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.

the supernose speaks on loss

when i lived in tacoma, i was disappointed the weather was so chilly most of the time that smells didn't permeate the air. i was used to the sun-warmed smell of everything: flowers, earth, my cotton t-shirt, someone's shampoo. only in the warm summers did tacoma have much of a smell (save the ever-threatening and non-weather-reliant stink of the paper mills). so far mie is the opposite. a billion peculiar, moisture-related smells assault my nose each morning on my walk to school: rain smell, mold smell, ocean smell, green onion smell (unexplainable, but not bad), earth smell (that one's nice), pee smell (not so nice), rotting something smell (bad), and OCCASIONally the blessed smell of flowers. i already collected smells like trading cards, but some of these i could forego.
the air here is so heavy it seems positively unbreathable. just as the entire body rebels to inhale when you're underwater, sometimes i feel my lungs are waiting for dry air to really expand. um, don't hold your breath, right? i have another 11 months here, i better start breathing.

since i've been here, i've noticed my unconscious tendency to search everything for something familar, something that resonates because i understand it. <--(ooh! i've never typed html before.) in each japanese person i meet, i see traces of people i know, echoes of my entire life until now. it's like my past is already haunting me in a comforting way. i've met a guy who resembles nate, a friend who died several years ago. i think of my grandmother (who also died) more here than ever at home because my house echoes the shape and smells of her house in texas. sometimes these non-tangible people accompany me on my journey even more than the living because they have nothing better to do. it's nice to have time to remember them.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

just call me Allergy Lips

thank God i'm no longer having any asthma problems, but taking their place are some seriously itchy lips. all i do all day is try to inconspicuously alleviate the horrendous tickle on my face. i've tried itching them from inside my mouth: bite-scraping my teeth against the inside of my lips or ferociously pursing them...i'm sure it's really inconspicuous. i've nearly itched them raw now, so it burns as well as itches. just another day.

and i must be, er, particularly hormonal lately because several inconsequential things brought me to tears today: a pretty picture in my calendar (it's SO pretty! *sniffle*) and also reading the touching story of the Sacagawea dollar coin online.

in totally unrelated news, i'm teaching myself to double-sided knit (and by teaching myself, i mean watching the how-to video here.) this is a cool technique of making double-thick fabric with the design colors reversed on the opposite side. my idea is to make some really thick fabric and then felt them into wooly house flip-flops. no doubt i'll have pictures later...

oh! this was my first shot at felting. this:

became this:

then this!

Monday, August 28, 2006

900 teens + 1 american = one good cookie

well i woke at 2am this morning to the townwide loudspeaker blabbing something in japanese. at two. in the morning. it had better be an emergency, right? apparently it was a warning to be cautious since the heavy rains had closed some of the roads. you had to WAKE US UP to tell us that? who's driving then!? unfortunately i thought i was late to the first real day of school and bolted up in a cold panic. thanks to that little shot of adrenaline, i didn't sleep too well the rest of the night. so i was less than a fresh little flower when i dragged my feet into school. but there's nothing like a healthy dose of more anxiety-related adrenaline to lift up those tired feet. i had to give my half japanese, half english speech to 900 people. wheee. but amazingly, public speaking isn't a great phobia of mine, so i was ready to give it a go. on entering the gym, i removed my shoes and was offered a pair of hideous brownish-orange plastic slippers that looked like they barely escaped the seventies with their lives. now it's just hard to be too serious when you're going to give a speech wearing house slippers you might've stolen from your grandfather. the students were in their stocking feet sitting on the floor. all together, 900 japanese kids doesn't look like that many. once i started the speech, i wasn't nervous anymore and was able to take my time and articulate well. "i like knitting and mo-tor-cy-cles." i actually welcomed the chance to address them all and be friendly so they know i'm not scary even if i don't speak their language. it worked! i got some shy "helo"s, some waves, and a ton of explosive giggling. it's an honor to be here. interestingly my fortune cookie before i left the states read "you will be called to fill a position of high honor and responsibility." it was a good cookie. maybe homer wrote it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

