Saturday, 15 December 2007

Livin' in the hood.

It's an 'emergency' post today, just to let everyone know that I have in fact NOT been shot in a sports club recently.

In case you didn't hear (and I'm pretty sure you didn't), that's exactly what happened up the road from me this evening. Some whack-job walked into the gym up the road with a rifle and shot a swimming instructor dead and wounded a bunch of other people just trying to keep out of the obesity epidemic.

Sod... I'm in the safest frickin' nation on Earth and I happen to be down the road from a bloody MASS SHOOTING. How's that for irony? It's a good night to stay in with the telly me'thinks.

More info at http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/14/news/Japan-Shooting.php

Stay out of the line of fire world.

Shaun.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Gomen...

Ummm, anyone still out there?

Another epic gap between posts; this time due to large scale (like blue-whale sized) technical difficulties; specifically my computer suffering from a Chernobyl-esque metdown that left it completely inoperable.

The upside is that I'm typing this on my brand new Japanoputer, which is a mondo-sexy Sony Vaio (I'll leave out the geek-drooling for now, suffice to say that I'm very impressed with the keyboard action).

Anyway, I promise to get back to uploading all the entries I've been taking copious (and manually recorded) notes on throughout my adventures, and there are adventures to be recounted... trust me.

So stay tuned... GTS is back, and as wryfully detached as ever.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Stars.

There's a lot of festivity this month! Next on the celebratory hitlist is Tanabata, the Japanese star festival on July 7th. The legend goes that two separated lovers (the stars Altair and Vega) are allowed to meet each other only on this night... awwww... romantic huh? The occasion is celebrated with a summer festival, and people tying poems, prose or wishes to the branches of bamboo trees.

Our Japanese class decked out in Tanabata wear and lookin' spiffy. See the lady on the far right in the blue? That's Fumie my teacher who's slowly but steadily improved the level of my Japanese from 'non-existent' to 'existent but bad'. Quite the achievement.


Luckily, we had the staff of our Japanese language program to explain this to us, this week we forgoed our regularly scheduled lessons in exchange for a Tanabata party, allowing the girls to get decked out in classy kinomos and the rest of us to eat some traditional sweets and write out some wishes; my three this year are (in no particular order):

  1. A pair of shoes that FIT.

  2. The ability to control my kid's classes through sheer force of will.

  3. World peace.

Really, I'll settle for one out of three. The most nerve-wracking part of the festivities was having to give a short speech in Japanese talking about yourself. Luckily I had my teacher Fumie to polish out my grammar mistakes and brief me on how to pronounce everything, domo arigato Fumie-sensei!

Post festival celebrations (the day after actually) I jumped on a bus down to Fukuoka to help Katy get her Birthday celebratory vibe on. Amanda pulled off some stellar organization and a fabulous array of Mexican food, we cracked out and carved up a candle laden watermelon (how Japanese huh?) Then we went down to the park for some more firework-themed shenanigans (wooo! I still have all my fingers, that's 2 for 2!) We stayed up sipping champagne and pontificating about life until the wee hours then eventually retired for some much needed kip.

Katy with her birthday watermelon (tea-lights included), tasty AND far healthier than the traditional calorie-loaded 'cake' alternative; Japanese ingenuity scores again!


I spent much of the afternoon hanging around Amandas place while she was out, taking the opportunity to read my way through some more Haruki Murakami, this time it was South of the Border, West of the Sun, which gets high marks from me for noirish atmosphere and visualization but lost out a little in the actual 'storytelling' sense; I'll still give it a recommendation though since you can read the whole thing in under 4 hours.

Getting festive in the park; we danced like nobody was watching. Unfortunately, someone was. Damn you Amanda! ;)


In the afternoon I grabbed a coach back to Sasebo to do dinner with Laura and Lani and reaffirm my testosterone filled manliness with a cinematic session of Die Hard 4.0, awesomely cinema's in Japan don't suffer hangups about allowing food or beverages onto their premises, so we grabbed a six pack and proceeded to sup our way through it as Mr. Willis got progressively more violent and blood stained in his pursuit of justice. Afterwards we went down to the local park and climbed onto a gazebo roof and watched the fish jump in the horribly polluted river while we philosophized. Very Dawson's Creek, no? :P

Now of course it's time to start another work week. Hooray. Yay. Woo AND Hoo. Pass the tie and call me 'sensei', I've got a whole bag of grammar, vocab and listening skills to teach before next Sunday!


Starlight and love,


Shaun.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Stripes.

One of the best things about being an English teacher in Japan is the vast array of people you meet from all over the world (or at least the English speaking world). Suddenly it's rare to have a group of friends who share an accent, and getting carded at the pub is a cool excuse to check out the drivers licenses of the globe.

Another benefit is that it provides an excuse to celebrate an inordinate number of national holidays; before I didn't even know when Canada day was, now it's marked on my calender and I'm stockpiling maple syrup in anticipation.

In any case, living among such a vast quantity of Americans, it seemed remiss of us not to do something to mark the anniversary of the nations, uhhh... nationhood. You can only imagine my shock and disappointment when I found that the only 'official' July 4th celebration was held behind the secure perimeter of the Sasebo Fleet Activities facility. 'This shall not stand!' I muttered to Lani and Laura and set about organizing a suitable homage to George Washington et all.

Laura and Lani... ummm... in my bathtub. Don't ask me how this happened (or why they were both in my tiny bathroom AT THE SAME TIME.) But we were lucky there were no fatalities. Note how Lani is reaching out for help while I'm standing taking photos. What are friends for, right?


Not that there was much organization to do, seeing as our idea of a celebration involved those two great pillars of Americana- fireworks and hard liquor. It's been so long since I've had ready access to explosives (what with Australia being one big tinderbox and all) that my childlike joy could hardly be suppressed when I walked into Jusco and found an insane quantity of near military grade explosives to choose from, all available over the counter.

So after work I got back to my apartment to find Laura and Lani already engrossed in beer-swilling and MTV watching. There were many toasts (some even non-ironic) to Lani's homeland, then we wandered down to the park to set off our stash of sky flowers. For some reason we had this idea that it would be cool to set ALL the freakin' things off simultaneously; while the visual result was indeed spectacular, it generated enough noise that we actually ran away before we were arrested under some festivity-crushing noise-pollution ordnance or something.

Fireworks! There's enough firepower here to level and entire civilization (of ants). I think the bottle of I.W. Harper is a nice touch too, it really screams 'responsibility'.


At this stage the bar seemed a good idea, so we wandered off to Playmates, then proceeded to party with the Navy for much of the night, I was amazed by how many of them didn't actually realize it was July 4th (or 5th actually at this stage) unpatriotic sods! Still they bought us beer which was nice. Happy birthday America!


Oh say can you see?


Shaun.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Balls must be kicked, deportation must be avoided.

I was back up in Fukuoka for the last few days, it seems like I’ve been living up there on the weekends lately; Most of the trips have been company sponsored, seeing as I’ve had to take multiple trips down to the immigration office to change my visa over from my ‘working holiday’ arrangement (which equates to deportation after six months) to a genuine ‘work visa’ (which doesn’t). I don’t actually mind the travel, because it gives me a fabulous excuse (and a ticket) to go down and see everyone in the big city.

I’m less enamored with my time at the department of immigration, mainly because it involves sitting on a couch for hours, occasionally standing momentarily to hand in/sign some paperwork then sitting down again while some abstract bureaucratic process takes place. Thank god for mp3 players is all I can say.

Anyway, kickball still rocks; we had a totally decent turnout this time round which helped to round out the competition nicely, plus I got to meet some of the newest recruits into the company (Wooo! we’re not the greenest faces on the field anymore!) Actually we only got to play a few innings before the rainy season reared its head and dumped on us with a monsoon. Even that wasn’t too bad actually, we sheltered under a traditional/historical Japanese gate (Amanda mentioned that it is the oldest gate in Kyushu or something), and drank all the beer and spirits we’d brought. Looking back the sight of about 15 English teachers huddled under a historical landmark drinking beer and spirits should seem kinda surreal, oddly enough it really doesn’t by now…. In fact that’s pretty much par for the course. Travel changes your perspectives that way.

