Monday, February 4, 2008

Remove the mask; let me see who you really are…

Chris’ comment about karma reminded me of a good story that got omitted last week. There we were, on the mountain waiting for some people and kind of half looking at the skiis left outside as people went inside for food. Noboru said, “Man, look at that. Only in Japan can you leave you stuff sitting somewhere and not have it stolen.”
I was like “whaaa? We do that in Canada too” Mind you I’m a lot more fearful of my stuff disappearing than I am here; it still was an interesting perspective though of someone from California. “There are racks everywhere where you can leave your skiis but nobody uses them unless they can lock it up.” (Pictured: me at Nozawa Onsen last weekend)

“People have a good sense of karma here” he goes on.
“Oh? What do you mean by that?” I inquire.
“Well they won’t screw with you because they know it can just as easily happen to them.” I think it was at this point I fully understood ‘karma’ for the first time.

So ya, I was happy I could walk Monday, I feared the wrath of my body for putting it through such a strenuous weekend. School is winding down for January and February, the passing of the school year quickly approaching. I have more free time than usual at work. While a break is greatly appreciated, it is a good reminder that I should be glad to be busy. A number of other ALTs I know only have a couple classes a week; enchanting the dreaded boredom and trying-to-look busy demon into their places of work.

I have thumb wrestled such a beast before; it has a tendency to get into your head… to control your thoughts. “I could be playing video games right now instead” and “everyone thinks I’m lazy because I’m not doing anything right now” start off as quick jabs; and over time dissolve into deep, fluid debates. “I already asked if there’s anything I could do, if I ask again I’ll be bugging them” v.s. “maybe I should go home, I wonder if they’d notice.” I have a few outlets/earplugs to fight against such a demon; methods include my current writing or the studying of Japanese. Sometimes I just get up and walk around the school for a bit to get some fresh air; and if I bump into any students their excitement of seeing me usually is an energy boost for a while.

After school Monday I went and played badminton with my some of my students. I helped them shovel snow and they had a great time and invited me out. It was interesting though when I showed up they were like “oh you kept your promise!” I was thinking to myself “I made a promise?” Yikes, gotta be more careful. I made a fleeting mention how I would maybe come out next Monday; an effort that has increased thanks to the cold weather. I played in my sweater and normal pants; I didn’t want to put on my shorts in that frigid gym. Sure after playing for a while I started sweating but I didn’t freeze and that was the main thing ☺

Wednesday was our first real “block meeting”. Patricia picked Jake and I up again and drove us to Suwa lake, ½ hour to the north where we watched the fireworks in the summer. Our prefecture is so big we broke it up into ‘blocks’ so to better organize and build community. Other prefectures kind of drop their JETs off the bus and they don’t see another foreigner until that mid year conference we had in… November? Our prefectural heads told us how some JETs have gone crazy or were having abnormal problems. One had to be escorted by doctors back home, while another thought the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) were following him and broadcasting his movements on the loudspeaker system. Each town has speakers set up for information, like when I was woken up at 6 in the morning but only understood when they said “typhoon”, causing me to worry. But ya, as they say, there are like 6000 JETs in Japan so having one or two go crazy is kinda expected. I am pretty lucky to be where I am, our prefecture is a model the other 47 places are working hard to replicate. (Pictured: me exercising in Korea)

We played a trivia game to see how well we knew each other, some were funny like “he looks like the uni-bomber”, others were embarrassing “this person will FREAK OUT if you touch her armpits” (ya she was really upset her weakness was announced) and others were just kind of weird “this person will most likely be involved with Cos-Play”. If you guessed right, apparently that was talking about me ☺ Jake knew it right away, but I never really pictured myself seriously dressing up as a video game or anime character with the bright/fancy/expensive outfits. Maybe I should try it next Halloween…

The best part of meeting I thought was when we sat down and talked the pros and cons of staying another year. I have been here over half a year now and this Friday I need to sign my contract one way or the other, staying or leaving. One third of our block is leaving (Jake included) one third is staying (Patricia included) the other third is on the fence (Neal and I included). Questions they got us to think about were friends and family back home, if we accomplished what we wanted and things like that. My biggest worry was my degree and how long I can stay out of Electronics and still be ok. It is a rapidly changing vocation and I would hate for my degree to become obsolete like the computer anyone has bought last week.