i'm only a woman of flesh and bone

today i had the infinitely bizarre experience of running into two middle-aged, non-JET foreigners ("white guys") at Circle-K. imagine doing a double take because you see another american. well, that's exactly what i did. i was just heading out the door after paying my electric bill when i came face to face with Eric. he greeted me with a slightly goofy/giddy smile. i think that's how most unexpected foreigner meetings feel--WOW, someone who speaks native english! and HERE of all places! i must talk with them! there's the immediate ease of that common bond of being an outsider. then the sizing up of accents--we all have the impulse to place people, to see how like us they are: canadian? american? from the south? the west? he was on vacation from nara...has lived in japan for 20 years. and me at the very beginning of my first year. though we parted after only a few minutes, questions i'd like to ask him are still bubbling up hours later: where did he come from originally? how did he come down here the first time? what did he think of seeing me there?


i tried a ride to the home improvement store, komeri, and was pleased to find it within my hilariously limited range of physical prowess. i'm rarely certain where bicyclists are supposed to ride, especially when the sidewalk disappears, but traffic was light on the highway, so i made it without incident. by the way, i've never seen a single soul with a bicycle helmet in this country. the highest speed signs along the highway say "50," which is 50kph, of course. so i plugged that into my handy metric calculator and mused that no one drives over a roaring 30 miles per hour.
i browsed the shelves for a long time, mostly forgetting what i was there to look for, but i did find a towel rod. i paid for my purchase and stuck the rod in the side of my backpack from which it protruded a good 2 feet, arching over my head like a pole you might stick a halo on. back in town, i stopped at the grocery for some peanut butter, completely forgetting the pole jutting out of my backpack. shoppers shrunk away like i might grab the rod and mow them down (which would be incredibly difficult since the rod is aluminum and weighs about four ounces.) big sigh.

in other news, during another cleaning spree this morning, i uncovered wedding albums from '85 stuck in the back of a closet. maybe some japanese couple owned this house then? there were boxes of dishes and other boxes i didn't have the heart to open. everything was packed with great care and labeled in japanese. why is it still here? it seems sad, somehow. so i just vacuumed around it and closed the closet again.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

carnival food is the same everywhere

it's difficult to describe fireworks in a new way. we've all seen them, and we all usually forget how they fill us with childlike wonderment until we see them again. pictures can't capture the brilliance of color against a night sky or the chest-beating boom. they're just great, ok? and in japan, they strive to put all the fireworks in the rest of the world to shame. and they do. in my little 20,000 person town, they were shooting off so many rockets from so many directions that a full 180 degree view of the sky was full of light. i could barely stretch my neck back far enough to take in the whirling glitter, and i had to oscillate my little head back and forth and back and forth so i wouldn't miss any. breathtaking.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


today i learned that it's just as easy to get a sunburn in japan. it's been so misty and moisty that the sun's had a hard time penetrating all the water in the air, but today, clear and warm, i renewed my farmer tan. ju-u-ust what i was hoping for. i've also taken up sweating as a hobby since i'm apparently so good at it. i've never been so constantly sticky in my entire life. i treasure the few hours at night when i can steep in my air conditioning. one cloudy, stormy morning i was under the mistaken impression that it'd be cool outside, even chilly. what grabbed me when i opened the door was some seriously aggressive mugginess. i shook free and slammed the door.
i visited happy danger beach again. here's what it looks like in the sun.

