More of that introspective stuff

I’ve had all these things in mind to blog about, but as soon as I think of them, something else comes along to distract me, and away they go. Well, anyway.

Firstly, happy 17th birthday to my brother! I can’t believe he’s a junior in high school…it’s getting to the point where thinking about his age is making me feel old. (Freaking quarter-century…)

So I’ve been feeling a bit up and down, health-wise–the change in season has come surprisingly quickly. The evenings are now cool enough to warrant a fleece, or at least a substantial long-sleeved shirt, and I was even chilly while at work yesterday in a short-sleeved shirt and slacks. I brought my fleece today and it’s keeping me very comfortable. I don’t remember the chill setting in so quickly last year, or maybe I’m just adjusting to the cold differently–it makes me wonder what this winter will be like.

We had another earthquake this morning–this one had an epicenter between Kyushu and Shikoku, so it was yet again minor for us; the NHK announcements didn’t even list Tokushima as having felt it (just Ehime and Kochi), so maybe it was just us westies who were the privileged ones. At least this one was after I’d woken up and was still lying in bed, right around 7 AM, and not at 5 AM like the last one. I almost want a big one, just to know what a big one is like, but I know I’m going to regret saying that, especially considering how close we are to Kobe, which was hit really hard by a major earthquake just over 10 years ago.

I also am really behind in uploading photos; due to my volcano trip and my junior high and elementary school sports festivals (Thursday and Sunday, respectively), I’m pretty sure I have at least 200 more to go up! I need to go through my Flickr account and weed out some photos to get the number a bit more manageable, instead of just uploading everything that wasn’t bad-quality.

And this week, I’ve been taking my violin to school with me and practicing for at least an hour after classes finish. The teachers are all there until at least 6 anyway, so the school’s open and most of the rooms are empty, so it’s a perfect opportunity to practice without distraction (and with encouragement from passing teachers and students). I’m working, very slowly, on the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens…it’s certainly not going to be complete any time soon, but it at least sounds recognizable–the music teacher recognized it (and asked me if I have any upcoming concerts, amazingly enough…heh, I wish I were good enough to put on a recital! Though if our JET music ensemble ever gets off the ground, maybe we’ll have something after all).

A general thing I wanted to comment on…I’m pretty sure I’ve written about it before, but I’ve definitely noticed a change in myself. There are times, like this weekend, when my personality is the same and when I can socialize really easily with people in individual or group settings…but there are other times when I just say really awkward things that I kick myself for as soon as they come out, or times where I just have no idea what to say, when my spontaneity and conversational skills go out the window. If I was like this at home, it was a long time ago or to a much lesser degree.

Another strange thing is that while my view of the world grows and changes every day, some of my ability to be really open-minded has diminished, as strange as that sounds–I think it’s partly because the dynamic of this group sometimes is very different from what I’m used to (and even what I’m comfortable with on occasion, especially at the really big parties), and people here choose to do certain things that my friends at home aren’t so big on. The crazy thing is that in response, I find myself clinging silently to a few people, hanging around with them or gravitating back to them, which is something I haven’t done since high school. It seriously feels like I’m moving backwards sometimes. I had more written, but I know I’m repeating what I’ve written before and it’s not worth it to rehash it.

I know that everybody gets hit by this in varying degrees–but this is totally something that they just gloss over in the JET orientations. I know a lot of the first-years are now going through the initial culture shock–it’s never an easy thing to handle, and it does come in waves. Besides the culture shock of being in a new country, there’s also the culture shock of being around a completely different group of people from all walks of life while in a new country, and some people can handle that better than others. I guess I don’t handle it very well sometimes.

But that isn’t to say that it’s always miserable and I can’t relate to anyone–the new westie crowd for this year is getting along really well. I think, for the most part, we just match each other really nicely and get along well with everyone else. We’re going to be instituting weekly get-togethers (we used to meet at least once every few weeks over the last year), and we got together this weekend for dinner and a game of Settlers of Catan, which I actually won. I also headed into the city on Saturday and ended up hanging out with a bunch of people who’d met for dinner, including a bunch of first-years I haven’t seen since English Camp, and one of the two Group C ALTs, who arrived after the camp.

Maybe things will be different this year. Maybe the isolation won’t be so crippling, now that I have a car (though the miles-per-gallon rate, or kilometers-per-liter rate, isn’t nearly as optimal as I’d like), and maybe having a new group will refresh things. Maybe the homesickness won’t be as bad this year, now that I’ve gone through some major ups and downs already.

