Monday, June 25, 2012

Random stuff from September/October

I wrote a bunch of little notes in my book but didn't put the months so this is just a myriad of September/October/November/things that happened!


25th - Day after returning from Thailand. Adam picked me up traipsing along a highway complete with an entire Thailand backpack. I walked nearly all the way into the city from the outskirts! I heard later that my vice principal had seen me, but he was playing pachinko (fake Japanese gambling) and said I looked happy. Went to Udo Shrine with Adam. It's a beautiful shrine set in a cave right on the coast. The history is that a man lived there for awhile, can't remember why. But he was sustained by water dripping from a rock, which now equates to a shrine of fertility and is meant to bless women with babies. Needless to say I kept far away from any and all rocks. Beautiful place though! Glad I could show it off to someone. 


October 1st - Finally climbed the mountain by my house!!! I've been trying to climb this sucker for a year and always getting hopelessly lost/tired. It took us about 5 hours I think. The entire way was on a road, so we had to watch out for zooming cars. We also took rests on said road, sometimes stretched out across it. We got to the top, and Adam got me to take a photo of  him swinging on the entrance to the shrine. It broke. This thing is meant to signify the entrance to heaven, so basically Adam broke heaven. Nice. We split a bottle of wine and some biscuits, and watched the sun set over Obi and Nichinan. It was beautiful. We explored the top of the mountain, and then realised that it was getting dark and we should hurry down. We started loping down the mountain and made it in a couple hours, in the dark for the last 45min or so. Insanely sore knees but the wine helped. Upon getting home we saw that there was a train heading to the city in 30min, so we carried on (walking) to the station and then went to the city, where I held onto a table to dance because my legs hurt so much. All in all, an excellent day.


Sometime that week: A conversation I had with my supervisor about omiyage (gifts of snacks). Him - "It is very easy to kill teachers. Probably if you put something poison there (the omiyage table) ...we will eat." 


Weekend: Dinner, drinks, karaoke. Sang T.A.T.U with Jess outrageously. Stumble home. 


To Nobeoka! Hung out with Dohwa on the train for drinks and beautiful scenery. We met Tracey and had a "picnic" which involved discreetly pouring vodka and juice into cups and drinking it. Then we all sat down for a "Noh" performance. This is a traditional Japanese play where the people chant reaaaaaaallllyy slowly and move slowly on the stage. It was interesting and I'm glad I saw it. We left halfway. No regrets.


Izakaya (food and drinks place) outrageous conversation with Nico, drinks in the park, and then home to Tracey's.


Next day: Walked around Nobeoka with Adam for awhile. Watched fishermen over a bridge. While waiting for our train at the station we got a delicious crepe, and chatted with an alcoholic who told me that being totally free (as we bragged we were) wasn't good because to take a road alone was not good. Interesting. He also said that he had learnt English in school (he was 58) and he practised what he remembered on us. Then he told me something that blew my mind, which was that we were the first foreigners he had ever talked to. This is what our lives in Japan are all about, and aside from teaching kids this is probably the thing I feel like makes everything worth it. 


Took the train down the coast, decided to get off at Hyuga (coastal town) and discovered that it was actually kindof a hub of tourism! We got a couple drinks and went for a walk in search of the sea, which unintentionally took hours. Granted, we did stop at every park to play and every conbini to get food/more drinks. Finally, we heard the ocean and after plunging into some ominous trees (it was now dark) we emerged on the other side right on a beach! The moon was out and making the sand look white and cool, so we sat down and enjoyed it. Such a lucky night! 


After this we wandered up to a shrine which we spied atop a cliff, and startled some pokemon which we tried to take photos of but still to this day can't decide what they actually were. 


Train, Miyazaki, sleep.


14th October: Another conversation with my supervisor about his teaching style in which he says, "is not bullying. Education." lol. Also in class I ask, pointing to my stomach (for learning body parts), "what is this?" Students- "BABY!"


I've also been helping a senior with his English test for university. He wrote me a note this afternoon which says (amongst other things) "when I travel, I will think of Tiffany's words." Aww. I love being a teacher. 


15th - Went to Fukuoka for a baseball game. Here Jordy taught me how baseball works and how to be an American and we drank beers and yelled obnoxiously. I actually really enjoyed the game!!


18th - Talking to my supervisor about the upcoming mid-year seminar that he should be joining me on. He tells me "I will be sick that day". 


22nd October - Went to Cape Toi with Adam! These are huge rolling hills above cliffs over the sea. Absolutely wonderful. To add to this, there are wild horses! They are small and stumpy but we keep our distance and admire from afar. Ish. We climbed a giant hill and watch the sun set together, and I laughed at Adam's shock at all the horse poop. Cityboy. Then we ran down the hill jumping and tumbling like a video game. So much fun! I saw my first light house and we generally ran amok among the hills. 


29th - Went to a kids Halloween event, which was super cute. I was one of the "stations" at the event, where tiny kids in costumes had to come and introduce themselves to me for candy. Cutest thing ever. Wish I was an elementary school teacher, but then again I feel like I'd be exhausted all the time. 


Also went to an (adult) Halloween party in Miyakonojo, where 3 of us dressed as paper, scissors, and rock. We were a huge hit and despite feeling ill the night was a lot of fun! Hilarious photos abound. But you can't see any because they take too long to load. Soz.



Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thailand trip September 2011


18th September – THAILAND

When I come to write about Thailand, I realise that I didn’t even write half of the stuff down. Or, I did, but I wrote it somewhere else and can’t seem to… find it.

So you’re dealing with my memory for now.

Up at an early hour with Tracey and Jordy. We’re off to Thailand! We leave while it is still dark (my favourite time to travel – early morning before the sun). We travel to Fukuoka and get on our flight. We stopover in Taipei, where we have coffees, take photos of gorillas and stuffed animals, and generally make a menace of ourselves. Next flight to Thailand!

Thailand airport is lovely. Until you get downstairs into the heat and the people talking quickly and trying to shove you in unmarked taxi cabs. It seems semi-official because there’s a wee cardboard booth set up, so we allow our stuff to get whisked into the boot and we are on our way. The drive from the airport is just beautiful. White gates, clean statues, purple and orange ribbons everywhere. It’s lovely, and surprising. Our driver is very shy and our excitement makes him smile awkwardly. Despite all this I’m nervous at the car (it’s a normal car with “Taxi” painted onto it) and the neighbourhoods we’re starting to travel through. We pass a lot of people living under bridges or in shacks. When we’re dropped off my fears of being kidnapped and sold are abated and all I’m worrying about is that he’s going to drive off with our stuff. Finally we’re safely deposited on the side of the road and he has double the usual taxi fare because we’re too nervous to care about it.

One of the first things we see is a car accident. A man on a scooter piled high with stuff is knocked straight off it at an intersection by a small truck. He gets up, dusty and limping, and someone wheels his scooter over to the side. Traffic continues as usual. Welcome to Thailand.