here is one of the amply-provisioned vending machines i mentioned earlier. some of the options: canned coffee with cream, canned coffee with sugar and cream, canned tea with sugar and cream, green tea, oolong tea, sport drinks, juice, grape fanta, something called yokult, and my new favorite: melon cream soda!!! there are so many fricking beverages in this country that you never know what there will be to choose from at one of these beacons of choice...which is why i spend so much time lingering in front of them (well, and because i read japanese at the four-year-old level, that may contribute a little). i haven't been inspired yet to try "Qoo" simply because the name is so dumb. but check out the keen, uber-japanese webite. Qoo me in!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

happy danger beach

today i finally got down to the business of discovering my town. the sky was pleasantly rain-soaked and cool, the humidity bearable for once. my mission: to see how far away the convenience store ("conbini") is by bicycle. like many japanese institutions, the conbini functions as so much more than just a place to grab a can withdraw money at the ATM, use the spotless bathrooms, choose from an almost unlimited array of to-go lunches which they will heat, garnish with appropriate condiments (mayonnaise is usually involved) and utensils, and have bagged in seconds; and finally, you can pay your utility bills. there's no such thing as remittance through mail, unfortunately. so i needed to know how much of a ride i am in for each time the electricity payment is due. unlike the narrow street and obstacle-plagued sidewalk that leads to the closest grocery and other shoebox-sized stores, the road to Circle K (that's right, they have them here, too) is broad and has wide, unpopulated sidewalks that actually make riding my bike a pleasure instead of a spectacle of awkwardness. this road also runs parallel to the long coastline, so the view is breathtaking. before i knew it (well truthfully i hadn't really been paying much attention because i had so many new vending machines to ogle) i had reached my destination. ta da!

and here's the graveyard next door to Circle K!

in celebration of a shorter than anticipated ride, i carefully considered and bought a mandarin orange jello fruit cup thing, red bean paste-filled mochi balls, and some envelopes.

i crossed the road to the retaining wall/elevated sidewalk that overlooks the beach, climbed the stairs, and settled down to eat my treats and watch the misty ocean. a little side note: sadly, swimming on this beach is prohibited because a strong tide and sharp underwater drop-off have carried too many out to sea. so i've affectionately dubbed it Danger Beach. i say affectionately because it's still a beach, and i have always loved looking out over water, especially considering how claustrophobically overgrown everything else here is. i've also been informed that in the event of an earthquake and resulting tsunamis, we're probably in pretty good shape because the beach is SO LONG that the tsunami would have room to spread out instead of filling up a basin-shaped beach.
or something.
so it could be good in a particular kind of crisis. ANYway, the beach already feels like a special place--it marks my first day of discovery.

let's be honest, red bean paste tastes like dirt, but since i EAT dirt, i usually enjoy it. yum! here's me showin' a little leg.

on my ride back i came upon this cat sitting comfortably on his bike, waiting to be let in the house. he was ve-e-ery suspicious of me but not suspicious enough to jump down and hide.

Friday, August 18, 2006

trains should have names

this weekend was my first excursion back to a relatively large city; regional two-day orientation in the capital city of Tsu. a fellow orientee and i boarded an early train and rode two marvellously soporific hours (rocked gently by the friendly train) through Jurassic Park-esque panoramas and past stormy beaches. i couldn't resist taking a picture of my travel partner with her mouth agape in sleep and i continue to snicker that i have this picture and she has no idea. at each stop they play a loud but pleasant blinging sound to wake any sleepers so they won't miss their stop. however, i believe the japanese are so accustomed to mass transit that they have incredibly well-tuned inner clocks and always wake just before their stops.
tsu station was graced with my favorite of all fast food chains in japan--mr donut. also available was a baskin robbins, which is just called "31." the mint chocolate chip tasted EXACTLY like it does in the states, and i almost did a little dance as i ate. (they also have green tea as a standard flavor, of course) at lunch we were searching for an elusive curry place, and i tried out my first complete sentence on a stranger. "where is coco curry?" hilariously, she answered my japanese question in english. but i communicated!! yaaaay.
predictably, there was a party following day one of orientation and i felt i HAD to go since i had missed all bonding festivities due to my illness at Tokyo orientation. they pick the strangest venues for these parties...the melting pot is a windowless bar decorated mainly with crappy furniture and overzealous blacklight paint. but i guess it's as good a place as any to get drunk, which most people tried to do as quickly as possible. it was actually a great chance to meet some second and third year JETs like the darling aussie couple fiona and sam. we managed to have a real conversation about art over the blaring music.
that night i slept for the first time on a real japanese futon on the tatami. they're definitely spartan at only two inches thick, but i was perfectly comfortable--amazing.
at the end of day two, i was ready to go back and sleep in my own bed, so i got some help buying a ticket (thanks sean) and caught the last train headed for my little town. as i rode off into the night (knitting needles in hand), i had one of those "i can't believe i'm really doing this" moments. i was just nonchalantly on a train in the middle of japan, finishing a knitted sock, and going to a place i never imagined i'd call home. i hoped my bike was still at the station where i left it because i didn't want to walk anywhere at midnight. it was. i dislodged a cicada (holy crap, those things are weird) and rode off into the rainy night towards home.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the irish rejoiced

