Friday, October 5, 2007

I've been Bad!

about updating my blog. ;) What did you think I was going to reveal some ultra-juicy details? Those will have to wait for another post. Instead, I thought I would summarize the last few weeks of my life, but as an extra treat, give you a little bit of my own thoughts on Japan as I recently passed the two month mark of being here. Careful, this shit gets bloggy.

So after looking at my own blog it looks like it has been a week and a half since I posted! I don't really remember anything of that week, so I assume it was fairly ordinary. The weekend was the second long weekend of September, so I went down to Sapporo on Saturday. It was my first time driving to the main city of Hokkaido, and the drive was simply gorgeous. Initially, I was a little worried about how expensive it would be, but it ended up being much, much cheaper than taking the train, and it only took about 3 and a half hours. Most of the time the road passes through steep mountain gorges, and the number of tunnels I passed through can't even be counted! I'm definitely far more comfortable with driving in Japan now, as I was speeding along with the very best Japanese drivers. Of course, I can't really go all that fast, as at 110 km/h my steering wheel starts to violently shake and the whole car starts vibrating like the wheels are going to pop off. After 2 months in Japan though, 110 km/h (40 km/h over the limit) feels blindingly fast, way faster than 150 km/h does back home. I definitely don't want to be caught by the police though, as I've been told I'd have to apologize to the mayor! So I just find someone who is going faster than me, (which isn't very hard) and stick a couple hundred metres behind him. Mmm, police bait.

In any case, I came down out of the mountains, and made my way into downtown Sapporo to meet up with Parker and Laura, my Canadian friends in Sapporo. Getting into the city was quite a trial however, as the excellent directions and English-friendly signs of the countryside gave way to spaghetti interchanges and Kanji only roadsigns. (I went through this one repeatedly for 20 minutes or so before finally getting my bearings and the proper road!) I did see a great city sign of a suburb that was a picture of Lenin with the name of the city at the top and the slogan, "Be Ambitious Boys!" across the middle. Wish I got a picture, but I was busy driving. My adventures continued as I made my way slowly into town. I passed by the site of the Costco that is going up. (Opening in January, woohoo!) before hitting the exiting crowd of a Hokkaido Fighters (MLB) game. Once past that, it only took me another half-hour to get downtown and find a parking spot. I parked my car in the parking elevator and it was quickly whisked away to some unknown realm. (I'm quite serious about that! You drive your car onto the platform and get out, then the platform spins your car around and pulls it up into the building!)

I met up with Jenna, Parker, and Laura near the train station and we went out to a nearby Gaijin (foreigners) bar called The Jersey Cafe. We ended up staying there for most of the night, gorging ourselves on English beer and fish and chips, pizza etc. After two months of Japanese food, it was amazing, simply to die for! Perhaps most interesting however, were the group of friends we met at the bar, a group of soldiers from the nearby jetai (Japanese Self Defense Force) base in Chitose. Needless to say, they were quite a wild bunch, but because the officers are required to learn English, (in order to talk to the US army) their English was amazing for Japanese. (More on them later.) After this, we headed over to a nearby hole-in-the-wall that Parker had been to the week before. After getting there however, we were kicked out for not being Japanese! Actually the bartender asked us in Japanese if we could speak Japanese, and after myself and Jenna said we could, he kicked us out anyways. It was a real downer, and was a very strange feeling. I'd never experienced that kind of racism before, so it was a real shock. We ended up going to a Blues bar that we had been to before, but didn't stay out much longer.

All in all though, it was like a breath of fresh air just being in Sapporo. Shikaoi is a great little town, but after 4 years in Montreal, it's a big change. It can often feel devoid of young people, (mostly because it is) and consequently the nightlife is a little sporadic at best. There are a town of bars and karaoke joints, but I only want to go out drinking with 45 year old farmers with no english so many times. In Montreal I often felt like I never went out enough, that I was always staying home, while all these interesting things were happening, where as here I feel that I never go out enough, but that I am doing more than almost everyone else! Or maybe it's more a feeling that I haven't really found a "group" to hang out with in Shikaoi yet. In any case, it is a very strange mixture of the old and the new that I sometimes feel. It is amazing how much can change...and how little.

Nevertheless, It was wonderful just to see people dressed up and going out, to make friends in a random bar, and to basically have a "city" experience.

On Saturday, the fun continued, as I did a little shopping with Blair (the other ALT from my town) and Jenna. We went to a number of department stores in the downtown area, and I got a few essentials. (Most of which were cooking-related!) After shopping ourselves out around 4:00, we settled down at a bar called the Ginza Lion to indulge in some 800 mL glasses of my favourite beer in Japan, Yebisu. Then we made our way to Susukino, the red-light district of Sapporo, for tabe/nome-hodai (all you can eat/drink) Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki, which is originally from Osaka is basically egg mixed up with various vegetables and meat. Every table has a big flattop grill and you order which ever kind of okonomiyaki you like and they bring it to you raw. You dump it on in a pancake shape and then grill it up. Last, you drizzle mayonaise all over it, along with bonito (dried fish flakes) and wolf it down. It might sound gross but it's absolutely delicious, and by the time we left 2 hours later I was just about to keel over and die from all the okomiyaki and beer we had consumed!

I think it is hilarious that in almost every type of expensive Japanese dining, the food is either raw (sushi) or you are expected to cook it yourself. (Yakiniku or Okonomiyaki) This may sound like a raw deal, (oh I am SO funny) but in actuality, its great fun to cook food up with your friends, and the vast majority of restaurants are all-you-can-eat. Eating and drinking in Japan often seems to end up going to far, because you can order and order and order without paying extra, but it definitely makes you feel like a rich guy at a feast! Coincidentally, this is what you say after you eat at a restaurant. "ごうちそさま でした。Gochisosama Deshita” or, "It was a feast!"