Our hostel is beautiful. It’s tucked away in a busy street covered in foodstalls and dark alleyways, but it’s painted a bright orange and once we’re inside the beds are white-sheeted with purple cushions. We feel like royalty. (Looks can be deceiving – I got bedbugs my first night.) Aside from this though we are very happy. The showers are stone and look like they belong in a magazine.

Our first night we are tired, but excited to see the city. As we leave, there are a bunch of people in the common room watching a DVD. Not our scene. We go out for dinner, and randomly find an AMAZING restaurant that just had everything you could hope for in terms of foreign food (foreign from that of Japan, I mean) and exquisite cocktails. We order a few rounds, eat a large amount of deliciousness, tip our waitress outrageously like the money-speaking people we are, and carry on.

Bangkok is insane. There are places to drink and eat everywhere. Everything is catered toward tourists and making money off of them. They know what we want. There are stalls open all night selling sweet rave glasses, shirts, souvenirs, everything. This has always been an idea in the back of my head – if you ever wanted to make money in life, why not sell things to drunk people? We buy everything. And happily.

Two things to note before I go much further – public toilets are often not equipped with toilet paper, and when you are lucky enough to find it you must place it in the BIN or risk flooding it. Needless to say all the bathrooms are flooded at about 1 or 2am by ignorant foreigners. The other option is the shower hose which I laughed at when I first saw it – (who would want to shower in a toilet?) until I realised it explains the absence of toilet paper and why when Thai people use Thai toilets they don’t flood. End. Also the water here is undrinkable (probably because of all the flooding toilets) so you must buy it everywhere you go. Double end.

Anyway, it’s still reasonably early so we go to a sports bar and have a few drinks there. We meet a couple other travellers, and realise that everyone is familiar with the islands in Thailand and has been travelling for months. We’re somewhat out of place, having only two weeks. Most of these people are real backpackers and have been to Vietnam and everywhere. Anyway, we sit around, make friends over the world cup that’s going on, and then head over the road to more of a dancing club.

We are still some of the first people there (story of my life) but this doesn’t stop us taking up the entire dance floor. This holiday is definitely about doing everything the un-Japanese way and we are ready to get obnoxious. We make friends with some other travellers (seriously that’s nearly all this place is) and Tracey gets into a sweet dance off. It’s glorious. Two small Thai girls pull me up on stage to dance with them, and we spend the better part of the night like that. They are really happy and sweet, and keep pointing out boys for me to dance with and then clapping excitedly when I say I’m having too much fun without any. Whenever I go to get a drink they pull me back onto the stage. I love them! Eventually, it gets late, and I notice a big guy come in and gesture to them. They tell me they have to go, but if I want I can go with them! I decide against it, because Tracey and Jordy are still here - and because I’ve suddenly realised that they’re prostitutes. This does not phase me at all, but I still stay behind.

So after they leave I get a drink at the bar and start talking to someone, but I’m getting tired. Then I notice a sharp pain in my foot and realise I’ve stepped on glass. After being kidnapped by taxi drivers, this is my worst fear in Thailand. As I lift my foot to inspect it, blood spatters across my other foot. When I put it back down a puddle forms and my foot starts to slip around inside my shoe. I show the guy next to me, who buys a water and we wash it off and plug it up with toilet paper like the classy lady I am. I take this as my cue to leave.

As I head back, I realise that instead of taking the loop, there’s an alleyway that goes directly through to our hostel. Obviously I take it. In hindsight this is probably not the best idea, but all I see is a giant rat the length of my arm shaking its fur like a dog. Back at the hostel I jump in the shower and scrub my feet for about an hour.

19th Sept

The next day, due to my fears of amputation, we go to a foreigners clinic. These are dotted all over Thailand, probably because of the abundance of stupid people like me. After filling out all the paperwork, I go in, to have the lady poke at my toe, put some meths on it, and a plaster. As we come out she says it’s the size of a pin-wound and there’s no point even charging me or putting it in the roster. I am duely mortified.

We then catch another taxi, who charges us half the price of the first one, and he takes us back to the airport so we can get on our plane to the south of Thailand. This plane is small, and we ordered food, which we awkwardly eat in front of everyone else who didn’t order food. When we get to the next airport it is tiny, and you literally just pick up your stuff and walk through it. On the other side at the bus counter we are given stickers, and then roughly herded onto and off of buses as they figure out just who we paid. Finally we are on our way, and travel over really traditional Thai landscape, full of huge waxy leaved trees and brown rivers. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a jungle. We are randomly taken off our bus and deposited (along with no other foreigners) next to a creaky brown ferry. We board amidst a bunch of Thai people and their trucks of merchandise. One of my favourite things to do on holidays is people-watch, and we got our fill watching over the back of the boat. A bunch of men on scooters were joking around as they directed the trucks where to go, and it was great to watch them. One of them brought a baby which they passed around and gave attention unashamedly. A small truck, complete with giant live yak, was loaded onto the boat. Goofing around with each other, they also managed to hose down the yak in the heat. It was great to watch. It must be interesting, to be a local in a tourist world, to know all your actions and your life are just used as notes in a tourist’s travels. You never have to impress any of the people that pass through your hands each day because they’re all only temporary.

Today was super busy, so as the ferry pulls away, we are rewarded by watching the sunset over the water, and a huge Buddha statue rising over the trees as we see more of the land. It’s truly beautiful.

We arrive at Koh Samui in the dark. The taxi peddling begins right as we get off the boat. The man literally paces us as we walk up the landing, talking as fast as he can about how he’s the only option to get us where we need to go and if we don’t get in his taxi we’ll be stranded and wont ever make it on the road. I’ve said this before, but do people not realise this is a way of tack that makes us NOT trust you? He shows us a sign, which is roughly made out of cardboard, and then also has the audacity to tell us that the man next to him in normal clothes is a policeman. I’ve found so far in all my dealings that there’s a particular voice in Thailand that’s half angry, fast, and designed to fluster you so you’ll give them money to make them stop. While this frustrates me to the point of tears, it also works. We attempt to hold out, trying to ignore him and talk to a lady instead, who takes our money, and then PUTS US IN HIS VAN. I am literally about to cry. He proceeds to drive us into the darkness on dirt roads, talking on his phone in Thai, throwing us into each corner, with me holding Jordy’s hand. Eventually I calm down, not because I suddenly trust him, but because I’m convinced he’s going to get into an accident and kill us all, in which case I won’t be sold or left penniless in a Thai jungle. A silver lining to every cloud.

Obviously we get there safe and he roars up to the hotel and drops us outside. I want to kiss him for not selling/killing/stealing from me. I gather that he assumed that we assumed as much and is offended. But seriously. If you’re going to be dodgy about money, at least be only dodgy enough to assume we’re being overcharged (which we DON’T care about – taxis here are cheap as chips anyway) and not dodgy enough to convince us we’re going to become a statistic. He speeds away at breakneck speed, still acting every inch the criminal he has proved himself not to be. Life has never felt so precious.


