Sunday, December 10, 2006

"the primroses were over..."

SO. i'm going home for christmas. i'm leaving the land of mini-streets, fist-sized spiders, and relentless moisture for that high, dry place where i was born. i'll shiver with the thrill of seeing orange sweet potatoes, salsa, organic milk, and wheat bread in the store; understanding what the checker is saying to me, and watching as they bag my groceries for me. wheeeeeeeee! nothing like absence to make my least favorite chore as fun as a carnival ride. and i'm going to use a DRYER again.
see you on the flip side...

Friday, December 01, 2006

tastes like your mom, or: getting naked with the office

there's this candy here--Milky. well, there are many candies here. each of them is a new world to me because the japanese are not stuck in the same old cherry-grape-orange-lemon-lime flavor rut. one teacher gave me a morsel last week that had the word "throat" in japanese on it. um. that was the only word on the package that i could read. i had NO idea what to expect. but i guess it's supposed to make your throat feel better by coating it with sugar. the old candy/cough drop trick. yuck. but they have candy that tastes like salty plums, green tea, black tea with cream and sugar, mango citrus, black currant, banana, and milk. not milk caramel, not milk chocolate--just milk. this is a weird, weird candy. when i first tried it, i scrunched up my nose because it reminded me of drinking milk that's been warming on the counter for too long because you poured it, got distracted, and then felt like you had to drink it because you didn't want it to go to waste. i like milk just fine, but a candy that tastes like it...eew. my tactic for ridding myself of this weirdness was to distribute the rest of the candies to my coworkers so i didn't have to eat them. one of my favorite people, a cute, hip "office girl" about my age said in simple, straightforward english, "mommy taste." i was like, huh? she held up the Milky candy and said, "commercial says 'tastes like mommy.'" double EEW. this is breastmilk candy!? remind me to forget i ever tried it.
a few weekends ago, i had the opportunity to take part in one of japan's oldest traditions--seeing your coworkers naked, that is: going to the onsen (hot springs bath). this idea wasn't hugely daunting to me since women and men are normally separated, but i did expect it to be a Little strange. perfect strangers and friends are one thing, but people you see every day that you Kinda know is something else. i've read stories about frank verbal assesments of a foreigner's body right then and there. i know you're supposed to bathe before you get into the hot water, but i didn't really know if that was a quick rinse or what. is everyone going to be watching while you wash? THAT doesn't sound fun. in order to limit the awkwardness, i convinced a few of my friends who are onsen-savvy to take me for a test run the night before my big sleepover christmas party (bonenkai) with the entire staff of the high school. on a road worthy of mr. toad's wild ride, we wound deeper into the mountains for a car sickish thirty minutes. i crawled thankfully from the shoe-sized vehicle and we headed for the womens' dressing room. then you take a deep breath, strip down, put your clothes in a locker with a basket, slide open the door to the pools, and face the eyes of anyone who's there. no one was there. my first thought was, this place is beautiful! it was comfortably and warmly lit, and it seemed very clean. to the right were about eight shower stations, each with two low walls and its own little stool, bowl, and array of lathering and washing products. there was also a low wall separating the pool from the little showers, so no one could see your back while you were bathing. you sit facing the showerhead, which is at eye level when you're sitting on the stool. you can push a button on the faucet to fill your bowl for rinsing. what i began to realize is that the onsen is largely about bathing, not soaking, so people spend a long time at the shower buffing and lathering their skin or whatever. it did feel marvelous. then we submerged in the clear water and i was struck with just how normal it felt to be there. ahhhh. there's also a tiny cold pool where you can cool off before getting hot again. i put my legs in, and it was like a refreshing drink of water for my body. the outside pool was even nicer. there are smooth river stones in the bottom that feel good on your feet and legs. a sauna made the experience perfect and complete. i felt prepared for the following night.
the next day my favorite teacher drove us to hongu, about an hour from kumano. the traffic was thick, so we had to stop on the bridge stretching from mie to wakayama. i didn't mind. dusk falls over the river:

our room was down a hallway that looked almost like any other hotel, but you take your shoes off at the door and step into this:

murakami-sensei grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the window where naked men and women were soaking below our window in the mixed-sex outdoor pool. she asked if i was going to join her there later and i said no way. we went downstairs for dinner.
this was my place setting:

this tasty bite came later. looks appealing, huh?

after many refills of my tiny beer glass and a chance to try the many mysterious things in front of me, i pulled out the camera. here are the office girls, etsuko and harue.

yes, i did sing karaoke for the first time in front of everyone (with the help of arata, another of my favorite people), and yes i did bathe with my teachers, but it was all very comfortable and fun. we even stayed up talking about boys till early in the morning, just like a real sleepover. i got a chance to feel closer to some people i didn't know at all before, and i felt like even more a part of my school. i didn't want it to end so soon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

