Thursday, December 15, 2005

A bit of seriousness for a moment…

I was seriously disturbed to hear that a fellow ALT and a good friend was assaulted by a ninensei (8th grade) student the other day. Apparently this kid is a 6 ft. + Goliath, and he straight up punched my friend in the face. It turned into the WWF Smackdown when other teachers intervened, the police were called and my friend had to go to the hospital to get checked out – I mean the works. This anomaly, in conjunction with a string of child murders that have occurred recently, have burst my Japanese-as-gentle bubble. Obviously, in a country with a population as large as this, there is bound to be some straight up what-the-fuckery, but it is something that I, and probably many ALTs, have not given any real thought to.

A few other things are coming to light such as the prevalence of hentai and rape porn and huge big box porn DVD/book stores, a general lackadaisical attitude in addressing problems with students, or just unpleasant problems in general, and a certain cultural isolation. The porn issue is a strange one because Japanese women are, for the most part, quite reserved in dress and action. Save for the high school girls who wear inappropriately short skirts, Japanese women don’t show as much skin as those in the West, if any at all. But there is a culture (I hesitate to call it a subculture because it is so insidious) that demotes women from humans to sexualized things to be consumed and expelled. I’ve seen Japanese porn in its 3-D and 2-D forms and I believe Western porn pales in comparison. I think what is particularly disturbing is how it features young looking characters in school uniforms being penetrated by obscenely huge members and/or things, all the while being depicted as simultaneously crying through and enjoying the experience. Go to any conbini, and you can pick up your own magazine or book. It’s interesting because these products are out in the open, yet there seems to be a sexual repression en masse. I’m not even going to get into my take on marriage, dating, foreign specific dating and sexual relations.

Another issue I’ve had firsthand experience with is the lack of foreign culture interest and exploration. This is to say that it seems than when “the other” enters the Japanese bubble, they are more than willing to ask questions and learn, and that’s great. However, most of my teachers of my school have never left Japan. A precious few have lived in other countries, but from what I can understand from the Japanese folk I talk to, most people don’t want to leave, even for a visit, because they love their country so much. I can understand this, as I love my country very much and I know that I will settle there, but I wonder if there is more at play here. Are they just scared? I don’t know and I’m not pretending to understand this aspect of the cultural psyche, but as time goes by, I hope to gather more information. Side note – I am more than aware that many Canadian and American’s have left their native soils, and while I find this a bit quizzical, it is more understandable as these countries are multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, while Japan is overwhelmingly heterogeneous. Save for international restaurants, multi-culturalism is non-existent here.

I’m not complaining at all, as I believe I have the exception-to-the-rule placement and my people seem to be pretty straightforward, honest, open and progressive (this may be attributed in part to having a sister city in Canada and yearly home stays). But I’ve read a few rants and heard stories from foreigners to backup ethnocentric stereotypes and theories. Regardless of this, I’m truly happy and not at all perturbed by this very alien culture (though the assault of my friend and the spate of child murders are more than a little disconcerting). I try to make no judgments just because things are different here. We all have our faults and I’m grateful that I’m just allowed to live my life the way I want. I guess I just had put this down as a sign that I have both feet on the ground. I have been very fortunate but I’m not naive.

With that being said, I suppose this is as good as time as any to announce that I will re-contract for a 2nd year. Everyone of note has been informed so I can tell my little e-world. I haven’t signed the document yet (they can sweat it out for a little while longer), but it’s pretty damn obvious to me (and probably to you, too). My abstract ideas are becoming more concrete every passing day, but it’s still too early to reveal them yet. Suffice to say, this experience has been above and beyond anything I could have possibly hoped for and believe there is much more for me to do here. And let’s be honest – I wouldn’t be able to fit all my travel plans into 12 months.

Wow, 2 posts in one day. I guess a byproduct of being cold all day is being more energetic. Lucky you, lucky me.
Gosh, things are getting busy…

Yesterday and today were snow days, and I’m actually glad that I had to go to school even though it seemed stupid and a tad dangerous to venture out. But I got a lot of work done for next week’s lessons and I got to update this thing as well. I have a couple of more hours to go before quitting time, but I’m sure I won’t be bored.

It was another awesome yet backbreaking morning at school today. All us teachers had to make a semblance of a path, and though there were no snowball fights or snow jobs, it was tons of fun:

It snowed all night and finally stopped sometime before noon today. I don’t know how much we got, but the snow was pretty high as I walked to school. I know it’s difficult to tell, but some of the teachers could have been buried alive if the natural snow walls collapsed…

But the sun is shining again and has started to melt the snow off the trees, but the white stuff is here to stay. I really don’t mind a bit.

I will be heading to Ena-cho to visit Dave tomorrow, which is about 3 hours from me. I’ll be doing a bit of shopping, a bit of eating and a lot of chilling. Then I’m off to a nice ALT Christmas party at Jeff’s place, which isn’t too far from me. I’m going to try to go to sports activities on Monday or Tuesday or both (if not, I’ll just work out with Billy Blanks); have my English conversation class on Wednesda; go to my work bonenkai (year end party) on Thursday and then crash at Druinie’s for the night, and then finally, travel to Osaka to get to Kansai International Airport to meet Melissa and her friend Teresa and fly to Beijing! There are still some last minute details to iron out, but we’re almost at the finish line. I know that I’ll experience some culture shock in China because it’s nothing like Japan, but I’m all about the adventure (except when it comes to public toilets). But I’m sure the food will more than make up for it. But then again, there’s that small matter of bird flu to consider…

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The snow brings out the kid in everybody…