Okay so… Our room. This place is gorgeous. Just beautiful. We’re led down a tropical garden to a little cabin with luxurious beds. We proceed to destroy the atmosphere with all our stuff, (at least Jords and I do) and head directly out for food. Being women, and subject to blood sugar crashes that end friendships, we’ve been trying to eat pre-emptively. Usually though, it goes from us saying to each other – “I’m weirdly not hungry?” to twenty minutes later absolutely rampaging for curries and snapping at people like angry turtles. This is where pina coladas come in handy.

Walking out from our hotel, we are directly on the beach. These beaches are set up just for drunk tourists in much the same way you would attract moths or zombies. True to our name, we stumble dazedly up to the first brightly lit UV sign we see. Turns out to be a restaurant right on the beach, and who could ask for more. We eat dinner with sand under our feet, have drinks, be obnoxious, lie down on deckchairs for hashish, and are straight up entertained by fire dancing and waiters. Bliss. We also explode with cuteness over a little dog that starts to growl and wimper every time his owner picks up a fire staff. The waiter says it’s his body guard, and then gives him a blanket, which the dog promptly burrows under and hides. So cute. Another man wanders up with a monkey and takes our photos for money. We feel guilty for the monkey, but we pay and do it anyway because we’re nasty.

As this was meant to be our “quiet night” we head home, promptly getting lost. At this stage we’ve been travelling all day and we’re exhausted. A man pulls up on a scooter and accuses us of not paying for one of our rounds of drinks. By this stage we are so sick of being poked and prodded for money that I don’t think the poor guy is quite ready for the three spitting hellcats he’s just unleashed on himself. Still, he’s persistent, and we pay up to make him shut up. As we walk away I realise that we had, indeed, paid the wrong person for our drinks. Just adding to the foreigner stereotype one day at a time. Awash with guilt, I vow that no matter how culture shocked I am, to always give the benefit of the doubt.

Blissful sleep.

20th

I’m up at 7am. Can’t sleep in. I go for a swim in the pool, overhear someone talking about a small town in NZ, and go wake up the girls for breakfast. Breakfast is a buffet of fruit and juices and basically everything that you see in the travel catalogues.

After this we have a smutty conversation and lie in the sun. Unfortunately it’s time to pack but that’s okay because we’re also going shopping. We stop for lunch at a quiet little house on the beach, where I have a “local delicacy” which turns out to be crab, shredded with pork, inside a crab shell. It’s delicious. I also have bananas and coconut milk which are perfect but a little rich. Especially when one is also trying to drink beach cocktails. There’s only so much one can take. Later this afternoon we go to a quaint little salon to take care of some business. I imagine Thai women are more than used to foreign girls coming in for manicures and massages. What they seemed a little less used to however, was us essentially asking them to eradicate a year's worth of bikini line growth. (Waxing doesn't exist in Japan.) Cut to: Jordy and I separated by a curtain lying on our backs with a veritable team of Thai ladies on top of us, her hand clenching mine, while ripping sounds and muffled squeaks escape from behind the cloth. I think one of Jordy's waxers even held her other hand. Tracey, from her calm leisurely manicure standpoint, chortles at us. Otsukaresama to all involved. 

Taxi to the ferry which went through some more shanty towns that are totally out of the tourist’s eye, and then stopped at a restaurant which set us up in a little cabana hut facing the ocean, telling us to relax and they’d tell us when our ferry was there. Naturally we have a drink while we wait.

We also make a new friend, Ruthie, who is lovely. We make our way across a long skinny jetty to our ferry. Everyone on the boat to Koh Phangan has only one thing on their minds – Half-moon party! We have some beers and size each other up. Jordy tries to read a book. I laugh. At her. Toilets aboard are a lesson in dexterity, luckily I’ve been in Japan long enough to be a pro at the squatter. Throw in some kicking waves and a window wide open to the sea and you’re in for an experience.

When we arrive at the island, someone with a ute is yelling the name of our hotel. We all clamber onto the back of it with our luggage, and off we go. After roaring through town and making friends with the other randos on the back, we’re suddenly lurching down the steepest hill known to man. We’ve arrived! We try to check in amidst beer-hilarity (our own, not anyone elses) and a lovely porter named Ben shows us to our room. We. Are. Ecstatic. The biggest, fluffiest bed you ever saw, on a terrace. Beautiful!

Downstairs. Drinks. Upstairs. Clothes. Downstairs. Food. Drinks. Upstairs. Bucket. A bucket here is about 300 baht, ($9) and includes: a flask of your choice of alcohol. A concentrated red bull. Soda of your choice. Multiple straws for sharing. Excite!

After some hotel room hilarity that was caught on camera (which was later stolen and probably wtf’d over by strangers/may endup on the internet someday), we got into a taxi for the Half-moon party. Imagine our drunken excitement to be sharing it with Japanese people! We love you!

The half-moon party is an organised event. There’s also the full-moon, which is even bigger. Full-moon is held on a beach, half-moon in a jungle. It’s packed with UV lights, trance music, buckets, and fire dancers. My kind of place. At the party we meet: French, Isreali, Ecuadorean, Japanese, Australian, American, annnnnnnnnnd a zebra and a tiger. Wonderful.

Sooo… Dance, drink, eat, get painted, drink, dance. Partway through the night the toilets become a swamp of disgusting sewage water. Barely notice. An Ecuadorian man claims me for the night and does not let me do anything on my own, which is immensely frustrating and a bit of a downer on the night. He makes up for it the slightest bit by teaching me salsa on the sand as the sun is coming up. A poetic picture, if you can manage to lay aside your seething rage.

When the sun is fully up we catch our open-air ute home. The guy we’re with barters up a storm for us which is interesting to watch, as we usually just agree to anything. Girls.

As we travel back we see Jordy walking down the street. We exchange open air pleasantries. Back at the hotel we nap for an hour, then wake up to meet Jords for free hotel breakfast (to be honest I can’t even remember what it was) and swap memories. Back to bed, sleep until 3pm.

At 3.30 we have raging hunger. We go directly for food (and cocktails), where I accidentally use a pre-broken toilet at bill paying time and we make a hasty retreat. We dip into a couple stores, and walk literally 200 metres down the beach before we decide to stop at ANOTHER restaurant and order coffees. And cocktails. Our friends the zebra and tiger (from England) walk past and we invite them to join us, where a casual coffee and drink turns rapidly into drinking games and buckets. One of these games involves singing songs with certain key words in them. Or drinking. Every round turns into a rowdy sing along and buckets quickly disappear. Best game ever.

Eventually the place packs up, but this is fine because we only have to walk another 600m before we find a beach-bar. Here we dance most of the night away. Trace and I have an epic sand dance before her bag is stolen, which puts an unfortunate dampener on things. She rallies, and we comb the beach looking for it. Beach combing turns into us drifting apart, Will the zebra making sandcastles, and all of us making our own way home at indiscriminate hours of the morning.

