December 3, 2002

It's about 1:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday. I just returned from the second day of teaching the Fireman and Paramedics basic emergency English. Man that was a blast again. They are just a fun group. We played the criss cross game again where they all stand and we say different body parts in English and they raise their hand and say it in Japanese. If they get it right their whole row of people can sit down. First we go front to back, the next time we do it left to right. If you answer but get it wrong, your whole row has to stand up, depending on which way we are going that time. One guy got "liver" right away and sat down, but then he gave someone the answer for "thumb" so we made him stand back up. All the people in his row were teasing him for having to stand up. The next time around the word was "leg" and he raised his hand first and said Japanese for face, and we said wrong so he said "oh no too bad please stand up". So everyone who teased him had to stand. We were impressed with his logic.

Then we had them do role play where they would act out being sick, or unconscious, or whatever. All in English of course. For one part the role was "commit suicide". Someone got on his desk and said "so sad, jump jump, sad, depress, sad, jump". His partners ran up and said "no no prease no, don't jump, no no prease no". Then we played more body part recognition games. As we were leaving we walked by some of the class rooms. One was a Fire extinguisher class, and the other was a hose room. There was a big glass wall and a big target. You could tell they go in and turn on the water and try to hit the target. There were drain holes all in the floor. During the class it was very hot and I asked to open a window. Once student stood up and pressed a button and all the blinds moved and then started going up. Wow, how nice, but a little too much I thought.

On the way home I stopped at Muji (moo G) and bought more parts for this thing I am building. They sell little parts you assemble yourself when needed and you can build bookshelves, TV stands, desks, whatever. I am building a TV / VCR stand now and I already built a small Nightstand that I use as a Laptop desk. I'll take pictures once I finish one of them and it looks nice.

On the way out a woman on the street tried to shove a Kleenex at me. They always do that and it can be annoying. It's how companies promote themselves, with little Kleenex packs and their logo on them. The funny part is how they give them out. The stand on the street and when you pass they do this robotic twitch with their arm and say "hai doozo", (yes please) and stick in directly in your path. They usually ignore foreigners but this cutie didn't. I rejected it and went about my business.

I walked to the other side of the station (my side) and bought more Carrot Juice. I emailed the company that makes this carrot juice and asked some questions. They said theirs tastes better because they do something with low heat. What ever they do it tastes great. I chugged one straight down when I got home.

I have come to accept my three addictions. I say addictions because I can't always control them and sometimes they take me over and I will do one even though I don't really have the money. They are, in order: sushi, carrot juice, and the $1 store. If I'm hungry I instantly think I should go to the dollar sushi place and get some. I try to resist but most times I cave in and have to go. I might only eat a few dollars worth, so it's not bad, but I really can't control myself sometimes. Secondly, I drink an obscene amount of carrot juice. I might start stacking the bottles in my apartment or something to show people how much I drink. Then I can glue them together and make something out of them later. Thirdly, I can hardly ever walk past the $1 and not at least go in, and most of the time I have to buy a few things. They have so much unbelievable stuff there. Things that they must be losing money on, I really don't understand how they get away with this. The public bath at the station might develop into one as well, it was a true pleasure palace. I heard they offer massages during the day, but they are about $50 a half hour. I'll try one around payday.

Sunday we had a spur of the moment Mexican Night. A friend really wanted to do it and I say ok, so we threw something together at the last minute. I fixed some tacos with beef and there were enchiladas and something else. Then Meg made some tasty margaritas and we watched American Beauty. This weeks is slow until Friday then it gets crazy. I have to do something about teaching a class on my childhood and then they have to sing a childhood song and a Christmas song. Then I have a few normal classes at the eccentric school. Then I have another drinking party for the school, but I can only afford to go to the second one in the night. I would miss it all together but the teachers need to see I want to be a part of them or they will alienate me and stop inviting me. Plus I think a few of them will get hammered and that would be nice to see them all relaxed.

I'm not going to drink much because I have to get up bright an early the next day for the ski trip. I might get up a little earlier and go to the sento (public bath) for an early morning refreshing hot bath and massage chair. Not sure of the details on the ski trip, but I do know most of it is paid for already so I only need to take a little money. I'll take extra in case, but will be very stingy. I really live quite thriftily (not a word) so I can afford to have fun a little, plus the trip is really super cheap in comparison to other things. I'm going to assemble the TV stand now. I'll get a picture later.

December 4, 2002

I just got out of the shower and I am so happy. Usually I hate taking showers when it's cold because I have little water pressure. The good thing about my shower is I have unlimited hot water, so I could stay in the shower for one year (assuming I have someone come over and pay my bills and feed me and I find some way to earn money from the shower). But hypothetically I could stay in there for a long time and the hot water would never run out. The way this happens if the water passes through gas heated pipes and then comes out. Up until now I have been mad because when I want it hotter I have to turn a knob which makes it pass through more pipes, so less water comes out. The hotter it gets the less it comes out, I mean like less than 6 inches on really cold days. So it's really annoying.

Well I was really getting fed up with it and after tonight's shower I get down and look around at the base of the heater, while the water is running. I see a secret knob but there is grease, or funk of some sort, all over it. reluctantly I clear it off. There are three kanji markings on it. One is small, medium, and the last is large. I wonder what this means. So I reach to turn it. Instantly all these scenarios pass before my eyes. I see my self getting 3rd degree burns and saying "well I just wanted to know what it did", then I see the house blowing up and me landing somewhere outside far away, naked.

Then I think of that Georgia joke "what are a redneck's last words..........hey ya'll watch this". So I turned it anyway, slowly. Gradually I feel the water on my back getting really hot. Then I realize if it's getting hotter I can turn the heat down and the pressure will increase. So whoo whoo, I turned it way down, it was rushing out, and the water was still hot. YEE HAW. The best part is it's only on the medium setting. I'll try super hot later.

On a different note, I really like the kids at my school. They are like little puppy dogs, they are always glad to see me. It's hard to be sad or depressed at school for any reason, because the second you walk past a room all the kids turn and go "oh oh Ryan sensei, hello, Ryan sensei". They are all waving happy. I guess when I am in class it's different from the regular teachers. Either way it's sure uplifting. I always say hello to them in the hall. Sometimes when I pass 5 or 10 girls I will either point at each one and say a quick hello, or if there are 3 or so I will break the word "hello" into syllables and give each one a section "he e ll oo". They always giggle and say hello back. Sometimes I go up and say in Japanese "I have a secret for you", then I whisper "hello" in their ear. I taught the guys "what's up" and "sup", and they always say that, even though they are shy about it. I always see the students around town and they say hello. I'll take some pictures or videos sometime.

December 5, 2002

Public bath. What a crazy idea. But sadly I love it and am addicted. Tonight a friend named Darwin called and suggested we go, so I did. The hot water was great. There's one bath I can sit in a while and then another that has bubbles and is a degree or two cooler and relaxing. Then there's the outside one that I can't stay in because the air is cold so that makes the water feel so much hotter. Tonight was kids night which was really crazy. Afterwards, Darwin got a massage, but I had a bowl of edamame (ed ah mah may), which are little Soybean type things, and a beer. Then I hit the $1 for 5 min massage chairs and then I took a nap on the floor. Man I still feel great, I am so relaxed. I don't even want to get ready for tomorrow or the ski trip on Saturday.

Which leads me to my next point that there won't be an update until Monday or Sunday night since I will be so busy. I will take a camera to the ski trip and hopefully get some good pics. It should be fun, I have been before but only to sky valley in NE Georgia. Most everything is paid for, which is good since I am already running low.

Oh man I nearly forgot about today. It was sports day, so I expected to show up and watch the kids play all day. Actually it was teachers versus students day. The soccer coach asked if I could play on the Men's team and I said well I'm not really dressed and yadda yadda yadda, so he handed me some pants and I had no excuses. I'm glad cause it was a blast. We lost, but then again we were playing the regional champs Higashi Soccer Team. I did some hardcore running around and I'm sure I lost a pound or two. Then I find out I was recruited to the women's volley ball team. We lost again, but the second game we came close to winning. At the end a teacher got hit in the face and broke her glasses, so we ended it. That was a blast too and I am going to see if I can start playing volleyball or soccer with them during the breaks.

The students here are always so happy to see each other. I've noticed there are no clicks like in my school. There are no jocks or punks or nerds or losers. There are people who might fit these categories, but all the students like each other and everyone talks to each other. In the morning when people get there I've seen girls run up and act like they haven't seen them in months. They hug and jump around. It's nearly impossible to be sad here, there is so much happiness beaming everywhere.

Of course tomorrow I go to the Eccentric Teacher at Adachi. Fridays are such a contradiction. I'm happy it's Friday, but sad because I have to go to that school and it's always crazy, but happy because I get to see that cool 2-1 class and they always are so happy to see me, but sad because I know I have two strange classes with him where I act like a tape recorder or he ambushes me, but happy because it's Friday, and so on. I had a bunch of those little print club stickers made for that class of me smiling and acting stupid. They keep asking me for them. Do you remember liking stickers and stuff in High School? I sure don't. Crazy mixed up stuff.

