Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mount Daisen from the beginner's slopes. Posted by Picasa

Breeda and me at the evening's party... Posted by Picasa

Falling face-first...

Lst week was another relentless week with more than the usual going on. After my TV fame moment I set to work preparing the current edition of the Fuzzy Peach, our prefecture's JET magazine, using Word and copies of Photoshop that had only Japanese and Brazilian language abilities. So now I know how to say "merge images" in Brazilian Portugese which I'm sure will never, ever come in useful. Oh well. The stress of struggling with three languages clearly contributed to my worsening cold and resulted in my staying at home on Wednesday and sleeping until 11 (it seems to have knocked my appetite on the head too, which is never a bad thing when lent is coming up). Anyway, I finally finished the Fuzzy at 10pm on Thursday before realising that I had yet to reinstall the printer (after the big computer breakdown) and this almost become a major trauma as nothing was working and about 14 other languages kept popping up. Suddenly all I could think was, "je ne suis pas un famille polyglotte" which, along with "une salle de bains" and "ou est le bibliotheque", is about the only French I can remember. And it didn't help. But by 2am I had finished printing it out and stuffing it in envelopes and had prepared the address labels ready to send in on the rush that was to become Friday.

Friday was one of those days where everyone wants a piece of you, only at the wrong time. It sometimes seems like people only have work for me to do outside of work hours, and as four o'clock came it seemed to become "test the students" time. And then when I finally got away Nao chan wanted to talk to me, and then her friend wanted to talk to me, but I simply didn't have the time! So I made my excuses and rushed off home to pack for the weekend and the doorbell rings. It's 2 of my elementary school girls who live in a building next to mine and are often to be found running around my apartment block. So I let them in, thinking they'll run around the hallways, but no! They want to come in to my apartment and given that I won't let them, they want to stand at my doorway and talk to me for a seemingly endless amount of time. So after I close the door on them for the third time and get ready to jump in the shower they ring the bell. Again. So I get in the showeranyway and start singing loudly, knowing they'll hear it outside...

I finally got away at 5:35, speeding on the highway to mount Daisen. It was a nice drive where I found out what happens once you go over the top limit on the car's speedometer- the car just gets faster. This would actually be alarming if the speedometer went above 140 kms an hour (approximately 90 miles an hour). But then the speed limit on the -ahem- "express"way is half that.

I was heading to Daisen for a ski weekend with some people I'd met at the Naked Man festival and it was great fun. Steve booked rooms for the 12 of us in a hotel on the mountain and we spent the night eating, drinking, watching American Idol and doing a spot of karaoke before passing out.

Saturday came, and with only a couple of hour's sleep (due to nasty alcohol and the heat in the bedroom) we headed out to the slopes, myself and a very funny girl called Breeda being the only beginners. And thanks to the very patient teaching of Steve and Alex we were soon (well after about an hour and a half) getting down the slopes by ourselves. And falling. And being jolted on the ski-lift. And falling again. Breeda and I spent half our time laughing at the contorted shapes I kept ending up in, some of them feeling rather painful, but both decided we love skiing and are going to do it again.

So after skiing, Steve, Alex, Virginie and I headed out to an onsen and then to dinner at a very stylish restaurant which felt more like something you'd find in London or New York than Yonago, Tottori and served some of the richest, tastiest waffles I think I've ever eaten.

From there we headed to Katherine's apartment (where everyone was staying) to get ready before heading out for a big Tottori ALT party which seemed quite crazy. The bar was like something from a seventies disaster movie (all beige velvet couches, glass walls and black paintwork) and the music was a very bizarre mix, with live bands, and DJs who were playing very, very muddled sets. But the drink helped, and the people were hilarious, (thanks to Jess, who was my beautiful dancing partner for part of the night) so we managed to stay till the end, although we were flagging by the next bar and returned home, Alex and I making a trip to Lawson via an ill-advised detour. Through a sopping paddy-field. D'oh.