I’m also hoping with all my heart that I don’t lose any other friends or relatives this year. Coping with their loss, particularly the loss of Adam, made life very difficult for a time, especially in a culture where expressing extreme emotions like this openly isn’t really done and is something I had to always be conscious of during the grieving process…and especially because there’s still so much about Adam’s death that’s unresolved. I lost two other people this year, my mother’s uncle and my across-the-street neighbor, but Sividas-uncle was elderly, and though his death was very sudden, it was still an approaching eventuality, and I’d known for several months that Miss JoAnn had cancer, and chemotherapy at her age would have weakened her extremely, so there really was no way for her to survive it.

This is another thing they don’t really tell you about JET: it isn’t a vacation. It is, in that you get an easy job with full benefits and pretty good pay, and it’ll more likely than not be the best setup of any job placement you can find, but it’s like any life experience. It isn’t a vacation in Japan–it isn’t the rosy image that nearly every single ALT has in mind during the application process, of wearing kimono, attending tea ceremonies, visiting the big metropolitan areas and the pristine temples and castles, making a bunch of Japanese friends, teaching classes and getting involved with students and teachers, and transforming and internationalizing towns with your very presence. Things will happen that are harder to deal with while you’re away. You’ll be surprised by who you lose touch with from home, and you’ll be surprised by who you keep in touch with sometimes. It’s not a completely rosy experience, but you grow and learn from everything, and you take that newfound strength and that ability to survive in a completely new environment with you as you take on new problems and situations in and beyond Japan. There’ll be successes and there’ll be frustrations. You’ll change, sometimes in ways you like and sometimes in ways you don’t. It’s an inevitability–the phrase “this will change your life” isn’t necessarily positive, but it isn’t negative. Change can go either way, and it’s a constant aspect of life in Japan. You come to learn that quickly, and for better or worse, you stick with it and weather it out. You learn a lot while you’re here, beyond factoids about Japanese life and culture. Being here and removing yourself from familiar surroundings and implanting yourself among strangers makes you face your insecurities and even exaggerates them sometimes. If you’re lucky, you confront your best and your worst and you reconcile it all and come out stronger on the other side–and I think most people do succeed at that, to varying degrees. But that confrontation does happen, and you quickly learn who you truly are. In some ways, I think it’s one of the best things about this experience. I don’t know if everyone realizes it, but I can guarantee that everyone does go through some introspection and soul-searching while they’re here. JET isn’t just about internationalizing and transforming mindsets–at least part of you is transformed yourself, and it’s a tough path, but it’s worth it in the end.

Back into the routine

I feel like it’s been a while, but technically, not really, since I blogged from Michelle’s place in Kagoshima.

On the whole, I’m happy with how the trip went–it at least made me hungry for more, and I know I’ll be back to both Unzen and Aso! The 4-hour Sakurajima trip I took was fantastic–I got some really awesome views of the volcano, and it smoked more than usual and put on a nice display for us. And then the typhoon came through the next day, though Kagoshima was virtually untouched, but we were lucky–a train to our east was derailed and turned on its side, there was flooding and more serious damage to our north and west…we definitely lucked out. Still, though, the trains weren’t running at all out of Kagoshima (or at least, the Kyushu Tsubame shinkansen wasn’t), so I couldn’t make it up to Fukuoka, though in retrospect, I think I’m glad I couldn’t–it gave me more time to hang out with Michelle, and Fukuoka was hit harder than we were.

Overall on this trip, the hardest thing to deal with was the staring–everybody stares there. Kyushu has some pretty big cities and considerably more foreigners than Shikoku, but people were openly staring far more than people on Shikoku do, and they weren’t exactly friendly about it, either! On more than one occasion, I’d catch someone staring at me, and then that person would poke his/her companions or say something to them, and they would turn and stare at me, too. It was really discomforting, and really exasperating. At least there were several instances of elderly women seeing me, grinning, and greeting me with genuine warmth, and shopkeepers and waiters were friendly, and I struck up a good conversation with two women who ran a Chinese restaurant in the Tenmonkan district of Kagoshima. I also struck up other conversations, usually with elderly women–maybe that’s partly due to the fact that I’m so used to interacting with elderly Japanese people as a result of living in this town. I don’t mind it at all, though–while some of them are a bit skittish of foreigners, others are really welcoming and more than willing to share their lives and their culture as they ask me about mine.

