Wednesday, November 30, 2011

May 16th-22nd, Work, canoeing, robot dancing

16th May


Straight back to work. Remain in culture shock for two days. Start to lament my extra year (remember this was back in May) but people are happy to see me back which lessens the feeling.



17th


Kendo, was a hard day after an absence but I go home feeling good.



18th


Jodo sucks but classes going well.



19th


Kendo again, feel clumsy and have huge blisters on my feet but feels good.



20th


Culture shock (as evidenced by riveting updates above) ends. In my Friday class I say, almost under my breath, yay it’s Friday! To my utmost surprise the class ERUPTS into clapping. This is the beginning of a Friday tradition that never fails to put a huge grin on my face.



After work I go out for a coffee with Holly, an English girl from Aburatsu who I get along splendidly with. A coffee turns into a drink, then dinner, then looking for a bar. We have an interesting conversation where we realise we are COMPLETE opposites, and we heartily enjoy comparing things from the opposite side of the life-fence for awhile. Wish to hang out more.



21st


I am up so early. It’s raining, but my ride still arrives so I jump in the car. Today I have been invited by my travel agent to go canoeing on the Oyodo river in the city. She lives near me so we take a beautiful back way into the city through the mountains. On the way there I suddenly see a butt flash above the windscreen, and watch in disbelief as a monkey swings itself out over the road and up into a tree. Hiroko points to our left and we watch an entire troop of monkeys scamper along the embankment.



We make a quick stop in the middle of the mountains to see a “Rose garden.” Because we are in the middle of nowhere I am dubious. This feeling grows as we slip and slide our way along a path, in the rain, under the trees. For some reason I see about twenty crabs scuttling along. We are nowhere near sea. The Rose gardens turn out to be someone’s house, hidden away, where they have decided to grow roses on all this uninhabited space. Despite the rain and the roses looking somewhat bedraggled, it is absolutely lovely. We see hundreds of lilies, and I learn that that bamboo water thing that fills and empties (making that soft clunking sound) is not for relaxation, as we often use it, but actually was created long ago to scare away wild animals.



When we get to the city, I go and find a bathroom. To do this I wander for awhile, then plunge into the nearest governmental building and up an elevator to an indiscriminate floor. Because I can read no kanji I never know what type of a building I am in, but because I am foreign, no-one ever asks me what I’m doing there. Being foreign in Japan gives this weird sense of being simultaneously in and out of bounds, probably because I am always out of -but no one would ever tell me. I use the bathroom (which is flash) and leave the way I came, nodding at the doorman.



We begin the canoeing! To my joy, there are more foreigners. After being shown how to paddle (literally, we all stand in a line on land and paddle) we are escorted to our canoes. For some reason paddles in Japan are tiny, or perhaps my arms are obnoxiously long.



I have a wonderful day canoeing with Asha, Matt, and some fun Japanese people up the river. Before long we fetch up on land, which is odd, considering we are right in the centre of the river. We get out and have great fun walking on water and pretending to be Jesus. Needless to say we are the only ones. When I look back at my canoe it is high above water so we realise the tide is dropping and hop it back to our actual canoeing. The weather all of a sudden becomes lovely, so I hook my legs over the sides of my canoe, rest my arms on my paddle, and lean back for a snooze. Bliss. Asha, Matt and I make plans for a river float, as it seems we are from similar places where slow moving water, alcohol and sunlight are the recipe for everything that is important in this world. On the way back to the dropoff point, it starts POURING. This is Miyazaki weather. The rain is ecstatically loud and we get absolutely soaked.



After this Matt, myself, and a young Japanese man we have terrified into joining us go out for American burgers(!) and then to wander around the city for a bit. We have coffee, and I check into my hotel at about 3pm.



I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this (I believe I have) but I have a love for hotels. So I have a fun hotel day, using condiments, bathing, reading, lounging around in a robe, and playing with a hilarious beauty face mask which makes me look like the Texas chainsaw massacrist. I guess the upside to living alone is that I am very, very easily entertained.



Tonight is a goodbye party for Mattsy and a few other people/birthdays/I can’t really remember what it was. For some reason Jordy and I wore glitter though. No regrets.



Out for dinner! We go to the same place as the welcome party all those months ago so it’s very nostalgic and there is a lot of talk of how wonderful it all was. Stomach hurts and it rains again but there are so many people I love to catch up with that it’s a nice, nice evening.



We go to a bar but it’s loud and chaotic and small so we go to karaoke. Miles gets me some medicine for my stomach (god knows where – but drugstores are open all the time in Japan) and Micah and I dance like robots in our seats in endless entertainment. In the bathroom some girls point at my (newly and accidentally) ripped rights, the hole in the crotch of my dress, my glitter, and call me sexy Lady Gaga. I’ll take it.



At the end of the night, we all stand around outside, I go and get a doughnut, and when I get back everyone is gone. I happily eat my doughnut and wander back to my hotel.



22nd


Lovely morning, meet Jords after breakfast and go for a nice coffee with Sam. After this we decide to get Thai massages. Why not? Sam and I go to what I wrote in my notes as “the viney house from the movie Rose Red” but which I now know (months later) is actually the Kencho where a lot of my friends have been working for years, to pick up his car which he secretly stows there. The more you know. Sam and I drove along the coast to Aoshima, where we met the Emmas and co. and had an extended lunch (literally like 3 hours) at some sweet wee vegan place on a hill. An afternoon of health against an entire lifetime of careless decisions.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

May 8th-15th, the rest of my trip to NZ

9


Today I go to the doctor and find out I have a stomach ulcer. Explains much. Undertake blood tests.




