Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The kanji mean inside (naka) and outside (soto). The song was almost operatic and those same words were chanted at speed. And the signs were flashed at similar speed... One of the ladies at ClubJam Posted by Hello

Mmm. Nice outfit. It's 1982 all over again... Another lady at ClubJamPosted by Hello

Betsy and 2 friendly crazy kimono wearing women who spent the evening wandering around the beer garden taking photos and were very pleased to have theirs taken with a tall sexy redhead... Posted by Hello

It really is 1982 all over again. Me in the school picture, taken in May. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Up on the roof...

You think of Japan in summer and what images come into your mind? (1) Kimono-wearing ladies with painted faces and paper umbrellas walking over small wooden bridges in landscaped gardens? (2) 20-somethings utilising the latest technology to keep cool while they maintain their exciting pace of life? (3) Sweaty foreigners looking increasingly tired and sweat-soaked? Only one of these is actually true. Yes, I am a painted-faced lady. Only on Wednesdays though (goes down a storm at school). The rest of the time I am in fact number 3. Given my highly developed sense of style and perfection of male grooming methods (who laughed?) I am sure you will find it hard to believe I spend most of summer looking like a cat that's been in the washing machine. And it's presently getting worse. Without the rainy season, the air is increasingly heavy and humid. If only there was something to do or somewhere to go to have fun in this weather...

Ding ding! It's beer garden time! A not-so-well-known tradition in Japan is that of the beer garden, a time limited experience where, in summer only, and for a set fee you can drink all you like and eat all you like for (usually) 2 hours. And very often they are in strange places. This weekend we went to a beer garden to celebrate Mike Fischer's birthday. Mike is a really good guy, and really popular. Both he and his girlfriend Kat will be missed greatly when they leave, so there was a good turn out to one of the last opportunities to celebrate. The beer garden was on top of Okayama's most luxurious department store (we walked in having just come out of Batman Begins at the cinema and it really felt surreal- the bossa nova muzak playing, the perfectly made-up staff, the suspicious looks of the customers... Carolyn, Phil and I were almost pinching each other). The beer garden wasn't cheap- for ladies it was 3000 yen (around 15 pounds) and for men 3500 yen (around 17 pounds and 50 pee), but you realise pretty soon that you will get your money's worth- it's open air, though they have erected cover sheets to protect from rain and inside these are lights that are also blasting out heat. So you get really hot. And you drink. They had beer and chu-hai, and given my sudden liking of beer, I had a few of each. And a few plates of food. And took numerous pictures. Betsy tried her newly-learned self-defense moves on me, and I practiced my old nursing breakaway techniques (which included me insisting she try to strangle me and then me pulling her to the floor. Oops) And then we all had to leave because it was 9:30pm, so Phil, Carolyn, Jez and I headed to Fudge Bar (where I'd been the previous weekend with Joanna and Fiona) and then on to UltraBlue where everyone else had gone. I only stopped there for two more drinks as I had an opportunity to go and see the gays in their natural environment. There was an AIDS benefit on at Club Jam, and I was going come hell or high water.

It was a great night. They had drag queens from Osaka who put on a couple of shows (which were hilarious despite the language barrier) and a very mixed crowd. I made friends with a lady who teaches French at the University and scared most other people off with my crazy western style dancing. Apart from the drag queens who didn't seem to flustered by it.

The night finished at 4:30 after a rousing chorus of Kylie and I spent the next few hours wondering how to get home- my organised place to stay had gone a bit wrong at the last minute, so I spent the next 3 and a half hours wandering the city, playing with the cash machines in 7-11 and going to Starbucks at 7:10am. Getting back to Katsuyama at 10:30 I found myself entirely unable to sleep, but able to gorge myself at Johanna's burrito party with Phil, Carolyn, Abby and Josh, and then do more crazy dancing at karaoke.

