Monday, July 28, 2008

Wet

Today we finally went to Dekapathos in Kobe. It’s a water park Yasu discovered online not so long ago. We’ve wanted to visit it for a couple of weeks now, but we didn’t because it was either closed, bad weather was looming or too crowded due to a national holiday. Today we finally made the trip to Rokko Island on a JR train and a monorail. It’s a nice park which reminded me a lot of the one I went to with my family in Mallorca in 2006. We spent about two hours enjoying the water (which wasn’t cold, but still wet and refreshing during a Japanese summer) in the scorching sun. Until:
Minutes later the skies opened treating us to thunder, lightning and hard rain, which ended our relaxing day in the sun. The first time I’m actually enjoying the heat in Japan and it was ended so abruptly. We spent a long time huddled up hiding from the storm in the restrooms with dozens of strangers and later after we ran a bit through the storm in our swimsuits (at least we didn’t care that we got wet) between the lockers with hundreds of strangers, also all half-naked like us. I kept hoping for the weather to clear up, as it always does when you’re not in the vicinity of a nice pool and you’re actually wishing the sun away until autumn. But it didn’t.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

25/7


Japanese people are busy. They work incomprehensible amounts of overtime and hardly have any time to unwind or even sleep. Perpetual overtime and exhaustion have been the rule rather than the exception in Japan for decades, so they needed to find some kind of solution for the lack of time people have in this country. The answer… longer days:




That’s right in Japan we have 25 hours in the day, instead of the normal 24 hours. It’s nice because we can all sleep that one extra hour per night which can really make the difference between staying awake or falling asleep in class.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Classroom panic

Just teaching a class when I see a small spider walking on the wall behind two of my female students. These students just happen to be looking at my face when I automatically make a slightly scared expression with my eyebrows (all insects make me very uncomfortable). The girls, seeing this, jump up simultaneously, start screaming and run to the whiteboard looking scared at the wall behind the chairs they were occupying just a second ago. They keep screaming, totally expecting to see a huge cockroach, which in their minds was the only thing that could have caused my facial expression just moments earlier. Instead they see a tiny spider moving around the wall…
All this time there is a third student in the room, a guy, who jumped up as soon as the girls did and following the girls’ example also started examining the back wall, but saw absolutely nothing (from his angle the spider was hiding behind a Jenga box). As he later shares with us, apparently he thought I’d seen a ghost and the judging by the girls’ screams they’d seen it too, but him being a male made it impossible for him to see the ghost… right. The things that go through my students’ minds…
Seconds later, when everybody finally realizes what is (not) going on, they all fill the room with roaring laughter. All the while, I can’t even speak because I’m in a corner crying as I can’t stop laughing at the total chaos in the classroom over a tiny, harmless spider, which nobody is really scared of, not even me. It took us a long time to get back to business without bursting out laughing at our own silliness.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dutch Masters


I like to decorate my classroom walls when I’m not teaching, especially with Dutch things, but they’re not always easy to find in Japan. But when Yasu and I went to the Dutch consulate last week to pick up my new passport, he picked up a booklet called Dutch Masters. It contained a lot of information about Dutch products, statistics and inventions, but most importantly it contained a lot of colorful pictures. I used the best pictures to make a Dutch collage:




Now, I just need to figure out how to fill up all the remaining gaping holes-of-no-decoration in my classroom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cigarette sarcasm


Today I get to work and find a very entertaining poster decorating all the walls and windows of the mall/train station my school is located in:




The poster starts off with a sarcastic complaint about the dirty beaches: “As long as you don’t look around your feet, the seas of Japan are beautiful”. I couldn’t agree more.


The creators of the poster have the smoker profiled as a malicious person walking around with a wicked smile out to harass (and even injure) non-smokers brandishing their blazing sticks of provocation and blowing clouds of stinky smoke: “I carry a 700°C fire in my hand with people walking all around me. In summertime, the arms that pass near my lit cigarette are bare".


But curiously the non-smokers are not as concerned about burn marks made my an evil smoker’s cigarette, as they are about avoiding those stinky masses of cigarette fog that is emitted by all those smoking fiends that Japan counts: “I quietly hold my breath whenever I come across someone smoking. I see a person walking in front of me. I pass the smoker to avoid the smoke. Stand ashtrays. Disposing of a lit cigarette in one just creates more smoke”.


But really, smokers are just shy people, very afraid to socialize, who have the perfect way to avoid an uncomfortable situation of having to make small talk with strangers: “I was smoking in the crowd. There is no longer anyone around me”.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend at home

Due to my lingering natsubate and the incessant heat that can only be coped with by staying inside in an air-conditioned room, I cancelled all plans for this weekend (with the exception of Steps classes of course) and just stayed in with Yasu, updating my blog and watching movies and enjoying the fact that my dear boyfriend was cooking our meals.