in this land of lager beer, my irish ancestors weep for joy.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

flip-flop of doom

i see only one problem with japan's custom of removing your shoes at the door...facing off with large insects can feel a lot more vulnerable and intimidating when stomping is removed from your arsenal. enter The Flip Flop of Doom. i've already removed said flip-flops at the door, so i still have to scrabble to grab one, but it becomes a deadly weapon in my hands. plus, it's all i've got! nothing else is accessible enough and will stand up to repeated bashing. i mean, what am i going to do--grab a cockroach with chopsticks? the cockroach can probably USE chopsticks. try to hit a 3 inch spider with a miniscule japanese paper towel? nuh uh. i don't want that much contact with an insect so leggy it could give charlize theron a run for her money.
i rewarded my long day of cleaning with a walk to the closest vending machine for grape soda. unlike fanta, which tastes just exactly like grape soda, bubble man grape soda tastes like liquid pop rocks. not bad!
most people know a little bit about the shangri-la that are japanese vending machines, but i'll talk more about them later so you're all in the loop. nightie-oh.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"this ain't no catch and release"

in another effort to stay away from my apartment, i agreed to go to senmaida (“1000 rice paddies") for all-you-can-eat somen noodles. we drove 40 minutes to an even more remote part of mie...the sun was out, the rice was green and waving in the breeze...a gorgeous day. then i found out we got to PLAY with our FOOD. they set up a bamboo trough with water and cooked somen noodles streaming past and you dip your chopsticks in, grab some noodles, dip them in the sauce cup in your other hand, and eat! i've never had so much fun catching my lunch.
now take the narrowest, steepest, windingest road you've ever been on and double or triple each of those qualities. such was the way to our next destination: Secluded Waterfall. when we finally got to the place where you park, we "hiked" (slid/fell) down a barely-there mulchy path and finally came to the water. the pictures speak for themselves...beautiful. unlike colorado snowmelt water, this water was refreshing without being instantly painful and numbing.
THEN we went even farther up that crazy road and did another short hike through Scary Dead Spider Leg Forest, past two little shrines, and holy hell! the dropoff of the century. i've seen some pretty impressive canyons, mountains, and cliffs, but this topped them all. i could barely even stand to look over the edge or look at anyone else looking over the edge. i hunkered down at a very safe distance from the End and waited for the others to finish being amazed so we could get the heck DOWN from there. believe me, you can't see it in the pictures.
we wrapped up our day at a gelato stand that has the best ice cream i've had in japan so far. (and ps. i love that green tea ice cream is like vanilla in japan--it's everywhere) we all went back for seconds.
finally it was time to return to my apartment that i had been airing out for two days. this is my second night of clear breathing, thank God! i still have some mucous-y coughs (eeew, sorry), but i feel much better...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