Guess who woke up at 9:30 on Monday morning and was nearly 2 hours late for work? Still I paid for it last night with a punishing trip to dance class. And now? Yes, once again, I look like a cat that's been in the washing machine. And it's only going to get worse.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Let's enjoy learning! The writing tells of a scarily big insect that eats through trees so that they fall down. Just so the students know what it looks like, there is one in the plastic bag above the writing. Alive. Until it suffocates apparently- no-one is planning on killing or releasing it.  Posted by Hello

Pretty but evil looking insect at the train station. Posted by Hello

The Okonomiyaki restaurant- it is also a museum dedicated to Peco and Poco, the Japanese chocolate company Fujiya's mascots. One of the dolls was scarily 4 feet tall.  Posted by Hello

Is it the end of the world?

No, it's just summer in Japan.

It was the lack of rain that aroused my suspicions, and then the plague descended on us. Flies. Insects. Beetles. Everywhere. As the weather's playing sillybuggers with us and going hot then a little cooler, then even hotter, the insects are getting enraged and taking advantage of any slight cooling to come out. And boy are they hideous. Last night was by far the worst so far, as we went to watch LeeJay's last soft ball game (it actually was her last one too) and drove over the bridge in Katsuyama only for the car's headlights to illuminate a swarm of 1-day only flies all over the road and in the air. And then while she playedthe flies were everywhere. While LeeJay was apparently being attacked in the crotch by kamikaze cicadas, I was being set upon (for the first time in my life) by mosqiutoes. But due to my skin paranoia, I knocked everyone of them off before they bit. Ha! Nao chan couldn't believe that mosqitoes never bit me and that it was the first time they'd landed on me. I'm guessing it won't be the last.

The rainy season thing is beginning to worry me, more because people don't seem to be preparing. It should have started three weeks ago, we've had maybe 5 sudden downpours in that time, and they've lasted maybe 1 or 2 hours. Not enough, but as Nao-chan drove Papa-san, Oji-san and I to the fish restaurant in Kuse on thursday I saw many people hosing down not only their cars, but also their concreted front 'gardens'. No doubt their Japanese-style baths are still overflowing indoors and will do until a water ban is announced. Lucky me won't understand it though, so I'll be sure to water every bit of concrete I can find.

On Thursday night I got out a nice epsom salts bath only to hear a massive bang. At first I thought it was a bomb, and then I realised where I was. Although if I'd really thought about where I was I would have realised it could have been a student trying to blow up the school (as was recently attempted in Osaka). But it was the start of a massive thunderstorm. I worried Johanna wouldn't want to drive and we'd miss out on our dinner of Okonomiyaki and a trip to karaoke, but no! And karaoke has just descended into a mess, where we sing maybe 3 songs each properly and then just take the piss as much as possible, near wetting ourselves in the process. Oh, I'll miss LeeJay when she goes!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Here is the round up from our Katsuyama correspondent:
  • NATIONAL NEWS: after a complex Japanese/ Spanish / English explanation of how rainy season works, it was decided by the 1st grade teacher, the 6th grade teacher and the woman who is lovely but whose job remains a mystery even after 11 months that there will be NO RAINY SEASON this year.
  • LOCAL NEWS: British Assistant Language Teacher Kurisu Koopah is officially talented at English language usage. This was confirmed by a 6 year old speaking at lunchtime to his class. His teacher went on to explain that in Britain everyone spoke English. She was almost correct...
  • FLASHBACK: One teacher remembers 10 years ago. But I don't understand much that she says other than there was no rainy season, she was at high school, the water pressure in the taps was really low and the supply was off for most of the time. People would wash their faces in buckets of water. No mention of how anyone washed anything else, so I'm assuming the drought of 10 years ago was responsible for a boom in deodorant sales and a ginormous growth in the ozone hole.
  • TODAY'S WEATHER: Sunny. Again. And too bloody hot (33 yesterday!)
  • Tomorrow: the strange tale of the old Japanese lady who was bent so far forwards that she spent her latter years peering backwards through her legs.
  • And also: Kumi vs. Mukami- an undercover investigation into those New Crown stories.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cigarette smoke is wider than the human body and other stories from the wilderness. A different take on why smoking is bad from Japan. Posted by Hello

What a difference a day makes: in pictures

My old fly-killing equipment: VO5 hairspray (left by my predecessor- honestly!) and a mens "fashion" magazine. Posted by Hello

My new fly-killing equipment: Earth Jet fly spray (or arse-jetto as it is read in Japanese) and mini fan of fly poison. Posted by Hello

My old camera Posted by Hello

My new camera Posted by Hello

Plodding along.

