Saturday, September 30, 2006

Week #3 Update: "So an Aussie, a Yank, a Brit and a Canuck walk into a pub..."

Well, here we all are again. It's nice when we get together like this, isn't it? All nestled up next to our screens chatting away about the daily gossip in Japan. I really like our time together, don't you? What was that, I didn't catch it? Hmm, so you don't enjoy our time together. You think you should see other blogs? Uh, I don't exactly know what to say really...Do you think you could give me another chance? It's not me, it's you?!? Oh really now, that's the oldest line in the book! Are you cheating? Have you been looking at other blogs?! You have haven't you! Or worse! You've started your own blog! Oh god, I would be crushed if you did that behind my back...Fine, leave it like this...How about one more weekly update, just for old time's sake.

(Three hours later, I came back to that opening and realized what an odd man I must appear. I think the Japanese water is filled with something that's making me slowly insane. Or maybe it's NOT filled with anything!)

So here goes my Week #3 update:

The work week went off without a hitch. It's really weird being in such a small branch because you see a lot of the same students constantly and you can really judge their progress, or lackthereof, from memory. I've had a lot of students revisit and I am just amazing at their steady increase/drastic decline! I think after a long period of time that's going to get very tiring and I might have to transfer just to get some variety in my life. Can't fall into a rut in Japan, now can I? The problem is that if I do transfer I won't have access to the park. Oh, it's not just any old park like Kinsmen or Downsview back homes, oh no sir! This park is a massive forest smack dab in the middle of Yokohama! It's truly amazing! It's filled with more wildlife than many of the places back home: there are tons of birds, stray cats roam about the grounds freely and the amount of massive, hideous spiders along the footpaths is enough to make anyone's arachnophobia flare up into panic attack bursts! I wandered through the place today for the first time and, silly me, completely forgot my camera. Tomorrow on my lunch break I'll take tons of pictures and show you this amazing landmark within a stone's throw of my workplace.

With this week came the promise of my first real two-day weekend! Tuesday night was hyped by Andrew, the roommate, to be the all-out shindig of the Century. When I woke up on Tuesday, ready to face the work day, I opened the curtains and found...torrential downpours. Oh, that was a kick to the bollocks (sorry, been watching a lot of Shaun of the Dead and British comedies lately) to say the least! The day passed quickly and I got back to the apartment to find Andrew texting people on the phone to say that everyone has cancelled and that we would have to postpone the night. Shit. That's alright, it's not like I turned down margaritas with a bunch of co-workers just hours before thinking that the party was on for sure. Oh wait, I DID do that! Shit! Oh well, can't control the weather...yet.

With the disappointment of Tuesday came the excitement for Wednesday! I had been asking a lot of experienced co-workers what the coolest palces to visit were and found Tokyo to be the resounding collective. Akihabara and Shinjuku were the frontrunners so I made both of those locations a main point in my travel plans for Wednesday. Unfortunately, I didn't get out of the apartment until 2 PM due to a late night of watching stand-up comedy and recovering from the early wake-up calls of my alarm clock beckoning me to wake up for work, so Wednesday's trip to Tokyo was called off. What replaced it though was ten times better! Andrew suggested a trip to Sakuragicho (the main tourist trap of Yokohama due to the proximity of Landmark Tower, the massive ferris wheel and easy-to-blow-the-entire-bank-account mall district) which was a great idea. So we head over, check out a few things, hit up the greatest ice cream place in the world (more on that in a minute) and took a few pictures of the nightlife.

The ice cream store in question is called Cold Stone Creamery and it is, for lack of a better adjective, amazing! The process of making a delicious ice cream treat is half the fun! You stand in line, IN LINE!, for the menu just to be handed to you! How crazy is that! And when you get the menu you see an assortment of ice cream mixtures that just sound heavenly: Chocolate Devotion, Apple Pie A La Cold Stone, Cookie Minster, Paradise Found, and Coffee Lovers just to name a few! All of these concoctions come in foam dishes or, for 50 cents more, a made-on-site waffle cone. Who in their right mind would not shell out 50 cents for a waffle cone?!?! Exactly! No-one! Alright, maybe a diabetic but they shouldn't be having ice cream anyways, the poor bastards...Anyways, back to the treats. So you place your order at the main counter and a Cold Stone employee scoops a hefty ball of ice cream out of the freezer, plunks it down on a cold stone and proceeds to mix in the ingredients of your choice in front of your eyes! It's like watching your own pizza being made except the pizza is ice cream joy! On this day I chose Cheesecake Fantasy: cheesecake ice cream, blueberries, strawberries and graham cracker crumble. If your mouth is watering now wait til I start describing how it tasted! Oh snap, it was good! I challenge you to find me an ice cream creation that tastes more like cheesecake! Needless to say that Cold Stone Creamery is my favourite snack place. If you ever come and visit me in Japan, we're totally going! There's some incentive for ya!