drowning in air

i thought i was settled in to my basic, non-communicative life in japan when i had a serious bout of Asthma (cue darth vader music). it got worse and worse (mold allergies? too much bleach in the air from my cleaning? dust?) friday night until i was struggling every moment to inhale enough oxygen. still without a phone and illiterate in japanese, i had no idea how to communicate what i was facing to any of my neighbors. can you say “hi, i don’t want to die in a foreign country?” to complicate matters, it’s a national holiday this week, so i couldn’t enlist the help of my fellow teachers because they’re all on vacation. swell. i did manage to skype-call emily and told her what was going on and did she know how to get to the hospital if it became necessary? she did. i slept poorly that night and woke up feeling about the same. i suspected it was my apartment causing the problems, so in desperation i agreed to go to a barbecue in another town just so i could escape El Mold-o-rific. kara and i (the other newbie) took our virgin train ride up to mihama where there’s a pleasantly cool river running by a stone beach. the train passed by some pretty enticing sand beaches that i would never have guessed were near my home. i saw actual families, not just 80 year old ladies! the day turned from sunny to rain, so we huddled under a tarp with a mix of JETs and japanese locals. the barbecued beef and roasted corn and pumpkin were fantastic, and though still struggling to breathe, i had a pretty good time. we were prodded to give self-introductions and then asked embarrassing questions by the fun-loving japanese translator/party-boy Kazoo, which proved to be the easiest trial so far since i’m rather fond of talking about myself. the guys were asked whether they liked asian girls and how young or old they would date, but the girls were let off the hook more easily. i showed some pictures of my paintings around and received many echoes of “sugoi! (amazing)”
after seeing my painting experience, drew, the last member of our american foursome, enlisted my help to paint an ugly desk his japanese fiancee hates. we made a run to komeri, the home depot of japan, and were advised to mix the concentrated paint with water. huh? we did as we were told and realized a lot was lost in the translation as it is only meant to be cleaned up with water. i got busy on the desk with the remainder of the non-runny paint, mai (his fiancee) made dinner, and drew made a hideous metal cabinet even more hideous with paint the consistency of milk. that night i slept in kara’s adorable, new apartment (why why WHY didn’t i get that place?) where the tatami mats make the room smell like hay. i woke up with better, but not totally clear, breathing.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

that pesky atmospheric pressure

thanks to the interpretive assistance of my teacher friend (and her car), i was able to find and cart home all the ingredients for my ultimate comfort food: banana chocolate chip walnut pancakes. i unloaded all the ingredients, rubbed my hands together, and realized i had forgotten to buy measuring cups! sigh. this house has EVERYTHING but that. i searched for "measuring cups" in every japanese dictionary i have, imagining some tentative communication with my neighbor, but i couldn't find the word. finally i found some measuring spoons (and since i do happen to know how many tablespoons are in a half cup), i painstakingly measured out 8 tablespoons of milk and 16 tablespoons of flour. but no harm done! with the addition of some extra baking powder to balance out the heavy air down here at sea level, they came out perfectly. take a look. yuuuuuuum.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

a loveless trip to second base

in japan there is an impressive system of trash sorting and disposal that rivals tax forms in its complexity. if there’s any metal on an item, it’s picked up this day. if it’s recyclable cardboard, it must have every staple and bit of tape removed and be tied with twine to be picked up on this day. electronics...another day (but what about the metal on electronics? shouldn’t that be thrown away with the metal stuff? surely it isn’t my job to dismantle everything into its component parts just to throw it away?) apparently it is. so my mission to get rid of the 10 years of stuff left in my apartment has turned out to be a little more difficult than i expected.
in other news, i was subjected to a bizarre medical exam with all the other high school teachers in spite of the full medical check required to get into the program. i won’t go into details, but i’ll just say that some old doctor got to second base with the supposed intent of listening to my heart. no under-the-shirt stethoscope modesty in japan. my translating teacher and the nurse were both helping to hold up my shirt, like i don’t have the mental or physical capacity on my own.
finally, let me tell you about cell phone minutes. you know how you might get 600 or even 1000 minutes for 50 bucks in the US? revel in the generosity of alltel and t-mobile! in japan, you get 55 minutes for 50 bucks. that’s right. who talks less than 2 minutes per day!? i’m not that popular, and even i managed to use at least 500 minutes per month. hello telepathy.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