22nd

Standard routine of getting up for breakfast, and then sleeping. We change rooms to one even higher and more beautiful, which has a view over the entire hotel and ocean beyond. At about midday we rally for lunch (hard life I know) and head onto the beach. It’s a glorious day. We are invited to hangout with some Israelis, go swimming, buy sarongs, listen to music and just lie prone. Bliss.

As afternoon comes, (despite our pleas of “we just got up a couple hours ago!!”) we head into town for some shopping and to see if there’s any news on Tracey’s purse. No luck. Food, cocktails, sun over a flat sea. I get murdered by insects.

The girls head back to the hotel for a nap and I stay around to get a Thai massage. It’s very public and naked but by this stage I just don’t care. The woman massaging me hooks her leg over mine, grips my shoulders, and wrenches my spine in a direction it has never been before. The thing crunches like cocopops. Before I have time to object she does the other side and I let out an involuntary groan. I just. No words.

Thoroughly relaxed, I begin the slow amble home. When I arrive I start to get ready to go out, realise the girls are dead to the world, crawl into bed, and am out like a light. We wake up at 10pm.

By this stage I’m too groggy to get ready so I just go down to the beach looking like a pirate. We meet our jungle friends and have some cheap drinks, watch the fireshow and Steve trying to breathe fire and generally spitting petrol all over himself. Jords and I get pad thai in town. Midnight and it’s my first pad thai of the trip. Luckily it’s amazing.

We see Trace, dance a little, and then end up going for a wander. Will and I sit at an intersection drinking beers and watching the three taxi scooters and 2 dogs milling around there. One of them keeps asking if we need a ride, and then when he finds out I’m single he puts his arm around me and leads me to his taxi saying loudly “MY DAHHHLLING”. I lol. Beach, paddle, wander, goodbyes. The sun is rising.

As I begin to walk home, in near daylight, I walk up behind a pack of dogs which are fighting. On seeing me they begin barking and suddenly ignore each other. I turn around, go back to the intersection, find my taxi scooter driver, and climb aboard behind him with my arms around his ample middle. I’ve come a long way from my taxi-terror of earlier times. He’s super jolly and berates me all the way home for not bartering more for my hotel and assures me he’s a pro as we hurtle face first down the hill.

As soon as I knock on the door, Tracey opens it looking panicked. Her first words to me are: “our ferry is at 7.30.”

And so it happens that I am on a tiny tin boat for 3 hours, completely crashed out over 3 plastic chairs, having eaten an entire packet of cookies and a berocca for breakfast. Breakfast of champions.

Hour-long bus ride that I sleep through. We arrive at the airport 5 hours early so we do what we do best, which is obnoxious lunching. We lunch for a good couple of hours, watch a trail of ants carry a dead wasp between my feet and over our bags, “shop” in the tourist stores, and spend another good two hours trying to finagle 10 Baht coins out of shopkeepers for internet usage. We have money but not the right coins, and we are caught unawares. Our two hours of hunting culminates in about 14min of drip-fed internet each. We finally crash out exhausted in the massage chairs, unable to pay to make them work.

Later we get up and find Trace, who has fallen asleep on the ground on the first floor, unashamedly. By now we are so hysterical we spend an hour cackling madly in the departure lounge. We are finally allowed to board. Asleep in moments.

Bangkok again! Same backpackers, chill and extreme rally. Eat an entire pizza. Go shopping tipsily on Khaosan, which is packed – it being a Friday. This is the first time I’ve known what the day of the week is our entire holiday. Make friends but I’m too tired to keep them so go to bed.

24th

Packing, travelling, home, sleep.

END

Random stuff from Aug-Sep 2011


Random stuff from Aug-Sept 2011

In early August we received all the new JETs. This brings about thoughts of being a second year, watching all these people starting their amazing adventures and winding our own ones up. It seems natural though, giving this wonderful place up to be taken care of by others.

This also inevitably means that people are going to leave. Sam, who was my first friend in Japan, leaves this week. To send him off we all go down to Kagoshima, onto an island, and into a dinosaur park. (Taupo people think Spa Park). Sam has been talking about this place ALL year, so we all turn up and gaze admiringly at giant plaster dinosaurs. Then we go into the city and dance, coming back at the wee hours of the morning to our park on the ferry. To the end of my days I will never forget the image of Sam TEARING around on the grass after a rabbit that was sitting quietly in front of us. We have not organised anywhere to sleep, so Sam, Jordy and I sleep in the back of her car with the boot open for our feet to hang over. I am intensely uncomfortable and we realise in the morning it’s because I was sleeping on top of a rolled up blanket. We also wake to find Sam gone. Upon giving a little bow to the families that have brought their children to see the dinosaurs and have instead come upon cars of snoring gaijin, we venture into the park. Here we find Sam, asleep inside a brontosaurus.

Because it’s summer I get to just hang out with students, see them chill out and goofing off. It’s nice. We have marching practise again, and school festival again, and sports day again. It’s strange to compare myself now to myself at this time last year, having just arrived in Japan.

For the sports day I get to hold the “FINISH” ribbon. One teacher who has never spoken to me calls me the goddess of winning to one of his friends and it gets back to me. Nawww. One of my JTEs tells me I am the best ALT he has ever worked with, but that he avoids me and often pretends to be busy to do so. Oh, alcohol. I sit with the baseball coach for a lot of the night, who is always scowling. One of the office ladies sums this up by saying “he has chicken heart but lion face.” So true, about so many people. Tonight is my first doubting of my contract decision – how can I ever leave this?

At school I see some students telling each other in Japanese basically “if he asks, just say wakarimasen (I don’t understand)” I even have teachers do this to me. NOW I KNOW YOU DO IT ON PURPOSE!!!

My supervisor saunters over to where I have a photo of me and Rose on my desk pulling awful faces. He says in English “in the future, the photo at your funeral… will be like that.”


Thursday, May 10, 2012

5 day zen retreat


All right friends this is the ONE and ONLY time I will post out of chronological order. No "almost a year ago" this time, this is the retreat I just finished last week. (April-May 2012)

Tetsugyuji Zazen Sesshin (a zen retreat in Tetsugyuji temple in the mountains)

Day one

On seeing this randomly online (while looking for bars in Oita, funnily enough), Adam and I were curious but apprehensive. On the one hand, it’d be something we’d never thought of doing, never expected we’d do in our lives. On the other, the schedule was right in front of us. 4am starts, no food or speaking, eight hours of meditation a day. With a bit of back and forth, we decide to give it a go. As we drive up there, on Sunday morning, I am paralysingly anxious. Have we made the right decision? Will we be glad we did it? Will it be embarrassing if we leave? Should I have gone to Vietnam? Are we going to be late? Should we just go to the winery in Tsuno instead? We arrive pretty much perfectly on time, and see Paul, the monk, standing in the parking lot. I’m nervous to meet him. What if he can tell I’m shallow? That I was complaining the entire way up and just stuffed myself full of hormone filled chicken and rice in preparation for the fasting we’re about to begin? WHAT IF HE CAN READ MY MIND

So we meet Paul, and I’m shocked to hear an American accent come out of his mouth. I knew he was American, but I guess I expected all monks to speak in measured gravelly Japanese tones. We shake hands and make small talk. He drives a little car like Adam’s. The idea of a monk in a car is ludicrous to me. I obviously live in a dream world where monks float across the earth.

