Wednesday, October 24, 2007

i am a foul wind

...or so my air filter would have me believe, since every time i walk into the room, the little green "clean air" dot turns red.

today i was writing 1-10 on the blackboard.
1 through 5 were ok (thank you preschool math), but then i hit a difficult patch: 6. 2. 8. 9. 10. what the...? in what universe? but to be fair (it's me, do we really need to be fair?) i was thinking "six, second, eight" which sounds a little like "seven" and the numerals have a resemblance too.
or something.

like every blogger, everywhere, i have some lovely stuff i haven't gotten to post yet, so think of this as the flashback that never happened the first time.

i was traumatized last week when i looked at the imdb pages for the two lead actors for the new show chuck! and realized that though i expected them both to be in their early thirties, they were, in fact, both younger than me. *gasp*

From Early September:
i was geared up for the school festival this year. i had my key places to hit: cotton candy stand, shaved ice stand, pudding stand. can you say "cracked-out on sugar"? what could i do; they sold out of curry early. i also wanted to see the tea ceremony again and watch my students' remake of The Terminator. there was an art show, a magic show, calligraphy, and many other fun things to see, eat and play.
here are the cotton candy girls. they kept shrieking "it hurts! it hurts!" when they had to add the sugar because hot pieces fly out and burn, but they kept dutifully on. the leader, the girl in the middle, always greets me with "LAUREN! OH! YEAH! YEAH!" to which i'm never quite sure how to respond.

then a close-up of my cotton candy. the hot, wet mouth of the sky was trying to eat it as fast as i was.

and though i tried to take some covert pictures from the window above, it seems i am never hard to spot.

From Late August:
in japanese, fireworks is 花火, literally "flower fire." this is my lucky second year to witness the phenomenal event that puts my town on the map--the annual august 17th fireworks display. last year it was raining, and it was marvelous nevertheless. this year the weather was clear, and an unbelievable 190,000 people showed up to see it (town's population normally: 20,000)! people book train tickets early, and kara and i were barely able to squeeze onto a standing-room only train for the two hour ride from tsu where we had been helping with the new JETs orientation. we watched the thermometer in the overburdened car (usually cool with air conditioning) creep to over 91 degrees. my long legs were awkward crouched painfully on the floor, but a kind old man practially sitting in the lap of another stranger made a little space for me to stretch them out. forget going to the bathroom, i think someone must have been sitting in there too!
it was worth it, of course. we had a surprising number of new JETs show up, and we all enjoyed reclining on the beach with explosions in the sky. the highlight was the immense single firework that made all the others seem piddling and small. they said they wouldn't count it down since last year it had failed to go off, so we waited...the resulting fireball and sonic boom flattened us spectacularly! below is a video taken by my best teacher friend. about halfway through the clip, the announcer says "mamonaku desu" which means "any time now." my friend forgot to turn the camera off, she was so busy shrieking and clapping.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ugly bugs' last stand

i'm exhaustingly observant. i mean, literally.
without meaning to, i keep tabs on the minute, rarely consequential, details of the world around me. it's like the scrolling headlines on the news, but instead of "President chokes on brussel sprout...Starbucks stock plummets," it's more like, "...Mr. Y is wearing loud pants again...Mr. T got his hair cut too short and looks like a shaved warthog...Ms. M is wearing glasses instead of contacts today...two second year students are pretending to be sick so they can go home...a dead bee is stuck inside the glass of the office girls is delivering mail...Mr. S just got up for more tea...Ms. F put the tape in the player on the wrong side, so it may record over something important...Mr. S is talking to that other guy who looks like a PE teacher but isn't..."
i can't stop taking it all in. if you know me, this is why i get so worn out from shopping malls. there everything is made to compete for your attention, so it's like a million things are stuffing themselves into my eyes and ears at once. the only time i get real relief from this part of myself is when i'm sick, and head colds are the best. i came down with one yesterday.

i smile absently. talking is heavy and breathing is audible. my hearing slips inward, can't really follow the outside anymore. just a slow, dull blur of sound, distant. things move across my eyes, my vision is also inward. i feel my heart beating slowly and thoroughly throughout my body.
i could listen to it in my head all day. hands and feet are warm for once. my body is totally relaxed, staring into space, overjoyed to be still and lay here agape on a pile of tumbled blankets. my mind is hardly moving at all, so i’m easily and comfortably entertained by the dust motes floating by in sunlight.
on my lunch break i just sat on the loveseat for fifteen minutes feeling wonderfully, stupidly relaxed and thought two thoughts the whole time, after which i almost fell asleep. i would happily have succumbed, but i had to shuffle back to school.

last night i took some nyquil to help with the faucet nose, and i woke sluggishly with a nyquil hangover. i mumbled around with my eyes half closed, well, one completely closed, and fixed my tea, heated some scones, and then started to sit down under my kotatsu. i flipped the blanket back a little and saw the writhing red body of a fat mukade!! cue horrified scream. instantly my nyquil hangover was incinerated in adrenaline. that got my eyes open.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

my debut in wonderland, or: the wicked witch goes on vacation

the weekend before last was a grand trip to osaka, a town for which my love has grown like a radioactive bunny. as my travel buddy has no japanese yet (how's the alphabet coming, d?), i was responsible for the arrangements. this was a good push for me and necessitated two entirely japanese phone conversations! we met at tsuruhashi station in the heart of osaka's korean district. yakiniku! yakiniku! when i stepped off the train, i could smell the garlic and beef on the air. YUM.
our weekend was characterized by a new and miraculous sensation for me~~that of knowing where we were and where we were going. we seemed to stumble easily onto the doorsteps of places for which we were searching, and we navigated the subways without a hitch. i guess i have learned something this year.
our first hotel was of the standard business variety. incredibly clean (they should call it japanese clean, 'cause it's a special kind of clean that you've never seen in america and can only try to imagine) and well-equipped. we arrived about twenty minutes before our check-in time and were offered a place to store our luggage, but they basically told us to get lost for the remaining nineteen minutes, so we pretty much just stood outside until it was time. everyone, meet my new friend danielle.