Today Neo JHS and Elementary School had their first snow day of the season, and what a day it was! Neo mura is the proud bearer of the Most Snowfall in Gifu-ken Title. This morning, we weighed in at 126 cm, and it’s still snowing. The kids were safe at home while the teachers had to drag their assess to school, and I was cursing this fact like a semi-retarded sailor when I woke up this morning. Luckily, I wasn’t too despicable as I slept with my denki (electric) heater all night. I hauled ass and left my apartment 10 minutes earlier to meet my neighbours and we proceeded to shovel the car out of the snow. What was normally a 2 minute drive turned into a 15 minute odyssey into the Great White school parking lot. Takayama-sensei was the first to arrive and attempted to plow through the snow with his 4x4 and actually made good headway…until he got stuck. So we had to double back to the jutaku (teacher’s residence) and park in the driveway. We then took the treacherous walk along Route 157 to get to the JHS. It took us about 15 minutes to walk back and then we had to get to the building. By this time, the snow was around waist high and people were falling into the soft, soft snow. Luckily, this fate did not befall me as I was bringing up the rear (heh heh). We finally made it into the building and then left again to shovel a pathway for cars. Unfortunately, things just degenerated into a snowball war between the men (Usami and Moutou senseis) and the women (Kawai and Fukuda senseis, and I), complete with snow jobs, collapsed forts and snowy treason. I failed to mention that Usami sensei is the P.E. teacher, so he kicked our asses, but we didn’t go down without a fight. Obviously, we had too much fun as we jumped into the snow and made each other eat it. I’ve seen these people animated before, but never like this. We returned to the teacher’s room about an hour later, cold, wet, tired, hungry and satiated.

The fun and games didn’t end there as we had to prepare lunch for ourselves. Luckily, Tomomi the homemaking sensei was present and the women (ahhh sexism, so omnipotent!) got down to preparing homemade takoyaki (pieces of octopus covered in dough and cooked until golden brown), onigiri (a triangle shaped rice “ball” with some kind of stuffing), miso soup, skaimono (pickled daikon [radish]) and tea. It was really delicious and it was so fun to cook with these women, even though a few were pissed off when I pointed out the gender inequality…

After lunch, kocho sensei, the science teacher and I went around Neo to survey the awesome spectacle of snow in a mountain village. I think the photos can speak for themselves:

Gosh, you’d think I’ve never seen snow before, but never this much, even when vacationing in Northern Quebec. I’m going to Nagoya this weekend so I will be sure to pick up some decent boots and a snowsuit. Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The snow started falling a week ago...

But thankfully, a lot of it is gone. But I had quite a bit of fun in it. We got 40 cms in about 36 hours, so on Tuesday, I had some snow fun with my elementary kids. I wish I had photos because it was so fun. I got to fire snowballs at them and give them snow jobs and laugh gleefully when I pelted them in the chest and back areas. But trust me, it was an unfair fight. There were about 10 of them making snowballs as big as their head and launching them at me at the same time. I actually had to stop and explain the rules: no hitting Kaki sensei in the head (those who are close to me know I can't take it when my head gets hit), and no snowballs bigger than a fist. But I got my revenge on the kiddies and my throat was hoarse with laughter. Good times.

The arrival of the snow also made me realize how shit my boots are and that I will need to buy a new pair ASAP. I'm looking at these:
The unfortunate things is if I find these in Japan they may cost me around 300$ CDN. Though I have bitched about Uggs in the past, these are quite sexy and would look great with jeans or a short skirt. That really hurts but I need good quality boots now, especially since I don't have a car...

Well, it's Sunday night and I had a really good weekend. Dave and Shiloh came over and we went to the onsen to soak our week away. Though the temperature was around 0 degrees, we took our naked bodies outside and enjoyed the contrast of temperatures on our skin. We also talked ourselves into near oblivion and realized that we were late in meeting Dave. After we spent 100 yen on a massage chair, we got a bite to eat and headed to my place for a spot of tea and some Family Guy. Later on, we headed to town for dinner and had an amazing meal at a Chinese restaurant we've never been too. We had a helluva time ordering, but we got everything we wanted and then some. It was truly a mouth watering and satisfying experience...
Well, I'll be leaving to China in about a couple of weeks and I'm so excited. I'm looking forward to the exploring and the eating and the adventure. I hope it goes smoothly, but of course it will all be written about here, possibly while I am there.

Feeling sleepy. Time for a shower. Oh yes, I started seeing my breath in my apartment on Monday. This is not alarming considering the inadequate insulation in Japanese buildings. My co-workers are genuinely surprised by the fact that buildings have insulation and central heating/baseboards in Canada. I will never understand it. Okay, it goes to about -5 here, but still, when you can see your breath indoors, there's a problem.

Also, I went to dinner on two seperate occasions at a neighbour/co-worker's apartment. The Japanese don't usually invite people over so it was a nice feeling to be in her home for a nice home cooked meal. Luckily, I wasn't alone because she doesn't speak any English, but it was quite fun.

Til next time.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The snow has started falling...

It's beautiful outside. The snowflakes are fat and delicious and as I was observing them, I was struck with the feeling that Japanese snow was somehow different from Canadian snow. I know that must seem weird, but up here in the mountains where I'm far away from a fast paced life, it just felt so far removed. I don't know. But I like it.

I had a fab weekend in Neo. Yes, that's right. I stayed home. For the whole weekend. My first since getting here. Granted, I had company, but it was delicious. Phone calls home. Finally giving my apartment a thorough scrubbing. Curry chicken with brown rice, snacking on Pocky, feasting on (Japanese)sausages, hash browns and hard boiled eggs. Watching Family Guy, Trainspotting and Catch Me If You Can. Lounging in the warmth of a kerosene heater, far away from the city, from making plans, from everything. It was the sweetest thing.