I also had a weird encounter at a Kiosk in Hakata Station (the major train station in Fukuoka). I’d used really basic, minimal Japanese in the transaction–nothing more than, “Ni-hyaku en desu ka? Hai, douzo. Arigatou gozaimasu.”, when the women behind the counter started complimenting my Japanese–I’d even go so far as to say mildly gushing about it–in a tone that felt extremely insincere. I’d barely said anything to warrant it, and considering what a bustling station Hakata is, there have definitely been other Japanese-speaking foreigners in there. The whole situation really surprised me and left me feeling a bit weird.

Anyway, besides the (general) treatment of foreigners on Kyushu, the rest of the trip was great. The weather, for the most part, was beautiful. The scenery was fantastic. The public transportation was superb (I’m so jealous of their train system–I can’t say it enough; the Relay Tsubame and the Kamome Express are really inspired ideas, and the trains are gorgeous!). And the ALTs are pretty coo, too! I really enjoyed meeting Rebecca in Kumamoto, and her neighbor Minika–Rebecca was a really gracious hostess and I had a lot of fun hanging out with them. And in Kagoshima, I of course met up with Michelle, and we spent my first night hanging out in her place with her friend Sophie, talking for hours over guacamole and ¥100 pizza chips. I didn’t get to meet up with Emiko in Fukuoka, but hopefully I can in the future–we’ve sort of “known of each other” online for a while, since she runs the JET USA National Group and I’d applied for a webmaster position early last year, so it would have been cool to finally meet in person, but her schedule, the weather, and the trains all conspired against us.

Anyway, that’s that about Kyushu. I can’t wait to go back again–maybe the 3-day weekend in early October is too soon, but I’m really tempted all the same.

The speech contest has come and gone–my kid didn’t win (the results surprised everybody, to be honest, but there were a lot of really strong entries and really talented kids this year), but that’s okay. She made an incredible amount of progress and performed beautifully and I’m really proud of her for all her efforts.

Today, I was in a daze…seriously. I think I kind of scared Chalice, because I just felt so weird and was having problems stringing sentences together. It wasn’t till I got out of the car and was walking through the doors of my afternoon elementary school as my eyes were watering and I was sniffling that I realized what it was–the beginnings of a cold. Japanese colds have this tendency to knock me flat on my back (or, in the case of the last cold I had, knock me onto my knees and skin them)–I’ve had that excruciatingly dangerous back-of-the-roof-of-my-mouth tickle coming and going for the last week, and I figured it was just the dust in my apartment, but nope. Luckily, the power of gelato and a 2-hour nap go a long way.

I haven’t written anything really introspective about Japan in a while…maybe I’ll try again after I shake this cold and just get stuff in order. I have a lot to work on and to get started on.

Kyushu recap, part 1

So my trip so far hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having fun…but there have been some slight snags along the way.

When I got to Unzen–I LOVE it there, by the way, I really adore the town and would love to go back there for a long weekend–I tried to do a simple hour-long round-trip hike. Somewhere along the way very early on, though, I took a wrong turn and ended up back down on the street instead up on the extinct (dormant?) volcanic peak I was aiming for. And because my window of time in the town was so small, I couldn’t try it again if I wanted to see other things.

And while the weather has been very cooperative throughout this entire trip (I think thunderstorms were forecast because a typhoon was coming our way–it was supposed to hit us today but it’s completely veered off), and was utterly perfect for my day in Unzen…yesterday, when I was actually in and on Aso, it was really, really foggy, so I couldn’t even walk around Kusasenri right across the road from the volcano museum, much less hike Naka-dake.

I woke up this morning feeling really exhausted–throughout this entire trip I haven’t done anything to exert myself physically (aside from that 20-minute attempt at hiking in Unzen) but I’ve still been so tired. I finally woke up around 9:00 feeling more relaxed–I can’t visit Kirishima today because it would take way too long to get there…I guess I can do Sakurajima today instead, but then I’m not sure what to do tomorrow, because if I do Kirishima, it means around 2 hours of train travel each way, and then hours more to get to Fukuoka. I think I should just use tomorrow to go to Fukuoka and hang out there, and scrap Kirishima–it would have been cool but I’ve already visited 2 of the 3 volcanic areas I was really keen on, and will be visiting the third today.