December 6, 2002

WOW. They went crazy for the stickers. I mean literally crazy. GUYS and girls. These are little tiny stickers maybe 1cm by 1cm, I mean very small. I paid $8 for 64 at 32 per sheet. I took them to the class and half way through I said if the students can answer my little quiz they get a prize. So I asked a few dumb questions and they got some right and some wrong, but they tried so hard. So I said ok good enough and pulled them out of my pocket. Everyone screamed and started squealing laughing. Then several people ran to the front and grabbed the sheets from me and flipped through them. There were about 5 girls around me looking and pointing and then a few guys came up and bullied their way in. I figured they would laugh and sit back down but they started pointing at the ones they wanted. GUYS. Some even had this "I want to be at home not here" look while they were pointing at the little 1cm by 1cm stickers of me acting stupid. There were  8 sets of 8 different photos of me so some people wanted ones that were already gone. So they would do rock paper scissors and the winner would take them, but two guys got in a little scuffle over little 1cm by 1cm pictures of me acting stupid.

I was flabbergasted. I don't think I've ever used that word in a written sentence before, but it's the best word here. I was literally standing against the blackboard (which is actually green) and just staring at them going crazy. It was truly surreal. The only reason I got these was a passed a machine and thought I'd get some since the students always as me about them. I always say Oops I forgot, I never thought they were losing sleep over them.

OK, that class is over. Wow, crazy. Then I teach two class about my childhood. I had my mom find some old pics of me as a kid and my Dad scanned them and emailed them to me. I put them on a disk and took them to class. The teacher introduced me and I showed the pictures and talked about how cute I was as a kid. Everyone agreed and the class went well. Then we made a little Origami box and then the class presented me with a notebook of several origami things they made and English instructions. It was touching.

So I leave the class and I see a group of girls running at me in the hall. They always come up and say hello or something and giggle so I just stood there. They got right up to me and giggle and then asked if I had any more print club stickers. I didn't even know these girls from my classes, so I was surprised word had spread. I looked around and said I don't think so. Then they started freaking out like they were druggies and I was a dealer and they needed their fix. But remember, we are talking about 1cm by 1cm stickers of me acting stupid. I said I will bring some next time I come and they said "preeeeaaaasssse, we need them so bad".

Wow. Insane.

That was all before lunch. During lunch I forgot to bring money or lunch so I waited til fourth period and went to the ladies that come and sell little sandwiches and such. I bought two pizza bread things for $1 each and went back to my desk. As I was sitting down a teacher who I have seen but never talked with came over and said something to the effect of "no you shouldn't eat that, hold on". So I sat and waited a minute and then he came back in with this huge dish and handed it to me. I said Thank you and Why a few times and then started to eat. It was rice, covered in Eggs and Ketchup, yet it was surprisingly good. I ate most all of it and then cleaned the bowl and gave it back to him and thanked him repeatedly very humbly. I still have no idea why or where that came from. But I was hungry and I didn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

At the station on the way home, yet more guys and girls asked if I had any left. They were quite sad when I said no sorry. They were even sadder when I said I wouldn't be back until next year because next Friday I go back and teach the firemen more stuff (I'll get pictures) and then the winter break starts here. They will have classes on Christmas eve and Christmas day. Most people here know of Christmas but it's not so big since the majority are Buddhists.

It's Friday night around 7:30 and I have to pack for tomorrow and then at 9 I have a special party for school I have to go to. I think it's an end of the year party or a Congratulations for being State Soccer Champs, or maybe both. It's called Bonenkai, which means end of the year something so I think it's our Christmas party. Many teachers asked if I was coming so I figured I should. A few teachers said they planned to get hammered, so that will be fun to see them like that. I won't since I am trying not to drink much anymore (excluding the beer at the onsen Thursday). I think they teachers are renting a private bus to go from the first dinner party to the second drinking party. So no update until after the ski trip, unless I get in early tonight and something of interest happens at the thing tonight. Which it very likely could.

December 7, 2002

It's Saturday morning and I am going to head to the station shortly for the big ski trip. Last night was pretty fun, I scored some good points, and I was really surprised. I hung out the three teachers that I thought didn't like me. It's strange how quiet shyness is interpreted as snobbishness. They were quite drunk and very jovial. I felt bad because our conversation was limited by their English and my Japanese, but I am working on that.

At the beginning I asked where to sit and they said anywhere, then I sat down and someone said no not there, "you are young". I noticed later that table was all the big wigs. So I sat with all the 1st grade teachers (10th grade). We had a good time. One teacher gave a toast, then another, then one suggested I do. I stood up and paused a bit and everyone was staring curiously to see if I would say something in Japanese. So in the most polite language I said "to everyone's health" and they yelled "kampai" (Cheers).

Later in the night the Soccer coach sat down near me. This guy reaks of coolness. Is reaks really a word? I say it a lot, but spellchecker is not happy with it. How about reeks, oh I guess that's how it's spelled. Anyway, he REEKS with coolness and confidence. He was on the men's soccer team against the students (obviously) and he was doing some crazy foot work with the ball. Plus he would kick it nearly all the way down the field. Everyone at the party was thanking me for participating in the sports day. I think my predecessors never really participated in anything. I'm going to join in everything now.

Near the end of the night I went around the room and named everyone, which is a big deal since they all have Japanese names (being from Japan) and they are hard to remember. I guess no more difficult than Bailey, Blewitt, & Lovell would be in the US. They were really impressed partially because they were drunk and partially because I named many teachers I never talk to. But since I have so much free time I often sit at my desk and look at the face chart and name them to myself as they walk by.

I heard at the first party of the night, which was more of a dinner, they had a quiz about the teachers and one question was about me. "Does Ryan sensei drink tomato juice all the time?". Only three people got it right, the answer is no I drink Carrot juice. But three people knew it because I shared some Thursday. Once my Japanese improves I will be more "in" with the teachers. This was a good step as was going to the soccer game, playing in the sports day, and joining in other things. Crap, I gotta run. I mean actually run. I could have saved a minute if I hadn't type that and just gone. That too.

December 9, 2002

I woke up this cold Monday morning to the sound of my phone ringing. I jumped out of bed and answered it and it was my Mom. We chatted for about 25 minutes then I had to go get ready for school. I bundled up and stepped outside only to see an inch of snow. This was especially strange since I had walked home at midnight last night and it was only cold, no snow. It wasn't even cold enough for snow I thought, so all this must have come down in like 6 hours or so. Pretty impressive. It's about 9pm Monday night now and I think it's still snowing, there is about 5 inches or so now and I think it's still snowing. At one point on the way home (I walked to and from school) the snow was coming down so hard I could barely see 20 feet in front of me. I was bundled up super warm and the only thing that was bugging me is the fact my breath was fogging up my glasses.

Speaking of snow, the ski trip was pretty good. Not really eventful as in broken bones or such, but overall good. It was the second time I went skiing and I stumbled a bit at first, but soon picked it up and did alright. We left Fukushima on the 9am train headed Northbound. I think it's really amazing how close we can get somewhere via the transportation system here. I walked about a half mile to the station (I could have easily taken a bus or taxi), from there we got on the shink and it took us to the city of Morioka. Then we walked a little ways to the bus and it took us right to the resort. It actually dropped us off in the street of the resort, but that was only a 50 foot walk. 

The mountain was MASSIVE. I spent all my time on the last 1/10th of the entire course. There was no way I was going to the top of this thing. First off, it would be a good 30 minute ride in the gondola lifts, and then it was nearly straight down for the longest way. I mean if I got half way and realized I was out of my league I was just outta luck. So I stayed on the beginner slope, which was actually intermediate I think.

Found this online somewhere, it's our mountain and it doesn't nearly show how bad it was. Our hotel was the lowest one on the left of the parking lot. See the green line second to the right, it splits in a V about 1 cm up the hill? That's as far up as I went, and it still took 30 minutes to get down. Maybe that will explain how big this place was. Eventually if I keep practicing I'll get up to the top, but not for a while.

