Tuesday, March 29, 2011

17th Jan - 23rd Jan Torn calf muscle, hyaku nisshu and world festa

17th Back at Kendo today, after an absence. I was so unfit. My sensei noticed and said, “muscle DOWN” giving the universal hand signal for puny muscles. At the end of the training, while I was folding my Tare strings, he pointed at me and shouted, “Tiffany. muscle UP!”

18th Had a sore calf but foolishly went to kendo, believing it just needed warming up. I forced my way through the exercises, even though after the very first hop I couldn’t feel it and kept hitting the ladder. (Not a metaphysical one, a real one laid on the ground for us to hop backwards and forwards over). We then did basic attack running back and forth across the dojo, which is actually exhausting and lucid-making for how casual it looks. I left a half hour early, after my sensei called me over for a quick session of pain. My leg was faltering on my way out the door.

19th Can not walk. However, today is Hyaku-Nisshu day (hundred card game) day, so I must be there as I am the guest of honour. At 12pm I am bustled, bullied and bound into a kimono. It takes an hour. Then I am escorted secretly by two students, Chihiro and Michi, to the back of the gymnasium where the students are waiting to begin the ceremony. At 1pm I walk up onto the stage and read the opening lines in Japanese off by heart. The game begins. All the students sit with 100 cards in front of them. A reader begins an ancient poem, and the students snatch up the card which has the rest of the poem written on it. The student with the most cards wins. This is played en masse, until a homeroom wins enough games. It’s an exciting game, and I enjoyed walking around chatting with the students, posing for photos, and laughing at their win/lose reactions. One of them shouts “NAI!!” at me, whenever I see him lose. (meaning, I don’t HAVE!) Realized while I was limping around that I recognise about half the school now. I don’t know all their names but I have favourites and it’s a great feeling. My supervisor sees me in a kimono and gestures grandly, “you are so BEAUTIFUL!!” – you sortof have to know him and his voice for it to be funny. One of my students, Moeko, got him to translate this: “She says she loves you from the bottom of her heart.” Dear GOD. Heart explosion. All the other kids had something to say about my reading or the way I looked, which was really nice. I’m glad I’m so starved for company because it means I value the tiniest words, smallest connections, above anything. Particularly this gem – “In Nichinan, you are most famous.” I love my job. These kids, my god it’s so great just knowing they like me. They never try to pull me down, like so many people do to each other. And even if they did, I would still love them, because I’ve been a student and I understand. I love them really just for being what they are. All people, really, if I feel like extending the understanding. Went to Devon’s, ate two roll cakes.

20th Still cannot walk. Left calf is swollen to double its normal size. I can feel it like a brick when I try to ride my bike. Every time I stand up it has gone stiff again, which means torture and embarrassing staggering every time I need to go to the toilet. After sitting in bed for a bit I tried to get up. Wept. Got up. Tripped on my own sheet and fell over by myself in my apartment. Laughed. Could have been worse. Could have been born without a sense of humour.

21 Still in huge amounts of pain and disability. My leg sits under my desk like its own entity, a thick block of flesh that sometimes flicks in gross pain like someone is routinely tugging on the veins. I have been doing a lot of marking at my desk for the 3rd year students, which is great until I have to get up to take it downstairs. I am loathe to get up from my desk and I plan my days so that I only have to do it once or twice. Anyway, I get down to Kimiyo Sensei’s office, to put the marking on her desk. I am stopped by Totogawa Sensei, who notices my limp. We use Kimiyo’s dictionary to converse, and I explain that the muscle is damaged. He says, “wait a moment” and makes a call in Japanese. Then a menthol heat pack is placed on my desk. He’s the best. 22 Up early, off to Miyakonojo for the World festival. Basically a room with country stalls. It was nice to wander around (slowly, in a grass skirt) and see a bit about where everyone comes from and what they’re about. I got to do an Irish jig to real Irish music but alas my fat black (yes, now bruised from ankle to knee) leg would not agree. There was also a show, with the cutest kids I have ever seen in my entire life ever. They are so small it seems to defy physics that they work at all. Of course we made the usual Foreigner Loud Corner, exclaiming loudly, whistling, yelling at our friends on stage. A few JETs did songs and dances, and I learnt that Sam can sing and play guitar beautifully. I try not to let things like this influence my perceptions of people but I am generally biased in his favour forevermore. When Devon went on stage I heard someone yell “Nichinan!” from across the room. Of course I took up the call. We were the only ones. We are the only ones who live there. While we were packing up, we surrounded Jono and started chanting “haka”. He was bent over talking to a little kid, so I didn’t think he’d do it, then he suddenly whipped around and launched right in while the kid backed away in terror behind him. It was amazing and slightly disconcerting, which is the way it’s supposed to be. Everyone was astounded and it went down fantastically.

