Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Here it comes again

Bubbling up inside, the ever present wanderlust. I am getting the urge to get the hell out of dodge again. I just started contemplating when I will next be able to leave Japan, and it's looking tough. I may head home to the states at the end of this year for a visit, but I am not sure if I will have time to go anywhere between now and then.

Spending the past hour looking at train and river transport in China, Vietnam, and Laos is probably just exacerbating the problem. I don't think J will be in a position to travel during Golden Week, which is really expensive anyways. And the education centre has made it extremely difficult for me to skip the country this summer as per usual, by moving up the new ALT orientation an entire month. So... I could probably pull off some inner-Japan travel. I still have a burning desire to get to Yakushima. Looks like it might happen finally. There might be a few 3 day weekends to hop around and get South Korea under my belt, but who knows.

I realize that I am not thinking like an adult, but I want to go EVERYWHERE. I feel like, living in Asia, I am required to visit as many countries as possible, and will regret it if I do not. The saving for grad school, or just my future in general, is starting to creep up as a priority, however. Can someone please pay me to travel? Then all this will be settled.

Another random note. I studied so much yesterday, I managed to hurt my finger. Finally, after years of writing incorrectly, I have had the negative physical reaction all my elementary teachers warned me about. You are right. Fine. Are you happy now? How did this not happen in college when I was drawing for hours on end?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gratuitous monkey and some other creatures

I had to rifle through my 1000s of photos to hunt down some endearing shots of my students to accompany an article I wrote last month for the prefectural education magazine (it's probably more like a newsletter, so it's not likely to be as cool as it sounds). During my search I came across these photos from my visit to Thailand back in August. Please enjoy.

I bring you the monkey with the softest hands ever. He did pull my hair a bit, though.

These animals were all living on a crocodile farm outside of Bangkok. It was... interesting to say the least.

Scary Panda says "Sweet Dreams!"

it's all about positive thinking , or is it?

I have been in a bit of a poo mood the past few days. I blame my pulled muscle, or perhaps hormones. So, instead of being an obnoxious complainer, I am going to jot down some happy things. (it's your call if you find it obnoxious as well)

Laurac and I got to play in the snow in Kojo on Sunday. It was quiet, peaceful, empty, and beautiful! Pictures were finally taken of the incredible amount of snow we had.

They had the purple stuff in the onigiri today. Purple is the best flavor.

The bread recipe I have been tweaking came out better than expected.

I managed to cook Japanese vegetables that have confused me for a long time. And they taste good. No, really!

The countdown is practically at one month till J is back in Japan! (I figured I had to give you an exclamation point, so you didn't feel inferior to pringles)

Japanese class went really well tonight. Finally managing to infuse my speech with new vocab.

We talked about poopies and other words for shit in my eikaiwa tonight. ha ha

Been reconnecting with a lot of old friends as of late.

Might be able to go boarding this weekend afterall...

That's it for now. There are other happy things, but I don't wanna go jinx myself into sadness or anything. Time to learn more Nihongo!

Friday, February 15, 2008

News, diet, and fishy guilt

On a near daily basis, I have access to the internet and use it as a between class mental recess. I like to check various news sites both international and local, to get a broader idea of what is happening in the world. When I am finished reading reputable sources, I go slumming.

Some things I have noticed lately:

CNN's IQ has dropped appallingly in the past few years. I am sure it has been a gradual decline, but having the time to check regularly has given me a front row seat to the perversion of news.

American media in general is completely obsessed with weight loss. I suppose all the other countries finally poked us in our flab enough times that we became ashamed. They try to sound "hip" and make dealing with obesity sound more like a trip to the circus rather than an actual SERIOUS matter. I offer you this article title I stumbled across this morning "How to Eat Like a Hot Chick". What? The article seems to realize it sounds like a twat when the first paragraph tries to dig it's way out of the hole it's firmly planted in. (just saw that this is taken from a book of the same title. It makes me sad for American women.)
We know that you're already hot and that you have the potential to be and feel even hotter.

It sounds more like "oh, shit... we called you ugly didn't we? Um... you are sexy? Yeah, and you don't need this article really, but you could be sexier maybe?"