(Speaking of which, the Tatami Timeshare person I’m staying with in Fukuoka still hasn’t e-mailed me with directions on how to get to her place…time to start looking into budget/capsule hotels as a backup.)

I really am disappointed that I haven’t gotten to hike so much, but just being in those places has given me plenty of gratification. Unzen is an incredible place–the town is adorable with friendly people, and it’s so geologically alive–the jigoku are awesome, and you can see gas coming off the mountain itself…plus the fact that Heisei Shinzan, the new lava dome, is visible behind the mountain–it used to be very small, but then the major eruption in 1990-91 made it as tall as the volcano itself.

And Aso–I really didn’t know what I’d think of it till I got there, but even with the fog obscuring everything, it was still such an impressive sight. Not far outside Kumamoto, we saw this massive mountainous ridge from the train (“we” meaning the other passengers and me–I noticed them staring at it too), and it was the ring around the Aso caldera. which is 11km by 24km in area. And inside, when we were at the train station/visitors center (right in the center of the caldera), it was crazy–you could turn in a full circle and that wall of mountains would always be there. They reminded me vaguely of Shikoku’s, except these felt a bit different.

I caught a bus from the visitors center to Kusasenri (“Land of 1000 Grasses”–a grassy field that covers numerous extinct volcanoes) and the Aso Volcano Museum. We passed no fewer than three extinct volcanic peaks, and I’m sure there were more the fog was obscuring–they were really beautiful. There’s just this really gorgeous aesthetic quality the gradual sloping of a volcano has for me, and the furrows and trenches carved out in their surfaces by the lava or pyroclastic flows…they’re these majestic, powerful natural figures that use these incredible shows of fire and power to destroy as well as create. All that grass grew on those areas because volcanic soil is extremely fertile. Just across the street from the museum are two ponds and a big ridge in the middle, surrounded by another ring–the crater of an extinct volcano. The ridge in the middle is an ancient lava dome and the two ponds take the place of where lava and other elements from within the earth would surface. It was a really surreal feeling, to know we’d scaled an ancient volcano and were hanging out in its center.

I’m definitely going to have to make longer trips to each of these areas. There are youth hostels in Unzen and Aso–I’m totally up for spending a weekend in each place, and eventually returning to check out Kirishima. (Maybe I’ll drive–they’re all mountain roads, but they at least have one lane going each direction, instead of one lane for two cars like on Shikoku.) We have a long weekend in October, but that may be too soon…but if I don’t go then, it may start to get too cold. It was surprisingly cold on Aso yesterday–we were at a higher elevation, which would explain it, but I was actually shivering from the wind-fog combination. I’m bring jeans and a fleece next time for sure. Aso Museum was very dated, very 70s…and very hilarious. It was really entertaining–they showed this film with a totally 70s-era soundtrack…but it had some really incredible views of the inside of the Naka-dake crater, which I would’ve hiked and seen if the fog hadn’t forced them to shut it for the day. It’s huge. I really felt disappointed that I had to miss that.

Speaking of comparisons to Shikoku, the trains on Kyushu are gorgeous. The Kamome Express between Fukuoka and Nagasaki is the swankiest train I’ve ever been on. Unfortunately, it had leather seats, but I couldn’t really avoid that at all, short of standing for 2 hours. There’s also the Relay Tsubame, which you can take (for example) from Kumamoto to Kagoshima–you stop in Shin-Yatsushiro and just cross between your train and an adjacent one, which is a waiting Tsubame Shinkansen, the new Kyushu one that runs south to Kagoshima. It’s so much nicer than the Nozomi is…the seats and flooring and everything are really nice. But I guess the Kyushu Shinkansen trains don’t have to carry as many people as the massive 16-car Nozomi trains do.

Okay, it’s a beautiful day–I’m going to head out and check out this city and its temperamental volcano. Talk to you guys soon!

Live from Fukuoka

Just a FYI if the previous post didn’t go through. I’m going to try to keep up a kind of photoblog via my keitai–check Flickr for the latest.

I’m off to get some fresh air before the 2-hour express train to Nagasaki. The weather may be calm enough to let me visit Unzen tomorrow after all! I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Have a good weekend, guys!