Have a cup of tea in the sun with Roses flatmates, who are an English couple. Every 30min or so one of them will pipe up “I’ll put on a brew shall I! Anyone for a brew?”




(They mean tea.)




Went for a walk with Kiri and Swayze around Taupo as a town in the exact same way we used to when we were high school students. Have a coffee with Swayze and hear all about her travel experiences in the states, which are extremely interesting. Say hello to Laura’s mum who loves me more than her and then have lunch with Laura!




Back to Roses. Ray is there so we go for a drive out to the farm to feed the dogs and end up shooting at turkeys with a 12 gauge shotgun. I miss every single one and on the last shot forget to fix the butt into my shoulder. Pain. Michael picks up the one feather on the ground and consoles me by saying I must have shot it off. I’ll take it.




Ray then takes me for a driving lesson in the paddocks (with dogs running alongside) which is fun for me pootling around but obviously boring for everyone else, as Ray tells me to accelerate and pull the wheel. We slide into a massive J turn and I get grass in my ear as it flies in all the right hand windows. Shocking but fun.




Head back to town and get cheesy weesys, which are god’s greatest gift. Fat half cooked chips, covered in cheese and mayonnaise, wrapped in newspaper to create a soggy mess of deliciousness. While waiting I was called off the street into a bar (all our bars are open front) to catch up with two friends I hadn’t seen for years. I love how Taupo is like this. Had a Malibu and milk at the recommendation of my sister, who tells me you can still partake on a stomach ulcer, provided you have a glass of milk. I decide to do both in one, at which the bartender responded “ew.”




When the chips are ready I take my leave and we go to Roses where we spend the usual hour trying to decide what DVD to watch, and end up on Saw. It’s gross. But the food is not.




10th



Rose has work today, so I get up early and have a cup of tea with her. She leaves and then I go grocery shopping with my mother, through Rose’s checkout. Me and her chatter away like we haven’t seen each other in weeks and she scans the next customer’s items all the while, talking over shoulder to me.





Back to mum’s have a “double down” from KFC. I’m not sure if these came out in Japan at the same time, but they’re basically two slabs of chicken in lieu of bun with cheese and sauce inside. It’s slimy and weird but when I jump on facebook nearly every NZer has posted about the same thing. We are a country quick to excite.




I had promised to accompany my mother along to the cosmopolitan club (affectionately called the cozzy) an establishment characterized by Friday night raffles, men in road work clothes, and my entire family. We go to pick up Rose, and Rose and I decide we need a drink before attending. We try to pressure our mother but she is not having a bar of it so we vow to finish the bottle before setting foot out the door. My mother gets in the car and starts to leave without us. We run out with our purses and a bottle of wine with a tissue stuffed into the neck.




At the cozzy, the lady behind the counter has (loud) issues with my ID. Again, my ID is somewhat questionable but realistically I am not exactly a 12 year old slipped loose from my mother’s grasp, despite spending my Tuesday night with her. Rose gets mad, gets my drink, and we mutter darkly over our beers about power tripping women with buzz cuts.




After the cozzy (we leave quite early) I got back to Roses to have a couple drinks with her flatmates. We make “cocktails” out of the leftovers from the last party, namely “Bine” a tempting blend of beer and cask wine.




A few of our friends come round to join us, and we end up having a lot of fun, most likely due to me not being in stomach agony. A couple of us go to town and we have all the great drinks which we never used to be able to afford. I turn into Girl Who Dances by Self due to a mixture of an empty stage, Bine, not knowing anyone around except family, and not being able to dance in Japan, ever.




McDonalds and home. All in all, a very enjoyable night. I prefer it to going clubbing sometimes.




11th



Rain. Despite this, we go prawn fishing. This is one of the many tourist attractions in our town that we have never actually done. We all feel heaps of bites, but only Rose catches prawns. We go on an “adventure walk” helped all the while by a wooden cutout of a prawn, named Shaun. We go over an obstacle course, (bear in mind this is a group of adults in their mid to late 20’s) are highly disappointed by the “water piano” which produces neither water nor music, and feed the fish.




We stop at the honey hive (ANOTHER tourist attraction, hint visit) look at bees, get photos AS bees (in which Rose and I attempt to look like bees that rather need to poop) and go and watch the Huka Falls for awhile. Yes, we do even have a waterfall.




Our big day of fun nearly over, we go and play pool and eat some fried mushrooms, the only way Rose will ever eat vegetables.




To Roses, to do some arts and crafts, throw foam balls at each other, and try to catch them with Velcro caps on our heads.




To mum and dads for a visit, where we generally just sit around making a nuisance of ourselves until they literally just get up and go to bed, leaving us in their lounge.




12th



A day of goodbyes. I get up early and have a cup of tea with Rose before work. She starts her job at 9, so naturally leaves her house at 9. We say our goodbyes.




I go get a haircut up the road, wander back and read a magazine in the sun, and have a cup of tea with mum. We roam around for the day, I go back to the doctors for more blood tests, and we go to the house dad is working on for a nosy and a wander. We go out for our last lunch together, and dad gives me a parting gift, a bag of construction earplugs for use in summer when my AC starts rattling.




I read and sit in the sun all day until my dad arrives to take me to Mount Maunganui. Goodbye Taupo!




We go over the drive that I have been doing for the last 15 years and I recognise every corner. We go out for dinner and I completely stuff myself, mindful now of the days ticking to an end.




Food coma.




