The Awa Odori drums just started up outside, in the park situated behind and above our building, the one where we had Lindsay’s farewell hanami. It feels like last summer, hearing the nightly rehearsals. (I remember being a bit freaked out on my first night, hearing this random drumming and chiming and shouting out of nowhere, but it was a nice distraction from the total shock and “holy crap holy crap holy crap” feeling that was settling in on me. It’s far more familiar and welcome now, though!) I didn’t realize they started this early, since Awa Odori isn’t until mid-August, but it’s really nice to hear it again–it brings that festival feel to the air. I’ve turned off my music and am letting it comprise my BGM for the present.

(I also discovered this weekend that more folks read my blog than I realized. Hi, guys! Post a comment letting me know if/when you stop by.)

So I’m back from Kobe–what an amazing city. So, so much better than Osaka in so many ways! We ended up changing our plans at the last minute and deciding to not move to Osaka once the conference finished; we went to Guest Services and they tracked down a cheap business hotel for us in the city. The conference went well–it was great getting to hang out with people from other parts of the prefecture who we just don’t see often (we went bowling and sang some karaoke, of course). I got to run into some people I hadn’t seen since Tokyo Orientation or the pre-departure orientations in Atlanta, and I met some new folks, especially during the one lunch offered during the conference, when they had a separate vegetarians-only section. There are quite a few veggies here–and quite a few male veggies! The ratio was a little surprising, because I guess you just don’t see a lot of vegetarian guys who do it for reasons other than culture.

The panels also went pretty well, and I lucked out and got 5 that were pretty helpful and informative. On the first day, I checked out Pera-Pera and the GenkiEnglish panels (I would’ve gone for Strategies for Coping in Japan, but I was exhausted and needed something to pick me up, which GenkiEnglish totally did; I checked out his panel at Tokyo Orientation as well, and it was a lot of fun). I was especially impacted by the “Trading Places: Thai” one on the second day, because as someone who did know some Japanese when I arrived, it was tough for me to understand what it’s like for the kids to be completely immersed in another language. On the second day I also did Ph-Ph-Phonics, Music in the Classroom, Cross-Cultural Communication (run by Audrey from Tokushima), and Story and Movement Activities in the English Classroom. I regret missing out on Workplace Relations, Let’s Kanji, and a couple of others, but that’s all right. (I also got in some nice figure-drawing practice during the closing ceremonies, while drowning out hearing a teacher and his ALT talk about how amazingly awesome they and their school were.)

We didn’t eat any Japanese food all weekend, not really–the closest we came to it was this fun Arabian-themed izakaya called Arabian Rock that played a bunch of Arabia-sounding music (including the Aladdin soundtrack, haha), and I didn’t really eat anything Japanese there. We mainly stayed in the Sannomiya area and ended up going up the same street almost daily, because there were so many international food options there, and during the course of the weekend we had American-style burgers (and an avocado/veggie sandwich, in my case–I realized this weekend that I really don’t like avocado very much), and Sri Lankan, Chinese, Hawaiian, Italian (Old Spaghetti Factory!), and Turkish foods, among others. It was incredible.

We also spent a day walking around the Harborland area, just outside JR Kobe Station. After the conference, Kirsten and Tracy stayed with Julie and me at our hotel that night, and they both departed on Saturday, so Saturday afternoon, Julie and I took a really, really awesome 2-hour ferry/cruise ride. It took us pretty close to Awaji-shima and the bridge from Awaji-shima to Honshu (the same one the highway buses cross), and we got some amazing views. That evening, we also took in a jazz club in Sannomiya–a bit expensive, but really, really good music.

On our way back, we decided to return our bus tickets and catch local trains so that we could go to Himeji and visit the castle there. It was huge and really cool and well-maintained.

The night before I went to Kobe, I was up till 3 AM cleaning my place up, since my power and water were going to be turned off while I left. I got back and still had a lot of stuff to move, but now I’ve moved everything into the new place (and am still unpacking/organizing, but slowly) except my aircon unit, and my boss is going to call someone to help me move that, as well as set up my gas stove (I’ve been relying on my toaster, microwave, and rice cooker; I never realized how much I used that stove until now) and washing machine. That should all be taken care of this weekend, hopefully. My internet’s also transferring to my new apartment, and I’m down at Hannah’s place right now, leeching hers (she’s in Hong Kong for a long weekend, her last trip abroad before going home in July–I envy how efficiently she’s made use of her nenkyuu).

I also seem to have caught a cold–it got worse overnight, and I woke up feeling really sluggish and crappy this morning. I ended up forgetting half the materials I needed for my two elementary classes, and while walking down a slightly uneven path to my first elementary school of the day, I tripped and skinned both knees and a toe, and got to feel like a little kid again while one of the teachers cleaned up my knee and applied some band-aids. My second class of the day also went abysmally; I went through everything far too quickly, in part due to not having my materials to play the games I’d hoped to, so I started some other stuff, but it was so boring that the Japanese teacher supervising the class started to doze off in the back of the room. Bless those kids for having the resilience to stay with me as long as they did. I took the afternoon off and came home to just rest up–there’s something about Japanese colds that makes them totally drain you of all your energy.

On the plus side, I’m now guaranteed a ticket for tomorrow’s Beethoven concert with the chorus of Miyoshi-shi residents and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra here in Ikeda! My boss picked a ticket up for Chalice today, but not for me because she was told that I’d already bought mine (huh?), and then Chalice was told about a hippie Japanese music concert in Kamiyama, and she’s decided to go for that (though it was a difficult choice for her), and is giving me her ticket. YES! I’m going to try to score at least one more, so that Joe can go as well–he and I are the two ALTs who’ve actually attended rehearsals for this (I’ve gone to one and he’s gone to two), so we’re a bit “invested” in this.

I can’t believe it’s June. I can’t believe I’m leaving for the US two weeks from tomorrow. (I’m already planning out my week…dinner with Terry at her house, meeting up with Carol and Jason and possibly other former STAC folks, meeting orchestra folks and former Web Production Studio of DOOM folks, spending a lot of time with Jenn (sort of making up for lost time, I suppose)…it’ll be an incredible week.) I also can’t believe I’ve been here for over 10 months already…just crazy. I’ve been e-mailing with a couple of the new incoming ALTs–one of the ones coming to my area is a big animation fan and we seem to have some similar interests. It’ll be nice to have someone to help me hold down the animation geek fort.

The drums have fallen silent for now. I’m sure they’ll be back tomorrow, though. I can’t wait.

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