Thursday, 21 February 2008

PostHeaderIcon Choo Choo

Out of the way for the gravy train.

Today I have:

Had one meeting.
Had school lunch with my 6th grade.
Messed about in the elementary playground for half an hour.
Learnt one kanji (元) character and revised some grammar.
Exhausted the internet for news articles.
Accidentally fed a ¥1 coin to a fish.
Drank a free banana milkshake.
Been paid a tidy sum for this.

Still, it's not as bad as the chaps up the road in Aki City. They got paid to sit in a pleasant 15oC and watch a professional baseball team train (Hanshin Tigers). They regularly come to my rural part of Japan to train for the new season. I was going to go to a proper game this weekend but the tickets sold out.

Yes, so sometimes I feel like I'm exploiting the poor Japanese taxpayer. Not every day is like this of course but I'm really enjoying teaching recently and so it can get a bit dull sitting here all day. Especially when I have little motivation to study the language (I'm usually good at studying up until late Wednesday afternoon).

I found a really amusing blog that I've been reading most of today. It's called stuff white people like and has a sarcastic dig on subjects like: buying expensive sandwiches, organic food, having friends from ethnic minority backgrounds and yoga. I like a lot of it because they're all the things I hated about the pretentious and patronising students I encountered whilst at University. One of my favourite entries was one about people not owning a television. It was so spot on and exactly like a conversation I found myself in numerous times back in Glasgow. "Oh I threw my television away yah yah" said the annoying rich kids. Secretly I always hoped they'd choke on their honey sauteed, crushed Bolivian pepper, smoked Tibetan scented bagel whilst reading some obscure Siberian novel poignantly by the windowsill only to realise that the city had been occupied by giant crabs for that particular day and if they'd only have watched the news on television that morning then they'd have been saved. Oh dear, I worried myself a bit with that outburst.

Although it must be said that it is pretty obvious that 90% of the posts are attacking the lifestyles of hipster/affluent 20/30-somethings in certain areas of certain American cities. I actually stumbled across it after reading about it on a JET discussion forum. Some of them seemed to take things a bit too personally and were quite adamant that it was written by an "Asian-American with an inferiority complex to 'white' culture". Personally, I enjoyed reading the comments and the internal arguments that erupted from them. There were some genuinely interesting discussions on racial backgrounds, culture and stereotypes. However, there was an equal amount of morons smashing their face off the keyboards spouting xenophobic garbage at each other. You should give it a read.

I teach here... sometimes
Monday, 18 February 2008

PostHeaderIcon The stream of silent silky time

Good evening blog. Although it appears I've been too lazy to update, I actually have about three drafts on the go. They are about identity, politics and the Japanese 'media'. They were a bit on the heavy and whinging side so I've decided not to post them just yet. Plus, I'm sure people prefer reading the stories about my misfortune of dying in fake tsunamis etc

I am writing this entry tonight to take advantage of the good mood I have been in recently. It's much more easier to find the motivation to write when you're angry rather than happy. The main reason I am in a cheerful spirit is because I can walk again. I got my cast off on the 8th February but I was unable to walk for a further week after that. That was a bit of a let down but the doctor said my break was quite bad so it's going to take longer to heal. It's still a bit dodgy but I've been bandage free since Saturday and I'm almost back to normal. The doctor on Friday was really nice and explained things to me in English which was a nice change. I could tell the nurses were impressed and as he was being nice to me I waited until they came back and was all "Oh wow your English is excellent" in Japanese.

I certainly won't miss spending my Friday afternoons sitting in the waiting room surrounded by dying 90 year olds. I saw a sad sight the other day when an old couple (and I mean old) were sat across from me. I could tell they were exceptionally poor as a lot of people in my rural prefecture are. The older woman was obviously ill and in quite a bit of pain. The thing that struck me was that the old man was just as fragile as she was yet he was trying his best to look after her. It was touching and tragic at the same time. Anyway, who cares about all that right? I can walk again and I won't be going back there anytime soon (hopefully). I will miss the receptionist I had a crush on though but I prefer my leg.

I often find English phrases on notebooks, tshirts and in this case a clock. They always strike me as being very profound.