Sunday was almost like coma day. I perhaps slept for an half an hour on Saturday night and Sunday morning seems rather disjointed. We all rose and eventually Katherine, Jess, Virginie and her friend (whose name I can't spell), Steve and I were in a very nice restaurant having paninis and enjoying the french bossa-nova lounge soundtrack that was playing. Actually i was enjoying it the most, but i may have been delirious. And we spent the afternoon in the cinema waiting patiently for Jodie Foster to shout, "where's maaaah baaaabyyy?" in the rather ludicrous but entertaining "Flight Plan".

It seemed a shame to have to head home to an empty apartment, but the lure of sleep was too much and by 9:30 I was out cold. And this week? It's back to the usual school routine with what could have been a dreary Monday night transformed into a JoyFull night of conversation, gossip and laughter with the marvellous Nickname Pending. Thank you miss!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I'm ready for my close-up...

I was at school on Friday when I heard the secretary talking to one of my Japanese English Teachers and mentioning my name frequently. As I got up to investigate, my JTE came up to me and asked if anyone from KHK, Kuse's local TV station had spoken to me. "No", came my answer, with me wandering what she would say next. "They want to interview you for TV" was what she said next. And at 3pm a woman from KHK TV turned up at school to ask me in person if they could interview me. And more. They didn't just want an interview, they wanted to make a film about me and the ALT in Kuse. I only got in on the action because I took over one of LeeJay's schools when she left in August. And as they told me what they wanted me to do I started laughing inside. And secretly laughed all weekend...

Monday came and I was ready for my close-up. And action shots. And demonstration moment.

They came to school and filmed me walking home. They took me to the supermarket and filmed me buying cauliflower, potatoes and spinach. They took me home and filmed me cooking curry. And they filmed my CDs, my photos and numerous other things. And then came the moment when I almost burst out laughing. Anyone who's seen a few Japanese TV food shows will no doubt have been rendered speechless by the constant stream of glazed-eye bimbos that tilt their heads, slightly dribbling to declare every concoction that enters their mouths "Oishiii!!!" (i.e. Japanese for "deeelicious!!!"). And as I was filmed eating my curry I had to utilise every bit of self-control I could muster as my soon-to-be-interviewer asked in Japanese, "so, how is it?" There is only one possible answer to this and I had to try and not spit curry everywhere while I laughed out a garbled "oishiii!!!"

The interview that followed was rendered atrocious by the fact that my vocabulary has been possessed by the spirit of an 18th Century schoolboy who likes to say, "Gosh!" and "Crikey" at every opportunity. And because I kept trying not to laugh.

They have yet to film me teaching (Lord, oh Lord!) but the finished product will be aired on TV on March 8th. It may rank up there with my close-ups on Ricki Lake...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The devil's in the details. Are the chocolate companies getting brave or just desperate? Chocolate "Milk and Salt"? Milk? And salt? SALT? Do they really think that "Rich milk chocolate featuring a blend of caramel flavor and French SALT" sounds enticing? Do they think making the salty bit BLUE makes it exotic? Hah, no one'll be fooled. Only an idiot will buy this rubbish.

Oh. Hang on...

Posted by Picasa

Nice pagoda at Saidaiji, in the temple grounds. I heart my camera. I really heart it. A lot.  Posted by Picasa

The Police lined the streets. Not quite sure why, but they were everywhere. Posted by Picasa

Crazy men running through icy cold water. Crazy, crazy men. Posted by Picasa

The temple where the action occurs. This photo was taken at 10:30 and the temple just got more and more full. By midnight people were stood inside, outside and all around. Posted by Picasa

I've had this dream before. I walk into school, everyone laughs... I forgot my trousers! Again...

A very cheeky man leaves the festival... Posted by Picasa

Bus number 3 on the way home. Fabulous people. Fabulous. Posted by Picasa

Booze, bums and karaoke...