The last week was rather uneventful. Even events that should have happened (such as rainy season) just weren't going to happen. It's all good though, as it meant an opportunity to relax and take it easy which was sorely needed. Although with the heat rising, sleep is soon going to become an issue again.

Monday was a return to dance class, and AbSlance brought her boyfriend Josh. Since the last time I went 2 new girls have joined the class. They appear to not have a clue. One of them cannot do the simple arm rotating warm-up exercises yet she can put her leg behind her head. And so can I it seems. I had been planning to return to class for a while, but after the last cycling accident I had a lot of trouble with my left leg. Not any more. Last Monday I managed to get it right behind my head. Maybe I did dislocate it after all...

English Conversation class on Tuesday was good, simply for the reason that Christine and I have taken it into our own hands to do what we want, so we plan games and exercises around a theme. Kind of what we thought we'd be doing last September when we started, only to be shot down in flames.

Boney M made a surprise appearance at school on Wednesday. Not in the flesh though. I don't think they're friendly enough these days to stay in a room together, let alone fly to Japan to make an appearance in front of an Elementary school class. I had to teach the kids the months of the year, so I used the marvellous calendar song from their "Oceans of Fantasy" album and made a suitably shite dance routine to match. The lyrics to the song are deep, but not too deep for a learner of English. Repeat after me: "January, February, March, April, May, June, July" and repeat. Now change: "August, September, October, November, December". And repeat. They don't write songs like that anymore.

On Thursday evening LeeJay (new nickname Johanny thanks to one of her schoolkids who can't pronounce her name after the best part of a year) and I headed to best izakaiya (bar/restaurant) in Kuse (the best out of 4 that is) before returning to hers and watching the film "Half-Baked". This was unfortunate for everyone around us as we spent the rest of the week quoting lines from the film and almost wetting ourselves while all else wondered what was going on.

Christine and I went to support Johanny on her last softball match of the season only for her to find out when she got there that her last match is in fact this Friday (although I have no doubt when she arrives this Friday they'll tell her her last one's next Friday). And she apologised to us afterwards as it was her worst game yet. Unlike her team, the team she played against had talent. Her team is ace though. It consists largely of Mums and older women who play twice a month as a hobby. Some of them have been playing for five years. I hope they haven't improved over this time, because I can't imagine how bad they'd have been back then.

All the new Okayama ALTs start in August, so I volunteered to help out with their orientation and had to head to the city early on Saturday for a meeting (travel expenses were paid and were very impressive!) and after this I met Johanny to look for outfits for the big sayonara party that takes place on July 9th. It is a smart-dress do, but as usual we are doing our own thing. That's if it works out- pictures will reveal all. Then we dropped our stuff at Fionas, said goodbye to AbSlance and RayVon who were heading back to Shin-Kurashiki and headed back out for food (our favourite curry restaurant in Okayama's CRED building) and then to the Fudge bar near the symphony hall. This bar is like someone's basement filled with really eclectic tat, and owned by interesting, friendly people. So we got drunk there and headed home to watch Mean Girls.

