Feel-good moments of the day

Yesterday, I went to the bedding store on the 3rd floor of Sunrise (the tallest building in Ikeda, at 5 stories tall plus a basement–the one with CaDen/Matsuya Denki in the basement, Daily Mart on the ground floor, and the Daiso ¥100 store on the 4th floor) and bought a new futon set so that whichever family member is sleeping in my apartment (as opposed to sleeping in Hannah’s apartment downstairs) has something to sleep on next week, and someone from the store very kindly gave me a ride to my apartment and carried the futons up the stairs for me. Today, I went back to the same store in search of thick bedsheets, because the futons were pretty big (actually, they’re big enough that I don’t think I can fit both sets into my oshiire, much less my kotatsubuton…this should be interesting when the weather gets warm again!).

One of the two saleswomen who waited on me yesterday found me today, and we chatted in a friendly way and joked about my (lack of) space situation as she showed me the comforters. Because there were a ton of them, and I’d nearly dozed off a couple of times while at the office (seriously, according to the thermometer, they’d kept it at 26 degrees Celsius inside (79 degrees Fahrenheit), while it was -1 outside (30 degrees Fahrenheit)), I was in a bit of a daze and wasn’t paying attention to my diction when I tried to tell the saleswoman that it was going to take me some time to decide. I ended up saying, “I’ll stay here for a while and decide, and then I’ll go over there–” *pointing at the area near the counter* “–and we’ll talk.”

She smiled and went to go straighten out some of the sheets on the end of the row instead, and it hit me that I had just said something pretty rude–the equivalent of, “Okay, so you go wait over there, and I’ll summon you when I’m ready.” So I apologized for being rude–she seemed surprised at my apology, but when I explained and said that she must be busy and that I didn’t want to take up so much of her time, she laughed, squeezed my arm endearingly, and then said (in Japanese), “My English isn’t so great, but…” (and then in hesitant English) “Please call me if you need anything.”

When I went to make my purchases, the gentleman who’d driven me to my apartment yesterday was behind the counter, and a minute later she came over as well. He ended up driving me to my apartment again, and on our way out of the store, she grabbed my arm again and invited me to please come back any time I wanted so she had a chance to practice her English with me. I realized that I forgot to get a spare set of sheets for my own set of futons, and the store’s running a promotion where any purchases made through today earn us a chance to win something free tomorrow (or today, rather, now that it’s Friday) from an array of merchandise up on the 5th floor–I’ll be sure to drop by again.

In the evening, I got an IM from Louise asking me if I’d checked out the news. Her town, Inawashiro, had been hit by a blizzard, and the buses and trains weren’t running. Considering that the buses and trains stopped here for just a couple of inches of snow, and considering that they’ve regularly had a couple of feet of snow up there, I don’t want to know exactly what “blizzard” means. Anyway, she was really worried because she was going to catch a train into Koriyama, the biggest city in her precture and a city which wasn’t really affected by the blizzard (huh, I somehow typed “hurricane” without realizing it), and she had to catch a shinkansen from Koriyama to Tokyo to catch her plane back to the US for the holidays. She said that a friend could maybe give her a ride, but she really didn’t know for sure, and taxis were so expensive…but in the end, she opted for a taxi.

And that’s where I came in. She’s learned a little bit of Japanese since coming here, but not nearly enough to converse, so she asked me if I could call her local taxi company and have them send a taxi to her place. I was more than happy to do so. I ended up calling twice–once I said that I was a friend of the Inawashiro English teacher, he immediately asked me if her name was Louise and her address was ___; his immediacy caught me off-guard (he even knew what time her train from Koriyama was, when I hadn’t even explicitly mentioned that she was catching another train from there–just that she wanted to be there by such-and-such time).

It took me a couple of minutes to make him realize that I wanted him to dispatch a taxi for 7:15, and not 7:45. During the first phone call, he kept saying, “Shichiji yonjuugofun” (shichi = 7, ji = hour, yonjuu = 40 (yon = 4, juu = 10), go = 5, fun = minute), and I kept saying, “No, juugofun,” only to have him come back with, “yonjuugofun,” in such a way that I wondered if he’d misheard me. It turned out, though, that he thought I’d misheard him; I finally had to say, “No, she wants her taxi a half-hour before that,” before he got it. He suggested that she walk down to the train station and grab one of the taxis in front, but she couldn’t with all her luggage, and she didn’t want to go through the hassle of figuring out how to explain to the driver that she wanted to stop by her apartment before heading to Koriyama, so I called the taxi company back and actually had one sent over to her place, and we argued over the time again, him insisting that 7:45 would be fine and 7:15 would put her there almost an hour early.

