Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stars, Monkeys and Ice

I know I didn’t post last week, but I was still in a bad place mentally. Winter here is still kicking my butt, and my throat was still sore with coughing and other discomforts. Today it might be ok now finally after a month (fingers crossed, knock on wood). I’d hate to use the word ‘depressed’, but it was not fun. I didn’t want to leave my house because of the ice; I didn’t want to do much of anything really except sit beside my heater and play video games. I’ve gone through over 20 liters of kerosene in a couple weeks.

But, things could always be worse, and so it was. Let me employ foreshadowing, and let’s see if you can guess what happened.

Hmmm over a week ago eh. I’m sure I saw the doctor again about my throat. The visits are always short, and the latest one, the 4th time, he didn’t even look in my mouth, but listened to my chest before giving me the same medicine as last time. If I’m still sick tomorrow or something I’m going to see a different doctor.

Patricia is like an angel messaging me about recycling Noboru’s car. Currently it is stuck in Japanese bureaucracy hell; the owner of which long since gone, and a certain useless-to-me, but show-stopping paper is keeping the car in my small front yard and rusting, leaving little options other than Googling how to find the hidden Registration Codes on the engine block, filing them off, then abandoning the car in a parking lot somewhere. The crazy thing is if we don’t scrap it by April too, we have to pay a year’s taxes on it or something. What a mess.

So anyways, on Friday the 26th, Richard and I went to Hiroko’s to talk about scrapping the car again, and stayed for the company and tasty Vietnamese food. There is an upcoming wine party for Valentines, and we also talked quickly about things to do for my birthday coming up next month. Maybe I will go to “Round One” in Nagano.

This is the winter season, and I’m still Bah-Humbug about it all, so I started the day in front of my heater playing games again, cussing both colds, while others went out snowboarding and other social things. Sarah, a private teacher from Minowa, was stir crazy in her apartment, found my number on facebook, and gave me a call. I was feeling anti-social and depressed still, but she apparently is a huge video game fan, so I might as well do something that weekend right?

I walked down to the station to meet her, and along the way I passed a poster advertising the planetarium near my house. The shows are rare; 3 times a day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays only, but it was Saturday wasn’t it? Sarah was up for going too.

It was a fun show I suppose, even if the last half was a lame movie about the Earth Spirit and a message to recycle. I love it when they turn the lights down and the bright stars fill the dome. The first half was talking about constellations and stuff again. You know, when they look at a random spot in the sky, and slap and crazy looking picture of what constellation it’s suppose to be?

One time the picture actually looked like something! They put a person in a skirt or whatever on Orion’s belt. Of course nothing matched up, but the way they put it though, there was a small string of stars going in a line down, and poking out the bottom of the skirt, making it look like he’s exposing himself to us in colossal proportions. The other night I saw Orion’s belt again and that small string of stars stood out; I guess now I’ll never be able to un-see the dong.

We went for sushi after, where she got to try out the train and other wonders for the first time, and then later we played video games until late. We were talking and missed a turn, so I thought we could make it up a little later. Unfortunately Japanese roads being what they are, it was too narrow, and then an oncoming car came. Sarah drove into someone’s yard, and his stone fence scratched up the whole side of her car. I felt horrible, but she didn’t seem to care much, as it was being leased or something.

We had some good philosophical chats outside of the video games, and it was just an enjoyable day. Sunday was spent parked in front of the heater again, and Richard came over later to use my computer; his is still broken. He comes over every couple days, so it’s good to have some company.

On Monday I didn’t write the blog because I went to the handicapped school for the bean throwing ceremony again. This is my 3rd time, so you can read about it in older stories. Basically I dressed up like a demon, while the kids threw peanuts at us, chanting “demons out, good luck inside” for the New Year. That, and as you can tell I didn’t have much to write about and I was still feeling down so I took the week off.

The week went by pretty fast; I taught maybe 4 classes in total. This week I teach 2. The year is quickly winding down and I have lots of free time until April. Most of the week was spent in front of the heater, playing games. I beat both King’s Bounty games, the new Batman one, Bioshock, and tried some others that weren’t so good. Now I’m playing the new Red Faction, Titan Quest, and later Bioshock 2.

I still need to play both the Modern Warfare games, Uncharted games, and Prototype. There is no shortage of games, that’s for sure. Especially since I’ve had so little time for them, many good ones have been backlogged into an “I should get to it someday” list.