I don't really have anything to report except that, and the fact that I rocked in the classroom last week. My JTE was late for 3 classes, so rather than twiddling my thumbs with the kids, I told them to go ahead and open the class ("Let's study English! Yes, let's study English!"), and led them into spelling games and discussions about their weekend plans. It may not seem like a lot, but it was definitely indicative of how well I've settled here and how easy things are at school. Well, most of the time. I had an absolutely crazy ninensei shogakko class -I was sure someone put crystal meth in their miso soup. Absolutely fucking bonkers. I couldn't believe my eyes and ears, but god, aren't they stil cute even when they are out of control???

Goodnight. Sweet dreams.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What makes/keeps me happy...

So I recently informed you about the absolute kindness of the people around me. From the beautiful cream coloured scarf I received, to the gifts of food, the little things remind me of the beauty of people and the comfort one can receive from things. So here is my list of what makes and keeps me happy.

1) Getting gifts/treats. Okay, I know this sounds a little wrong, but think about it: how do you feel when you receive a gift that is totally out of the blue? Amazing, right? Well, that's what I'm talking about. It means so much when at the end of a rigorous work day, you receive a couple of ripe kakis (persimmons), or a little box of mini cheesecakes. Or when your neighbour brings you a container of homemade food, just because she was trying out a recipe and had you in mind. I've been caught like a deer in the headlights when I receive gifts, but it never fails to amaze me just how grateful I am. Honestly, arigato gozaimasu is simply never enough.

2) Being adored by children/teenagers. Ok, I'm a bit of an attention whore, and let's face it - being Black in Japan warrants a heck of a lot of attention. But nothing really compares when the elementary school aged children think you're hot shit because you can jump really high, skip really fast, say somethings in Japanese or when you can write a non-sensical paragraph in hiragana. Seriously, these kids go apeshit and make me feel about 6 feet tall and 15 pounds lighter. I love hearing them scream their "sugoi's" and giggling when I'm being a goof. I also love it when the JHS kids think I'm cool when I talk about Hard Gay and Orange Range or sumo. It didn't take too long to win their respect, but now that I have it, I don't take it for granted.

3) Living in a very decent apartment. I've never actually lived in a honest to goodness shithole. I've had apartments that weren't the greatest, but never a shithole. But I've seen some and I can clearly imagine it, so I am very happy with my apartment. It's fairly new, clean, has all the amenities, comfortable, roomy enough for several people to hang out comfortably and just the right size for me. I am very grateful for that. And I'm really happy that I have these two bad boys, plus my A/C/heater and kotatsu (coffee table with a heater underneath) to keep me warm. My only gripe is that it doesn't have central heating, but this is symptomatic of all Japanese structures.

4) Packages from home. It's the end of the day at the shogakko (elementary school). The kids have been super genky all frickin day, you're hungry, you're tired but you still have to keep going until at least 4:30. But then there is a knock at the door, and the mailman has a package...with a red, white and blue symbol. It's the Canada Post symbol. The package is for you! You wave your hand before he can even say your name. You try to be patient and open it in the privacy of your home, but you can' wait, you just can't wait. Rip envelope. Spill contents on the desk. Hug the contents. Sigh. The other day I received another package from one of my sisters. I knew what was going to be in it, but still, to receive it was such a joy. I've been pouring over my Glamour and Essence magazines like a coke addict, and I did the Tae Bo tape the afternoon I got it. Really, who needs food, money and sex when you've got that??!? (Ok, I confess, I need all the others too, but packages from home is THE SHIT). Thanks, Lisa.

5) Invitations out of the blue. I went to a yaki niku (BBQ meat, as in grill your own, fool!) restaurant the other night with a couple of ladies I play indiaka with and two of my neighbours. Even with the language awkwardness, it was a fun evening with lots of great food, jokes and dare I say, bonding. And the most awesome part was that we only had to pay half of what was owed because the payee insisted on that. I love that.

6) Gettin O Magazine in the mail. Ok, so there are 2 issues missing from my subscription and I was checking my mailbox everyday like it's going out of style, but when it came, I nearly did the dance of joy. I love Oprah, I love magazines, I love reading. This is a no brainer.

7) North American television shows. I think there may be a total of 4 English shows here, including Murder, She Wrote! (Go get 'em, Jessica). But it's an absolute pleasure to watch t.v. in your native language, you have no idea! What's even better, though, is watching the latest shows in English. Unfortunately, I only have an ISDN connection so it takes way too long to download, but when I get to watch them, I'm tickled pink.

8) Having great friends in this country. I believe that one truly needs to have the love and support of friends and family in order to survive. I have brillant friends and an awesome family who love me back home. But unfortunatley, they are not here, and though I miss them wildly, I am so happy, and I feel so blessed to have amazing friends here. Thought I've only lived in this country for 4 months, I feel like I've forged good, solid relationships with people from all over the world. They make me laugh, they are dependable and we share at least one common bond (Japan). And that makes me feel safe and warm, and all gooey inside.

9) Being surrounded by nature. My friend/predecessor Dave said he took for granted the natural beauty of Neo and really regrets it. I am aware of his mistake and I use all my senses when I'm outside to fully appreciate my surroundings. It is so beautiful here, it's breathtaking. Sure it's cold, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I mean, I saw snow falling on the mountains further north yesterday, and it was amazing. Simply beautiful. I'm a lucky miss.

10) Living in the moment. It was extremely tough for me to live in the moment prior to getting here. But Japan has already taught me the importance of doing so. I'm so plugged in, it's dangerous. I guess it's a combination of still being wonderstruck, of not knowing what the future brings, and simply being content in my relatively quiet country life (well for 4-5 days out of the week, anyway).

