chris vs. the arctic

chris: 72 // the arctic: 47

Morning Gomi

30.3.05
The garbage ['gomi' in Japanese] system in Japan is surprisingly confusing. You'd think a country that can synchronize a train system to the minute could figure out an easy garbage system. But no. There are garbage days for 'burnable' items, 'non-burnable' items, glass, cans, big crap, small crap, machines, shelves, etc. In the end, I guarantee you they all end up being burned in the same place.

Anyway, this morning I decided to get rid of all the beer cans I've accumulated over the past 3 months. (I can never figure out when the can day is!) Convenience stores have multi-type garbage bins that act as a 'catch-all' when you can't figure out where a particular garbage item is supposed to be sorted to. I brought the huge bag of beer cans to the convenience store on the way to my school... As I was shoving the cans into the small hole, one of my teachers comes up to me and says, "ohayo gozaimasu!" ["good morning!"]

You can imagine my embarrassment: The teacher happens upon the foreign English teacher dumping a large amount of empty beer cans into a convenience store garbage can... Yeeeah. I swear -- I'm not an alcoholic! But, since she doesn't speak English, I cannot explain that to her!

Oh well, better pop a can, and settle into my new role as Daimon Junior High School's new lush.

Enkai

29.3.05
Yesterday was my end-of-year enkai with my teachers. Basically, it's a big dinner and party where everyone lets loose. Last night, though, was really sad in the beginning. 9 teachers are leaving the school, so there were plenty of tears and goodbyes. I don't think I can handle another sappy event any time soon!

Actually, I'm sad about the choice of those leaving. The san-nensei math teacher and a kyoto-sensei [vice-principal] are both leaving, which was a surprise to me. Both were really funny! I hope the new teachers are just as funny.

I captured some pics of the karaoke at the after party at a snack bar [private bar with 'sexy' ladies]. I think they pretty much sum up the event.

Inada-sensei and INakase-sensei, Segawa-sensei, and I
Hayashi-sensei Singing KaraokeTit Candy
Clockwise from top left: Inada-sensei (math teacher) and I at the Dinner; Nakase-sensei (teacher with a crush on me), Segawa-sensei (gym teacher), and I; Tit Candy at the Snack Bar; and Hayashi-sensei Singing Karaoke.

I think the best part of last night was the following post...

Embarrassment of the Week [2005年3月29日]

At the enkai last night, I was 'encouraged' by the teachers to sing "We Will Rock You" by Queen. I was told that everyone would sing with me, but alas, I was the only tone-deaf fool busting a gut!

Afterwards, I was told by a very drunk English teacher that my pronunciation was perfect. Thanks.

Karaoke

27.3.05
Last night was Jen's birthday. A bunch of us went out for dinner and karaoke!

Now, I know some of you out there have never done karaoke before, and that's okay. It's definitely a must for any Japanese night out on the town. (Since there are little to no dance clubs in Japan...) Let me tell you about a typical experience (at least for me):

Grab a room, mics, and an English song book. Sneak in drinks -- usually chu-hi (Japanese spirits and juice juice in a can). Enter the songs you want into the remote control. Sing. (Pretty easy, eh?)

The not-so-easy part is choosing the right balance of songs. You want to start of the session with something everyone can join in on. Something that doesn't have a difficult melody and is slow enough to read the words. A good choice is "Don't Look Back in Anger" by Oasis. Although, you may want to pump it up a little, so "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba may be a better choice.

Last night's playlist was pretty sweet:

Tiffany - I Think We're Alone Now
Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild
Billy Ocean - Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Car [a tribute to my blog]
Milly Elliott - Pass That Dutch [it's surprisingly easy!]
The New Kids on the Block - Step By Step

Karaoke
Left to right: Phil, Jimmy, and Amber.

Picking the right songs is actually hit or miss most of the time. Songs which may be seemingly easy to sing may actually be the most embarrassing thing to happen to you since puberty. Example: "Billy Jean" by Michael Jackson. [See "Bonzai!" in Archives.] However, songs which you may never consider to be easy can actually be really enjoyable. Example: "Milkshake" by Kelis.

After karaoke, it is common for peeps to snack at a late night mobile eatery (such as a ramen shop). I think this tradition is common is most countries. Man, I miss the 'Chinese' food from Sun Sun's in Guelph!