Anyways, back to the night. Andrew called up friends of his who lived in the area, Adam and Emma. If you recall, Alex and Emma were with us during the infamous missed train all nighter. So with them along, something funny and story-worthy is bound to happen. And guess what! It happened! We wandered around a new area of Sakuragicho that was less populated with tourist-friendly shops and more with small pubs. We proceeded to have our own little Pub Crawl, hitting three pubs in less than an hour. The first was an English-style pub with comfy leather couches and lavish orchestral music piped over the in-house speakers. The mood was set by candles rather than lights and the bartender was a friendly Japanese chap who had been to England more than the three Brits with me that night. Amazing how that happens! The second pub was a classic sports bar except without the English sports. The four of us grabbed a pitcher and watched Japanese soccer. Yokohama won and we left on a good note! The third, and final, pub is what we affectionately call the Pirate Pub. With the Jolly Rogers flag posted on the sign and door, we entered a tiny bar that looked like just below deck on the Black Pearl. All it needed was a device to rock the entire bar back and forth and I would've felt like an old salt. After beers in all of these bars Andrew was ready to head back to Kamiooka and hit a few more pubs. Alex and Emma split due to overspending and headaches so we bid each other adieu and headed off to take part in the second half of the night.

Once we arrived in Kamiooka, Andrew took the lead and led me to a dingy bar near the subway station that held two NOVA teachers from the Kamiooka branch. They were already tanked and ready to tell a good story at the drop of a hat. The two guys, an Aussie and a Yank, took Andrew and I, the Brit and Canuck, to a really great restaurant and we fulfilled the perfect bar joke stereotype. If anyone can take the title of this post and turn it into a suitable joke, I would be more than grateful. So after some interesting food (most good save for the potatoes baked in fish sauce. Ugh. Those potatoes will play a part in the story later) the Aussie headed off and left the three remaining members to find a bar open at 1:30 in the morning. Unfortunately for us (but fortunate for our livers!) there was only one bar open: a hostess bar. A hostess bar is a stlye of bar in which salary men (business men with lots of cash) spend 40 bucks to have very, very, VERY hot women chat with them and pour their drinks. That's it! 40 bucks an hour for nice company. Frankly, I'm not spending 40 bucks for conversation I can't understand and drinks that I can pour myself, thank you very much. Defeated, tired and very drunk, we split with the American and headed back to the apartment to crash.

Sleep was very difficult with the beer and potatoes waging war in my stomach. It seems that there was no winner since they were all rushed off the battle field sometime around 7 AM. Finally sleep overcame my lifeless body and I drifted off into a nice coma. I woke at 11 AM the next day with nothing but a sore throat and a lust for food. Andrew awoke a little while later and since the weather was nice asked if I wanted to head to Akihabara. I was all for it and we hit the road after some well deserved Yoshinoya. Yoshinoya is like the Japanese McDonalds but with great food. Pork strips in a lovely sauce, salad, miso soup and a massive bowl of rice for under 5 bucks can't be wrong. We travelled via train to Tokyo, my first real trip there since landing so very long ago. We got off at Akihabara and were immediately surrounded by Japanese electronic stores as far as the eye can see! It was amazing! So many video games and DVDs, so little time and money and understanding of the Japanese language. After perusing various stores I realized that I could not purchase anything in fear of leaving something out. So I bought a Super Mario Bros. cell phone charm and called it a day. After Akihabara, we travelled to Shinjuku. It was here that I began to feel not so great. I took my leave of Andrew and the gang of people we had gathered and headed back to the apartment. Considering I had work early the next day and no panchant for drinking beer as heavily as the night before it was for the best. Andrew actually returned to the apartment at 9 the next morning, so it was definately for the best.

And now here I sit, one full weekend older and planning the adventure of next weekend. I think this will be a solo adventure revolving around some traditional tourist places and my camera. Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"A toast! To Sean Connery!"

The world has suffered a tragic loss recently when it was reported on Japanese television that legendary actor Sean Connery, star of such films as The Rock and various James Bond films, passed away at the age of 76. The acting community has had nothing but condolences and best wishes for the dearly departed's family.