So there you have it. I've been meaning to share this for a while, but whoop, there it is.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Before I start on my recap of this past weekend, I want to once again reiterate my love for the Japanese, and in particular, my townsfolk.

This morning, I had barely slipped on my huge bathrobe when there was a knock at the door. I thought it may have been my neighbour passing by to drop off something school related (there are only teachers in my building). Anyhoo, it was a little obachan (grandmother) who I see walking her dog and who I play indiaka with. (Indiaka is a game similar to volleyball except the ball looks like a very small, flat volleyball with a huge shuttlecock attached to it). I played indiaka last night. Obachan had a bag in her hand and she started firing off in Japanese. I initially thought I forgot something at he gym then I caught the words nagai (long) and muffla (scarf) and realized that she was giving me a new scarf because she thought the scarf that I have was too long. Picture this: me in a huge purple bathrobe with my sleep face on standing in my doorway completely shocked. I must have said arigato gozaimasu a million times, then when I closed the door, tears immediately came to my eyes. Isn't that something??? I swear, I've never been exposed to kindness like that. And this lady is cool. She's probably around 60 and she's a great indiaka player. When I play against her, I'm like, oh crap. When I'm on her team, I'm like, oh crap. I wore my new scarf this morning. I'm still a little awestruck. I heart these people.

Well, I had another amazingly amusing/exhausting weekend. It started on Friday night when Aussie Dave came over with all the makings of chicken thai curry. The agreement was that I was to cook (I still don't know how I got suckered into that) and dinner came out really well. We watched a couple of downloaded episodes of the American Office (I watched the pilot episode last year and didn't like at all, but it has greatly improved), and my favorites Law and Order and L&O SVU. We went to bed fairly early because we had to get up at 6:00 a.m. to go to a Shogen Temple and Shogen Junior College in Minokamo City. Shogen Jr. College is a training place for Zazen monks. They go there for a period, and when they are ready, they can leave.

We were very successful in waking up and leaving the apartment on time and picking up Shiloh nearby (it was her bday - more on that later). We met up with the other trip participants and boarded our very deluxe bus and we were off. The sum up the day: it was a cultural experience. We meditate for 15 minutes three times, for a total of 45 minutes (!!) and I allowed myself to get beaten with a stick by a buddhist monk! I'm not really clear on what the meaning behind this was, but did it hurt. The monk said that he was basically channelling Buddha and maybe the beating was to beat all desire out of me and build character. It was four whaps to either side of my back while I was bent over in a sitting position. I think most of our gaijin group got whacked, but I was one of the first ones.

After our beating, we practiced the art of batik dying. What this is is writing a message or a character on a piece of cloth with melted wax. Then the cloth is dyed and out comes the character in white. I chose the kanji for dream and it came out pretty nice. While the cloth was getting died, we were allowed unrestricted access to the grounds, living quarters and sacred areas. We were told that this never happens, but for some reason, it was our lucky day. We learned a lot about self denial, discipline and spiritual strength. I'm not going to get into detail because that would seriously be too long, but it was definitely enlightening. And to top it all off, we were graced by the presence of the MOST STUNNING MAN OF ALL TIME (cue echo). Seriously, he was beautiful and every man, woman, and child would be lying if they didn't agree. You decide.

By the way, this temple/school is 700 years old and everything was impeccable. Un-freakin-believable.

After we left Shogen-ji, we went to have a delcious, Japanese-y, delectable FREE lunch nearby and we left stuffed. After that, we piled into out bus and headed to a sake brewery to discover the wonders of sake brewing. Now I know where all that good stuff comes from. We even got to sample a couple types. Then we walked over to a 200 year old hotel. The grounds were just breathtaking. Here is Shiloh and I supermodelling.

The day was absolutely wonderful and I wish I could record every single detail, but it just seems a bit too daunting right now. But I had a blast chatting and laughing with Shiloh, Dave, Christina and others. But Shiloh especially. I'm lucky to have such a cool girl as a friend. Thank goodness she lives relatively close by.

So, as I mentioned before, it was Shi's bday and the fab day continued. After we finished with our cultural experience, we hooked up with Ed and went back to Shiloh's place to get ready for the evening. Her neighbor Ryan came over and then we all headed to this fantastic buffet style restaurant for a feast. But before we dug in, we waited for the whole group to assemble. Honest to goodness, hand to God, these were some of the nicest, funniest, coolest people I've had the pleasure of eating and laughing with in a long time. Over half the guests were Canucks, and the kicker of the night is I met my predecessor - like from 7 years ago!!!! He's still in Japan! And he's Black! Like me!! When I made sure of his name and he confirmed where I lived, it clicked that this is the ALT who worked in Neo years ago! A lot has changed since he was an ALT - he used to live in a rundown house with no running water, or maybe no hot water. Whatever it was, it was bad!!! I'll say it again - I'm so lucky.

After our fantastic feast, we headed to Jungle for karaoke. It's amazing how much fun people can have singing their hearts out and being completely sober. FOR 4 HOURS! Man, did my throat hurt! But it was great. The only downside to the whole evening was getting precious little sleep because Shiloh is an awful sleep talker. She seriously yells in her sleep. LOUD. I had to push her a few times, but my sleep was wrecked. Holy shit. Everyone's got a dark side; this is hers.

On Sunday, Shiloh was ever to kind to take me shopping and her, Ed and I bought groceries then hooked up with Jeffrey to eat breakfast and then go to the new Harry Potter movie. It was a really good flick, but it was pretty dark. And I must admit, I did tear up. After dinner, we went to a couple more stores to pick up a few things, and I was so ecstatic, like falling down on my knees and praising God ecstatic when I found Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal, and in my favorite flavour - Maple and Brown Sugar. I really need oatmeal on those cold winter mornings, and now I've found it at a place called Liquor Mountain. Can ya guess what they sell? But they also have a good selection of foreign foods and snacks. Yay!!!