13th



Wake up late, go out to visit Kath and meet her new baby for the first time. We go to her parents, where I remember running loose in kiwifruit orchards and over paddocks with her as kids. Natsukashiiii (nostalgic)




I am meant to meet friends at the Flying Burrito Brothers restaurant in town, so I get dropped there in the rain. I catch happy hour so sit at the bar having $5 margaritas by myself until I realise I’ve been there for quite awhile (I don’t have a phone) so leave. I see my friends out on the street and we come back in.




Dinner is mostly pitchers of alcohol. What food we have is delicious. We start to get loud and obnoxious so head out to town at about 10pm. We go to a heavy metal bar and have more pitchers. One pitcher is “sweet” one is “savoury” and we alternate shots of each. With my last $20 of NZ money I buy the rankest, lighter fluid-est mix I can find. At midnight the Cinderella must part and my friend TY drives me home to scratch on my dad’s sliding door.




14



Wake at 5.30am. Am on the road by 6. Have a lovely drive in the sunrise, and breakfast at the same café we’ve been stopping at every time we’ve ever gone to Auckland. So many traditions revisited.




Go shopping, realise we are late, hurry to airport amid traffic. I am reasonably calm, I figure at worst I will miss my flight and have to just settle down and live in NZ.




Spend the first my 11 hours of flying sobbing ungracefully. I don’t even bother mopping it up, resorting instead to just letting the fluid fly every time I shake my head. Needless to say the people sitting next to me are uncomfortable. Somehow fill in the next 10 hours.




At Singapore airport I go straight to the gym, run on the treadmill in an effort to exhaust myself, shower and then wander around for 3 hours in a daze. Stumble to the gate and get on my plane at 1am. I’m so tired that I fall asleep before the plane even lifts off and get a huge fright when I open my eyes to see clouds.




15



Nap, eat breakfast, and stare like a zombie. My neighbour gives me a spare blanket (we’re back to Japanese thoughtfulness here) and I generally toss and turn and probably make him never want to encounter another foreigner again. At some point in the dead of night I sit bolt upright and sneeze about 60 times in a row, one after the other.




Fukuoka. Customs, train, bus, train. Finally get home in complete exhaustion and for some reason want to clean. Am hit with extreme culture shock and lie down waiting for the morning.





And so ends my trip home!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

7th-8th May, first two days HOME (Taupo)

7th (Continued)



It’s so nice to see this drive again, despite the stomach pain. So excited and nervous to see my parents! Mum has made muffins. My parents are disgusted by my eating habits. I have lived alone too long.



In an effort to take the focus off of this, I bust out their gift, which is a sake cup set. We share some umechu (plum liquor) and shochu (rice whiskey) which my parents actually like, around the kitchen table. It’s 4pm. I am preparing for a nap when ROSE arrives at the door!



We get into her car, which is as delightfully messy as always. Messy isn’t really the right word for it. To get into my sisters car, you have to slam the front seat against all the stuff in the back seat, and lower yourself into the cradle where you lift your legs, one at a time, high over all the rubbish under the dash. Nestled between your feet you can expect to find some or all of the following at any time: random toys (we often drunkenly think we need new activities), car decorations, confetti, panphlets, filters, tobacco, McDonalds, expired coupons, beer bottles, and, if I remember rightly, a crushed shrewsberry biscuit. It was a nostalgic experience for me, having spent many years of my life in this very position, waiting for Rose to roll her pre-driving cigarette.



We first stopped at the Tauhara shops for alcohol, which was an interesting experience. I often spent my weekends in and around the Tauhara area, wandering up to those shops in clothes I wouldn’t even wear in my own home in Japan – often belonging to other people. Usually I would buy the cheapest thing available, which is often some sort of 1.5l “NEW!” $8 thing that is horrible but exciting in novelty. Or, alternatively, we stumble up there at midnight for Chinese food, hearing spousal arguments roll out the windows onto the street - or in the blinding light of day past swearing kids cutting their bikes across the dirt in your path. It was interesting to note my discomfort at the place, which I never before had felt. I even confessed to not wanting to get out of the car, at the same place where we have literally started drinking leaning against them. Still, I got over it, and went inside where they were handing out free shots of some new sort of cheap whiskey.



We drove past Aaron’s fence, which has taken him probably a good 4 years to put up, and laughed uproariously about the idea of tagging it now that it is finally there. Carried on to Roses, where a few of her friends were, and I had to re-learn how to make Taupo small-talk all over again. (You don’t talk about your job or anything.)



Heaps of our friends came round, and we all started having a few drinks. Unfortunately, my stomach was hurting worse than in Palmy and got to the point where I had to steal away for a portion of the night because it was agonising. It was truly great to see everyone, but coupled with that joy was a large amount of guilt for not being able to really enjoy myself with them. We toyed with the idea of making me a giant placard which I could wear, which would answer 3 of the most common questions I was getting, e.g. How is Japan, How was the typhoon, Do people drink there. I also got asked where I was from/accused of being foreign, because I spoke so slowly and carefully. Damn you teacher English.



A lot of people tried shochu and hated it, and while I origionally brought it as a novelty I funnily enough ended up drinking it with water like I was in Japan, because it was softest on my stomach. Eventually I managed to rejoin the party at a stronger semblance of self, and work my way from group to group. A particular highlight of this night was my friend Ray, who is a giant, drunkenly pushing his way into people’s conversations and being as obnoxious as possible, because “Tiffany does martial arts (NB* I don’t) and she will waste you.” If I remember I will put a photo of myself next to Ray, so you can get this reference.



A dance party started downstairs, and I, upon joining it, was suddenly picked up from either side by two large males. They proceeded to slam me against a foundation and tape me to it from head to foot, shouting “now you can’t leave again!” Rose tries to help and leaps in, and is subsequently taped to me too. I was laughing too hard to care about my stomach or the handful of hair that is ripped out when the tape comes off.