It takes more than torrential rain to stop kickballing English teachers from having fun! (From left) Cristina, Lauren, Ed, Katy and Mike take shelter under a historical landmark in Ohashi Park. Extra warmth and comfort provided by the Asahi breweries.

Yeah, so we sat, talked swapped war stories from work, cracked wise (and not so wise) for a while and then scurried off to an ‘English theme pub’ called ‘Morris’ in between bursts of drenching rain. All that good karma I’m building up by being a super-conscientious educator paid off, because (drum-roll) it turns out that the pub stocked Coopers (yes, that Coopers, my hometowns fabulous and much missed pale-ale). In a flashback to a similar experience during my time in London I went crazy and bought everyone a bottle and forced them to appreciate its magnificence. I closed my eyes as I drank and imagined myself back in my beloved UniBar. Then I snapped out and bought a Guinness; sometimes you’ve gotta be pragmatic y’know? At some point in the night we decided that playing Jenga would be an awesome idea. Needless to say nobody’s hand-eye coordination was improved by spending a night in a drinking establishment. Still, fun was had.

Guinness girls! (from left) Lauren, Mitsumi and Amanda with refreshing pints of Irelands finest. Can you spot the Coopers bottle?

I ended up crashed out at Katy’s place, again indebted to the hospitality of my friends, I spent the remained of the weekend exploring some more of Fukuoka and having fun (including making a phone call to my parents from the roof of the ACROS building). I met up with Mike and grabbed dinner at a charming isakia at the end of the day then I jumped on a bus back to the ‘Bo in time to write this and begin another work week. Fun time’s over, time to get back to grammar points and oxygen-depriving neckties.

Be friendly cyber-surfers,

Shaun.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

NOVA means 'explosion'.

Big news in the Eikiwa world today; NOVA (the market leader in our industry) just had their wrists firmly slapped by the Japanese Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry, apparently over some fairly shady practices involving refund practices and whatnot. Naughty, naughty. More info (if for some reason you’re actually interested) can be found here.

So why am I posting about this? Well, I have a few friends who work for the local NOVA and while I’m sure the company isn’t gonna shut its door and retire its obnoxious half-bunny half-squid mascot any time soon, I AM somewhat concerned about the company going on a cost-cutting spree and putting them out of work. Oh, and it makes it look like I’m actually engaged with events around here instead of just looking like a booze-hound educator with aspirations of tourism.

The NOVA bunny. Dosen't it look like something out of the Cthulhu mythos? And yet the sight of this monstrosity apparently makes people crave an English language education... go figure.

Right, back to my oh-so engaging ironing; shirts don’t artificially flatten themselves y’know…

Shaun.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Furnishings are the spice of life.

It was a big day for me today, a day that marks the end of an era; the sleeping on the floor era to be precise. Something finally cracked in me the other day when I woke up and found myself staring into the antenna of a reasonably proportioned cockroach. No more floor naps for Shaun, nuh-uh… one day you’re looking at a roach, next thing you’re waking up strangely full and picking bits of shell out of your teeth.

My solution? Cutting-edge convertible couch technology. A soft sprung surface of synthetic fabric supported by four stout posts that doubles as an effective television viewing platform and a comfortable place to lose consciousness at the end of the day. It’s a beautiful functional thing, and a grand monument to my first complete paycheck.

My couch, the new love of my life, a thing of beauty is she not?

Ummm… yeah, so that’s about it. I know it’s a little sad to write a whole entry about a piece of furniture, but hey… at least it’s a little different than my usual “I went out drinking with some people” entries, right? Ummm… not that I having been doing that, but y’know, I know it must get kinda samey.

Because he missed out last time this is Mike, posed here with the same snake juice (it's official name is Habu-sake by the way) that welcomed me to to this town. God-bless 'im, it's nice to have a friend to share your rituals of pain with.

Yeah, so I’m still alive; I have a comfy place to sleep and I’ve gone three whole days without eating a meal out of a convenience store; I don’t think life gets much better than that.

Sleep well world,

Shaun.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

New Friends, Jazz and Dental Health.

Yo cyber-readers! How’s life? Are you staying sane? Did you do something cool today? Life’s flying by y’know! Get out there and have a great day! Ok… finish reading this first though, thanks. ;)

Right, so I’ve been being social lately, I’ve taken to hanging out with a pair of girls who work for the local NOVA lately; Lani (who I’ve already mentioned) and her new roommate Lauren who hails from Devon in England and is brand new to this whole ‘Japan’ thing. Poor thing, she’s landed just as this island is starting to get genuinely oppressively hot; the humidity is killing me, I can’t imagine what it must be like for her.

Ohhhh! New girls! Lani (on the left) and Laura (on the right) finally some people who are even newer at this than I am. This is their first time in an Isakia, bless their little cotton socks. They've already got the ubiquitous Japanese 'peace for photos' pose down pat though.

To make life even more interesting, the company has delivered us an ET to help out with the workload around here (ET stands for ‘Emergency Teacher’ and is no way related to creepy wrinkly aliens just in case you were wondering). His name is Mike, he’s from California, has been working in Tokyo for a bunch of years and he’s pretty much the coolest thing that’s happened at work since I got here, you have no idea what’s it’s like having someone in the office who actually laughs at my offbeat humour.

We all went out for a bar tour last night which involved spending a grandiose amount of time sitting in various jazz bars and trying everything on the drinks menu. We talked about music for hours on end, swapped a bunch of wacky stories, solved all the worlds geopolitical problems and generally did the whole ‘gaijin bonding’ thing that this job seems to tacitly encourage.

Bizarre event of the moment: this week it's the Sasebo 'Dental Health' festival, complete with tooth-brushing demonstrations and an art competition where school children compete to render the best depiction of tooth decay. It's almost enough to make me floss.

In other exciting news (at least for me), I discovered a late-night supermarket about 10 minutes walk from my flat; this means my grocery shopping schedule is suddenly vastly more flexible, and it may save me from having to run down to Jusco during my lunch breaks. I’ve decided that I need to do a serious clear up around here, it seems like the change of continent hasn’t actually improved my housekeeping skills (big surprise) and the fact that I’m having to step over things on the floor to get to the bathroom is a major warning sign of the bachelor lifestyle taken too far. I’m all alone and maidless over here, without family or roommates to share my domestic burdens. Woe is plentiful.

Cool, clean vibes,

Shaun.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Flyers? Japanese? Kickball!

My, what an active few days; there’s been the standard rigmarole of work which never fails to keep one buzzing of course, but this week I had things shaken up a bit by the beginning of a series of trips down to the local university to do ‘promotional work’, ‘promotional work’ in this case is a super-secret codephrase that translates to ‘hand out flyers’. Ok, it’s not exactly what I imagined myself doing when I was riding the plane on the way over here, but it’s actually kinda fun it’s own way; I mean, you nod, smile and say ‘Hello, how are you?’ about 48 zillion times and shove flyers into the hands of university students. Personally I’d prefer to be giving out tissues, because that would be uniquely Japanese, but hell I’ll take what I can get, and a bit of overtime never goes astray right?

I finally went to my first Japanese lesson on Friday too, well at least my first Japanese lesson that actually involves sitting in a classroom and doing exercises; it’s not like I never get a chance to practice after all. It was fun, I learnt all about introducing myself and saying basic stuff like ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’, which was nice because I already knew most of it, so I felt like I was doing really well. I’m sure it’ll be harder next week though. It made me feel slightly guilty about my paycheck too, I pay 500 yen for a months tuition by dedicated volunteers who come in on their day off to help poor people like me make their way in the country. That’s genuine altruism yo.