Well, after that the debauchery continued. Next, we went to "Peace of Dreams" which was a very upscale bar owned by a family that Blair knew well in Sapporo. I ordered a Bloody Mary, as it is the closest thing you can get to a Caesar here, and it was amazing. The bartender hand-crushed cherry tomatoes and celery leaves, and used just the right amount of Tabasco. Each glass was about $9 but I didn't care, I had two! Well after that, (!) Blair went home to bed, and Parker and Laura had to catch the last train to the suburbs at 12AM, but Jenna and I were still up for more. We wandered over to TK6, another Gaijin bar in Tanooki Dori, the same covered street that houses the Jersey Cafe. We met up with Ryota, a friend of Jenna's, but I didn't stay with the two of them that long as I had other plans and the place was full of Kiwi's and Brits watching Rugby. I said goodnight to them, and met up with the army guys from the night before.

(This Section has been redacted. Children might be reading!)

Before leaving Sapporo on Monday, I took a trip down to the local mega mall, the Sapporo Factory. They have an amazing selection of foreign stores there, especially a preponderance of outdoor stores for some reason. Not only an Eddie Bauer, but a North Face, Columbia, and a bunch of others, as well as many other kinds of stores. I can definitely see myself going there way too often. I was really happy to head home though as I was completely exhausted from the excessive (well not too excessive) partying, and the general lack of decent sleep.

The following week went ordinarily enough. I'm now firmly ensconced in the routine of school life, and am occasionally given some lesson planning or materials to prepare. For the most part however, my simply being there is the great majority of my work responsibilities. The teachers would rather see me wandering the halls and bugging students, (in and out of class) than sitting in the staff room crafting lesson plans that don't fit with their curricula or the student's level anyways. Because I teach the unofficial English, there isn't really a curriculum anyways, the teachers have lesson plans, but the overall course of the ....course, is generally a little random, although it usually focuses on English and Canada in at least SOME way. For instance on Wednesday I gave a 15 minute lecture/listening test on Canadian indie music. I talked about Arcade Fire, The Meligrove Band, and Broken Social Scene. Did the kids learn any English? I suppose anything's possible, but I highly doubt it. Really, I was just trying to show them some new things, and that seems to be a huge part of my role here. Last week though was mostly taken up by end-of-term tests.

Last weekend was pretty ordinary, all things considered. I met up with the ALT's in Obihiro who I hadn't seen in awhile on Friday night, and we went to a bunch of different places, but for the most part I took it pretty easy. It was my Junior High School's cultural festival (Bunkusai) however, so I went to see them on Saturday. They were really cute doing all the different cultural things, such as dramatic readings, plays, Taiko (Japanese drums) and so on. By far the best part though was the Gr.8's class video, where they mocked all their teachers. It was absolutely hilarious even though I couldn't understand all of it, and didn't get parodied myself. It's sad to think that all that energy and creativity they have now will get beaten out of them by the time they get to High School. (The saying in Japan when it comes to education goes, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.") The smart ones will be off to the cram/academic high schools in the major cities spending all their time preparing for the University entrance exams, and I'll be teaching the not-so-smart ones in a year or two at Shikaoi Senior High. A fact made worse because I only teach the non-academic students at the Senior High. I do what I can, but sometimes getting them to be interested in English is a struggle to say the least. I actually have come to love my Junior High, as not only are the students great, but there are some teachers who are really genuinely interested in fostering the education of the students, which happens to be a pretty rare thing.

Perhaps the most positive development of the past week though is that I have found a Squash Club!! I went on Wednesday, as it is not very far away from me, (less than an hour) and I was simply blown away. There are about 5 people that meet twice a week and they are good. The guys are all great of course, but the one who surprised me the most was the 14-yr old All Japan Squash Champion. She kicks the ass of everyone else in the club; I don't stand a chance. I've already committed to joining, because not only is playing Squash for 2 hours twice a week amazing practice and exercise, but it was a ton of fun, and felt just great. I really am the charity case of the club though, they take turns playing me as they have to tone their game down a lot. I splurged yesterday and bought a new racquet and squash shoes, although I may have one coming from Canada...hmm we'll see.

Finally, FINALLY, we come to this weekend. Just like in Canada, it is a long weekend here too, (Not Thanksgiving of course, but Health and Sports Day) but unfortunately, most of my friends are headed to Aomori, across the ocean on the main island of Honshu, to see the Autumn Hell Festival. This takes place at the top of a mountain, which is said to be the entrance to the Buddhist Hell. (Jigoku) So it might be a bit of a quiet weekend, but I guess that's alright! I am going to play squash again tomorrow, and then indoor soccer on Sunday, which I guess is fitting considering why it's a long weekend. I guess it is a good idea to burn off some energy now, as I have no classes next week.

Oh and I almost forgot, I've been accepted to be the Vocal Director for the Hokkaido JET Musical! Rehearsals start next weekend in Tomokomai at the HAJET fall meeting, and we are doing Oklahoma, so it should be a lot of fun! I'm also hoping to start doing Taiko drumming on Friday so I am going to be busy, busy, busy.

Oh, it's 5:30, so I've got to clear out of the office! Sorry for the length, but I had to at least attempt to get up to date. (And trust me, I've left far too much out.)

P.S. No HD video yet, my laptop has been diagnosed with terminal, metastatic cancer and is ever so slowly dying. It just refuses to encode the video, which is due to some sort of Quicktime/Windows/HDTV apocalypse inside my computer....or something. I will probably have to send it in for repair within the next month or two!

Till next time,

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