Ramen
Eating ramen on the street.

From there, you can stumble home or to another bar. Whichever suits your stomach.

Remember, drink plenty of water to curb your hangover! (Wish I had...)

Beijing

25.3.05
This past weekend I went to Beijing, China!

Click on the link to the photos above. It'll help you visualize. Sweet. Let's begin...

NOTE: This is basically a short story. Grab a coffee now. Do it!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16th

I get sick. Yeah, stupid thing to do before a trip, eh? I was so mad! I managed to coast my way through all the flus and colds my kids have had, but I catch it right before I leave for China. Dammit.

THURSDAY, MARCH 17th

I take the train from Toyama to Nagoya City. It's about 4 hours, but it seemed like 7 with my cold. I was disgusting! Snot rags everywhere. Ugh! Anyway, I catch my flight to Beijing on Air China. Twas a good flight. AC is good, FYI. I landed in Beijing at 15:00, but I didn't get through customs until 16:00. There were about 500 people trying to shove their way through. Insane! My friend Mike was waiting for me in the airport, with his illegal cab driver. Nice. I exchanged too much money.

I stayed at Mike's apartment on the north side of Beijing the whole trip. Man, it was a nice apartment! Compared to Japan, I was shocked. I suppose it was in the suburbs of Beijing, in one of the 2000 new apartment buildings, but still. I couldn't get over it.

That night, we head out to meet with Mike's band mates. They just formed a band temporally called "The Maolesters." By the end of the trip, they change it to "Solid Gold Space Cannon." That was a funny night... But anyway, back to this one. I met Mike's foreigner friends: Kelso (a Canadian from northern Alberta -- we're practically brothers!), Engla (a Swede), and Paul (an American). Kelso was hilarious!

Ex-pats

They practiced their tunes in the back, back room of a sketchy basement of a building. It was a little hole in the wall that randomly had a complete drum set and all the gear for cheap. I found out later on that 4 families live further along the basement, next to the practice room!

Here comes the embarrassing part... Guess what my first meal in China was? Peking duck? Dumplings? Fried Rice? No my friend. It was KFC!! I was really sick and didn't want to deal with Chinese bullshit right away. Plus it was right there. :S

FRIDAY, MARCH 18th

Mike had to head into work this day, so I was sent out into the wilds of Beijing on my own. It's pretty simple, actually. I took the Beijing Train into the centre of the city. The train just opened last year, and is exactly like a Japanese system! My first impressions of Beijing turned out to be false -- I thought it was cleaner than it actually is.

Train Station

After catching the train, I took the Beijing Subway! What an experience! You're literally part of a pack of animals, shoving your way into a small crevice of a moving death trap. Okay, it wasn't that bad. It was actually pretty fun! Chinese people cut in line, and generally don't care, but it was SO refreshing after living in polite Japan for 7 months.

My destination was Tiananmen Square. It's pretty self-explan. Walking around felt weird, because I kept thinking, "this is where those tanks were. Is this where that guy stood?" Makes your skin crawl. Speaking of which, I almost got scammed. A guy started talking to me claiming he was an art student, and he wanted to take me to the museum to see his exhibit. Mmmhmmm. He was probably going to try to sell me crappy paintings. I checked my LP Beijing book later that night, and it mentions that scam. That's what I get for not doing my homework...

Tiananmen Square

After Tiananmen, I crossed the street for the Forbidden City. Man! I had no idea how big it was! (Check out the two pages of photos now.) After the 5th gate photo, I was ready to fall asleep. They're all the same! But the Roger Moore audio commentary made it all hilarious! It must have been from the 70's. Here's a choice example from the tape:

"... [Music]. Now walk up the smooth marble staircase to the grand Hall of Supreme Harmony. Isn't it marvelous? Look up! Can you see the spectacular gold dragons meticulously painted on the ceiling above you? Aren't they fantastic? ..."

Heheh. Picture James Bond telling you this. Great!

Forbidden City

That afternoon, I met up with Mike, and we ate dumplings, etc. in a real Chinese restaurant. It took only 24 hours to get a real meal! Afterwards, we went shopping in the street markets. We haggled like madmen (making several merchants quite pissed), and I scored two watches featuring Mao waving to the people! (His arm is the second hand.)

