Travel plans

It hit me yesterday, and hit me quite hard, that I’ll be leaving Japan in just six months. I can’t believe I’ve already arrived at this, my three-fourth-of-the-way-through point. I really just cannot believe it. It’s the end of January? January, 2007? Are you kidding me? What the [edited since my relatives are reading] happened to 2006?

I spent a while yesterday seriously thinking about all the trips, major and minor, that I’d like to take before I leave, while I’m on this side of the world. February and March are both pretty much tied up by the musical, but I think almost all of my list is doable, if I double up and do a couple of long-weekend trips in a month. So far, give or take, it consists of:

  • Kyushu:
    • back to Aso and Unzen, spending the night at each place
    • Nagasaki
    • Beppu/Oita?
  • Koyasan
  • Okinawa
  • northern Honshu volcanoes*
  • Hokkaido: Sapporo, volcanoes*
  • Australia (Melbourne, to visit a longtime online friend…other than that, anything’s fine)
  • New Zealand (volcanoes, and just a cool place to be)
  • Korea (specifically, Seoul with Sara and Julie over spring break)?

*there are a ton of volcanoes…I’m just after some major contenders

And, far less likely, due to the dangers of wielding an American passport here…

  • Indonesia – volcanoes (Anak Krakatau, Bromo, Merapi…), Bali, Jakarta

There’s also the Wishful Thinking list…

  • China (wherever–that sounds so touristy to say, but I’d be happy seeing any number of things, and I am a tourist)
  • Hong Kong
  • Tibet
  • India again (if I do decide to come back for Awa Odori in mid-August upon the completion of my contract, I’m considering visiting relatives in India for those few weeks in between)

As of last night, I’m now definitely going to South Korea with Julie, Sara, and a friend of Sara’s for sure on their 5-day trip over spring break. We’ll be going to Seoul, and maybe out of the city as well…apparently vegetarian food’s a big part of the diet there, but I still should work on learning how to say some key dietary phrases in Korean. We’ll be leaving Japan via Fukuoka (possibly flying there and catching a ferry back), which is extremely convenient, because I was thinking of doing my Kyushu Volcano Tour Redo over spring break as well (and Julie may join me), so if I can ship my bag of Kyushu stuff to a hotel or someplace in Fukuoka to hang on for me, I can swap bags in Fukuoka and ship my bag of Korea stuff back to Ikeda upon our arrival.

On top of that, I’m seriously considering going to Okinawa for a few days before these two trips as well. We have two weeks off from school, though those are still technically workdays, but I’m going to ask for unpaid leave during that time, to save my vacation days for Australia (which I’d like to do over Golden Week–if not for Korea, I was seriously considering doing a week in AU and a week in New Zealand, if I could find travel buddies) and Honshu/Hokkaido.

That’s all that’s even remotely official at the moment. Those two weeks will be crazy, but so worth it.

I swear, I’ll start writing more than once a week

So much for writing more often, huh? It’s been a busy week. To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot from last week. I finished our musical’s poster, with no shedding of blood, sweat, or tears, but with copious amounts of frustration at my laptop because I was working with an enormous PSD file and would sometimes have to wait several minutes for Photoshop to stop “thinking.” At least it’s finally done.

There was some comic relief on Friday, when I went back to my BOE after my afternoon elementary school class to try making copies of the poster using the high-speed printer. I didn’t understand the terminology that went with the errors that popped up when I first turned it on, so one person came in to help me. She solved that, and then another message came up, so I called her back in, and she and another guy came that time. We then called in another guy, who in turn called in another–if you’re keeping count, that’s five people now–and he finally fixed the issue…only, after all that, to have the printouts come out way too light. My boss said I could use the office copier to make about 10 copies, since it’s a toner-heavy printout, and I ended up making the rest at my local Lawson (Japan-wide convenience store) the next day.

I played a game with my smaller elementary school classes last week that we played at the Miyoshi-gun ALT/JTE enkai last year, the animal gestures game–each person chooses an animal and comes up with a gesture for it, and then everyone sits in a circle and claps (slap your knees twice and clap your hands in a “We Will Rock You” sort of way), and one person does his/her own gesture and then that of another person, and whoever has that second gesture does their own and then someone else’s, and so on. I didn’t dare attempt it with my rowdy class of 30 kids, but I’ll be doing it with all the others. It was a big success in all the classes I’ve done it in so far, even though it actually doesn’t involve any English (I teach the kids the English names before we start the game), and I actually had a slightly hard-to-please teacher tell me, “Today’s game was very good!” My kids usually make me smile, but this was the first time in a long time that we all were laughing together. It was a good feeling.

