Monday, June 30, 2008

Universal Studios Japan

One of the teachers in Inuyama gave me a pair of Universal Studios Japan (USJ) tickets as a going away present, and today Yasu and I used them. I’ve been to this theme park once before, many years ago during wintertime.
This time we went by train, and coming from the train station you automatically walk the Universal City Walk, which we totally missed the first time when we came by car. I kind of felt a little like the City Walk in Los Angeles, with a lot of American chain restaurants and it even had the big blue King Kong, but in other ways it was also very different with a Mr. Takoyaki (with his own museum) and a Popcorn Papa store selling flavors like teriyaki, curry rice and soy sauce-butter.
Yasu and I both love popcorn so we went in to try some of the 32 different flavors they sell. I thought the garlic & butter popcorn was absolutely disgusting (Yasu loved it) but the others were quite tasty. I ended up buying a bag of banana chips popcorn and Yasu a bag of caramel & nuts popcorn. If we ever end up in this store again I want to try the strawberry & milk popcorn and cinnamon popcorn.
Yasu and I are both America lovers and we loved hanging around in the fake New York streets (which actually of reminded me of the streets in the Warner Bros studios in LA), pretending we weren’t in Japan. And we were even able to take a picture with a very non-Japanese skyline… yeah it’s a special effect. It’s a piece of cardboard hanging over us to hide the ugly Japanese skyline in the back, when the picture is taken from a certain angle. Nice illusion though, if you don’t look too closely at the picture.
This is Japan and that always means long lines, especially in a theme park, but luckily not as bad as in Disneyland a couple of months ago. I am not as patient as the average Japanese person, so I wasn’t prepared to stand in too long lines just for some 2 minute ride, but there was one exception: Jurassic Park. No, I don’t have a passion for dinosaurs and the movie was totally boring in my opinion, it’s just that this ride guarantees to soak you to the bone and today was another one of Japan’s stupendously hot summer days. And it turned out the line wasn’t even that long! Half of the people getting into the boats were wearing raincoats though… Sometimes I just don’t understand the Japanese. I love the ride (but they can leave out the dinosaurs) and we got successfully soaked!
We also did a nice amount or air travel: we flew through the air on bicycles with E.T. and Spiderman used his webs to throw our futuristic car all through the New York night, we almost crashed but Spiderman saved us just in time. Pfew. The real reason we picked these rides: the lines were doable.
But we spend most of time inside USJ attending shows, because they all have a huge audience capacity which nicely minimizes waiting time. Waterworld was an action packed stuntman show on the water and Wicked was a mini Broadway show, half in English half in Japanese. The park also has a lot of 3D shows, or they actually call it 4D shows, because they move the seats and spritz water in your face. We saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in 3D in the Terminator show, and we intended to see Shrek in 3D too, but took the wrong door and ended up in the Sesame Street version instead. The shows were all entertaining, but all in Japanese (obviously) and therefore unable to keep me from falling asleep. But there was one exception: the monsters who are still singing Bon Jovi’s ‘One Wild Night’ during their Rock and Roll Show.
They also do a lot of street shows, but we just caught one by accident which was a group of Sesame Street puppets dancing on the street and in and on their double-decker bus in the blazing sun. This was absolutely adorable to watch, but I felt bad for the sweaty people inside those costumes. Cookie monster was so cute I ended up buying a cell phone strap (but I’ll be using it as a key chain) with a small blue monster hanging from it.
They also had a very pink area in the park, inspired by a certain panther. Inside one very pink building we found one of my favorites, a Baskin & Robbins store (which is pretty pink on its own already) selling delicious chocolate mint ice-cream (and more of course). Time for a break!
They didn’t just try to recreate the East Coast in USJ, they also gave the West Coast a shot, but they were a bit confused. They confused San Francisco with Chicago for some reason and relocated the movie Backdraft to Fisherman’s Wharf. But that’s easily forgiven when you’re given a chance to feel like you’re back in San Francisco (my favorite city in the whole world). We also paid Beverly Hills a visit and had a rather crappy lunch in a very nice (on the outside) American diner.
After all the excitement we had a small hat donning party, and transformed ourselves into Spiderman & ET, a dinosaur and Jaws, and a Shrek bride and groom. Which couple looks the weirdest?
We had a delicious dinner at one of those American chain restaurants at the City Walk: Bubba Gump. A restaurant coming straight from another movie: Forrest Gump. But this film wasn’t produced by Universal Studios, though. But who cares when the food is that good! I had the ribs and they were really delicious, and very pricey, but it’s hard to find good and affordable meat in Japan anyway.
We had a great day. I really like theme parks (when they’re not too busy), I just wish they did some of their shows in English (or subtitles at least). And as long as I’m wishing for the impossible, I also wish the summer was like a Californian summer because I’m really getting fed up with this hot-and-humid business.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Costco