I don't think I've been up to anything particularly interesting in the last few weeks so I'll just talk about this weekend as I can remember it. Actually, to begin with last Thursday... I watched Gone With the Wind at David's house in Yasuda. I only went for a bit of socialising really but ended up watching the whole thing. It went on forever, I hated all the characters in it along with the romanticised view of slavery but I'm glad I watched it. I didn't do much on Friday other than hang out with Andrew/Noah before getting a taxi home to bed. I then slept in on Saturday morning instead of going to Kochi City for the 'Genki Musical'. All the foreign folk in the prefecture do a musical in Tosa-ben (local Japanese dialect) and use the money to send Japanese kids off to schools in America. I was too tired to get up for it though, I'll probably help with lighting/sound if they need me. At about 2pm I decided to see how my car was doing as the engine was dying before I broke my leg. Luckily it appears it was only the cold temperatures that messed it up as it worked like a dream. One of the lights goes dim at night but I kick it before I start the car and it works perfectly. I love my crappy wee car.

I spent that afternoon walking about the city and doing a touch of shopping. I bumped into a few other foreigners before meeting up with Andrew and Noah for some tataki (local speciality) for dinner. I decided to tag along with Andrew later that night as there was meant to be a night out in the city. Noah had to go back to Tano as his 3rd grade were performing a play in English which he was part of. I was planning to go and watch but since I'd been stuck in my apartment for about 6 weeks I looking forward to going out. For some reason I just thought it was Noah's class doing their separate thing but it turns out this was a big elementary shindig with lots of performances. Of course, not one person actually told me anything about anything and now I look like an uncaring waster. I can't actually believe that not one of my teachers, colleagues or students (not that I'd really understand) even mentioned this to me. I bet they all discussed how I wasn't there though. I didn't participate in the town event last Sunday either so they'll hate me even more. Although, to be fair... it was a marathon. It didn't stop someone asking me if I was running in it despite having my cast off the day beforehand. I'm going to learn the Japanese tomorrow to ask them about the elementary thing though and let them know that someone needs to actually tell me. Although... it did kind of work out well for me because I got to go out and have fun with a clear conscience (at the time).

There was an 'international night' held in Nankoku on Saturday that I was thinking about going to but forgot. Somehow... that evening I ended up catching a lift in the chartered bus back to Kochi City. Apparently they had all been waiting on Andrew and I but I was fairly oblivious to this when I hobbled on. Andrew then left with some of the girls and I kind of strolled on in a fairly jolly mood. I was greeted with quite a few people looking at me in sheer disgust. Oh deary me... the daggers in their eyes were sharp. I suppose I did hold the whole thing up and caught a freebie lift from a party I was too lazy to attend... and they were all smart whilst I had a scruffy beard and an open can of beer. I didn't know though so they can naff off. I ran and hid at the back with the friendlier people who then all agreed (fairly) I was a miserable bugger when I had a broken leg.

The bus then took a really long journey to the city so my hold-up didn't look so bad and we ended up in this small pub with some acoustic music. I had fun talking to a few people, got a few drinks in me and even talked a little bit of Japanese for once. Everyone then vanished apart from my friends Joey, Nish and Lachlan. We tried to find a club but they were all empty (on a Saturday night boo) so we went to karaoke. I felt exhausted and eventually crashed at my friend's house in Nankoku as I usually do (uninvited as usual). I woke up in the middle of the night with a cat on my chest. I didn't know it was in the room and shot up thinking "what the hell is that?". I had some good banter going on with Nish and David the next morning before I headed off to buy some boring stuff like socks, towels and bedsheets. The night out was a bit average on paper but I needed it as I was starting to get a bit crazy out here in Tano.

I set-up this picture to capture my last walk to school with crutches. I was on them for another week in the end...

Last night and this evening I have found great joy in the ability to clean my apartment. I like living in a clean environment and I've been unable to do much these past few weeks. Also, I managed to change three(!) light bulbs that had recently blown without electrocuting myself. No more peeing with the aid of a torch for old Hanta. Success all round then. Also, I spent about £20 worth in the foreign food store yesterday and have been eating expensive chocolate and drinking tea like a king.

Yes, so today was a damn fine day all round. I could cycle to school this morning and all the staff were going "Hey! Your leg!" and I replied with "Yes! It's great". All my classes went really well too and I was in happysuperfun teacher mode for the whole day. I was learning loads of new Japanese and testing them out on my English teacher too. Also, I got a belated box of chocolates from some of the women (or redeesu as the katakana English read) in my junior high office. Valentine's Day in Japan differs slightly because it's only the women who are meant to buy stuff for the men although there is a new day on March 14th called 'White Day' where some men buy gifts. It's all a big commericalised fantasy of course dreamed up by some blokes in suits. Anyway, the women in the office are pretty much coerced into buying chocolate for every male. I think it's a bit unfair frankly but I got some which was nice. I liked it because they all presented it to me in a giggling manner and I reacted in a very shy sort of way. Anyway, they didn't need to give me it but seemed to want to and I thought it was really nice and appreciated it unlike all the 'courtesy chocolate'. I'll need to read into 'White Day' to see if I can buy them all something in return without it meaning I want to marry them. My advanced English class gave me some chocolate last week too with a nice little note saying they liked my class.