After this I went and ate tomato ramen with the girls (noodles with tomato soup, how have we never thought of this). It tasted really nostalgic, and I just realized now as I type this a few months later that it’s because it’s the SAME CONCEPT AS SPAGHETTI WOAH. We then went for a chillaxed wine and girl conversation that cannot be repeated on a blog but was highly entertaining. Then everyone else arrived and we danced and went out, where I drank all the banana milk that the bar had to offer because it was delicious. Jackie and I snuck upstairs to another bar to have a drink (even though we were participating in a nomikai – all you can drink downstairs) and talk to the bartenders who were lovely and gave us cigarettes that I did not particularly want but the thought was nice. We had great dictionary fun with them, to the point where we considered getting two nomi deals, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. We eventually saw the folly of our ways and went back downstairs. The toilet was so gross that it was somewhat reassuring, to know that even Japanese bar bathrooms are cesspits by the end of a night. We met some new foreigners which was wildly exciting because I wasn’t sure there was such a thing, some giant basketball players from Chicago wearing White Sox caps. Of course I had to know them. It was cool to hangout and they laughed at me when I said “bro” because it’s so different from a small white girl and in a NZ accent. Their car made me laugh my ass off (lmao, I guess) because it was tiny and they had to fold into it to take us “back to the mansion” which turned out to be a Japanese food place that is open at ridiculous hours of the morning for “breakfast” which is meat on rice.

23 Off to a see a beautiful waterfall with Sam and the others. I still couldn’t walk well so I had assistance getting up and down stairs like a little old lady. We explored some giant potholes formed naturally of stone by the river running underneath them, which was cool. Then we ate potato flavoured ice cream, which was delicious.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

January 11th-16th Back in Japan

Brief foray into real time: Facebook has finally been blocked at work. Aside from my crippling fear of not being able to comment on every post, picture, or “like” that my friends put up is a sneaky feeling of relief that a. I will not be doing the above, and b. I might actually get something worthwhile done. Case in point: this blog.

Okay back to writing a solid two months in the past.

10th of January (My god I’m terrible)

Got up ridiculously early for a Jyodou ceremony. That’s how you’d spell it if it was transcribed directly from hiragana. It’s still said Jodo. Anyway. Got into my hakama and gi, (giant pants and thick shirt) and went to the temple. A man struck a drum, chanted in Japanese, and waved a huge stick with soft white paper over our Jos (sticks), katanas (wooden swords), and our heads. We sat quietly and my hands went blue. There were so many things in the temple, offerings of fruit, shochu, food, coloured origami. It was how I would imagine a temple to be in ancient Greece, with literal offerings to the gods. Without the bloodstained alter I guess. I’m not sure if sacrificial lambs are all the rage in Shinto. It makes me wonder, what happens when all the offerings start to go bad? Does the caretaker unceremoniously put them in a compost heap? Does God reach His Hand down and have a Munch?

Anyway I don’t mean to take away from the experience. In Japan there are so many overlapping religions and traditions that no-one truly believes with the glassy eyed fervour that some seem to live in that the gods they pray to directly affect their lives, or even really exist as entities. I think they do these things (offerings, holidays, ceremonies) more as a sort of concentration, that by taking the time out to do some sort of prescribed ceremony will count in your favour not in a mystical sense, but in one of concentration, in that you have cast your attention to making a normal thing seem special and so, as a result, it is.

11th. Back at work this week. Did my first lesson back, which was on America. My favourite quiz question. “In America is it normal to yell or argue with one another?” Answer. “Yes. It is very normal.” My kids literally got nervous looking at a picture of people yelling in a business meeting. I thought it only fair to explain it to them.

To Miyazaki. Went to an izakaya (drinking food place) then off to The Bar. (Shaun the Nzer’s bar). On the way Sara and I bought cake with which to celebrate our birthdays. It was frozen. While we waited for it to defrost my territorial food instinct tried to emerge but I realized that people would probably not forgive this as readily as my old flatmates.

I think my basic buzz of the night was “omg we have this in NZ! I HAVE to have one!”. (This of course applying to thing like jager and tequila, neither of which are remotely NZ oriented.)

The rest of the night falls into: Epic nikumaki (meatball) journey, made friends with host boys (skinny men with outrageous hair who are paid to be company in bars and are generally hilarious probably because it is their job to be so) sit around at a quiet little bar, realize it’s 5am, onto the train home.

