Monday, June 25, 2007

lassitude in my (lad)itude

termites are on the way out; the jolly exterminators (seriously, they were jolly! i've never heard grown men giggle like that) visited my house mere days after the problem was discovered. if you have the beginnings of a bug problem in japan, you've got the makings of a full-blown disaster. my entire house is made of wood! a few months and it might've fallen with a whhhump into a heap...only the tile roof, my scattered shoes, and a tangle of yarn remaining.
last year i got ants. unlike dopey, dim-witted colorado ants that take weeks to organize enough to pose a nuisance, i saw a few ants in my kitchen in the morning, and by nightfall, it was like a river. i couldn't even find what they were eating. i had everything with sugar (glucose, fructose, OR sucrose) in the freezer, but they were everywhere anyway! their cleverness was also their fatal flaw; when i put out ant poison, they were all over it in minutes and gone the next day.
happily, the termites went back in the closet for my party, so i was truly able to relax and hang with the north mie kids. we had a liesurely beach day which made me impossibly happy. atashika is supposedly one of the 100 most beautiful beaches in japan, and it's only a 20 minute drive from my house. since i will soon have a car of my very own, this will no longer be an obstacle worthy of note. yes, i've bought myself a flea with wheels. the main obstruction remaining is my driving test which is closing in. will independence day return my autonomy to me in the form of a driver's license, or will i have another month chained to my bike? my heart pounds at the thought. (aack!!)

here's our fabulous ad for mini-beers. i know, it's hard to see them in our hands! these are fun 'cause you can drink them before they get warm. public drinking is all systems go in japan.

me and memento molly

since my house was damaged in the Great Termite Storm of '07, they got in there right away and replaced almost all of my nice, silky, weathered, golden tatami with new, green tatami. this would be fine with me except it smells like HAY. not romantic like faint sweet straw--like "i've been sitting in a barn for a year" HAY. it's overwhelming. here's the difference in color:

i do appreciate knowing that there are no hidden things wriggling around underfoot, though. i get to start fresh. the rainy season is delightfully dry this year so far, so i haven't been seeing any mukade yet, good news! i can't handle more than one bug problem at a time. here is the kanji for bug: 虫 doesn't convey any of the disgust i feel.
getting around to the title of this post, though, i've been feeling a japan low lately. not so much japan as work in japan. someone i know called working for the JET Programme "a velvet rut," and that's precisely what it is. we make plenty of money and live comfortably enough, but even with the responsibility i have here, i am not a Real Teacher, i am just an assistant who can be demanded of and undermined at will. most of my teachers are great, but a combination of my duties and the students' lack of motivation is so draining, and then there's the fun bag of cultural differences that can vacuum the energy right out of you. that's why i jumped at the chance to teach mr. m some english when he asked me. sure, it doesn't hurt that he's totally cute too. i was a little nervous for our first formal lesson--where do you begin? how do you know how to fill in the blanks for someone who knows a lot of vocabulary but little grammar? our first lesson was so much better than i was expecting! instead of not being willing to act out situations like my high school students, he totally humored my impulses. i indroduced myself as someone else, and we went over the small talk questions and answers like you would when meeting someone in a casual situation. it was fun! he shook my hand but didn't know when to let go (tee hee). he seemed actually eager to learn, which was so refreshing. i had him ask me questions, and he was off like a shot, communicating the hell out of everything. our next lesson is today, and we've agreed he'll pay me in kakigori which are snow cones, basically. i know, i'm cheap, but i love me some flavored ice.
yesterday i came home and just couldn't manufacture any more energy. i wanted to go for a walk or anything, but i didn't have it in me. instead i managed to get up and make one of those meals i grew up on...salmon croquettes. the smell of cooking onions overpowered the barn fetor and revived me, and though the tiny cans of salmon were expensive, the croquettes were tender and marvelous. here's the recipe:

1 can salmon (about 2 cups) or 4 mini cans in japan (that's got a ring to it)
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 egg
1/2 cup of bread or cracker crumbs, or, as i tried last night, crushed corn flakes

mix it all together (don't be startled by the cartilege in the salmon--it's totally edible) and shape into croquettes (about 1/4 cup each)
fry in oil for about 5 min on each side (till browned) and enjoy with ketchup

last friday i was at the home store with melissa, and we were chatting about and looking over all the flowers and herbs for sale. i looked up and saw a non-japanese man walking out of the store right by us. i was so stunned that my mouth was literally agape. he said something like, "good afternoon, ladies." i didn't recover in time to respond! what does this say about me!? on saturday, i was talking to my mom on skype (using my computer's ambient microphone, so she can hear everything, including the daily loudspeaker playing Edelweiss at noon) when my landlady stopped by to tell me that she couldn't find a place to have my key copied for a spare. when i got back on the phone, my mom said, "it sounded like you were understanding and responding in japanese!" i was like, yeah...she doesn't speak english. it was the first time someone i know has overheard me speak anything other than english. that's one of the reasons i really want someone to visit me here--i have no barometer of how much i've learned!