I had forgotten what a Taupo party was. Pitching and hitting cans with a bat in the kitchen, drinks all over the hardwood floor making it into a slipnslide, a confetti rocket thrown into the road, a rubbish bin thrown into the road, fighting, shouting, dramas, tears, last people awake leaning over their drinks and cackling, it was all there. Wouldn’t change this place for the world.



8


Sunday. Woke up at some ridiculous hour (like 2pm) and had pizza delivered for hangovers. All of us ate an entire pizza each and then cleaned the house. This was actually quite fun! The best thing about parties like that is that your house gets so completely turned upside down that when you clean it it gets the most thorough cleaning it’s ever seen. Who could have ever thought there’d be things under the couch? Won’t know until it’s been drunkenly overturned and dragged half outside. Drinks spilled down walls? Only means that walls that would ordinarily not be touched are lashed down with soapy water. Pristine.



A mere 3 hours after waking up, Rose and I head out to an Indian restaurant for mother’s day/family dinner. Family dinners are always the kinds that make my dad sadly shake his head at his family, and tonight was no exception. There was random dancing in our chairs, pregnant bellies and moaning, loud, inappropriate conversation, and manipulation of curries to resemble siblings nappies. Dinner over, Rose and I then went to visit Ray, where we watched a documentary on monkeys.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

3rd May (cont) - 7th May, Wellington and Palmerston North

In Wellington I see what looks like a small child wandering between luggage carousels. I correctly assume it’s my friend Rebekah, and we get into a car with an excessively happy dog in it. We get a cask and go to her house where we chill out listening to music and chatting like I’d never left. Later in the evening Erin and Toby turn up, along with KFC and their own excellent company. The conversation is great and it’s in general a chill, peaceful night.



It eventually gets late and I walk Erin and Tobias to the bus stop, then decide I’m going to go with them. We assume we’ve missed the bus and walk to the city. We walk for an hour in the wrong direction and back again, but it’s worth it. On this walk the bus that we didn't actually miss roars past us. On getting back to Erin’s apartment I proceed to jump on Chris, take a bite out of their growing capsicum, and fall asleep on a mattress under a towel.



4


Crunchy nut for breakfast. Yay! Go shopping with Erin and Chris, get Turkish kebab for lunch, and get ready. Realise my dress has a giant hole in it. Wear it anyway. Go to Laura’s where we have dinner and drinks, and then the three of us spend awhile in the mirror drunkenly making my face as 2 dimensional as possible. Don’t really know why.



To town! Went to Estab which is for first years but it’s been so long since I’ve been clubbing that I don’t care. Go to a few more clubs, make friends, lose friends, find friends, offend Laura’s friends, go to McDonalds, make “French” friends. (*NB – May have not actually been French) go home. A very successful night.



5


Up for a morning coffee with Laura on her terrace overlooking the city, laughing indulgently at the students huffing their way up the stairs underneath us. Say my goodbyes, and meet up with Emma. Have an insane catchup with Emma whereupon we both literally cannot stop talking and heartily disgust the man behind us.



Stomach begins to hurt. Decide to forego a shower and instead scramble around the city picking up my luggage that has somehow been strewn from one end of it to the other. Head to PALMERSTON NORTH.



Literally talk the entire way. Have my first godsend blue Powerade (hangover cure) in months. The shopkeeper asks me where I’m from.



Upon arriving in Palmy, go for a swim and sauna in a fruitless attempt to right six days of wrong. It works slightly enough to go to Drew’s with a few double blacks – the bane of Emma and mine’s existence. Funnily enough, the drink that could send us careening down flights of stairs is now too sweet. Catchup with some of my favourite people and have a Kendo battle with Drew with fire pokers. Looking back this may not have been the most wise of ideas. Enjoyed anyway. Had some wonderful times, and perfected a dance move called “Death” whereupon a group of you are dancing normally in a club, and at some small cue all drop to the floor and lie motionless. It becomes an instant hit and we take it to town with us.



Despite now being 22, I am not allowed into the very first club we try because my ID is so hideously deformed. (Steven Nordstrom bit it – right across the face.) Luckily NZ is small enough that someone in our group knows the bouncer and after an extensive conversation I am ushered in like a smuggled 17 year old. When we finally get in we find the place empty, which is perfect for us. We order WAGs and dance on thin shelves about a metre and a half above the (concrete) floor.



Head to next (empty) bar. Dominate the dance floor. After awhile of this, we look around and find the place is suddenly packed. The “Death” move is showcased. Two girls across the bar scream.



BK is closed so we get McDonald’s, I get tired of walking and become a petulant child. Sleep upside down on a couch which was actually shown to me in the morning as being a fold-out bed complete with built in pillow.



6


Wake. Consume delicious pie and take student bus back to Emma’s. It’s like I never left. Try to sleep while Emma goes to work, but instead invite a random stranger (who I thought was a friend of one of the flatmates) in to hangout and watch TV. When they come home they are confused and I am sleepy.



Go for coffee with SamAllan! Funny, inappropriate, wonderful conversation. Go shopping for necessities and then to the TAB to place his bets. Go grocery shopping and get introduced to MAMMOTH YOGHURT. The advertising slogan reads “This is men’s yoghurt, and you are a man.” I'll take that. Heartily enjoy with tuna. It seems like the only thing my body will accept.



