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 (http://mdn.mainichi-msn.co.jp/waiwai/face/news/20050720p2g00m0dm024000c.html )
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.