It could be suggested that I fell off the other wagon as well last week and if I did it was truly by accident and indeed I feel like I am in some way clinging to bumper of this one. There was the previously reported "strong heavy drunker" meeting last wednesday and then on Thursday Jaco came to Katsuyama for a farewell dinner with me, Christine and Jeremy. Only I turned up at the restaurant first to see possibly the most unfriendly (but rather handsome) man from my apartment block sat rather sloshed at the counter with a colleague. And for the first time he was friendly (booze can be a wonderful thing) so I started with a couple of glasses of sake and practiced some Japanese, and when the rest of the group arrived we sat down and Jaco ordered drinks for a big kanpai. Except he then kept ordering drinks. And as Jeremy was driving and Christine doesn't drink too much, I unwittingly stepped in. D'oh! Move ahead two hours and Jaco and I are in karaoke in rather a state drinking more and forgetting that we both have work in the morning... Well I managed about 3 hours sleep and fortunately was sober when I woke up. Not sure about Jaco though, but he made it to school on time.

Friday was largely unremarkable but for the fact that my voice seemed to disappeared somewhere. It had been protesting before we arrived at karoake, and by Friday it was on strike. Wondering when the industrial action would end I croaked my way through classes and through to Saturday morning when despite feeling slightly manky I decided I would make it to the Naked Man festival (Hadaka Matsuri). I attended last year but having gotten horrendously trolleyed I wandered out of the compound and spend an hour staggering around the streets and listening to a man talk about Japanese martial arts. In Japanese. Thank God for gestures... So I drove to the city, and fortunately a blend of high speeds, Rachel Stevens and M&Ms brought my voice back in time for me and Amy to scream instructions at about 140 gathered ALTs. Our AJET committee (or more specifically, Claire on our committee) had organised the event and we had 180 ALTs coming from around Japan to attend. And it was great fun. I have never been in charge of a bus load of people before, and have certainly never had to entertain 48 others in such a situation but I had a great crowd.

The festival itself was bizarre and funny. We wandered round for ages trying to find the standing area for which we had tickets and then when we got in it was just like being at an outdoor party. We looked at all the men in nappies (fundoshi) running through the pool of icy water wandering if we would see any of our friends, taking lots of pictures and catching up with people we hadn't seen since last year. The main event kicked off at midnight: all the nappy wearing men gather in the temple (or try to, there are so many of them). The lights go out and 6 sticks get thrown into the heaving mass of bodies. Only one of the six sticks will get the winner the big cash dollar bling bling prize while the other 5 bring disappointment and possibly despair given the battering the individual will have taken to get them out of the temple. Well, Bob and Adam and Jaco and Neil were among the people in the morass and they seemed to escape with minor cuts and bruises and unfortunately no stick. Gah!

So it was back on the bus and back into the city, passing time with possibly inappropriate jokes about pregnancy, ladies' clinics and knitting needles. And once in town I headed off with the LGB group to an hilarious bar called CoverBoyz. Our first choice had been full, but Coverboyz turned out to be rather, er, special with very welcoming customers and a more-drunk-and-beyond-friendly bar owner who spent much of the evening apparently groping two of our group. And then we all did karaoke and I finally met someone who appreciates Girls Aloud, Vanessa Paradis and Rachel Stevens.

With just over 2 hours sleep (thanks to Julia for the accommodation) Sunday was a bit of an asleep-at-the-wheels mess, and the kotatsu and a hot bath were about all that could help. Especially given the bizarre events Monday was to bring. But that's a story for another day...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wendy and Adam. Happy birthday Wendy! Posted by Picasa

Ashley covets the Harpie's glasses while Suicidal Friend demonstrates that even the desperate wish for peace...  Posted by Picasa

Love for Seven-Eleven. This is D-Lan and Nickname Pending on our final visit of the night to Seven-Eleven. With Adam and Sarah, we tallied a total of 14 trips in one night. Posted by Picasa

Mother TeRachel brings cheerios to the ugly and destitute. Fortunately the other destitute were asleep in Dave's apartment... Posted by Picasa

"Strong heavy drunker"

Is what you become in Japan when you drink lots of beer and don't get drunk so quickly. I found this out last night at a pre-preparation party for a teaching session I'll be doing in a few weeks. The party with a group of local young businessmen and was fantastic fun, fortunately not reducing itself to the levels of "buresuto fesuchivaru" (say it very quickly) like previous parties with young officeworkers (where I would usually put on my most sour face and declare sexism bad). Despite everyone in the room being labelled "sukebe" (lewd person in Japanese), including myself (which made it an International Sukebe party), there was actually no sukebe-type behaviour displayed at all- my Victorian values remain unoffended and intact. And fortunately my head remained intact last night and this morning as I prepared for elementary school and kindergarten, and I didn't need the chainsaw we joked about last night to keep the kids in check...