Afterwards, we took a taxi to a famous hutong (old style Chinese housing -- with shacks and courtyards). Had some drinks, and then met up with the expat peeps and partied. You should see the kind of people that work in Beijing! Mainly North American, but there were plenty of snooty Europeans acting like they're the shit with their favorable exchange rate. Yeah, like it's not easy being rich in China! Gaaaawd!

Enough of that rant... Time for

SATURDAY, MARCH 19th

Late start. Oops! Mike had to work again. This time, I head to the Temple of Heaven Park. It was good, but the pollution that was blatantly absent during my first day showed up to finish off what my cold missed. I nearly died. You can see the haze in most of the pics. I photo-shopped a lot of it out, but believe me, they were br-ow-n.

Temple of Heaven

After THP, I decided that I was still too sick to eat in a Chinese restaurant (and they are surprising hard to find!), so I did another embarrassing thing... I ate at Pizza Hut!!! Oh my gaaawd! So embarrassing! But! I have now managed to eat in a Pizza Hut in every country I've been to this millennium. So that's something.

I got to the Summer Palace way too late, and only had a couple of hours to wheeze my way around the grounds. I bet it's really beautiful in the summer.

Summer Palace

Mike picked me up at the Summer Palace, and went went directly to the Chang'an Grand Theatre to catch a Beijing Opera. It was fantastic! The costumes were very elaborate, and the music was thoroughly annoying. (Picture a singing cat in heat accompanied by an untuned mini-guitar being played by a deaf child.) But, the acrobatic fight scenes at the end blew me away! So good!

That night, uuuh, you guessed it. Went out again. This time is was a cute Belgium bar. I drank too much 'expensive' imported beer. :)

SUNDAY, MARCH 20th

The Great Wall of China!!! Yay!!

Mike and I get Fulong (the Chinese co-worker/professor that Mike lives with) to hire us an illegal cab to take us to Badaling -- the site of the most touristy part of the Great Wall. This guy was ridiculous! First of all, he was driving a suped-up VW car, with decals all over. (Where did he get it??) Secondly, he had a baseball bat and metal pipe hanging out beside his seat. (What??) Thirdly, he didn't actually know where Badaling was, so there were frequent stops. Skehhhhchy. He eventually got us there, and waited in the car the entire time we were on the wall! That was about 4 hours!! Sure. Whatev. After almost passing out on the wall (not much to tell), we haggle our way through pushy vendors, and I get more crap to make my trip meaningful. The driver was waiting for us, and we head back to the city. This guy was cheap too! We only paid Y170 (Chinese currency). It would normally be at least Y400.

Admiring the Great Wall of China

That night, Fulong joins us for some hot pot in a hutong. Hot pot is a kind of elaborate Mongolian dinner, consisting of a large boiling pot of spicy water and raw ingredients. You throw the ingredients into the pot (like lamb, tofu, lettuce, meat balls, mushrooms, etc.), let them cook for a second, and then enjoy! Very good! But, it's a communal thing, so maybe not the best thing when you have a cold. (Un)Fortunately, we all had colds. We also grabbed some spicy lamb on a stick on the street, which were made by an awestruck Muslim local. (Mike and I attracted a little bit of attention.) :)

MONDAY, MARCH 21st

I head back to Japan early, early in the morn.

So that's my trip! Thanks for making it to the end!

It Finally Happened

24.3.05
I was hit by a car!

Okay, it wasn't serious or anything. More of a 'nudge' than a 'hit.' But still.

This guy was waiting to turn onto the main street, and I came along the sidewalk on my bicycle. I thought he saw me, and I motioned to cross his path. But apparently he didn't see me, or he didn't care. Right as I was riding past his van, he starts to go and nudges me! So I turn around and yell, "WHAT THE F*&@ ARE YOU DOING?!!" whilst shaking my umbrella in the air menacingly! That'll teach him.

He drove away smiling. That's great.