It’s been a week of firsts, I also went to my first AEON kickball game this weekend… that’s right, kickball; that game we used to play in primary school. It’s back baby, laced with an attractive new coating of beer and karaoke after parties. Anyway, I’ve decided that kickball is indeed a fantastic sport and I’ve decided that my co-workers are all ultra-cool. They must all have hearts of gold to give me a standing ovation for my inebriated rendition of ‘In the Navy’ (a song, I wisely avoid back in Sasebo on account of the local demographic). Bonus props to Mitsumi too for letting me sleep on her floor instead of Fukuoka central park.

Katy and Mitsumi on the field of kickball glory (otherwise known as Ohashi Koen) representing the US and Canada respectively. They both kick balls most admirably.

Best of all, my travel was all paid for, on account of my visa needing to be re-designated; ok, so sitting in the immigration office is never fun; but I’ll take my breaks where I can get them, besides it gave me an excuse to hang around and shop for the rest of the day, which is something I never really get sick of in Fukuoka (wooo! All you can eat engrish T-shirts!)

Go team Kareoke! Singing, dancing, teaching English... is there anything we can't do?

So by now obviously I’m kinda wiped, and yet I have to get back to work tomorrow… yike, oh well… maybe watching ‘Columbo’ tonight will refresh my tired brain… he’s even more hilarious in dubbed Japanese!

Kick on world,

Shaun.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Goodbye Spencer, Hello Telecomunications.

It was both a sad and joyous day today.

Let’s get the sad part over with first: Spencer is moving away from the ‘Bo to the greener (greyer?) surrounds of Tokyo and tonight was his going away party. Of course the party itself was significantly rockin’- we went to the local sports bar called ‘Dreamers’ and indulged heartily in all manner of food, beverages and socialization. It’s always really nice to get everyone together in one place, and while It’s sad to see Spencer go, it was cool to meet some new people too, there’s a married couple called Jocelyn and Craig from California and a very funky young lady called Milani from Utah; I look forward to introducing them all to the pleasures of karaoke, pachinko and binge-drinking.

Spencer with his adoring admirers; we'll miss ya man!

It’s kinda weird not being the ‘new guy’ anymore, but it’s cool to be able to help other people and watch them get settled in. It reminds me of the wonder I had during my first few weeks; in a way I’m a little sad that going to the supermarket isn’t an adventure anymore, but I guess it does save time when you don’t have to stop and take pictures of whatever crazed mascot is on the instant noodles this week.

My big exciting news is that I got my Alien Registration Card, which means Wooooo! I’m all legal and the government has deemed me worthy of the ultimate responsibility: cell-phone ownership! No more trying to organize my social life with a notebook and e-mail, yay!

I went somewhat silly in my excitement and walked into the nearest DoCoMo and grabbed the first phone that caught my eye; I ended up with a Foma SO703i as advertised by some J-pop starlet with alarming regularity on CNN. As befits any piece of technology on this island it’s so ridiculously feature heavy that I live in constant fear of launching nuclear missiles at Russia when I put my phone on silent. Seriously, it makes video calls, reads barcodes, gives GPS information… and the best part, it smells. Seriously, it comes with a frickin’ ‘scent card’ so when you’re talking you can smell lilacs. Uhhh… I wonder how long it took the R&D folks to think up that one.

My phone, complete with its 'aroma card'; it scares me that it probably has more processing power than the space shuttle.

Yeah, so anyway I’m back in contact and I spent a good part of today thumping all the numbers and e-mail addresses (‘cause SMS is soooo 2 years ago) that I had written down on a collection of post-its into my shiny new toy. In case you hadn’t noticed I’m pretty pleased. Now all I need is a set of ridiculously gaudy cell-phone charms and I’ll be set.

Stay in touch world,

Shaun.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

All that Glitters is not Golden Week.

*Sigh* well, holidays can’t last forever; and the weekly rigmarole of work has officially returned, not that I’m complaining… much. It’s kinda nice to have the structure back in my life I guess, the students are nice and I have an excuse to eat lunch at the worlds most awesome burger restaurant around the corner from work (it’s called ‘Big Man’, and it serves these deep fried cheese balls which are quite frankly probably the most awesome creation since the inclined plane).

On the downside I have to wear my suit again, and I have to take off my jacket and battle kids and their steadfast reluctance to articulate vocab words again, and I have to listen to listening exercises that sound like awful 80’s sitcoms *again* . Oh well, such is the life of an educator, maybe I just should have picked a cushy job, like military service where you get to wear awesome always-in-fashion camo all day, and the hardest thing you have to do is dodge a few IEDs in Fallujah… I know I’m right because a marine I met in a bar told me so.

Still, sometimes the perks are cool; take this Monday for instance, when the company kindly paid for me to go down to Fukuoka and drink premium beer with a gaggle of supermodels in a hot spring.

Oh yeah, that was just the dream I was having last night before I rolled off my futon and into the harsh grip of reality, a reality that still involved Fukuoka, but replaced the rest with business garb, long bus rides and a long conference about the company’s upcoming self-study campaign (which basically involves us trying to convince our students to buy stuff to help them study at home more).

While I’m skeptical about the campaign (sheesh… how much time can a person spend repeating after a CD before their brain melts huh?) The conference was actually pretty cool if only because it gave everyone who joined AEON Kyushu in the last few months the chance to meet each other and swap e-mail addresses; I got to go out to lunch with Christi and Lauren again, and I met a bunch of really cool people too; I signed up to play kickball in Fukuoka on the weekends (even though I probably won’t be able to make it that often). That’s pretty awesome since I might get some fitness time in too; although melding the kickball with beer will probably act to balance things out.

It was also cool to get a chance to sit down and get some quality time with Chihiro (hell… there nothing like four hours of bus riding to encourage story-swapping; boredom is everyone’s common adversary). Again I’m impressed by her charming accent, and it’s nice to know there’s one staff member that won’t go ‘ehhh?’ when I say ‘zed’, ‘flat’ or ‘petrol’. Bloody colonials… they’re taking over the world I tell you!


Today's photo features signage from the local loan provider. A bold counter to those who claim there is no truth in advertising.

Right, so I just wandered in, it’s past midnight, and even the fact that I just earned a hundred and something thousand yen worth of overtime for sitting and listening most of the day can’t raise my spirits over the fact that I have to start a working week tomorrow. Ergo I choose to collapse on my futon.

Goodnight cyber-readers,

Shaun.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

The Eternal Placeholder Post of Slackness.

Contrary to popular belief, Shaun is NOT dead. He is NOT lying in a bathtub full of sand on a Tokyo balcony.

Actually I've just been insanely busy... mostly the fun kind of busy, but busy nonetheless.

I'm gonna delete this post soon and put up all my 'saved' blogs just as soon as I can format them, hopefully that'll be around tommorow... or it might be on the weekend, depending on my work/party schedule. Japan's tough that way. :P

Anyway, sorry about the crazy delay... getting on the net was harder than I thought.

Much love world!

Shaun

EDIT: I've put up about half of my archived entries... I'll try to get the rest up over the next few days, I have to go up to Fukuoka tomorrow for a conference but the rest of the story is coming ASAP I promise! Thanks again for writing everyone, I hope you'll all having much fun out there! :D

EDIT #2: Ok, so all my carefully scheduled plans to write, format and post everything I've so painstakingly catalogued are lying in ruins. Most of the problem stems from the fact that my weekdays are pretty busy and although I get the mornings off those of you who know me can attest to the fact that I'm hardly a 'morning person' in the classic sense, the truth is before noon I have trouble summoning enough neurons to make coffee, let alone format pictures and type witticisms. Compounding the problem is the fact that I've spent the last few weekends out of the apartment altogether; I have plenty of fodder for stories, and I try yo keep up with actually writing them all down, but I'm short on posting time. In any case thank you all again for visiting, commenting and generally being awesome. I really do appreciate it. More soon, truly. As some sort of minimal compensation I finally swapped a few things around in the lists on the left. Woo-frickin'-hoo.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Don Tak Who?

