Monday, May 19, 2008

Give me gas, or give me death

“The makeup style we don’t want to see popularized this year is ‘make-up on the train.’” Followed by a picture of someone increasing their image with makeup while decreasing their image to everyone around them. I think I pointed out the absurd signs on the trains before, but I still get a kick out of their simplicity and this one was new to me.

Tuesday started off as another day lacking sleep when I heard a bit of a commotion. Down the hall form my new (shared) office, Tatsuno was holding a bit of a welcoming party for visiting Thai students. “Japan is a popular place to visit on school trips” I was informed after I watched the festivities. The room was a bit small, but Tatsuno still warmly greeted the visitors with some incredible choir, taiko (drums) and singing. Later the guests returned a dance and song in kind, wearing nice red dresses. I happened to grab a couple videos of the event.

I couldn’t spend the day bumming around with them like I did in Yayoi a couple months back because I had classes. In one particular class I’m still new and crazy enough for the 1st years that a student had her cell phone out and was snapping pictures of me walking in, before class started and she would have to put her camera away. It was a bit weird, as I never really had a chance to smile or pose which I do with a lot of enthusiasm.

That day I had my first English club too with 4 Tatsuno students. We didn’t do much other than discuss what they wanted to do this year, play a name game and then a card game. Either way it was fun and a nice trend I hope continues in Tatsuno.

With my English club at Yayoi, we finished watching the SpongeBob movie a bit early so we played card games. I taught them the game 99 and things were going smoothly until one of the students told me out of absolutely no where: “My name is Eri.”

Ah crap. The thing I dread most at school: breaking kids’ hearts because I can’t remember their names to save my life. After a couple awkward exchanges, I saved face by playing a name game with them as well. I explained that you use the first letter of your name you pick another word, for example: “Tony Tiger.” So then Eri picked “Eri Example” right away. Cute.

Other students weren’t as lucky and had to pick a word with a different letter. There were some safe words like music, sky and night, but others were more fun like ‘Maid Mamika.’ I asked her if she was otaku (gaming/anime nerd/geek) and it was pretty funny but was happy she tried something different and cool. Before long I was being accused of being an otaku again, so I explained that while I know what otaku is, I don’t understand it, as it is a Japanese thing. (I didn’t play the cat-card this day [my cat is Otaku])

So they decided to test me: “Do you like Anime?”
“Yes” I replied
(laughter) “otaku! otaku!”

Who’d have thought such an exclusive and cool club had such a low admittance fee? I’m in baby! Oh yea ^_^ I wonder if I should change my name like doctors and professional engineers; be like O. Tony before I become Tony P.Eng or even Dr. Tony. (PHD anyone?)

We had more fun exchanges, like instead of calling Eri ‘Eri Example’ I would say ‘Evil Eri’ using new vocabulary I taught that day. Also ‘Music Mito’ put her name into an electronic translation dictionary and the only spelling close to it in English was Mitosis… so now she’s ‘Mito Mitosis.’ We had a lot of fun, and better yet I remember all their names now! …Atleast the students that were there. Some students where absent as I found out when Eri then made a sheet for me with a picture of everyone who’s in English club on it. It isn’t really to scale as I look like a handsome Godzilla with a full head of hair, although to Eri maybe it’s to scale, as the “small” note beside her caricature is fairly accurate. Good times; I had to post the picture they made me because it’s too cool.

On the note of clubs, last weekend was the start of their big prefectural tournaments. This is like the season’s end tournament… during what I consider the start of the season. The school year started 2 months ago, and already these tournaments are what the whole year is about. After, they may play some exhibition matches and whatever, but the 3rd years are busy studying for tests to get into university, leaving the second and first years to carry the torch… until next May I guess.

I suppose soon the TV will show nothing but high school baseball nonstop for the next 2 months (jealous mom? ^_^) When I got here in early August it was still showing the final stages of the big baseball tournament and it was being played even in the teachers room all day. My TV hasn’t been plugged in since… October maybe; whenever I upgraded my gaming center.

My latest wave of homesickness has to deal with barbecue. BBQ floated in my mind like those lazy clouds on the warm spring days we’re having. The hills are so green and I guess Japan has a word for the spring colours, “new green” or something it translates into. Anyways, I was telling people how back home you have BBQ three times a week minimum and how when you walk down the streets you can smell BBQ everywhere… and thus a distant look in my eyes would appear, my mouth would water and my mind would go to happier places where I’m dressing my juicy burger with all the fixings.

I guess this zombie condition of mine had an effect on my town mate Jake, as he sent me an email Wednesday: “why don’t we have a BBQ at your place this weekend?” There are very few times when you can be slapped with such pure, unadulterated logic you have to shake your head for building the prison your mind was just in. “That’s an amazing idea!” I responded, losing my zombie-stare ability (-2 attack, +3 charisma) and gaining a fiery resolve (+1 intelligence, +4 spirit)

The hunt for a BBQ fitting of a girl’s name was on.

I was fortunate it rained that morning so I drove to work. Neal cancelled on lunch so I drove around to many different, large stores trying to find a gas grill to saturate my heavy desires. What I found out quickly enough was Japan loves its charcoal.