Costco is an American wholesale company with a location in Amagasaki. I’d heard a lot about it and it’s supposed to have a lot of American products. It aroused my curiosity and I really need a ready supplier for my Crest Cinnamon Blast toothpaste, which I have been using for more than 4 years now, and so far has been supplied by people traveling to the States and bringing me back a tube or 2, but I’m running out and I need some more, and very unfortunately I don’t see myself going to the States anytime soon. So today Yasu and I headed out to Costco in Amagasaki to try and find out more about this popular place among foreigners living in the Kansai area.

To enter Costco you need to buy a one-year membership, which can be refunded at any time within that year. So I became a member and we went in. They had a lot of interesting stuff, but of course not the specific brands of toiletries I was looking for. They have a lot of great baked foods though, but the amounts they are selling it in is just unmanageable for someone living in a shoebox. We ended up buying a huge pot of cashews, dozens of diet Dr. Pepper cans, frozen pizzas, a huge tray of croissants, a huge chicken Caesar salad, a box of microwave popcorn with butter taste, some cleaning wipes and most interestingly: real Dutch cheese! Not the fake, Japan-produced, plastic-tasting Gouda, but real Dutch and tasty Frico cheese (jong belegen)! Next time, I’m buying cheese again (of course) and Lays chips, because Japanese chips suck.

First workout at Cospa




I went to work out at my expensive new gym for the first time today! It’s a very nice gym with lots of cool new machines. They also had a steps aerobics class going on (I used to be a fanatical stepper at my Dutch gym), but I was a bit apprehensive to join it. Although, I used to be good at it I haven’t done it in more than a year and of course the classes here are taught in Japanese, which I don’t understand.




But I observed the class from one of the weight training machines, and good memories from my stepping days started came back and really made me regret not joining the class! So I’ll make sure that next week, I’ll be inside the studio stepping with all the others and not outside observing from a distance. Still, I got a fulfilling workout from the machines today, so it was a successful day gym-wise!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Happy 45th wedding anniversary!

Opa and oma, otherwise known as Guido’s parents have been married for 45 years today! Amazing! Congratulations on your 45th wedding anniversary, and make it a very special day today, you guys deserve it!

Obviously, I can’t be there to celebrate with you, but I hope you’ll like the card I made and you enjoy the trip to Volendam (gift from my parents).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy gym member once again

I joined the gym today! Finally a decent gym to work out in Japan. I already had a tour through the place with Maiko a couple of months ago and today I did it again with Yasu, but it was just a formality and a way to show Yasu the place, because my mind about joining was already made up months ago. Unfortunately new memberships can only be started twice a month: on the first and fifteenth of the month. So mine will start on the first of July, but they’re giving me one free day at the gym in June, so my first time will be next Sunday.

It’s not cheap, of course. I’ll be paying almost ¥10,000 every month for my regular membership, but it will be worth it. They have a special discount this month, if another Cospa member introduces you to the gym, you don’t have to pay the registration fee of ¥3,500, and Cospa gives the new and current member ¥2,000 vouchers for the store in the lobby. Of course I don’t know any of the gym members here, but a new ‘friend’ is easily made if you tell them (or have Yasu translate for you) that you’ll give them a ¥2,000 voucher to spend in the gym shop. Easy said, easy done.

The Dutch consulate

My current passport was made up in Maastricht, just before I went to the States for a semester at Emory University. Which is almost 5 years ago, and Dutch passports expire after 5 years (the Japanese are lucky with their 10-year-valid passports), so it is time to get a new one.

I located the Dutch consulate in Osaka, dropped off my passport, along with a wad of cash, passport pictures I had made in the Netherlands especially (due to new and very strict rules regarding those pictures in the EU, like no smiling and all ears need to be photographed), filled out some papers (and officially decreased my body length with 3 cm) and spoke some Dutch to the first Dutch person I met that lives in Japan too. I mean there must be other Dutchies here, as we have an embassy and a consulate in the country but I have yet to meet any (besides the consulate guy of course).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Loupalace

