Monday, November 12, 2007

Kerosene attacks and other shocking tales of samui!

Another week, another adventure for the blog it seems. Maybe most note-worthy was the Indian music concert Sunday, but more on that later. For now, harrowing tales of my fight for survival in the 10-degree house! Tales that will shock and amaze! Oh and for reference “samui” means “cold” in Japanese; a word I hear dozens of times each day, especially when they see me walk around the school in short sleeves still.

Well maybe not that amazing but ya, I discovered the kerosene heaters, which are essential tools for staying warm during Japanese winters. It all started when my friend from work Kubota-san informed me there is a closet in my house I didn’t know about. Sure enough, there were my electric blankets, electric rug (now I have two I guess) and about 4 or 5 different heaters. 2 rather big heaters do the kerosene routine. I went to the my shed near the house and opened it for maybe the 3rd time since being here and got the jerry can and went to the gas station to fill it up. For 20 liters it was about $16, double the price it was maybe 3 or 4 years ago, much like gasoline. So I throw the jerry can in my car to discover the lid was broken! It happens with old plastic and cold temperatures I suppose, but it still sucked to see maybe a liter of kerosene slop out and sickening to see my car seat eagerly slurp it up. The car ride home was… interesting. I got quite the headache even with the windows rolled down. For reference, kerosene smells like pure gasoline, maybe even riper if that is possible.

I had to pull over and breathe for a bit so I stopped at the grocery store half way between the gas station and home. I left my windows down so it could air out a bit in my car. Fighting the headache I soon realized I smelt like kerosene much like my car, as other shoppers were quick to avoid a 3-meter moving radius around me. Of course I wasn’t thinking straight so I kept shopping (was quick, it’s a small place anyways) and got out of there. I drove home with the windows down again and it wasn’t too bad. I filled up the tanks (maybe 3 or 4 liters each, last 8 hours at full blast I’m told) and listened to the “glug glug glug” of my money thirsty machines as they prepped themselves to keep me warm for the next 5 months or so.

Well the first part of me to go numb is my toes usually, hence my decision how many weeks back to get that electric carpet. So I stuck my heater under the table in my living room thinking “oh boy, it’ll blow heat on my legs and the heat will rise while I’m on the compy. (laptop)” Ya I have my blonde moments. Sure, it blew heat on my legs and rose alright, it blew the kerosene fumes there too. By the time I realized this I was half way through an email and just wanted to get it done. I was ducking to the side occasionally and holding my breath but the damage was done and I got another nasty headache for the next hour or so from the carbon monoxide poisoning. This keeping warm thing is turning into an ordeal at this point.

The heater is now more to the side, leaving me in the clear. And really the first time you use the heaters is the worst; just like turning on a furnace back home for the first time, you got to burn off all that dust and other fun stuff first. I started to slide close my doors (Japanese style paper doors) at home in hopes of heating one room and not the house and wow does that make a difference in making my house feel cozy. Sure it doesn’t seem as big when you’re in an enclosed room but it just feels cozy now. I started putting some blankets up against the walls for some make-shift insulation and it seems to be working ok, I’ll need to buy more though as normal blankets don’t hold up to well unless I decide to pin them to the wall. Also with heaters now, it helps when drying my clothes as just having the fan blow on them wasn’t working as good as it got colder.

So ya, my car has been sitting in my spot since Tuesday with all the windows open a crack in hopes I don’t pass out next time I have to drive somewhere. So of course, I forgot they were open when I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of pouring rain. I thought it was strange this morning when I went to work that there was so much moisture hugging the inside and outside of my window, usually morning dew isn’t that relentless. I’ll find out the damage later when I get home, I hope the fumes have cleared out.

Some repairmen also came last week to install a working heater for my bathtub. They took out the old stove (didn’t cover the hole that the chimney went through yet though, I stuffed some towels in the hole for now) and put a modern gas water heater on the outside of my house beside the heater that works the shower. So last week I had my first Japanese style bath! For reference, Japanese baths aren’t for washing but for relaxing. They aren’t as long but they are really deep. When I sat inside just to tops of my knees and my head weren’t under the water but that was alright, it was like sitting in a hot tub.