Sunday night back in Katsuyama where Johanny and I headed to Uenodan for desert (not having had dinner) and then as I prepared to make calls and think about bed I noticed a plague of tiny flies in my kitchen- climbing the walls and flying around the light. Having no fly spray I used a sponge to rid the wall of pests and used hairspray and the hoover to get rid of those that were hanging around the light. I will bug bomb the apartment for the 15 millionoth time tomorrow. I'd do it tonight, but I'm off to the gym. The shock of seeing exercise machines may render me useless.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Rude scrabble. Mother, look away! Posted by Hello

An afteroon on the deck at Shiraishi international villa. LeeJay, RayVon, Saddam and Fiona. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Sunset on Shiraishi Island. Posted by Hello

Queen LeeJay waves to the commoners. Posted by Hello

RayVon and AbSlance on the ferry home. Moments before AbSlance had sustained a head injury on the low ceiling... Posted by Hello

Sailing fun. RayVon and LeeJay enjoy the open seas... Posted by Hello

Monday, June 13, 2005

Island people

After retelling some info I read on the internet about Japanese consumption of whale meat having only started after the war because food supplies were poor and unreliable, I was told of a video about England which was called Island People. Apparently it said our food was a bit sub-par because of the war. I struggled to not be overly patriotic, but replied that our diet had changed considerably over the last 20 years, and it was no longer considered healthy or taste-inducing to boil the life out of everything. But it made me think. Am I an island person? I'm not from a limited gene-pool per se as both parents are foreign, but I do come from a country surrounded by water (but then again, America's surrounded by water). Regardless, we were Island people at the weekend as we headed of to the island of Shiraishi in the Seto Inland Sea to celebrate Fiona's birthday.

The trip began on Friday as LeeJay and I drove to Raewyn's. Fiona and Saddam headed to the island on the Friday night, but as the last ferry was at 5:50, the rest of us simply couldn't make it. So LeeJay and I stayed at RayVon's where we gorged ourselves to within an inch of our lives. Or more accurately for me, within an inch of the toilet bowl. RayVon found this hilarious, pointing out that only knew of children who ate so much they had to vomit, not 29 year olds. Ah, I'm young at heart you see...

Well, on Saturday we got up early, none of us having slept well due to the heat. And it was punishing. With such a wide variety of items we resembled the Clampetts without a car, and we had to pick up more shrapnel on the way. A trip to the supermarket, a trip to the video shop, a tip to the bakers and the 100yen store a train journey and then onto the "Ferry". I was expecting a big ferry upon which cars would fit. Wrong. This was a small, not very smooth boat which did it's job without frills. Without any frills at all.

The island itself wasn't what I'd thought. Apparently the islanders made a decision many years ago to cut off it's tourist industry. You can clearly see this as it looks very ramshackle, though not without charm. Or jellyfish. The beach was covered with jellyfish in an array of colours. Nice.

The villa was great though, on a hill which didn't feel that high we had a great view of the beach and then of the sunset as it happened. And with your friends around you it was even better. The usual group was there plus Busty, plus AbSlance's holidaying boyfriend, plus Saddam's friend Keiran. So with booze, and sugary food and a great Thai green curry cooked by the birthday girl herself we had a fun night free of DVDs, episodes of Sex and the City and vomiting. Which was nice for me. Saddam, Fiona, Keiran and I played a game of rude word scrabble which was quite inventive, and we had a massive game of catchphrase, where this machine gave you a word or phrase and you had to describe it without saying it and the rest of the team guess it.

We shared rooms, so LeeJay and I stayed together and kept everyone awake by laughing for about an hour before we passed out, although I woke up convinced that insects were crawling all over me. Tactile hallucinations are so passe. Even modern schizophrenics don't really bother with them anymore...

Sunday was the journey home. We had to be out by ten am, so we got on the ferry, headed back to RayVon's, ate lunch at Joyfull and watched a bizarre but interesting film called 46. And then Johanna and I headed back to Katsuyama to meet Phillip and ChoLyn and Christine to head to the exciting opening of Katsuyama's newest cafe and international plaza. The bar, called Uenodan is run by Shoko-san, the sister of Kapo-chan who teaches Christine and I Japanese and organises the English conversation classes we do. And it was great. Great food, a lovely space, and nice people. I will be a regular. Maybe more so than I am at Lawson's.