I’m done cleaning and unpacking, finally! I hate cleaning but it really had to be done as I’m not sure whether the last time this apartment was cleaned was actually in this millennium. But it’s clean now and I really like my new apartment. Sure it’s absolutely tiny and you have to walk through the toilet room to get to the shower room, but it’s big enough for me. My apartment is a Leopalace apartment, which is kind of like a chain (the Japanese really love their chains) apartment builder here, and almost all the apartment look the same on the inside. The weirdest thing is that the apartment comes with a keycard like you’re in a hotel or something. A cool thing is the video intercom I have now, I can see it whoever rings my bell and if they look in any way shady to me (like the NHK man) I won’t open the door.
All the furniture in the living/bed/dining room is made of the same wood (except for the table that I imported myself) so it all matches and looks cute. I have an actual bed, with wooden planks instead of a mattress though, but it’s actually very comfortable with the extra futon I brought from Inuyama. The steps to the high bed open up to create more storage room and I have lots of storage room under the bed. The people from Leopalace have really tried to use every inch of space as optimally as possible.
If have the exact same washing machine as I had in Inuyama and almost the same fridge, only this is a smaller model. But the best part of the kitchen is that it is equipped with more than just a rice cooker and one burner: it has a toaster over, a second burner and even a microwave (which is totally new because the old one had been broken for more than a year, the old teacher never had it replaced). It doesn’t have a hanging drying rack though, I really liked that about my kitchen in Inuyama. All this equipment actually inspired me to cook dinner for Yasu tonight (which I never did in Inuyama), which he really enjoyed. Also the bathroom has some kind of air system that enables me to dry to my clothes extra quick on the rail above the tub. No more wet clothes in my room!
Another good thing about this apartment is that it’s located in the greater city of Osaka and that they have different garbage pickup rules here. The rules in Inuyama were incomprehensible and even though I tried really hard to obey to the really enigmatic rules for the first few months, in the end I gave up completely and started dumping my trash at the konbinis in my neighborhood. And it was always done in fear of the Inuyama garbage police which will punish you with a day of sorting other people’s trash at city hall. Here in Osaka its all nice and simple: they say it’s all trash so just put it in a bag together and don’t forget to take it out on Mondays and Thursdays. People have given me different reasons for the non-separation of trash in Osaka, like the Osaka garbage people are too lazy and Osaka has a very sophisticated burning machine which can cleanly burn everything together. Whatever the reason, I’m happy I can get rid of my trash without feeling like a criminal.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Enzo's cake

Today it’s Enzo’s 25th birthday! So after work we all went to dinner at Tapa, which is a Spanish themed izakaya in Esaka (this is an actual place in Osaka and not a typo). They even had paella and sangria, but the sangria was weird like they added some kind of cream to it. The dish that tasted the most Spanish to me was one with potatoes, which was very good. But the most interesting thing we ate tonight was Enzo’s birthday cake, because apparently the Japanese feed each other birthday cake:

As you can see Ben also joined the party and Enzo was very happy that we were all there to celebrate his birthday with him, and he was especially grateful for the cake delivered with burning candles, the lights off and a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to You’.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No more crossover

Crossover is over! No more observing lessons and (almost) falling asleep in a chair in the corner of a classroom. I wasn’t build to observe lessons, especially not after a busy week, with remnants of a jetlag and no rest. I’m here to teach not observe/sleep. I can’t wait to organize my new classroom the way I like it. The classroom is slightly smaller than the one in Inuyama, it doesn’t have a desk but it does have some actual daylight coming in through some cracks. After work we went to some Hokkaido izakaya in Senri Chuo for a last farewell dinner with the old teachers.

I hope the teacher I’m replacing (see picture) has taught me all the specifics I need to know, because the teacher I replaced in Inuyama didn’t and because of that I had some nasty surprises waiting for me in the first few weeks. But this time around I’m feeling very confident and ready for the job, and if I have any questions I can always call him as he’s going to teach at a branch school in Kobe next.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My name is Lou

Training is over! And with that my life as a teacher in Senri Chuo starts. The first 3 days are crossover days with the teacher I’m replacing. So today I’ve basically been observing lessons all day long (which is not my kind of thing, I’d rather teach them myself) and meeting students and staff at the school. And they had me make a poster for the lobby to introduce myself:

One of the Japanese teachers is really good at drawing and she drew me this cartoon of me with tulips (because that’s all I play with when I’m home…). I got to color the cartoon and put some information about me on there. Oh and I got everybody here to call me Lou instead of Louana (which I don’t like very much), a feat I never achieved in Inuyama. It’s even on my nametag now: Lou v. L.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kids training

So normally Monday is my day off, but not this week. Three of us trainees had to come back to honbu today to do kids training (the other two will be teaching at schools without kids). It was fun to see the Canadian and Welshman again to catch up a little about their apartments (which were clean on arrival so they enjoyed their day off much more than I did) and the Canadian’s welcome party (the Welshman had the same welcome party as I did, because we work at the same school). We had lunch at some fancy sushi place and it was delicious:

Back to training: it was a kind of unnecessary for me as the lesson structure for kids classes is exactly the same here in Kansai as it is in the Nagoya area. I’ve had a lot of experience teaching kids of all ages in Inuyama, so I know all the books, all the lesson structures and all the tricks of the trade. So I had a really easy day today. But it was fun to play kid when the others were trying out the lessons, and to see the others pretend to be little kids, especially the trainer! I’m happy the lessons are the same here because I’m real comfortable with these classes over the last year and it’ll make life as a kids teacher here a lot easier.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My weekend

Today it’s weekend! Only a 1-day-weekend this time because I have kids training tomorrow. People tell me to get some rest today because I have a 6-day work week ahead of me… but instead Yasu and I went to the supermarket to buy a whole bunch of cleaning products so I could get started on my dirty apartment. Yasu also helped me carry out most of the extra crap found in the closets to the trash dump place in front of my apartment.

I sent Yasu away to have some fun on his own and cleaned almost the whole day! But I’m not nearly finished. The living room/bed room/dining room (which is altogether not even 10 square meters) is spick and span but the rest…
After cleaning duty Yasu picked me up to go bike-shopping. This was my first ever to pick out a new bicycle for myself, even though I’ve had many bikes in my life, but most of them were hand-me-downs. So I was very excited, but the store was closing 20 minutes after we arrived so I had to make my decision quickly. I picked a black bike and a pink lock.

After dropping off the bike in Tsukamoto we went back to Amagasaki to pick up all the boxes and furniture I left there in May and brought them to Tsukamoto. I have a busy week ahead of me: 1 day of training, 5 days of work and who knows how many days of cleaning.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The welcome party

Tonight our school hosted a party at a restaurant near the branch school. It was a welcome party for the Welshman and me and a farewell party for the teachers we are replacing. The manager made up some crazy multiple choice quizzes about the old and new staff members. They were fun and some students ended up with diet food and special private lessons for prizes. A lot of students came to the party and although there was a lot of food and alcohol at the party it was also hard work.

Meeting lots of new people (teachers and students), making small talk at all kinds of English levels and still being exhausted from the jetlag, a wild weekend in Namba, a week of training and virtually no rest today. I didn’t have much time to eat anything and I drank hardly any alcohol (which is a big contrast with my Inuyama farewell party where I got totally wasted). So I was happy when the party was over so I could go home for some rest and some midnight ramen at a tiny restaurant in Tsukamoto with my boyfriend.

Umeda

After the manager and I dumped my stuff at my new apartment in Tsukamoto, we went back to the train station to buy a commuter pass for the JR train from Tsukamoto to Umeda (the center of Osaka: yay!). I immediately used my brand new ICOCA pass to go to Umeda so the manager could buy me one more commuter pass, this time for the subway to Senri Chuo from there. After the manager went back to work I decided to check on my boyfriend who also lives in the Osaka area, which is of course the reason for my transfer from the Nagoya area. Lucky me, he happened to be on his way to Umeda! I initially just wanted to meet him for a quick kiss and go back home to take a nap before the big welcome party in Senri Chuo tonight, but he quickly convinced me to come with him to meet some of his friends nearby.

So I ended up spending the afternoon drinking iced coffee with some of Yasu’s Japanese friends and his old English teacher Brad, who used to work at Yasu’s university. Brad brought along his wife Cynthia and his baby daughter Lucy. She was very active and running around and playing with everybody’s drinks. And it turns out Yasu has quite the knack to keep little kids quiet. Wonder how he’ll be when it’s our kid running around like a sugared-up maniac…

Dirty apartment

So I finally got to see my new apartment today! The good news: as desperately hoped (due to the proximity to Yasu’s house and the big modern gym near the train station) it’s in Tsukamoto and it’s a cute apartment. The bad news: it’s even smaller than my Inuyama shoebox and it’s immensely gross. I remember trying to clean my Inuyama apartment as well as I could just before Sean moved in but the teacher that used to live here didn’t even bother vacuuming before moving out.
It was so shockingly dirty that even my boyfriend, who isn’t really concerned with cleanliness and order, was disgusted. There was dirt everywhere: heaps of dust every nook and cranny and in gaping open spaces; clogged up (with disgusting green stuff) drains; fungus in the bathroom, kitchen and washing machine; old TVs, computers, futons and other crap in the closets leaving no space whatsoever for my belongings; and you don’t want to know how the fridge smelled and what I found under it…
You know how I love to take pictures of everything, but this was so bad I didn’t feel the least bit inclined to use my camera at all. I’m going to be cleaning here for a long, long time…

Graduation

Yesterday we had our last day of training for adults classes with a final exam of teaching a full class with the other trainees and the headteachers from our branch schools for students. Of course we all aced our finals and we were all transformed into absolutely awesome teachers. So today was graduation-day, or manager-day or pin-day…

Whatever you want to call it, it was the day the managers of our branch schools came down to honbu to meet us (first of all) and pin our company pins onto our jackets. Then we took some group pictures and then our managers took us away from honbu and into the real world of Osaka.