Off to Kushima. Ah. Now I should probably mention the general theme of this weekend, by going back in time. On my birthday, my supervisor gave me a kilo of bacon. I left work on the 23rd, accidentally leaving it in the staff fridge. On return from my holiday (11th of January) it was still in the staff fridge.

I live by very few rules. One of them, however, does not stand ignoring. ONE DOES NOT WASTE A KILO OF BACON. I took it home, cut off the suspicious parts, fried it up and ate it.

14th and 15th, while fun, were slightly tainted by the consequences of these actions. Particularly by the night of the 15th, I was feeling rather fragile. But everyone at Julian’s was very gentle with me. Muqing and Julian literally waited on me, with Muqing filling my plate because I was too feeble to reach the communal cooking pot, and Julian taking the piss by asking “do you want me to slice some lemons for your drink as well?” and then literally doing it. These guys are the best. If you ever want to get into my love list, ALL you have to do is wait on me with this kind of dedication. Anyway my physique gradually improved to a point where I could loudly and obnoxiously make fun of everyone’s accents. I love having the strength to spread my joy.

Because it was a Nzer’s house party and not anyone elses, (Julian is from NZ) we naturally ended up throwing a chair like a Frisbee. Then we went to karaoke where I completely ignored the microphone. (I wish this meant that I did not sing.) At karaoke I found a “free” coffee machine, where I proceeded to make coffees for myself and all my friends. Note* Wasn’t actually free.

Kelly rushed in at some point, hollering “it’s snowing!!” We all piled outside. Literally - we all ran for the door and squeezed out of it in a giddy heap like poos. Shin ran so excitedly he bellyflopped onto a plastic table and it exploded. We all danced around in the flakes like loons. It was beautiful.

When the snow stopped so did my energy and we went back to the house where Kelly hollered at some confused people and I quietly slept.

Lovely chill morning. Generally rolled around (literally, on everyone’s futons) and had a sweet lunch at a sushi train. Yes, it’s exactly as the name describes, a conveyor belt of delicious sushi. I never get used to the awesomeness of these.

Now a lovely Sunday pootle with Naho and Julian. These are my favourite part of life ever. I think as long as someone is willing to take me on a Sunday drive I can never be sad. It was nice to hang with people who live south, rather than traveling north every weekend.

These two are also great for my Japanese. As you begin to know how a person works, it’s not like you have to look up the words to get their meanings. You can look at their context, what they’re doing, who they’re talking to, put that against a backdrop of who they ARE, and it becomes pretty understandable, even if the words are totally new. It’s a really good feeling to hear Japanese and know what’s going on. It’s hardest at first, when the people AND the language are foreign, but when the people become familiar, the language doesn’t seem to matter. I wonder if that’s why so many people say they understand more of a language when they’re drinking. You live off cues, not words.

Anyway. We went up a sweet mountain. It gave me hardout déjà vu of going up a mountain in Taranaki with Harry, except this time no-one was climbing naked. The peak was as small as my kitchen, a tiny concrete square perched atop a mountain leaning out over the world. You could see right down onto movie-like beaches on the sea, which inspired my newest resolution to take advantage of said beaches come summer. It’s so easy for me to forget how close I am to the sea, what with biking between mountains and rice paddies all the time.

Hometime. Was nice to be home early. I did nothing with it, but it was still nice. I finally watched Howl’s Moving Castle, and I think I understand my student’s obsession with love, manga in Japan, and the failing birth rate. No-one can live up to these ideals. We need real love stories in believable environments to inspire it in similar surroundings.

Monday, March 7, 2011

San Francisco Part Two

A holiday here is so restful. It’s like going to a retreat. My memories are good food, chill company, beautiful experiences, but heaps of down-time. Usually in holidays you are trying to get everything done, but to stay with a family is the perfect environment if you are already on a grand adventure. It was like a home-coming away from home. Today we went hiking up around the ridge and I looked for mountain lions that Nick mentioned happened to live around. I realized two things on the mountain, one: that I was looking into a valley near where John Steinbeck based most of his novels and two: that the Noyeses had family history from these same valleys AND a historic author relative. (Not Steinbeck.) But still, such a grand, wonderful feeling to see where all these pioneering authors came from, the land that shaped them and the literature I love so much. Usually when I think of San Francisco it is with reverence to the city and the Beat Movement. But before that, there was so much more, and even richer. I genuinely love this city, the words that can be traced through it.