I started out Saturday with a snowboard. My friend Meg was trying one as well so I decided to join her and learn, especially since it's all the rage these days. That lasted about 15 minutes. We walked up a decent ways to where it was somewhat flat and I strapped it on. First off it took me about 20 minutes to stand up. The darn thing slides every which way. Front wards, backwards, even sideways. So I get balanced on it. From here I gather all you do is go down and lean like a skateboard and you turn. I know it will be harder than that, but I figure that's the basic idea. I get upright and fall a few times and get back up. Then I start sliding straight down, this is good, I'm doing it. So I start to lean to make a turn. The whole time people are whizzing past me ( whizzing in the sense of flying past me, not the other ). Well it's no where near as easy as I think. I keep going straight, however, I am spinning now. Spinning round and round and going down the mountain. I start thinking of that commercial where they guy is in the car spinning on ice in the road and thinking to himself "when one wheel loses traction the other wheels grip tighter to prevent spinning. I think those are Nissan cars, that would be good to have". Then I fall. So now I am half way up the beginner slope and I want to try skis instead of the snowboard. So I sit on it like a sled and cruise down to the base where I can swap it out. I'm moving along and I pass my friends and I tell them what I am doing. Then I go past them and get near the bottom. I'll just put my feet down like before and stop. Oh no, that was nice snow, this is ice. I am slamming my feet down and not slowing a bit. Here comes the end. WHAP.

I get up and dust off and try to keep my face hidden as I move through the crowd to the ski shop. I get there and explain I'm not skilled yet can I have some skis. I think this was a problem, but it must have been less of a problem than trying to explain it to the foreigner because he looked around then made it happen. So I get the gear and head back out to try skiing. I start walking back up the hill to the same area. I hear someone calling my name and it's one of the girls that organized the trip. She said they are waiting on me by the lift. So I go down there and get on the lift. Halfway up I realize I haven't skied in about 6 or 7 years and I really should have warmed up. I make it down after falling several times, and go up again. I make it down again after falling more and realized we have 30 minutes until the lift closes for the day. So I go up again and say I am going faster to end the day right. You can't be afraid to fall, as in life.

So I get to the top, the lift dumps me off, I shoot out and head down. I'm doing good so far, but I feel nervous like I should have fallen already and I am on borrowed time. Then I hit the steep part and pick up speed. I do the pizza wedge thing to slow down and it's not really working. I really dig them in and one ski catches a rut and twists back. This causes me to lose my balance and fall forward a little. I straighten up my skis and catch my self and lean back. Oops I'm tired and I go back too far. My knees buckle and I am now hauling butt downhill, but squatting down on the skis. I can't stand up because I am too tired and the speed it pushing me back. I can't slow down because I can't spread my legs to push my toes down and out. So I am stuck. I'm really moving and I realize the only way to stop is to intentionally fall over.

This is a real crappy feeling. Knowing you have to cause yourself pain very shortly. You body is saying "no I'd rather not". But your brain is saying, "we have to or we will hit the building". I'm gaining speed. I think about how this must be like an antelope feels as it is running from a cheetah. At some point it realizes it has been defeated and must give in. So I lean to one side and ironically hit a small bump that props me back upright. I laugh at the irony and then tumble the other way. I would have liked to have seen my fall. As I fell I felt weightless for a few minutes, although it was most likely a half a second. Then I bounced around and came to a stop face down. A Japanese skier stopped right by me after a minute and asked if I was "daijyobu" (die joe boo), are you ok? I got up and wiped the snow off my face and picked up my glasses and put them on and meant to say "oops I fell". I was going to say it in Fukushima Dialect, because on the way up there Kazue gave us a list of Fukushima dialect and one phrase was "oops I fell down". There were also some other random things on the sheet that she included simply to take up space. So in my moment of pain and disorientation I look at the guy and say "my what a big baby". He laughs and skis off. Hopefully he thought I meant that about myself. Since I was gaijin I could have said anything and gotten away with it. I should have just said daijyobu and moved on.

So it was closing time. I took my gear and headed for the ski shop. On the way I felt the urge to go to the bathroom. I assumed it was the meatloaf I had for lunch, which was all I could read on the menu. So I go and take all my equipment into this tiny little stall. Whose idea was it to make bathroom doors open in? There is never enough room to be in the stall and close the door without maneuvering all around the toilet. Just make them open out and solve it all. At any rate, I'm in there. I prop the skis and poles up and take off my coat(s) and undo my pants. Then I start to sit down and I realize I can't. The angle my ski boots are at are forcing my legs forward in an angle I can't naturally bend. There's not enough room to spread them out and reduce the angle. I keep thinking I was just in that position when I fell on the course, so why not now. Something to do with the angle of the skis and the boots.

I end up moving them all around and kicking the walls because my pants are around my ankles and I can't move anything and I am really tired and sore. It must have sounded like I was wrestling a badger in there to people walking by. FINALLY I get situated and.......well anyway.

Then I get down to the ski shop. It was a royal pain in the whazoo going down stairs in boots that are forcing your legs forward I went down sideways the first set then lost my balance on the lower set and ended up running down. I was really falling and just moving my legs to stay upright. I looked like an idiot but didn't fall. I get my shoes out of the locker and take them to the counter. I wanted to go from ski boot to shoe since the floor was snowy and watery. I eventually take the ski boots off and change over to my hiking boots. I am sitting in a chair and I hand the guy my boots and skis. Then I tie my boots and stand up. I turn to leave and take this huge unnecessary step. Then my other legs kicks way out too far as well. Then I stumbled a bit and stood up. People were staring and I was feeling stupid again. The hiking boots didn't restrict my ankles so I over compensated a bit.

I'm really tired of typing so I am going to summarize the rest of the evening quickly since not too much happened. We went back to the room and then headed out to eat. We saw a KFC sign and walked down to it. It had been closed for weeks. We ended up eating TV dinners from a convenience store in the hotel. Then the three guys that went, ended up going to the onsen since we had free tickets. It was nice and big and HOT. There was a huge indoor pool (see below) and an outside one as well. The outside one was quite odd since it was snowing and I was naked and wet outside. I would sit up on the edge of the pool and then jump in when I was too cold. Then get out when I was too hot.

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Then I went back to the room and passed out pretty quick from being so tired. The next day we woke up at 7 and had a free good breakfast and then got ready and on the slopes by 8:30. Skied all day and got considerably better. Left the slope at 12:30 and traded everything in and had a bite to eat. On the way out I found a foot massage place with $10 massages for 10 minutes. I was all over that. It felt SOOOOOO good. It was actually about 20 minutes total, but still only $10. I didn't get the cute chick, but the guy did fine. I mean afterwards my feet never hurt.

Then we got back on the bus and it took us to the shink station and then we shot back down here. On the way BJ called and said Movie night was at his house. Meg and I went, but really shouldn't have, we were just too tired. We stayed there until the 11 pm train and then walked back.

It's now 10:30 pm and I just looked out the window. For some reason it's not dark. I can only guess it's because  there is so much white snow on the ground it's reflecting light. But it should be much darker than this. There's no immediate source of light I can see, but I can also see so far, way beyond normal.

OK, going to bed. I'll write more later. I go to Hobara tomorrow, so I'll free time. We have a few cameras and I'll upload those soon as well.

I think there was a small earthquake last night. I remember waking up and feeling the apartment shifting around, but I can't really be sure if I was awake or dreaming. I just moved my bed into the living room since there is a nice heater there. I'll send a picture soon.

December 11, 2002

Only have time for a short update now, but want to get it in before I forget. On the way home from school today I noticed half of the crane was on the ground, and beside it was (drum roll), a massive expandable crane. The top of the ground crane reached the top of the building, and it seemed to have an extension capability on it. You remember those straws that bend and are so much fun to pull out and push back in while they make that crunchy noise? This had the same type feature (on a larger scale of course). I gathered it could go pretty high. The housing of the crane is pretty heavy so I wonder if it can lift it, but maybe it disassembles or something. I have a small picture on my phone, which I'll upload and tomorrow I will get one with the digital camera.

BJ's about to come over and we are going to watch a movie and cut each other's hair (sounds like a bizarre slumber party). So I am going to meet him at the station shortly. Got a longer update coming, just no time at this current moment.

Thursday Dec. 12, 2002

I just heard there was a school drinking and eating party for the 1st grade teachers, which is me, however no one told me. There could be a few reasons for this and I am not going to over-think this or see the negative side only. Most likely it was expensive and they knew I couldn't afford it this late in the month, or they just wanted to relax and have fun and not feel obligated to trying to communicate with me. It always takes so much time and effort to communicate with certain people because their English and my Japanese is at the same level. Not so good. But it's still strange that I wasn't even invited.

I brought my computer to school since I was pretty bored yesterday. I don't have internet access, but I can type all day and even learn / practice kanji with a program I ordered. I think it's called Learn Kanji or something clever. Then I've got a few web pages I need to update which I can do offline.

On the walk here I had tons of ideas to type about all day and now that I am typing I can think of none. I can mention it was quite cold today and snowed again in the early morning and on the walk to school I noticed more schoolgirls with bright red bare legs. You know how when you are cold and your ears or nose turns bright red because it's so cold? Same concept here, their legs are so cold they turn red. I still don't understand it and I can't tell if it's their choice or the teacher's making them. I get conflicting stories when I ask either party.