We meet the other participants, and I’m shocked to find there are only six of us. I was expecting at least twenty. They are all very nice and we give Lindi a ride to the retreat. On the way we talk as fast and hard as we can, knowing it won’t last and we only have one hour to get to know each other.

Upon arriving, we walk into a big tatami room with a shrine at one end of it. Along the sides are the hallways leading to the futon rooms and bathrooms. Off to one side is the kitchen. Outside is the vege garden. We sit down and listen to Paul. He tells us that if we want to leave midway through, we should tell him, not just walk away. I am surprised. Who would leave? And why would they just get up and walk out? Two hours later I know. Me. I would.

Orientation over, Paul sums up with a “well I guess we can start our first sitting.” We collect our cushions, bow to the room, bow to our cushions, and sit down. Our only instructions are 1. Breathe in. 2. Breathe out. 3. Count. This seems marvellously easy. Unfortunately these are the ONLY things we can do. Any thought that is not a number or a breath is not allowed. I quickly realise that this is the hardest thing I will ever do. I spend my first sitting staring at the plants outside. I stare at them so long they become 2d and I think I’m getting somewhere. When it comes time to stand for walking meditation, my left leg is numb. I spend the rest of the sitting thinking about deep vein thrombosis and discreetly squirming.

Introduction to sitting over, we go to the onsen. Because the sesshin has begun, we cannot talk. We have to be silent to the onsen lady and all the pleasant men outside who are asking where we are from, but suddenly one says “ah! Students!” and points up the mountain. Thank goodness. We finish our last bodily contact with water for 5 days and head back to the retreat. We eat soup, read, and go to sleep.

Day two

4am. A bell is rung noisily up and down the corridor. We are all asleep in the main shrine room. It feels like being wakened by a poltergeist. We get up, blearily smile at each other, and go almost directly into our first sitting. We sit from 4.15 until 5.45am, in almost total darkness. Eventually light begins to make things clearer and by the time we finish the sun is up. Who knew.

Today I and Kelsey are on making juice. We happily quarter our lemons and oranges and plough them through the machine. When we are finished the juice is thick and bright. Paul tastes it. Then he says in his non-judgemental monk voice, “It’s a little bitter. Next time maybe we should take the rinds off?” The juice is awful. We all choke down a bowl each and sit there trying not to vomit. Paul thankfully allows us to tip the rest out. Goodbye, entire box of fruit. I’m sorry.

Off we go to our next sitting. This one is from 7.30 to 10.30am. I know these are just numbers on a screen to you (as they were to me, when I read the schedule) but man this is THREE HOURS of sitting with only yourself for company. More than this, you’re not even supposed to have yourself for company. You have breaths and numbers for company. I can’t tell you a lot about this first sitting, because it was a lot of endurance.

We do some light cleaning, and have a big break in the middle of the day. We spend a lot of time sharing books, doing yoga, and pointing at things. We become so good at mime that by the last day Lindi and I manage to have an entire conversation about Adam’s heritage via facial expressions and imaginary maps. As for today, it already feels like the evening. For lunch we have carrot juice. Paul delivers a lecture on Buddhism. It is fascinating. He seems to know exactly what to say to interest and inspire us. I came into this knowing nothing, and instead of a boring ground up history, he has selected basically everything that I didn’t even know that I wanted to know, but am amazed by, to talk about.

Two more hours of sitting. (2.30-4.30pm). After this we have silent Q&A (we write on cards, he answers.) My first question is “will I get deep vein thrombosis?” He tells us essentially what I already knew, which is that I am being ridiculous. Another interesting point he brings up is what your mind will do when you start to ignore it. I thought I had pretty good control, but the fact that I spent most of today thinking about the veins in my legs rather than counting means that my brain has found a thread I’ll listen to and run amok with it. See also: Anxiety. Thought is a disease!

The final sitting for the day (5.30-7.30) ends with the light slowly fading (reminding us poignantly of the light slowly growing this morning) and me thinking I am meditating. Set at war with my brain, I glare determinedly at the wall in order to pound out thoughts as they try to arise. Before long I have a headache, I feel dizzy, and there are blue clouds pulsing at the edges of my vision. I’m meditating! I’m doing it!!

Soup for dinner.

Day three

Up at 4am. No first-day-at-camp-excitement for me today. Bleary smiles are replaced instead by grimaces and me spending the entire first sitting fuming about the fact that I was awaken and everything hurts (seriously this is so hard on your legs) and Adam used my toothbrush. By the next sitting I am aware of the fact that this is again my brain trying to push things into my head to concentrate on, rather than being ignored. Spend the first three sittings making myself dizzy and congratulating myself.

We also start “dokusan” today, which are private interviews with Paul. There is a huge ritual of bowing and bells for each conference, serving to make us completely nervous. We’re supposed to start each conversation, otherwise the sensei will ignore us. I begin my first with: “Um, hello?” We talk about breathing and sitting in general. It’s a short conversation but reassuring.

Next lecture, zazen. Again, wholly inspiring. This is designed for people who have no idea and it’s perfect. I feel like I can really get into this.

Next Q&A I ask, is my vision supposed to be going blurry/2D? Paul says, um, no. You’re not supposed to stare hard enough to give yourself vertigo and headaches. I am crushed. I haven’t been meditating; I've been starving my brain of oxygen. Despite this I’m surprisingly excited to try the next sitting. After glaring for a day and a half, I’m quite glad to have the chance to gaze relaxedly. As Paul says - everyone takes a different path to enlightenment.

Day four

Last full day of meditation. I am calm. Paul warns us of the dangers of being calm, of relaxing and imagining what we’ll be doing this time tomorrow. I hastily stop being calm. The epic battle continues.

Dokusan starts getting more intense. I feel like I get it, but am afraid to throw myself into it with conviction. My heart pounds so hard I can feel it in the back of my neck. It’s nice to have something else on my mind except counting. My highest so far has been 5, but most times I barely make it to 2. Every time I say “1” my brain jumps in with “whoa 2 is coming next!” Sigh. My imagination is throwing me less curveballs though (in the beginning I was not above imagining being stabbed while sitting and stored in the futon room). “Mu” is something that I can think of without a beat, not allowing anything else in. It’s good. Even after we sit, I’ve been walking around outside looking at things quietly. Everything seems far more beautiful after staring at a wall/inwards. Starving your brain of stimuli really makes you appreciate things. Science! When Paul speaks I hang on every word, because his is the only voice we hear. Everything he says has weight.

Starting to feel a real shift, a noticeable difference in the way I think and how unnecessarily busy it can get. 

Day five

Up at 4am again. We complete our morning sittings, and final dokusans. I leave mine feeling good. I feel light and clean, like I’ve been squeezed through a tube mentally and physically.

