Monday, September 1, 2008

Fresh starts, new experiences.

Returning to ‘normal’ life back in Japan has been challenging thus far, atleast I sorted all my pics and published a good portion of the stories. I cut a lot out of course, like guys on bikes with rattles mean they’ll give you a male massage for $2, or that Japan’s airport shook me down when I returned, showing me a ridiculous photo of contraband and asking “do you have any of these in your bag?” hehe the poor guy had to handle all my sweaty, dirty laundry with his bare hands while awkwardly making small talk with me to try and keep it casual. Next time just leave my bag and me alone.

It was pointed out to me that my overuse of ‘striking out’ might taint, or give a negative overtone to my stories. This wasn’t what I intended. It was mostly so that you know I’m not going around the countryside and being indecent with everything that moves, which is not what I'm about, but I guess I could have said something different. Sure saying goodbye is hard, but I had great times with many new people, and I divulged the fun that we shared. Again I learnt more than I could possibly publish and wouldn’t trade the experiences for the world as I feel I came out as a different person.

I’m more focused now in my goals as I know what I want and how to get it; at least for the semi-immediate future. It probably would be foolish for me to continue teaching longer with my degree; but should certain circumstances ask me to stay longer I can always study for my masters or something and keep it relevant. I should visit home in Canada, but my time is so limited here and there is so much I want to do it might be difficult (I’m still exploring my options). Japan is such a good hub to visit places I’ve never been to before as opposed to Canada, where you’re traveling atleast 12 hours just to get here, negating transfers and all the other crap that comes with traveling. I mean, 2 hours to Korea? 5 hours to Vietnam? 3 hours to Taiwan? I’ll take two please, with a side of fries.

I need to take advantage of this situation, as last year indicated, time is fleeting. It doesn’t feel like I did much, so it’s good I have something of a journal about it. Destinations on my to-do list now include, but aren’t limited to, Hong Kong/Shanghai, Philippines, Australia, Taiwan, and Thailand. Not to mention areas in Japan I still want to go to like the Okinawa islands or Hokkaido. Either way, I’m sitting down and making a plan like I should have done a long time ago instead of playing things by ear. Most JETs are content getting drunk and falling asleep on each other’s floors it seems and I got too caught up in that last year. This year, I will have to do more solo backpacking it seems to realize my ambitions. It won’t be easy, but things worth having or doing rarely are.

Some of these are rather new additions, but there is method to my madness. On Saturday the 23rd, there was an “amazing race” like scavenger hunt in Takato near Ina. It was fun an all, but again I met new and interesting people. This time however, it was 4 Pilipino girls in Japan on a work contract. They had been here for a month and didn’t know where the train station or the town north of them was, and have one of the weirdest contracts I’ve had the misfortune of hearing about.

As per their contract, those 4 girls have to be together at all times. They get no Internet, nor a phone that can make out going calls. They have a phone between the four of them that accepts incoming calls only, but even that they have to share with another group of Pilipino people. They share an apartment that seems nice and all but has no AC and they can’t open the windows unless they want bugs flying in. Oh and one month later they still didn’t know what ‘sushi’ was. That’s not right, I wanted to help them see more of Japan. That, and they are really cool.

So the next day a number of people were meeting up North of me in Okaya near the lake, and I invited the girls out. I didn’t know their phone couldn’t dial out at this point, so when I called wondering what was up much later, we were able to hash out a plan. I picked them up and all 4 fit into my little yellow-plate car. Luckily they’re pretty small so they fit ok I think.

Since Ina is over ½ hour south and we needed to go north, we did a lot of driving that day. We had good talks and the girls sang beautifully for most of the trip; we learnt lots from each other. They bought a video camera and were making movies of the green mountains rolling by and other things. They thought it was cute to make me blush, so they kept saying interesting things. We ended up being late and missed everyone, but it sounds like it was for the best, as I incidentally learnt later that it’s a cultural thing for the guy to pay for everything.

Luckily I didn’t find this out at the pricey restaurant everyone went to, but instead the McDonalds they all got excited to eat at. It was funny too, because I suggested sushi or some other more Japanese orientated destination, but I guess they don’t like Japanese food; minus the rice, which is tasty here apparently. On the way up my little car got a flat tire too. Apparently the Philippines is a country of motorcycles not unlike Vietnam, and this was a new experience for the girls. I had a spare so we were alright.

We stopped by Suwa Lake to take pictures and relax a bit. Although a trip to the lake seems like a little voyage to me, they were really happy just for the chance to venture out so far; an experience many of the other workers before them never had they told me. They say, and my google map searching confirmed, there really aren’t lakes in the Philippines because of all the islands and oceans; and it’s a country really close to me! So ya, that’s how it joined the list, it sounds like a great place to visit with tasty food and wonderful people. I might have to make the trip in the spring when the girls are back and the weather is optimal or something.

On the way back to Ina, we stopped at my place so I could get a real tire on my car instead of that half-a-spare nonsense. The girls asked to use my “comfort room” they called it, (bath room) and got to enjoy the scenery I live in. “Your house is so lonely! You need a nice woman to move in and take care of you” Heh, they’re so cute. I offered to let them and they got excited, but it would be weird to have four young, cute, single girls move in though wouldn’t it? My neighbors saw me drive off with the 4 girls in my car so now there might be weird rumors going around about me now but oh well, my town is small and stagnant enough it probably doesn’t matter.