I reckon I'm just about done with this update. I find it really boring writing about myself in this manner but I guess I need to keep people up to date with my life. I'm going to finish off my other entries once I read over them and make sure I'm not being racist. I was going to mention I was planning on reading over my dissertation on Valentine's Day as that marked a year since I completed it. I've not been able to bring myself to read it again as the whole experience was so traumatic. It's interesting that the period of woe this year (January-February) coincides with a similar period of sheer misery this time last year. I don't think I've ever put so much effort into anything as I did with my dissertation. In the end I got the best mark in the entire History department (at Glasgow University I might add) with 97.5%. Yeah, I basically mentioned it to boast about it but I don't care because I slaved over old Islamic texts into the wee small hours. I'm the best historian in the whole world.

I took this picture the morning I finished my dissertation. I'm so dramatic sniff

I'll end in a juicy nugget of information that I've only told Noah and Andrew until this moment. When I was writing my dissertation about a year ago I got really hungry at about 3am in the morning so headed off to the Co-op for some studying fuel. My tenement flat was right next to all the shops so it wasn't that far of a journey. Just before I reached the entrance of the supermarket this sinister looking fellow approached me and the alarm bells started ringing in my head. It is at this point I would like to add that growing up in the west coast of Scotland has led me to developing a sixth sense when trouble is arising. I knew exactly how the situation in front of me was going to unfold and I knew sprinting wouldn't have been the best option as he looked like the sort of chap who would give chase for little reason... like a stupid greyhound chasing a stuffed rabbit.

"Gie's yer wallet" the man said to me. Without thinking twice I handed it over and expected him to accept this as a symbol of my submission to his obviously superior stature (ie a possible crazy drug addict with a knife). As I stood there in the rain... stripped of my masculinity I contemplated how hungry I was going to be. This struck me as a strange thought as I was facing a man who would happily stab me given the circumstances. The man opened my wallet and seemed disgusted to find I only had a £5 note. He actually looked at me with an ounce of pity I think. He took the note out and glanced at it for a split second... I'm not sure why he didn't just leave. "Is tha' aw ye huv?" he asked me. As always in these circumstances, I resorted to my more working class accent and replied with a deep "Aye". This floated in the air for a few seconds when I said something that still surprises me to this day. "Can I... like... err... have my driving license back?". I'd always thought to myself that if I was in this situation then I'd just hand everything over and shut the hell up. However, I was honestly sleep deprived and seemed to think this was a perfectly logical question. I could see no possible economic gain for him whilst it would be a lengthy hassle for me to get a new one.

Surprisingly, he quickly stuck the note in his jeans... handed me back the wallet and walked off in the opposite direction without saying a word. The incident left me feeling hungry and annoyed more than anything else. Rather than wishing to faint or call the police I just wanted to buy some Jaffa Cakes and go to bed. It's a good story to tell though eh? I never told anyone because I was a bit embarrassed and my mum might have found out and got herself worried. Don't worry mum! I'm not in Glasgow anymore and don't really want to go back. Hurrah for Japan.
Monday, 4 February 2008

PostHeaderIcon Christmas and New Year 2007

It's finally time to write about my Christmas and New Year holiday. I don't want to write a lot though so instead I've just linked to lots of pictures. I signed up to a Flickr Pro account so when I get around to it ALL my pictures should be uploaded onto there. For now I have these:

Christmas Eve's Eve... Eve Hats, music, fruitcake and beer. Joey (2nd from left) has never had a 'proper' Christmas as he's an Aussie and they're weird. So later that night he opened most of Noah's presents.

Christmas Eve's Eve. I went up in the mountains for the night. In the morning I went to pick some fruit. My local area is famous for its Yuzu which is a yellow citrus type deal.

Here's me picking some with my bare hands as I'm all man. One of the Japanese girls said "Be careful... the thorns are posion". "Arrrrgh". It only gave me a rash.

Here I am in Kyoto about a week later. I headed up to Osaka with Andrew on the bullet train the day before. He met up with his sister who was visiting for about a week and I went out exploring. I found an awesome Mexican restaurant... and later cakes, coffee, ice-cream, pancakes, Guinness... basically non-countryside goodness. This picture features my morning coffee as I walked through the Imperial Palace grounds. It was really, really boring.