Friday came again, but I think we stayed in at my place, I don’t even remember. On Saturday it was Molly’s birthday, and I was very reluctant to leave my house. There are 4 main reasons why I went eventually; I could see Neal and have a proper talk again after over a month, I could try “Round One” in Nagano finally, I’d see the Monkey Onsen finally, and I felt like I was committing Social Suicide with all the canceling I was doing.

I called Neal in the morning, and it was snowing in Matsumoto. He just sat down at his keyboard 5 minutes earlier, and started typing a cancellation email to me. Because of my call, and offer to pick him up and drive him around along with Richard and Michelle, he agreed to come out. We both felt like canceling, and maybe we should have.

It started off innocently enough; we were having good talks and listening to good music while enjoying a drive. We went through a tunnel, and on the other side we were greeted to a blizzard the mountain was apparently blocking. It was really hard to see anything and the wipers weren’t helping much. Good thing we didn’t have to drive for too long though.

The first exit we tried to drive up was impossible. The hill wasn’t very steep, but steep enough that the ice covering it made us slide backwards. I was lucky, and able to control it mostly. Richard and I were giving winter tips and pointers to Michelle and Neal in the back seat. Really those conditions aren’t that rare back home, but having to drive on a hill or a slope is.

I mentioned I had lots of experience with this stuff, but then quickly knocked on wood. Neal joked a bit earlier how I was on my 3rd car and 3rd phone now since coming to Japan. I know you don’t want to mess around with these conditions; I wanted a guerilla visit of get in and get out quickly. We found parking, and ended up walking ½ hour uphill to the monkey Onsen in a blizzard. Neal didn’t have a toque, so I gave him a scarf to wrap his head a bit. He was a bit reluctant at first being polite, but one tip for winter survival is to prevent getting cold in the first place. Once you’re cold, it’s much harder to get warm again.

A tip we gave earlier too was with parking. When you pull in, back up and go forward a couple times to pack the snow, that way when it’s time to leave you’re not stuck in a wheel-well of ice. Also to keep a shovel, booster cables, and candle in your car at all times, as it will prevent hypothermia. Richard had more advice about keeping washer fluid and extra windshield wipers. That was new to me, but would have been good in that situation as my one wiper was falling apart.

At first I was surprised and a bit shocked about the Onsen. My assumptions were the monkeys kept to one side, while people bathed in another. Instead, it was more like a zoo in that you go to look at monkeys sitting in a natural hot spring. So when I got out of the car with my Onsen bag in hand (soap, razor, etc), in the middle of the blizzard, I got some laughs as everyone saw how disappointed I was that I couldn’t sit in the hot tub with the monkeys. I hadn’t gone to an Onsen in a long time, and hadn’t showered yet that day in anticipation.

Oh well. We saw many foreigners coming down, and then later we saw many monkeys. As we found out, it was too cold for the monkeys to sit in the hot springs so they were leaving. Sure it may be hot to sit in it, but once you get out you’re all wet. We saw many monkeys shivering and looking quite miserable as we got closer.

We didn’t stay too long, but I’ll agree it was quite cute to see the little monkeys in the hot water, with their heads covered in snow and ice. The wind was howling, and we left after 5 minutes for warmer places. Again the winter survival kicked in again, so I didn’t want us to get too warm. If the snow and ice in our clothes started melting and we got all wet, then we really would be in trouble for that ½ hour walk back to the car. It was cool how my beard completely iced over at the end.

We started making our way back to Nagano city for the main attraction, round one. For $15 you can play many different arcade games and whatever you want for 3 hours. They have a curling rink, a basketball court on the roof, and other fun stuff I’ve heard of before but never seen or appreciated myself yet. Michelle hadn’t even heard of curling before, and the whole trip we were building it up for her.

First we were trying to find the restaurant, and wow was the blizzard getting bad. I was driving carefully, and happy I rotated my tires a couple weeks ago, giving me as much grip as I could get maybe, but I was still nervous. I brake often and early to check the road conditions, specifically that there isn’t ice and that I can stop.

Then there was this van in front of us getting ready to turn and go home. In Japan they always turn on the signal late, but that’s no excuse. I had lots of time, was far away, and was driving slow. I tested the brake as I always do; nothing but ice.