He cooked us Japanese style hotdogs (which include a lot of stir fried cabbage) and some improvised version of udon, which leftover hotdogs, pork and egg. It was good, but most of all it was nice to be lazy, and do some major updating on this blog. I really need to get to blog fully up to date before the next wave of blogposts, which will be when my family visits me in Obon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Already sick of summer

Not sure when the rainy season ended, but summer has sure begun. I don’t know what the actual temperature is, but it has to be over 35°C and combined the insane humidity it feels like it’s way over 40°C, even in the morning and in the evening. I’m always fed up with summer even before it’s started, because heat makes me sweaty and cranky. But today I’m literally sick of summer… I’ll spare you the gory details suffice it to say that it was so bad that I actually, for the first time ever, left work early. Yasu came by tonight to be nice to his sick girlfriend, and diagnosed me with natsubate (summer exhaustion). Apparently, lots of people are pestered by natsubate every summer and it hit me early, great. Now, I have one more reason to hate the summer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lunch with my boyfriend


Today was a workday, still I had lunch with Yasu! This is now possible because I work in Osaka, and Yasu works there too on occasion (he mostly works out of home in Amagasaki). Today our breaks lined up, so Yasu took a train to Senri Chuo:




It was quite unreal to see Yasu during my lunch break, but of course it was also very nice. Most of my coworkers (some were teaching) finally got to meet the illusive boyfriend that they’ve heard so much about but never met before as he showed up at any of the work parties they invited him to.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Billiken

Today we really wanted to go to a water park in Kobe, to cool down in a pool (hopefully filled with cold water), but the weather report informed us that there was an 80% chance of rain in Kobe today, so we decided to stay in Osaka. So instead we did some preliminary sightseeing in preparation for my family’s visit in Obon. I don’t really know Osaka yet, so I need to test some tourist spots to see if they deserve a visit from my parents and brother. Yasu suggested Tsutenkaku, which translates to ‘Tower Reaching Heaven’ in Shinsekai. It has an observation deck at 91 meters above the ground and even though I’m afraid of heights I love observation decks especially when I’m armed with my digital camera.
Remarkable in the area around the tower is the presence of Billiken. A charm doll created by an American artist, from an image she saw in a dream and named him after the American president of that time, William Howard Taft. This year is actually Billiken’s 100th birthday, as the artist patented Billiken in 1908.
Here in Japan Billiken is revered as ‘ The God of things as they ought to be’, and he’s a popular symbol of good luck. The most important Billiken statue can be found on the fifth floor of the Tsutenkaku tower. It’s made of wood, and Billiken is sitting on a pedestal in his golden throne. Billiken is surrounded by hundreds of messages and wishes from people on wooden cards in the shape of his feet. Why in the shape of his feet, well if you donate a coin you can rub his feet for good luck. I think feet are disgusting so I didn’t want to rub them, especially not when they want me to pay for it, but a lot of people felt differently, which is why his wooden feet are hollowed out.
Even though I enjoyed our little visit to Tsutenkaku I don’t think I’ll honor it with a visit from my family, simply because we’ll definitely be checking out the Umeda Sky Building which is almost twice as high and will provide them with a better view of the city. Also I’ve been hearing Shinenkai is the closest thing in Japan to a dangerous neighborhood. Not sure if that’s true, but I’m not willing to take any chances.

My new passport

I got a call from the Dutch consulate the other day telling me my new passport is waiting for me! So today Yasu and I went to fetch it today. The new passport doesn’t look so different from my old one, except the new picture and new expiration date of course. They dug a big hole through my old passport to make it invalid. But I still need it to take to Japanese immigration, as my Japanese visa is stuck in my old passport and it needs to be transferred to my new one obviously.
After that I have to go to city hall and have my ARC updated again too, I need to do all that before I can travel internationally again with all this paperwork that needs to be taken care of and me only having Mondays off to do it. And next week Monday is a holiday, so it’s going to take a while… Especially with the expected crowds of foreigners at immigration with Obon coming up.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bon Jovi karaoke

I like Bon Jovi… surprise. I like karaoke…surprise. I love Bon Jovi karaoke… surprise! But I haven’t done that for a while, all my fellow Bon Jovi karaokans live in and around Inuyama. But after dinner tonight, 4 leftovers of the Outback party went to karaoke (at the very expensive Big Echo) for one hour. I know way too short, but we still had our last train home to catch and it was already 23:00.
To my very pleasant surprise they only sang Bon Jovi, not to do me a favor, but because they all love Bon Jovi themselves. Shoko even goes to concerts. I am not alone in Osaka… Still, I can’t wait to attend another Bon Jovi karaoke marathon in Komaki someday soon!