here's the bathroom with standard items: a dispenser with shampoo/conditioner/body wash, a razor, comb, toothbrush, and a toilet that will wash your butt if you want.

here's the nice, firm bed. (hear that mom? something else you'd love!) the comforter and carpet (often neglected in american hotel cleaning...i know, i was a maid) were without even a hint of previous-occupant ickiness.

the other amenities: a safe, tea maker with free tea, hairdryer, the book of buddha and the new testament, a flashlight charging under the desk, a tv, and a refrigerator. women (and women only; the website was very specific) got a bag of cosmetic samples upon check in, but we'll get to that later.

one special feature of this hotel is you must plug your room key into the wall to get the lights to work, as so:

the other special feature is the view of tommy lee jones out the window. he's in a series of very hilarious tv commercials for boss coffee. numbers 4 and 5 are my favorite...(for "lainbow" mountain)

we dove into a lovely evening. dotonbori was bright and full of people. we met kara and her mom at the best mexican restaurant in osaka, hermanos, and stuffed our faces. then we did some pre-shopping shopping and finally retired to try out our cosmetics bags.

we dressed up in the hotel pajamas and readied our faces with the provided hairband. we felt very laverne and shirley and took several really bad pictures that just make me look like a giant with three boobs. the so-called "essential" oils of the face wash got in our eyes and stung in that chemical burn kind of way. we tried to soothe our angry skin with the wet paper towel jason mask, but mostly we were just glad when it was over.

the next morning we headed out early to shop. even more hardcore were the people lined up waiting to be assaulted by pachinko. some highlights were:
an "only in japan" moment--anti aging scrub for your knees.

some HO~~TT boots for a mere $1300.

and some tuff faux leather jackets.

after that we checked into the capsule hotel! capsule hotels are only recently making areas where women can sleep, and as such, often the women's (womens'?) quarters are less nice than the men's. though still "japanese clean," our floor of capsules was on the basement level, so zero windows. boo. and the poor lighting didn't alleviate that basementy feel.
you get two keys, one to the auto-locking threshold through which men are absolutely not allowed (as you're free to roam naked from locker room to make-up room to capsule to bath if you so desire), and one to your locker. provided were hotel pajamas, curry yellow towels (clearance sale?), and a body sponge. the keys are on a neck cord so you can put on your one-size-fits-all PJs and look like a PE teacher too!
the capsule size was far from claustrophobic, though bear in mind, i chose to be buried underground for two hours as a performance art piece:

romping in capsule land:

the wicked witch watches TV:

lastly, and most brilliant of all, we shopped in what are called the lolita stores...shops overflowing with fluffy lace and ribbon-bedecked dresses of exquisite quality. i had hoped to find one of these frothy confections for my very own, but the girls at Baby, The Stars Shine Bright were less than friendly, and i felt very downcast after that. neverfear, though, the girls at Angelic Pretty were much sweeter, and i found a dress that i just had to have. i've been in love with white for a few years (thanks Apple), and my new dress is fashioned of white velveteen. it feels amazing to wear, and i spent so much money that i (gulp) could barely afford the train ride back home.
i've been bitten, though. i. am. obsessed with these dresses and check the websites daily to see what new ones have been posted. it's very alice in wonderland: wacky, feminine, and a little bit magic.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"the bird"

just there! i smell fall!
the leaves are still firmly grasping their trees, but something is starting to smell nice and smoky. i made pumpkin soup last night, and it was marvelously silky. autumn is my favorite time to cook.
on the school front, i finished my week in a delicious uproar. we were reviewing body parts, going over what each finger was called in english. ms. murakami, the other teacher, asked, "what is this finger called?" and pointed to her middle finger. the super-cute eager boy in the front row chirped out "f*ck you!" i almost had a heart attack laughing. they don't understand what these things they've heard on movies really mean, but they're trying so hard to make any connection and blurt it out, for which i am eternally grateful...after some blatant dicionary-checking to figure out why exactly i was turning so red with hilarity, we tried to move on. she wanted me to act "dizzy" so the students could guess what it meant. after some guesses like "feel bad!" and "ill!" one boy finally yelled out "CRAZY!" which i suppose is how i actually looked leering this way and that. finally, as we performed a short dialogue about illness, ms. murakami was supposed to say, "It'll make you feel better," but instead she said, "I'll make you feel better." and we lost it again! i pantomimed a sexy walk repeating, "I'll make you feel better!" which cracked up the rest of the class even though they were still trying desperately to figure out what i had said.
ahh, fun with english.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

how to get rid of door-to-door salesmen

step one: be foreign. this pretty much works for me.
one day i came home to a business card slipped in my mailbox. i ignored it.
the next day, as i was walking home, a man passed me on the path and asked politely if i was miss carroll. after my affirmative (i was all excited to get a package or something), he launched into a marvelous self-introduction characterized by polished bows and all the grandeur he could muster on a cheery spring day halfway up the hill to my house. he was a banker, my banker, apparently. my banker who rides a moped (snicker). he wanted to tell me some marvelous new thing to do with my money or maybe how to get the whitest whites, but my blithely uncomprehending face put him off pretty quick, and i've never heard from him again.
this was equally effective against the jehovah's witnesses.