Hiiiii! I’m back! Did you miss me?

Phew, well at least I don’t feel like I’ve been slacking or failing to make the most of my precious vacation days, I can now cross ‘visit Chikushino’ and ‘attend Dontaku festival’ off my giant corporeally nonexistent list of ‘things to do in Japan’.

It’s really cool to feel like a tourist again, and I cannot overstate the newfound pleasure I derive from a protracted period without a tie knot in close proximity to my throat. It was cool to see Cristis apartment, since I’ve been pretty curious about how my place measures up; I must say I’m pretty jealous of her bed, not that my futon is uncomfortable, but I’m kinda sick of having to roll up my bedding during the day like some sort of nomad. Being in Chikushino made me appreciate Sasebo all the more, unlike my town English speakers and signage are not exactly prevalent, still that’s a great excuse to learn Japanese and jump straight into ‘immersion therapy’… plus Fukuoka is only a 15 minute train ride away, so that’s pretty nice. We stayed up and watched Garden State which was nice and homey, and far more comprehensible than the Crazy Restaurant Gang Show which was the televised alternative.


Speaking of Fukuoka, Dontaku was a pretty spectacular… uhh… spectacle. Think giant street festival with a giant crowd, giant floats and lots of other giant things. There were lots of people in their kimono, plus the Dontaku ‘extra’ of hats constructed out of flowers; very pretty, although I can’t imagine where they found that many fresh flowers around here. Maybe they grow them in giant underground vats or import them from China; that seems to be where most organic stuff comes from around here.

The most generic Dontaku photo ever. Ladies with flower hats. I could have posted pictures of 'Ms. Fukuoka' in her revealing outfit, schoolgirl cheerleaders or the 'Transvestite wedding' float, but this is what you get. Feel free to flood my inbox with complaints.

We milled around Fukuoka for a while afterwards, soaking up the atmosphere and occasionally pausing to munch on carnival food, some of which was familiar, much of which was unrecognizable due to it being deep fried in a fabulously artery-clogging fashion. So much for all that amazingly healthy Japanese food; heart disease and obesity epidemic here I come! Hopefully walking several kilometers around the city will help me shed all those extra kilos. Meh… who am I kidding? I couldn’t get fat if I tried.

Even fictional pirates love Dontaku! I put my Dontaku mask on this disturbing effigy of Mr. Depp for this photo. The masks were worn by comedians to hide their identity from the fascist Japanese rulers of ages past, so I think the connection is quite fitting.

We missed Lauren, due to a unfortunate mix up regarding her phone number, hope ya had a great time anyway Lauren! Next time huh? I crashed out at Cristi’s place again, we took a short tour of Chikushino in the morning and grabbed lunch at a local restaurant (woo! I got to work on my impromptu sign-language skills some more) then I hauled myself back to Fukuoka and jumped on a bus back to Sasebo. It’s nice to be back in my own space, even if I did come back to a pile of dishes waiting to be done and a lack of milk in the fridge. Oh well, such is the ugly underside of my bachelor lifestyle.

Hmmm… people are big on maids here, I wonder if I could find one actually capable of doing domestic duties and without all the usual fetish connotations? Nah… probably not.

All the best world,

Shaun.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Monkey (or is it Kyushu?) Island.

Ahhh… vacations, it doesn’t matter how old you get or what you do to procure sustenance in this crazy world, vacations still rock. Especially if they’re paid, and even moreso if you have some friends that are psyched to party.

You know what I was saying about having superpowers? Well it turns out that I do have amazing powers, at least of luck. I was out shopping when I walked past the train station and who should I bump into but Christi? She’d just come off the train and by some amazing stroke of serendipity I was walking past as she was standing outside the train station. Who needs the high tech wizardry of mobile phones (or indeed the low-tech wizardry of smoke signals) when you have impeccable timing and a ridiculous amount of luck?

Anyway, I took Cristi on the big tour of Sasebo (which wasn’t really that big since it involved two parks, a wharf, the shopping arcade and my apartment) we ate Mexican (Viva the nachos!) and then met up with Saori for a night of wanton indulgence in wine, food and TV; we watched three episodes of Queer Eye then switched to ‘High Fidelity’ (mostly because of my incessant heterosexual male whining). Great night though!

After emerging bleary-eyed from our futons the next morning we grabbed breakfast the window shopped for a goodly proportion of the day, I managed to convince Cristi to sample a Sasebo burger while the opportunity was evident, for a fairly petite girl she managed to wolf it down quite easily, props! We wandered around the market district for a while then went to a few 100 Yen stores (the same concept as ‘Cheap As Chips’) to prepare for Hannah’s pirate-themed birthday bash. Being somewhat cheap ‘preparation’ involved buying bandannas, although I splurged and bought a 100 Yen T-shirt and wrote ‘Arrrrr’ on it with a whiteboard marker.

We started off in Nimitz park with jelly-shots then moved up to Gela’s temporary domicile (which is a very nice house in the hilly suburbs of the city) for the majority of the night; again the craziness of the alcohol supply in this country astounds me, I walked into the lounge room and the first thing I laid eyes on was a 3 LITRE bottle of Smirnoff, the second was a 3 litre bottle of Jack Daniels, and after that a 5 litre box of sangria. I’m not even going to start on the ridiculous pile of beer and other assorted spirits scattered liberally around the place.


Anyway, enough about booze; let me tell you about the binge-drinking. We had about 18 people attend in all, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people; special mentions must go to Spencer from Canada for his fabulous piratanicalness and awesome wit (seriously, watch out Mr. Depp), Lauren from England who was kind enough to force many drinks upon me and drag me onto the tatami ‘dancefloor’ and Paco, a fine representative of the U.S. armed forces who gallantly stripped off his shirt and did the manly task of providing us all with substance from the barbeque. Kudos to you all!

Spencer, Hannah and Gela get piratanical; check out all that bootylicious booze! Just looking at it now makes my innards twitch uncomfortably.

We eventually wound up taking taxis back into Sasebo proper (mainly to avoid having the neighbors file charges of disturbing the peace against us) and continued on at another string of bars ending with the appropriately named ‘Treasure’ (which actually has a beach sand covered floor, how cool is that?) I made friends with an ancient Japanese man who taught me how to play crazy 8’s (or ‘baka hatchi’ as it’s known around here) even though he didn’t speak a word of English. It was 8AM by the time we staggered out into the sunlight and sensibly decided to call it quits; poor Lauren… she had to catch a bus back to Kuramoto at 12; still… such is life as an educator, and she’s a trooper.

This kindly old man taught me how to play cards, I gave him my 50 yen bandanna as a token of thanks; it suits him, don'tcha think?

Of course today was pretty much a write-off, consisting of obtaining food, minimum stamina expenditure and avoiding anything that makes loud noises. I feel pretty much fine by now though, it’s amazing what raman, water and sleep can do.

Tomorrow we’re going to go up and explore around Cristi’s place in Chikushino, then go back into central Fukuoka and meet Lauren (our Lauren) for the Dontaku festival, which I don’t have much idea about but am assured is quite a big deal around here. I’m just excited about being stared at by schoolgirls again.

Alright, time to go shove my gear into my newly-acquired Hello Kitty duffel bag. Back in a few days, stay happy alright?

Shaun.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

A Week of Gold.

Golden week! Golden week! We love Golden week!

It’s the first day of Golden week vacation today, and as you can likely tell; I’m fairly excited because I don’t have to go into work ever again… or at least for a whole week.

My first week of being a ‘real’ teacher has just flown by…’busy’ would be an understatement; there’s always something to do at the office and the schedule can get fairly hectic at times. Lesson planning has become a five minute matter rather than a half hour project but teaching back to back lessons for five or six hours is pretty draining. The students are always fun though, and it’s great being able to actually feel like you’re helping someone with something they care about. The best part is probably answering questions (‘which is a worse insult, pig or dog?’) and being able to teach stuff that’s tangential to the curriculum (yesterday I explained about fraternities, sonorities and ‘keggers’ to a student who's planning a stay in an American university).