Outback

Tonight we had dinner with the gang again! We were saying goodbye to ‘original’ Shoko who is being replaced by ‘new’ Shoko. Original Shoko is a peculiar, funny and interesting person but it’s really hard to take a picture of her. But here is one of the very few I managed to snap of her, holding her cardboard filled with going away messages from us:
Miyuki had found a flyer menu from Outback, an American chain restaurant serving so-called Australian food, most importantly steak (which is not common in Japan). We studied the menu for a week and were all intrigued (me not really having been there before both in the States and Japan), especially by that blooming onion!
From left to right, from top to bottom: Enzo, Steve, 'new' Shoko, Kazuko, Lou, Keiko, Miyuki, Sachiko, Tomomi & the Blooming Onion
We ordered a lot, a lot of food (the price tag afterwards was a lot more shocking than usual), including steaks, burgers and cheese fries. It weird but the Japanese share everything, even when at a Western restaurant, they cut everything up, even the burgers, and then it goes around the table. I’m pretty used to it nowadays, but really didn’t expect them to do it in Outback.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Dirty beach

It’s soooo hot in Japan these days, grrrr I really don’t like summer! Yasu had suggested a trip to the beach to cool down. I love the beach (which is why he suggested it) and after the amazing day we had at Shirahama beach in April I really liked the idea of going to some beach in Kobe. So of we went to Suma beach. The train station is located very conveniently right next to the beach so it was easy to find. It started off with annoying salespeople trying to get you into their beachside restaurants, but we weren’t interested (yet, but this behavior wasn’t encouraging) actually following you around when you try to pass them as quickly as you can. I hate salespeople like that. Then there it was the beach, not busy but there were loud and annoying youngsters running around and throwing live fish at each other and thereby not just annoying their friends but all the others on the beach. The beach itself was filled with dirt and broken shells, making it very uncomfortable to walk on with bare feet, and the water was literally filled with jellyfish.
It was extremely hot, the water temperature would have been sufficiently cooling, but the damn jellyfish made sure our bathing suits stayed dry. So even though the whole beach thing was a good idea, we ended up leaving prematurely and still feeling hot and bothered. We wanted to go to some outside water park instead, but they don’t open until next week. We ended up in a huge Starbucks in Kobe, where we spent several hours sipping iced coffee cooling down in the nicely air-conditioned store. For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant where the air-conditioning was working so well, that by the time our pasta arrived at the table it was already cold.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Solo kaitenzushi


After steps I was hungry and Yasu wasn’t coming here until later, so I decided to go to a kaitenzushi place in Tsukamoto by myself. I love Kurazushi, where I’ve been a few times with Yasu, a nice, clean and modern place with delicious sushi and more. But the place in Tsukamoto is Sushiro, which is actually Yasu’s favorite chain. They seated me at the ‘bar’ with all the other losers there by themselves, because they saved the booth for the families and larger groups. Seriously, I have no problem eating out solo in Japan, I do it everyday workday for lunch and with me hundreds of salary men, so it’s quite normal here.




The sushi wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as Kurazushi and the whole restaurant seemed older, they weren’t even using the (these days standard) computer screens to order stuff you can’t find on the conveyor belt, here they still had the rackety intercom boxes where you order verbally. It was extremely noisy and annoying. The selection of sushi going round the restaurant wasn’t as good as Kurazushi’s either, especially when you’re dependent on the belt because you don’t know what to say to the intercom. Initially, I was very excited to discover a sushi-go-round near my house, but I don’t think I’ll actually be returning here though.

Finally, steps again!!


My true gym passion is steps! I love steps, with loud and fast music, twirling about, dancing around, it sometimes feels like flying when you move up, down, to and from the step. They cancelled the easy steps class at my old gym just as I was about to try it, so I had no choice but to join the difficult steps classes and just try it out. The first lesson was very difficult, but I loved the concept and the challenge and around lesson 4 I was stepping just as hard and well as the others! I even arranged a special schedule with the manager at my old job, so that I never had work when my gym had steps classes, which was 3 times each workweek. Steps was one of the things I missed the most when I moved to Japan. And seeing the steps class last week here at Cospa, made me miss it all over again, so much it actually ached.