That night I met up with my friend Joey. He had left a few days earlier with Noah. This is yakitori (grilled meat on skewers in lovely sauces) and beer. A wonderful combination.

Joey and I are fine gentlemen. He is probably the most sociable guy I've met in regards to strangers. Each time I went to the toilet he had made new life long friends and got himself some free food and drink.

Here's me drinking Guinness... in a pub. They have these English themed bars in the big cities called 'The Hub'. It's pretty good and they have fish&chips as well. I saw this really pig ignorant thug of an Englishmen (England rugby top on) argue with a Japanese dude because he bumped into him. I wondered whether the place hired him for authenticity.

I bought a new camera in Osaka to replace my 4 year old one. I was testing out the settings when wandering about in some bamboo in a garden.

I wanted a clear shot through the arches but it was too busy. This area had some strange features like an aqueduct. I went walking along it and got into a fight with a (I'm gonna say North American as they might have been dirty Canadians) woman. There was this really steep edge on one side of the pathway. This couple were approaching me side by side so I moved out the way as much as I could whilst she didn't even flinch and nearly knocked me over the damn edge. I confronted her about it and enjoyed it far too much. 6 months of nodding and not wishing to cause offence might have built up in me.

It's almost like the cover of my guide book.

Oooh reflections

This is a really famous bit in Kyoto. It has old temples and shrines and all that jazz. I forgot the name but it was favourite area and is a UN protected heritage site. A quick look tells me it is the Kiyomizu-Dera.

This is me posing with Sakamoto Ryoma. He played an important role in trying to rid Japan of its feudal ways. I believe his actons contributed to the Meiji Restoration which brought major social and political changes in Japan (mid 19th century). Anyway, he was born in Kochi prefecture and everyone adores him here. I even found myself saying in bad Japanese to the girl who took the picture "He's from Kochi. I'm from Kochi!".

In eastern Kyoto there are loads of small and winding streets leading to some of the best temples. They are all really busy but I think it adds to the atmosphere.

This is at the bottom of the Kiyomizu-Dera. Apparently if you drink the water then you'll stay alive forever or something along those lines. Actually, mizu means water in Japanese... the whole place probably means spiritual water spring or something. Anyway, the queue was too long and had too many fat tourists for my liking. Maybe I should have waited on second thoughts...

I think this might be famous but I can't remember. I just like the picture.

Hello me. I was kind of lost at this point but walk anywhere in Kyoto for 5 minutes and you'll find a temple with a map.

I quite liked the smell of incense whilst walking about. I might buy some.

An old couple watched me take this photograph. They were too polite to walk past. Oops

I met up in Osaka on New Year's Eve with some Kochi people. It's socially acceptable to walk about with alcohol here. We drank and went to karaoke for about a day solid. It was Erin's (3rd from right) birthday the next day too so I sang Auld Lang Syne and Happy Birthday (in German, of course) in the queue for a club at midnight. The club turned into a bit of a nightmare for me. We had to wait in the queue for ages and then pay 5000 yen (£20) for an all you can drink affair. When we got in it was the busiest club I've ever been in my life, it was like standing at the front of a concert. Anyway, I went to get some drinks and ended up getting my backside thrown outside in the space of 3 seconds. The bouncer pulled me from behind by my elbow, drinks flew everywhere and I found myself outside in a flash. After much arguing and translations I still don't know what the deal was. It left me bitter and twisted and summed up my January.

A few days later Noah and I managed to capture a Daruma sunset. My blog header (or click on the picture) shows the setting sun refracted off the ocean. It only happens in this part of Japan at this time of year. Apparently my town is the best area to see it as well. I've talked to people in the area who have lived here all their life and still haven't seen it. I took a video of it too but it's really embarrasing because Noah and I just keep shouting weird stuff like "YEAH YEAH LOOK AT IT SET". That was the result of a few day's of failed attempts.

I had a lot of fun on my New Year holiday and spent lots of money on lovely things. I didn't like Osaka too much in general but Kyoto was an excellent city for the touristy trip I had in mind.

Whilst typing this latest entry I managed to spill hot chocolate on my kotatsu blanket. I then had to hobble about to clean it up quickly with a broken leg. I used a whole kitchen roll to wipe it up and as I have no bin bags left I stupidly stuck it in the toilet. This didn't flush of course so my toilet got blocked. I then had to plunge the thing forever. I had to do this in the dark because the light bulb blew last week. This is also happened in my shower room and living room... in the same week. Ach aye.
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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.