To Tamsin’s! See Lisa there. Big hugs and lie on couch making awful jokes and waiting to drink again. The fabled time finally rolls around and we wrap up and go to support our favourite sports team, (casual men’s hockey, 3rd div) Marist, complete with whiskey, cider and RTDs...Taped to our hands. At some point in the supporting (“Run like an antelope!” “Moist for Marist!” etc) we become loud, obnoxious, and hilarious. Can’t believe my good fortune at being able to relive the memories of watching a Marist game, starting from the humble beginnings of Emma and I wrapped in a blanket as students with a box of beer between us a full 3 years prior.



Go back to Tamsin’s, where my stomach is now hurting insistently. Drink more. Catchup with Rich and Brooke! Go on secret mission with Lisa in the hopes that BK will make my stomach better. It doesn’t. One of us spews. The other gets egged. We walk home. Craig and Matt are there but I’m in too much pain to enjoy their company to the fullest extent. All of our stuff is held hostage in Tamsin’s room (for leaving), so Lisa and I share a couch. One couch.



7


Slow start, cups of tea, sushi because my body will not accept another ounce of western food, and goodbyes until next time I see this wonderfully nasty city again. Pick up Kiri with Lisa and have a sweet catchup all the way to TAUPO.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

29th April - 3rd May - CHRISTCHURCH

29th


Customs in Christchurch are hilarious. There is one line, two customs officers. Then one (1) duty free shop, where, someone sitting and talking over the other side of the terminal sees us coming and wanders over to the counter to serve. A guy in line points this out to me in a wonderful, blokey, NZ accent, holding his two bottles of duty free rum. He lets me cut in front for my 2 bottles of whiskey. I am home.



FINALLY – NZ soil! After about 28 hours of travelling I am home. I see Alyssa at the gate and it’s like I have just flown down from the North Island for a visit. Ollie is a giant! My old NZ phone works, but is awful to use. I don’t know how I lasted with it so long, the keypad is literally mush.



Without further ado I walk to the dairy and have an ecstatic conversation in English with my first English speaking stranger in a long time. Go back to Alyssas happy, have my first pie in a year, a cup of tea, then a nap. Strong beginnings.



After this we went to the grocery store, where I was astounded by the amount of food (my grocery store is usually a 7/11.) It was weird to have all the food I’ve been craving so long all around me in such abundance. So weird in fact, that I wasn’t hungry and didn’t buy any. That didn’t stop me buying three bottles of wine.



Paul came home from work and we had curry night with their friends. I love this about NZ, as soon as you get here you become absorbed into people’s lives and plans as if you’d always been expected. Many is the story of a lone foreigner hitch-hiking here ending up going back to their ride’s house for dinner, drinks, a couch, bundled off into a friend of a friend’s car for the next leg, given a discount from someone’s cousin at a tourist attraction…



Opened the wine, watched the royal wedding, made the royal wedding into a drinking game, and then ended with more wine. Lovely to catch up with Lyss in the way that we used to pretty much three times a week in university.



30th


Saturday. Cold, but a beautiful clear day. Nice not to feel any sort of humidity. Went for a walk in the morning with this sweet little family, and took Ollie to the park. I went on the swings for the first time in forever and got motion sickness and had to stop. Just call me Adventurer Extraordinaire.



Got BK (sweet, sweet BK) with Lyss then went to watch a rugby game. After the game I’m asked if I want a beer, I say yes and am given an entire jug. Oh, NZ. Everyone is very friendly to me as if I'm a foreigner, and I have a chat to an English person about Nzers, because he has an outsiders opinion and it’s interesting to find myself repeating the same sentiments after only 9 months away.



Back out for a party, in which my “Japanese milk carton” is brought out for tasting. (It’s shochu.) Everyone enthusiastically tries some and then splutters. Still, we pass it around. Along with my camera, with strict instructions that I want “excited faces”. It comes back with excited faces. And genitalia.



1 (May) Sunday


Have my first roast in a very long time. Was so excited for it I had about a quarter and my stomach wouldn’t accept any more. The food here is so rich compared to Japanese food that I am struggling. We went to see Thor, which was doubly hilarious because I happened to be sitting next to Thor at the time.



Picked up some hot cross buns (drool) and whiskey and went back to Lysses. We all decided to have a nightcap, which I poured. We had one more. We realised we were having trouble judging distances and on checking my ratios realised over half the bottle was gone. Oops.



2 Monday


Brunch with Alyssa and her mum out at a nice housing complex on the outskirts of Christchurch. They were forced to move from their city apartment after the earthquake, but this place is beautiful. It has quiet streets, golf courses, the sea, woodlands, wetlands, everything. I’m inspired to live somewhere like that.



Picked up Ollie from daycare and hung out with him. He showed me his fake sneeze which was about the cutest thing I have ever witnessed. Part way through today the news about Osama came on, and we discussed that for quite awhile. Then we had wine.



3 Tuesday


Brunch at the mall, (love how many brunches Christchurch inspires in a person) then back to the airport. Say my goodbyes, and then jump on the plane to WELLINGTON. On the airplane the safety procedure is done by an 80s aerobics instructor with song and dance. Oh, NZ.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trip home - Flights and Singapore

Okay so this post and probably the next 3 or so after this are going to be about my trip back to NZ. Not strictly about Japan and my life here, but in the interests of contrast and for the benefit of people who find it as strange!



April 27


Took my suitcase to the station before work. Worked all day, then there was a HUGE thunderstorm so I got taken to the station early by a teacher. Everyone found out I was visiting home and gave me a sort of farewell from the office where they were calling things out from their desks to me and told me to say nice things about Japan and please come back. It made me sad because it made me think of how incredibly hard it’s going to be when I leave the place for good. The teacher who drove me down even sat and waited for my train with me, and told the station attendant where I was going, and the two of them crowded around talking excitedly for me.