Friday, June 10, 2005

And something else strange...

I went for a hair cut on Wednesday, to be given the most extensive massage yet. Washing the hair and massaging the head prior to cutting the hair took approximately 20 minutes. Cutting the hair took approximately 30 minutes. Then apparently shaving was in order. And as I lay back in the seat looking at the cut-throat razor in his hand, I thought, "ooh, this is new". And as he lathered my face, I thought, "I didn't really want to be shaved". And as he lathered my forehead, I thought, "'ey up, what's going on". And as he proceeded to start shaving my eyebrow, I yelled "NOOOO!"

Why would I want my eyebrows shaved? Plucked, maybe, but shaved? I'll have to send out a memo about that one...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Almost unique and definitely special. I always knew it...

It's been a very odd week so far, a proper rollercoaster of anger, joy and passion. Albeit without the passion. I was so tired on monday night I stayed in, and on Tuesday was glad I had , because I needed my wits about me. Last Friday I was told I had to go back to the hospital to have a 2nd chest x-ray, although no-one would tell me why other than "recheck"- recheck what? I soon found out. My Junior High School is the only school I have that treats me like an adult and thus they told me what time the bus came and to get it to the hospital. I was going alone! Yay! No escort! I now know sometimes this isn't great.

So I arrive at the hospital determined to find out why I have to have another chest x-ray and the nurse takes me to see Doctor (who actually was a radiologist, not a Dr, but this isn't the time to be fussy). This man has learnt the contents of an English medical dictionary, but unfortunately for me he hasn't learnt the contents of a standard dictionary and so has to join the phrases up with Japanese. Well, it's OK, we're both laughing because of the situation and he's rattling off these words and I'm going, "oh", and, "ah..." and what he's saying clearly doesn't hit me immediately. Firstly they have no prior x-ray, so he doesn't know if what they're seeing is new. There are shadows on my lungs (I'm still laughing because he is saying shadows and saying lungs in about 15 different intonations) but he thinks it's scar tissue from an operation. I try and say "I haven't had an operation on my lungs" in Japanese, and it's just not happening, so we both start laughing again. He gets the message from my burbling. Then he says he thinks it's probably not malignant and I make more "oohs" and "aahs" like a kid at a Christmas pantomime, and the clerk in the room with us starts laughing. Then he says "probably benign" and I compliment him on his English at which point we're almost rolling on the floor. And then he starts talking about x-rays and scans. So I have a CT scan- another first in Japan! I've never had a CT scan before (something else under my belt- although I could have lived without it). The only trouble is the CT scan announcements are in Japanese. The technician explains in broken English what the announcements will say ("hold breath... 30 second") and I lie there and wait. And the table moves forwards and up, and there is an announcement over the tannoy. And without the radiologist trying to talk to me I'm not laughing anymore and when the announcement over the tannoy bears no relation to what the woman told me, I am almost having CT-scan-ruining palpitations with all sorts of panicky thoughts going through my head.

As she helps me off the table and offers one of the standard Japanese greetings that means something like "ta for the effort", the technician stops, checks herself and says it again but with an "always" stuck to the front- it turns out I teach two of her kids. It really is a small place where I live.

The results that were due in ten minutes actually took thirty-five, but it was good news. In English, the radiologist announced "no malignant. No TB , no pneumonia". So what then? Maybe an extra blood vessel or vein apparently. In true drama queen style, I understood this very important line, spoken to me in Japanese: "I have been a radiologist for 10 years. And I've never seen this before." I AM special! I have no idea what it means though, but I figure it hasn't popped up overnight and has never done me any harm, so I don't see why I should worry about it now. The scan will be shown to a doctor and I will find out next month what it is. Although I already know- I think they may have found my pet tapeworm- Slinky. . I shan't let them remove it! How will I stay slim without good old Slinky to reprocess all my food? Hang on, there's always cigarettes...

