Monday, April 30, 2007

Golden Week: Part 1

Golden Week is awesome- we get a 3 day weekend, go back to school / work for a couple days, and then get another 4 days off. It's also the week of the best weather of the year... the winter chill is gone and the hot and humid summer hasn't set in yet... For those lucky people who are "allowed" to take "nenkyu" (days off) in the middle of the week, this allows them to have 9 whole days off. Since I'm saving my precious nenkyu, I only took Wednesday off and saving the rest for when my guests come in July...

I went over to the Yoshida's house on Saturday, ate lunch and then got dressed up in a kimono, and went to a tea ceremony with Kumi and a few of her friends, including Oe-san. If Kumi is like my Japanese mother, then Oe-san is like my Japanese grandmother. She is this amazing little old woman who teaches kimono classes, paints and dyes kimonos, does "ikebana" (flower arranging), cooks wonderful food, has a beautiful home, and is one of the most stylish, well madeup women I've met here in Japan. Totally young at heart... After the tea ceremony, we went to Oe-san's house for more tea & sweets. I'm supposed to go over there again one day and she's supposed to put on a kimono for me and do my hair and makeup in the traditional Japanese way.

After that, Kumi and I rushed to get changed and raced off to her friend's house where we were going to meet Masami and pick "sansai" (mountain vegetables). This is supposed to be the short time when certain mountain vegetables were sprouting (?) blooming (?) so they put me in these giant work boots, threw an apron on me, and we all climbed up this mountain with plastic bags picking these wildly growing "vegetables". I think we were picking "warabi" and "zenmai" (fern shoots?). It was weird- only a few moments before, I was in this elegant kimono at a graceful tea ceremony. Next thing, I'm clunking around on a mountain picking vegetables. It was gorgeous though, and the view was spectacular. Almost all of the rice fields have been turned over, and already a few have been planted and filled with water. When we were finished, we all sat down for some tea and snacks and enjoyed the view.

Then, the Yoshidas took me to another friend's house nearby. He runs a silk factory in the back of his house, and they took me on a tour through the operation. There were several monstrous machinese with thousands of needles each that were "weaving" (?) patterned silk fabric for neckties that would be made in Kyoto and then shipped all over the world! All of this was happening in this sleepy little rice field town...

Sunday, I woke up with a really bad sore throat- I felt soooo awful, but I had promised the Yoshidas that I would spend the day with them. I took the train out to them, and they felt so bad for me, so they decided to limit the day's activities to driving around the coast, walking through fields of wildflowers, climbing up and down a precipitous mountain, scrambling over huge rocks at the ocean, and then going to an onsen. Another really gorgeous day but with my body aches and fever, I could barely hold it together. They delivered me to my house last night (along with the mouse poison) and I slept for 13+ hours....

Today, I relaxed and rested. I went for a nice bike ride in the afternoon and ended up at McDonald's... it was my first visit to the McDonald's in Miyazu! I got a Kit Kat McFlurry and sat out on the water for about an hour, soaking in the sun's rays. What a beautiful weekend!!!

Update on the Rodent Situation...

From what I've been told, this is the season when mice as well as other wild animals such as cats, raccoons, and weasels can make their way into homes at night. So, I should sleep well knowing that all my other neighbors are experiencing the same problem.

Kumi and Masami helped me buy some sort of high-tech rat poison where they eat these packets of poison which somehow chemically (?) forces them to go outside to die (?) because it is supposed to prevent them from dying and decomposing inside your ceiling / walls (?).

Well, I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pesky Neighbors!!!!

OK, so yeah.... it's Golden Week, yay! A 3 day holiday this weekend, four days off next weekend! The weather is warming up, trees are unfurling their spring green leaves and the farmers are all starting to turn over the dirt in the rice paddies. Winter is (I pray) gone for good, and I will not miss it one bit.

My rickety uninsulated non-flushing toilet, apartment is also undergoing some spring changes... My (t)rusty (ha! stole that from you, Bryn) hot water heater in my kitchen died a miserable death on me the other day... I pushed the big white button and the whole thing shook violently against the wall for about 10 seconds and then sputtered to a stop. Dr. Gas Repairman informed me that the heater was 18 years old and they did everything they could, but they don't even have parts that old to fix it. So I got a brand new beautiful MODERN hot water heater for my kitchen sink (instead of installing a new hot water line TO the sink).

Also with the start of the new school year, I have some new neighbors- a new first year high school boy now lives next door (my apartment building is also the "dorm" for students whose families live too far away for a convenient commute) and suddenly tonight, I was awakened by some frisky, squeaking noises and little scampering feet above my head. Now, I live on the 2nd floor of a 2nd story apartment, so what gives?

Yes.... I have.... mice. or rats. or some sort of horde of freaky claw footed squeaking little bastards running inside my walls, floors and ceilings of my apartment!!!!!!!