peanut butter whisperer

my day began well. this morning i talked with a very cute english teacher who’s about my age about shopping and pancakes and potatoes. her english has a subtle british burr that’s endearing, and she speaks japanese clearly enough that someday i may be able to understand it. i came home for lunch and watched the only episode of Without A Trace that i had seen in the states. they’re disconnecting my English channels tomorrow (too expensive), so i may as well enjoy it. when i got off work, i was looking forward to riding my new bicycle (yet to be named) to the farther-away, but better-stocked grocery, jusco, and maybe even getting flour and trying my hand at some pancakes. i had my backpack in hand and i unlocked my bike only to find it had a very flat tire. immediately my mind played scenes of some ill-wisher flattening it for me. but is that really characteristic of the japanese? sigh. i found no tacks or nails or anything that indicated why it has so suddenly, after the virgin ride, been rendered joyless. i still needed food, so i settled on a walk to the nearest grocery, okuwa. i focused on smelling the smells and seeing what was to be seen. i smelled nutmeg and wet. as for what i saw...a pretty white bird in the canal (crane? egret?) and Old People. this seems to be a town of mostly people over 75...they totter tenaciously on their bikes, and i’ve barely been able to elicit a smile from even one of them. feel the love. at okuwa i wheeled around looking for anything i could recognize to eat for dinner. there was some pretty good looking tuna sashimi for six bucks--what the hell? i also found something that caused me much rejoicing: skippy. now american peanut butter speaks my language (but it speaks my language at a high price...this little jar was almost $4). i got some veggies and noodles and rice crackers and milk and also some mysterious popsicles, but the peanut butter made my day. i cracked that package open as soon as i was out the door and walked back home feeling oddly justified walking down the street licking skippy off my fingers.
Update: according to the company that sold me my bike (o joyful), the tire was flawed, so it was no one's fault. they kindly gave me a loaner bike while they send my tire back to the manufacturer, and it's orange! beautiful, glowing orange. if that had been available in the store i would have bought it, so i'm not too sad about the time it's taking them to fix mine.
keep it tuned in for heroic feats of trash separating and squealy bug-killing.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

under a blood red sky

i've been waiting for a typhoon to hit all night. we were sent home from school early because of the incoming storm. the sky turned from gray to a disturbing yellow color and then an even more disturbing, heart-stopping red color. weird, man. but so far the storm is still waiting to strike. check out the regular view out my window and then the armageddon/typhoon red sky.
my last few days have been good and relaxed. for my first weekend in town, i was carted off ("invited") to a nearby town called owase to be dressed up in yukata (summer kimono) by a professional dresser and then view the fireworks. sounds good, right? ahHAHAHA. we were cinched up in yukata by chizuko and her mom--yanked and flattened in every conceivable way. then we headed off to see the hanabi. i didn't mind trotting around in geta (surprisingly comfortable wooden shoes) through the crowd, and finally we came to a rest at some chairs. time passed. fireworks, stifling heat, restrictive clothing, thousands of japanese faces, an unfamiliar town, darkness, noise, perfume, smoke, and fish smells--it started to cause me panic. i was seconds away from peeling myself desperately from the yukata and running down the street to find some light and air. my panic-o-meter has been especially sensitive lately. i wondered: would these people understand my fear? do i even know where it comes from? so i just prayed and prayed and thought of talking to my mom. i pulled out her card and read it again. i chatted with my fellow kumano JET with the sole aim of keeping the panic at bay. i remembered the fireworks i'd enjoyed in the past, i watched the lights reflecting on the water and scrabbled my toes in the dust. i feel after all this "surviving" i've been doing, i'll have a whole lot less fear of stuff like looking for a job. after all, this is scary shit. being in your own culture is easy. you know most of the rules.
but i've survived again.
in other news, i was treated to lunch by my unofficial babysitter--aka the teacher who drives me around and translates what everyone else says to me. she took me to the only western-style fast food place in town; mo's burger, which everyone pronounces moss baagaa. she was describing some of the menu choices and she struggled to pronounce one particularly difficult entry (sloppy joe) finally coming out with "floppy joe." i chuckled politely to myself. turnabout's fair play, though, right? she had a good ol' laugh at my expense (and i joined in) when i admitted i didn't know how to use a rice cooker. that's like saying you can't cook a hotdog.
i'm putting up a picture of my very large kitchen sink-type bathtub...just imagine what a big turkey i must look like sitting in there. there's also one of the canal i cross from school and then the path up to my house.

