Monday, August 30, 2010

First weekend

On my first Saturday I went with the other ALTs near me to Odotsu beach. There is Devon, the only 2nd year in our area. She lives about a 15min walk from me and is the only other foreigner in Obi. If we take the train one stop over to Nichinan city, there are Kelly, Lola and Muqing from Illinois, Australia, and Canada respectively. They are all first years like me except Lola is a CIR and fluent in Japanese. It comes in very handy.

Anyway, the first weekend we all met up on the train and headed to a beach. There was a loudspeaker announcing mandatory resting time so the water was eerily empty at random intervals. Of course being foreigners we showed way too much skin, tattoos and peircings. The last two may just have been me. Thinking I was tough having been born and bred under a cancerous NZ sun I assumed humidity somehow cancelled out UV and didn’t bother with sunblock. Cue the most horrific sunburn I have had since a Good Charlotte concert when I was 14. It always gets me how sunburn on a face instantly makes a person look harried and angry. I looked like that for about a week.



Anyway, the beach itself. The water was fantastic, and the first time I have felt anything on my skin apart from my own sweat. Even when you shower you work up a sweat from cleansing. There’s barely any point. Still, I persevere.

The main thing I wanted to talk about this weekend was that there was a school group there. The kids would have been about 9 or 10 I think. They were playing a game with blindfolds and bats, smashing open melons. Of course we went for a closer look. One of the supervisors saw us, and proceeded to drag us into the center of the group. I have never been the source of so much attention. Instantly they swarmed and one kid ran up to me, thrust out his hand, and proceeded to introduce himself in English. I was astounded. Of course I shook his hand and replied as if he was a wee ladies man, (which, I suppose he was) and the kids went WILD.



Then the supervisor PUT THE BLINDFOLD ON ME. I was totally at a loss, especially because the kids were all screaming left! Right! In Japanese. Muqing gave me a handy heads up in my ear of the actual direction and I managed to smash an entire melon. I was terrified I was going to hit a kid. Everyone screamed and clapped and I felt like a hero, just for being gangly and foreign. The supervisors cut up the melon and gave us MASSIVE hunks to eat, which we did, surrounded by kids. What an amazing memory. I could never have imagined a trip to the beach could turn into this! And then ~ why wouldn’t it? I know NZers invite each other over to group activities, but I have never been quite such a novelty.



After the beach we went to Aburatsu (yet another small beachy town – they are pretty much spread down the coast along the train line) and did karaoke. Of course, I celebrated life. And sang. Like I was in the 80s. I also ordered a Samurai Rock, because the name was awesome. It was an incredibly acrid, strong drink. Much like a Samurai, I guess.



Sunday was a big day of shopping. I needed new curtains and a range of other household items and thank goodness Kat (another 2nd year but living further away) gave us a ride. Today was spent mostly stocking up and exploring. We all had lunch together at a restaurant where you are given a plate of raw meat and cook it yourself on a hot plate at your table. I’m pleasantly surprised to already have a wee group to hang out with, it’s a goodun! The way home we stopped at a manga store and I picked some up in the hope of one day mastering the 2000 Kanji necessary to read them. There truly is every genre of manga (comic) here, yes – including porn.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another mash of things from my first week (and leaking into the rest of my time here) with no narrative and generally unrelated photos.

If you are looking for me, just follow the faint sheen of sweat on the seats, desks, pens and floors.

I tried the local specialty, chicken Kanban. It is deep fried chicken on rice with tartare sauce on top. It’s fantastic. Also tried pork tonkatsu which is a similar deal. It took me so long to get that word around my mouth and in my memory and now that it is there it seems like I can barely understand there was a time that I did not know it. I'm finding that with a lot of Japanese words, and I can only take hope that it means the language is becoming familiar to me. Note - I say familiar and not understandable.


Toilet at school and wooden clogs for toilet

I cannot get over the sheer friendliness of everyone here. On my first day I was lent a bike. On my third day a complete stranger helped me unlock said bike AND kick the stand down, both things I struggled with horribly. It’s amazing what a new kind of latch can do to your self worth. This person did not even speak English, just bowed, saved the day, and bowed again.