Well with that big decision weighing heavily on my plate we moved to another place to put better stuff on it (the plate that is); namely an all-you-can-eat Indian restaurant. We ate Nan and curry until we couldn’t move; it was awesome. We were right beside the lake and it had frozen over recently so everyone wanted to go out and take a look. We got close but then things got a little weird.

I was totally culture shocked; most of the other foreigners had never seen a frozen body of water before and were freaking out. Jessie walked out on it and oh my, the number of girls screaming as if life or death were seconds away was almost deafening. Jessie played with it though, doing secret-agent style rolls and such as if he were dueling death. One of my earliest memories is ice fishing with my dad. He had that big box like ice shack (that we used to smoke sausage in during butcher season) and would drop it off on this ice from his ¾ ton green dodge truck (maybe I’m getting confused with the wood truck). We sat in that thing for hours, freezing our toes and catching mostly catfish. I was mostly speechless watching people who were witnessing this “marvel” for the first time, and honestly, it was rather humbling. We gathered around the frozen lake (not on it of course), got a picture, and people quickly scrambled away.

I guess people used to be able to skate on the lake back in the day but winters aren’t as cold as they used to be. The naturally expanding water made one large crack down the middle of the lake a couple years ago as both sides expanded and pushed on each other. There are legends about in times of yore, ranging from being called “the finger of god” to some Samurai master “drawing his sword and cutting the lake in two” or something to that effect. Interesting how a little bit of knowledge can hold so much power over people, or lack thereof.

We went out to a different ice rink after and skated around for a while. For the majority of the people there, it was their first time in ice skates; another culture shock. I was largely anxious about putting skates on and showing everyone what a bad Canadian I was by not being a master with them. I quickly shocked people with my speed somehow as I awkwardly stumbled my way around the ice (“whoa look at the canuck go!” Bwahaha!). The ice creaks and cracks a lot more than I remember, probably because I weigh more and the ice is a lot harder than I remember too, making you try your best not to fall no matter what. Jessie had a monster goose bump on his elbow by the end of the day.

So ya, we played around and I almost figured out how to stop on the skates. John from Saskatoon was probably the best one there as he played hockey back in the day. Crazy there are TWO saskatchewanians in such close proximity in Japan eh? It was funny too the first time I met him “so where you from?”
“Saskatoon, and you?”
“Oh, I’m from Regina. That means we can’t be friends.” haha. Seriously though I need to hang out with that guy more, he’s pretty cool and he’s on the “going-home” bandwagon. There were little girls practicing on the ice too and they were really skilled; their parents sitting not too far away watching and/or coaching. We ended our session with a big train moving slowly around the ice, it was great. (Pictured: a canuck with mad skillz)

We had an exchange student from Brazil come in Thurs and Fri. She was pretty cool, she gave a good presentation about Brazil and the other students liked getting her to answer questions in English for them. I learnt some interesting things like how there are no “North” and “South” American continents, only one big “American Continent” to them. That would suck when playing risk having fewer continents.

Friday night Jake and I bombed down to Ina to meet up with Neal for some Sushi bar! I love those places; one of the few places I can eat until I’m full for under $20 in Japan. After that, we met up with Jake’s friend that just came back from studying in New Zealand for four months and we all went bowling together. I won the first round but got second place the second round, losing out by one point (102 to 101 I think). So ya, I’m not a very good player at all, but somehow I found myself coaching Neal and Jake’s friend a number of times. I told them we should all Wii bowl sometime to practice up on the “throwing straight” basic. Not to mention pins are pretty heaving in Japan, at least I think there is a difference.

Saturday I skipped out on yet another snowboarding trip to play video games. I put about 6 hours (a semi-decent session, maybe a bit short) into a new one “Rogue Galaxy” which I’ve had for almost a year but haven’t played yet like a couple other games I have in the pile… I could have played more if I didn’t play with my kitty so much. She is so cute; she waits around corners to ambush me, jumping on my leg when I walk by then quickly runs away. I catch her and we rough house for a little but she likes it more when there is a toy and not my hand because then she can bite and scratch freely; she is pretty good in not hurting me most of the time. It’s the best when she thinks she is being sneaky and pokes her head around corners and what not looking at me. I will usually play along then pounce on her first.