Friday, August 04, 2006

i already miss cheese

my first trip to izakaya (japanese bars that serve food). i meet the two other american girls (kara and emily) who live in kumano and see their impossibly cute apartments--smaller but cleaner and in better shape than mine. we have chocolate martinis and meet yoshi and drew, friends of emily’s. i like yoshi’s feet. emily and kara live more in central kumano...only a few minutes to their house on my new bicycle (which, by the way, is a pretty damn nice bike for 80 dollars--even they agree). we walk to a little bar and have drinks and food--fried potatoes, fried tofu, chicken, salad. yoshi understands english and speaks an aussie version. he makes me laugh, and i feel an instant affection for him. toshi is my supervisor mika’s husband. they are the cutest couple ever. they both speak great english and have been to places in colorado and oregon (even the tillamook cheese factory--my disneyland!). talking with mika and sitting in this bar, i feel really happy for the first time in japan. i can’t stop smiling. later kazoo (another aussie-english japanese guy) shows up with tears still in his eyes after watching hotel rwanda. i begin to think i can handle living here, and maybe even enjoy it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

death by culture shock

ok, here we go. it's the first step of my journey:
(i just had to start with a picture of my friend alex and the unbelievable amount of stuff he brought--girls and guys alike marveled at his luggage. out of respect to him, though, i'm only putting in a picture of his back.)
after a twelve hour flight and a two-hour busride through the futuristic, surreal, and neverending tokyo landscape, we arrived at the chandelier-bedecked keio plaza hotel. waiting around while some new friends changed their dollars to yen (and desperately hungry), i was hit by a human rocket--my college roommate (who lives in tokyo) was miraculously able to find me among the 1200 other arrivals milling about the hotel in spite of no concrete info about when i'd get in or what room i'd be in! she bolted across the lobby and tackled me before i could grasp why someone was hanging off my neck. i hadn't seen her in four years! she took me and the rest of our travel-weary group into the night to find a place to eat.
oh, look how happy i am...i'm seeing one of my best friends, i'm eating...if i only knew what would hit a few short hours mind and body breakdown! dun dun DUN! this was the start of only the second time in my life i've had difficulty eating. well, i was scared to death. thoughts of, "um...what the hell did i think i was doing?" may have crossed my mind. an absolute change of everything in my life: language, food, cultural assumptions, people, occupation. that's steep. hence, a picture of the banana i was finally able to keep down (yaaay!)
i even went to a little seminar on culture shock given by a very nice psychologist who succeeded in causing me a lot more anxiety and panic than i was already feeling. shaking, i returned to my room and immersed myself in a hot bath and watched an episode of mythbusters on my ipod to mediate my reality (distract myself from the situation at hand). haha. that poor kid that tried to chat me up at the final reception...i must have seemed so odd and standoffish, when i was just trying to keep from barfing my dinner before several hundred people. i kept telling myself to enjoy such a luxurious hotel, but i didn't feel remarkably better until we finally GOT GOING. the day we scattered all over japan, my malaise was gone.