Let's delve further. Upon reading anything along these lines, which I mostly do to amuse myself, wondering if something of value is hidden between the lines, I am instead met with repetitive Sex in the City references, and reminders that are completely unnecessary if one would just look at an ingredient or nutrition label. This particular article also manages to insult vegans, and all they really accomplish is saying condiments will make you a fatty.

My bastion of sanity for news comes from the BBC.

Why all this talk of food? What does ocean conservation have to do with this? Well, let me provide some cohesion. I haven't eaten meat for nearly 12 years now, and feel guilty calling myself a vegetarian. This is because I have eaten fish for the past 3 years. Before that, it was 8 years clear. It's still not a regular food for me, perhaps 3 times a week or so. Living in Japan as a strict vegetarian is possible, but you become a bit of a social pariah. I couldn't, for instance, go to a Japanese friend's home for dinner, without causing them dismay over what they could possibly serve me. I admit I have grown to enjoy a few types of fish. Shrimp are delicious, and I have a serious weakness for salmon onion mayo sushi.

My only problem is the guilt. I have been contemplating for a long time, what I will do when I eventually leave Japan. Will I stop eating fish again? Will I go back to my real vegetarian lifestyle? I always say that you should only be veg if you truly don't like eating meat/fish. I don't hold anyone's diet against them. Fish isn't that important to me, I could easily go without again. Plus, the above photo is a view of man's impact on the world's oceans. I live in a country that is renowned for it's fishy needs and whaling prowess. The demand for maguro (tuna) alone is astounding and since the stock in Japan has been pludered, we import from Mediterranean waters. National Geographic explains it far better than I could.

I realize that I am just one person, but really don't feel very good about myself if I order that plate of maguro.

It also makes me want to slap the hell out of Gal Sone. (they start wolfing down the Otoro, or fatty tuna in the middle of this clip.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Instant Happiness!

I have about a million things to be happy about right now, but this just caused an eruption of glee. I hope you enjoy. I found it via this amazing and beautiful online comic Dresden Codak. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The band is called Rock Plaza Central, and if you are a fan of Neutral Milk Hotel or Grandaddy, you will surely appreciate!

The video is from a kid's show called Nanalan, which looks to be fantastic. One of my dreams is to be able to one day work for Jim Henson's workshop. I actually had an application sitting on my desk when my JET acceptance call came through. Hell, a show like this would be awesome to work for! Maybe one day...

Howl's Malay Moving Castle
(eat your heart out, Baron!)

This is the less than beautiful, yet awesome dive platform that we stayed at for 4 days off the coast of Borneo in Sipadan.

I wanted somewhere with lush reefs, and variety of sea life, but without costing a million dollars. Sipadan has been on my list for a while now, and tickets from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur weren't going to cost me an appendage, so things were looking up. Seaventures used to be an old ocean drill unit. Looks quite a bit like an oil rig. The humor of it is, it's a horrible eyesore on the skyline. If you are staying at the fancypants resort connected to the island, you have this giant rusty multi-colored mess marring the view. But, if you are on the platform, all you can see are beautiful islands, open ocean, and the sweet architecture of the nearby resort. ha ha! It really does remind me of Howl's Moving Castle. What do you think?

Bunny and I left Joshie to fend for himself in Aonang for the day, and headed to the airport on the morning of the 21st. We flew out to Kuala Lumpur and hopped a flight from there to Tawau. I will provide a map for clarification.

Tawau is an intriguing little town. I didn't quite know what to anticipate, because it is considered a "business centre" in Malaysia, but is also in the middle of nowhere Borneo. Many conferences go on there, for some reason. The city was about 20 minutes away from the airport, and kinda reminded me of the seedy outskirts of Miami. Not the kind of place you would want to take a late night stroll alone in. It is famous for it's cocoa, strangely enough, and on the way back through, Bunny and I hit up the factory for a personal tour! More on that momentarily.

The next morning, we headed back to the airport to catch our minivan to Sipadan (bonus: that rhymed). The drive was somewhere around 2 hours long, and we amused ourselves by trying to figure out what all the palm planations were about (palm oil!) and looking for monkeys. We arrived at the coast with a view of this...