“Shit” I go, as I pump the brake to stop the skid and try to grip again, we had lots of time. “Shit!” I go again. I pumped faster and harder, and my cussing was getting louder and faster. The car skidded for well over 5 meters and well over 5 seconds; it’s hard to tell as time slows down.

My brain over-clocked as I went over my options. I hoped I could save the car, but quickly I knew that was impossible. My thoughts flashed wildly about; I thought quickly of an emergency video of pulling over into the ditch. But alas, have you ever seen a Japanese road before? Think of a narrow hallway.

You have oncoming traffic; definitely not an option, I could go straight, try to hit him flat so the impact is flattened out as per my physics classes running through my head all of a sudden. The last option was to hit the wall/house/fence on the left. My head cycled through house insurance options, and if that was worse than hitting the van. There were no people there, and hitting the van increased the odds of someone getting hurt, so I did what I could by pumping the brakes for the little traction possible to take out the fence and stop the deadly slide.

Because of the ice I somehow made it about half way. My driver side crunched into his passenger side bumper, and then it was quiet. There was a sickly smell, and my hood had folded up.

Checklist: I’m not dead. I don’t feel pain, minus the tightness of the seatbelt. Everyone else must have run the same subroutine, as we were all ok. Now as I looked at my hood folded up awkwardly, I replayed a memory of the only other real accident I got in years ago. I was passenger in my brother John’s car leaving a family wedding at night being followed by our cousins. We hit the deer, I was a bit shocked, but all John did was scream “MY CAR!!”

He jumped out of the car, looked down in front, and the only thing he screamed over and over for atleast 5 minutes was “MY CAR!!” Our cousin Holly came out, tears running down her face in worry, but all John said to her “are you ok?” was “MY CAR!!!”

Who knows how the time goes when you’re in this state. I part of me felt like jumping out and screaming like my brother, but I had many parts of me thinking many different things. Some common sense booted up, and I joined everyone else in the chorus of checking to make sure everyone else was ok, even though we all knew we were already.

I always knew if I was careful, if I followed the rules of the road, and took extra precautions when necessary, I would be fine. In the many, many, MANY horrible driving conditions I’ve been through back home, I was never so much worried about myself, as much as the other drivers not being as careful as me. I remember coming home from elementary school one day in a blizzard when mom had to pick us up, and drive 10km/h with the hazard lights on all the way home.

I can honestly say there really was nothing I could do, and not really anything I could have done better. My faith is somewhat shaken by this, but maybe because I really did do everything I could, and that the only important thing, that everyone is ok, gives me solace.

I went out of the car for a little bit, not really. We talked a little bit with other driver, but not really. Everyone was ok in the van too. The police came, and the officer almost fell down on the road it was iced over that badly. I thought the accident was about 10 minutes earlier, but over ½ hour had passed. Despite feeling calm, my hand shook more violently than during the cold storm earlier. Richard was with for support, and Patricia stayed on the phone in case we needed anything.

Perhaps this was shock. I’ve been through shock before back at my uncle Bill’s house years ago. We were running around in the dark, and I ran up against a metal building. Along the way I went through the electrified fence I couldn’t see. By the time I realized what was wrapped around me while I was touching the metal walls it was too late. The zap was so strong, it burnt my skin a bit and I convulsed on the ground for a while. I spent the rest of the night shaking like I was now.

The guy was quiet but friendly, the police were very friendly, Patricia was on the phone and did translation for us, my supervisor went out of her way to get me an English number to call to report the incident, while the police officer talked with them for over 10 minutes about where we were and other information for the tow truck.

By the time the truck took the car away and Patricia and Tonya dropped us off at the nearest convenience store to call a taxi, almost 3 hours had passed, and I don’t know where it went. We spent the night at Neal’s and he took us home in the morning. I didn’t want to leave the house after what happened, but Richard lured me out with promises of a trip to an Onsen late Sunday night, and it was bliss to relax in it. The rest of the night was wonderful; in front of the heater playing video games, away from the ice and cold.

I’m happy I have extra insurance, and I’m happy I have such good friends here to help me out. Everything seems to be mostly taken care of already this Monday morning, as another supervisor fields calls for me from the insurance agency. Things could always be worse, and despite my car being totaled, I think we were blessed with the best possible outcome; we were very lucky.

"If you only have one breath left, use it to say 'thank you'" -Pam Brown


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