i could totally be a drug runner

i can be opportunistic the piddling percent of time i'm not feeling utterly lazy, and when a teacher asked me to retreive a video from my house, i suggested getting it at lunchtime instead of after school. she headed off to guard the far gate of the school, and i went along to see what i could see (since i'd never been to the far gate). i asked why she had to guard the gate and she said it was to keep students from using the vending machines right across the street. hmm. there were vending machines IN my high school, so it's a little different approach. now the students have to WORK for their junkfood...not a bad thing, surely. as we approached the far gate, i could see the other teacher waiting for the switching of the sentry. it was explained to him that i was leaving that way for official reasons, so i ambled through the gate and they continued talking. there's a tall hedge around my school, and though the vending machines were mere steps away, i could no longer see my fellow teachers. i walked straight past them, but those machines were calling was an ice cream machine. i made a quick loop. the one day i happened to get a free pass out of school, i also happened to have enough coinage in my pockets to make a purchase. i checked over my shoulder, but the teachers were still involved in their conversation. i crouched down so they'd be less likely to notice me lingering at the corner. i'm sure i looked incredibly suspicious, but if no one is looking, what does it matter? i made a quick selection and winced as the machine made its jangly thumpy vending noises, but still no curious eyes around the hedge. i swiped the ice cream (melon cream soda--my favorite!!) and on account of my glee at a sucessful contraband purchase, i slipped the wrapped cold package up the loose, black sleeve of my sweater. as i neared the front gate, i was glad i had. i hadn't considered there might be another teacher keeping watch there. there were question marks in his eyes since i was coming from an odd direction, but he greeted me simply, and i passed safely up to my house where i popped that sucker open and took a bite. i know no one would actually care much that i bought an ice cream--i'm not bound by the same rules as the students--but it was wicked fun to get away with it.
my surreptitious snack:

Friday, November 10, 2006

a show of hands

things that made me happy this week:

A is for Aircon: that beast of energy consumption was pouring icy air into my icy house until naoko-san taught me how to change it into a heater. i mean, i pushed all the buttons in every conceivable combination, but there's something to be said for being able to Read them. All Hail the Mighty Aircon. the consumption i was developing (*cough cough*) curled up and died.

B is for the Beach and The Birds:

Shi is for "Shi Chikin" or "Chicken of the Sea" AKA Tuna Fish. this is my favorite onigiri. who on earth would have guessed i'd be obsessed with tuna in rice with seaweed?!

D is for Dirtless Chalk. HAHAHAHAHAHA. this just made me laugh forever. it was in the copy room of my school.

E is for Even Better Than the Original: this is brilliant...
...after justin timberlake's sexyback

F is for Fire and Ice: my mom sent me the happiest box of sweaters and scarves and mittens (hallelujah, i was cold!), including the blue mittens i made last year that join the sunset-colored ones of the same yarn that i'm just finishing.

G is for Green Soda: this is the best soft drink ever...melon cream soda. it tastes nothing like melon, but it's sweet candy deliciousness.

H is for "How Many More Laps is That Guy Going to Run in a Man-Diaper!?" the whole school watched a professional performance of a play called Hashire Merosu. in it, a guy runs. a lot. for authenticity, the main character ran laps in fewer and fewer clothes until he was finally running in naught but a sweaty rag. the kids giggled and gasped, and i got lots of my own amusement from their reactions.

I Spy an Old Man Sleeping in a Department Store Massage Chair:

Juice + Litchi Liquer!

K is for Keitai Pictures on the way to school: tiny, tiny web laden with dew

the end.

Monday, November 06, 2006

crafty clashing

the following is a long thought, and informational, but still parenthetical...
[since yesterday was a regular day, i'll write about something i've been meaning to mention for quite a while: the ubiquitous mobile phone. in japan it's called a keitai, literally "portable." in the Land of the Small (the toothbrush i just bought is so tiny, i need to lash two together just to have enough surface area with which to scrub my apparently massive molars), i was surprised to discover that japanese cell phones are not exactly the sleek, credit-card sized paragons of efficiency i was expecting.
Exhibit A: The Girl's Keitai (it's boxy, but it's good)

what they lack in slimness, they make up for in complexity. i actually had to read the manual to figure out how to make a simple call...not that i EVER use it for that purpose. 50 bucks will get you a whole 30 minutes of talk time per month. WHAT?! you heard me. the 600 or 1000 minutes you get in the states is unimaginable generosity in japan. granted, you aren't charged minutes when someone calls you, but if all your friends also have keitai, ya ain't gonna be talking much. the affordable option is text-messaging, which is the route everyone takes. yes, your thumb gets tired, and yes you cry a few bitter tears when you accidentally erase a labored-over message that must then be retyped. i don't mind too much, though; i never was a big fan of talking on the phone anyway. consequently, only once since i arrived three months ago have i been subjected to an obnoxiously loud cell phone call. actually, i think that was the only cell phone call i've been subjected to, period.
when my phone does ring, it scares the living daylights out of me because it rings, lights up, and vibrates all at once. without fail, i fumble at it with shaking hands, nearly hanging up on the person as i search for the correct button to push.
setting aside the expense of actually talking on the phone, it's a pretty hip contraption. it has two cameras/video cameras, one that points at me, and one that points at others. it has kanji-recognition cabability, which i can then cross-reference in the japanese/english dictionary. of course you can connect to the internet, type in english, furigana, or kanji, set three separate alarm clocks (which will still go off reliably, even if you power down your phone), use the calculator, and video-conference. naturally.]

now to the subject topic:
i'm perfecting my ability to pair clashing patterns and colors in a way that's still attractive, at least to me.
Exhibit B: (how can you not be happy when you're wearing socks like these?)

my socks are no small amusement to my students, expecially the ones rocko sent me that depict a bear with underwear on his head.
Exhibit C:

my interesting fashion sense has caught the attention of a rowdy group of girls in my second-year class. though they're loud and talk incessantly during lessons, i've still developed an affection for them. here's two of the pack. misa is on the right; i sense a vulnerable sweetness below her brash fa├žade.