Began the first leg of my journey, 1 hour north to Miyazaki. Then 2 hours south to Kagoshima. Then 2 hours north to Fukuoka. This seems… Contrary to convenience.



Granted, the shinkansen (bullet train) got me to Fukuoka in a fraction of the time it takes a bus. (It goes at about 300km per hour.) It was a little sickening because I was determined to look at the scenery whipping by, but it was definitely exciting and something off the Japan to-do list.



Fukuoka, midnight. Phase one complete. I booked in, had a fantastic hotel shower, and a fantastic hotel sleep. If I had to spend every night of my life in a uniform hotel room with no personal touches, I’d be perfectly content.



28


“Continental breakfast” which of course in Japan means 6am rice and soup. Onto the subway, and into the airport. Cannot believe my travel plans are all falling into place. I generally just assume it’ll be a clustersomething of grand proportions. Randomly saw Asha at the airport, a good 5 hours away from home. Japanese Foreigner World is Small.



Checked in, and was helped in english(!) by an attendant. The culture shock begins already. Bought heaps of omiyage and then spent the entire security line trying to stuff it unceremoniously into my backpack so it’d all look like one piece of luggage. As I was doing this a giant mascot of a dog sidled up to the line and stood there looking at everyone. I could not stop laughing. Oh, Japan.



First flight! 6 hours. A nervous fat man sits next to me and I want to speak reassuringly in Japanese but we bumble away to each other in the language we think the other wants to hear. I’ll never be one of those people that gets offended for being spoken to in English, because I remember when I first got here it was absolutely necessary for the most simple tasks.



Singapore. It’s hot! In a tropical, holiday type way though, not a humid you-still-have-to-go-to-work-and-sweat-in-your-chair one. There are waxy tropical flowers of which I have only ever seen the fake version, and a bus that takes you between terminals. Don’t laugh, these are still exciting to a New Zealander.



The first thing I did in Singapore was go to a Mr Donut and try to speak in Japanese to the Singaporean American behind the counter, who answered me in unimpressed natural English. This is to be a trend whenever I see an Asian looking person for the remainder of my trip. And, probably, my life. I had a giant coffee, and thought about getting BK (which was shining over the terminal like a glowing beacon of hope) but decided instead on a traditional Singaporean meal of pork and custard baos. (Steamed buns.)



Went for a massage, in which a GIANT soft spoken man draped himself over me and told me to leave on my “brassiere.”



Generally milled around for the next 5 hours looking at shops with tiger balm and shell jewellery. Bear in mind it’s like midnight.



Got to the bar, had myself a Singapore sling, which was an ultra sweet concoction PACKED with alcohol. It was akin to a long island iced tea, except thicker and sweeter. Muzzily strode the full kilometre to the next terminal, and was asked by a cleaner in the toilet if I was German because I was so delirious at not having to use a squat toilet that I was having trouble with the soap dispenser. Also because I spoke to her in slow “I’m teaching you English” English. I’ve gone from assuming everyone understands, to assuming noone does. I’m not sure which is more offensive.



Next flight. Grinning at the security men because I have an entire Singapore sling in my system. Nearly pass out with joy over the “bed pack” we are given in the plane, which includes new socks. Considering I’ve been wearing mine since yesterday morning, these are a godsend. I put my old ones in a sealed Ziploc baggie, a biohazard for my mum. I have a leisurely dinner and wine, stretch out across 3 seats (yes, they were empty. Life is good.) and doze on and off for half the flight.



We are given breakfast like 6 hours after dinner, which screws with me a bit, but they are right, the sun is rising. I struggle to watch an interesting documentary on sword making but my eyes and ears hurt so I watch the beautiful ranges of the South Island instead. Starting to get ludicrously excited.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Week of 20th-26th April, a normal week at school

20 April
I recall being in a terrible mood this day. I have a new JTE but in the interests of professionalism I won’t say much about it except that it is taking awhile for us to acclimitise to each other. Awhile like it’ll never happen.

Things that made this day better:

- My supervisor asking me to rank the appropriateness and usability for different words for poo、beginning from faeces.

- Discovering a new drink which is, at best description, thick, fizzy soy milk. It’s about the most confusing thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. But not all in a bad way?

21
Still struggling with my JTE. The battle of wills rages on.

A new kid at Kendo, a first year so I also teach her in class. She’s friendly, confides in me completely in Japanese because she knows I don’t understand a word of it, and bashes my kote point (right fore arm) with mercilessness. I will have many a bruise from this girl from this day forth. Still, she’s sweet. Despite being able to possibly kill me if she wanted, she rests her head on my shoulder occasionally when practice has been tough, and pats my armour affectionately. Probably planning her next attack.

22
Today the nurse came into the staffroom, said something hurriedly to Kyoto Sensei, then he got up and beckoned me to come with them. We went to the top floor where a girl was unconscious out on the ground. Because I don’t speak Japanese I have no idea what actually happened to her, but we lifted her onto a hand-held stretcher and carried her 3 floors down the stairs. It was a scary feeling, to have someone who is obviously so ill relying on your grip and balance (i.e. so she doesn’t fall off) but it was also a good feeling, like I can be sturdy when it matters.

Also had a moment which made me smile, in which I was walking along a pathway, and got off it so that a teacher walking the opposite way could pass. Rather than take the path, he also hopped off, so that the path between us as we passed was empty. It’s one of those things that I’m sure has happened more than once, but I’m glad I noticed it today. This feeling of… Wanting to be even in terms of comfort. It dictates so much of what goes on in Japanese life and can be simultaneously touching and frustrating.