Our last meal with Henry and Shana’s family was at a fantastically greasy burger place the likes of which reviews have been written about, and then we said our goodbyes. From here we travelled to Elizabeth’s beautiful family home (complete with blowup snowmen on the front yard!) for Chinese. I love that I am part of family outings, family visits, family invitations. The openness works so well here, because families are not embarassed, the culture is so individual rather than a set of closed groups, they can open their doors and truly draw you into their world.

Cookies and TV with Skatie again!

Skatie left today which was sad, but I feel confident now that I’ll see her again before 5 years is up. I went and bought like 4 English language books, went for delicious food at the half day café where we all sat around a crossword puzzle. I think the only help I could give was in questions relating to farms, sheep and bilge pumps. Sigh.

Susan arrives! We get ready for New Years dinner. I went in the limo with Susan, where we had wine and cheese and generally caught up on the last 5 years of our lives. We had a great conversation about the future, she is so inspirational. Being here, having these conversations, makes me want to DO things.

Dinner itself was so amazing. We travelled to Norai’s family restaurant up the top of a mountain overlooking giant trees and lights like a giant treehouse. We had a “taster” plate of seafood which was literally the best seafood I have ever had ever. Particularly exciting were the “palate cleansers” – sorbet between courses. It was awesome to talk about Harvard with James and his friend Teddy, again a glimpse into a life that I could work towards.

Onto the countdown, which involved hats and party blowers, much hollering and dancing to classic decade music with the Noyes ladies.

This morning we went on a family hike in the rain around a lake. It involved a lot of stream jumping (thankyou Kendo calf) and rock stepping, which was fun. We dropped Teddy off near Berkely, which meant I got to have a look at the town. It looked cold. But in a student way, like Wellington or Dunedin. Could be worth further investigation! We continued on out into the wilderness to find a food place, and ended up literally up a mountain path out in the pitch black woods with not a single streetlight to guide us. Both of us were completely astounded as to how that could have happened so quickly. Nevertheless, we made it to the restaurant where they gave us about 7 crates of food to take back to the house for dinner. It turned out to be almost a tray per person. Delicious Italian pasta though, something I have missed so much! I met a few interesting people on this night, with great stories about exotic countries and people.

Been having such a nice, relaxed time. Have gotten back into the habit of chilling in the main room, chatting quietly and watching James or John play video games. I remember doing this in the states. To just be in a room with other people, this is what I miss most about flatting and why I don’t mind spending so much time at my desk in Japan. I think this is what many people mean when they say “let’s go for a coffee”. It’s not, “I really need a coffee and you might as well”, it’s more “let’s find an excuse to share a room.”

Half of the family leaves today :( Sad, but again not so bad because I know now that every time I see them it will be the same, like I have never left. Also because I feel confident that it will not take as long as 5 years next time.

Halfday café, amazing food. Chilling. Every night Nick puts on an old classic movie that I have never even heard of and get completely absorbed in. I finally know what people are talking about when they say they prefer old movies. The stories are so new, so daring. There isn’t the feel-good pattern yet that everything seems to follow, or the shocking feel-terrible pattern that people try to be different with. It’s just a movie, following people’s lives, with things sometimes working out and sometimes not. I think maybe these movies came before movies turned into escapism. But then, I have no idea. I like Flava of Love.

Went to Point Reyes today. It was so, so beautiful. I’m so glad Nick took me there. I know you can get into a state of aesthetic exhaustion, where you live in so much nature (true for me in NZ AND Japan) that you don’t really value the idea of going to see more. But this was a beautiful coastline, a beautiful day, a lovely walk, and just a fantastic looking beach. I collected a bunch of rocks with what I suspect is fool’s gold inside, but even the novelty of that is enough. I saw deer and elk tracks, explored rock pools, prodded jellyfish, got caught in the tide standing on a rock taking photos of the spray and had to jump in water over my shoes - basically what I do on every summer family holiday in NZ, totally get amongst a sea environment in every way that is interesting to me.

Also ate my first fish tacos. Delicious. Even the smallest things, like being able to eat at a casual road-side café, read the menu, ask questions, casually order a drink or not order one, have options of nationality of foods, eat in an open environment instead of behind private slides, these seem like the ultimate luxury of casualness to me now.

Everyone else leaves today. Had a wee tear, but like I say we will meet again. I got on an airport shuttle (by myself!) to my hotel, and booked in (by myself)! I had the whole day to explore so I got on the BART (main train) into the city. It was more comfortable than the Nichinan train, but smelt like urine and had questionable stains. Every part of this was exciting to me. As we sped along I bounced in my seat at how loud and open it was, feeling for all the world like I was on a rollercoaster. Bumpkin. I know.