Friday, November 03, 2006

girl's got a gun

apparently the easiest thing to do was guess my halloween costume. after giving the hint that it was someone from the 20th century, about four people guessed right away that i would be a flapper, and one person even got the specific flapper (marina, you get a cookie). i was louise brooks for halloween. i only picked this specific woman because our hairstyles are, like, exactly the same. here's me in my handmade costume without makeup.

here's marina's fabulous shot.

two of my teachers encouraged me to wear my costume to school on halloween day, and though i warned them the skirt was a little short and thin, they waved it off, "the students will love it!" since there's almost nothing i like more than fishnets and fake eyelashes, i decided to go for it. i felt more than a little silly showing up in the staffroom wearing my costume, but several things made it all worthwhile. in my first class (freshmen), shock was evident by the excited murmurs of the students. one boy (front row) went so far as to tell me i looked good, sexy! i've never seen a bigger smile on his face. i swear it wasn't my intention to fuel their burgeoning sexuality! however, i had their undivided attention for more than a few minutes.

in the halls, mobs of girls practically passed out telling me how cute i looked, and one senior boy (rufio...from this post) even told me i was "happening." i guess that's ONE way to find out what english your students know. at the time, i was trying to keep the wind from pulling a marilyn monroe on my skirt in front of all the senior boys eating lunch. they were howling! by the end of the day, i was exhausted of holding my eyelash-clad lids open and of being even more conspicuous than usual. i took one last picture with the english speaking society (ess club) and went home to get normal again. here's the ess club minus a key member, natsumi. did i mention i'm tall?

the next day, hopeful male students were lurking in the hallways in the hopes that i had decided to make it halloween week and wear my costume again! fat chance.

so long, astoria or: my long lost 80s childhood

due to the undeniable beginnings of something i had all but forgotten about here--cold--i pulled a soft, hefty blanket from the closet last night and added it to my covers. the increased weight and warmth quite literally put me under a deep burden of sleep (known to scientists as "hi-ber-na-tion") that was seemingly inpenetrable until the alarm i had forgotten to unset for the holiday today racked my ears at 6am. i hit the off button soon enough, but i was startled by an even stranger sound (due to its infrequency)--my phone ringing! the voice that emerged from my throat seemed to come from beyond the grave, and i'm surprised my mom didn't hang up when she heard a ninety-year-old croaking into the phone. we said goodbye after only a few minutes of me struggling to break the surface of consciousness, and i was quickly drawn under it again. three hours later i finally washed ashore.
[i know it's a faux pas, but i'm going to change tenses now]
the day that greets me is sunny and languid, so i head outside as soon as possible (at, ahem, noon). the air smells of mothballs; i guess kumano is putting itself up for the winter. i pass a few students on my bike, and they wave and call my name. for a few, i slow down and ask, "how are you?"
"i'm fine" is the response they've all learned, so that's how they answer, but their smiles are warm as i pass. the last group of girls recognize my back and call my name, so i wave over my shoulder without turning around. this sends them into giggling fits. i believe kids are allowed to be kids longer in japan, and it's disarming. far from being jaded and sarcastic, the high schoolers (and adults too, for that matter) remain openly surprised and gleeful at my antics, beautiful fireworks, or whatever. their artless expressions of emotion encourage me to see the world again with fresh eyes.
i stop briefly at the bank for some cash. the ATM vestibule (attached to the bank) is permeated by a faint scent of paint thinner, which propels me unexpectedly into memories of my college art studio and first learning to paint. i hear echoes of jim's voice discussing vermeer's possible use of the camera obscura and remember the smells of individual pigments on my palette...schmincke yellow ochre always reminds me of turkey stuffing. i see rag towels stained with color, brush handles jutting like headless flowers from jars of turpentine, and half-finished paintings struggling to be set free from their two-dimensionality. the air is close with familiar chemicals (that now feel like old friends), but there's also the swirling, laden atmosphere of people trying to see with more than their eyes...the deep listening to inner echoes. i really miss that world, but i'm afraid i'm getting farther and farther from it. my fate, whether i admit it or not, has always been sealed in the pages of a book, not on canvas. i was made for words and paper and type and ink.
i leave the bank, jumping the curb on my bicycle and swerving a little to get going up the hill. the day stretches sunny and endless before me. suddenly i feel like the kid i never was--carefree and confident on two wheels, the earth nothing but wide streets and sidewalks made just for my tires.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"parmesan is just sawdust that happens to taste delicious"

this is a cop-out blog. eye candy, and nothing terribly riveting to read. get over it; i'll write more later. i know i promised pictures of my house long ago, but it just wasn't cute enough yet. i've cleaned it a LOT and made it more girly, and now it's acceptable enough for pictures. the blue curtains in the living room will go eventually and be replaced with curtains that actually match the walls instead of clashing with them.
here's a view from the kitchen with white couch and bookshelf looking into livingroom and bedroom. pretty sunlight.

i pivoted to the left. here's the genkan (entryway where you remove your shoes). those sticks are gone now.

move left pivotage...and more of the kitchen looking into the dressing and bathing rooms. check out the metal bug-grabbing tongs.