Anyway, needless to say, the good times continue and I'm having so much fun. I'll soon update you on what really makes me appreciative of my time here. I think I've probably written too much. A million apologies.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can you feel the love tonight...

Is it possible for your heart to grow to insane proportions and your soul to change in four months? Is it possible to fall in love over and over and over again, then when you think you are satiated, it happens again? Is it possible to having a deep wanting for the familiar but simultaneously embrace the alien? I recently read Dan in Japan's latest entry, and after thinking about it for a little bit, I think I'd have to answer yes to all these questions. Coming from an individualistic society and one that doesn't often demonstrate selfless acts of kindness, it is mindboggling how giving the Japanese are. Sure, I live in inaka and country folk are probably more kind than city folk, but as a whole, from what I've heard in seen from people in other prefectures, in cities, towns and villages across Japan, this behaviour seems to be indicative of the Japanese culture. I don't know what it is, but I love it.

I've been having a really great time over the last few weeks. I've been bonding with my friends, feeling really comfortable at school, getting along with my co-workers and studying Japanese. I'm so content. I'm also really looking forward to my trip to China. It's going to be awesome and I'll share that experience as well.

So here are some pics you can enjoy and you see what I've been up to:

These are from the Gifu Cultural Festival I particpated in on November 13. It was awesome and I had a lot of fun. Some of my friend came and I even got a yukata as a gift.

These pics are from Nagoya on November 25. My friends and I took my Canadian friend, Elise, there for a good time. Karaoke, walking around seemingly for hours, dancing and drinking in a tiny bar and crashing in our hotel room is an all too brief summary of the evening.

And the beautiful view of/from Gifu Castle on November 20.

I will post soon about my weather situation and what I did on the weekend. As the Japanese say, she-you!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Fuckity fuck fuck fuck!

I updated my blog majorly and then I lost it because I was doing a little experiment with my battery. FACKKKKKK!!!!!! Anyway, I'm fine, no earthquakes, it's cold, I went to Nagoya twice, got my hair braided and don't like the results, it's cold, I volunteered at a cultural fest and was given a yukata and a hand written scroll, I caught a cold, and now I'm takin a shower and heading for bed. Plus it's really cold. First frost of the snow appeared this morning. Cue the jaws music - winter's a coming!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Can't mess my Flow...

This post is dedicated to Flow; a graffiti god, a low key comedian, a novice DJ and a great friend. I came home last night to receive a package of Montreal goodness and I nearly died from happiness. Check out my booty (not that one):

Newspaper articles from my beloved Montreal Gazette, the Under Pressure 10th Anniversary magazine, flyers, a CD and a book on pitbulls written by Paul 107. Can you feel the luv??? I felt it and it made me dizzy. Thanks Flow - you're a prince among men.

Things have been going really well, though this week seemed to go at a snail's pace. Not much new - still have the same busy schedule and still loving this place. I'm trying to focus on arranging things for China, but my god, I wish I had a full day to myself. Maybe December 17...but I doubt it. Actually, there's a holiday on November 23rd. Maybe I can stay home then. Yeah, that's the ticket...

I went to an old folk's home with my san-nensei class on Wednesday and nothing says "you're gonna die!" (You must say this in an Adam Sandler's kind of voice) like being around decripit old people all day, especially Japanese old people. I'm not sure, but they may have the highest life expectancy in the world. There were four people celebrating their birthdays on the day that we came and they were all in their 90's. Some of them were in quite the state. I kept staring at a lady who looked mummified. It was fucking depressing. Shit. But on the bright side, my kids really cheered them up by talking to them, feeding them food, and playing a few songs on the okarina, a sort of flute/seashell thingy. I was in there too and had a few admirers but some people were just dumbfounded by my presence. Meh. Here are my kids:

Fack, I'm tired today. I guess it's because I got my period today (yeah, I said it. WHAT?). I've also started exercising in an effort to get rid of this excess around my waist and hips. I went jogging twice this week and was going to go again today, but it was raining so I stayed indoors. I broke out the skipping rope and skipped in the hall then I did some tae bo kicks, side kicks and roundabouts which are great for my thighs, hips and ass, then broke it all down with crunches. And I've been seriously stocking up on the veggies, especially the dark green ones (gotta kick that anemia) and saying dame! to rice. I'm serious! Ain't no half steppin'!

Shit. Japanese t.v. can be so vacuous sometimes. I won't even get started. I'm dying for some Law and Order, CSI, Seinfeld reruns, the Simpsons, Oprah and Sex and the City. Ok. Gonna stop bitching. Gonna cut up some fruit and check out possible hotels in China. Peace!

Oh, shot out to the crew's new addition - RORY!!! I love that name and I love him already!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Today was an awesome day...

I've recently come to realize that I am about 90% settled here, both physically and mentally. My apartment is inviting, clean and hospitable, but I could use a few wall hangings and a lamp to spruce up the place. I know where to go to buy food, cheap clothing and household goods and electronics, but I don't know where to go for a manicure or aesthetics. I feel comfortable enough speaking to people in Japanese, but I still get stuck in conversations. And I sometimes wake up feeling like I just want to turn on the heater and sleep until I feel like puking. With a sense of settlement comes a sense of laziness and aversion to work. I love the kids, I love the teaching environment, and once I get there, I'm super genki, but lord help me, when it's 7:10 a.m. and I can practically see my breath in my bedroom, I just want to say to hell with work. But I get up, determined not to take a personal/sick day until I'm on my deathbed. Once I have my class though, I've forgotten about the hellish first few moments of consciousness and am happy to be where I am.