Really, yesterday was a blip in a recent alcohol-free life. It seems like ages since the last lot of drinks, and hopefully it will be until the next. Wendy's birthday bash was hilarious last week thanks to everyone else's drinking and this weekend is the Naked Man festival which for me will be a sober event (I hope- last year I missed all the action having wandered off in a drunken daze).

Wendy lives in Ibara, which is rather far from Katsuyama, but Efi makes short work of such distances (provided the land is flat otherwise Efi refuses to do any work and just gargles away at the bottom of the hill) and pretty soon we were all gathering at Wendy's, organising the sleeping arrangements at Dave's place and heading to Fukuyama for a dinner in a very nice restaurant where we had to ask the waiter what to do with certain bits of food and at some point I seemed to have been put in/ taken charge (it must be the newly-straightened hair confusing people). So as Adam, Nickname Pending and I sat sober, them drinking fruit juice and water and me getting rather buzzed on approximately 15 cokes, Wendy made up for us all by having rather a lot of booze. Indeed, she ordered 4 drinks when the man came to take last orders. I salute her resolution. Or something. Perhaps I mean resolve? Hmm...

Anyway, after that we went on to a bar called Zappa which appeared to be really cool. And it was cool even though it became clear fairly early on that bar service was not their strong point (Adam and I ended up heading to 7-11 across the road for drinks instead- numerous times) and at some point a screaming Japanese harpie appeared with a suicidal girlfriend. Each time we returned from the combini something had changed and the harpie was by far the worst change. Although she was highly entertaining what with pushing people out of her way, screeching in your ear and then talking to you in what she claimed was Italian but which might actually have resembled Italian if it was spoken by Helen Keller. Or a duck.

The final change in the bar came with the music (and the fact that the Harpie took her miserable friend somewhere else) and for the last part of the evening a few of us danced a bit and it was, like, a bit good, right? Except it was actually the last part of the evening as when we all got back to Dave's, Nickname Pending and I continued talking until around 4:30 am by which time Nickname Pending had become Mother TeRachel and I was the poor and destitute in need of cheerios. It was almost bizarre enough to make me want a drink...

Valentine's day brightened up my off the wagon life and in fact may have pushed me under the wheels. In Japan it is done very differently. Women give chocolates to men- to male colleagues, to loved ones, to their bosses etc. And men do nothing. There is a special day in March called White Day where men are obliged to give women a dry cracker and a tissue or something similarly unspectacular, so I'm saving up all my kleenex to say thank you. I got lots of choclit from my conversation class, lots from Nao chan (including boozy chocolate- choc with brandy, with rum, with VODKA!) and I'd already bought myself a load when I was planning yet another loveless Valentine's Day (or VD as it's become known for being such an irritant).

And today was elementary school with the cutest kindergarten kids you've seen and the funniest students and the most witty teachers. And as promised in our conversation class after the last visit, I'd promised to show them how to make curry. They bought lots of gorgeous locally produced organic vegetables, and I contributed garlic and spices. It was the least I could do after making ichigo daifuku on the last visit. I still dream of those daifuku- not long now until they disappear from the shops...


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Chocoholics Unanimous...

Oops... off the wagon again. Well, it's not my fault. It may be akin to the oh-I-can't-do-swimming-at-school-today-because-I-have-a-headache excuse, but since I stopped eating chocolate I've started itching again. And I value sleep too much. So the emergency called for only one thing... Parfait A La Mode. And I am unanimous in that. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I give up chocolate and the supermarket starts selling chocolate houses. GAH! Posted by Picasa

Snowfall on Sunday night. Posted by Picasa

A bizarre guide on to "How To Onsen". See Nickname Pending's blog for an interpretation... Posted by Picasa

A monkey wonders why it doesn't have central heating... Posted by Picasa

As a whale takes a fatal wrong turn in London, another takes a fatal wrong turn and ends up on the shelves of Marui supermarket. Whale steaks anyone? Posted by Picasa

Alleluia! I have beaten the German-Japanese uprising!