Menu at a restaurant in Obi

I think this is the point of this year and one which has been proved time and time again. People make this. No matter your situation, the people are what make it. And these people are definitely making this. My first week I wanted nothing to do with my apartment. That was okay, because everytime I left it someone would wave or do something plain friendly. I hope I never get to a point where a konbonwa from a stranger fails to make my day better.


Snacks at a snack bar. Behind those fish is pickled seaweed. Yes I ate all of it

Every time I go somewhere people will try what English they know on me. I get such a kick out of the fact that they saved that up, and out of their happiness when I understand. It’s probably the same as the way I feel about Japanese, like I know a word in the language, but that what I know somehow doesn't seem capable of carrying meaning. I have heard from some JETs that being constantly practised on can get annoying. I hope it doesn't, and can’t imagine it will. The bank teller who smiled and nodded at me for 40min and then waited for my supervisor to leave and went away for 5min and came back and said "My brother same old as you" is a memory I will cherish.


Some alligator I ate. Was actually delicious?

My students do it too. All of them say hello, or see you. Occasionally they carve it up with a nice to meet you or what is your name. I walk in and out of school with a massive smile on my face because there’s always at least one student (usually more like 10) to wave and shout "hello! see you!" Or at least wave and giggle.


My desk at work!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First week in Obi

This is mostly a mash of different things and getting used to my environment that happened in my first week in Obi. It's all out of order but eh, you get the idea.


The train station. I love how the track looks like it was closed down years ago!

My second day I got taken to fill out screeds of paperwork and buy things necessary for life such as 12 cockroach traps, one bug repellent hanger and one heavy duty can of bug spray. My gas wasn't on yet but I usually have cold showers anyway. Now that it is hooked up I have two options: cold or hot. There is no warm, something I can only attribute to the Japanese value of "gaman" - patience or endurance. This is generally prescribed to most ailments. I'm curious to see if it will work - I have already gotten used to many things I didn't think I could. Perhaps there is something to this.


My new bud

I have an Inkan now, it's a stamp with my name in Katakana on it. Generally it has Kanji but there is no Kanji equivalent to my name. Sigh. Anyway, this is used instead of a signature to authorise things, open bank accounts, pay bills, etc etc. It's pretty sweet. I feel like a King with a royal seal.


The long way home

The environment here. It's very jungle-like. As I write there are bugs screeching outside and when I turn the lights out and lie down I can hear scuttling. Occasionally the bugs go silent, and that is when a frog or a crow start creaking and groaning. The cool thing is, with the sounds and also my futon (5cm thick), that I'm generally so tired I barely notice either. It's like sleeping the sleep of the just. Which, I suppose, in Japan with the value placed on gaman and working hard - it kindof is.


These canals feed the paddies. This is a big one, most of my way home it's just small ones. No barriers though, possibly why they're called "Gaijin Traps"

Onto food. I LOVE the food here. There will be more (extensive) updates on this later, but out of everything I have tried the only thing I struggle with is finishing all my rice. I don't know how anyone does it. It comes with everything and not in small amounts. Maybe with the slow burning energy they just eat one meal a day. I just don't know. Also, the bread is sold in loaves of six slices. The slices are about 3cm thick. I'm surprisingly okay with it!


Another rice paddy, because they're awesome. On a really humid day it smells like cooked rice! (Left in the pot overnight)

I ride a bike to and from work. It's a rusty wee number with a sweet dented basket. It reminds me of the kids bike in Whale Rider, for a reference. I'm actually quite attached to it. Everyone has these bikes, it's a real village-y feel. On my first day I came across a bit of a hill and thought I would change gear to get up a bit easier. I pressed the "gear lever" and a merry little bell tootled out. Don't know what I was thinking, really.


The Speed Demon


Will talk about work in the next post!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First day in Obi and my apartment

Woot my favourite subject!

Well. Got to Miyazaki airport. It's like a 80's Florida/vegas type deal. Think pink flamingos and such. I don't think there were any there but that's just what comes to mind. Palm trees!