Today everyone has the shits. Because we’ve been sharing the exact same diet, they hit everyone at roughly the same time (midway through the second sitting, by my count). Despite our silence we have bonded enough that it is perfectly acceptable. In a house of silence it’s not uncommon to embark on a meditative journey to the tune of the tummy gurgles, burps, and farts from cushions around you that are ordinarily sucked up by the sounds of the world. Never an image I associated with zen but one I will continue to now for the rest of my life.

Paul had made us a huge table of delicious vegan food. I have never smelt anything so good in my life and probably never will again. We all lingered over the table like kids holding a pass the parcel present, and finally the silence was lifted. As we ate, I found it hard to find my place in the conversation. After being silent for so long, my brain had started to sort out the important from the unimportant, and I was wary of making “ear rubbish”. Obviously, this wore off. Cue blog.

After final cleaning, we go out to the onsen. It was really amazing to talk to the girls and realise that we were all feeling similar things, all shifted uncomfortably, some of us wanted to punch the wall, and we were all on the point of leaving at some point or another but ended up glad we hadn’t. The fact that we made it through was something we could share and truly celebrate.

Sesshin finished. We met Paul later, eating an ice cream in a parking lot. I was struck by his laptop (obviously we all communicate with our minds now) but not by his facebook inexperience. Move over Sensei, let US teach YOU.

We did other things over the weekend, saw monkeys, went to a bar against orders not to ruin our newly cleansed digestive systems, travelled back to Miyazaki with Lindi, went to the beach, day drank, sat on statues, saw Tiki heads glorious in their lameness, rolled down hills, got caught in traffic countless times, ate good food, paid for eating good food, etc etc. But what I really wanted to get down was this experience, because it was something I feel truly blessed to have done and am so glad for the people and sense it gave me. Yay zen! Yay everything! (And nothing) 0_0 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

FINALLY... Trip to Tokyo August 2011


12-17th August (last year - don't even start) – A trip to Tokyo with Julian!

Tokyo. Travelled with Julian, another Kiwi who I instantly bonded with a year ago. We have a drink at 9am before getting on the plane because it’s good luck and “we’re on holiday!” We get carried away with our drink, and are met at the bar by a frantic looking air hostess who tells us we are late (easy to find, we’re the only two foreigners in the airport) and then sprints in front of us for our flight. Cue us tipsily running down the gate to find the plane is only half boarded. Late puh-leez. Spend rest of flight muttering darkly about how many sandwiches we could have bought in the 9.5 seconds it took to board the rest of the plane.

Tokyo was UNBELIEVABLY HOT. So unbelievable. We were sweating within 5 seconds. We go through thousands of trains and transfers and then stop at a café for food because we are starting to get grumpy from lack of. (Okay this is perhaps just me.)

Upon arriving at the hostel (Khaosan, I recommend it) the VERY FIRST thing I did as an ambassador of NZ was to try get into a toilet, find the door “stuck” and shove it open, to find a (now) broken lock and a terrified Japanese girl.

Having arrived on a Friday night we go out to Roppongi – an area of Tokyo that most Japanese people avoid because it’s so full of foreigners. Ignorant me assumed foreigner = travellers. Was actually all Nigerians standing outside clubs trying to convince people to go in. I don’t know about you but if I have to be convinced to go into a dark room, chances are I’m not going to go. I feel like these places would do so much better if they were just more chilled and let the people come to them. Just sayin’.

Had dinner at an English pub, which was AMAZING. We had been googling this restaurant from Miyazaki, and the first question they asked was if we wanted baked beans with our homemade pies. Jesus wept. We had a few drinks and got talking to the bar waitress who had tattoos and we (I) ended up telling her to just run away with us. In front of her boss. NZ +1

Carried on, and went to a JURASSIC PARK themed club! There were dinosaur heads on the walls and a bunch of jungle greenery under the glass floor. Also big dioramas behind the walls like we were in a museum. We met up with Jono and Emma there, had some drinks, and made friends with a bunch of people. Went dancing, pretty chill night but quite fun! We ran for the last train and had great fun getting home in the fluorescent lights and heat like it was the middle of the day. 

SATURDAY.

Summer sonic. Got there about 2ish, watched some bands, ate some food, had some drinks. Sat down on the ground in the crowd during The Strokes because it was so hot and I had danced too much. Two Americans without shirts sprint from the crowd and party-boy me. It seems you cannot escape the party-boying, even in Japan.

Met Julian, got more alcohol and had HALF a caffeine tablet, and proceeded to go NUTS. Ran up the front of the Korn moshpit by myself, accidentally got caught in a mosh circle. Lasting bruises. Managed to sidle round to the side and get super close because Japanese people are so polite they just let you through instead of elbowing you back/trampling you down. Caught a guitar pick! When the set finished 3 small Japanese girls whose heads I had been sweating/hollering over turned around and said, “good shout!” They were up to my armpits. I feel for them.

After that we got more drinks and I was waiting for Julian somewhere when a couple foreigners without shirts rock up and start talking to me. Turns out they are from NZ and Australia, and play for a Tokyo rugby team. One of them swoops from an immense height and hugs me. It is Hugh Mcmeniman. I die.

After the concert Summer Sonic turns into a rave which goes all night. I manage to dance and hold out for about 3 more hours, but can no longer do anymore. I end up crashing in the city with our new friends, in a multimillion dollar penthouse apartment about 30 stories up. There is a bidet in the toilet and a wee motion sensor that lights up your path along the floor as you walk. Collecting outrageous experiences, one day at a time.


SUNDAY

Sonic started again at 10am, we got there at 6pm. This is entirely my fault. I run into the problem that literally every foreigner does in Tokyo, which is that the JR train line and the subway are two completely different things with different stations. It takes me about 5 hours to get back to our hostel, after walking, catching wrong trains, unintentionally exploring Akihabara (the manga/cartoon girl central area), and weeping in the street. I finally arrive, shower, and head straight back out with Julian.

The second night felt super short, because we had missed the day, but we had a few drinks and the Red Hot Chillis were lovely and nice on my broken body. (My knee had swollen up from the night before.)  But I had a knee brace so all was well! We also managed to get surprisingly close to the stage! Again probably something to do with the height difference. We took the train home somewhat early, due to everywhere to eat/drink being PACKED, where an old man called me “Jiyu” in Japanese, which as far as I understand it means big ball of freedom. I can’t remember why, I think I was just sleeping while holding onto the train strap.
  
MONDAY

So sore. We didn’t move until lunch, and then went and got medical massages. The guy was like, “oh my god” when he felt my body. Unfortunately not in the “dayummmn!” sense.

Got sky cocktails on the way back in a swanky bar on the top floor and a bartender with a pristine white cloth over his arm (life dream), next to a building owned by Asahi which is LITERALLY shaped/coloured like a giant beer mug. Then went to the backpackers bar for a quiet one before a quiet night. Quiet one turns into rowdy few, then me running to the hostel to put on clubbing clothes and us running to the midnight train to Shibuya with 3 english guys. (The big famous crossing.) One of them was so drunk he was telling me he was Harry Potter but didn’t tell anyone because the fame was too embarrassing. We went to one small club, and out of all of Shibuya it didn’t even occur to us to try find another club, even though this one was tiny and only had me and like 3 people dancing. Whatever, this was 3 more people than Miyazaki.
  