Wrapping up the preparations

Okay, so pretty much everything’s packed, except for a couple of shirts that should dry by morning, my battery charger, my notebook with the list of things I need to pack and the info on veggie/Indian restaurants in the cities I’m going to and the directions to the youth hostel I’m staying at in Nagasaki, and some of my toiletries, which I still need in the morning. My backpack (Sally’s, actually) is not particularly heavy, surprisingly, considering that I have 5 days’ worth of stuff, Lonely Planet Japan, and two leisure reading books included. Maybe I can manage this.

I’m going to work and leaving at the tail end of my lunch break. I hope I can get through my two classes on 4 hours of sleep; I can certainly catch up on the trains, but I have to make it through that half-a-workday first.

I called Michelle tonight with a couple of questions–she said that so far, every day has been beautiful up until the evening, when the rain started. I really hope that trend will continue for the rest of this week–that would explain the wildly conflicting and fluctuating forecasts on the multiple weather sites I’ve been consulting.

So, yeah, this is pretty much it! I’m off to Kyushu in just under 12 hours. I doubt I’ll be posting here at all until Monday evening, but check out my Flickr account in case I post any cellphone photos/captions there. (And yeah, I know, I still haven’t uploaded any images of my (fabulous) car. I’ll get around to that sooner or later.)

Yay for four hours of sleep. Ganbarimasu, yo. Have a good long weekend, those of you in Japan, and see you on the flip side!


In the timeless words of Darien Fawkes, “Aw, crap.”*

It looks like it’s going to be raining all week on Kyushu. There’s a really good chance my volcano tour, the one I’ve been planning meticulously for at least a month now, is going to be rained out! And it isn’t just rain, but thunderstorms, so it’s not the best idea to be outside for prolonged periods of time.

Well, our sports day is most likely rained out for tomorrow, which means we have a full workday instead (yecch), which also means that I’ll have a lot of downtime, to plan my Monday morning elementary school (I get the rest of the day off, in return for going in tomorrow), and to come up with contingency plans. Luckily, I’m staying in big cities the whole time, and not in hostels or with ALTs in the middle of nowhere. There should be plenty for me to do, and I can always come back…but I know I’ll still really regret it if I can’t do what I’d set out to achieve–witness real volcanic activity and visit some of the more active and largest volcanoes in the world, and satisfy my volcano/geology-geek cravings. Aw, crap, indeed.

*I’ve been re-watching season 1 of The Invisible Man lately, courtesy of BitTorrent–it was a short-lived, 2-season original Sci-Fi Channel show from 2000 to 2002 (what is it with me and short-lived shows, huh?) that had a nice amount of slapstick comedy and wit in it, as well as the typical sci-fi/urban-fantastic elements. It wasn’t the most high-end or elaborate production, like Farscape or other Sci-Fi productions, but it had a fair amount going for it.

Drivers, beware

Man, what a week. I’ve been pulling 10-hour days the last few days so we can cram properly for the speech contest. I’m also going in tomorrow morning for several hours.

The biggest piece of news this week, though: I CAN OFFICIALLY DRIVE! It’s terrifying, but it’s terrifyingly legal. I want to head to the city after our speech contest prep tomorrow (to finally pick up my bow–the rehairing was supposed to be done in 10 (business?) days and they were supposed to call me, but it’s been 3 weeks and I haven’t heard from them yet), and I think I’ll try to drive–why bother dropping somewhere between 2000-3000 yen on train fare when I have a car? (I have a car. Hahah! That’s going to take some getting used to.) I just hope I remember exactly where to turn once I get into the city, but I think it should be fine.

My JTE is also back from her two month research sabbatical in England! She brought me some lovely afternoon tea, and brought some really rocking British snack food as her staffroom omiyage–biscuits, tea, fudge…she also got all the female teachers small bags from Harrod’s. Ooh, sophistication. Unfortunately, she’s still really jetlagged–it’s made for some really comedic moments during our speech contest prep, though. She apparently started to doze yesterday, though I missed it until her head jerked up and she gasped an apology.

Today, though, her voice started going fuzzy and she got that heavy-lidded look I recognize all too well from way too many afternoons at my desk at the BOE. I glanced over at Chisa (our speech girl) and noticed her glancing at me–she grinned, and I tried not to laugh but couldn’t help it, and my JTE woke up immediately. The worst part, though, was that I just couldn’t keep a straight face–every time we repeated that sentence (and we did repeat it quite a bit), I started snickering, and I finally had to leave the room to compose myself, which made them crack up.