(borrowed this picture from picasaweb)

Looks pretty, ne? I only wish you could see the massive amount of garbage floating in the water. It was revolting and quite sad. The trash disappated as we went out in the boat towards the platform, but it's impossible to forget. So, the boat. We were taken out the 30min boatride to the platform by our captain and his two sons. They were gorgeous kids. The youngest had grabbed my rucksack and slung it on his back to help us to the boat. I am never again allowed to bitch about it being heavy. He was about 9 years old and had no problem. We headed into open water with the horrid pollution disappearing behind us. I promised myself, that if I ever have the means, I will attempt to fund a pollution cleanup near Sipadan.

The platform came into site, and I was downright giddy. We hopped onto the lift and were greeted at the top with mango juice and our keys. Mango juice is always exciting, but I couldn't wait to get upstairs to see our digs. It was quaint, comfortable enough, air conditioning, and a mostly functioning toilet (that I managed to break the handle off of, since I am a beast). My only qualm was our "roommates". Seems the platform has fought a war, a nuclear holocaust, if you will... against a plague of roaches. The humans lost. I asked Evie (the happiest divemaster you will ever meet) about it, and she said they bombed multiple times, but the bastards refused to fully die. It took me a day of squeamishness and sleeping with the bathroom light on, to get used to the idea, but the next few days were fine. Like Evie said, "you dive all day and all you do on the platform is sleep and eat, so you don't even notice so much." Also, she hooked us up with a courtesy roachspray!

We stayed the 22nd-26th, and got about 8 dives in. Nothing the first day, because we didn't arrive in time to catch the afternoon boat, nor did we have our equipment sorted out. So, our first morning, we woke up early and headed out to Sipadan for 2 dives. The first one was as Barracuda Point. Hell of a way to start us off. The barracuda formed a massive school and were practically a wall of shining teeth. It was amazing to see. We also came across a fair number of white tip reef sharks, and hawksbill turtles lazing about. Visibility was magnificent, and it was easily one of the best dives of the trip.

(another borrowed image, sorry I didn't have a camera for these dives!)

The 2nd dive was Turtle Tomb. Disturbing name, I know. It's a cave system, that many a turtle has headed into to rest, and then when it was time to surface for air, they had managed to get too deep into the cave, attempted to go up, and hit the ceiling instead. The floor is littered with bones from many a pineapppular turtle. We didn't go any further than the entrance, because we didn't have the gear, some of us didn't have the experience, and a few diver's have gotten lost in there before. Nice. Evie was great at pointing out the microlife along the walls, for the rest of that dive. Many tiny shrimp, nudibranch, and crazy looking creatures that the untrained eye would have mistaken for coral or seaplants. We turned a corner and entered a small cove where jackfish had formed a spiral stemming from the ocean floor, nearly to the surface of the water. They just coned continuously, as we swam around them.

We headed back to the platform that afternoon, feeling pretty damn accomplished, and (at least I was, as you can see above, me looking smug) overwhelmed by the sheer number of turtles we saw. We were just about within site of our monstrous base, when one of our divemasters spotted a whale. He dove off the side of the boat and within minutes had surfaced again, was climbing back in, and gushing about the humpback he had just seen underwater. Our boat ambled around for 1/2 an hour or more trying to get close enough that we could swim near the whale, but it wasn't to be. Several of us were 1/2 geared up, perched on the prow of the boat, which you could see below on one of my previous posts. (all photos of me are stolen from Bunny)

Ok, that was rather long... so I will save the next day's dives for another post. Preferably when I have access at home to my own stash of photos. I am going to go back to studying kanji and staring out the window at the pretty snow.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Year of the Rat

is kicking ass so far. (Laurac was correct) Despite the whole being sick for the past two days, I have been in a pretty damn good mood. Why, you ask? (I am gonna tell you, so you might as well ask)

1. J is coming to Toyama! I was holding my breath and trying not to get my hopes up, in case he was placed in the mountainous wilds of Niigata. It seems, however, that Interac saw it fit to place him where he actually requested to be. Hurrah!

2. I passed! Hurrr? Yeah, guess I was neglectful in saying much about it, but the JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I took it in December, 3kyuu (3rd level) for the second year in a row. Last year, I was definitely ill-prepared for it, and was anticipating that big "FAIL". This year, was quite a bit harder than I remembered, and they threw in a bunch of random vocabulary. But, it helped me to see where I need more practice, and it's vocabulary vocabulary vocabulary. I did get the little postcard that says "PASS" this year, though, and a good kick in the ass to study more for my first attempt at 2kyuu this December. Once again, I am not really positive of passing the first time around, but you never know. If they decide to up the kanji section, I might just stand a chance. Seems kanji is the only damn part of Japanese I find easy. I am now the proud owner of a piece of paper that says I don't suck at Japanese as much as I used to. Wooo hooo! Grad school qualifications are getting better!