Closing Ceremony

Today was the closing ceremony at my school. Basically, it was a goodbye to all the teachers who will be leaving. Unfortunately, the cool gym teacher is going! His speech was kind of embarrassing, because he completely broke down in front of everyone! I'm kind of over all the gushing and tears, and all I could think was, "let's end this sickening display." (Harsh!) His 'speech' was following by another tearful one. This time it was by the teacher who has a crush on me. She's going too! Things will be less interesting next term. (Unless the new peeps are even better!)

My Old Kids

23.3.05
Yesterday I ran into my old san-nensei students in the train station. (Really, they only left a week ago...) I didn't recognize them at first, because they were in their street clothes (i.e. crazy designer gear from Japan). Got some pics with them! I can't get over how stylish they are out of their boring uniforms!

The KidsMe and the Kids

Random Thought [第4]

Eating lunch and reading animal rights websites never mix. Ever.

Suggested Source of Nausea: http://www.peta.org

Embarrassment of the Week [2005年3月23日]

Teacher: "Let's practice our penmanship. Chris, please write the alphabet on the board."

Me: "Okay." [Write what I think is cursive script.]

Teacher: "Chris-sensei... That isn't right. Let me do it."

Me: [Realise I haven't used cursive script for a decade and just looked like a complete dumbass in front of all my ichi-nensei students.]

[Practices writing the rest of the day.]

Random Thought [第3]

22.3.05
Black instant coffee beats no coffee any day.

Suggested Frequency: 3-7 cups per day

Graduation

15.3.05
Today was the san-nensei (Grade 9 in Canada) graduation at Daimon Junior High School. In Japan, the school year starts in April, and ends in March the following year. Junior high schools have 3 levels, with the san-nensei being the highest. After they've finished this grade, they move onto high school. They must apply to high schools in order to attend them, and the application most often includes a oral and/or written exam. It's just like university! So much pressure!

Anyway, today they graduated. It was a really formal ceremony. More formal than I expected. Although, I should have expected nothing but absolutely formal from a Japanese school. I was told to wear a black suit, but they forgot to mention one other element... a white tie. I watched the teachers walk into the staffroom this morning, and after seeing the third white tie, I figured my gold rainbowy one wasn't up to snuff. Whatever. Another way to be different. The cool part was that the female san-nensei teachers wore beautiful kimonos. It was a reminder that I'm actually in Japan.

The ceremony itself was really rigid and frigid! Rigid in that all the movements were orcastrated with percision, including the walking and bowing. Frigid in that is was f*cking cold in the gym!! There is no central heat, so we had to suck it up, and bear the 5 degree temperatures for 2+ hours. It was a hilarious sight seeing all the teachers run for the space heater as soon as the ceremony was finished!

I was surprised at the amount of people crying at this thing! The homeroom teachers for the grade were all pretty much on the verge of tears all day. Even the macho boys were balling! The rest of the day felt like someone had died.

Graduating Boys

After the ceremony, we gathered outside to see off the kids as they left the school grounds. I thought they were coming back in the afternoon, but they didn't... In fact, they might never come back! I didn't know this until after the fact! I guess some will come back tomorrow to check their marks... Not sure. It's sad that I may never see them again!

Kids Leaving

When all the kids had left, the teachers had a special lunch together. But here is where it's gets even more funeral-like: They played some audio tapes with messages from the students to the san-nensei teachers. While they talked, there was mournful, cherub-style music in the background. With the teachers crying, the whole effect was that these were messages from the dead! So creepy!!

I guess that ends this year formally. Except for the fact that I, for some reason, am still teaching the ichi- and ni-nensei students this and next week. Oh well. I'm off to Beijing very, very soon!

Random Thought [第2]

14.3.05
An easy way to attract attention on a crowded train is to walk on carrying hot, smelly fast food.

Suggested Temptation: McDonald's french fries

Random Thought [第1]

11.3.05
Listening to 80's music while biking to work makes you feel like you're in the title sequence of an 80's teen movie.

Suggested Track: Billy Ocean - "Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Car"

Welcome to My Blog!

2.3.05
This is my first time blogging, so it's kind of exciting (in a really geeky way)! In the coming weeks, I will be posting past entries, with photos, to recap the last seven months I have been in Japan. There is a lot of material to cover, but I think it will be a good way to remember the adventures that have already happened.

I hope you enjoy my blog, and please feel free to post comments!

Chris