Anyway, last night Johanna and I hit the karaoke salon to destress after World War 3 nearly started between Johanna and her Principal (I have no doubts who the staff would have been picking out of the carpet this morning...), and after acting like the freak section from a 1920's circus we realised there was a video camera in the karaoke room. Now EVERYONE knows we're special...

Monday, June 06, 2005

None of that "ltd edition mint flavour" nonsense here...

Choclit for wine conoisseurs (spelling?). 4 grape flavours- Cabernet, Chardonnay, Kyoho, and Muscat. The packet stinks of booze but the choc is really good. Posted by Hello

Mmm... Mango flavour. Surprisingly nice. Posted by Hello

Last persons standing...

This weekend was another big one with one of the must-attend events going on. This time it was a roof-top barbecue in downtown Niimi. Actually this is a lie. Using the term Downtown Niimi implies that there is an Uptown Niimi, and really there's just Niimi itself. It may now rank as one of the biggest cities in Japan through area alone, but it still barely rates on population, facilities or things to do. This changed on Saturday night at 5:30 pm when it all kicked off.

Having traveled to AbSlance's place with LeeJay to meet RayVon and prepare food, we turned up at the barbecue at 6:30 with trays of kebabs and, thanks to LeeJay's careful planning, a bottle of Tanqueray gin and just enough tonic. People kept arriving and it was a great opportunity to meet people I'd only had contact with via email and to make a show of myself yet again. This included beating my personal record for cigarettes smoked in one night, although I'm not quite sure of the actual figure- somewhere between 15 and 25. LeeJay was on form having big arguments about music and then having drunken discussions about other goings on.

AbSlance turned tutor teaching RayVon and I how to poor a glass of beer, and strangely my abilities improved the more I drank. Although I had the valuable excuse when it went wrong that this was the first time I'd ever done it.

Numerous friendly, obscene or bizarre conversations passed and it was about 11pm- and the Police made their first visit to the roof. The first and second visits were solo attendances were we were all told to be quiet, and the third one, around 1:45 am they came with back up- 3 cops to be precise, and some whinging cow and her husband who didn't live in the building, nor any of the surrounding buildings, and who it turned out only complained because she could speak English and hadn't been invited. Silly cow. Did she think we get given a telephone directory of all English speakers in the area when we move in?
This did seem to shut down the party, with many of the remaining partiers heading off, not before managing to divert the Police from the answers they were looking for (such as who organised the party), but AbSlance, RayVon, LeeJay, an Aussie called Andrew, a Kiwi called Matt and I kept on rambling round for hours. I don't really have much idea of what we did, although I know AbSlance set to cleaning up/ looting the remnants of the booty (it's a good job she couldn't lift the keg) while LeeJay traipsed after her finishing what she started. I considered buying more cigarettes (soft packs are very nice), but fortunately I didn't as the number I'd smoked kept me awake most of the night. I'm sooo sensitive you see...

As people started leaving the party flat early on Sunday morning there wasn't much chance to sleep and I ended up being reunited with the gang at 12. And spent the rest of the day eating and falling asleep. I have decided since that this is the only way to pass a Sunday. It was also good because they were watching the terminally boring "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" which I have commented on before, so this time I will hold back my venom.

Today was a nice, boring day at school where I got plenty of bits done and didn't have to worry about teaching because all the English teachers were off at an English teacher's conference. I therefore, am obviously an expensive ornament.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Feminist Kobe understands...

Feeling bloated, depressed or angry? Suffering cramps? Kobe makes that time of the month feel special at Bar Jammer Rag. Posted by Hello

Saddam and Busty celebrate the curse at RagTime in Kobe Posted by Hello

Sunburn, wonky legs and 1000 foreigners

Ooh, another packed few days- late nights working on the Fuzzy Peach (Okayama AJET magazine of which I am now the editor), a birthday, a conference for JETs who are staying another year in Kobe, socialising- I REALLY need a break now. I am almost out of steam.