i have one more bug-related story. i woke one morning with a 1 inch diameter circle on my arm with a smaller circle inside. it looked like a bug bite--spider maybe. i began worrying about renegade populations of brown recluses or something equally ridiculous. everything is more of a big deal here since i don't have the greatest faith in the health system. it faded eventually, but the next day i woke up with a similar mark on my arm in a different place. what on earth could it be? i went over to my bed and what did i see? it was the impression of the button on my rilakkuma teddy bear that i must have been clutching tightly in my sleep!!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

welcome to the infestation*

*this is a frowny-faced tribute to the R.E.M. song Welcome to the Occupation

nothing says "party" like termites falling out of every corner.
the termite problem of which i was completely unaware until two days ago was apparently just waiting to be announced; now they're coming out of the woodwork, har har. last night i was playing a rousing game of Stomp and Vacuum, but i finally gave up and went to bed, hoping desperately that i didn't wake to any wriggling or flying things on me. i didn't, but i was completely grossed out at the little piles of parasites in every room, and i can just imagine how fun my four guests for the weekend will find it. WHEE!

in happier news, this week is O-VER! the petunia i grew from seed has actually flourished and is finally blooming! they must have put a mix of colors in the pack because i've gotten both a purple and red bloom so far.

and by request, a few of my favorite pages of the hatchan book i mentioned last time:

finally, i'm taking my driving test on the 4th of July, so hopefully i will be showing my 'patriotism' by successfully acquiring a foreign driver's license...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

more than you think

i’m not sure exactly when my train stop became home, but that’s what i was thinking last night when i arrived there after a barbecue in owase (the site of last august’s Panic at the Fireworks). it was after eleven, and only one other woman had been nestled in the single car illuminated like a lantern, shooting through the lush japan darkness. we surrendered our tickets to a lonely station man sweeping up, and went our different ways. i unlocked my bicycle, easy to find but tough to disentangle from the hordes of other bikes shadowed by street lamps. once free, i glided into perfect smooth evening air deepened by all those smells i always go on about--dark flowers and the breath of sleeping children, late evening laundry, the ocean. i had been waiting all night to finally return to my stop, my home, and go to bed. not that the barbecue wasn’t fun, but the week was long and taxing (that’s a pun for my benefit--stayed up way too late the night before our business conference in tokyo working on my taxes. i nearly had a heart attack when it said i owed $5000, so i had to stay up figuring out where it all went wrong). the conference was so frustrating and useless, it temporarily set me back to my first rocky days in japan, plus my roommate snored (even through earplugs and a pillow over my head), so i didn’t have relief in sleep either. i was tempted to put a pillow over her head.
yes, there were good moments (shopping at american apparel, eating real mexican food and divine french cuisine, and finding a few japanese books i couldn't live without about a cat named hatchan.) but after that, i returned to mie, woke up early, took my written driving test, taught school in the afternoon, and then had several hours of meetings. so! taxing.

*aside* i would like to quote a japanese underground musician, shugo tokumaru, for the caption to this picture. brilliantly understated: "There's a lot of buildings and people in Tokyo, more than you think."

anyway, about the barbecue. i had been invited to the family home of a young student teacher. he is dark-eyed and quiet with a vaguely toady smile. i was afraid he might fancy me, but perhaps it's something else. i was to be the co-honored guest with jonathan, another english teacher from the area. he works with the student teacher’s father, who is also a teacher. i relaxed when i met his family; there was none of the awkward silence that can reign in situations with mixed languages and strangers. his mom was up-front about welcoming us to stay if we got wasted and didn’t want to make the trip home. ha! his dad was gleeful and interviewed us in both languages, thrilled to his toe tips and flushed cheeks when we understood his english. his sister (18) seemed real, no affected shyness, and his darling grandmother beamed like a beacon on my right. as is typical in these situations, they act as if feeding you enough will cure world hunger--i was stuffed with steak, roast, hot dogs, pumpkin slices, onions, shrimp, cow tongue, sushi, lettuce, beer, fried sweet potatoes, coffee, cheesecake, apple juice, chocolates, and that doesn’t include all the things i turned down! after six hours of food and company, they walked us to the train station and saw us off--making me promise i would dine with them again.
tonight i lost myself in my ironing. the steam was delicious with Downy and i felt quiet and calm with Loreena McKennit singing Dante's Prayer through my mind. i thought, this is home. i could be anywhere; i just happen to be here. and that was a good feeling.