23
Nice weather. Went for a bike ride with Devon and got a sweet t-shirt shaped burn. Nice day though.

24-26
Packing, class preparations, teaching final classes, gritting my teeth against my JTE. At this stage it’s so close to my visit home that I can only find it funny.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week of 10th to 16th of April (pretty much half a year ago)

10th April


Watched 7 Samurai over the course of the day. It’s a long ass movie but good enough that I didn’t mind having pretty much an entire day revolve around it. (It, food and napping.)



11


Went to the city for shopping and a Japanese movie. This is the first time I have watched a movie entirely in Japanese. With a couple notes from Devon, I managed to understand most of it. It helped that it was a gorefest. (Gantz, if anyone wants to see it. I recommend)



12


Did my self introduction in Japanese in front of 258 students. I know it was that many because I have the class list in front of me. Over the course of a week I will teach all of these. Was super nervous but not really sure why, considering I make way more of an ass of myself in class. Probably because other teachers were listening to my Japanese. Got a taste of how my kids feel when I get them to stand up and speak in English. Was also introduced as a co-teacher of Kendo. HAH. Every student there outranks me by at least two dan (levels.)



13


Jodo



14


Intense kendo today. Blisters and muscle filling back in after my absence. Got a nasty shock when I looked in the mirror and saw my neck is growing. It appears I need to make a decision on whether I can stick with this convenient “oh help me I’m a girl I can’t possibly deal with the travails of life with these little arms” image, or do things for myself from now on - before my body changes enough to render one of the options obsolete.



15


Out for dinner with new staff. My Kocho sensei has left, but it appears one of my JTEs is determined to carry on the tradition of tipping entire snack bowls into my purse. Went to the conbini with the new young guys for bean paste inside rice paste in the shape of a fish (common snack), and tea (got “my treat”ed by someone who looks about 12 but is actually double that) and then got a ride home… With his mother. It was so cute. She pulled up and her car was FULL of tiny soft toy pigs. They were all arranged to look out the windows. He was mortified, I was captivated with joy.



16 


To city! Started out tired, went to some kind of hippy convention where everyone sortof stood and swayed and I fell asleep from incense poisoning, then woke up and went out partying and ended up in a standing shochu bar the size and shape of a hallway at 5am.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9th April Welcome Enkai

Everyday I mark a couple student English diaries. Last week I wished a student luck and explained the concept of crossed fingers. Today his diary read “I got good marks for my exam. It is thanks to your crossed fingers that I did well.”



Kendo was at 2pm which startled me into going. Had my first game in at least two months. Felt incredibly bumbling and slow. Vow to never miss so much practice again.



Kyoto sensei came over and invited me in Japanese to walk to tonight’s enkai with him. (We live in the same building.) After I agreed he said in English, “good listening.” We walked to school together and then caught the bus. I sat next to a giant teacher who is one of my favourites because he’s so chilled out. He began by telling me (in Japanese) that he was tired, but that he was like our bus and had an “alcohol engine.”



Sat next to the tennis coach for the enkai. We soon made friends and went together to the new teacher’s table in order to introduce ourselves. Introductions at an enkai are somewhat like a drinking game. To welcome a new teacher, you hold out a bottle of beer to pour into their glass. If their glass is full, they are obligated to drink some off so you can refill it and show how welcoming you are. Then, they pour some of yours. Then, you both kanpai (cheers) and drink some together. If they are younger and you are feeling boisterous/particularly welcoming, you can finish your glasses. (You both are expected to drink about the same amount so a cruel/awesome person could take advantage of this.) We had about 15 new teachers sitting in a line. We did this once each for all of them. By the time they have been introduced to everyone, we are drunk and they are generally shitfaced (remember they must do this with all the existing staff who come to meet them.) This is all done under the ceremonial welcoming guise. Needless to say I love it.



Of course this all happens before the welcoming speeches so they stand up, flaming red (from alcohol, not embarrassment) and generally forget their formal speeches in lieu of something like “I’m quite drunk. NICHINAN KOKO!” The exception to this was our new principal, who doesn’t drink and was forced to skull cups of fake beer. When the other teachers heard this, they turned dark and muttered things like, “he will be troublesome.”



We then had to introduce ourselves to the newbies in turn. We all took this as a kind of joke, so for the English department they chose me to introduce everyone. Of course I started rambling on in English amidst cries of Umai! Kawaii! Until my Kendo teacher told everyone to be quiet and listen to a speech which nobody understood. At the end I got hi-fives and pounds (god knows where they learnt those) all the way back to my seat.



We then continued on to nijikai (second party) to an underground bar in Aburatsu. My kendo teacher sortof looks out for me at enkais, and seems to be offended toward everyone present if my glass is empty. He took it upon himself to go behind the bar and refill it for me. I sat with a bunch of the new teachers, who are actually close to my age. Japanese males are funny, they are so shy like children, but with none of that children meanness. When I sat down they were literally like, “yay I get to sit next to Tiffany!” They put on YMCA, and I led everyone in the dance while they sang it in Japanese. One of the female teachers confided in me “I don’t like loud boys” when I talked to her, and I chirped obnoxiously “I do!” but was also happy because even though I’m the youngest in the office, I no longer seem like it.