Yesterday I had a half day because I had to go to a demonstration class put on by Ed and his JTE, but my classes at the JHS rocked. Everything just worked: I was entertaining, the kids were receptive and were learning, and there were lots of laughs. I had lunch with the first grade class and they almost made me snort water out of my nose due to their hilarious Hard Gay ( )
impersonations. It's funny because 3 months ago, I was the resident freak that really had to put in effort to get the kids to respond to me. Now, I can't get them off of me (but I love it, I really do!)

Today, I had my classes at the elementary school and they went so well. I gave the 3rd grade a lesson on actions/"I like to" and they were really excited and tried really hard. We did Halloween (don't ask) in 1st grade and we got to practice trick or treat where I was allowed to give the kids either a trick (a tickle) or a treat (pretend candy) or both. They literally would not let me leave. They formed several human walls that I had to tickle or jump my way out of. 5th grade was awesome today as we had a lesson on classroom items. The teacher taught me the Japanese word for fart (onara - polite, or he - casual) and I kept saying it throughout class, much to their delight. At the end of class, Nana, who is usually quite quiet and polite, gave me a sheet to write who my favorite band is and why - in Japanese. I said ganbarimasu - I will try my best. I thought that was pretty cool.


On Saturday, Christina and I went to Kyoto, which was nearly better than last year's trip. We went to the Imperial Palace, Ginkakuji (the Golden Pavillion) and Yasaka Shrine in Gion (Geisha district). We ate the most satisfying Indian meal at an underground restaurant and had an excellent time. We didn't get lost or encounter any problems as Kyoto is nearly foolproof (if you want any tips, let me know!) Here are some of the highlights. I'll update my Flickr accounts soon, I promise!

These two dudes cracked open their Asahis at around 9:00 in the morning. I had to have a picture. The one beside Chris seemed to favour me quite a bit. I was nervous that he would take my picture with his camera phone and put it on the internet...kinda like what I did.

It's getting really cold in the schools. Maybe I should have picked somewhere warm to go this xmas...

For lunch today, I had curry udon, walnut bread, some baked potato fish thing, something that resembled coleslaw and a tangerine. Are they trying to get me to be fat? I've decided that I need to start jogging during the time between lunch and soji (cleaning time). I could've gone to badminton today, but it's cold outside and I'm tired. I'm going to study Japanese instead.

Tomorrow I am going to the old folk's hospital. I'm prepared non-stop yapping and a few "anato wa kirei desu. (you are very beautiful)" Should be a treat!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Famous last words...

I really, really was going to go home after the meeting, or at the very latest, right after dinner. I was going to take the train back home to my quiet village, walk home in the dark with my flashlight and enjoy my own company. I was going to take a scalding hot bath, sip a glass of red wine while listening to Morcheeba and have a good time. I was going to go to bed at a reasonable hour and spend the next day, a holiday, just stone cold chillin...However, things, as they tend to do, did not work out as planned.

On Wednesday, Gifu JETs had the mid-year conference (how could it be mid-year if we've only been here for 3 months???). It was dreadfully, mind-boggingly LAME; we were given tips on how to do our jobs and be better team teachers by people who aren't even JETs!!!???! I spent a good deal of time studying Japanese or chatting or learning new Japanese words from Shiloh (it was sooooooooo good to see her again - more later).

And the end of the day, I had to decide on whether or not I was going to go to the dinner I signed up for, and at the last minute, I decided, why not? But after dinner, I would definitely catch a ride to the train station with Jeffrey and go home. Hrrrmmmmm...

Well, after some non-sensical car pooling, I arrived at the restaurant and sat with some people I've never met before, and some people I haven't seen in a while. The dinner was tabehodai and nomihodai (all you can eat and drink), and the food was a lot better than expected. But then again, if you don't have any expectations, you can't be disappointed, right? Anyway, dinner was good, conversation was flowing and I was really enjoying myself. I got to catch up with the N. Irish cutie, Craige, who I'm kissing in the picture, meet some nice folks and have a good time joking/fooling around. But by the end of the dinner, it seemed that it was too early to go home. I was laughing too hard and when Ed said he wanted to go to karaoke and asked what I wanted to do (we were supposed to go back to our area with Jeffrey), I decided to stick around. One of the main reasons was probably because of Shiloh, the coolest Canadian (besides moi) in the whole prefecture. We hadn't seen each other since Camp Horado in August, and had been trying for weeks to get together. We had recently realized just how close we live to each other so we were trying. Anyway, this girl is funny and has some of the best stories. Ed, Shiloh and I make a pretty good team, so Tuesday was something of a reunion. I'm soooo happy that I stayed.

Ok, so here's the deal: I suck donkey balls when it comes to singing. I hate when people say "everyone can sing." It's just not fucking true. I CAN'T SING. But that's besides the point. I killed some songs during karaoke that night (see picutre at the beginning of this post), but it felt so awesome while I was doing it. It didn't matter that Ed and Shiloh can actually sing - it was just cool doing it together.

The high point of the night occured when I attempted to slip off Ed's blazer and he told me that wasn't a good idea. He turned around and opened his blazer to reveal that he had not one, but two large size glass bottles of beer he nicked from the restaurant! I couldn't stop laughing. You have to understand that Ed appears to be uppercrust - he's clean cut, he went to school with the princes, he has a high brow accent - the works. Then he starts talking shit and doing things that are so amazingly GHETTO. I love that boy.

After karaoke ended, Shiloh, Ed and I piled into her tiny car and headed back to our area. We had planned to drop Ed at his place and Shiloh and I would go to her apartment. Well, things changed at Ed's and we all ended up sleeping in his one room, typically bachelor styled apartment. No comment.