The biggest challenge is probably the kids classes; while adults are well-behaved, with kids it's often quite difficult to make them do the activities as planned. I have a newfound respect for early childhood educators everywhere. So far the teaching points have been making it across, but I still never quite feel in control in the classroom, it’s more like I’m a lion-tamer than a teacher or something. I’m hoping it’s just a matter or practice, otherwise I’m heading to aneurysm-land.

Last night me, Saori and Hiroki celebrated by going out to an isakaia for some food and drinks; lotsa fun! Chihiro's running off to a hot spring for a week (a plan which I am exceedingly jealous of) and everyone else has plans to visit their families (Golden week seems to be kind of a Thanksgiving equivalent over here) so I'm gonna take the opportunity to explore a bit.

I'm not really alone though; I got a knock on the door last week from Gela and Hannah, two foreign teachers who also work in the neighbourhood, although I answered the door in my boxers (I had some misguided idea about an 'early night' or somesuch) they still agreed to take me out and show me the sights ('sights' in this case means 'bars'). We went down to the local watering hole called 'Playmates’ and began a fairly epic night out that ended sometime around 3.30 in the morning and spanned another 3 bars and a karaoke parlour. Both of them are a great source of advice about teaching and life in Japan and it was nice to take a bit of a tour of the town. Hannah lives right above me in my building too, so it’s good to know there’s a friendly face nearby, and her English accent is very charming.

Want to try something different? Some Japanese bars have this stuff, which we affectionately call 'Snake Juice'.

And this is me, Hannah and Gela indulging in aforementioned snake-infused liquor. Why are we smiling? Even I don't know.

I’ve still got to get some plans together for the holiday, lest I fall into a deathly abyss of sitting in my flat watching MTV and eating dry pasta for a week and a half straight. I’m still slightly crippled in the organization department by my lack of internet or cellular phone access, but I’m gonna try and catch up with Cristi and Lauren anyway… after all, how hard can it be? I’m GTS (Great Teacher Shaun) after all!

Golden week means celebrations, and no town celebrates like Sasebo! Because Sasebo celebrates with a giant inflatable hamster.

Ummm ok, I’m gonna go, I need to fold up my futon and vaccum. Grand plans indeed.

(GT) Shaun.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Welcome to the J-Pan...

It’s the weekend (at least my weekend: Sunday and Monday) and I’m lazing around my flat recovering from my welcome party last night. Serious fun was had; after work everyone from the office and a bunch of students got together and we all went out to this all you can eat/drink buffet at a local swanky hotel. The food was great, we started off with beer but soon switched to cocktails (Saori used to be a bartender, so she’s awesome at making drinks). Afterwards one of our students took us all to karaoke- which was so totally fun and so hilarious that I still giggle to think about it; everyone has their preference for music, and while I got to hear a lot of cool Japanese songs my highlights were singing R.E.M. (What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?) Aimee Mann (Lost In Space), Daniel Powter (Bad Day, with Chihiro) Greenday (American Idiot, with Hiroki) and Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water, with everyone). We stayed out singing and drinking until 3AM. Total Awesomeness.

It's an unwritten law that in Japan every product, organisation, institution or thing composed of atomic matter needs a cute/bizarre mascot. This is the one for Sasebo city, illustrating the 'sailors and burgers' motif admirably.

I think I’m gonna go shopping today and maybe make some kind of effort to decorate my apartment, it’s looking pretty austere and I think it’d be nice to come home to a few posters and maybe a pot-plant or two… hmmm, I’ll have to think about interior decoration in between lesson planning. Shoot me your suggestions (bearing in mind that cheaper is better).

Still lost in Japan,

Shaun.

Finding Engrish over here is about as hard as finding sand on a beach. Todays dose is courtesy of a sweat top I bought at Jusco yesterday. It may be nonsensical, but its warm, and it was cheap.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

My Flat, My Job and an End to Suitcase Living

Here I am at the end of my second official day of work and I’m finally finding enough time and energy to crack out my laptop and get digital again. I’m typing this as I sit on the floor, with my laptop on top of the koatsu (one of those low tables with a built in heater) how Japanese is that? Actually this might be a short entry since I don’t have a cushion yet and the floor is hard, but I still feel pretty damn cool.

My apartment building. 100% genuine (possibly) earthquake proof concrete.


Sasebo is really nice and pretty; unlike Fukuoka you can actually find patches of grass here, and I can see some wooded mountains from one of my apartment windows. I can’t wait to go exploring more, but right now I’ve been limited to walking the route between here and work (which happens to be practically the length of Japans longest enclosed shopping mall; it takes about 10 minutes, and really it doesn’t seem that long). There’s an awesome Mexican restaurant across the street too, so I won’t be missing out on nachos, woo!

Sun Plaza: Japan's longest mall, where you can buy whatever kind of generic fast food you want. Yay. See the Jusco? That's where I (try to) shop for food.

The staff at the school are all really awesome and great; my manager Saori took me down to the government offices to get my alien registration card today, so we had some time to swap stories; she’s really cool and nice, plus she seems really cheerful, which gives the office a good atmosphere. I finally got to meet the rest of the staff in person too; I’m kinda wary of saying too much, since this is the internet and people still deserve some shreds of privacy y’know; but Hiroki (our headteacher) Chihiro (my fellow teacher who mostly deals with kids) and Takaho (the part time kids teacher) all seem really nice, and I’m grateful that I get to work with such cool people. It’s a small team (in fact the smallest in the entire AEON chain) but that’s nice in its own way since we can work pretty tightly.

Mostly I’ve been following the lead of Chad, the Emergency Teacher who’s been working in the school for the past month. He’s a total pro and has given me a lot of really great advice, there’s still a lot to learn but I feel like I just might be able to get a handle on the ‘real’ job soon. I’m still vaguely terrified at the prospect of teaching children, but I’m hoping that will fade in the face of actual experience.

I haven’t had much of a chance to explore the city itself, but moving into my apartment has been great; It’s been really great to unpack my suitcases and settle down. The place is larger than I expected, and while I still need to get a few things, it’s mostly pretty decked out. I’ve inherited a 62cm flatscreen TV, and although the only thing I can understand with certainty is CNN, it came with a Playstation 1, so I can at least play CDs. I’ll have to wait until my Japanese is infinitely better before I can play the copy of Final Fantasy that came with it though. Sleeping on a futon every night seems a little strange, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon enough, likewise with the whole ‘changing into slippers when you walk in the door’ thing and sitting down on the floor instead of a chair; I’m still more bemused than culture shocked- it feels weird to actually be doing all those ‘quirky’ things I’ve seen in movies and anime. I’m having fun though, it’s nice to have a seismic shift in lifestyle, and I feel like I’m learning a lot by being here.

Motochima-cho, the main street of Sasebo; not exactly an urban-jungle. But I like the small-town charm of the place.

Now I’m going to go and sort my trash (‘cause if I don’t no-one will take it). Afterwards maybe I’ll take another shot at figuring out which dial does what on my washing machine; does anyone know what the kanji for ‘spin’?

Shaun-sensei.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

I am sensei, hear me snor... uh, roar.

It was our last day of training today! There was lots of ‘Yay!’ a little bit of ‘Awww!’ and I heard “gambatte!” (which means ‘do your best’, and is interjected into conversation with regularity) more times than I care to remember.

Mostly we’re focusing on the ‘Yay!’ since we’re all totally excited about finally being able to stop living out of suitcases and settle down into our apartments. Personally I’m totally itching to finally get down to Sasebo and see what the place is like in person after reading and hearing about it for so long. I’m looking forward to getting some of the basics of my high-tech, information dependant and horrendously decadent life back; lack of stuff like a cell-phone, broadband connection and a set of speakers so my mp3’s sound decent is starting to grate; and I’m totally looking forward to getting back in contact with the rest of the world! (That means actually posting this stuff instead of just writing it out in Word)

Me with the AEON kids mascot (I forget, but I think he's called 'Muffy'). I love the fact that he has fangs... I can just imagine Buffy kicking his arse.

