pointing to himself. I don't think the old guy got it, and pretty soon he was shuffling back up the mountain. As were we, and we finally go to one of the peaks with a feeling that Yuko wanted to go further. No! So after eating cakes (well, cakes for me, sandwiches for everyone else) that we had purchased earlier, we headed back to the car via a path that showed us a view over Toyota city. And I met a racist dog. It was quite happy till it looked at me. I was minding my own business, looked down at it, it sized me up and then let loose. Dogs here say wan wan apparently, so it wan wan-ed like never before and got dragged away by it's owner, before returning the favour by bolting at high speed down the path dragging his owner with him.

After a gourmet meal cooked by Yuko's Mum and Dad of tempura and sashimi we headed over to Karaoke and tried our best to have some sort of competition, but the machine started to forget to score our turns. Of those with scores, I just pulled first position with 93%, Yuko was a very close second with 91%. I'll have to prepare hard for next time... And after absorbing whatever I could from the neon of the night city, it was time to go home to bed, and then on thursday back to Katsuyama. Boo!

Only slept 2 hours on Thursday night making the return to work on Friday torturous, but on Saturday LeeJay returned, so we hung out, went to dinner with Christine and Jeremy and then did karaoke again. Yay! And then on Sunday we met up with AbSlance, Phil and ChoLyn for lunch and then just blobbed at LeeJay's for the rest of the day. And here I am again at school, haphazardly preparing lessons, wondering how to teach the kids to read, and whether tube is pronounced chube, ti-ube or toob...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Nagoya station's Central Towers. Posted by Hello

Nagoya city at night. Look! A ferris wheel! Posted by Hello

Osu-kannon. Picture doesn't accurately show the pigeon poo or the pigeons. Posted by Hello

Nagoya castle with its spear lined passageway. Posted by Hello

Sake drums at Atsuta Jinja Posted by Hello

TV tower and Oasis 21 bus station on the misty rainy night of May 1st, 2005. Posted by Hello

Nagoya's TV tower from the top of Oasis 21 where the water looks like it's flowing upwards. Posted by Hello

The one on the end is real. Statues in Hisaya Odori, Nagoya. Posted by Hello

Holiday! It would be so nice...

CORRECTION: it was so nice. After a heated Thursday night "discussion" with the Board of Education which I won (over whether or not I am entitled to sick leave and whether a previous day off sick used up my day in lieu) nearly led to the cancellation of my holiday , I set off on Friday morning to Japan's fourth largest city, Nagoya. And wow, what a trip. If I was missing the city, I surely had my fill (if that's possible in four days).

Nagoya is a great city too. As you come out of the station you walk into what could be the financial district of London or New York, with tall, modern buildings and wide avenues lined with statues and works of art. And if you're like me, you walk the 25 minute walk to your hotel which happens to be in the heart of the red-light district (I'm getting concerned about how naturally drawn I seem to be to red-light districts). You then drop off your luggage and explore. So I wandered around the almost European streets in the blazing sun and explore the shops. And see exciting city-type things, like a pop singer (May Nakabayashi) launching her debut single outside Parco dept. store. And walk round the park that runs through the centre of the city (Hisaya odori park) admiring the art, the TV tower in the distance and the sunshine, and start talking to a Japanese guy who is on his lunch break and really wants to visit England. Continuing, you find a Fortnum and Masons which sells LEMON MERINGUE PIE (albeit very expensive homemade pie) and when it's dark you head to Oasis 21, the space-station like bus station. I don't know what it is about bus stations, but loads of them seem to have ground breaking designs. Well, 2 at least- this one and Stratford's. Then to the TV tower which is another Eiffel tower rip-off, but is in a much nicer location compared to Tokyo's tower (which looks like it's sitting on a warehouse). Lots and lots of photos get taken.

After changing at the hotel I head out to a Turkish restaurant for some exceltlent Turkish cuisine and then onto a hiy-uuuge nightclub where I end up dancing with a Phillipino transexual and her Peruvian "friend". Now that's something you can't do in Katsuyama. Imagine my surprise then when I get an email to say I'm an uncle at 1:20 am April 30th (Japan time). It almost makes me stop drinking. But not quite... Congratulations baby Amelia! and John and Sarah!

Saturday was a frenzy of walking and sightseeing, starting with Atsuta Jinja, a very important shrine where the legendary imperial grass-cutting sword is allegedly kept. The temple was nice and a wedding was in progress, so I loitered for a bit before moving on to a municipal park (Tsurumai park) which was half in a European style and the other half Japanese style. Complete with scary giant Japanese hornets. Understandably I ran away screaming like a 6 year old all the way down Osu-dori, (stopping only at the second hand CD stores to stock up on cheap classics- as in Lolly and Technotronic, not Beethoven) ending up at Osu-Kannon, a very old temple which is bright red and covered in pigeon poo. Nearby shops were eclectic and fun and led me to Shirakawa park with it's fountains. Avoiding the science and art museums at the park, I went instead to the Orchid park to see a huge variety of orchids, some with flowers larger then my fist. Additional excitement came from a high school Jazz band who were playing well, although their two tone-deaf-due-to nerves singers weren't doing them any favours... A walk in the sun to the station led to more shopping and a trip to the cinema (saw Hide and Seek which was entertaining if a bit crap).

Sunday continued in a similar vein- started late after a slow coffee at Starbucks (I rediscovered my love of drawing) and then in the rain I headed to Nagoya castle. Which is great. Having survived plans to demolish it in 1870, it was declared an important historical site in the 1930s and then completely destroyed in a 1945 bombing raid. The castle was reconstructed fully (the inside is an intersting museum with English info), and there are plans to restore the palace that stood outside it. The grounds also contain the Ninomaru gardens, which are rather lovely, and a tea house where I enjoyed green tea and Japanese sweets. As the rain continued, I continued walking in my shorts and t-shirt, exploring the Hisaya Odori park where I found a full Mexican section (statues, art and spanish-language plaques) and replicas of celebrities' signatures from Sunset Boulevard's paving stones. More shopping, and after a trip to the small, but exciting design museum with it's moving displays, I felt it may be time for an umbrella. That makes it six I own. Oops. Having local foods for dinner (kishimen noodles- flat like tagliatelle) I ended the night exploring the park and enjoying the night scenery. And being approached by men who looked like drug dealers. No thank you!

I left Nagoya on Monday in the sun to head to Toyota to meet Eugene and Yuko, but that's for another entry... Ignore what the travel guides say, Nagoya is well worth a visit.