Shiloh and I shared the single bed while Ed took the futon on the floor. Shiloh and I spooned (we both listed this as one of our hobbies), but we ended up fighting in our half drunken (okay, my half) half sleeping states. Elbows to faces! Bums to bums! One on top of the other!! It was classic. Ed had to get up early to go to work on the holiday and Shiloh and I finally got our asses up at 10:00 a.m. We parted ways around 12:30 and I got home an hour later. Needless to say, I had a blast. I'm looking forward to hanging out with the both of them again (should be this Sunday for brunch!).

Today is Friday and I had only 2 classes today, but it's cool. My first class with the JHS 2nd graders was really fun. Today's lesson was accepting or declining an invitation. The skit was for K-sensei to invite me to a rock concert and I had to be all genki about it. When she told me it was her band, I did the typical Japanese "ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" You have to be here to understand how this is so pervasive. Anyway, that slayed the kids. Then the kids had to invite each other to different things in order to practice. Not to be one to stand on the sidelines, I jumped in there and asked a couple of boys out on dates. Unfortunately, I got turned down BOTH TIMES! (Am I losing my touch?). They loved it though. They were laughing so hard, they couldn't breath. At the end of the class, we sang happy birthday to one of the kids. It was a great class. I really love these kids.

Up next: Kyoto tomorrow!

By the way, these are the ladies that I have English conversation with. At the exact moment that I took this picture, the one on the left farted...We are having an early New Year's Eve party next week. Mmmm. Food. So excited.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

There are so many things...

I want to write about everything I've seen, I've felt, I've smelled. The days are falling so quickly into each other and I'm struggling to keep up. Like on Sunday, I went shopping with a student and her mom and we went to one of those smoky game centres to have our photo taken in a booth. I had so much fun posing with her and then decorating our pictures on the interactive photo selector. Now I have memories of a really cool day with a really cool girl forever. Or, when I saw a family of Black people in a super cheap Winner's-type store. It was almost cliche that I saw Black people in a discount store. For a moment I thought I was back home. Or today when K-sensei made a girl cry in front of me. I hate tears from people I don't know, but this was especially bad because this girl basically just failed a test, so getting a "pep" talk from the English teacher was probably the last thing she wanted to hear.

I want to tell you that I'm getting blisters on my hands and feet from kendo practice today. I want to describe how liberating it was to scream and brandish a wooden sword. I also want to tell you how much I like my english conversation class members and what kind of treats they bring me. Or howI didn't go to badminton last night but still managed to get some treats that where distributed there. I also want to tell you how I went jogging two days in a row and how my ass muscles hurt and how much I love it.

I want to describe the emotions that went through my body when I found out that there may be a slight chance that I could be transferred to another school if I were to recontract. How my thought pattern is these days and how much I'm loving the person I am and becoming, while realizing a few important things about other people - "my, myself and I, that's all I got in the end". Or how much my Japanese is progressing and how rapidly my English is disentegrating.

I want to write about finding out that one of my sister's friends died a violent death in a club last week. How sad I am for his family and how grateful I am for mine. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with my thoughts about love, life, future, money, sex, time, hair, things, work, happiness and what the fuck it all means.

But I'm so tired. My shoulders hurt from being hunched over my computer. I should stay home this weekend, I know I should but it is looking less likely.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Eating: The New Sex...

Today I had an orgasmic experience. Some people, okay boys, believe that Japan is a heathen haven where anything goes and hedonism and self satisfaction is god. And from what I've seen, heard and experienced, there is a smattering of that, and you can usually find it hand and hand with alcohol. JETs, in particular, can be a particularly incestuous bunch. My feelings on this usually range from "vive la sexe libre!", to "shouldn't the incidence of unplanned pregnancy and STDs be much, much, much higher among JETs??", to "yes, I am enrolling at the nunnery. Now, does this chasity belt make me look fat?". It changes like the weather, but I know for certain that nothing trumps the heat between 2 people when they are in love, or in serious, serious like. But I'm digressing.

Anyway, like I was saying, I had an orgasmic experience. Ed and I ventured into the big city and a visit is not complete with Mos Burger. Ok, for those who don't know, Mos Burger is a fast food resto that has awesome burgers. My fave is the Fureshi (Fresh) burger that consists of a patty, some kind of mayo/ketchup sauce, a tomato and letture. It is usually quite delicious, but for some reason today, it was orgasmic. Ed and I were literally moaning with pleasure and rolling our eyes. It was a sight: two gaijin sitting at a table moaning and groaning over hamburgers. With conviction in my voice, I stated to Ed: (smacking of lips) "Ed, this is my new sex." He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said "Neh. " (He's a Brit-Scot). "It's better than sex." There was no argument, no further discussion; it was just so. And the best part is that there is no awkwardness, no silly post-coital stunted conversation, no fumbling. When it is done right, food is just sooo good.

Sometimes another good sex replacment is shopping and Ed and I came to the big city to check things out. I had my heart set on buying the new 30 GB ipod that plays videos and tv shows, but Yamada Denki didn't have it. Apparently, they'll only have it in about 3 weeks. I was so disappointed. I think I couldn't stop talking about how disappointed I was for about 15 minutes. We went to Takashimaya (sexy, sexy department store complete with Coach, Chanel, Burberry, the works) before Yamada and I didn't buy anything but presents and some truffles because I was going to plunk some coin on the ipod and it wasn't there. Like bad sex, shopping can also be highly unsatisfying.

Anyway, we missed the 4:00 train home and that meant (cue scary music), I had to walk home in the dark. I called Nakano-san to come pick me up, but unfortunately, he wasn't home. So I called Mel to keep me company (thanks Mel!!). Let me say this: it was fucking scary. For the majority of the 15 minute walk(!), it was pitch black. I heard rustling in the bushes and I freaked the fuck out. I kept thinking "It's only 6:30. Far too early for rapists and bears!" But I got home safe and promised myself that that wouldn't happen again.