Anyway, we did our last round of information cramming today, nothing too strenuous, just some pre-school stuff (I don’t have any pre-school lessons anyway, which I’ve decided is cool… if only because it’s one less set of structures and materials I have to memorise). The Honbucho (regional manager) took us all out to lunch at a very nice Italian restaurant, which was very nice… we were all a little stressed, because, well, she’s the regional manager of this giant company we work for, but actually she was really nice and just asked a lot of questions about us all; it made meeting her for our ‘graduation ceremony’ a fair bit less scary too. Basically she just pinned our AEON badges on us, told us we were great and to ‘gambatte!’ then sent us out into the big scary world of teaching. Yaaay! We’re all officially *name*-sensei now!

The AEON class of April, 2007; (from left) Me, Lauren, Gerry (our training guru) and Christi. Don't we all look ever so spiffy?

We celebrated in the time honoured fashion of eating ramen, wandering the streets for a while, then walking into a pub. The fact that we had to be up, packed, dressed in formal attire and checked out by 10AM meant that the night wasn’t too wild, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless. Even though I know I’ll see them around soon I’ll really miss having Cristina and Lauren around, there’s nothing like having friends around to take the edge off the culture shock.

Right, I’m gonna sign off because I have the (aforementioned) early start and full day of (watching) teaching tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Gambatte!

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Practice makes perfect...

Training, training, training; I’m pretty much into the rhythm of things now, the city streets are becoming familiar and I’m into the swing of how things work, getting intermittently stared at by strangers is still a little disconcerting, but even that is starting to feel like just a ‘part of life’, it’s not menacing after all, just curiosity. Being an ethnic minority is still kinda novel and fun, I can see how it could get on your nerves after a while though.

Practice lessons are running smoothly now to the extent that I was comfy today ‘mixing it up’ by teaching the students how to say “he’s a bit of a prat” in my class on ‘describing people’. The students are really fun to work with, they’re enthusiastic and just soak up whatever you give them to learn. It’s great to just chat with them in the lobby and hear them open up about their lives. The classes are really diverse too; two days ago I had a club DJ and yesterday a civil servant.

Mostly life for us is still divided between training, food shopping and sleeping, but on Thursday we managed to get out and hit a bar with Kelly (the teacher who Lauren is replacing) she had a lot of great advice about the job, the company and the country so that was excellent. I continue to be amazed / appalled by the price of alcohol, I asked for a scotch on the rocks and the barman poured a third of the bottle into my glass and charged me 500 yen (about $5) schooners of beer cost 100 yen, how this country maintains any order on weekends is a serious mystery.

This one's for my dad, it's a Fukuoka telegraph pole; it looks messy to me, but maybe it's a work of engineering genius... it doesn't look very earthquake-safe though, right?

Other wackiness includes:

- Being ‘forced’ into having my photo taken with a child and someone dressed as sonic the hedgehog. Why the childs mother wanted me in the photo is beyond me.

- Having to explain what a ‘caravel’ was to a businessman in-between classes, it turns out he reads history textbooks in English as a hobby. Hmmm… strange, but at least it's a hobby that doesn’t involve schoolgirls I suppose.

- Meeting Yorn, the drunk Swedish student who wanted to know ‘where the cool parties where’… I didn’t know, but by the looks of him he’d already been to a few ‘cool parties’ that night.

- Going down a side street and seeing a group of Japanese kids dressed in full-on ‘streetwear’ (like puff-jackets, backwards baseball caps and insanely baggy jeans) having what I can only assume was a ‘rap battle’ while their friends breakdanced in the street.

Today was a half day so I got to wander, I window shopped for a while then went down to the Fukuoka museum of Asian Art in the afternoon… it was about 80% Indian works, with the rest from Thailand (I guess the other nations of Asia will have to wait for representation) but very interesting. Bollywood posters are great!

Tomorrow we all have the day off, so we’re going to meet in the morning and try to plan another excursion. So much to do… no time to sleep.

Much Fukulove,

Shaun.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Still on the Train(ing)

Training is intense; there’s so much stuff to learn and it all seems to be compacted into a tiny space of time: interviewing, lesson structure and teaching techniques, Business management, time management, corporate structures… it’s all interesting in its own way, but keeping up with the flow of information can be daunting at times. I guess I’ll just have to trust the manual which claims ‘everything will become second nature after a short while’.

We had our first ‘live-fire’ teaching practice today (that means we got to work with real Japanese students… ones that didn’t have to pay for the lesson). It mostly went well, although there are still some wrinkles to be smoothed out; I need to cut down on my ‘verbal static’ and learn to let the students take over more often, but overall the technique is there. I swear, this job will be the best public-speaking training exercise ever; challenges abound, but its nice to stand in front of a group of people who want to learn, and watch their eyes light up when they get something right. If I was half as motivated about learning Japanese as they are about mastering English then I’d probably be bi-lingual in no time at all.

Ok! It's Engrish! (or NESglish if you prefer) I wasn't brave enough to actually enter this establishment, but I'm still curious about the burger menu.

While my Japanese is still fairly shoddy (although I’ve learnt a new phrase every day) I’m slowly starting to culturally adapt; I don’t stop to stare at the individually shrink-wrapped bananas in the supermarket anymore, I’m getting accustomed to canned vending-machine coffee (endorsed by Tommy-Lee Jones!) and I’ve developed seriously awesome chopstick skills (one step away from Mr. Muyage, I swear!) Food is still fascinating; I had deep-fried pieces of cheese in broth today for lunch, yesterday I had tofu-ramen, as slurped (with gusto) by salarymen nation-wide. Big culinary horizon-broadening, yay!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Hi again!

I can`t stay long, because I`m on another insane time limit at the internet cafe, but Fukuoka is really amazing, and I`m having a lot of fun!

Sorry to anyone who`s tried to phone... Telstra propoganga was wrong, and my phone doesn`t work... groan, save those stories people! I`ll be back in communication soon!

I`ll edit this later, and tell you all about my amazing training adventures (I`m typing them out on my laptop to post later) but right now I`ve gotta go!

Much love,

Shaun.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Training and Tourism

Happy weekend everyone!

The first (half) day of training flew by so fast it was scary; we basically just had an overview of our training process, got to watch Gerry teach a class, then we went out to lunch (in a ‘traditional’ Japanese restaurant) took a slightly extended tour of the downtown Fukuoka area hitting all the landmarks (I got to see the ACROS building! If you’ve ever seen a piece of anime called ‘Excel Saga’ you’ll be excited about that). Afterwards we got cut loose so we explored some more on our own (this time with less exhaustion and Lauren’s extra direction sense we managed to avoid getting lost). We wound up eating fusion ‘Japanese-style Italian’ (which means my pasta had little frankfurters in it) then we went and hit the ‘international rainbow bar’ (no, it’s *not* a gay bar, so stop sniggering). We got a bottle of sake-type stuff (it wasn’t sake but it tasted like drain-cleaner anyway) and chatting the whole night away. Lauren and Cristi are really great, even if my strange Australian/British English does befuddle them sometimes; it makes a huge difference to have people you can talk with about everything you’re experiencing, and training is a lot more fun with other people.

Fukuoka landmark the ACROS building, complete with Babylonian architecture.

Today we went down to the train station and jumped on a train (two actually) to Dazaifu (da-zie-fu) the ‘old capital’ of Kyushu province and now cultural capital of the area; the main shopping street is a really pretty cobbled mall ending at the famous Tenmangu Shrine, dedicated to Michizane Sugawara, ‘the God of Literature’; lots of students were there praying for luck with their school work (sheesh, I hope it works, I’d be too scared to stop studying for the hours it takes to stand in line and pray if I were a Japanese student), the grounds are really beautiful, although the fact that the temple complex borders an amusement park did seem kinda strange.