Store after store, I was turned away empty handed. I was not going to settle for some coal burning liability dinosaur tool; the time it takes to start, the uneven uncontrollable flame, the mess and waiting for it to burn out. Neal sent me an article on the difference between gas and charcoal. Gas had a plethora of good points, trumps if you will, and the only point you could maybe say was positive about charcoal was “smoky flavor.”

How sad. I had charcoal BBQ (not mine) on my Kyushu road trip down at the beach, but there wasn’t much for flavour at all in the plain meat thrown on the grill. You want flavour? Try using spices, try using sauce, buy smoked meat or something; just don’t throw out some garbage argument that only holds merit through debate based purely on opinion (my burger has +5 smoky goodness than yours! Neener). Oh if you have a charcoal grill at home, I’m sorry but we can’t be friends.

Haha I’m strangely passionate for my gas grill, it might be the redneck in me. I’m just playing but ya, charcoal sucks; so were my options for finding a gas grill it seemed.

On my 3rd store or so I got some results. They had a gas grill, but it was like 15 x 25 cm. It was hardly big enough to cook 2 burgers at the same time, and it was $50. Let me tell ya, the temptation to buy it was there, and it was a strong one. I somehow pried myself away to look around some more, but all in vain. They said if I went to a sports store I could get a slightly bigger grill, but it looked like that small green gas burner dad would bring on our ice fishing trips; we never used that baby much back home and it was not meant for grilling.

Defeated, I went home. The next day Neal talked me out of driving ½ hour North to look at the sports store’s grills, and to instead drive ½ hour South back to Ina and look around with him. Either way we were going to get some tasty eats so I was in. A lot of it was a replay of the day before, and we actually sparked a heated debate between 4 employees on the existence of these magical grills that feed on propane. We couldn’t tell what they were passionately arguing about, I can only assume it was about how dominant gas is over charcoal, but we felt we should get out of there before we were sucked in.

Our last store, our last option, was more of the same. I asked again anyways in my crude Japanese, and surprisingly the lady led us to something new, something different. I suppose it’s a gas grill by definition… but by itself it’s not much more than a grill. You needed to have a portable gas burner for this baby to work; or just a gas stove. I had one at home already and my options were less than poor; openly contemplating shipping something in over the Internet. For $20, I gambled and gave the grill a go.

It’s hard to describe but hopefully the picture does that for me. It’s circular and it needs water inside it around the center (I’m assuming so the metal’s temp doesn’t get above 100). You put it on a portable gas burner. I was worried the flames wouldn’t get a chance to lick the glistening burger above, but it does, and it does a great job of spreading the heat out; even leaving that wonderful checker look from the grill on the seared goodness.

I prepared all kinds of condiments, bought all kinds of supplies. I built my burgers ground up the way I liked them with lettuce, cheese, onions, pickles, dripping with BBQ sauce and mustard; and I sat out on that nice, hot, sunny day with a cold beer in one hand and a dripping, tasty burger in the other. Now that is living, it had been too long my old friend.

When we were done cooking, we turned the gas off! Brilliant! If someone wanted another hotdog, I heard a couple “is the fire still going?” from their brainwashed, in-Japan-too-long lips, and I would laugh at them and tell them to flip the switch ^_^ Also brilliant. It took no time at all to bring them back out from the darkness in which they camped out since coming to Japan; gas is divine. “At first I was like ‘why gas’ but now I want one” said one enlightened partygoer. We cooked up chicken burgers, bean burgers (Jake is a vegetarian), veggies (like eggplant; I didn’t try it), hotdogs and that big potato dish we had back home all the time. It was glorious.

It was not all fun and games I guess, I worked for 7 hours straight since I woke up at 7:30 in the morning getting things ready. I cleaned the house, made the potato dish and desert, did laundry, showered… I didn’t even eat until that first burger in the afternoon, but it was all worth it and I’d probably do it again; just not for a couple days as I’m still tired. Also the grill is a bit convex because of its circular shape, so you have to be a bit careful that the hotdogs don’t roll off.

So ya, I had friends over on Saturday for a BBQ party. Jake, Neal, Matt, Jon (shiojiri), Jessie and I ate until we could only move enough to play the video games in front of us. We played some of that new Grand Theft Auto 4 for PS3, and Smash Brothers for the Wii. I was content sitting there in a daze, tired from the day’s labours. We had a little episode where my cat, Otaku, ran out of the house, but luckily he came back an hour later. I gotta watch those open doors a lot more closely now with the BBQ.

The fun was short lived I though, as that night there was a talent show in Matsumoto. Jake, Neal, Jon and I headed up and watched locals perform whatever. Jon from the South sang some brilliant classic songs, Noboru played some guitar, and a bunch of girls performed The Vagina Monologues among other shows like African drumming, spoken word (on poetry maybe) and more musical numbers. A JET from South Africa even performed a dance for us that celebrated the end of the Apartheid, of which was really powerful and really neat to see.

The last train home for me left at 9:41 and I was beat after such a big day that I went home and missed out on the bar party after. There will be more parties, no worries. I hope everything is going good back home and you’re making use of the nice days and plentiful propane goodness ^_^ Oh any my BBQ doesn’t have a name yet, any suggestions? I’m leaning towards ‘Barbie’…

"The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." -Franklin D. Roosevelt


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