Saturday, I drove out to Komatsushima to the musical rehearsal/prop-building day, which was fun. It was my first rehearsal–my part is very small (since I’m putting in a lot of time with publicity and may be helping out backstage) but crucial, but we can’t do it until the props are finished. (I’m the person extending Pinocchio’s nose. I may also be Monstro the shark–we’ll see.) Afterwards, I went with Chris, James, and Ken up to Kitajima to dinner, where we ran into Kirsten, Joey, Genna, and Sarah, who were trying to see Marie Antoinette, but the showing they wanted to make was sold out, so we all had dinner together at Capricciosa. I ended up going with Ken and James to see The Pursuit of Happyness (on its opening night–we caught the 8:50 late show, which is actually cheaper than the day tickets are, so I only paid ¥1100 for my ticket, instead of the usuan ¥1800), which I think we all really enjoyed. Will Smith gave a wonderful performance, and his son is adorable.

Yesterday, I drove up to Takamatsu, but when I stopped to get gas, I asked the attendant to refill my tires, because my front left one was quite low…and it turned out I had a tack in that tire. I’d actually had it there for much of the previous day, but I didn’t realize that was why it was so low! It was really lucky that they caught that. They fixed and filled it, but it delayed me enough that I had to call to push back my haircut appointment, and then half-speedwalked and half-ran to the salon to make it there on time. I spent the rest of the day wandering and shopping and got home kind of late.

And this morning, I completely forgot that my Monday morning elementary class was canceled, so I left home at my usual 8:45 (no point in going to my BOE or junior high for just 15 minutes) and went so far that I could actually see the school before I remembered, and turned around and went back to my junior high. Heh, oops. At least it was a beautiful drive, but the weather’s getting a lot colder–I keep forgetting my gloves, but I definitely need to put them on tomorrow because my hands were numb and pink from the cold when I got to work. It’s one of those times where I’m actually glad my desk is right next to the Kerosene Monster.

Today I’m sleepy and trying to plan my double-length class for tomorrow, and…that’s about it? I could really use some coffee–I wish we had milk in the fridge, but the leftover milk cartons are given away/thrown out on Fridays and there won’t be any in the fridge till after lunch. Wish me luck trying to stay awake.

Not a moment’s rest

I just got back from part 1 of the Miyoshi City International Society’s New Years get-together, where they invite all the Miyoshi City ALTs to get together for some good ol’ fashioned internationalization. Two of my eikaiwa ladies helped to organize it, along with others around town that I got to know through Lindsay (the karate teacher, the professional cyclist who helps his mother run the family children’s clothing store, the flower shop owner), and it was good seeing them and getting to chat with them again.

The only thing was that this was for all the Miyoshi City ALTs (eight out of the 10 westies–two are in Higashi-Miyoshi-cho, or East Miyoshi Town, separate from our city)…but not a single other ALT was able to make it, so it was just me. I also didn’t realize that TV and newspaper reporters (and camerapeople) would be there. It was a bit daunting.

I’m going to be on NHK tomorrow morning at 7:30, playing new years games with the Miyoshi City International Society and giving a slightly nervous speech about how the new year is a bigger deal in Japan than it is in the US or India, and all we do is go to parties and maybe shoot off some firecrackers. I’m also going to be in a newspaper this week, so I guess watch for me if you want.

It was fun, though, once I got over the initial nerves and just went with it, but it was a bit stressful as well, being constantly on display, being asked to stand here and there and pose for the camera and stuff, but it was all right. There was also a (cute, my-height-ish) guy there whose name I’ve already forgotten, but he’s young-ish, maybe around my age, and he speaks great English because he spent a year and a half living and working in the US, in New York and Memphis, and he’s been to Atlanta a few times as well.

Part 2 is dinner at the restaurant across the street, the one that Batty Gasping Lady owns. She’s kind of been stalking us lately, and has taken a real liking to Ashley–she came to our apartments several times yesterday to see if we would be coming today; I managed to not see her at all, but she’s actually kind of been keeping tabs on us, so last night when we were heading to Burns Supper, Chalice was lurking in the shadows outside the door, because the woman totally watches our building and keeps tabs on us from her restaurant.