here's the livingroom from the bedroom. kitchen would be on the right. what am i talking about? the kitchen is on the right. more photos of the house later. i swear!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

japan doesn't hate me, it was all a silly misunderstanding

welcome to the land of thimblefuls of water. this is something rarely commented on in discussions of japan’s foibles. when you sit down in a restaurant, the waitress will provide you with a tiny glass of water with at least 1/2 inch of room at the top, so you have at your disposal maybe three good gulps. i suppose this forces you to either annoy the waitress constantly with pleas for more or buy a drink. on the plus side, i’ve actually become less of a snob about something and fallen in love with the japanese beer. unlike the obscene number of choices at the microbreweries across the u.s., when you order a beer in japan, you get the same thing everywhere. it’s the quintessential beer--cold, yellow, nameless beer with an inch of head in a tall glass. somehow the straightforward simplicity of this transaction warms my heart.
along the same lines, i finally darkened the doorway of my local kaiten zushi restaurant. the only reason i haven’t been there before now is because i didn’t know we had one. this is a basic, no frills sushi place where a constant rotation of already-made sushi items parade by on a mini conveyor belt and you simply take the ones you want (the chefs are replacing them as they are eaten). there are a few inherent problems with this kind of place...some things rotate around for a long time and get less and less fresh (and with sushi, who wants that?) or someone (like the three children sitting one table over from us) coughs on the sushi as it goes by, rendering it less than appealing. however, this is a place where you get exactly what you want when you want it and are exactly as full as you want to be by the end. it’s a very cheap way to fill up--most plates of two pieces cost a dollar each. you also get to see all the things you would never think to order and try them if you so desire. i went out on a limb and tasted the rare beef sushi, but it was disappointingly tasteless and i haven’t yet showed any signs of mad cow disease.

japan is the only country where a simple dinner party can turn into a “truss up the foreigners in kimono” party and always turns into a karaoke party.

here's me working the ballet pose in an effort to look, i don't know, less awkward.

i went to a dinner commemorating the british POWs who were held in work camps here during WWII. you’d think POWs would necessitate a solemn occasion, right? well yes and no. by the end, the last surviving prisoner of the camp was grinning from his ninety-year-old face wearing a hapi and beating a taiko drum with all his might!

Monday, October 23, 2006

nothing's heavy like a black hole

according to the JET handbook, i should be scheduled for a downward spiral right about now. that's right--month three is the approximate date of what's described clinically as "cultural fatigue." however, unlike most of my fellow english-speaking transplants, i haven't been on a high since i got here...i had some rocky times at the beginning. my enjoyment has been much more tentative. slowly the me in me is taking root in new earth and opening its leaves to the sun. i think the far less frequent threat of panic attacks is something to celebrate. i no longer feel like hiding when i walk down the street. actually, when some unknowing person stares at me i think, "oh get with the program, surely you've heard about the new english teachers by NOW." over time, i'm achieving a balance of doing what's considered normal and letting go and doing what no japanese person would do, just because its ME coming out (like bopping to justin timberlake in my headphones while knitting and mouthing the words on the quiet commuter train). i'm trying to enjoy this place now. unlike visiting my college in tacoma, visiting my temporary home in japan will not be so easy. the very nature of the school system is based on change. every three years, you get moved, sometimes more often than that. if i came back in three years, i might not know anyone!
while i am not exactly sitting around waiting for darkness and frustration to set in, nor am i deluded to the point of believing it can't touch me. one problem with depression is often it's so nebulous that you aren't aware of its presence until it gets really bad or starts to let up. i know the weather does wonders for my mood and when it starts to get cold and gray, i may feel the same. regardless, i'm hoping the worst is behind me.

hypochondria as an art form

how many times have i prayed not to have the flesh-eating virus? more than you might think. granted, it's been given an updated, passably-cute image by these people, but i'd still rather not suffer something so icky as tissue death. lucky for me, i just have that crazy leg-itch. i'm afraid it's getting worse, not better, in spite of cutting eggs and milk from my diet. (haha ice cream doesn't have milk in it! what are you--crazy?!)

though SO much has happened since last week, i did promise to discuss the smells of tokyo, which totally unlike me, i forgot to mention. no, tokyo doesn't smell like emotional isolation...or maybe my nose isn't sensitive to that. though i'm sure there are some areas that do smell like cat pee, tokyo is one of the only places i've been in japan that doesn't have an odor even remotely resembling pee (sorry mom, someone asked). there were some exhaust fumes, which frankly i am happy to suck down once in awhile after being in the inaka for several months. what i did notice is that the tokyo and new york city subways smell the same! i've begun to love this fragrance of efficient mass transit. tokyo is one of the cleanest cities i've ever been in, so you mainly smell what's the case of tsukiji--fish. i didn't notice anything else.
as is natural (i suppose) in a culture where a great deal of time is spent on public transit, people have gotten really good at public sleeping. never in my life have i seen people pass out so quickly and without embarrassment. of course, they never miss their train stops either. while in tokyo, we sat directly across from a young businessman who had fallen asleep while texting. his phone was still open and propped on his lap, but he was miles away. then his phone started to ring! his eyes opened, he sat up straight, and he took the call with none of the "where am i, what's my name?" that i would be feeling if i was startled from my cat nap on the train.
i left off on day one, and though this post isn't supposed to be about tokyo, i felt there were a few other things i should mention. most startling were my incredible feelings of awkwardness around other foreigners. in my town, there are four americans. i know them all, and everyone else i see is of the nihonjin persuasion. tokyo is a different story. imagine being in an elevator when an english-speaker i Don't Know steps in. i had the urge to giggle uncomfortably. i think i DID giggle uncomfortably. it's not like i didn't expect to see other foreigners, on the contrary, but my own reaction was quite a surprise. i guess coming home for christmas will be even more interesting now.
we met fiona and sam for lunch in harajuku, and since they're the cutest aussie couple ever, i had to post a picture. i'm so glad they decided to stay a third year so i got to meet them.

here's my dear massa: the roommate who started it all. if i hadn't met her, i wouldn't be here.