Yesterday I went out to dinner with some peeps, thus reneging on my promise of a FULL weekend of me time. But it turned out to be quite fun. Ed, Christina, Aidan, Emily, Jeff and I hooked up at a pretty fancy, authentic, Chinese restaurant. However, the portions were ridiculously small, which caused some raucous behaviour - Ed: "fucking Chinese!!!" While he was bitching about the portion size, he failed to realize that we were in the company of not 1, not 2, but 3 Aussies of Chinese origin. Bu we had a good laugh about it later. Really.

Let's see...what else...This past Monday, I went to a farewell enkai for my pred Dave. Irregardless of the fact that he left Neo in July, the party, the food and the company were great. And hey, an all you-can-eat, all you-can-drink really is the best way to start a week.

I've received my study materials for beginner's Japanese from JET. I've been studying and practicing and surprise myself and a couple of friends with my language skills. It was unobvious to me just how much my vocab had grown but I really put it to good use today and yesterday. In fact, I had to be the interpreter a couple of times. My application of particles sucks ass, but I can generally be understood. YAY for me!!! So happy! Makes me want to keep on trucking!

I also received my re-contracting papers. Yes, the deadline is Feb. 6, but I think the JET people just want to lay the seed early to make sure we are thinking about it. Or maybe, the want us to re-contract now before the "death-month" arrives. FYI, IMO, the "death month" is February. The absolute fucking worst month of the year. I shudder to think about it. Anyway, to stay another year...I think about the things I have missed in Montreal, the little things I miss everyday, the things I will miss. I think about my loved ones and their lives and I think about my future. I think about how much I am enjoying my life here and the progress I've made and the growth I've undergone. I think about the places I want to see and the things I want to do. I think that July is closer than it seems and I think I won't be able to do everything I want to do by then. I haven't signed anything but I think my heart and head know...

I found out that I am anemic once again and I am bummed. I was hoping that my all encompassing tiredness (I've had to take cat naps in the school bathroom) was due to an overactive lifestyle, but alas it ain't. I was also informed that I have put on a couple of kilos and my fat % is over the "normal" level for me, so I gotta lose 5 pounds. I had an informative chat with the dietician and I've put on my conscious eating hat again, along with my running shoes, so it will be a matter of time before I return to my fighting weight.

Last thing: I booked my flight to China today!!!! Very excited now!!! Departing from Osaka on Dec. 23 and arriving in Beijing. Will be in Beijing on Christmas, Hong Kong on New Year's, and will fly out of Shanghai. It's 2 months away, but I'm so excited. Ahhh. To me, this is life.

Ok, this is the real last thing: This is a picture of the sky at dusk the other day. The picture itself is kind of bad, but the colours were breathtaking. God is everywhere.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Buddha says everything is going to be okay...

One of the things I like about myself is that I am resilient. I allowed myself to really feel that low so that I could get over it and move on. I cried, I sulked, I daydreamed and then I made some phone calls and sent some messages and I feel pretty much back to normal. And oh yeah, I had a kick assed weekend.

I just wrote in very great detail everything I did and even had some personal insight into myself, but then I pressed the wrong button so everything went to shit. Crap. It was good too. I don't have the time to start over so please enjoy my pics.

Fire on the water...Saturday was the last day for cormorant fishing. It was the most romantic thing I've seen while living here. To find out what cormorant fishing is, go here:

This is the cormorant fishing master and the ukai. The fishing demonstration was both beautiful and cruel. However, the birds are very well treated and appear very healthy.

This is Ed and myself at Cafe Yurla. He was doing everything in his power not to smile, but to appear creepy and antagonistic. Unfortunately, he is the sweetest young man and it's always a great time when he blesses me with his presence. The woman in the background is one of the most naturally gorgeous people I've seen in Japan. Ed was gaga over her and I was enthralled so I told her how beautiful she was. She blushed and then told me how beautiful I was and how much she liked my hair. Too bad that tipping is not done in Japan because she would have received a huge pourboire from me.

This is Ed and Jeffrey hamming it up.

After brunch, we headed to Tsutaya ("the Blockbuster of Japan", but better), where I bought Bjork, Greatest Hits; Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit; Alicia Keys, Songs in A Minor (525 yen), and Norah Jones, Feels Like Home (525 yen). I had to take a picture of this because I need to show you how "urban" music is classified here. I've had several Japanese people tell me that they like "Black music", but holy cow.

Ok, I'm off to the shower then too bed. I just got back from an enkai (dinner and drinking party) and I'm bushwacked. There were about 100 courses and I ate everything and feel ready for a diet, even though I was complimented on my "beautiful body". That's one of the funny things about Japan - Japanese people won't touch you, or want to be touched by you unless they are drunk, but they will say without hesitation that your body is hot. Wakarimasen (I don't get it). Oh yes, I'm going to try traditional Japanese dancing this Friday and I hope to stay local this weekend, meaning sleeping in my own bed.

Shout out to Dan in Japan and Steph for their encouraging words. It's nice that we're all in this together and I just hope to return the favour some day.

Another shout out to Flow for sending me the link for the old skool break beats. I'm listening to it right now and it is taking me to the days of Groove Society and watching Tactical Crew do their thang on the cardboard. Ahhhh, everything was so new and shiny then...I loved it. Thanks for bringing back those memories (inadvertedly I suppose). Ohhh, shit - Rob Base, "Joy and Pain", that's the soundtrack to my life. Ohhh, damn, BBD, "Poison". "Never trust a big butt and a smile". Again, the soundtrack to my life.