Oh my God.... this is a nightmare. I woke up to this awful screeching and echoing of little bodies thumping and running around, like mere inches from head. OK, so yeah, I live in the countryside. I can deal with the occasional frog or lizard in or around my apartment, boars and monkeys rooting around in the backyard, colorful spiders and their ginormous webs, and eagles soaring overhead- but this is TOO close for comfort! Even in New York, I haven't had to deal with rodents except for seeing the occasional one in the subway or streets!

Thankfully, they haven't gotten INSIDE my apartment, YET....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Weekend fun

Last weekend was awesome... We had a taste of summer- warm, humid weather, and I ran out and bought fresh flowers and a new plant for my bedroom. It's amazing how "homey" a place looks with some greenery...

So, Jason came up to the inaka from the big city (Kyoto)... the train station was a mess of students from both of my schools, and I'm sure it was the talk of the town that their AET was meeting this ginormous gaijin at the station... "boyfriend?!?" was about the most English they could muster.... and then collapse into fits of giggles. Aaaahhh, high school students.

Anyway, we enjoyed the jewels of Miyazu in the span of the afternoon- lunch at Dondonya (yumny udon & the friendliest shop keepers in Japan), caffeinated at the beautiful cafe next door, strolled along the river back to my apartment, and then rode bikes to Mipple. Jun had let me borrow her teeny tiny foldable bike so I rode that while Jason rode my bike. We looked like clowns but it was good times! The gaijins stormed Azitos that night and it was a fun random night.

The next day was cool and rainy... we went to the Yoshizu area, near Miyazu, to watch many of my (and Bryn's) students do their annual sword dancing in the streets. I can't do it justice, so read here for Bryn's very intimate experience....

Since it's more of a village festival rather than one of the big city productions, it was really mellow- people came out of their homes to watch as the large group moved through the streets, slowly making their way to the shrine. It was a slow, but very beautiful traditional ritual moving along to the beating of a big taiko drum in a "yatai" and men playing their wooden flutes than an exciting fast sword-waving festival. It was so cool to see many of my students partaking in such a beautiful ceremony (although some of them were a little embarrassed or felt "obligated")!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

(Waaaay) Belated Easter Party

I threw a belated Easter party for my ICC (English Club) last week.

We dyed Easter eggs, had an "eggroll", played "spring pictionary" and ate chocolate eggs.

It was... dare I say it.... EGG-cellent!

(oh, and props to the awesome t-shirt from my brother and Mindy!)

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Great Fall of 2007

Wow.... I thought that maybe I had finally broken my curse since I didn't have a "Fall of 2006".

For those who haven't known me that long, I have had a "Great Fall" for each year since the late 90's, ranging from slipping on a wet sidewalk and bringing garbage cans down with me (2000) to balancing precariously on a cable car in SF and ending up doing a very desperate pole dance to regain my balance (2002) to tripping over the railroad tracks and then having the train doors pull off my fingernail in order to try to keep them from closing on me when I was late for work one morning (1999).....

Read the book when I've finally finished it "I'm Not Japanese and Other Short Stories" for the rest of the "Great Falls".

Anyway, for today's mortifying fall....








I don't know how fast word will travel around school... (I'm not sure but I have a feeling this is the type of stuff that students will snicker about behind my back, but hopefully this wil be one of those Japanese things where it's so bad that they just don't talk about). It was definitely a "hazukashii" moment.... I may have just negated any "coolness" factors I have strived so hard to attain.

Jason- you were supposed to adjust my bike seat back down to its original level!!!!!!!!!!!!


Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech massacre

My heart and condolences goes out to all the victims and their families at Virginia Tech... and to fellow JET Joel, who lost his sister in the shootings.

(I feel awful that it took me so long to post this.) It is difficult to be so far away from family and friends at a time like this- especially with all the local festivals and dreamworld I feel like I am while "teaching" ("playing"? exploring?) in Japan...

However, I have been following the NY Times, my closest link to what is happening at home. Many of us JETs have been reading and discussing the articles and now are defensively and/or shamefully explaining the situation to horrified Japanese teachers and students. One of my teachers actually asked me if EVERY SINGLE American owns a gun, including me, because that is seriously what she thinks... like, yes, everyone drives a huge car, eats at McDonald's, and owns a handgun.

So, when will America stop? When will the lawmakers finally stop and think about changing our gun laws or where our nation's youth are going? I am ashamed of our blundering boorish behavior as world leaders and travelers, our huge gas guzzling cars, the vulgar tabloids and tacky reality shows, the high obesity, divorce, and lawsuit rates, and poor recycling habits (isn't it ironic that "Earth Day" originated in the US?)... Yes, the world loves America because of Hollywood- all those movies where beautiful movie stars fall in love and live happily ever after or courageously save the earth from destruction- HEY! WAKE UP! They're movies!!! They're NOT real! You know what's real? When mentally deranged people can easily get their hands on guns and wipe out innocent people all just trying to make their way in life..... well, I can go on for awhile but you'd get bored or angry so I'll end this rant now.