We all got taken to a wee room to meet our supervisors. Panic attack sufferers will recognise what I mean when I say I went lucid for a dangerous few seconds. As soon as he sat down though, I noticed that he was nervous too. I don't know what I was so worried about, my supervisor is LOVELY. He even likes cats. Awe.

I got taken straight to my school (yes, from a plane and in a suit) to meet some teachers and Kyoto Sensei (vice principal). I had a whole greeting speech planned but everybody destroyed it by talking to me in English or going through the ritual so quickly I was left stammering a-a-rigato-- thankyou-- gozaimasu-thankyou- while dipping and bobbing like a car ornament.

From there we rushed around and filled out heaps of paperwork. I just sortof sat, looked helpless, and signed my name where they pointed. I was so tired but then we went past a McDonalds and there was a sign of a chicken strip with the words FOOD STRAP next to it. That made my day for honestly like 8 days until I found out it wasn't just hilarious English, it was actually referring to a phone token you can get inside. Still. It was good while it lasted.



Then I got taken to my apartment. I nearly committed an unforgivable sin by walking in with my shoes on but a wee yelp from the teacher who dropped me off reminded me. I was tempted to wait until she was gone and do a dance in my jandals on the tatami but I refrained because I am a mature young professional and Devon the other ALT was there.



This is the view from the stairs. (I'm on the second floor). I am up a wee one lane road, near the foot of a mountain, amidst jungle and rice paddies.



From back terrace (where the washing machine is kept)



The washing machine. I fill it manually with a hose for every cycle.



Some good old Kiwi DIY



My sleeping room



My sleeping room with futon (rolled up and stored by day to prevent mould on tatami)



Living room - note futon in slide and paper screens!



Kitchen



Mould on fridge



Mould IN fridge



Study - I never use this room - come and stay!



My cleansing arrangements



Terrifying front door and shoe etiquette area. This door is heavy duty steel and screams like a murder victim when you open it. When it shuts it clangs like the end of the world.






When I first got here I systematically sobbed my way through every room. It went something like - my door screams I can't fit in my tub the floor is made of plants im in a jungle what if theres bears im sweating my AC rattles theres things growing in and around my fridge I just saw a spider. Every new thing I saw I wrung my hands and staggered against the door frames and when I saw the spider I alternated between throwing things and wailing every time it moved.

I am a strong and resilient human being.

Sigh.

Luckily for me I can find one day's travesty a future day's hilarity. I am pleased to note that I quickly got over it and am actually quite happy now with how traditional my apartment is. The tatami and sheep dip tub are actually cool to me now because of their difference and history. The door and I are friends. It screams hello and goodbye at me every time I go to work and in the dark when I get home drunk and impale it with my key. The washing machine and I have a working relationship. I have 12 bug killers stationed around my home and sleep with a can of bug spray next to my head. I have an industrial sized bottle of mould killer (this shit is so strong I accidentally bleached my T-Shirt with it) and I clean one thing per day. Shit's looking up.

And even if my apartment hadn't grown on me (which is has, bless) my town and school are so lovely I just physically could not be unhappy. BUT THAT'S TO COME LATER :D

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hmm

It has come to my attention that you can't post comments without a Gmail account. There should be a drop down menu, and if you click "anonymous" I thiiiiiiiiiink it should work! Someone let me know if it does or not!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Second and third days in Japan (Tokyo)


This is what I wore for the first day of my contract. I've been wearing some sort of variation since then - tights and all despite the heat. Dress code = hardcore.

Awoke to a glorious buffet of food. 900 JETs all in two dining halls, all given silverware and eating from silver steaming trays. Breakfast in Japan is basically dinner, cold, with fruit. I'm talking rice, chicken, potato, mixed veges, etc.



Orientation itself was a bunch of speeches, advice and infotastic times. The main thing that was communicated was ETIQUETTE (and our general shittiness at it). There is etiquette for toileting, footwear, greetings, chopsticks, eye contact, bathing, drinking, applauding, bowing, mask wearing, seating, the list goes on. You can be assured I've probably committed horrendous faux pas on all of them.