Sample sale

Yesterday they started a sample sale in the building our honbu is located in. I had never been to a sample sale before and the first time I heard about sample sales was while reading the ‘Shopaholic in Manhattan’ book. So far it looked like a lot of people and an enormous amount of cheap (Japanese) designer clothes. I would have never visited the sample sale (Japanese clothes are all too tiny for me) if it wasn’t for the skinny American wanting a companion while among all the frantic Japanese bargain shoppers. We had an extra long lunch break today so we went in!

It was quite interesting. Everything was extremely cheap, hence the crowds. And there were heaps and heaps of clothes some boring, some outrageous, some regular, some beautiful, some funny, some weird, some cute, some polite, and even some offensive (see the ‘Fucker’ print above).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Stay tuned for more...

Arrived in Japan on June 6th, started training on June 7th and have been busy ever since. Unfortunately, my hotelroom doesn't have internet, so updating this blog hasn't really been an option. Please be patient and stay tuned for a mass load of updates on my trip home and my training in Osaka.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First time teachers

Today we got to practice teaching part of a lesson for the first time and to make things even more nerve wrecking real students were coming in to be our guinea pigs! Of course, by now it takes a lot more than teaching a lesson to new students to make me nervous, but the others were all pretty nervous.

They even all went to Honbu early to practice with the trainers, but of course they all did fine and I’m sure they’ll be great teachers. Two students from our new school in Senri Chuo (the Welshman will be teaching at the same school as me) were also there and it was fun to meet them. Tomorrow we’re teaching real Japanese students again!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Maguro hitotsu onegaishimasu

After a busy weekend with training started again yesterday. It’s not bad so far, except of course trying to stay awake and focused when you’re still bothered by jet lag. The others are having a more stressful time than I am though, this being their first training ever for the job. For me it’s just studying the differences in teaching style between in Nagoya and Osaka and the rest is basic knowledge to me now. I don’t really need to do any reading, I mean I did scan the material for Monday, but I totally forgot to do the reading for today, but it really wasn’t necessary because everything is familiar to me. I feel a little bad for the others, but hey I went through it last year and that training was longer and without a nice 1.5 day break. Also the training here is more practical and less theoretical up until now, so it’s easier and more fun to sit through.

Today we also experienced a Japanese lesson in the same style that we’ll be teaching English at our schools, so we can experience what our students go through during class. Of course it was a lot of fun and we learned how to order sushi in Japanese! So after training we found ourselves a kaitenzushi place in Namba to try out our new language skills. Of course you don’t need to know any Japanese to eat at a sushi-go-round, you just pick food of the conveyor belt and eat. But if you want fresh sushi or practice your language skills you can just order by shouting what you want to somewhere above the belt. So I tried ‘sumimasen, maguro hitotsu onegaishimasu’ and sure enough a couple of minutes someone handed me a plate of fresh tuna sushi! Yes, succes!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Daikokucho

Our hotel The Weekly Green is in Daikokucho, it’s near Namba and there are a lot of restaurants near our hotel. Very different from Inuyama. But the best thing is the 24-hour supermarket around the corner. In Inuyama the supermarket was always closed after work, but here I can even buy fresh fruit and beef at 3 AM! Not that I will, but it’s nice when you wake up before 6 in the morning (due to jet lag) to have store selling bread and eggs around the corner. The supermarket is very colorful and looks like a pachinko parlor on the outside, but on the inside it’s really a supermarket.

Getting over jetlag… yeah right

After training, we hopped on a train ‘home’ to get changed and hopped back on that train to go to Namba, otherwise known as downtown Osaka. We walked around taking pictures with the many landmarks the area has to offer, especially with my favorite: Mr. Glico. Soon it was time for a well-deserved break with beers (coke for me as I detest the taste of beer) and some typical Osaka food: okonomiyaki and takoyaki. I never really liked these beloved (by basically everybody) Osakan treats, but having just moved to Osaka I wanted to give them another try… I still don’t like them.