Tomorrow I go back to the Fireman's school for the last lesson and then a test. I actually made the test, because the girl in charge is swamped and couldn't. She's one of two English / Japanese speakers in the entire prefecture that work for the state department. I mean there are more than two, but there are two people that speak both and work for the state international department. Actually there are many people that speak both, but only her and another guy speak actual fluent English as well as conversational Japanese. Whoo, that was fun. Back to the test. It has two listening parts, which are somewhat hard and then two sections on matching. They have to write the English name of about 10 body parts and 5 internal organs. It's a pretty easy chart and I'm sure most of them can do it. We put a lot of effort into it, but not so much in the sense of what they will take home. We know only a few of them will ever run into a foreigner in an emergency situation. The percentage is just so low that statistically the chances are slim.

Well I am drawing blanks on what to write about, so I am going to hit CTRL-S and then work on something else. Although this pause will be seamless for you, it may be several minutes or hours.

OK, I'm back. How long do you think it was? Well actually it was seamless, I never stopped typing. OK for real now, here we go.

[45 minutes later]

Sales people can freely stroll through the teachers room and they often do. They might walk around during class and put little sales info on each desk. If I am sitting here they skip me, but if I am away I get something. Usually it's all kanji and not important to me, but sometimes it's a nice little gift. So now there are a few salespeople walking around. When they make eye contact with a teacher they bow and will start to approach them. The teachers have mere nanoseconds to convey their intentions. If they continue looking at them it's the OK to approach and start the mating dance....er...uh...I mean sales pitch. If they immediately look away it's not a good time. So these sales people are just walking around smiling and bowing at anything. Oh look a desk - bow. They are trying to make eye contact with everyone. I sometimes stare at them and watch them glance at me and quickly look away. I can't wait until I can say "You know I speak fluent Japanese. Actually I was born and raised here in [any Japanese city] and happen to have to American parents. I was terribly interested in buying several [whatever they are selling], but since you ignored me because I looked foreign, I cannot do business with you". Actually that might cause them to jump off the building, either that or they would apologize so much the likes of which I have never seen.

During the [alleged] 45 minute break above, I created some graphics for some web pages I am working on. None of which would interest you, so I'll mention them later. Most are related to learning Japanese or Festivals and Onsens in the area. I wish I could get the wireless internet card for my computer, but I need to upgrade to XP and I don't know if this little Model-T will be able to handle it. I might wipe the hard drive out soon and try it just for kicks. Worst case scenario I will have a fresh computer with no little bugs in it.

I just had a flashback to my life for the 2.4 years before I came to Japan. I'm sitting here slouched over the computer, with the lights shining on the screen causing a glare, my back and neck hurt, I'm really bored and doing nothing productive. But it's all good since I virtually get paid to learn Japanese and surf the web and learn more Japanese. The only reason I don't study Japanese all the time is I get tired of it. Studying anything that much makes you tired of it. I really should stop whining about things since overall I have a cushy job. There are some downsides to it, but all in all it's a great job, which allow me great benefits such as traveling and meeting new people and learning new things. Well, look at that, traveling only has one L. I typed LL and spell check went crazy. Of course I changed it so you can only see one L, but at least you know the truth, and that's what it's all about isn't it?

Oh, these salespeople also will clean your glasses for free by soaking them in some special [cleansing] solution and then drying them with super dry towels. I feel bad for getting them to do it since I have no intention of buying anything from them, but then again they do bring the equipment to us, not like we went to their store.

Just had my glasses cleaned and they are like new. They actually had some nice frames (the salespeople, not my glasses) for sale and in the future when money is not a big issue I might get another set of thin frames. I had a set of thick frames and then about 4 months of wearing them several people said "do you happen to have any thinner frames". I took that as hint that they were not the most flattering for me.

The glasses guy came over and starting chit chatting with Hiraki who sits right be side me. Then he saw my frames and commented on how nice they were. He was not the glass washer in the previous paragraph. It was his partner (business partner, not life partner). So he asked if they were German and I said I don't know and he said they looked very expensive. I don't know how you can tell they are expensive, but he was right. I bought them in college about 5 years ago. I spent about $250 on them which was way more than I normally do, but I wanted some nice frames that fit great and would last. Well I scored big on these. I always forget they are on my face and usually get in the shower or go to bed with them on. I guess if you are in the business you have an eye for these things. Then he told us his house was a pet store near here and he sees me walk by often. Which is true, it's on the way to the small grocery store at which I buy lunch on occasion. Then he asked if I have any pets and I said no and then he and Hiraki talked for about 3 minutes in a  deep conversation about something. It was clearly about me since there was various gestures and pointing directed my way. When they finished they both nodded and were quiet. I asked what they were talking about and she said that he said "Oh really". I said that conversation was longer than "oh really", and she clarified and said "Oh really, you don't have a pet". Whatever. I give up.

BJ came over and we had some sushi (before returning to the house) and then rented "Scary Movie". We watched it and then an old episode of the Simpson's and King of the Hill. For some reason I had never watched this tape before, it was one that my parents sent and I just put it off to the side and left it. So it was a good surprise having a Simpson's episode to watch. Then we did the hair cut thing. I have been wearing a near buzz cut. I'm fully aware that it is not the most flattering, as my mother has pointed out for 10 years, but it sure is convenient. And life is all about what's convenient for me. It's not like I am an actor, but then again....

Few of you may I had a few small roles in some films and TV shows. For one I was in episode 2.19 of The Greatest American Hero circa 1981 which aired March 24, 1982 as "Chunky" the small Albanian boy who is saved  at the very end. I was also in The Odd Couple in 1970 as Roy the newborn baby. I can hear you laughing from here. Well then smarty, here's your proof http://us.imdb.com/Name?McDonald,+Ryan+(I). How do you like them apples?

[after lunch]

The phone just rang and no one answered it for about 8 rings, so I ran over and picked it up and said "hai shokuintsu desu", which means "yes, the teachers room". the person on the other end asked for a Watanabe sensei so I announced it and she came over. Other teachers saw this (though didn't answer the phone) and smiled and were proud I ventured out. I dug my own grave because now I have to answer the phone when it rings, but at least it will be good Japanese experience. The bad thing about being an English teacher is everyone always wants to talk English to me. Most of the time it's broken and choppy, but I will sit and listen for a while. It's the least I can do for using my broken Japanese on them all the time. "to Tokyo, Bus, time, leave, when?". I would imagine that is annoying, but they never complain.

While skiing we witnessed a little known insight to true Japanese culture. They are always seen as ultra polite, and for the most part they are, but on occasion, when the moon is full, if you stand at a certain place between midnight and 3am, you can witness them being not so polite. For instance, when we were standing in line for the ski lift and there were maybe 50 people behind us, if there was any little gap in front of us, someone would walk up and stand in from of us. We never said anything because it's also rude to be rude, but it was quite humorous. Often when I am waiting on a bus, an old woman will walk right in front of me and get on the bus. Just Monday of this week I was standing in line at the ATM and there were 2 people behind me. There are 2 ATMs and they were each full. A woman walked up and looked at us and stepped right in front of me. Maybe there is some universal law that old women can cut in line here.

Friday December 13, 2002

It's 12:30 am and I just got back from a party and then the second party. Today was an easy day since we had no school because I went to the fireman's school and taught more English and gave a test. I forgot to take a dang camera, but just picture 60 people wearing lab coats in class. Most did ok on the test, but a few didn't. I felt bad, but they should have studied. they ahd to r\write parts of the body for part of the test and some wrote the wildest things for elbow such as LBoo, ehrubhow, eruloo, erlboo, and so many more. I was great. I gave them all partial credit, though one girl there was super critical and marked anything wrong. Like "lunb" instead of Lung? I  said, "Hey they wrote an L, they must know what it means".

I had a ton of stuff to write about, none of which I can remember now. I'll figure it out later and write then. OH OH OH. They took the crane down. They brought in a big old crane, wait I mentioned this already didn't I? I have some pictures, let me find them. They are on my phone but you can still kinda see the crane and such.

On the right is a smaller big crane used to set up the big crane used to take down the bigger crane. When they are finished, the big crane will take down the bigger crane and then the small crane will take down the big crane. Although it's from the back of the building, you can see the crane reaches over the top and it's not even fully extended. I didn't think it was strong enough to lift the bigger crane, but they never consulted my engineering opinion.

So that's the crane story. Not as impressed as I had hoped. But still interesting to the curious mind. I guess I miscalculated how high it was. So I am going to bed. Remind me about the Burger King sign later.

Oh, another self depricating story. I was walking around singing a song by my ex-roommates band, called Mindseye. The band not the song. The song is called Lalune, and it's all in French. I'll upload the song here. So I was singing it as I walked home cause it's really catchy. I came to an intersection and it was 12 midnight and I was singing it outloud waiting for the light to change. Then I started really getting into the song and moving my arms around. The whole time I was covered pretty much completely because it was so cold and I had a neck warmer and toboggan on. Then at the last minute I turned around and noticed there was a woman standing behind me the whole time watching me jump around like an idiot. Listen to the song and you'll get addicted to it as well. It reminded me of the time I was busted in my truck doing "the robot" to Herbie Hancock's Rockit.