Maybe it’s an American mentality versus a Japanese one–we’re so used to arriving at airports 2 hours in advance for domestic flights and 3 hours in advance for international, while in Japan you only have to be at your gate 30 minutes before domestic departures and 1 hour before international ones. We like to leave plenty of time and don’t mind getting there early with time to spare, and they like to be more precise.

At any rate, though, she has a way to catch her shinkansen. She’s been looking forward to this trip for such a long time, and I do envy her because she’ll most likely be running into a lot of our friends from Georgia Tech who are also home for the holidays (I told her to let me know if they get together, because I definitely want to call and say hi to everyone). I almost wish I’d gone back to Atlanta instead of my family coming here, but while they’re here we’ll be exploring new places without depleting all of my vacation days. But at least I did my part to help her out–and it’s kind of cool that I was able to do it from something like 450 miles away.

When talking to my dad earlier, the subject of money came up, and I told him that people usually carry 3 or 4 man around with them, 1 man being 10,000 yen or roughly $90 USD. I forgot that Dad didn’t know that, so I told him, “No, I don’t drag around 3 or 4 guys with me everywhere,” to which he responded, “Why not?”

I bought a Christmas tree and ornaments and some lights today at the ¥100 store, finally; it’s hard to believe Christmas is just 2 days away! Now I have a tree on which to hang the adorable Santa ornaments that the people at the Hashikura Special Needs School made for us when we went caroling, as well as the three bell ornaments I bought from India.

My family and I will be together in Osaka in 2 days. According to Dad, I don’t think they’ve started packing yet. Better hurry!

I’m alive

I’m back! I just haven’t posted due to exhaustion and illness. The trip was nonstop, without many chances to rest up, but for the most part it was brilliant–I had such a blast there, met new people, got to become closer to some relatives I rarely see…there are a lot of stories I can tell.

To be honest, it was a lot harder for me to return to Japan than I expected it to be. I was pretty miserable the evening I left Hyderabad. I think a big part of it was just being in a familiar culture and around familiar people, and having to return to something that’s still so foreign, despite how much time I’ve spent here. It was my first time seeing family since I got here, and it made me realize how much I do miss my family and friends back home. It definitely didn’t help that my very first contact in Japan upon my return was a woman at customs who was cheery and all smiles with the Japanese man in line ahead of me, but stopped smiling when she saw me and was cold and brusque towards me.

Somehow, though, I had the fortune of chatting for 20 minutes with an American guy who was an 8-year resident of Japan on the 1st floor of Kansai while we were waiting for our buses home (somehow, I thought my flight landed at 12:30 PM, when it actually landed at 6:30 AM–I had 2 hours to kill before the first bus back to Tokushima, which I was able to score a seat on), and then sat with a really friendly English-speaking Thai gentleman on the bus ride to Tokushima (he even gave me his contact info and encouraged me to contact him if I ever came to Thailand), and then dropped by Big Brother’s for lunch (while getting a grin and a familiar, “Heyyy!” from Dave at the taco stand) and chatted with the American chef (not Norman, the guy from Kansas with the facial hair) and Japanese waitress, both of whom were really warm and lifted my spirits a lot.

And then I got pinkeye. Or bacterial conjunctivitis, as it’s technically known.

I’m doing really well now, though…it first cropped up last night. I took today off because I really felt crappy this morning (my eyes combined with the not-so-bad head cold from Sunday which was considerably magnified when I woke up), so I went to the town doctor (the whole staff is really nice, and it’s always an ego-booster to get “nihongo jouzu!”ed by any Japanese people), and even just after leaving the office, before I’d even taken any medication, my eyes felt a lot better (most likely from the doctor turning my eyelids inside out to examine them, which must have aired out the worst of the bacterial gunk). My cold’s not as bad, either (I caught it while in India–the dust situation there is terrible, so be warned if you’re making a trip over there–when taking off from Hyderabad in the evening, the city lights illuminated the really thick pall of dust and particulates hanging over the city, and it was disgusting to see)…I hope I’ll be feeling up to staying at work the full day tomorrow, and that I won’t have to leave early.