I also noticed that Chisa caught a mosquito that had been bugging us (pun intended, har-har). I noticed this on the tail end of asking my JTE if my wording on a sentence in the speech was okay, and murmured, “yokatta!” when I saw my student do the deed. My JTE looked over at me then and said, in a very encouraging and grateful voice, “Oh, you did a really good job!” I looked at her in surprise, and thanked her, and then realized that she thought I was relieved because she approved of the wording, and she must have thought I was nervous that she would rip apart my speech or something. I clarified quickly, and we all started laughing again.

I feel a lot more at ease this year–granted, I already knew Chisa to some extent before this all started, and I’ve been here for a year and am far more comfortable in my “teaching skin,” and I feel okay about interrupting my JTE to make suggestions while we’re having Chisa repeat sentences at us and stuff (she’s okay with it, too–I seriously have one of the coolest JTEs in the ken). It makes for a more relaxed atmosphere, which is cool–last year, I know Hitomi and Mizuki were both nervous around me, and it took us a while to warm up to each other, because I was new (as far as we all were concerned).

In other news…there isn’t much else, really. I finally talked to Michelle in Kagoshima for about an hour last night, and it was good to hear she’s doing well–I’ll be staying with her for 2 of my 5 nights on Kyushu. I’m doing Tatami Timeshare in Kumamoto and possibly on my last night in Fukuoka as well. I really need to start packing, and to figure out what kind of bag to take with me–a backpack seems like the best thing, but I don’t want to buy one just for this trip, you know? I have a duffel bag, but I’d rather keep the weight even on both shoulders if I can’t find a locker and have to take my stuff with me.

We have a sports day on Sunday (the fun kind, with games and stuff that the teachers can participate in), and we get Monday off in return–but I have a Monday morning elementary school, so I’m going in for that and then taking the rest of the day off. Tuesday and Wednesday are just my junior high, and I’m leaving just after lunch Wednesday to head to Kyushu. It’s just a week away! I can’t freaking wait…I’m going to be just a couple of miles away from one of Japan’s most active volcanoes by this time next week. YES.

A huge hurdle crossed

This day feels long enough to have been two days–I actually thought it was Tuesday night already, but alas, no; my Double-Length Class of Doom is tomorrow, and I still haven’t planned for it. In my defense, I only just got home from Tokushima City about an hour ago.

After my first elementary class this morning (I love my Monday-morning school; even though I was a little rusty and didn’t quite have as good control of the class as usual, the teacher was totally cool, and the kids were asking me a ton of questions to fill my awkward oops-I’ve-forgotten-how-to-teach-shougakusei gaps), I came back to my BOE because I had no junior high classes today, and then I realized, wait, if I have nothing going on, why don’t I go to the city and get this car title/insurance transfer taken care of? And so I did–after scrambling to get all my papers together, not being able to find Katie’s inkan shoumeisho (a certificate proving that her inkan/personal stamp is indeed hers–in Japan, personal stamps are used in place of signatures for official documents) and then having it turn up on my BOE desk of all places, and then nearly getting lost trying to find the not-easily-pedestrian-or-train-station-accessible Land Transport Bureau, and then having the guys agonize over Katie’s inkan for 5 minutes because they thought it looked a millimeter too slim to match up with the stamps in the documents…oy.

At any rate, it’s done. It’s actually done! All I have to do is apply for the secondary insurance, to make sure my passengers are insured, which I’m fairly sure I can do this week itself (probably Thursday afternoon), and then I can drive! All these weeks and months of stressful agony will be OVER!

I also bought my rail pass and roundtrip Ikeda/Fukuoka ticket today, since I went into the city after I finished all this. It’s nice to finally have those in hand–it makes this trip seem more real and more immediate (NEXT WEDNESDAY). There’s a lot I have to do–I’m still not sure if I should take a backpack or work with the shoulder bag I have, and if I should try to borrow a big backpack or buy one of my own.