In the center: Anna, Victoria, Lou, Enzo & Ben with Mr. Glico

Later we tried some more food at an izakaya, where we had to wait for about an hour to be seated exactly where we’d had requested not to be: the smokers’ arena. The food was pretty good, but the long wait and the stinky seats made us unhappy costumers. But Enzo cheered us all up with funny drinking games like ducky fuzz or fuzzy duck, and by saying obscene things in Dutch with a Swedish accent. After dinner we headed to Shidax (my favorite karaoke chain) for some nomihodai karaoke. Karaoke is a wonderful invention, especially when it’s combined with an all-you-can-drink alcoholic menu. After a way too short amount of time spent at Shidax we had to leave to catch that damned last train back to Daikokucho where our hotel is. But we weren’t done yet so we hit the local 100 yen shop to arm ourselves with more drinks, to continue the party in the guys’ suite on the 10th floor of the hotel. It was a fun night which lasted until the wee hours of this morning, this cannot be a constructive way to get over jetlag…

More pictures

Saturday, June 07, 2008

First (half) day of training

Last night I met the other 4 trainees, some of us went for dinner, but the most important thing we did last night was sleep, trying to get a head start on jetlag. Anyway, it’s a very international group this time, everybody is from a different country: the guys are from Wales and Australia, and the girls are from Canada, the States, and of course the Netherlands.

The Welshman, the American, the Canadian and the Australian

We started our training off slow today with just a half day of training, and it was interesting to get my first introduction to the Kansai way of teaching classes, it looks very promising. We have the rest of the weekend off! Our plan is to relax, get rid of that jetlag, but also party a bit in Namba, and oh yeah do some training homework somewhere along the way, and I have a date with Yasu tomorrow night.

Friday, June 06, 2008

New school, new rules

The company I work for has rules about blogging and as a happy employee, who would like to keep working for this company, I abide by these rules. The rules are a bit different here though. I’m allowed to post pictures of coworkers and students but I’m not allowed to post their real names… Now, blogging is mostly storytelling and it’s hard to tell a story if you have to keep referring to that guy who did such and such and the girl with the pigtails pictured in the bottom image holding a rice bowl. So I’ll have to come up with surrogate names, so any students and coworkers featured on my blog from now on are all renamed with (sometimes ridiculous and old-fashioned) Dutch names. For example, if I had to rename myself I could go by Lien or Lijsbeth… Well, let’s just say I’m glad I don’t need to keep my own name a secret, so please just keep calling me Lou. The renaming is a bit of a challenge, but hey at least I get to post pictures of students again and that makes up for everything!
July 17 edit:
Yesterday, someone from Honbu visited me at school to tell me more about the rules they are in the midst of developing regarding blogging. It's still a bit confusing to me, but I'm going to try my best to adjust my blog to the new rules (in the making). So the company name is going to dissapear from the blog and instead I'll be referring to my school as just 'school', from now on. Also, the renaming with Dutch names won't be necessary anymore, so that'll make it easier for you non-Dutch readers. And unfortunately, pictures of students is yet again a no-no.

The Weekly Green

After arriving at KIX airport I took a bus to Amagasaki where my sweet boyfriend picked me up. We went for lunch at Bikuri Donkey which was pretty tasteless on account of being exhausted after a 11 hour flight with hardly any sleep, all the while knowing that a week of intensive training is about to start tomorrow. After repacking my suitcases with some of the stuff I left behind in Japan and taking a quick shower I was off to Honbu in Osaka. I’d only been there once before and of course the time I’m lugging around a heavy suitcase on a hot day is when I got lost in the huge train station on which Honbu is sitting. I gave up and called Honbu. A few minutes later one of the trainers picked me up and escorted to my new home for a week in Daikokucho. During my training in Nagoya I stayed in a business hotel and I had my own private room. The hotel I’m staying at now is an apartment hotel, and I’ll be sharing a room with two of my (of course female) co-trainees. I’m a very private person who likes things very neat and organized, so I wonder how living with two girls I’ve never even met is going to work.
Anyway, the hotel is actually very nice. I wish our company apartments were anything like this, with real beds, a nice kitchen with actual space to cut your vegetables, a couch and coffee table, loads of storage in the kitchen, bathroom, a microwave and toaster oven (I only had one burner and a rice cooker in Inuyama). Wow, this is really luxurious. The only thing missing is an internet connection, which is going to make blogging and emailing quite a challenge. The guys in our training group are lucky they actually got a room with an internet connection, but we’ve got an iron and ironing board… Well, who needs those? I haven’t ironed in a year!
More pictures

Thursday, June 05, 2008

On my way back to Japan

As my parents and brother are visiting me in about 2 months, the tearful Schiphol goodbye, turned out to be a tearless rather cheerful goodbye with lots of waving. After that I went on my way to the gate, checking out taxfree shops on the way to find something to spend my last Euros on, but found nothing I wanted. I’ve even checked the onboard shopping magazine with genuine interest for the first time on a flight, but couldn’t find anything interesting enough to buy in there either. So I’m taking my Euros back to Japan.