I should go venture into the kitchen and pack up my leftover pasta for lunch tomorrow…and I do say “venture” seriously; I can see my breath in there, and I had to de-numb my hands and feet after spending 15-20 minutes preparing dinner. I won’t be spending much time in there this winter, unless I feel like asking for the kerosene heater promised in my contract that I don’t have. (It really warms a room nicely, but the fumes it puts off are so heady…I use my apartment as a relief from the gas-fume-scented teachers’ rooms and classrooms I go to daily during the week.)

Anyway, good night! More later…maybe; my time in India doesn’t really fit into a journal focusing specifically on Japan, but I’m sure I can pull something relevant to mention here.

India ho!

(I like to say that using Thundercats-esque inflections. But anyway.)

So, barring a few last-minute things, I’m completely packed. I just have to finish cleaning my kitchen, and I still am not sure whether it’s a good idea to pack my (breakable) gifts or if I should bring them as a separate carry-on…at any rate, I have until Tuesday morning to decide.

I’m pretty proud of myself, honestly–I actually packed nearly everything into a carry-on-sized suitcase, and I’ve fit that one inside a medium-sized suitcase, to prep for bringing home a ton of stuff. If it does end up being over 50 pounds (India’s current weight limit per piece of luggage), I can just distribute stuff between the two suitcases. It’s just the gifts I’m concerned about–but if all goes according to plan, I’m catching a 4:17 express train into Tokushima City, arriving around 5:40, so I can go to TOPIA to drop off my orphanage gifts (the Tokushima ALTs have an annual orphanage gift-giving event and visitation; unfortunately, the visitation’s next Saturday, so I can’t attend), and I can put the gifts for India into the bag the orphanage gifts will be in.

Things that haven’t turned up, though I’m sure they will:

  • the US-to-India plug converter (2 rectangular prongs to 2 circular ones instead) my dad gave me before leaving for Japan
  • my 128MB digital camera memory stick (I didn’t lose it–it’s just buried under something somewhere, I’m sure)
  • my black notebook I write everything in (I’m thinking it’s at my desk at the kouminkan, but I’m not going to get to drop by to pick it up)
  • my printouts of Mom’s and my itineraries, though I can easily print those out at school (and if not, I’ll have enough time to scribble them down as soon as I get home)

This evening, I ran all over town doing last-minute errands–buying a new toothbrush holder and a blank VHS tape so I can record The West Wing and Desperate Housewives this week and next week, picking up an early dinner, comparing memory stick prices between Camera Baba and Matsuya Denki (Matsuya won out), and returning the videos I’d rented yesterday to accompany my packing–it was raining. Thundering, even–the first thunderstorm I’ve experienced since coming to Japan. It was just a mild one, though–no more than 6 or 7 thunderclaps, so totally a hiccup compared to Atlanta’s thunderstorms–but they still suck.

Anyway, it was cold and wet and my jeans were soaked to the knee and my hands were freezing inside my gloves…and as I passed near streetlamps, I looked up and wondered why the rain seemed to be falling a bit more slowly than usual. And then it hit me…

It was snowing.

The weather didn’t even seem cold enough to have been in the 30s, yet it was a definite rain/snow mix. Without even realizing it, I stopped grumbling/whining/moping and started grinning–I’m sure the novelty will wear off after the new year, once the weather really starts to get frigid, but I absolutely love the snow. It seems to dull the sharp edge of the cold and make it fresh and wondrous instead, somehow.

Right now, the wind is really howling outside. I wonder if any snow will have stuck, or if it was too slushy?

Okay, I’m going to go wash some dishes and then head to sleep…the last time I packed for an international voyage, I got three hours of sleep (then again, that was packing to actually move to Japan, and I was panicking more than I ever had in my life–granted, I think 3 hours of sleep is sort of the average, from the other ALTs I’ve talked to). Five hours isn’t so bad–it just really stinks that I have a full day of work before all my traveling begins.

Anyway, take care, guys! And if you leave before I get back (Hannah, for example–I’m not going to see her for over a month, because she leaves the day before I get back for her 3 weeks of vacation), happy holidays and travel safe, and I’ll see you next year!