Anyways, I made some homemade macaroni and cheese that night and it was delicious. It is one of those foods you don’t really care if you eat it or not, but if you CAN’T eat it then you crave it. Like the jar of peanut but that sits mostly untouched since after my initial discovery and indulgence in. I went out and picked up Anita in Okaya and we went out to my first Mardi Gras party!

The trip there took over an hour, but that last stretch was really scary. Rachel was throwing the party and she lives on the side of a cliff. There was a rather unwelcoming road for small cars like mine with slick ice paths barely wide enough for one car to go up. First thing we noticed while going up was a car stopped in front of us, and two people on either side of it. The car was slowly sliding down the ice backwards while the two people outside were pushing the vehicle back into the middle of the road (yes it was that slippery). John (there are at least 3 Johns in our prefecture) was out of his car talking to Erica when his car just started sliding backwards and hit her car. We ended up parking near the bottom of the hill and bravely hiked up the ice-trail/public-road to the Mardi Gras.

The party was fun and all but other than the dressing up all wacky I thought it was basically like all other parties. We had some twister going on, and there was something of a “king cake” for the party. I guess how they work is there is a little plastic baby hidden inside it. Whoever gets that piece has to buy the kings cake for the next party. I had a fancy feathery mask like Jake and Anita, and I had a glow-stick headpiece that curved at the top like Mickey Mouse’s ears. (Pictured: Me, Anita, Jake)

The next day Jake and I had to go back to Ina for a “Midwestern cooking” session Patricia set up. There was a ton of snow and Jake was sad about the commitment as he was missing out on some really good snowboarding conditions. It snowed heavily all day and I remember that morning looking out the window and saying to the others: “Today would be a perfect day to not leave the house” knowing full well there was an hour of driving ahead of me. We got their alright and I got more cool pictures of a winter wonderland that is a mountain village covered in a foot of deep, fresh snow.

Anyways, we cooked things like wild rice, upside down pineapple cake and some kind of chicken and veggies stew. We used the broth from the stew to make gravy, maybe the first gravy I’ve had in a long long time. I was so happy, the food was really good and we had interesting company too.

After eating I went to my cell phone provider. I got a message earlier saying “I have come back from repair” meaning my phone was ready for pick up. I got there, they took my loner phone back from me, then later sat me down and tried to explain how my phone was water damaged and repairs were not possible. I asked if I could get a cheaper phone but apparently I had to buy the same model, now $150. So ya, long story short it was another expensive weekend but I’m looking at it as that is the money I saved by canceling on two snowboarding trips so far so I’m not really “out” money. My stupidity still makes me upset at times however. At least my phone was $250 cheaper than when I first got it 5 months ago; how quickly ‘old models’ drop in price.

Ya I’m bitter about the phone so let’s carry on… my town has received very heavy snow fall, so much so I couldn’t get my car to drive up certain hills to get home, I had to take alternate less-slope-inclined paths, and when I got home my car almost immediately got hung up in my parking spot it was so deep. Either I will need to buy a shovel or stop driving until it starts to melt a bit. Maybe this will be a good test to see if I need a car in Japan or not. It definitely helps with things like laundry and groceries for sure, but having a vehicle is a pricey luxury. (Pictured: By the power of grey skull! [heman, c'mon])

As mentioned earlier I need to decide this Friday if I should stay or not. Do I gamble on my career path and leave my friends and family for another year or do I try and complete the goals I came here with, explore the area more, and enjoy an easier year after I have figured out how to survive in this different world? This, my friends, is what we call a “cliffhanger”. Oh and as an added ingredient you won’t know until Wednesday next week as Monday I will probably be out of town (ooh another cliffhanger! Where is Tony going?) Keep warm in Canada, I tell people here it is -52 back home and the reactions are priceless ☺

"Successful people don't simply give a project hard work, they give it their best work." -Win Borden


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