Tenmangu Shrine: well-funded thanks to hordes of examinees.

Afterwards we took a walk along a walking trail down to the Kyushu National Museum. It’s a myth that Japan is all urban sprawl, some areas are quite quiet and heavily forested, there was even a sign on the trail to watch out for snakes! (I’m sick of these motherf*^king snakes in this motherf%$king shrine!) It was really nice to get out of the city for a while though, and we got to see our first sakura (cherry blossom)! That was kinda a magical moment.

The museum itself was also really spectacular, we had a lovely young lady walk us through the process of getting tickets and audio guides, and then we wandered through the building (which is really, really huge) needless to say Japan has a LOT of history, we stayed for about 4 hours and didn’t even cover half of it. Still, that’s a good excuse to go back I guess. I had a very tasty cinnamon waffle and Lauren got some socks too, so that was nice. And functional. Or something.

So now we just got back, did some shopping in Daiei (the local supermarket, kinda a Woolworths/Tesco equivalent) and then came back for some much needed kip. Tomorrow we start training proper, excitement is running high!

Many good wishes,

Shaun.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Fukawhatta?

I've just staggered into the hotel and I’m pretty wiped (in fact the room is getting a little spinny as I type this) but I'd like to get a few words down at least before I lapse into the sweet embrace of unconsciousness. It's been a seriously stimulating day, but believe me, rarely has a bed (complete with neatly folded sleeping garb) seemed so appealing.

The flight was as dull as flights usually are, it didn't help that I was fairly solidly pumped full of nervous energy and I have a chronic inability to say 'no' when offered coffee refills by flight attendants. Still, it meant I was awake to make the most of the movies on offer, I saw 'Flags of Our Fathers' (good), 'The Queen' (really good), 'Babel' (maybe kinda ok, but a bit silly) and 'Rocky Balboa' (really, really silly). I'm still not really sure what the movie situation will be, or whether I'll even be able to find anything in English that I didn't bring with me, but I'm guessing that I won't be visiting a movie theater anytime soon.

My experience at the airport was great; I met a really nice guy called Robert who works for the Daily Express, and reassured me that I’d love the country and wouldn’t have any problems (he’s been there for 20 years, still doesn’t know any appreciable Japanese and has no trouble making his way through life) he also pointed me in the right direction to transfer which was fantastic.

Tokyo, Narita International airport, note it's similarity to every airport ever.

One thing I learned fairly quickly is that people in public service are incredibly (even overwhelmingly and embarrassingly) helpful and friendly. After I checked in I wandered over to find the security gate so I’d know where to go (5 hours) later, the lady at the ANA check-in counter saw the direction I was walking and managed to have a member of the security staff (complete with drug-sniffing Labrador) fire-up the security checkpoint just for me. After that I couldn’t really say ‘no’ to being checked through, so I just wandered through to the lounge (I did get to talk to the security lady and pat her dog, which was called ‘Sumo’ though).

The instructions for how to use the toilets at the airport; I pushed every button once with hideous results.

When I got to Fukuoka I met Gerry, the local area trainer and one of my fellow trainees Cristina (who has swapped sunny San Francisco, California for southern Japan) We piled on the subway and took a ride into the city centre which gave us a chance to talk some, both of them are really nice and enthusiastic; big props to Christi especially for her valiant jet-lag fighting efforts, since she'd not only been on a flight from the U.S. West coast but had been sitting in the airport for a while.

After the nightmare of getting my cases into the hotel (there was literal blood and sweat and very nearly tears) Gerry took us on a brief tour of the immediate area, focusing on necessities like supermarkets, Internet cafes and karaoke parlors. Despite the temptation to just crash, Christi and I swung back by the hotel, showered off the detritus of international travel and changed into fresh garments and then went exploring.

Fukuoka was actually quite a surprise to me, it's not quite the jam packed neon metropolis that Tokyo appears to be; it's a pretty busy place, but it's not like you're shoulder to shoulder as you walk; I even managed to get a seat on the subway. The buildings are pretty high-rise (especially by Adelaide standards) and the city certainly has a different 'vibe' than anywhere else that I've visited, but it's not an intimidating place, just different (and often seemingly a little bizarre).

Tenjin, Fukuoka: pre-godzilla.

Anyway, we wandered through the city, chatting and occasionally pausing to marvel at things that will no doubt be totally passé by next week: vending machines selling beer, ‘parking lots’ where your car is ‘filed’ in vertical storage, politicians driving down the street in vans (filled with loudspeakers and young ladies) frantically waving as they go, pachinko dens blaring horribly garish music into the street… and a ton of other stuff I’ll save for another time.

Anyway, it was a great start to life in Japan because I found 1000 yen on the street! Not so great was the fact that we got lost and had to get a cab back to the hotel (there goes 590 yen). Still, lotsa fun! I got to meet the last member of our training group, Lauren (all the way from Denver, Colorado) for about 2 minutes tonight too… she too seems like a lovely, happy lady. I’m sure we’ll all work well together, or at least ‘bond under fire’ or something.

And now I’m gonna go and finally get some well deserved rest… I’ve got day one of teacher-school tomorrow! Miss me yet?

Ok, so finding an internet connection wasn't as hard as I thought. I've been in the country 15 whole minutes, and now I'm sitting in an internet kiosk in Narita airport.

15 minutes. In that time I have:

- Bought a can of cold coffee out of a vending machine (at least I think it's coffee, it says 'Aroma Drip Blend' on the can, which sounds coffee-esque; the rest is in Japanese)

- Seen a harigushu girl - she had pink dreadlocks, panda-like eye makeup and trousers that were uhh... indescribable.

- Seen a crazy commercial. It was on a TV in the louge, and featured a man bashing a fairy with feather duster while screaming.

- Deciphered a Japanese payphone. Which is waaaaaaaay harder than it sounds.

- Put 5 yen in the Airport suggestion box... because "the legend of this suggestion box says..." :P

That's about it for now... I'm still coping which is a good sign... now on to Fukuoka and more craziness! I promise pictures when I have a USB connection but bye for now! My time is up!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Day of Flight.

four hours until I fly, and the surrealism of this whole adventure is rapidly fading into concrete reality. I'm packed, my teeth are gritted and my resolve is set:

"I will go to Japan and teach the hell out of my native language."

The terror is still there in the background, but I'm offsetting it by keeping busy (why do you think there's been a new entry every two days this week?) I'm kinda dreading the actual flight because it's essentially one long 'chance to think', but hopefully in-flight movies, magazines and my shiny new mp3 playlist should keep me from over-analysing things long enough to get on the ground again.

The night before last I said my final goodbyes to my friends from uni who I am indebted to for their bold efforts to shore up my sanity and spirits during the more 'Lovecraftian' times at good-ol' Adelaide University. No crying on my part (thank Vishnu), but most sad nontheless, ah well I'm sure they'll just hold some sort of Bring It On-esque audition process and replace me soon enough. Mandy made a last-ditch attempt to shore up my language skills with a copy of the Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook (in which she helpfully highlighted the smutty phrases) Now I can find how to say "Do you want a massage?", "You're just using me for sex" or "Are you menstruating?" faster than ever! Thanks Mandy!

Juanita went the 'cultural education' road instead with Tabloid Tokyo which is indescribably hilarious . Seriously, it has to be read to be believed; stories of Salarymen working so much overtime they have to sleep at the office every night, cafe's with panty-less waitresses moving drinks across mirrored floors and mothers who are willing to commit incest with their children to 'improve their concentration' abound. I speed-read through the whole thing in one night and only stopped laughing when my jaw was distended... Many thanks! She gets bonus points for the haiku in the cover too (which is far more elegant than my effort in this entry)

Last night I went out for dinner with my parents then came home to start cramming stuff in suitcases; I haven't even left and I already miss them and the dogs pretty terribly. I know we live in an age of real-time video-communication, but what if I need a hug? I guess this is no worse than leaving home in any other way, but hey, I'm still a little wigged.