You leave the water sit in there for a week or two (again you don’t go in dirty) and you can set the heater to keep it constantly warm or whatever you want it to do. I need to buy a cover not unlike a hot tub cover to help keep it clean and warm though so for now I’m not going to warm it up again until I have those (I’m cheap, what can I say. Not paying to heat the shower room)

I find myself waking up quite regularly in the middle of the night and rolling over. I think it might be because half my face gets really cold so I roll over to warm it up on the pillow. I should maybe hook up that small electric heater to blow on my face when I’m sleeping like I did back in Regina as I can’t sleep with a blanket on my head and I can’t sleep with the kerosene heater on or else I won’t wake up ;)

The heaters here are very advanced; they have timers, temp control, safety switches (bumps will turn them off; protection against earthquakes) and 3-hour timers. If you had it on for 3 hours it will beep and turn off, telling you to air out the room with fresh air so you won’t be in a dangerous situation. I have yet to try out my kotatsu (Japanese heated table) but I have a feeling that will be heavenly. One of the warnings they gave us though is “prolonged use has been shown to cause sterility in men.” So again, I can’t be falling asleep under it ;) haha. I’ll be sure to post a picture sometime so you know what it looks like, but you can search google images for a picture too, they all basically look the same.

Quick fun fact! There is a “grave yard” of sorts I read about in a Japanese book the other day. There they send the nose ring of bulls that are slaughtered for food. When the picture was taken, the current mound has over 6 million nose rings of all different colors. It was something else to see, I might have to do a trip out to the area sometime, kind of morbid too.

My student Miyuki-san tested me again to see if I remembered her name, keeping me on my toes. She was ecstatic again that I remembered, even when I was so off guard as I was. That, unfortunately, triggered all the other students around her to ask me if I remembered their name too as she rushed around bragging. Luckily they didn’t know how to ask me or not and keep pointing to themselves expecting me to know what they were asking (I knew… oh how I knew). I feigned ignorance to their pointing; pointing to myself as well while cocking my head in confusion to their reference as I slowly backed up into the classroom and was saved by the bell. Literally. They rushed off to class and I sighed after dodging all those bullets of what would have been countless crying children. The tearsss it burnssss ussss. Hissss!

Needless to say my name memorization effort has tripled (no, I still don’t know the name of the teacher who sits beside me although we talk several times a day) I let other teachers know of my difficulty and they try to help me out, going so far as asking me now “so do you know their names?” after I had been talking to some students for the last 15 minutes or so. I do my deer in the headlights look and give my sheepish “no” and they proceed to tell me their names and try to help me remember.

I take notes now, to say the least. (she has glasses, she is short, etc)

I worked Saturday again, although I only found out about that Thursday. Good thing I didn’t have anything important planned is all I can say to these last minute “come in this weekend” shenanigans. Oh well, I didn’t have to do much and I get a day off in January for it. The morning I helped out some of Jake’s Junior High students get ready for New Zealand. (He is in Okinawa, where I should be right now too if that witch hunt didn’t happen, lucky guy) and in the afternoon there was one big cleaning of the school. I helped a little but mostly walked around. One room I helped wash the floor and apply wax while other students fixed broken desks, washed windows, stuff like that. I’ve heard of students cooking sweet potatoes under a pile of old burning desks but alas that didn’t happen at my school and I got funny looks for asking about it; rightly so I suppose. “Hey can we burn these old desks and eat sweet potatoes?” Ya, right in the middle of fall when you have dry leaves all over the ground.

That aside, that night we went for another 2 hour nomi/tabe-hodai! (all you can eat/drink) for $35 for 2 hours. Man I wish we had those back home, so sweet. It was a bunch of JETs and a bunch of Neal’s tutoring students. It was fun, and I got a poster of someone putting 3 kittens up for adoption, I’ll have to look into that tomorrow. Before we went out we met up at a little family run restaurant near the train station in Ina. It is a popular place among us JETs as the owner is fluent and very friendly. When we got there, there were a couple locals who had… “indulged” for the last 5 hours and things got a little more than interesting. No harm was done though, awkward moments and laughter was shared by all. Like the one guy hugged me good-bye, extremely rare in Japan, and in the middle of the hug told me not to worry, as he wasn’t gay.