Then a lovely reception with huge tables of food (guess who was first in) and a 900 strong KANPAI (cheers) before the beer. Also, hundreds of waiters hovering to take your empty plates etc.

After the reception I got to see JAMES :D On arriving in Tokyo I had my first experience with a Japanese phone and left a tentative message. I'm still amazed that we actually hung out. For explanation for those who may be new to the friend bank, James was one of my (many) host brothers while I lived in the states for my exchange. I haven't seen him (or any of the Noyes family - bar Gramsie) in four years.

So. We wandered Tokyo. We went into a restaurant with a touch screen. This is what happens. You get seated at a table. Instead of calling a waiter/ess you pick what you want on your own screen and it is brought out to you, as if by magic. Something I found hilarious was the somewhat honesty box method of checking for ID. If you order an alcoholic drink on this screen, another screen comes up. It asks, "Are you a minor or a driver?" And you click yes or no. That is the extent of it.



On that note, James introduced me to "Hoppy". The explanation is this. There is a beer that is extremely low in alcohol percentage, like 2%. To make up for this, the Japanese have invented a drink wherein you have say, a third of a glass of a liqueur called Shochu, and fill the rest with beer. Somewhat like the G-Units we make at home (Gin and beer/whatever you're drinking) except that shochu is suited to the taste of beer and actually makes a fantastic, refreshing beverage. Shochu tastes sortof like a stronger Sake, for reference' sake.



Well James and I chatted for about 2-3 hours. It was such a great catchup. We talked about everything, from what we've been up to in the last four years to the merits of flossing. Made me realize how much I've changed since I was there, but also that going was the catalyst. Neither of us could have imagined that of all places we would meet again in Tokyo. Here is an awfully blurry, somewhat chopped, photo of us that I will treasure!

Next day, more speeches and information thrown at us. My first foray into a conbeeni (conveniance store) and subsequent purchases.


Rilakkuma: Everyday feels happy like a rainbow.

Last night in Tokyo was marked by the NZ embassy visit. All the Kiwi JETs were invited to the NZ-Japan Ambassador's HOME to chill. I was quite tired but NZ beer, cheese toasties and company soon sorted that right out. After just two days in Japan surrounded by about 10 different cultures (notably American) it was nice to relax with some casual kids. As could be expected, we all ended up sitting on the floor. Find a country where the young professionals sit on the floor of the ambassador's house and you have found a good country.

There was a strict time limit on our time there, which is something I have noticed here too. Parties start and end at highly regimented times, and if you want to keep going you organise another activity to begin when the first ends. (This is quite common - there can be like 3 after parties beginning after one another after a reception.) There is no casual trickle toward the door, no staying behind for beers and 5am conversations over a McDonalds and bottle strewn table.

So, onwards we went, Kiwis fed up on beer and toasties and unleashed en masse. We wandered down to the Shibuya, the big famous crossing. When I say wandered I mean you are allowed to buy alcohol from vending machines and drink as you go. I also mean that a group 80 strong ended up as a group of 7 as people got lost in the river that is Tokyo foot traffic.



We went to a ridiculously hot, crowded, underground station. It is somewhat reassuring that for all their etiquette even Japan can't dispel the deep earth subway smell of poo.

Upon return to the hotel I met up with Lisa (who we had lost at the crossing) and we decided to go back out to a bar. The last night in Tokyo, the third night in Japan, this demands Sake!


And Sake we did.

The next day I said my goodbyes to all the Kiwis but one (who lives about an hour from me now) and all the other friends I had made who weren't part of my prefecture. Truly grateful to Lisa in particular for being such a great roomie, keen for exploring and adventure no matter the energy levels, and full of good advice for being a Kiwi in Japan. My social group of around 900 was shortened down to about 20 and together we left Tokyo to get on the plane to Miyazaki. The bus ride was great, everyone got along famously and I can tell we have a great group of maties for the upcoming year.


Look how swollen my cheek is! My first 3 days in Japan one of my wisdom teeth sockets started playing up (after healing for about 3 weeks.) Looks pretty attractive on my Gaijin (Alien) registration card!