3. Today, I have no classes, and am facing a 3 day weekend ahead. Tomorrow I am hitting up beautiful Toga with Laurac and "gotta want it" Macaskill. Sunday, Kazuto and I are waking up at the butt-crack of dawn and heading to Hakuba. His friend works out there, most likely at an onsen/ski resort, and we are gonna meet up and get some boarding lessons, I think. Weee! I hope I learn how to jump or do something else relatively fancy. Then, Monday, I am taking Bunny out to Toga (again, yes, but I LOVE Toga) to teach her how to board. Should be low impact for me, but I have a feeling she is gonna get it pretty quick. Will we make it up to the mildly terrifying (for your first time) intermediate course? You will have to wait to find out. Also, since my camera has become a piece of poop, I will be bringing it along for photo fun!

4. Did I mention it's snowing? A lot? And sticking, which is the most important part of the process. It's supposed to keep up for 2 days straight, and I am very much looking forward to snowball fight and (soy) cocoa party on my roof.

I do love snow, but I wish I were back in the warm for a few days... (above photo blatently stolen from Bunny) I will explain the picture soon... I just wanted some snow contrast! Pics of snow later this afternoon, btw. For now, please enjoy this adorable map of Toyama I just found.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Every morning, whilst eating toast...

we were privy to 2 openly homoerotic monkeys displaying their love. The above character is "small monkey" as we liked to call him. He grabbed my finger and sent my heart a flutter. The other monkey was older and a bit of an opportunist, but enough of that.

We stayed in Aonang for about 4 days, while Joshie and Rachel got their open water certs, and I worked on my advanced and acquiring a fantastic case of food poisoning. Gwar (the monster who lives in my stomach) is a bit of an asshole, and this happens fairly regularly, so I was not exactly surprised. Back on track... on our 2nd day out, I got to borrow this fellow's sweet underwater camera setup, and took the following pictures. Keep in mind, for my ego's sake, I am only posting the nice ones. I will save you the trauma of watching me chase a yellow fish around and never getting a decent shot (J was not so lucky, and promptly fell asleep). Without further adieu, and to make Bunny happy:

This is the dive on the first day. Nice and murky, about 18-25m


orange seafan and blackfeatherthingie that I don't know the name of

sea anemone

green-spotted moray

some contrasting anemone and white seaplant

the infamous south asian black urchin of pain

some shrimpies

anemone fish at home

a sea cucumber flanked by black urchins

I think that is as much as I can legitimize posting today, because I have more Japanese work calling me. Hope you enjoy the photos!

What am I supposed to say to that?

I was teaching my eikaiwa last night and the following two statements were made.

"I don't want Obama to become president, because I am afraid the Ku Klux Klan will murder him." (On that note, am I the only one who has noticed the striking resemblance between Obama and Malcolm X?)

I blame FOX News.


"The Chinese do not rinse their dishes, they wash them with dish soap and leave the bubbles on."

Ok. So, a few things can be assumed from these statements. First, a lot of Japanese folks believe nearly ALL of what is written in their papers, or put on the evening news. Second, unless they have traveled, or happen to be particularly awesome, quite a few people don't have any concept of what life is like outside of their own country. This holds true for Americans as well, and probably just about any other ethnocentric person chilling in their homeland with blinders on and a dislike for BBC news. I mean absolutely no offense, I just call them like I see them.

Let's dissect the first statement, shall we? We were discussing politics, which is always an interesting, as well as a volatile topic. I stated my approval of Obama, and my distaste for Hilary's methods. In swoops the aforementioned comment, followed quickly with "justification". This is not directly quoted, but the best translation I could muster. "In America, there was a school where some white students killed a black student for sitting under a tree that only white students were allowed to sit under."

I have seen stories of the Jena 6 in the news, but purposely stuck my head in a hole and tried to hide from the story, which CNN seemed to be hyping far too much. This is my excuse for not knowing the details enough to say her whole condensed explanation was assbackwards. Seems, my student had somehow concocted a very different story, making the white students into murders as well as racists. I am not in any way denying the fact that racism still exists in America, but it's not like I am gonna get threatened for marrying a black man these days.