I didn't have time to rest after the cycling incident on Friday as it was RayVon's birthday-seaside-picnic on Saturday and I had to bake the cake. And thanks to the substitution of cooking margarine for butter, there appeared to be almost twice as much cake mix and during cooking waves of cake oozed over the sides of the tin to resemble pus flowing from a boil. Only this pus was tasty. In such situations it seems the best plan of action is to turn the road-accident-alike cake upside down as the baking tin's shape covers all mis-haps.

The beach day was the most fun I've ever had at the seaside. Despite the fact that my neck had now become stiff and sore from bouncing down the road the previous day, I had a good time, as did the gang. RayVon, Saddam and AbSlance had a particularly good time having started to drink at 11am, although sun + booze + Saddam do not make a good combination. Also enjoying himself was a strange stalker type who stood against a wall and watched us for approximately 5 hours (no exaggeration) until he finally came over and asked for a drink (!?). Buy your own you freak- there's a shop down the road. And as we left he proceeded to follow our cars, so much so that we started to plan evasive action in order to stop him finding out where RayVon lives. Fortunately he gave up and drove off, leaving us to enjoy the rest of the night pigging out on western style food and booze and dodgy films. Yay!

I woke up very early on Sunday, and then kept dozing off, finding it very hard to actually get up and piss off to Kobe like I was supposed to. Maybe this was because I hated Kobe last time I visited. So after watching numerous episodes of ER (RayVon rents it from the video rental store), I finally mustered the strength to go. And when I arrived in Kobe from sunny Okayama, it was dark and pouring down with rain. GAH! And when I tried to find anything, I couldn't. GAH! I HATE KOBE! After 20 minutes of walking I found the information centre where I was given the English guide I asked for. This was rubbish compared to Nagoya's. So I found my way to the bus stop for the hotel, met some other Jets (Sierra and Catherine) and made my way to the super-posh Portopia hotel. Life in the lap of luxury. I could get used to it. There weren't many of us around on Sunday, so we got together and went for dinner in Chinatown (having failed to locate an Indian restaurant), followed by a trip to a cool bar with a great cocktail menu.

On Monday, feeling much less sore, I went to have the Fuzzy Peach printed, headed to UniQlo (which I will now declare is OK- I have claimed to hate it for years, but they do have some good bits in there) via Starbucks for breakfast (my memory is ace- I remembered where it was from my trip in November 2003) and then back to the hotel for the start of the conference. Which was dire. Opening speeches are always bad here. But I did sit with Betsy (Busty), Fiona and Saddam and we basically laughed our way through the whole thing, and afterwards went to Starbucks then spent two hours trying to find a particular restaurant before ending up in an excellent Balinese and Indonesian place. Where we gorged ourslelves. Mmm. Real Balinese cuisine by real Balinese people. And then we went to Chinatown which was closed. Oops.

Tuesday was full to the brim with interesting lectures, offered a tasty lunch where the vegetarians were segregated for serving purposes (I wanted to ask if we were allowed to use the same buses as the carnivores) and proffered me the opportunity to catch up with people I had met and lost touch with from Tokyo, including my plane-pal Laura. Yay! And the evening was also a treat. Again, Saddam, Busty, Fiona and I went to eat and found a great Nepalese place, before going for pudding at a cafe that served great cheesecake. And then we met Amy and other JETs and went for booze at an Irish bar which had a Killarney license plate hanging on the the wall. Ah! My heritage is alive and well in Kobe (!?!). As we met other Okayama ALTs our party got bigger and bigger and we headed to Bar SoulBlood (I was thinking of Rastafarian curses when I heard this name) and had a good dance to some hip-hop and R'n'B. And things were going great until they played Faith Evans at which point I reinjured my leg and spent wednesday limping.

Wednesday was one of those days where you do a lot but it amounts to nothing- basically the end of the conference and then getting back from Kobe to Katsuyama- trains and buses for 4 and a half hours. Overall the conference was really good, and thanks to this, the company and the socialising, I have decided that Kobe is actually a really cool town. I shall return.