In this case the uprising was electronic and came in the form of a Fujitsu-Siemens laptop. Hostilities are over and a new hard-drive has been brought in to restore normal relations. Given that no repair shops here would touch the thing demanding that I sent it back to Europe, I had to tamper with the thing myself and as is only to be expected I have 4 screws left over. Oh well, I shall keep them to hand in case I ever decide to build my own robot army...

There really is very little to say about last week other than, "brrr, cold" as it was rather chilly, and I spent every night sat indoors feely toasty and warm with maybe fifteen layers on sitting under the heated table. School provided the only excitement, or should I say shock as I ACTUALLY HAD TO DO TEACHING at Junior High. It appears that my teachers forgot that this is in fact my role for over a year, and despite my requests I spent almost every Junior High day sat at my desk looking like I'd been hit over the head with a saucepan (boredom has turned my brain to sponge). But it's been great being in class and laughing with the kids. Today bore a special treat when the school Principal entered the back of the class with three other teachers to observe the class. The benefit to this is that it seems to make the feral kids locate those missing genes and behave with a level of civility towards the teachers. As usual, no-one told me that the Principal would be in class, so it was a minor surprise, but he's really nice so I wasn't worried. Plus I can never understand a word he says, so even if he told me I was rubbish I'd be none the wiser...

The weekend was another bizarre effort. A group of us headed to Niimi on Saturday to celebrate Jarek's birthday but the details of what was actually happening seemed to elude all involved. Nickname Pending, Adam and I met first, going for a cheapy dinner at JoyFull and wondering round the generic shopping complex (hardware store, supermarket, 100 yen store and ugly clothes store), remarkable only for the fact that they have stainless steel potato mashers for 100 yen (how do I tell Ma that she didn't need to buy me 2 at £6 each from Marks'!?). After having a big rendezvous at Vicki's ginormous apartment (I climb the stairs saying, "which one's Vicki's". Nickname Pending points to the one that has an A3 sheet of paper with the words "Vicki lives here" in big letters across it... D'oh.) Vicki declared we should head out, so, collecting Julia and Dylan we headed to Fresta, supermarket and meeting place, where we waited until Jarek rolled up in a car that appeared to be full of people with glazed eyes. And when we reached the karaoke-above-a-combini (or combinioke as N.P. christened it) I went head on into another moment of wrongness. N.P. pulled out again in an attempt to find parking. Except I didn't quite see where she went, mistaking her car for an identical car which was whizzing down the road at high speed. So I take off with a full car wondering why she's a) driving so fast and b) driving so fast into the middle of nowhere... After asking Adam to phone her and verify her whereabouts we return and eventually start karaoke. Only to finish a short while later as it turns out we've gatecrashed an engagement party, so at the request of Vicki's supervisor we leave and head to a quiet snack bar where we dominate the karaoke machine singing 5 songs for every one the Japanese patrons sang. Dylan rocked singing proper songs while Julia and I lowered the tone with Britney's "Lucky" and a rather hoarse rendition of Pink's "Just Like A Pill". And eventually I gave into my inner show-off and singing the only Japanese song I know, and soon we were off to Vicki's to chat and watch bizarre internet videos until 5am.

Three hours later we were awake and facing the new day with squinty-eyes, lots of yawning, and a breakfast of comini-cakes, a good preparation for the rest of the day at home under the kotatsu...

The only other thing of note is that on wednesday I decided to start lent a month early and stop eating chocolate in an attempt to save money. God was obviously pleased as he made a new variation of my favourite chocolates appear in the supermarket the night before I started stopping. LOOK Parfait a la mode is truly the jewel in the crown of the LOOK family, with it's cream and sauce filling, but I have to stop thinking about it before desperation makes me eat the BodyShop cocoa butter moisturiser that's sat in my fridge...