Anyway…I really hoped I could rest today, and work on the musical poster all day, because the last few days have been pretty eventful. Thursday and Friday were our Mid-Year Seminar, which every prefecture/designated city has. It’s a really useful seminar with good panels that the ALTs/JTEs put on, and we had a great keynote lecturer. It was also just really cool getting to hang out with a lot of my ALT friends that I only rarely see. Yesterday was a musical rehearsal that I skipped to work on the poster, and last night was Burns Supper, which was a lot of fun, and where a lot of good poetry and prose was read–some serious and moving, some just hilarious.

And now, it’s 15 minutes till dinner…time to head out. I had a lot I wanted to do today, but oh well, maybe tomorrow night.

I’m I was a pathetic Photoshop user

I had a bit of griping here about the musical poster, but I figured it out on my own. Dignity saved!

In recent good news, my jacket was delivered on Sunday, I found the Uniqlo in Kawanoe (as well as the Seto Inland Sea coastline), and Brian, Julie, Ashley, Gilly, and I drove up to Zentsuuji last night to Tonari no Indo-Jin for a great evening of hanging out and eating wonderful food, and they loved the restaurant and the food (Brian and Ashley in particular are big fans of Indian food, too). The owner and chef totally remembered me and were happy to see me, and the owner asked to take our group photo for a Polaroid board of customers they have going. Look for the one with, “♥ Love from Tokushima” scrawled down the side. So, once again–if you find yourself in west-central Kagawa Prefecture, Tonari no Indo-Jin in Zentsuuji–very friendly employees, a really cool atmosphere, and fantastic Indian food.

Anyway, tonight’s spent on cleaning up my apartment (as in, finally emptying my suitcases and putting them away!) and slogging away at the poster. Tomorrow kicks off our two-day Mid-Year Seminar, and I’m staying with some friends in the city. Saturday brings a musical rehearsal I’ll be skipping in favor of working on the poster (I actually am in this year’s musical, but I asked for a very minimal part so I don’t have to make every rehearsal…and since I’m volunteering to help out backstage and am single-handedly doing both the poster and the playbill/programme, I think they understand) and getting my poetry and food together for Burns Supper on Saturday night. It promises to be a really awesome time.

Been a while…

Hey–sorry about the long hiatus. I just didn’t really feel like writing much else while I was home, and I was simultaneously busy and jetlagged for my first week back home. Happy New Year, firstly, and best wishes for 2007. (Happy Pongal, secondly. I’m a bad Tamilian–I totally forgot about it, though we never really had a huge celebration of it at home, and it isn’t like I could do much from here…but I’m getting a group together to go to that amazing Indian restaurant in Zentsuuji tomorrow night, so maybe that’s something.)

The trip home was fantastic. I got to see my best friends, spend an excellent evening with my orchestra friends, and even catch up on the phone for 45 minutes with Hannah out in Seattle, formerly my downstairs neighbor here in Japan. I ate lots of different foods, engaged in true Americana by joining Terry and Ryan for a game of Bingo (which was, amazingly, a lot of fun), toured the Atlanta Ikea for the first time and played Design Consultant for Hamza, readjusted to western driving (and even got caught in classic Atlanta I-285 rush-hour traffic)…played a lot of Scrabble with my family, helped my brother practice for his driving test (and took him to the test, only to find out he had to be accompanied by a parent), and slept and ate a lot.

It was also just really great being back in Atlanta, back in a city I’m familiar with, and with such familiar sights around me. I definitely did get the sense this time that I was 6 months removed, even though I did just snap right back into my routine, but…yeah. Absence has made this heart grow fonder…in some ways.

My trip back to Japan was not nearly as eventful as the trip to Atlanta (though I was almost tempted tofind a way to make myself sick enough so I could pass out and be upgraded this time around…almost)–besides needing an extra suitcase for all my food and omiyage, and besides getting to the airport around 3:30 AM and hanging out with my parents for an hour or so before I finally left them so they could go sleep before their workday started, and besides realizing that I’d left my thick winter coat in our hall closet (they shipped it the next day and it just arrived yesterday–Atlanta was ridiculously warm, while Tokyo…really wasn’t, but luckily, I had multiple fleeces/sweaters), that’s really about it. The veg meals on the way back were Indian-themed, and there were actually mini-samosas in one of them!

In Tokyo, after dropping my two suitcases off to be shipped back to Tokushima (why don’t they have a similar service in most American airports? ¥3000 to ship 2 suitcases halfway across the country is insanely reasonable!), I found my way to the platform for the Narita Express to get back to Tokyo Station, and ran into an ALT named Allison in Fukushima Prefecture, who’s good friends with people who Louise used to be good friends with when she lived there last year, and Allison had in fact heard of Louise. We ended up being seated next to each other, and made jetlag-induced-drowsy conversation for a while, and parted ways at Tokyo Station, as I found my way to my hotel room and then collapsed without eating dinner.