I tried to explain how the KKK and other groups are looked down upon severely, and only exist in small pockets of the US still. Also, that the US is not really as simple and stark as it is portrayed in film and television. They went on to compare the KKK to the Yakuza. The Yakuza has over 84,000 estimated members, however, while the KKK has more like 8,000. I tried to explain that a national crime syndicate isn't really comparable to a racist hate group. Who knows if I made a dent in that mentality, though?

Now, about the bubbles. My initial reaction was to laugh. Many of my friends and co-workers are anti-China in subtle ways. Slagging on them now and again. Here are a few choice quotes:

"Chinese food is dangerous! Did you hear about the 500 Japanese getting sick from gyoza?"
(more like 10, but whatever)
"The Chinese are too proud."
"The Chinese government kicked people out of their homes to build new stadiums for the Olympics, and those displaced were given no money."
Do you want to go to China?
"I want to see all the famous sites..." (but not dealing with the native population was heavily implied)

I can't seem to find anything online about the soap speculation. If anyone knows where that particular gem came from, please help me shed some light on it!

Monday, February 04, 2008

2008 Check-in

Life is busy, but I am gonna bust out a few things today. Sannensei kiddies don't have to come to school anymore, because they are "preparing for college" or working at the local conbini already, based upon their level of pineappularism. So, I am left with only my ichis, which is great, except I only have 6 classes a week! Note, I am not complaining. This actually gives me time to catch up on my Japanese studies, which my sensei is about ready to beat my skull in about.

Yeah, I should be studying now, shush. Everyone deserves a little procrastination time.

Let's see what I can pull out of my magical blogging hat. Ahh... lists. I do so love them. To begin, things I need to do still in Japan. *the koala yummies I just ate are making my tummy feel weird.

Things I still need to do in Japan

1. see the snow monkeys in Nagano.

2. Hiroshima and Miyajima

3. Yakushima

4. get better at Japanese, damnit

5. dive in Okinawa

6. northern Honshu roadtrip

7. Ise

8. Nikko

9. eat fugu (blowfish)

10. go surfing on the east coast

11. ??? suggestions?

From the previous suggestions I have had, I have managed to get my picture taken with the Prime Minister (his poster at least!)

have been on Japanese TV not once but twice, and have won an award for something stupid (most likely to get naked). I am definitely up for more exciting suggestions, since my list looks more like a "places I still need to go" list.

The past month has been a blur of snowboarding, making up filler lessons on the fly, speaking garbled Japanese, and sento tattoo secret maneuvers. I went to Thailand and Malaysia over the holidays. Thailand was to see J, and to do some more diving. I will get a post up here next with photos from the dive. I think I have one on hand...

Yup, clownfish. These did NOT bite my finger. I still haven't forgiven Sydney for that. I did, however, injure myself, because really, it's not a true vacation if I don't vom and least once, and damage myself somehow. This was caused by my slow sealegs on our first day off of Aonang.

I couldn't have chosen a more aethetically located toe to break! Look at that purple. Please beware, for those of you wishing to emulate my awesomitude, dive fins hurt quite badly when you are powering them with a mangled foot. I did get to see leopard sharks, though, so it was a million times worthwhile. I also became an... ahem Advanced Open Water Diver.

This is right before I vommed, on beautiful Koh something something (Bunny!?) near Railay. I think that yoghurt at breakfast was of the bad variety.

Even better than that (the diving, not the being ill), I got to see J after another long 4 month gap and we headed to Kachanaburi for a few days of nature, stairs, waterfalls, baby elephants, history, peace, and more stairs. I will provide photographic documentation of these events soon.

Rachel and I also spent a few days in Malaysia learning about chocolate, defending our beds against cockroach invasion in Howl's Malay Moving Castle, chasing whales, jumping off of things that hurt my ass, and being overwhelmed by sea turtles. I will post separately about this, for it merits it's own entry. Think that is enough of a teaser to make you come back?

(rocking out to Eve6 right now... what a throwback to high school!)

Also, I think I am gonna get around to posting all my scar photos on a separate page in the next week or so. If I can find the time and the patience to do so. To the text books...