lauren sporting the nini's shirt in ikebukuro before boarding the night bus back to mie. please don't ruin it for me and show the nini's people this picture. i want to do it myself.

ok, i need to take a break for a few minutes, but i'll be back very soon with another post.
crap! i forgot something else. i have heard tales of the great lengths strangers in japan have gone to in order to help us lost gaijin, but i hadn't experienced it myself until our last night in tokyo. we were searching for the place where our bus was supposed to pick us up. it wasn't, in fact, the same place where we were dropped off. we asked an employee of the same bus line and he tried very hard to explain, but we wandered off feeling less than sure we understood. we crossed a huge intersection and were turning around looking for the police box the man had mentioned, when we spotted a bus driving slowly by and the man was aboard gesturing wildly at us and pointing the way!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

have you ever made soup out of pumpkin seeds?

i'm having a quiet day at home--something i almost always relish. it's pouring out, and i'm deeply enjoying the roar of raindrops on my laundry room's tin roof and burbling water in the drainage channels under the pavement outside. i've turned down the offer to go bowling and eat dinner with the rest of the kumano-area english speakers (to their puzzlement.) without a car for independence (and dependent on the infrequent trains), i would be obligated to spend over six hours away from home, and i just don't wanna. my weeks are full of sound and commotion--hundreds of conversations with teachers and students, many spent straining to understand or infer meaning. thoughts, memories, and my desire to teach well bombard my mind. so on the weekends, sometimes i just want some extended periods of silence.
though at times i enjoy and even crave crowds, the root of who i am longs for one-on-one interaction. the opportunity for honesty and intimacy is greater, which is much more satisfying than distraction (though i have nothing against distraction)'s just that when you begin to really KNOW someone, it's so much easier to have fun. i treasure those times when a friendship takes a great leap forward and your trust or understanding of someone deepens considerably.

i'll put this soapbox away... (scrape, clatter)

after giving myself a mini haircut, i'm baking potatoes in my tiny plug-in oven. i wasn't sure the oven even worked, discarded as it was in the laundry room, but i got lucky. many broken things just sit abandoned in people's houses because it's so much trouble to throw them away, as i've mentioned before. after only one round of dark-on-the-outside, raw-in-the-middle cookies, i seemed to find the ideal temperature to cook anything. muffins, pork chops, pumpkin, and potatoes have been baked to perfection its tiny maw.
to my supernose, potatoes baking smell exactly like the inside of a dry, hot sauna, and they're much cheaper. when i was quite small, i used a fork to stab words into big potatoes mom had given to me to scrub, and as the skins dried and pulled away from the punctures in the oven, the words would be revealed. amazingly, i vividly remember the moment when i first had the idea to try this, but sadly, i don't remember what they said.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

how i lost my pictures of japan, or: may i have another serving of stupid?

hello, and welcome back to the show. i have a headache from a phantom ponytail i cut off five years ago, but that's all flavor for the mix, read on:
my computer has emerged good as new from the miraculous hands of mr. ito, but my brain wasn't so lucky. in a severe irony, i managed to delete a big chunk of the photo files i was attempting to back up. go figure. how a decently computer-savvy girl like myself succeeded in such a stunt is baffling, but i'm working with some undelete software, so we'll see what comes out of it.
[later: it looks like i may have saved all my files...thank you File Salvage! isn't the malleability of electronic information fascinating? one minute i'm gasping at the loss of all my picture memories of japan, and the next i'm calmly browsing through them again.]
as i mentioned before, my computer was completely non-functional for a week. i knew someone was in there, but the screen was black, and that was all i could do. for the first time in my life, i faced the possible loss of SEVEN years of art documentation, original writing, digital photos, and let's not forget (or underestimate) the music. when i feel discouraged here in the land of the Sun Rises Too Damn Early, i gather my digitized family and friends around me, and their smiling faces renew my courage. having that small comfort stripped from me was heartbreaking. i began mourning pictures of my mom on our last camping trip, poetry i wrote in college, and all the special things i've captured since i've come to japan. i've never backed up a thing in my life. why? because i suck. note to self: don't suck. now i have successfully backed up even the freshly deleted/recovered files! [you put your data in, you take your data out, you put your data in, and you shake it all about...] i'll never manage to disentangle myself from all my digital photos again.
since i'm feeling all sentimental, i'd like to include two poems i wrote in college that i still have now because of the miraculous mr. ito. you don't have to think they're good, but you have to understand that i'm happy they're not lost.


You breathe a swirling, curling hot promise
For a ricochet heartbeat at dawn
Artificial adrenaline pumping through
B-leached blood, my ceylon.

Daily Observations: 02-09-02

four perfect white ovals tap like teeth in boiling water.
i am making lunch.
i shake water from bright, tender lettuce
and carry it to the table on a clean plate.
as I turn back to the stove,
a movement on the sidewalk below
pulls my attention down,
four stories down,
a ragged man cradles delicately in his dirty hand
a crumpled paper napkin
in which is nestled a treasure i cannot see.
he so softly folds back
papery white corners
as you would to peer at an antique watch
or a hurt bird.
Revealed instead
Is a piece of bread.