Ok, time to go get on a plane and do this thing; I don't know when I'll be able to write again, it's kinda dependant on when I have time and access to an internet connection. In the meantime, remember my phone still works (but watch out for those international charges if you actually call... texting is way more economical).

To end, a haiku:

Today I fly up
With much sorrow for friends
Your writing brings joy

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Translations For the Lost.

2 days 'til I fly, fly away to this mystical land called 'Japan' where I'm told I'm sure to be amazed, get married, 'experience an engaging blend of old and new' (I stole that from the AEON website), and binge drink. Excited? Yeah. Kinda terrified beyond belief? Ummm... lotsa yeah.

Anyway, I've managed to fight off the mind-numbing fear enough to actually get ready, I've gotta go get a haircut, pack a bit more, go out for dinner with my family one last time this year and choose an outfit to wear on my jet-plane odyssey. *gulp* Here's hoping I can actually calm down enough to actually sleep and stop manically trying to memorise my entire phrasebook before then.

I had an (off-line) request the other day to explain the headings of the page-elements on the left; yes, they're all in Japanese (or at least romaji) because we all know that using a foreign language to write artsy/obvious things makes your site 47% cooler, right?

- 'Mihari Kaki Dokei' means 'watching the clock' (y'know, like you used to/do in class) kinda appropriate huh? 'Cause that's obviously what you're doing if you're looking there.

- 'Kikan Onden Na' is 'temperate period', which is more hopeful than predictive; I'm hoping that after a week of seeing a perpetual 'storm cloud' on the forecast the irony of the caption might raise a smile.

- 'Shaun's Soramimi' can be translated as 'Shaun's ears playing tricks' or 'Shaun's misheard lyrics' depending on your preference. Anyway, it illustrates my constantly changing playlist nicely, as well as acting as another Azumanga Daioh reference (the theme song to the anime being the infectiously boppy Soramimi Cake)

- 'Sukina Toshokan Desu' means 'my library of favourites', quite simple really.

- 'Mugen Chishiki Kai' translates as 'endless sea of knowledge' which is the sort of laughably optimistic view of the internet that hasn't prevailed since it was still being used to fight the Cold War. 'Mugen Hentai Kai' (endless sea of perversion) might be more appropriate, but since I'm not linking porn I'll stick with what I've got.

- 'Shima Hanashi' means 'island talk' (it can also mean 'stripe conversation', but let's ignore that) Japan is an island (a chain of them actually), I am talking... witness my awesome logic!

- 'Ningen Yoso' is 'human factor', because what would a blog be without a blogger? Another ghost-blog is what!

And finally, the title; most people know that 'Kanji' are the Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system, but did you also know that the word can mean 'feeling', 'perception' or 'impression'? Any of which placed before 'For Beginners' sounds very avant-garde (or perhaps just massively pretentious). Duality of meaning! Subtext! Maybe all those thousands of dollars spent on that English major weren't wasted after all!

Ok, explanation over; there are now offically no more mysteries to reveal and we can all move along; travel safe!

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Postcards = Reassurance, Murder = De-assurance.

Ok, I know this is a couple of days old but I'm still kinda totally wigged out by this.

Seriously, this is not what I want to hear five days before getting on a plane to Tokyo. At the same time it does help to validate all that company policy about not dating students (although my train of thought never ran as far as expecting to end up dumped in a freakin' sand-filled bathtub as a consequence).

I got a lot of fun mail today, all the staff at the school at Sasebo sent me postcards, saying how they were looking forward to meeting me. This is so cute that it defies words; I particularly liked the one by my manager Saori who writes: "I know very well around city and good bars :D" Ummm... smells like binge drinking to me! I also found out that I'm the only 'native' English-speaker at the school which means that I'll pretty much get dumped in the deep end as far as work-related responsibilities go... responsibility is cool, right? *nervous smile*

Also in the mail (about four years late!) Was my invitation/application to join the 'Golden Key' society; I must have done better in that Honours year than I thought, and so now I can join the ranks of seemingly every arts student ever. Seriously, I have a bunch of friends I've known since first year and every single one of them (at least the ones who didn't take the same brutally marked first year history course as me) has a membership. Still, I don't really care about being 'elite', I just want the same certificate, lapel pin and inbox spam that everyone else has.

Beauty and the Beast was very cool, especially considering the challange faced by adapting an animated movie (yes it was that version) into a stage production. Good performances all round, singable music and no one fluffed their lines, nice job all!

Time for me to go and say more goodbyes, write more lists and *gasp* even start packing. Be good world!

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Try This at Home.

Leaving your home for an extended period is an experience that produces many demands; the amount of paperwork required to obtain permission to live and work outside your country is often dauntingly large, I burnt out 2 pens filling out forms in triplicate for AEON and working my way through the visa application process. Packing is another mini-nightmare as you try to condense your life to fit airline baggage-limits, 27kg seems a little restrictive considering the amount of 'mandatory' gear (like suits) that's dictated by the company. Thank god I live in an age when so much can be condensed into digital files, not that an mp3 library can really compare with a CD collection, and reading text off a screen doesn't have the visceral charms of holding a book, but at least I'm not flying into a complete void.

One of the not so harsh parts of leaving is the opportunity/obligation of seeing everyone to say goodbye, preferably with as much 'party' attached to the experience as possible. The last few days of my life have been devoted to getting as much 'party' time in as possible. The stories are many, a select sampling:

- Meeting Kombei, one of the supervising teachers for the class of Japanese exchange students who are currently visiting my old high-school. We traded many notes on beer and he taught me a lot about Japanese drinking culture and etiquette. He also said that teaching English is 'really easy', which makes the terror subside ever so slightly.

- Pete using his and Matt's awesome home theatre setup to play ancient games using a NES emulator on his computer. '1943' and 'Guerilla Warfare' are only improved by making their giant pixellated visages many meters across. Truely the ultimate fusion of state of the art and retro.

- Jamie managing to obtain for me a genuine shopping trolley, something I have coveted for a significant period of time. I only regret that I won't have time to use it as a chariot with which to commute to pubs. Still, I'm sure that Pete and Matt will give it a good home, and now they have somewhere to store their ridiculously enormous cache of empty glassware. Many thanks again!

- Walking into unibar to be confronted with a sea of engineers all dressed in green with headbands as part of their 'Binja Turtles' pubcrawl; another one of those things that's a little tough to visulize; so here's a photo:



Aren't they precious?

- Dancing with Kristy to New York, New York (if you can call our vague twirling and swaying 'dancing') it's amazing what you can do after 15 jugs or so of the foamy stuff!

- Hanging out with the workcover crew and having all my questions about GST, birthday cakes and fiscal management answered. They make a great pizza too! Watching Pete throw up out of the taxi door wasn't so fantastic (although we had a great taxi driver, he just pulled over and said 'it's ok'. I even got to meet Leo (Pete's turtle) the next morning; he's major cute!

I pretty much have everything I need all ready, now it's just a matter of packing it all; I had a lot of fun trawling through those 'Australiania' shops looking for gifts to take over, check out my fantastic future office-mascot:


He/She doesn't have a name yet... suggestions gratefully received!

I went to my doctor for a checkup before I left, I got proded, listened and peered into and was pronounced fit to travel. Then I got a very serious lecture about the dangers of binge-drinking and using alcohol as a 'way to fit into a new environment'. Heh, at least I can be confident that my university did it's best to prepare me for that hazard. I promised to only buy vending-machine beer for the novelty value and not to actually drink any.

Tonight I'm off to see my old high school's production of Beauty and the Beast then I'm heartily looking forward to a complete 8 hours (minimum) sleep in my own bed, preferably without any alcohol to 'help' with the process.

Party on world. Just make sure to switch to coffee every once in a while.