A last photo of Tokyo!


And Mt Fuji. This is from the plane on the way to MIYAZAKI

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tokyo

Apologies in advance, the main theme from here onwards seems to be sweat.

It's hard for me to write about Tokyo when I'm so obviously in Obi, but there was so much I wanted to tell everyone while I was there.

On the aeroplane I looked down about halfway and saw land. A slight shock, considering the majority of the journey is water. Found out it was the Norfolk Islands. No real reason for putting this in, except it was a convenient time for me to look down and my Poppa got married in the Norfolk Islands. A few hours later I looked at my arms and they were sparkly. It was sweat. A milestone moment, because from then on it has been a permanent fixture.

On touchdown we were herded onto trains just to get to the appropriate customs area. My first crowded train!



At customs we were quite literally taken by the arm and placed in appropriate areas by airport officials. Foreigners have no sense of Japanese organisation, and NZers in particular I suspect have no sense even of foreigners organisation. Imagine if you will the casual rambling of Kiwis in a pasture. From this scene we are efficiently manhandled into stocks for processing. We passed through temperature measuring gates, although for what I have no idea. If a high temperature meant a guilty conscience then our sweaty bodies were all guilty as sin.

Above us in line was a sign I wish I could have taken a photo of (possibly inappropriate in a customs area so I refrained). In this sign was a cartoon man doubled over on the toilet with a horrendously uncomfortable expression on his face, stink lines, and the words "If you are ill leave the line". This is something I find hilarious in Japan: That all the safety/warning/instructional signs and leaflets have realistic expressions. Rather than the calm participants and smiling policemen of NZ emergency pamphlets, we have terrified parents, screaming children and stressed policemen with angry moustaches herding them. It's fantastic.

After clearing customs, we went into the ridiculous heat to load our bags onto the buses. This process took about an hour in the most ungodly heat I have ever experienced. Everyone was soaked in sweat and we even took sweaty photos to remember it by. Yay Kiwis!



Once on the bus a Kiwi PA warned us that we would probably endup speaking American in order to be understood at our schools (in particular the R's are a struggle) and because of our 1 to 10 ratio of NZ to American JETs. Luckily after Illinois I am fluent.

On the bus we got our first gaze at a Tokyo sun. Here it is for you all to enjoy.



After a 2 hour bus ride we got to our hotel, which was ridiculously flash. The staff bow to you EVERY time they see you. If you bow back, they bow again. If you bow low, they bow lower than you. It's tremendously heartwarming (and slightly awkward.)

In this wave alone, (there was another a week beforehand) there were around 1000 JETs from around the world, all in the same hotel. 90 of those were the entire Kiwi JET population. Not that that meant anything. Everywhere we went, a foreigner would be like, "Oh, I met a Kiwi not long ago! They were doing [insert slightly inappropriate, confusing, adventurous or mildly hilarious activity here]." We were first at the food tables, to order Japanese alcohol, to run into the toilets with our cameras and press all the buttons - in short, we dominated.

Ah. The toilets. Yes, they are electronic. Yes, they wash AND dry, the seats are heated, they make fake flushing sounds for you bashful urinators, etc etc. Aside from this the majority are also squat toilets. Thanks to Lisa Rademakers, roadtrips, and probably every mildly alcoholic excursion of my life I am already a pro at these.

The instructions are written in English on this one only because it was an international hotel. In my town you are lucky to find a western toilet at all, let alone one with kind English. Lucky I know the Kanji for "stop"



Right. So. Tokyo. I was rooming with a Kiwi called Lisa on the 26th floor. This was our view.



We were exhausted, so naturally we went out.
Night time in Tokyo is like a carnival. It is hot, you walk in the middle of the streets, it is BRIGHT. Think Las Vegas. Electronics stores (Depaatos) are open all night, and are BUSY. People flash lights and yell to you with microphones. Everything is so unfamiliar and stimulating.