Tomorrow I’ll arrive in Osaka and check in at some hotel my company arranged and start training on Saturday. Doing intensive training with a jetlag (again) should be fun! I wonder how different teaching in Kansai will be from teaching in Nagoya, but I’ll find out soon. Let’s get to Japan safely first.

Hitting Starbucks

It’s no secret I love Starbucks, so does Gyano and my mom likes it too, Guido doesn’t really care where his caffeine comes from as long as it tastes decent. My country has been a Starbucks-free zone for way too long. When I was still working on my Master thesis in Maastricht, almost everyday I would take a bus to Germany to study at a Starbucks in Aachen. Of course it was useful that the 50-minute-bus-ride was free with my student pass. And on occasion, Gy, my mom and I would drive out to Germany to hang out at Starbucks, of course I was the one that made them come with me the first time, but after that they went very willingly. Anyway, Starbucks has finally started its business in my country too, but unfortunately only at the international airport, which now has 3 Starbucks stores. We’re still hoping for the coffee giant to spread all the way down to Eindhoven, maybe someday it will. So before my departure to Japan today at Schiphol, we made sure to make a nice and long pit stop at one of the Starbuckses before passport control.

As awesome as it was to drink a Caramel Macchiato in my home country, of course it was also a sad occasion, because here we were again saying goodbye because I don’t live near my family anymore…

If they would just pack up there stuff and move to Japan too. I mean they have a lot of Starbuckses in Japan, even one right next to my new school. But for some reason that didn’t convince them that living in Japan would be a good plan. But at least they’ll be in Japan for a short vacation in August, I can’t wait.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bon Jovi in Frankfurt ~ Commerzbank Arena

2.5 hours of Bon Jovi in Frankfurt starting at the decent rockin’ hour of 8 PM, instead of those matinee performances in Tokyo. It was good, it was wholesome, it was awesome, it was rock and it was addicting, but they didn’t play 'Always'… Not sure if I’ll ever be able to forgive the band for that. Especially, since they played it several times before today and they’ll do it again during some of the upcoming European concerts (I have a magic eye into the future ;)), including the Amsterdam gig. Don’t they read my blog, didn’t they know I was only able to attend one concert in Europe this year, and that it wasn’t even in my own country... Couldn’t they just have played 'Always' in Frankfurt? So, I still desperately want to hear 'Always' performed live by Bon Jovi, well I guess it’s good to have a goal in life ;).

Minke had a bad experience pit-wise in Gelsenkirchen last week: the pit in front of the stage was way too full making it very hard for her to enjoy the show. So unfortunately, Minke really felt the need to protect some spot in the back of the pit during the many hours leading up to the concert. I on the other hand just wanted to enjoy the freedom of walking around the concert venue, and still being able to return to the Golden Circle with my wristband. This was my only concert in Europe and I wasn’t going to waste it sitting on a spot which I knew I wasn’t going to be occupying during the concert anyway. Disappointed Minke wasn’t joining me to do some highly entertaining ‘monkey-looking’ and chilling in all the corners of the stadium, I headed out by myself. I spent my time looking at the interesting people, the expensive merchandise, the huge beers and bratwursten, and the exciting things that go on behind the stage and generally absorbing the whole concert feel that I so dearly missed during the Japanese tour.

The support act was some Italian rock band which is popular in Europe now. I don’t know the band and I don’t understand Italian so their show wasn’t very entertaining to me, but the Germans sure seemed to enjoy it. A little while after their performance Bon Jovi appeared and made everybody happy. Although the sound in the stadium was truly horrific, with a loud echo that even made Jon Bon Jovi tell us how shitty the sound quality was… they won’t be back here, that’s for sure. The stage in Japan was basically non-existent (it was embarrassing), but luckily Bon Jovi did go all out for the European tour and brought an awesome stage with fancy lights and moving screens. The TV screens kept moving everywhere: sometimes together, sometimes individually and at other times the bigger screens split up into thinner slices of screens to create cool visual effects. At some point in the show part of the floor moves upwards which turns out to be a big video screen too, which is mostly for the benefit of the people in the back of the stadium because it’s hard to see when you’re up close. But luckily this time the pit was half-empty due to good wristband management by the security, so I could leisurely stroll to the back of the Golden Circle to take pictures of the amazing stage.