Oh, wait... one little thing.... I also worry about the backlash towards Asians now (as many innocent Arab-Americans faced after the 9/11). Yes, I also secretly hoped that he was "Not Chinese, not Chinese". As a Chinese-American who has faced racial stereotypes and discrimination as a child and even in the last few years, I fear the potential hate crimes and insults that many Asians will now endure as a result of the gunman being a fellow Asian.

On a lighter note, we do NOT all look same .

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Busy weekend!

I ended my exhausting first week of school with a fun, late night of belated birthday festivities, eating, and drinking....

Saturday night: Jazz concert in Amino (Becky's town, about an hour away from me). All the guests were requested to wear kimonos. Of course, the kimono girls were there: Kumi, Leigh, Becky (w/ Emiko), and surprisingly, Jun! Even though she is japanese, she's only worn a kimono a couple of times in her life, so Kumi got her decked out in one of her hundreds of kimono. We were all a little uncomfortable but it's amazing how easily Kumi moves around in hers (and walks in those tiny constricting zori) like she's walking around in a bathrobe and slippers!!

Sunday: Becky, Shinobu, and I headed to the big Kimono Festival first thing on Sunday morning. It sounds awful, but we were getting kind of "bored" with our kimonos, so instead of wearing our own, we "rented" (or I suppose "borrowed" since there was no charge) these GORGEOUS kimonos that they had on display. I fell in love with this silk sea green kimono with very long sleeves (to indicate that I was "unmarried"!) and the women who worked there quickly and nimbly put them on us (uh, constricted?) in no time. There were hundreds of new and used kimono, obis, and other accessories for sale, as well as beautiful fabrics, shoes, bags, hair pins, etc. There were also some traditional musical performances and tea ceremonies being held.

Outside, the streets were lined with stalls of food vendors, childrens' games, and a big stage for taiko and dancing performances. The weather was spectacular and there were several spots in front of old cherry blosson trees where the festival organizers would take and then print out complimentary photos for us! Becky, being the "gaijin" elementary / middle school teacher (aka local celebritiy), was such a hit in her beautiful kimono that people kept stopping her on the street to take her picture! At times like this, I was sort of glad that I blended in!

If I could spend the rest of my time here in Japan with nice, warm weather and going to festivals like this, I would be very happy... :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I was so thankful that the cherry blossoms were still blooming when I came back from China! I missed the only "hanami" party I knew about since it was on the same day I came back, but I did my share of "hanami" during my lunch hour and after school.

Even busted looking trees blossomed with the pretty flowers!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Beijing, China

Beijing was even more overwhelming than Hong Kong in the sense that it was so huge! There were so many people, so many roadways, buildings, bikes- the sprawl of the city seemed uncontrollable, kind of like an expanding Los Angeles on a grander scale. Hong Kong, like New York, is compact and dense, with everything and everyone constantly coming into contact with eachother, a dizzying rush of neon, traffic, and people of different colors and lifestyles. The last time I was in Beijing, I was only 10 years old, so this was an entirely different Beijing, and of course, viewed through "adult" eyes. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that China had "western-style" toilets- one thing that Japan still hasn't integrated into its system!

With China, it was a bit disorderly, chaotic, and yet, it all seemed to work. Beijing is not a walkable city with these HUGE intersections and boulevards, cars and bikes and scooters and pedestrians all scrambling to get across. There wasn't any sense of graciousness as in, "no, please, you go ahead" but rather a "get the hell out of my way or else you WILL get killed" mentality- everyone was fending for themselves. This did explain to me the annoying practice of the old Chinese grandmas in the New York and San Francisco subways who push themselves into the cars with little thought for other passengers!!

It is a constantly changing, evolving city of extremes, modern versus traditional, construction versu de- construction , vast versus cozy, expensive versus cheap. People wore everything from colorful, stylish clothes (lots of RED- yay!!!) and then there were people in traditional Mao jackets and simple peasant clothes. There were shiny bright cars whizzing by creaky rattling bicycles. Some places were mobbed with people and others where we were the only souls around. Even the weather was extreme- one day it was bleak and dreary gray, the next day it was gorgeous and springlike!

Paul (and consequently me) was constantly getting stared at (openly, rude double, triple, quadruple takes). For a city with so many tourists and foreigners, I was shocked at this. However, we did our best to shrug off the pushy street vendors, occasional homeless beggar, and ignore the ubiquitous spitting and urinating in public places.

We were amused by the "game" of bargaining everywhere, but shocked by the level of corruption that we faced daily from the selling of fake goods, DVD's, electronics, handbags, sunglasses, etc. to the cab drivers "not carrying change" to the scams of the factories paying tour guides commissions to take them there. We were constantly on guard in the fear / shame of "getting taken". With all the construction work going on in the city, we probably only saw 5% of the workers EVER doing ANY work. Usually they were sitting on the side of the street, smoking cigarettes, and STARING at passerbys.

We managed to get by in most places with our combined (but extremely limited) knowledge of Mandarin. Apparently, the exotic sounding "Bu Wei" beer is "Budweiser". In some places, beer was less than $1USD!