I sat between a new teacher and my kendo teacher for awhile, and the new teacher asked me why I go to Kendo. I’ve been asked this before, sometimes in jest because it’s so out of character, and sometimes seriously. This time I gave the standard reply (because it can only be done properly in Japan) and he waved it aside and was like, why do you GO? So I said in halting Japanese “it makes me feel… strong.” He said, “mind?” and I said “yes, strong… inside” On my side my kendo teacher was like, looking down silently, and then he just quietly said thank you. I guess to really understand how it was, you have to see him as he usually is, striding through the office barely glancing at anyone, hitting me over the head when I’m too slow to sense an opening for attack, roughly gesturing me in or out of play. Usually at Kendo I feel like I’m a hindrance, and that I should be the one who is grateful. It’s a moment I’ll remember for a long time. He also made me and everyone at the table finish our drinks.



Hmm some flitting around, talked at the bar with the teacher who always pretends we’re rogues together, he told me when he was 8 years old Stand by me was his favourite song, so we tried to sing that, accidentally put on the fast version, and failed miserably. Ah well. We had a serious kanpai (cheers) of the type where you’re genuinely wishing for the other’s health instead of just slopping your beers everywhere. It was nice.



It seems my party trick in Japan is to wildly underestimate people’s ages and prove shocked by the truth. They love it.



Hmm more talk, this was a fun night I recall. Work enkais are forever cemented in me as my very best times in Japan. Someone even sang Livin the vida loca! No idea how he did it but it was good. I was sitting at one point with a JTE on my right and the tennis coach passed out COLD on the bar on my left. When I looked at him, my JTE said without a trace of irony, “he is very tired.”



BRIEF MOMENT OF EGO PUMPERY - My kendo teacher beckoned me over to a space he had made between himself and my JTE (like I say, he keeps an eye on me at enkais and even though we don’t understand a word the other says, thanks to him I am never left sitting awkwardly alone – something I am hugely grateful for) and we had a conversation which was largely lost in translation and my faulty memory, but I do remember him saying I reminded him of the movie 7 Samurai. Um, life win. Nothing horrible anyone ever says against me can compete with this. (It did occur to me after watching the movie he could have meant one of the sniveling peasants who employed said Samurai but it pays not to dwell on these things.)



Decided at the last moment against sanjikai (as if it could ever compete with ichi and ni) and went home deeply happy.





Wednesday, September 7, 2011

End of March, beginning of April, nature and stuff

30th March


Forced self to go to Jodo. Biked there, was bored, stuck it out, biked home. The pace is so slow compared to Kendo that the only reason I go is to chat to the Nichinan girls. Reminds me of the approximate time at which I stopped paying attention in school and started just going to be social. It seems I have to be terrified into doing much of anything at all.



1st April


As well as being swapped around from school to school, teachers in Japan have their roles tampered with as well. I’m still teaching with one of my JTEs, but the nicest one has been moved and I am with two new ones. Not sure at this stage how they’ll be, but they seem nice.



Had a lovely lunch under the Sakura (cherry blossom) trees today. They are all out in full bloom for about 10 days, in which time everyone scrambles for picnics. Still a bit of a chill in the air, but a nice sunny day. Japanese women seem to be terrified to have anything to do with the ground. Whenever I carelessly rest my bag on it, they’ll pick it up and put it on a nearby chair, or table, or even hold it patiently. Same with picnics. Everyone perches uncomfortably on a tarp, no matter how small, (of course making room for every person of the party) rather than risk touching actual earth or subjecting anyone else to the same fate. I suppose with all the giant ants and poisonous centipedes and such it’s probably warranted, but I can’t help but feel a little out of touch with the world– especially without having felt socially comfortable in bare feet in a year.



Went out with the Nichinan girls for another sakura picnic, this time a night one. We were a little early for the season, so we had the entire hillside to ourselves. There were still plenty of blossoms and paper lanterns strung amongst them, which really was beautiful. Stopped for a mediocre crepe, then to the new CO-OP (huge grocery store) that had just opened in our town, where I found not only PEANUT BUTTER but PORRIDGE as well. A glorious day.



2


Up early, chilling in sun. In order to receive sun from my abode I must take a deckchair out of my steel storm door, down the concrete steps, and into the far corner of the carpark. Where I sit, looking foreign.



Took the train to the city, met some friends for coffee, and a cardboard cut-out called Ruben. Went for a drink with Ruben. Started the night with a champagne all round, which was lovely and somewhat rare in this land of beer and rice whiskey.



Went out for dinner with everyone for a birthday, which started out quite sedate and even silent, which is rare for us, up until Matt asked, “So how do you all feel about the staff changes?” Dinner got a lot more lively after that, and I have written down in my notes “hangout with Lisa more” so I imagine she was an important part of that.



Went to a conbini (those magical lands of conbenience) where I spent my last 200yen on cider (equiv of $3.20NZD). Off to a small small bar with instruments that you could play, but also unfortunately had people drinking, smoking, and two screaming infants. Yay parenting! One $16 beer later, the girls managed to escape with cider into the Miyazaki night without the menz, where we promptly got lost.



Some time later we found the Bar, which is where we go to speak English and pretty much be in a foreign atmosphere. Not a good habit to get into, but sometimes necessary after weeks of a language you don’t understand. Milled around for a few hours, drank some banana milk, got a hotel with Jords.



3


Woke up with vertigo (gradually becoming worse) so went home early.



6


Don’t know what happened between 3rd and today. Assume dizziness. Went for a walk up the hill next to my school and managed to read under the cherry blossoms with petals landing in my hair. Beautiful day.



Small welcome party for the new English new teacher, good food and bad karaoke. Must have been pretty tired this week because that’s all I wrote about it.



8


Went back to Kendo properly for the first time since I tore my calf. Wasn’t too bad, but could literally feel the absence where months worth of muscle should have been. Had a great conversation with my students though, which, as always, makes my life. My kendo teacher also called me a word in Japanese which I looked up and meant “my deputy”. Oh ye swollen heart.