A Bon Jovi show is commonly great to listen to, but not always enjoyable to watch if you’re far from the stage and can’t really see what’s going on. Especially when they use a non-stage like in Japan, but I’m sure that even the fans in the far back of the stadium had something very esthetically pleasing to look at in Europe. They had lots of special effects with the movable video screens, the lights, the stage screen that came up from the floor over the band and of course the footage on the screens itself. I especially liked what they did during ‘We Got It Going On’:

Then the memory card of my camera told me it was full, so I had to change it and caught the last part of the song:

I loved the ambiance, the set list (not too many Lost Highway songs although I did miss the beautiful ‘Make A Memory’), I loved the chairless pit and all the space to dance, jump around and run in (the running mainly occurred when I wanted to take a picture from a different angle or closer up) and especially the freedom to take pictures and movies without being afraid of an escort out of the venue. Not that I managed to take many decent pictures as those damned spotlights ruined almost all my photographic opportunities. Or maybe I’m just a crappy photographer, but I used to take beautiful concert pictures... but that was with an old-fashioned camera, not a digital one… Luckily, Minke discovered some kind of take-spotlight-out function on her new camera, which seemed to work. Maybe I should finally read that user manual I downloaded (the original was in Japanese) for my camera, and discover my camera can probably do that too. Ah, well… at least my camera captured some videos which will serve as a great memory, or perhaps even better than pictures ever could.

So, as passionately mentioned earlier Bon Jovi didn’t play ‘Always’ for me, but they were nice enough to treat me to some special and tasty snacks like ‘Bed Of Roses’, ‘Blaze Of Glory’ (awesome with the light effects), ‘Damned’ (a song we requested in 2003, and now finally got to hear live), and ‘Blood Money’ (which is one of my favorites in the karaoke box, and very rarely heard live and therefore the biggest treasure of this show). I kept hoping for ‘Always’ or at least ‘Hallelujah’, but after ‘Bed Of Roses’, I knew I was pretty much shit out of luck on the ‘Always’ front. Maybe next time?

Blood Money

Bed Of Roses

Damned

All in all it was a great concert and the atmosphere was outstanding. The whole European tour they’ve been playing songs they rarely play live, every city gets something unique. The first European tour without me and they do this, maybe I shouldn’t have moved to Japan? Well, at least I was here for one of those special concerts and it was awesome. Now, how am I going to persuade the Japanese to do concerts European style (without the annoying chairs and during the evening) from now on, because I mean come on, it’s just way more fun this way! Yeah, I know: keep dreaming… Well then, let’s just hope next time, Bon Jovi rocks Japan like they did Europe this tour.
SETLIST
01. Lost Highway 02. Born To Be My Baby 03. You Give Love A Bad Name 04. We Will Rock You / Summertime 05. Just Older 06. Captain Crash And The Beauty Queen From Mars 07. Sleep When I’m Dead / Jumpin’ Jack Flash / Mercy 08. Blood Money 09. Blaze Of Glory 10. Whole Lot Of Leavin’ 11. Bed Of Roses 12. In These Arms 13. We Got It Going On 14. It’s My Life 15. Keep The Faith / Sympathy For The Devil 16. I’ll Be There For You (Richie) 17. Lay Your Hands On Me 18. Have A Nice Day 19. Who Says You Can’t Go Home 20. Bad Medicine / Shout 21. Livin’ On A Prayer 22. Any Other Day 23. Damned 24. These Days 25. Wanted Dead Or Alive

Monday, June 02, 2008

Being home is nice

Just a quick post to let you guys know, I'm really enjoying my relaxing stay at home:

It's been a great week and now I'm off to Frankfurt, to see my last Bon Jovi concert this year. I'm really excited and hoping they will play 'Always' tomorrow night (we're sleeping in the car tonight). But even if they don't, I'm sure it'll be awesome!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Another shot at Belgian fries

After hosting a slightly wild BBQ at our house yesterday nobody really felt like cooking today. And when Gui suggested we’d give the whole Belgian fries thing another try after the fiasco on Friday, we all jumped at the idea. Everybody was game, because what Dutch person doesn’t want to drive south for an hour to go get some greasy Belgian fries? Well, Dutch person not living in Belgium that is, because when we lived in Belgium, the greasiness of Belgian fries made me sick and made me long for dry and crispy Dutch fries. But hey, I don’t exactly live in Belgium anymore, so. I mean they’ve never even heard of Belgian fries in Japan, they think all fries are French fries thanks to McDonald’s.

So we packed up the family and drove across the border to Postel, basically a huge parking lot in the woods with about a dozen of semi-mobile fries and ice cream shops. They serve mostly Dutch people looking for a bag of Belgian grease without having to integrate into the Belgian culture too much. After consuming the fries and a dessert of delicious Belgian ice cream (much better than Italian ice cream in my opinion) most Dutchies drive straight back home, and so did we. But the fries and ice cream were very good, and way more enjoyable on an empty stomach.