Monday December 16, 2002

Itfs Monday around 9am and the Chi is not flowing so good today. Itfs strange too, because all weekend was pretty smooth. Ifll focus on today first to end on a high note with the weekend events later. I get here on time, but I get on the wrong bus. Luckily I asked the guy (the driver) and he said it was the wrong bus so I got off before we went anywhere. I always ride the #3 bus, but apparently this was a different bus. So I see a student getting on the #2 and jump on it as well.

So I get here and sit down and read a memo that says gthank you for lecturing at the teacherfs conference regarding new and innovative techniques on team teachingh. I donft remember doing that. Then Hiraki sensei, says goh yes that will be in January, didnft you knowh. Nope, sure didnft. So apparently I have been volunteered to give an hour and a half speech on something I know nothing about. What an odd way to ask someone if they would do something. The coordinator gave me his email so maybe I will email him and say gthank you for paying my rent for the next three monthsh.

So then she puts a sheet in front of me where I have to fill out which days I plan to be here (days in which there is no school and no one will be here, but some how arenft holidays). I put down I will be here everyday expect the 26th and 27th. So only two days paid vacation for me. The others I have to sit here and do nothing. I donft mind coming to school and working, but why must I be here when there is blatantly nothing for me to do? Why do they feel the arenft getting their moneyfs worth unless I am here? Ifm serious there is zero for me to do, the cirriculum hasnft been determined for next year so I canft work on lesson plans, which I never do anyway. There are not papers or tests to grade. Therefs just a black hole for me to linger in for several hours each day. Ifm not whining, I guess I am really, but the only thing that is bugging me is the feeling that because I am simply here, although doing nothing, then they are getting their moneyfs worth. Seems like it would be obvious that since I moved to a foreign country, maybe I would want to take this time to explore. Itfs not like I am a real teacher here, Ifm more of a cultural ambassador. During the break, when there are no classes, and more importantly, no students, therefs no need for me to ambass my culture upon them. Yet another thing to file into the gwhatever, time to move onh category.

On top of all this, last week I was told this week I could leave at noon since there are no classes for me and the students will be leaving at noon. They arenft even actual classes they are special classes for the students. So I get here and find out I need to be at the closing ceremony at 1:30 and then after that a student is giving a special presentation on how to cheer at the big National Soccer Championship in Tokyo. Wouldnft be so bad if brought something to do, but I figured if I would be getting out at noon, as I was told, thatfs only three hours basically so there is no need to bring a whole lot of stuff, like my computer. So I am here with nothing to do at all.

So then I sit and write out the Japanese alphabet over and over a few times. Then I circle the letters I am having trouble with and then just practice those. Then I came over here to type this up since all these thoughts were swirling in my head and could move on if I could put them down and think about something else. Oh I can think about Hobara tomorrow, since thatfs where Ifll be and I donft even think they have classes, but my Hobara supervisor (really nice guy) said I really needed to be there tomorrow.

Oh, strange tangent. Sometimes I wonder why the brain works in such strange ways. Herefs an example. Today I was leaving my apartment. I stopped and looked around to see if there was anything I needed. I decided not to take my backpack and all my heavy crap since I was told today would be a short day. So then I look around and decide to go. So I leave and start walking. The second I get to (and I mean the actual nano-second) the point at which I cannot turn around and backtrack due to time, I realize I forgot to put on deodorant. Not a huge deal since I wonft be sweating profusely, but I really hate that non-lubricated feeling of my arms moving around in their shoulder sockets. Itfs like a conscience reminder all day that I forgot to wear deodorant.

OK, so now we need to take an upper. Friday I went to a party with a friend. It was some company type party so I only knew a few people there. It was at a nice gprivate clubh and the food was good. I broke my gnot going to drinkh idea since there was nice red wine. I didnft get hammered, but I drank to be polite, so I guess it was really not too bad. There was a Chinese girl there and I kept trying to talk to her, but the 10 other guys felt the same way. At some point she sang a traditional Chinese Holiday song. I realized Chinese sounds like English being played backwards. For all I know she could have been saying gyou are all idiots, I am so pretty, stay away from me stupid man, look at my new shoes, I should buy onions on Mondayh. Of course we were all impressed with her ability to speak her own native language.

After that I spent some time flirting with a 40 or 45 year old married woman. I wasnft really flirting, but she just cut her hair really short and I said it looks great, and she said no it didnft and I said I think it makes her look 20. So the whole night I would come up and say ghello there young girl, can we go on a date sometime?h. Then she would giggle and say she was married and I would say no way she is too young to be married with a 20 year old daughter.

Then a beautiful girl came in late that I actually already knew, but didnft know I knew her. She was a friend of a friend and she was a ski instructor, so I think I am going to trade some ski tips for English lessons. Although her English was already great. She just needs the Rhino Touch. When I say ski tips I mean like a lesson, not like the front part of the ski. Then everyone was going around the room singing a native song. I couldnft think of any Georgia Seasonal Songs, so I sang two lines of gGeorgiah and then mumbled the rest since I had forgotten. I hope Ray Charles isnft reading this (or having it read to him). Then sadly some older woman whofs never been to the US seemed to know all the words to the song. So I was the idiot who doesnft know his own state song. Then I quickly diverted attention to my own rendition of gThe Love Boat, exciting and new, come aboard, wefre expecting youh. A number of people knew this and started singing. I was glad because I didnft remember the words after that last line.

At some point the part was over and we went to a second party, which was at my favorite bar, gAs Soon Ash. I will try to get some pictures soon. Itfs the really smooth bar. Not a smoothie bar, a smooth jazzy bar. The flirting lady went as well as a few other people I know. One girls name is Kei and she is so pretty. The kind of pretty that makes you want to cry because you canft understand how someone can be that pretty. When I see her I just want to run up and hug her and kiss her. But I donft know her that well and it could cause some awkward moments. We stayed there about an hour and then a few people wanted to go dancing. I donft really dance so I left. Cute Kei really wanted me to go, and that almost did the trick, but then I had a mental glimpse of me dancing and gracefully declined.

That was all Friday. So I was feeling pretty good. Then Saturday I worked on the computer all day and made great progress on some web pages I am working on. They are mainly Japanese related sites so therefs no point in my posting the url here, but maybe I will when I am finished. Then about 8 pm I made it to DJ Bradleyfs Christmas Party at, none other than, As Soon As. This was a great night. I think it should have been called Pretty Japanese Girl night. From 8 to 10 it was a full blown traditional Christmas party with Secret Santa and Carols and Christmas Music and snack goodies.

Bradfs girlfriend is named Keiko and she made some little cakes. So this started my gslightly offh brain feverishly working. By the end of the night I had worked up an alliterative sentence to the effect of gkoko ni, kakkoii keiko no keiki aru, kekko desu.h  It means this is cool Keikofs cake, but I donft want anyh. All the words sound similar and itfs hard to say fast a few times. I actually had a few people saying it and adding news K words.

Then we exchanged secret Santa gifts and I gave away this $1 store cheesy wrestlerfs mask, which ended up being a great hit. A funny guy picked it up and wore it around for a while. I need to buy another one now for me. I miss it already. At 10 pm the DJs took over and played some nice techno, but ti was the smooth kind not the hard bumping type. 

I would say there were probably 50 people in this place and if I had to guess I would say 50 was the capacity for it as well. We were packed in there, but there were mostly all girls so I couldnft decide who to chat with first. There was this one that was super familiar (also a babe) and I couldnft remember why I knew her. Was she a teacher somewhere, or a student, or what? Then she said, in great English, that I was super familiar to her. Arrrggghhhh, who are you. Then we figured out she works (store manager actually) at my favorite store in Fukushima. Itfs called Beaux Arts. Itfs like a mixture of Pier One and dang whatfs the name of that other place. My mom and aunt love it. My aunt even drives all the way over from Alabama to go to this store at Lenox. This is killing me, itfs real classy and expensive and we can barely afford anything in it. Not Structure, butccc.GEEZ. I am going to look this up on the web, hold on. Crate and Barrel. Booya! So this place is a much cheaper version of Crate and Barrel and Pier One. OK, so she is the manager and she knew me. Maybe she knew me because I always walk through there and look at things. Maybe she knew me because she thinks I am so fine she canft stand it. Probably because I always walk through the store.

So then she was being kind of flirty to me. Like looking at me, as opposed to looking around to see who else is here, and laughing at my corny Jokes. So I quickly got her cell phone email (since thatfs non threatening) and told her I would chat more later. Mistake #1. So then I see the ski instructor from the previous night and we chat more. Shefs really cool and no boyfriend, although boyfriend means different things here, so I need to clarify. Sometimes they says gloverh to mean boyfriend and boyfriend to mean fiancée. Once a teacher asked me in class how many lovers I had. I was thinking ger what?h. I said I always have many girlfriends. Later he explained it to me.