The next day, I wandered around Shibuya and Harajuku–it took me about 30 minutes to find the famed Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station and the world’s most populated pedestrian crosswalk, mainly because I’m a huge idiot. I went up to the Tsutaya Starbucks (where scenes from Lost in Translation were also shot) and tried to snap a touristy photo or two. I also discovered another multistory Loft store, which rivals the one in Osaka, and found the paper lamps I’ve been coveting for many months, so after much deliberation, I bought two, and I love them. I really hope they work stateside. I had lunch at a surprisingly crowded Indian restaurant where a bunch of Indian programmers also had come out for the lunch buffet–the main waiter, a friendly guy, was from Mumbai but he’d spent a while in Madras, so he could (and did) speak some Tamil. I also found a stationery store that sold cards that say, “You are not ugly” on them, of such a design that you’re meant to write uplifting messages on them and give them to friends who apparently are indeed feeling ugly. I totally bought one.

I headed to Harajuku in the afternoon–it was a Sunday, so it was incredibly packed, but I unfortunately didn’t get to see many decked-out punk/lolita/cosplay girls, except for the ones standing along that main teen-haven arcade and advertising their stores. I ended up having jasmine tea and cake at a barren but charming cafe, before deciding to head back to Shibuya for dinner.

The massive Shibuya crosswalk was a lot more impressive by night–neon, lots of it, and people everywhere. For dinner I wanted to go to a British pub, which I’d read about and had found earlier in the day, but I couldn’t find it again; I then found TGI Friday’s and figured I’d give that a try, but the wait was huge, so I braved the vomit-scented hallways below and had Mexican at a western-cantina-style restaurant (complete with the free nachos and mild, watery salsa–or “saabisu,” as they say in Japan) in the basement of the same building.

The next day, I headed back to Tokyo Station and caught a Fukuoka/Hakata-bound Nozomi Shinkansen, making sure to get there in time to grab the nonsmoking nonreserved car and make the mad dash for a right-hand-side window seat. I was able to score one, which was incredibly fortunate, because it was a clear day…and about an hour out of Tokyo, Mount Fuji came into sight. It was…magnificent. I definitely understand why people claim it’s the most perfect mountain in the world–I really don’t think I’ve seen many other sites that could have rivaled the sheer beauty of that mountain, and I’m not saying that just because I’m a volcanophile. I snapped a few photos to attempt to capture that same feeling of elated glory, and most of them are up on Flickr now.

And since then…I came home to find a bunch of greeting cards and my Secret Santa gift (a couple of mix CDs, a postcard, and colorful toe socks, from Jami) waiting for me, as well as ¥5000 in Visa Gift Card gift certificates due to some sort of random holiday drawing/contest/campaign my ISP put on! Sweet! I think I may use them on merchandise, but we’ll see. In addition, my apartment’s been an eternal mess, and I’ve gone back to school and handed out nearly all my omiyage and combatted jetlag knocking me out at 9 PM nightly for all of last week, even if I drank coffee to force myself to stay awake.

Friday was more eventful, in a bittersweet sense–I turned in my recontracting papers with “I have decided not to renew my contract” circled, and I felt tears come to my eyes when I did it. My boss looked similarly regretful…but I’m officially down to my last 6-7 months here now, and am resolving to make the best of them.

On a much less optimistic note, I was hit by this really strong wave of depression/homesickness on Friday, which was truly horrible timing because our start-of-term enkai was that night, which I dragged myself to…there were a few good moments, but on the whole I was silent and just felt miserable, and I feel really badly about it, because I didn’t want the other teachers to think I was turned off by them.

And then this weekend came and went with scarcely anything noteworthy, besides resting up (I was going to go to a pierogi/latke-making party, but I felt really tired, and got my fill of potato goodness by eating baked french fries instead), and now it’s Monday. I have the poster for this year’s musical to work on ASAP, and our Mid-Year Seminar is Thursday and Friday, with our annual Burns’ Supper poetry/haggis meetup on Saturday.

Subsequent entries will be shorter and a lot more frequent. Sorry! But even though I know that about 1/4 of my hits are from my dad, thanks to the rest of you for continuing to check in regularly–I really appreciate it!