At one point in the night, I turned around and our friends were talking to Panic! At the Disco. Like, the band. They’re surprisingly short/young? They just looked like lost little children, leaning against the wall looking at everyone, and left after about 5min. But they were there! I was too shy to say hello. They would know that all I wanted out of them was a photo to put on Facebook and show everyone, even though I don’t know their music and hadn’t gone to see them at Summer Sonic. So I didn’t, but they looked like total sweethearts!

Anyway, came out of the club, it was daylight. The same Harry Potter English friend who I was talking to the train was SO DRUNK. Probably one of the funniest drunks I’ve ever met. I want to go to England. He was rambling on about “the motherland” and telling passed out Japanese people about it, and they were turning away like he was crazy. It was so funny. At one point in the station he just stopped talking, looked at me, and screamed “OH MY GOD YOU’RE SNAPE YOUUU’RE SNAPE” and started running. The trains weren’t going yet so we got mcdonalds, where he proceeded to knock his mates fries and drink on the floor, then steal my own, then his friends. He ordered a burger but it never came, I think he was so drunk he lost it. I’m not even kidding.

Finally got him on a train, and he threw all his coins on the floor because he had spent all his money at the club (like 250pounds) and was like “TAKE IT ALL JAPAN!” haha. Then he started running out of the train at every station and running back in before the doors closed. This was extra funny because he had NO MONEY and wouldn’t have been able to get to the hostel if he didn’t make it.

Anyway, hostel, passed out.

On our last day we went shopping but I felt so sick that I had to go home early, which happened to coincide with Tokyo rush hour. You haven’t had a hot flush until you’ve had it on a train in summer with 50 million other people.

Food, DVD, sleep. A grandmotherly end to a wonderfully action packed holiday. Not mentioned in this blog are all the amazing foods we ate, and Julians inexhaustible patience. They really just go without saying at this point. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

THE END. -Or is it?

And so ends my first year in Japan! Congratulations to you, dear reader, who have managed to read a full 365 days of someone else’s life, a mere 65 of which were probably interesting. I commend you!




But the blog does not end here! The incessant daily slogging does, because I’m highly routinised (read: boring) from now onwards, but I’ll be returning to share stories and impressions, you can count on it. You literally can, because I have a full notebook on my trips to Thailand and Okinawa just quivering in my desk drawer. Until then! x

Last of July

July 25th and 26th Mon-Tues



A week of nothing at work. I have these notes on things I noticed during the day. One of these is the weird little race around the staffroom that teachers will do to avoid each other. It’s as if there isn’t room for us to possibly walk past each other, so as soon as they see me coming they’ll take the first corner they see at a run in order to walk around the opposite side. It’s something I’ve started to be guilty of doing too, but struck me today as looking hilarious and absurd.





Found somewhere in the school is a rotten bento. For some unknown reason it is brought into the staffroom. Every teacher stops to open it, inspect it, and make a comment on it. It smells.





As I’m marking, I lift up a sheet while eating and shake some crumbs off of it in order to continue. One of my teachers starts laughing and miming smearing food and making coffee rings all over his. The secret to adulthood is that there is none.





27th Wednesday



Only Muqing and I at Jodo, which is unfortunate as the Senseis finally get a good look at how awful I am at it.





28th Thursday



Extreme Kendo. “Today, we sweat. Tonight, beer.” He makes me keep going long after I would have given up, long after my body has started faltering. I like that he does this, and that I can do it.





After Kendo I go out to a work enkai. We drive for miles out into the jungle until we reach a tiny wee house in the middle of Jurassic Park. The entire meal is meat. I eat my first raw chicken, thinly sliced. It’s okay. Best not to think about it. Then they fry literal hunks of pork fat, called “collagen” -for your skin. We leave the place reeking of fried meat. My Kendo teacher comes and sits next to me and talks to me for awhile about Kendo. I understand basically nothing but try to talk back which is cool. We get the same car back to the city, and again converse in rando Japanese/English. When we communicate, it’s like, the fact that we are trying IS the communication. Nothing else really gets through, but it means a lot to try.





At the Nijikai, I drink shochu. When asked to sing I find “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker. What a blast from the past. This is a wonderful karaoke song, as it stays pretty much in one range the entire thing. When I have finished my kendo teacher comes and clinks my glass and makes everyone around me do the same. Haha. I love adoration based on fear.





29th Friday



To work. I’m hungover but there’s nothing for me to do anyway so it’s fine. I read from literally 8.30am to 4pm. At the end of the day I feel motionsick and disorientated. Reminds me of being a kid and spending weeks reading.





30-31st





Do stuff in the city. Not really sure what. Convenient time to fall off the note-taking wagon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Goodbye, goodbye

20th Wednesday


Finish work at midday and head straight to the city to finish my tattoo. It’s fine for the first few hours, but the last hour is bad as not only is he going over flesh already done, but I need to pee and can’t concentrate on both.




After this I get a coffee and a beer, meet Jords and direct her to an Indian place where we are served greasy wine and stares. I had been here before and liked it, finding the staring endearing, but it seemed worse this time. Not sure if it was because it was under different management, or our time in Japan has increased our fragility. I really hope it’s not the latter because I am in for a nasty shock when I move back to New Zealand.





21st Thursday



Go out for dinner with Kelly and Holly. We go to Gyutaro, which is a really sweet grilled meat restaurant in my town. Sometimes the owner gets drunk and wanders around the patrons. He has my number so sometimes he even drunk dials me to “come play” (Hangout in English only translates into asobi in Japanese, which retranslates back into English as play). He gives us free wine, free ice cream, and when I ask if he brews his own shochu, a free bottle of that as well. I love Gyutaro. Free ice cream not being enough, we go for parfait, and then home.





22nd Friday




Feels like a long day. I’m always done teaching by 10.40 on Fridays, which means I have to be creative to make the next 6 hours sing. I’m told about an upcoming medical check, which is called “Kensa”. I’ll never forgot how it went down last year, when, after the test, the school nurse came up to me with the results, brandishing an envelope and saying “Kensa (cancer)? Medical test. Results. Kensa (cancer).” Good lord. Partway through today, my Kyoto Sensei comes up to tell me “I am going to take my shirt off.” Uhh, okay. It turns out he has a stain and wants to rinse it under the tap, but didn’t want to surprise me by just whipping it off behind my chair. I love Japan.




Go to Kendo, and have an extreme fight with my teacher in which he gets right in my face, backs me into a wall and doesn’t let me out. Every time I try to push him out of the way he just moves closer. I eventually lose my temper, shove him as hard as I can, duck under his arm and strike his “Dou” point screaming. He just says “sou” (okay/that way) and moves away. Obviously he planned this but I’m elated anyway.