So… By myself in San Francisco city. I had no idea what to do. Luckily I didn’t have much of an agenda, just wanted to wander and get a feel of the place. Which I did. After walking for ages I went into a Starbucks, because the city was just exhausting me with its bigness. And homeless people. I hadn’t seen a homeless person in 7 months, and even then Blanket man in NZ doesn’t really count as a homeless person. We have like, one per town. Sortof like town pets. It’s weird to walk past people who smell awful and look awful and you want to help but are afraid to be followed or yelled at in crazy. And are part of a population that sit on every corner. So, like every good suburban girl, Starbucks. Had a sweet chat to the coffee maker. People don’t realize how easily they make each other’s days. Seriously. A question, a throwaway comment, these can mean so much to someone alone. Also when I sat down a lady was with her son and started hacking up a lung. At first she seemed defensive but I laughed and then she laughed and then there was world peace for everyone always.

After this I decided to stop at an Irish place for lunch. An Irish football game, Shepherd’s pie, two whiskeys, and an awkward situation where I realized you’re meant to leave the tip on the table, not sit and wait for the waitress until she asks you if you’re alright and you have to get out a map and pretend you need help with directions later, I was on my way again. This dining experience was good and bad in that it reminded me of home but I felt incredibly solitary and reminded me why I never cook, because the idea of cooking alone, spooning your food into one bowl, sitting down and eating it alone, horrifies me. Anyway. Continued.

To City Lights!! (City Lights is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Beat Generation bookstore) It was nice to walk there (with my trusty map) because I got to see all the city districts. City Lights is on the edge of the Italian district, which surprised me because everyone knows about Chinatown, but here was an Italian version, with the signs, the people, everything. It truly is multicultural here. Something about the USA is that I feel like I want to be part of every group. I want to wander into an Italian restaurant and make friends with everyone there. Same applies to pretty much anywhere I go in that country. Anyway. I spent about 2 hours in City Lights looking at books. Went out, went back in again. I couldn’t stop.

Then I walked to the main street, up a GIANT hill through Chinatown and Japantown. This hill was so humungous. Then I got to the top and realized that I had to walk down the other side. Didn’t care. Went to Borders, spent another hour buying books. I am a big fat nerd.

Came out, a man sang at me on the street. I gave him money and he sang more. It was awesome.

I FINALLY found the square where the actual shopping was. By now it was dark and I was exhausted so I just went to Macy’s and wandered round in a daze buying things and making friends with staff. I say in all these encounters “making friends” not because we’re going to call each other and hang out, but because they were so casual and friendly that I felt like every conversation was some sort of connection. In the USA when you talk to people you get what you get. It’s not changed for you, made vague, polite, anything. A Russian sales clerk leant over and rummaged in my wallet to help me with my pennies because she said when she first moved here she had no idea what was what. Things like that. Just basic life honesty.

From Macy’s I walked further down. The bars were getting lively and I desperately wanted join, but I was tired, filthy, had bags of books, and a man was yelling about Jesus. So I got back on the train. The station was smelly but even that was nostalgic. I saw the hottest gangster I have ever seen and stared. Blatantly. My god I’ve turned into a Japanese grandmother. The train was PACKED, but still felt spacious because I have been on a train in Tokyo. For the rest of the ride (it was rush hour) I pretty much just sat with my bags between my feet falling in love with the African American accent. It’s so damned emotive. I love to hear girls on their phones, people fighting, anything. I just love it.

Back to the airport, onto the shuttle to the hotel. Went to the diner attached to the hotel in some vague hope that it got lively on a Saturday night. Not so. Sat at the bar, had chips, beer, and watched American basketball. Ended up talking to the waitress for a good hour or so, learnt all about her life and her boyfriend and even ended up consoling her a little when she showed a glimmer of a tear. Ate red velvet cake for the first time in my life and it was amazing.

Through the double door back to my hotel, sleep. Up early for plane. Had massage of death. No shit, this woman pretty much just sat me down and beat me. I had bruises. Got the front seat at the plane which you would think would be awesome but actually just sucks. You feel all open and public. But had a good book. Yay!

Got to Tokyo at what was midnight for me but 3pm for Japan. Bus, wait for ages, dinner, next plane. Miyazaki. Train. Wait. Another train. Taxi. Got back at midnight Japan time, which was 7am for me. I had been travelling and awake for 23 hours.

Next day (no idea of date anymore)
Slept. All day. Made plans. Slept through them.