I used a vending machine! They sell EVERYTHING. I bought Calpis (pronounced Calipisu but NZ accent renders it cowpiss) a sweet, white chalky drink. You can get fizzy drinks, teas, coffees, waters, energy drinks (the most notable being called Pocari Sweat), juices, milks, anything. The most interesting thing I have found about these is that while they may be expected to look like this in the city, they are exactly like this wherever you go. I pass about 4 vending machines on my way home from school, which is a ride from a tiny town into a jungle. When I cycle home at night it is dark among the rice paddies and then I will pass one of these nestled amongst the bushes with 50 bugs banging into it. Just in case I need a Pocari Sweat.



We stopped at a sushi train to eat. Among the typical favourites I experienced raw tuna and my first Japanese beer (Asahi). After conferring with James (for a future post) they are typically very light, very refreshing beers (tad watery) but perfect for the humidity. Lisa (who speaks very good Japanese) made me ask for my food in Japanese. It was my first Japanese interchange and there is nothing quite like the feeling of being understood.



On the way back we found a sweet hippy shop. I don't know what I was expecting to find on coming to Japan, but it was not hippies. They were fantastic. It was like a NZ beach shop, except open until 5am and they told us in Japanese to be careful in the bars because we were beautiful. Everyone is so complimentary here. My ego, it feeds. On return we slept with the curtains open, the Tokyo lights fleeing from us.

This is only the first few hours in Japan, I can tell I'm in for a big job getting up to date!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

NZ orientation and flight

Apologies to all who came here for the most recent news, I am going to do this chronologically and doubt I will have time to cover everything. It took 2 (TWO) hours to clean the mould out of (and off of) my fridge today. I'm afraid to look behind it.

(This post only covers my last night in NZ and the flight over so if you wish for sweet Japanese experiences you may want to skip it)

Before I get onto anything, look at this sweet ice cream that happened when Aaron let me behind the counter of an ice cream store. Childhood dream = check. My life is pretty much fulfilled and anything beyond this is just happy surplus.



Onto business.

Well had last family dinner for awhile. Family is so great. We were so rowdy the staff thought it was my birthday and bought out a birthday sundae.



Said my last goodbyes. Packed up my entire room. My life for the last 8 or so months equates to one suitcase, one carry on bag, one bag of clothes for storage, and 3 boxes of books.



Last walk around the botanical gardens, the place I always come back to when I think of Taupo. I could regale you with the 50 million photos I took of my cats, rabbits, and the trees around my house but I understand these things are probably only interesting to myself. Lucky you, reader.

A last look at Taupo


Travelled up to Auckland with mum and dad. 6 months ago I could have bet money that mum would make a scene on the way up, and I should have. Bombay hills McDonalds teary family anyone? Spent a somewhat sleepless night in the hotel with the folks. It is reassuring to note that no matter how far I go or how mature I get the family humour will always revolve around bodily functions.

Next day got into my business gears and checked in to orientation at a SUPER FLASH hotel. They do not treat us lightly. Last goodbyes to my parents. Also, mum stole the soap from the bathroom.

Special mention to Roma (a kiwi at orientation) for his kindness after my parents left, his company, conversation, and even invitation to his own family function. I am genuinely touched. In fact, the camaraderie among all the kiwis on JET is amazing. You don't realize how many special idioms we have and how open we are until they become rare. Another special mention to Beth, my room mate in Auckland. The last night in a country is always a nervous one, and it was great to have someone else around for a last cup of black tea. (I'm dying without it - there is only green here)

Well. Bus at 5am, Airport and checked in by 7. My luggage was 5 kilos overweight but nobody batted an eye. Gotta love NZ. On the 11 hour flight I chatted with my neighbour, (I think) Phillip, - I have met so many people it's hard to remember names. But he was also another good kiwi of note. We even talked about (god forbid! could it be real?) books. I also watched about 3 hours of Glee - yay 2/494! and practised introductory Japanese. As in, the name of my school.

OKAY THEN I GOT TO TOKYO BUT I MUST SLEEP I AM SO VERY SORRY!

Moral of post: Kiwis really are special. Don't forget it!



A last look at NZ