So we chat for a while then I see more and more girls streaming in so I decide to expand my friend base. I see two sitting on the couch and I walk over to them. A guy I was chatting with earlier saw me and pushed me in between the two girls. So I said hello and we chatted for a while. They were both very cute and spoke decent broken English. I whipped out the cell phone and collected their emails as well. They left early since they had a long drive or a long day the next day or I was bugging them. One of the above.

When they left we all got up from the couch and then a group of 5 girls jumped in and sat down. I picked one at random and said hello. I picked the one with the best English, and coincidentally the best looking. She was in the local University in the medical department. I asked if she was going to be a nurse and she said gNo! a Doctor!h. I was surprised because from talking to her she didnft seem like the doctor type, more of the partier type. She was beautiful, like a model. We chatted a while and she asked if I had a girlfriend, I said no and she got excited, so I asked if she had a boyfriend and she said yes for three years. Uh, hello? Why were you all excited I didnft have a girlfriend? I still donft know. So we chatted for an hour or two and she was actually correcting my English, and sadly she was right. When you constantly speak gJapanese English or Engrishh you start to forget whatfs right and whatfs not. Then her friends left to get food and she was alone in the corner drinking away. At one point I made her stop because she was hammered and I knew she didnft need to drink anymore.

So getting back to my previous prelude to mistake #1. After I left the babe Beaux Arts girl a guy friend of mine went over and started talking to her. HE NEVER LEFT. For about 4 hours he sat and chatted and drank. At one point they were kind of holding hands in a gI just met youh sort of way. Maybe I should have stayed and chatted, but there were so many other people I wanted to meet. Well she works at my favorite store so Ifll go by sometime and say hello and get the scoop. Plus he lives a few towns away (but has a car).

Then as I was leaving at like 3am, in walks cute Kei from the night before. Why is she up at 3am and who is this guy shefs with. Arrrgghhh, hulk no like. So we chat briefly and then I leave and head home. Since itfs a long walk, I send out a few cell phone emails. I get a few responses as well. Pretty good night over all. I managed to get about 8 emails over two nights, all from beautiful girls.

Sunday I went to Megfs and we watched Planet of the Apes but then BJ had to leave early so I left as well since I needed to get home and prepare for something. So I went to bed early, around 11 or 12, not so early I guess. Now itfs near 11 and I might go get some lunch soon. I didnft bring any because, well you know. Ifll make an update after the ceremony and the soccer thing. Ifm sure it will be noteworthy.

[after pep rally thing]

Well the closing ceremony was long and boring, since was all in formal Japanese. I picked out a few words, but most went over my head. Then after all the speeches there was a pep rally for the soccer team. Pep Rallies are sure different here. There was very little pep. The team walked on stage and someone introduced them all, and then three members did a samurai type dance while someone hit a big Taiko drum. A Taiko drum looks like a fat barrel with two drum heads on it. It was loud and reall shook the gym. It reminded me of the time the Georgia Southern marching Band (which I was in) played at the Georgia Dome during the halftime of a Falconfs game. We have a warm up where all the drums would play 12 straight notes with each hand and then stop. Basically just tat tat tat tat tat tat tat and so on for each hand. Then seamlessly switch hands so it sounded like straight constant tapping in unison. Rather a boring warm up I thought, but then again I only played cymbals. So we played this at the Georgia Dome and when we finished (during warm ups) we hit the finally note. Then we waited a second and heard a swooshing sound then a loud BANG! It was the delayed echo from out drums. WOW was that cool, so we started playing 5 taps at a time and stopping. BANG! Again. This amused us for 30 minutes or more. I donft know why I keep saying gweh when I just told you played cymbals.

Speaking of cymbals, during the pep rally I went over and told the girl in the school band playing cymbals that in college I played cymbals also. She looked at me funny. So I went back and asked Hiraki why. Apparently I had said gI did bad things in collegeh instead of gI did the cymbals in collegeh. I donft know how to say played an instrument so I used gdidh. I went back over and explained what I meant to the girl and she smiled. How hard would it be to figure out what I meant especially since the word for bad things is gsimbaruh and the word for cymbals is gSHIMbaruh. I was even pointing at the cymbals. Maybe she thinks I did bad things with cymbals. I canft even picture what that would mean.

Earlier I went to get lunch. I had planned on getting something healthy, but on the way there I passed a student who gave me a french fry. From there it was all over. The salty fry on an empty stomach was too much for me. So I ordered a cheeseburger combo. They didnft have it. How can a McDonaldfs not have a Cheeseburger set? I got a double Cheeseburger set and walked back. On the way I passed some girls on a balcony. They were on the balcony and I was on the ground. They pointed at me and laughed and said gmack ga mack de mack shitetah which means Mr. Mack went to Mack (McDonaldfs) and got a Big Mac. They still get a kick out of my name being McDonald. I canft really say anything I get a kick out of saying gCool Keikofs Cakeh.

Ifm about to head home, but I plan to stop in the station and say hello to the Beaux Arts cutie, if shefs working, which she should be since she is the manager. Tonight BJ wants me to play Volleyball with some local mixed team. I hope mixed means Japanese and Foreigners or men and women, and not Humans and Sheep. I like volleyball, itfs the one sport I am semi good at. I usually end up falling over when I lunge for the ball and people think I am diving for it. Let them think what they want.

Tuesday December 16, 2002

It's about 6:30 pm and I just watched MIB2. I was bored and had already watched all my videos several times over. On the way home I also bought more Carrot Juice. haven't had any in a while and have been feeling strange. Maybe I was going through withdrawls. Well today was just like any other Tuesday, I didn't do a darn thing. I actually dozed off a bit at Hobara since I was sitting in the sun and was all warm. Volleyball last night was pretty fun. I'm sure I'll go back and play whenever I have time. The only thing I didn't like was they had a rule that you must hit it twice before volleying it back over. Sometimes it's easier to just hit it once back over, but this new rule made it so everyone had a chance. I didn't much like it. We often stopped a perfectly good volley because of the rule.

After that we went to a really cheap iizikaya (easy kah yah) which is just a restaurant bar place. I love it because it's cheap and close and really cool inside. I even know the manager and we always chat. He's a super nice guy named Honino. I think I have mentioned him before. we stayed for a bit and then went our separate ways. I came home and went to sleep around 11:30.

On the way home as I stopped in the store to get carrot juice, I noticed a few check out lines open with no waiting and the clerks just standing there at attention. I realized I probably can't work at a Japanese company and especially not at a smaller job like cashier. Almost all my jobs in the US tolerated laziness and I took full advantage of that. Even my father couldn't handle these jobs and he is by no means lazy. People come in hours before work and stay hours after work until 9 or 10, usually off the clock, just to get work done, or even worse to "appear" to get work done. I can't be bored, I go to sleep. Sounds stupid, but whenever I am in a situation where I am bored, and sitting, I get almost narcoleptic sleepy. I can barely hold my head up. But these clerks have to stand there waiting, not slouching or sitting, standing at attention. I saw a woman in BOM advertising something and she was standing by her booth for hours announcing her little speech to anyone who came near. I felt so bad, she looked so unhappy, but had no choice. On the way out of the store there were two girls talking about Yahoo Broad Band, which I already have, but they were talking to no one. Just giving their speech over and over again as people passed by. Yet another thing I couldn't do.

In Japan there are 10x as many people as there are jobs, so when you get one, you do exactly as you're told. Otherwise you get fired and the next person in line comes in and does as they are told. You work late, you never leave before the boss, you never sleep on the job, you run to the copy machine and then run back, you never never never treat the customer in a manner less than as if they were nobility. It's quite the contrast from what I remember in the US. Going to the DMV or dealing with the government in any way, or any major company's tech support people.

The bad part of this equation is people will always come to work. Even when they are sick. They are courteous enough to wear a doctor's type face mask, but the bad thing is they are at work. My supervisor came to work last week with a sore throat and said "in Japan we cover our faces like this so others don't catch the germs". Yes, how nice, but you are still at work while sick and I can still catch your germs which I think I have. My throat is starting to hurt.

Wednesday Dec 18, 2002

I saw something that would never ever happen in the states and if it did the parents would be arrested for child abuse. I was walking home from school (at about 1pm luckily) and I saw two kids no older than 4-6 riding their tiny little kid bikes. Actually they were waiting for the light to change on a 6 lane road in town. the busiest road in Fukushima actually. And the crazy part is their parents were no where around. I almost missed my bus because I was staring at these kids as they waited for the light and then crossed the road alone. Only in Japan.