Well that was fun, Sunday came and there was going to be an Indian concert later that day in a Sri Lankan restaurant. One of Neal’s tutoring students, Junko, offered to give me a ride and we went together. She lives in the same town as me and is very nice. The owner of the restaurant was a pretty cool guy and we enjoyed over an hour of Indian music for 1500 yen (about $15). It was so cool; I’ll post a little bit of it on youtube later if you want to see. It was crazy that he sat the way he did and played and improvised song like he did for well over and hour. It was so relaxing, a couple people fell asleep… it was really cool. Words fail me as I was in a trance for most of it, swept away in relaxation and blissfully at peace.

We wanted to stay and have some awesome curry, but the restaurant wasn’t really set up for food that day because of the concert. We will have to go back again someday, Neal seems to be a big fan of it and we are trying to set up a burgers and beer tradition Wednesdays not unlike the wings and beer tradition I had going on back home. We have only gone twice so far though. I bugged Neal about it writing, “You’re not doing a good job of starting a tradition you know” one time in an email. Looks like other JETs will be joining us too and the restaurant is pretty popular due to the late hours and unlimited drink bar, last week I had a bunch of Tatsuno students say hello to me.

It was funny when I went in to work today sweating from the hard 15 minute uphill walk and saw teachers and students alike huddling around the kerosene heater saying “samui!” and “samui desu ne!” then bowl over in shock at me sweating and wearing a short sleeve shirt again. Heh, I never get tired of that. I tell them they are getting snow back home and since there is no snow here that means good weather ;)

People seem to like the poppy I wore for Remembrance Day; many students said “kawaiii” (cute) when I walked by. It was a little difficult to explain the holiday and that you can wear the poppy on other days than Nov 11, and I made sure to make the distinction that it started at the end of World War 1 and not World War 2 should I accidentally offend some people. It was strange too that I still remember most of the Flanders Field poem from our memorization days in elementary. Other JETs (the non-American ones, don’t think they have poppies for veterans day) congratulated me on wearing one and immediately asked where I got it. I was lucky enough to pick up a couple when I was in the Canadian Embassy my second day in Tokyo. People were even asking if they could buy them online, as they wanted to wear one too. It’s weird that when I talked about Remembrance Day, especially about the sacrifices that were made, I get a little choked up. It’s strange because I don’t know the horrors of war and wish that among nobody but still have it affect me so deeply.

I signed up for an AJET tatami time-share like thing, where for 1000 yen one time registration, you go into the database as having tatami for people in the area to sleep. In return I can sleep at other JETs houses around the country. I’ve heard of a similar worldwide thing, rent-my-couch dot com or something (you should check it out Steve) where you can sleep on someone’s couch all over the world. The one guy telling us was saying he hasn’t found a country yet where someone wasn’t registered. If I end up backpacking around for a bit I’ll definitely have to give this a look-see. Although I already slept at a hostel and it wasn’t so bad, so that is a good option too.

Well I skipped over it last time but I still didn’t see them last weekend so I’ll just write about the 3-5-7 festival in Japan quickly. What happens is girls at the age of 3 and 7 and boys at the age of 5 in the early weeks of November are dressed up and taken to temples where the family prays for their future health and well being. This reminds of me of other traditions that started similarly because child mortality rates were rather high in olden times and as such have been blamed on bad spirits. I however didn’t see any of this, maybe partly because it is chilly outside or I live in too small a town.

But at any rate good weekend as names were learnt, friends were made, and new experiences were had. Next weekend AJET (JET alumni) is hosting some kind of Turkey feast for the American thanksgiving but since it is turkey I’m not going to complain and I’m eagerly looking forward to it. I will probably make potato sauce there as well as they ask for people to make dishes from back home as well. It will be a 3-day weekend so that will be a welcome break. I should maybe think of something for a quick road trip, if for nothing else some cool sightseeing at a nearby area and come back in time for the turkey.

"Your chance of success is directly proportional to the degree of pleasure you derive from what you do." -Michael Korda



Unknown said...

Good to hear you found the hidden cache of heaters!
Just remember in everything moderation so those heated tables don't make you start shooting blanks :P

Tnoy said...

I havn't plugged the table in so I'll keep that in mind. Plus I've been keeping off the electricity as much as I can, I heard of one JET who paid 4 man (40,000 yen, around $400) for one month's electricity bill.
Not gonna let it happen to me ;)