Since the girls were singing so nice and hardly experienced anything of a nightlife in our quiet communities, I suggested we go for karaoke. The girls are crazy and fun, we had a great time. A lot of English songs are popular in the Philippines so I had a good idea what was going on most of the time, although they got me to dance to Britney spears with them while they filmed it and other odd requests like singing a techno duet of ‘my heart will go on’.

It was a pretty big day and we all had lots of fun. They had to go home though and their contract says they can’t have visitors after 9 so we called it a night. I saw them again briefly on Wednesday after my classes and visited again. Even though I wasn’t really hungry, they insisted on making a little something for me to munch on. It was a bowl of noodles and some rice. I couldn’t believe how tasty the noodles were, they had such amazing texture and a wonderful hint of spice. I tried to get the recipe off them, or what spice I need to buy, and they told me it was instant noodles.

What? Is it even legal to have instant noodles taste this good? What is this strange and wonderful place known as the Philippines? A little later they got me to eat with my hands too, as is the way in their home country. I did so little but it was so enjoyable that I definitely need to visit someday. Since my visit was such short notice and they all had lunch boxes from work the meal was kept simple, but they want to cook Philippine dishes for me in the future. I like cooking as well, so wouldn’t mind sharing some BBQ or something with them later. They really are a lot of fun. I wanted to teach them a card game or two, but 9:00 rolled around and I had to leave. There’s always next time.

On Monday, my 3rd year Yayoi students told me it was their last time to join English club, as the all-stressing entrance exams were looming… 8 months or so down the road. I was really disappointed but remember the same thing happened last year. I hadn’t seen my club for over 2 months and now they were saying goodbye. I wanted to make pancakes for a long time, so Wednesday I brought the stuff needed to finally cook some. Only 2 students showed up.

Oh well, the others just miss out I guess. So with Kanako and Mamina, we made banana chocolate chip pancakes! It was really enjoyable showing them a recipe in English and helping them through it. We had a great time and ate tasty pancakes. I found out later Kanako doesn’t like sweets too much, which is unheard of for me, so I felt bad about some of the ingredients I added. We can always make cake or something next time.

We sat around and I mostly relaxed, as it was a big day already. I was surprised and very delighted the girls asked me lots of questions! Usually it’s me having to throw out questions like crazy, lest I want to sit around quietly while everyone talks in Japanese. They asked things like what I did in Canada, how long will I be teaching for and other great questions I haven’t had students ask me yet. I am really proud of them. Before we knew it a long time had passed and we were all full of pancakes and getting sleepy.

Before English club for 6th period, some students invited me to play dodge ball with them! I bugged them saying I was a forest monster in Japanese (mononoke). The rules were much different than what we played in school or what you saw in the movie. Instead it was like some old Nintendo games back in the day, where opposing teams surrounded your box. We ended up losing though, as the ball nicked my foot and it was all over.

Friday night I kicked myself out of my house in search of a pulse in my little town. The time with Jake is still fresh in my mind; mostly the disappointment we felt with Tatsuno. Now, even more places were closed and it felt much colder. I have been living here for a year but it still feels so foreign to me, as I can’t seem to get away from it enough. To accomplish anything that night, I decided to visit a snack bar to finally see what they’re all about since that’s all my town has it seems. There were some cute girls inside, sure, but they tried charging me $50 an hour to talk to them. Needless to say I didn’t stay long and didn’t visit anywhere else. Tatsuno is surprisingly intimidating at night. It’s poorly lit with little to no people walking around and mostly everything is closed with steel barricades.

So now then, the big reason I suffered through that and stayed grounded to Tatsuno this weekend was to attend volleyball games on Saturday. These were my first ‘real’ volleyball games that I had played in 3 years or so, with other players being referees and what not. We played by some new (to me) Japanese rules though, where you had 9 players on the court at a time. It was surprisingly organized however. Although when everyone discovered my dormant abilities, I was cycled to the front row as often as possible, as set up to spike sometimes as often as 4 times a rally. (6 out of 9 rotations).

Wow this took its toll on me. I didn’t know how I was standing really and I was dripping sweat all over the place. It was so much fun though, and our team came got 3rd place (we lost the semi final by 1 point; again weird rules) so we were almost an unstoppable powerhouse. The top 5 teams won cases of beer, handed out by order of value. ‘Premium’ beer went to the 1st place team, and draft beer went to 5th place. It was a great time.

I asked around if anyone participated in volleyball clubs, no one knew of any. This also was just a yearly event, as my team was made of teachers from my handicap school, Ina Yougou. Unfortunately there was no drinking party after, but there might be the next time they play basketball in December or something. I soaked in my hot tub that night to try and help out my aching body.

It was a casual day Sunday. Neal picked me up and we drove to Matsumoto to check out a mythical mall Neal kept hearing about. It was a nice place, filled with very nice looking people, and we watched a movie. It was surprising how small this theater was, it could seat maybe 40 people and only had 3 rows of seats. We saw the new Star Wars movie and were entertained. We did some shopping, had a great talk, and ate sushi until we couldn’t move. It was more or less a great, lazy Sunday that we both needed; even if it was really hard for me to move because of the previous day’s war wounds.

Though, it’s still tough being back in class when my mind is still on Mui Ne beach and all the pretty ladies. I will be back one day; oh yes, I will be back.

"The only good luck many great men ever had was being born with the ability to overcome bad luck." -Channing Pollock


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