 


So I examined the group lesson schedule and discovered two steps classes I can join every week, one on Sunday and one on Monday. I used to do steps level 3 at home, but here the highest they have is steps level 1… And they have a kantan steps class, which translates to easy steps… I worry steps 1 might be too boring, but at least for now I have the extra challenge of language. Again my eyes were fixated on the teacher’s legs and although I have no idea what the words coming out of the speakers mean, I had no problem following the class. It was a fun class, and a good workout. Sometimes I felt like substituting some of the easy routine steps with some more complicated steps I learned at home, but I was able to contain myself, it’s not a good thing to stand out in Japan after all. I’ll safe the free styling for a later date. The only thing I didn’t like was (tonight and also during Wednesday’s aerobics class) that the class ended so quickly, we already started doing the cooling down, when I felt like really going all out on the steps with faster beats and energetically repeating the routines until we drop from our steps due to dehydration. This was always my favorite part of class, the last 5 minutes, when we’d learned all the routines and we exhausted ourselves repeating them over and over again (sometimes in mixed order). But unfortunately they don’t do that here...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Pit 11


We like to motivate our students to do study English at home too, so we keep track of students’ home studies with a race track running through the hallway (on the wall) on which students have their own little racecar. And above the track are pictures of the teachers holding some kind of message. And this is what I look like at the side of the road cheering on my students:




Of course my location would be pit # 11, which is the crazy number, like 7 is the lucky number and 13 the unlucky number. I wondered why 11 is the crazy number and looked it up and it I found that 11 is one less than 12, which is the perfect number, meaning you’re just not perfect, making you crazy by default… Guess which day I was born? That’s right on the eleventh (of August), so I’ve been bonkers my entire life.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

My first aerobics class


The gym doesn’t open until 10 AM, so if I want to use it before work I can only work out for about an hour because I have to leave for work a little before 12 and after a workout I need a shower. But I can only do this on Tuesday and Friday, because on Thursday the gym is closed (why???) and on Wednesday and Saturday I have to be at work too early to be able to go the gym before work. If I had the power: I’d change the opening hours of the gym to 07:00-24:00 for every day of the week including Thursday, and while I’m at it, I’d seriously decrease the temperature of the 32°C water in the pool too. Anyway, I can’t go to the gym after work on Saturday because it closes 30 minutes after I get back to Tsukamoto, but on Wednesday I can go to the gym after work! Even better there’s a high level aerobics class scheduled that I could make if I hurried home right after my last class. Which I did tonight.




I was a little bit nervous about being so out of shape and not understanding Japanese, and not being able to hide because everybody notices the only foreigner in the room. Armed with two liters of water and two small towels I entered the room uneasily and waited for the class to start while observing all the slim and fit Japanese people in the room. I was surprised by the amount of men (old and young) in the room, at my old gym the participants were all female and only sometimes a gay man would join the class, but here it’s really 50-50. During the class my eyes were fixated on the legs of the teacher, because my ears weren’t able to turn the teacher’s words into anything comprehensible. It was challenging, but I quickly got the hang of it and I had a lot of fun! I’ll definitely be there again next week!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My new classroom




As you can see I’ve moved some stuff from my Inuyama classroom all the way to Osaka with me. Because you know, what’s the new American teacher going to do with pictures of Amsterdam and a map of the Netherlands on his wall? And I spent so much time making that ABC caterpillar, I’m not going to leave it behind!




I also saw some nice classroom posters in another school in Osaka, with questions on them that the students can use when they don’t understand something. So I spent a lot of time with my black marker and some colored papers in between classes to make some of those posters for my new classroom.




I’m really starting to like my new classroom, but unfortunately I hardly ever get to teach in it though… It’s one of the largest rooms in our school and all the teachers share each other’s rooms depending on what size of class they need. And my big room is in high demand. Our school is kind of small, we don’t even have a decent lobby, so students all come into the class way before classes start, and they all want to talk. I used to use the 10 minute breaks in between to get ready for the next class, to eat a quick snack or to just close my eyes for a couple of minutes. And the best part was walking to the lobby and calling out the students name (for private lessons) or the class name when it was time to start, it kind of made me feel like a doctor fetching one of his patients from the waiting room (don’t ask me why, but it did), sadly now I don’t get to be that doctor anymore…



More pictures

And the updating has begun...

Finally! After a long battle of bureaucratic paperwork and tiring calls to Leopalace central, internet finally started working last Saturday in my new Osaka apartment. So I've started the massive task of updating my blog on the last month... Due to the month-long lack of internet my other internet activities haven't received their adequate amount of attention either, so I also have a ton of emails to work through, hundreds of blogposts by other bloggers to read, dozens of episodes of online shows to watch and a myriad of pictures left to upload onto my Flickr account. It's all going to take a while, but at least I’m getting started on it:
Update July 25: My new passport, Billiken
Update July 23: Universal Studios Japan
Update July 10: On my way back to Japan
Update July 8: Hitting Starbucks