Well I managed to get out at just after 1 today. I spent the whole morning learning Japanese and asking teachers how to say things. I said "Happy New Year" a few times in Japanese and then I learned a few new phrases. I'm trying to beef up before the entrance test at the Tokyo Japanese Class so I don't get dumped in a remedial class. I always forget things during these interviews and end up in the moron class. "Today we are learning shapes, everyone say Square". Well not that bad, but it's always remedial. But then I don't want to be in the advanced class either where they only speak in Japanese. You can't teach a foreign language IN that foreign language. It's like here let's learn sign language, I'll explain it IN sign language.

I'm sure I've mentioned it before but we are staying with my buddy Daisuke in Tokyo for free more or less. I told him we'd take him and his cute sister who is also 31 (like me) out for dinner each night. But even so we are getting a great deal. I've got two other friends in Tokyo I need to see. I actually know about 45 people, but I can't remember their names or addresses. I met them when I studied in Tokyo in '98.

Found out my sore throat is not a virus type thing. My A/C heater wall unit has a dehumidifier built in and apparently I have it set on "Sahara". I put a few pots of water around the room so they can supposedly evaporate and humidify the place. I should have some pictures from the ski trip posted tomorrow. Speaking of which I am going skiing again this weekend, but only for a few hours and at a place real close and cheap. I think I'll spend less than $50 for rental and lift ticket. PLUS I get free ski lesson from a major cutie. If she were in the army her rank and name would be Major Cutie. Stupid joke sorry. Her name is Tomoko and she speaks great English, and I hear she's a great teacher. I do want to learn to ski better, it's kinda fun when I get going down the hill and don't fall, and I'm not even going fast or doing it close to right.

Hey here's something strange. The post office is open til midnight here. I had a package I missed and went to go get it on the way home from meeting some friends and sure enough it was open. I just walked in and handed the note to someone. Wow, midnight. I can't even relate. Now let's get those ATM's open later as well. For the record I think the Post Office ATM is open later. *transferring money now*

Two more days of this nothingness. I have Monday off since it is the Emperor's birthday. How cool would that be to be an Emperor. I would make people play the Star Wars Emperor's March when I went somewhere. The song just demands respect. But then again that guy had the force and could do wild stuff. Anyway it's his birthday (not the star wars guy) and he opens his house for the world to come in and have tea, But I won't be in Tokyo that day. I will however be there on Jan 2nd when he opens it again for the New Year. So I hopefully can get by and say "Hey Man, wassup?". Or not. That reminds me of a Jack Handey saying from Sat Night Live: "I think a chocolate gun would be a nice gift for the president, but he's so busy you would probably have to run up and hand it to him yourself".

I just watched The Majestic. It was a sad, yet predictable, movie. It was a nice change for Jim Carrey though, away from the slapstick he always does. I saw MIB2 yesterday. I think I mentioned that. Man my memory is fading, maybe it's all the carrot juice I drink.

I have the final crane update, sadly. It was far less impressive than I thought. Here's the last picture and last mention of it. There was a big super sized crane that lifted everything down. It's still there, but I'm sure it will be disassembled shortly as well. Then I will need to find something else to amuse me.

Sorry there's not a bigger picture, I had to use my phone. Notice my thumb in the way somehow. That's about it for today. I've been babbling a bit since I felt like typing. I'll update it again before the skiing if anything happens.

Saturday December 21, 2002

I've had a jam packed last few days. Friday I got off work early and had nothing to do so I cleaned up my apartment and then bought some more parts for this TV stand / bookshelf thing I am building. Then I rented a few movies, I forgot which now. Then I started calling people to see if anyone wanted to do anything. No one did.

Then on a whim I sent a cell phone email to a girl I met at the Christmas party last Saturday. She was real quiet and I figured she'd be busy or not interested, but she said ok and we agreed to meet at the station at 8pm. I get there and wait a bit and look around and see a few cars but not her. Then she sends me an email from her phone saying she is in front of a store, I was in front of the same store, so I wrote back "So am I". Then this really cute almost sexy girl gets out of a car and walks toward me. I was like.....abooooooo.....well hello, not how I remembered you at all. Apparently she was not bringing friends as I expected. Girls usually want to do the group thing first a few times before being alone with guys, especially foreign guys.

Did I mention she speaks zero English? The whole meeting discussion as well as rest of the night was all in Japanese. Amazingly, we had nice discussions. I think the purpose of her in my life is to quickly improve my Japanese. I know that sounds dumb, but she sends me all her messages in Japanese and we talk all in Japanese. I have already improved a ton recently. When we were planning the night last night she wrote a word last night that I thought was "first of the month" and I almost didn't show because I thought she was saying let's get together in a few weeks, luckily I took a chance and showed up. I think we are going out again tomorrow, either that or she is moving to Cleveland.

Then today I went with a different girl to a ski slope about 50 miles away. The whole day including equipment rental and lift ticket was less than $50. I rode with her and her friends so there was no transportation cost, but I think there is a bus that goes there somewhat cheaply. The day was pretty fun, I improved my skiing probably about 10x during the course of a few hours. I'm still not great, but I made a major advancement this time. I plan to go again soon.

There was a nice bunny slope and a lower-intermediate slope and then a few super steep ones. I did the bunny slope a while and then the lower-intermediate one a few times. At the end of the day I ventured to the medium steep one. However, it was quite the illusion. When I get to the "top" of the mountain I see the lift keeps going over and then higher. At the very top there was a super steep part and there was nothing I could do. They say the mountain is the best teacher, in which it was. I learned a lot due to the fact I had no choice except improve or fall down and roll. On the way down I saw the girl I came with on the ski lift. As I saw her I said to myself "Hey let me show her how I've improved". Well she now knows how good I am at falling. I wiped out big time right in front of the lift and it hurt. I think I broke my thumb, it's still hurting.

Then we ate at the Ramen shop on the way home. It was so tasty. I was supposed to go out with the skit teacher tonight, but we agreed I was too tired for drinks later. Which sadly is true, I might have dozed off during cocktails. The sad part is I wasn't sure if she was hinting at not wanting to go or being nice about me looking tired. I didn't go to my senior prom because my date said we didn't have to go if I didn't want to and I took that as she didn't want to go. I learned later she had already bought her dress and was planning it for weeks. Well either way I said let's postpone drinks and she agreed. As we part ways she suggested we get together for lunch on Monday since it's a holiday. It's the Emperor's birthday. I go back to school on Tuesday for 4 hours and stare at the wall  and then have Wednesday through mid January off. I think I'll be able to make some updates during the break. My friend has a computer and ISDN and we should be there a lot. I know BJ plans to sightsee everyday after class, which is fine with me. I really want to watch a Sumo practice one day.

I suppose I'll update something tomorrow after the date. I will clean my apartment in the morning and do something unproductive in the afternoon. Maybe I'll hit the public bath. That still cracks me up. "Hey let's all take a bath together".

Slight tangent. I think I have American Indian blood in me because I heard they can't grow beards or facial hair. Which seems true, I've never seen pictures of Native Americans with beards. Anyway I can grow patches of hair all over my neck/throat and in the moustache/goatee area, but can't grow a beard. I thought about letting it grow, but I looked in the mirror and realized no hair grows about the chin line, so nix that idea. I'll change things up somehow. I realized my inflatable couch costs the same as a super nice couch from the same store. So why did whoever pick the awkward balloon couch? Who knows. Welcome to Ryan's Almost World.

Monday December 23, 2002

Our date yesterday went great. I have to emphasize it was completely in Japanese and we actually had a good chat all night. Not "all night", but during the whole date I mean. I actually understood most everything and was able to communicate things with her good. It's really helping my Japanese. She's cute too, by the way.  So that was Sunday night, then today I went to lunch with a different girl (such a playboy). We ate sushi. This was the ski instructor and I promised her lunch for her helping me ski. She gave me some good tips and I really improved. I think I've already covered that.

So first we went to a few "thrift" stores. We went to that one called "Hard Off". I explained to her why it's a strange name in English as well. They have so much cool stuff there and it's all really cheap. They have skis and all sorts of other stuff. I was thinking about getting some used skis since I could get them for about the price of renting them twice. Since my boots are in the mail over here, or should be at least, All I will need to ski is poles and the lift ticket. Plus the poles are only used for when I fall and need to get back up. So if I buy them now I can save money if I end up going skiing more then twice. So then I went to a place called Xebio which isn't really a Japanese word, but it's like a sports store, maybe like Sports Authority. They too had skis and clothes and whatever. I looked at some discount ski pants and bought some gloves. I don't have any water proof gloves so I needed them, plus they were only $20.

After that she dropped me off at the station where I met BJ and we walked around and he bought some stuff and looked for a tube roll to mail a poster back to the states to his Brother Jimmy. I just made up his name I really don't know what it is. Oh, BJ has a picture of that tennis dude with the dark hair, the young guy, I can see his name but can't say it. Kinda almost looks like JFK Jr. a little. Anyway he has a picture and it almost looks like they are brothers. BJ could pass for his brother. I think he won something like Wimbledon recently. I could hit google.com and look his name up but I am too tired now.