I also picked up some gifts for my BOE–a box of cinnamon shortbread butter cookies for the BOE staff to show my thanks to them for…well, okay, besides my former boss, they didn’t do much on the whole besides “give me moral support” and sign off on the paid vacation I took to do all this, but you know, it’s a nice gesture (plus, these cookies look really delicious, and by giving them to the BOE, I’ll get to try them as well!). I also bought a small box of chocolates for the BOE lady who drove over a half-hour out of her way to pick up Katie’s inkan for me last week, and a big box of cookies in a beautiful tin for my supervisor, who’s had to deal with so much crap on my behalf. (Oh, I forgot to get something for Katie’s supervisor, who’s also done a lot, and who I’ll be meeting when I go to return Katie’s inkan…whoops. Oh well, I have time to get something.) I have no idea how my boss could remain so patient and friendly with me, considering how stressful this has been, since she ended up doing most of the research and fact-finding on my behalf. I’ll be getting her something really nice from Kyushu as well–she’s totally gone above and beyond, and I’m so grateful to her. She’s warm enough towards me that if it weren’t a supervisor-employee situation, I would definitely refer to her as and consider her to be a friend (especially because I found out that she’s only around 3 years older than I am!). She already is, really. I wish we could hang out outside of work sometime.

Crap, I really need to go plan for my Double-Length Class of Doom, but I want to throw in this conversation I just had with Moshe:

Jehsom: what’s a sumimasen??
Jehsom: curse word?
jediAndorus: Sumimasen = excuse me.
Jehsom: oh
jediAndorus: Why? Where’d you see it? ;o)
Jehsom: in your blog!!
jediAndorus: LOL–which entry?
Jehsom: the latest???? Do you not remember what you write? lol
jediAndorus: It’s been a really long day. ;o)
jediAndorus: Oh–hahaha!
jediAndorus: Yeah, sorry. I just politely excused myself since he was sort of standing there. I wouldn’t curse out some old man just for staring at me, dude. 😛 😉
Jehsom: lol, it would have been cooler though

Yep, that’s me, cursing out hapless, thunder-struck, ojiisans who aren’t used to foreigners. You know it!

Skirts and volcanoes

I actually wore a skirt in public yesterday–besides wearing skirts to class, I mean. I felt kind of feminine, which I usually don’t since I’m vaguely tomboy-ish and always wear jeans/capris. It was kind of cool and I actually liked wearing it (the things Japan does to a person, huh?)…and it suited the surprisingly cool and refreshing evening as well. It was truly wonderful weather.

When walking to Sunshine to do some shopping after work, I passed this lady, who saw me, blinked, and asked me in halting English where I was from. We chatted briefly and I fell into step with her–her daughter had been to New York for two weeks. As we approached the grocery store, she suddenly and abruptly said, “Bye.” I asked her if she was going to Sunshine and she said she was, and I told her I was as well, and she nodded, smiled, and said, “Bye,” again. I shrugged and made sure to put space between us since she obviously wanted to do her own shopping–and when I bumped into her in the store, she just stared at me without smiling. Strange…

On my way home after said shopping, after passing through the line of the girl with that crazy-awesome accent (instead of “arigatou,” she says, “arigite”), I was cutting through the parking lot of the big pachinko parlor to take my uphill shortcut home, and there was this elderly man just standing there in the lot, staring at me. I moved to the left to pass him, and he moved to his right, as if to block my way! I kind of paused for a second, but moved back to my right and murmured a “Sumimasen” as I passed him. He didn’t make any move to stop me again.

Maybe it was the skirt. You never know, right?

Well, anyway–it’s the weekend and I’m relaxing like crazy. There’s a huge beach party just across the border in northeastern Kochi, but it’s far and a big hassle and I’m not there–I wasn’t there last year either. I’m hoping to get some stuff done around town (like actually booking my shink tickets and rail pass for Kyushu) and maybe hike back up to Rengenji, the “minor Shikoku 88” temple in our town, just to do some walking and take in the beautiful weather. I’m also considering walking all the way out to the Hashikura area to get some gelato–that’ll take several hours roundtrip, though. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

I’m also actually making real physical plans for my Kyushu trip! (It’s about time, considering I’ll be there in two weeks.) When I was in the city last Monday to get my driver’s license, I went by Warp (Waap?) Travel in Tokushima Station and discovered a rail pass that, while increasing the cost of my train travel considerably, makes my itinerary a lot more relaxed and less redundant/overlapping–and no 1 AM departure time! Tatami Timeshare’s also covering my night in Kumamoto and at least one of my nights in Kagoshima, so far. I need to find places to stay for my other night in Kagoshima, and my nights in Nagasaki and Fukuoka, too.

Oh, and I guess I should plan my lessons for next week, too–five of my six elementary schools start up again.

Anyway, I’m off to enjoy the rest of this day–have a good weekend!