ANYWAY, i had a marvelous weekend trip to tokyo, enhanced by a zing of giddiness resulting from my restored computer. heavy rains threatened to close the trains to tsu, where i was supposed to catch my friend marina and our bus to tokyo, but happily this didn't happen. at 11:05pm, marina and i hopped on what is known as the Night Bus. i admit to some romantic ideas caused by the similarly-named Knight Bus of Harry Potter, but they were quickly dashed to bits by the very normal bus that showed up and ushered us off. since we were only paying 105 bucks each (roundtrip!) for a nine hour ride, they didn't seem obliged to provide us with luxuries like shocks or leg room. it was a near-sleepless, and incredibly bouncy ride, complete with accomplished snore-ers and various parts of my body going to sleep without me. but hell, when i woke up (or opened my eyes for the 200th time), i was in tokyo!
step 1: get coffee. ahhhh, the first (and finest) cappuccino i've had in japan.
step 2: find the famous Tsukiji fish market and nearly get run over about 85 times by mad fish movers (is this mr. toad's wild ride?). see all varieties of dead and soon-dead sea creatures, including already breaded but still alive lobsters, writhing buckets of baby eels, huge ruby chunks of tuna, boxes of fish heads, octopii, and a bunch of things i've never seen before.

the mournful eye of a red snapper.

ruby tuna.

lauren with the tako.

this was seriously the freakiest thing in the whole place! writhing, roiling buckets of eels. (oh my!)

fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads....

step 3: buy the freshest sashimi in the world ($15 for about 40 pieces of tuna!), and hunt for a nice picnic spot.

step 4: relax in a park during the most perfectly gorgeous day i can imagine.
step 5: find a tower and try to get to the top to see out (naturally). we were stunned at our success and the VIEW from the viewdeck in St. Luke's hospital (FREE!). if you see a scary hospital sculpture garden, you're getting close.

the rest of our time was shopping, eating, giggling, and just enjoying the CITY. i think it's one of the best cities in the world. not only do you walk around feeling incredibly free and safe at all times, but it's clean, and the people smell good. unlike new york, no one slobs around in ugly pants and oversized t-shirts. fashion is always visible, and most people walk around looking--let's be honest--like awesome was born in japan.

yep, that famous intersection from Lost in Translation.

another highlight was seeing my dear friend Massa again. it's so easy to forget we're in the same country! visiting her house and family after five years was the weirdest deja-vu ever. the first time i visited, i wasn't sure i'd ever have a chance to return (they didn't thow me out of the country or anything, it just isn't always possible, you know). here i am, doing just what i dreamed. even weirder was remembering most of the way to her house through convoluted nameless streets. i guess i still have part of my brain left.
love, me

Monday, October 02, 2006

sad apples

hey everyone. i may not be able to post for a little bit because i downloaded an update for my computer, and now it's not working at all. i don't know how long it'll take to fix it, and i can't really write long, involved posts on the one office computer.

Friday, September 29, 2006

itchy and scratchy: the skin disease show

the sunshine predicted for today is masquerading as clouds and rain, so the overachiever plans i had for getting out early on a saturday morning have turned into something i enjoy a whole lot more: nesting. my knitting is out--i have this sock on the run! it'll be finished in no time....and by that i mean many, many hours (but many fewer than when i started).

in other news, my legs are in sad shape. due to my continuing allergies (the asthma and itchy lips are gone, thank goodness), i have developed some unchecked eczema. that means i go stark-raving mad with itching and scratching, and it feels SO GOOD, AMAZING, UNBELIEVABLE until i get into the next stage...large swathes of red, bleeding, oozing and scabbing skin. (sorry, but it's true.) i know the consequences, but like a junkie, i keep going back to the itching...just a little more...just one little patch, until i'm crouched, fingernails extended, and my skin is happy for a few moments. i never learn. i do have some left over expired steriod cream from a similar rash i had a few years ago. the only drawback is, and i'm quoting my doctor, "it could do violence to your internal organs." what kind of choice is that!? can i at least pick which organs?

while i'm on semi-embarrassing topics, i'd like to delve into another one. women using public restrooms in japan frequently flush the entire time they pee so no one can hear and take offence at their humanness. now, i already had what's called a "shy bladder." unlike most of my colorado "relieve yourself anywhere around anyone under any condition" sisters, i actually need a little privacy. i wish i didn't care, but i can't help it. however, it's SO wasteful for every woman to flush the entire time she's going that the environmentalist in me rebels indignantly. in response to this need, many public restrooms have installed devices called Sound Princess (electronic water noises), but no such luck in this town. now i have a problem, will all the other women teachers be offended if i refuse to do the flush-pee? i mean, my shoes are waiting right there by the door--it's not like they don't know who's in there. will they overlook my behavior as a brash american girl flaw, or will they all get together and admit shyly that they now avoid the bathroom when my owl-print keds are sitting there because they are so unused to the sound of peeing that it troubles them? this leads to an even greater quandary: worrying about being judged for a totally normal human function isn't helping my shy bladder complex. i guess i'll have to resort to my friend katie's mind-diversion tactic and attempt to multipy 14 by 16 in my head.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

everything's great until it sucks

this morning i'm feeling remarkably cheerful in an "F-you" kind of way. this has been a challenging week. i had some really great days followed by some really depressing now i'm coming back with a combative friendliness. the days are gorgeous, and it's torture that i don't get to spend any of it outside. teachers are pretty much expected to even eat lunch chained to their desks. they have a lovely coi pond right outside my window, so yesterday i finally did what i would do naturally and went and sat by it for a very few minutes in the sun. the constant noise of thirty teachers having thirty different conversations in japanese faded away briefly in the sunlight. ahhhhh.