Tuesday I have to go to Higashi for 4 hours and sit there, and then I get to go to a Christmas party at a girl's apartment. She teaches for NOVA I think. They are a private English school. If you have nothing good to say, well I have nothing more to say about them. I was deemed in charge of bring desert. I will bring these little cream puffs from a place called Beard Papa's Pipin' Hot Cream Puffs. They are dang tasty and only $1 each. So I think there are about 10 people going. I need to pack tomorrow for the big trip on Wednesday. We bought the super cheap train tickets today. Where you buy 5 for $23 each and get to ride all day. So right off the back we are saving about $30 down there and $30 back. Plus we will have 3 left over and we hope to get down to Kyoto or somewhere.

Christmas Eve Day, 2002

I just woke up and thought of more people I want to round up and horse whip. First of course are the people in charge of closing the ATMs obnoxiously early, and second is I forgot, but will go through the journal and try to remember, I have mentioned them before. And so far lastly is the person in charge of making the ski lifts slightly uphill from the area you stop at. So you have to do this painful  uphill pole into the ground lunge to get to the lift. It's obviously done on purpose, and I try to rack my brain and figure out why, but everyone is suffering, even the seasoned professional skiers. So why why why?

I'm about to go sit at school for 5 hours and do nothing. Don't mind working on Christmas Eve, but having zero to do is a bit much for me. BJ left a message and said something like his town gave him a bunch of nice gifts since he is the first ALT at his school. Groovy.

Christmas Day, 2002

Renata's party was pretty cool. She wanted a real traditional type thing and it was as traditional as we could do. There were about 20+ people there, most from NOVA, a private English school. It was nice meeting new people. There were some Japanese people as well. We ate good food, like Christmas Chili and turkey and salad, and then played Win, Lose or Draw. We made a rule that foreigners can't go when foreigners are drawing, because it was turning into our game and the Japanese people weren't catching our abstract drawings.

I stayed until midnight and then BJ was crashing at my place so he wanted to hit the onsen on the way home. We met a guy at the party from Boston and he had never been so he wanted to try it out. It was interesting meeting someone and then an hour later going to a public bath together. As usual the onsen felt great. We stayed there for an hour or so then had some edamame and sat in the massage chairs for a while. Then we came home crashed and woke up at 8am this morning. He has to go back to his little town and pack and shut everything down. Not in the town, just his apartment.

In about 3 hours we will be on our way to Tokyo. That doesn't sound strange to me, heading down to Tokyo, but other people I have talked to back in the states and what not, think it sounds really bizarre. Just heading down to this massive world metropolis so casually. To me it feels no different than living in Savannah and cruising up to Atlanta for the weekend. Did you know Georgia has had two Nobel Peace Prize winners, MLK and Jimmy Carter. I wonder what other state or province has had two. Maybe we have had more, who knows.

Well it's 9:30 am Christmas Day and it sure doesn't feel like Christmas. I need to pack and do some last minute things and then head on out. So I will update this from Tokyo some where some how. I think Daisuke (die skay) has a computer and fast connection. TTYL (Talk to you later)

December 26, 2002

Today was the first day of class. We had to get up at 6:30 to catch the 7:30 train and ride it for an hour to get to class by 8:45. Class started at 9, but we had to find the place. We made it to the train and figured since it was the day after Christmas it wouldn't be too crowded. We passed about 5 stations and then hit Ikebukuro (E K Boo Coo Row) and there were tons of people getting on. We all smushed together and it was cool for BJ since he had never experienced that. We were literally ribcage to ribcage. Then we go to a few more stations and hit another big one. There are tons of people waiting and I laughed, haha too bad, this train is full.

Japan has a different meaning of the term "full", our ribcage car was apparently what they consider nearly empty. at least 50 more people flooded in our door. There were so many people I could barely breathe. I didn't have to hold the handles to keep from falling because there was no where to fall. I probably could have lifted my legs and stayed in place. As the car shifted side to side we all swayed in unison, but didn't fall. It is an experience you should try.

The entrance interview for the school went far better than I anticipated. She was talking fast in Japanese and I was answering relatively fast back. We spoke for about 20 minutes all in Japanese and I managed to understand most all of it and when I didn't was I able to say something close to the right answer. There were two other people in my class, oddly both named Jason. We were the intermediate class and BJ was in the beginner class. He also had to other guys in there, not named Jason. So the students were all guys and the teachers were all girls, and cute at that.

The school taught exactly what I needed at the time, but not at the speed I would have liked. There were 5 classes, at 4 hours per day. On average we would learn one new thing and they would drill us for two hours. Sometimes after the break the next teacher would come in and review for an hour before moving on for the last hour. I felt we should learn a new structure per hour and be drilled for that hour. I don't need to pay someone to drill me, I have tons of friends that will do that for a beer or dinner at a restaurant. Overall I guess I am pleased since the class helped me make since of verb conjugations and a few other loose ends I had, but I feel we really could have learned a whole lot more. I doubt I'll go back now that I see the way they did it. I can just find a structure in a book and have someone explain it and drill me.

After class let out at 1, we ate lunch at a little noodle shop where you buy your ticket from a machine and then stand up to eat. Standing up seems weird for a minute and then it really makes sense. They would be able to fit less than half as many people in there if they had tables, plus with us standing we can be right against each other, but sitting everyone would want their own space. Anyway the food was ok, but it was about $3 to eat there, so I loved it. Then we went sightseeing to the Meiji Shrine. At first BJ wanted to see a sword museum. I'm not really big on museums, but I figured what the heck. So we follow the map down small unnamed streets and eventually come across it tucked away. It's closed until Jan 5th or so. Great. So we walk back and explore the shrine for a bit. I'll put the pictures in a special Tokyo Pictures section.

Then we head to the twin towers in Shinjuku. They are government buildings with observation decks at the very top. I had been there before, but BJ hadn't so we went. It was a pretty clear afternoon and we could see Mt Fuji. There were other cool buildings to see as well. We stayed here about an hour then made it back to Daisuke's cool place on the 28th floor of a building. He got in around 8 and we took him out to dinner for letting us stay there.

The other days were pretty much the same. We'd go to class and then explore a few new sights in the afternoon. It gets dark at 4:30 here so we were often in the dark. I discovered a place called Yoshinoya. Where you can get thin beef strips on rice for like $2 a bowl. For an extra helping it's about $4 and for a raw egg it's only an extra 50 cents. I ate here all the time, I mean really filled up for under $5, and sometimes I didn't get the extra helping and my meal was only $3. That's insane. There was one right under Daisuke's place and a few all over the place in Tokyo. Sometimes two in sight of each other.

New Years Eve

After a long drawn out disagreement on where we should go, we ended up at a place called "Motown", since the door said $50 all you can drink 9-1. That was a little steeper than I wanted to pay, but most places had a $30 cover charge so here I get free drinks for a while. It was 10 so we still had three hours. We went in and down the stairs. It was a nice "Cheers" looking bar with a good number of people. I ordered a few drinks and they were actually strong, not the usual watered down versions. We drank and chatted and talked and met new people. Oddly all guys for the first hour. Some guy from India and a guy from Pakistan, and a few other places. We had a table right in the middle of the floor so everyone had to walk past us to get to the bathroom. met some Americans in the bathroom, one guy from North Carolina, forget his name now.

Then there's the countdown, yea it's 2003. Woo hoo. In Japan they say it's Heisei Jugo nen. Which means it's been 15 years since the last emperor died, that's how they do years. Last year was 14 this year is 15. The last emperor lasted 89 years or something. This one, his son, has been in charge for 15 years. More on him later.

Then it's 12:30, I want another Long Island Iced Tea. I call the guy over and he said too bad it's last call. Hmm, thought they said 9-1. Then all of a sudden the lights come on and the music stops and they are shuffling us out. Oh I get it, the sign should have said "We are only open from 9-1, there will be free drinks while we are open, but we will stop serving at 12:30". JIP!!! I only had about $30 worth, maybe more since they were probably $10 each and I had 4. We are shuffled out and decide to go to GasPanic for a while.

Big mistake. There were already 200 too many people in there. All Marines or Army and a few ugly girls. Just outside there were cops everywhere in riot gear, which I didn't even think Japan had. There were paddy wagons and guys with sticks. So apparently this area gets crazy sometimes. I stayed in for about 10 minutes then I had to leave. I was forced in the corner and couldn't get out there were so many people. Finally I made it outside and headed home. Luckily the trains run 24 hours on NYs eve and NYs day. I made it back to Dai's place, but stopped at Yoshinoya on the way to get more cheap meat. BJ wandered in a few hours later. We didn't see Dai for an entire day. I thought he was dead or in Jail.