Tonight is Holly’s last night. We all drive up to Miyazaki City together to say goodbye. On the way, we are talking, and the car in front of us slams on its brakes on a quiet mountain road for no reason. Julian immediately swerves around it without thinking, and then we all collectively crap our pants when we realise he just casually saved all of our lives.




We get to the city, go out for food and drinks, where Holly and I order “beauty cocktails” which turn out to be fruit cocktails with COLLAGEN in them. It’s just lumps of jellyfat, basically. We drink them and feel infinitely beautiful. We learn some bad words in Japanese, drop off Holly at her hotel with a final goodbye, and then go to the bar for another drink to feel better. Shin sees me walk in and makes me a drink without even asking. Good man.




23rd July Saturday



Up at 6am. I go to Nichinan in the boiling heat to watch the log races. This is literally a log, in the water, with people sitting on it with paddles. Of course our team is the only foreign one there and we commence to make a spectacle of ourselves with team stretches, squats, and lunges. They get onto their log and Muqing and I cheer and chant. Loudly. By ourselves. We are told in Japanese to stop yelling, we agree, smile, and keep yelling. Shin stands up on the end of the log and pretends to paddle but instead just flicks water over everyone else. We are then filmed and waffle on in English about how much we’ve been practising (we haven’t) and how much this means to us and how we’ve been set back by our complete loss but won’t let it hold us back in the future.



Out for lunch, then home to bed.




At about 8pm I wake back up and get on the train to Aburatsu for the fireworks. As I bike down the road I see fireworks in the sky and realise I got the time wrong by an hour. I get on the train regardless, then a taxi which takes me up a dark hill because the streets are too crowded, where I walk down the other side and manage to catch the grand finale. And it is grand. Like dreams of Disneyland.




I meet up with Brian, Quill, and their girlfriends, we let off some fireworks, and then make the trip to Miyakonojo in Brian’s awesome spacemobile/people mover. They are super nice to me, even offering homemade snacks over the seats. It’s a really harmonious trip.




On arriving in Miyakonojo I walk to Sam’s favourite bar, Old Earth. (The jazz bar from a previous post.) Following this is one of my best nights in Japan. I have a two-man dance party with Sam, make friends with a Japanese girl spewing in the sink, and pretty much fall in love with the bartenders. Lilly and I have an extreme tribal dance to some bongos, stopping to duck outside for fresh air – forgetting, of course, that in Japan the air is generally thicker and hotter outside than in. Talking to Matt, we all head to another bar. The bartenders here are not the same chilled out “ee kanji” breed of Old Earth, but they are SUPER genki and we find it impossible not to stay on. We sing karaoke, play darts, and then in my notebook I have written: “Xander’s height. Matt’s inability to leave a consonant unpronounced.” So I believe those are important things to remember. When we come out, it is daylight. Oops. We all head to Xander’s to sleep, and all jump into the same (single) bed for top n tail, which seems like the best idea in the world. I wake up with a hairy leg on my chest and a foot nestled in my face. Not the best idea in the world.





24th Sunday


I catch the gossip van home with Matt and Lilly, (the gossip is all me, their characters are irreversibly pure), go for a family jaunt for ice cream, and then our final goodbye at Miyazaki station. (Matt is leaving.) Wept quickly in a station toilet but then someone next to me farted and it was okay.




Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Student revelations and a TYPHOON

11th July – Monday


Today a teacher comes up to me. “Today is also an important day. Long ago, an important person was born on this day.” Me. “Who?” Him. “I was born.” Haha.



Tonight when I get home I get a call from my friend Holly, who is also leaving soon. Turns out her apartment lease ends two weeks before her job does, so she has nowhere to stay. I set up the spare room (okay I put one futon in it and make her bring her own sheets) and before long I have a new flatmate.



12th July


In my notebook in the space where there should be entries for the 12th, 13th, and 14th of July, there is instead this descriptive remark:



“Kendo x3, Jodo x1 Whitebait fritters.”



15th July Friday


Today is my student’s ball games day. We have to bring a bento from home, which I don’t know if you know, but I haven’t made my own lunch like, ever. When I had to as a kid I would get one frozen bun from the freezer and let it thaw in my backpack and eat that like a savage. So I made whitebait fritters with these tiny ass little fish that every foreigner in Japan seems to hate except me because I have no qualms eating little faces. So I mixed those up and they were delicious I can’t even pretend modesty on this front.



I watch the basketball for awhile, and then go and watch the boys play soccer. Some of the third graders seek me out and settle in for a conversation. One of the boys tells me he has no interest in soccer, doesn’t do school clubs, has no interests, has no dream, finds everyone boring, and doesn’t like school. I’m impressed by his English. Then he tells me he wants to be a heart-machine operator in a hospital and draws me a picture. Then they all crowd around and try to teach me Japanese (apparently “muchu” means “to be crazy about” but I must check this), then they try to teach me dirty Japanese, then they try to make me say bad things about their friends, to which I refuse and scold them, telling them to be kind, then one of them tries to make me punch him. Seems like teenage boys are the same all over the world. I’m kindof tempted, so I guess girls are the same too. As we were talking, one of my Kendo students who is really tall, kindof shy but gets animated about Red Hot Chilli Peppers, was standing off to the side offering one or two pieces to the conversation. Then he suddenly jumps in front of me and catches a ball that was zipping toward my face. Kendo saves lives.



When I get home, Holly has made a beautiful (giant) salad that takes two serving size bowls, and we sit on my verandah with our feet up having a drink and watching a giant moon climb over the hill.



16th Saturday


Long weekend. We had origionally been booked in for a wheelchair race down south, wherein we get into wheelchairs and compete against an old folks home. It sounded like a huge amount of fun, but unfortunately this was cancelled due to an oncoming typhoon.



So instead we head out for lunch. When we get to the restaurant Shin moves as if to motion me into my seat like a gentleman, then shoves me headfirst into the booth. It’s seven months later and it just made me laugh all over again. We get some beers and go for a lovely summer drive along the coast with my feet out the window. We stop at the river and I jump off a tiny dam after first hyperventilating a little bit, then Shin and Tommy jump off a HUGE bridge into a tiny river. Crazyasses. Such a perfect summer’s day.



We head back, muck around, and remind me of life in Taupo where we know we want to hang out, we just don’t know what to do. We go to an izakaya locally, eat a huge amount of meat, and try to converse in Japanese.



17th Sunday


Head to Kushima (down south). We go out, I get piggy backed home by my friend Tommy who is half my size, and then am discovered by Julian on his arrival home fast asleep on the verandah with a blanket on top of me and a full blown typhoon raging all around me.



18th Monday


Typhoon all day!



19th Tuesday


Typhoon day, so no students come to school. Funnily though, the teachers are still expected to do so. The river as I bike over it has entirely burst its banks and now rages thick and brown the width of the bridge, covering the walkways, the kiddies water park, and all the grass. As I bike up the hill toward my school, the road is covered in bits of trees.