when i got back inside, everyone was concerned that i was "ok." sometimes it's really difficult to tell how much of myself i'm giving up in order to learn how to be here. i feel like i'm being myself until i do something like that and realize i've been holding myself back because i don't want to offend anyone. so today i'm standing firm on who i am. i even wore a sleeveless top to flaunt my american-ness. shocking! the tops of my shoulders have been hidden long enough.
just for kicks, i'll tell you about the morning meetings here at kinomoto senior high. all the teachers gather in the main teachers room (where most teachers' desks are, including mine). this is my one opportunity to scope out the three or so cute, young, male teachers with fabulous style. for a few minutes, different teachers speak to the group, and without fail, the skinniest, puniest guy (don't know what he does) always has a massive coughing and hacking fit near my desk. thanks for sharing. as the big meeting wraps up, there is about ten seconds of silence (everyone's taking a deep breath, no doubt) and then everyone explodes into chattering at once. this lasts about ten minutes, the bell rings, and then there is complete silence once again as all the teachers rush to their homeroom classes and i just sit here.

there are so many random scraps i want to tell you about, so i'll squeeze them in when i can.
on the 12th we had a fire drill. in the u.s. this just consists of everyone going outside in a more or less orderly way and waiting till they tell us it's ok to go inside. in japan, it's much more exciting. the fire department actually sets a wooden and cloth structure ablaze outside, and students get to practice using the extinguishers to put it out. this was fun to watch until a huge chemical cloud (from the extinguishers) enveloped the crowd and rained on my happy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

holy crap, i might like this job

well, it's getting to be winter, i guess, since the thermometers have dropped below 80 for a few days in a row. time to pull out the blankets! that's what my friendly neighborhood superstore would have me believe. after two months of greasy sweat (looks as good as it sounds), it's difficult to imagine wanting to be anywhere but lounging in an icebath (maybe there ARE some advantages to having your kidneys stolen). like christmas decorations in october, the stores would like you to prepare for the next season NOW. most japanese homes have a kotatsu or heated table under which you warm your legs. romantically, i imagined this to be an eloquent, well-crafted wooden table. not so! mine is homely black plastic, but if it works, that's good enough for me. then there is a thick, quilted blanket/tablecloth that you drape over the table to keep the heat in (ah! but because everything is cunningly designed in japan, the table top lifts up so the blanket is sandwiched between the top and the legs). check it out. i think it seems dangerous to drape fabric over a heater which is resting on a straw mat, but then, color me inexperienced.

in other news, today was an incredible day. i was actually on a high from having a great class. one of my teachers doesn't teach as much as stand in a corner and say, "ready, go," so today i was prepared to have full control. the students actually listened to me, and because they are an advanced class, they could follow my instructions pretty well. they did the work i asked, we had a good discussion about the differences between high schools in japan and the states, and i even learned a lot!
in the freshman class, we're studying medical conditions. as luck would have it, the word students struggled with all day was a particularly challenging medical term; hence you could find me enunciating DI-A-RRHE-A loudly and repeatedly over and over for all the beginning classes. i mean, come on, how can you not giggle when you're doing that?

Monday, September 18, 2006

seek and ye shall find spiders

ok, ok people! all this pestering to see some impressive arachnids. well let me tell you this: if you go looking for spiders in japan, you're going to find them. and if you don't go looking, they'll find you. every day on my way down the hill to school, i walk my face into several newly-spun webs--good times. now i keep a protective arm up because i've actually gotten a web-in-the-eye which is too weird. i used to have a "no spiders in my living space" policy, but i've amended it a little. at first, i was killing them when i found them, but then i found a poisonous centipede (the dreaded mukade) caught in a spider web, and i began to feel more greatful for them. spiders actually aren't the worst thing you can find in your house. plus i find the little ones that hop like frogs oddly hilarious.
then there was the BIG one. i saw this guy for the first time after the previously discussed asthma attack. after struggling for days to simply breathe, i was so relieved to finally have clear airways that this wall-schnauzer, as i've taken to calling it, didn't seem like such a big deal. happily it was only in my laundry room, not my house.

i checked it out for a good long time (took pictures, and YES the eyes reflect the flash) and then startled it into scampering to a corner. these puppies can RUN. it could probably beat me in a marathon. there's no WAY i'm gonna be able to kill that thing with a shoe! it didn't seem fair that i was killing the little ones only because i could and leaving the big one alone, so i decided on a "if i can catch you in a glass, you will live outside" policy.
if this isn't big enough for you, here a photo of the "it's so big i'm moving back to the states" spider that another JET found in his house...i'd credit him for the photo, but i don't have his name.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

giving exercise a run for its money, or: becoming the toned, coordinated biker i never wanted to be

so i'm finally getting around to writing about this little thing we call my bicycle. my flat tire situation has been remedied, and i have my original green bike back. this is good because it's not as rusted as EVERYone else's bike, so it's easier for an unseasoned rider to make it up those barely visible inclines without standing up for more leverage. i always pretend i've just stopped at the store after a 20 mile ride instead of arriving sweaty and winded from my house six blocks away. not only am i unfamiliar with bicycle etiquette in japan, but there is the added excitement of expecting traffic from the opposite direction than it actually comes. a few times i've found myself headed straight for a car headed straight for me because i am on the wrong side of the road. slowly i'm getting used to riding on the left and avoiding old ladies on the narrow sidewalks (riding on the sidewalks is encouraged because it's a common practice in japan to wildly, but courteously, veer into the opposite lane to go around stopped trucks or whatever, and bicyclists in the street are pretty much in constant peril). day by day, my form improves. when i began, i was humiliating all of america with my lack of coordination. i would stiffen when riding through a tight spot of people or potted plants or pet store cages and then my laden front basket would wobble dramatically and i'd lose my footing on a pedal as i tried to get going again and...not exactly the way to win friends and influence people. but necessity is good for something, so i'm navigating better and getting something resembling muscles in my legs. this is all great. BUT. i admit it may not have dawned on me that i would not only have to find creative ways of carrying bulky, heavy objects home from the store but i would also have to do it in winter when it's cold and dark at 4:30. oh yeah! i don't have a car. this doesn't really phase me (i've been cold plenty in my life), but i know i will complain about it later. (just you wait)
here's my one-speed wonder:

i was under the impression that being forced to ride myself to the store every time i want food, batteries, or toilet paper might cause me to get in shape or something ridiculous like that. guess again. this is japan! they like it fried! they put mayo on everything! i'm illiterate and can't tell what's low fat! plus i've discovered a new treat. this comes from my love of eating ice and my love of making the ice taste better by adding something to it. it's called Chocolate Ice, or How to Get Fat Without Trying:

just ice cubes with hot chocolate powder sprinkled over them. yay! it's hot chocolate for summer!
oh yeah, and one more thing. i've been making all these tasty things to remind me of home (namely cookie dough, french toast, and pancakes) and they may also be combatting the healthful aspects of bicycle riding.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

hold on, hold on (neko case--check her out)

friday, at last. i'm in pretty good shape to relate my adventures because i'm not under the influence of desperate dread or euphoria, though i've hit both in the last week. i think the entire experience of working with JET is all about taking what miniscule bits of information you're given, making something out of them, and then convincing everyone you know what's going on.
monday: day o' depression. the classes went fine (i did my self-introduction in each one...even I'm sick of hearing about me), but when it came to planning the next day's class with one of my teachers, i had no idea what he wanted me to do. you could say he gave me a "blank slate." he claimed not to use the text book, nor could he give me any idea what vocabulary the students might know. so i proceeded to make up a "crappy lesson." in the meantime i was thinking, "if it's this hard to make one lesson with one teacher, how am i going to cover the other 16 lessons i teach each week and still have time to knit (or sleep!?)" a wave of can't do-it-iveness washed over me. then another bout of "what the hell was i thinking?"
when i pitched my ideas to this very, um, intimidatingly attractive young teacher, our lack of understanding/communication precipitated a parade of cringing and nervous smiles. finally he told me to teach the class a drawing lesson...they can learn english through an activity. that night, for the first time since i got here, i had trouble sleeping...i had an anxiety dream about my old landlady in durango...i got up way too early. but my lesson went great the next day! as an extra bonus, i discovered a western toilet in the ladies bathroom when, for weeks, i believed there were only japanese toilets. now compared with most american girls, i'm pretty cool with japanese toilets. i have, after all, done a lot of camping in my life. but there are just days i don't want to hover.

the rest of the week has more than made up for monday. i really enjoy the students; i don't think they'll ever know how great i think they are. i see my hand writing something on the chalkboard, and i marvel at really feeling like a teacher (and i marvel at enjoying it).
yesterday i met the last of my 13 classes, and later i rode to mos burger to meet kara and emily for a junk food/english fix. as i parked my bicycle, i was spotted by a mob of my female students inside. they jumped up and waved violently through the window, and i waved fervently back. i think being recognized (and acknowledged) outside of school officially marks my entry into a life here. just like turning that metaphorical corner, i have finally had the first warm feelings of belonging to this community. now i can't go anywhere without a student calling my name or waving, and that has made all the difference.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

let's sports together pink

it's saturday...the first really gorgeous fresh-air day i've experienced since i arrived. i didn't have to put my air conditioner on last night, a cool almost dry breeze blew through the house this morning....ah, saturday. (but wait!) i'd say it's the perfect weekend to Go To Work! (hey, yeah! high five!) and what's worse, work was Sports Day. as the name suggests, it was an entire day devoted to sports. i'm an avid enthusiast of all things unrelated to sports, so i may have come across as a litte unenthused. but wasting time outside for eight hours was a change of pace from wasting eight hours inside. variety is the spice... did i mention i haven't done much in the last month?

the crowd was in a pretty good mood when the whole shebang started. (by the crowd i mean me.) after all, i got to see all the students, all the new faces of the people i'll be seeing every day this year. and it really was a spectacular day. i got a chair next to a bunch of empty chairs (they did fill up eventually) under a tent. there were parades, relay races, japanese hip-hop dances (my favorite), relay races, giant tug-of-wars (or is it tugs-of-war? another favorite), relay races, long long long stretches of time where they were setting up for something so i was bored out of my skull; and then what? another relay race! this made the crowd really crabby and gave her a sore arse for sitting so long.
this little baby kept me entertained for a good while, though. she actually knows how to bow her head in greeting when her mom prompts with "konnichiwa." amazing!

because the sandy expanse that is every school's "field" is so level and smooth (not a whisper of grass in sight), the kids often run in bare feet. a few kids did the usual awkward highschooler things: dropped the baton, tripped and had a humiliating spill into the dust... there were a few highlights, though. the cheering squad for one of the four teams was positively dramatic in flowing black and purple robes and ribbons (mostly guys, actually). their costumes were complete with some crazy native american headdress-style hair. they did a cheer where they moved their arms slowly up and down like big flying blackbirds, and it actually gave me chills. here's the ringleader:

i got a good chuckle out of this carefully-crafted home made shirt. because really, who doesn't love we?

and finally as i headed inside to get my stuff and book it home, i saw the Hummer of japan: Toyota Noah, because by comparison to the shoe-sized cars here, this truly is an ark.