Now, I know exactly what you are thinking: "Uh, Don...Sean Connery isn't dead. Where the hell are you getting your information?" Two answers for you: "I know that he's not dead NOW and I get my answers from Japanese television screens suspended storeys above my head on the Tower Records store in downtown Yokohama! If that ain't news, I don't know what is?!" So this odd bit of mis-information came about after kid's training, a deeper circle of hell reserved only for the most evil of crooks and English instructors. After the 8+ hours of ridiculous torture and self-mutilation me and my fellow trainees needed a beer. And fast! One of my friends at training, Adam, suggested hitting the same bar that Adam, Adam's girlfriend Zara and I hit after a crazy day of training a little more than a week ago. I thought that was a brilliant idea and set off to grab a pint. As fate would have it finding a table for 9 is not that easy on a Thursday night in Yokohama. And not knowing the area bar-wise we did what any sensible foreigners would do: grab beers at a local Kiosk and drink them in the middle of the street.

It was standing on the street corner for an hour that we all saw Sean Connery pop up on the massive screen, accompanied by slow, melodic piano music and slow-motion pacing. If you saw this for some famous celebrity your first instinct is to assume death. And since none of us know the Japanese phrase for "Sean Connery has died" we had no idea what the deal was. So we did the second-most sensible thing a group of drunk foreigners can do in this situation: we toasted the "dead" as loud as we could. There's nothing like a celebrity's potential death that can unite an eclectic group of misfits! It's like the Goonies coming together on the fleeting chance of rich stuff! We were brought together by an invisible, and possibly ficticious, force of nature. I've never felt more like Sloth in my life (even though I wasn't the ugliest one in the group by any means!).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Japanese Children, Transportation Woes and The Plight of the Liver: Week #2 in Japan

So here is a look at Don's second full week in Japan! I know that you have all been anticipating this entry! And I just wanted to start by giving a shout out to all my readers individually: Hello Andrew, Hello Jessica. Now that that is out of the way, I want to bitch to the rest of you about not leaving comments! Simply leave a brief little hello or something that shows me you are still alive! I'm lucky enough to have internet access here in my apartment but I still don't get a chance to hear from all of you so please, if you read this thing and don't comment, just give it a try.

Anyways, on to the entertainment portion of this thing: the weekly synopsis of Don's life. Things have continued in a wild and crazy way while, at the same time, much of my life has become routine. For instance, the subway system, the most complex in the world, have started to become mundane and easy to manage...as long as I'm not drifting off the beaten path. For instance, trying to find a route to my teaching branch was a ridiculous collection of mis-adventures! The route that I was given my NOVA revolved around two different train lines and then a bus ride to the branch. Being on-time my first day became a race against time. And it was a photo finish! Luckily, I was told of a different route by a very nice teacher which takes me through the heart of Yokohama. Still, not the most entertaining experience of my life but I was lucky with my branch.

My branch is a very, very, VERY small branch. I'm one of two full-time teachers there and the third teacher comes in from other branches. What's nice about this branch though is that the workload is much less than the larger places. There is a lot more time for me to get my head on straight and to focus on the students...sorry, couldn't even say that with a straight face. There's actually a lot more time for me to rest between classes and wonder how I got myself into this crazy mess. That's a lie though, I really do enjoy the job and teaching here is pretty rewarding and it's easy money. I just don't see myself doing it for more than a year. The location of the branch, while far, has many advantages! There is a fantastic grocery store in which I found bottles of Yellowtail shiraz wine and real pizza! There's a movie theatre and a gym across the street. There are gardens close by which are really great. It's a very calming area. Even tonight when I had one of the craziest days of work and needed to calm down I just stood by the bus stop enjoying the breeze. Made it feel a lot like home.

The homesickness seems to have reared its ugly head lately. I was drinking with a few people after kid's training (a hellish 8-hour marathon in which you are expected to teach children the very next day. Awful set-up) in the middle of Yokohama's busiest street and a wave of homesickness hit me when I thought "Everyone from home would love this. Drinking in the middle of the street on a beautiful night." It's the small things that really affect you and that one hit home, literally. I've been trying my best to keep in touch with everyone but it seems that even that has suffered lately making my ties to Canada, family and friends feel frayed and not as strong as they once were. It's been said that around the 3-month mark it really hits hard and a lot of teachers break and head home. I don't think I would ever turn tail and run back but I'm sure it'll be around that time that I'll be craving a piece of home. So if you see my online in Dec. and Jan. with some very sappy and depressing MSN names, please shoot me a line.

I experienced something fantastic the other day: a sushi restaurant with conveyer belts that transport food all around the place! It was simply amazing to see the automation of such an efficient country that they can trust sushi, raw fish that can poison you in a heartbeat, to be carted around by ones and zeros. If you ever get the chance to experience what food is like in automated form, I highly recommend it.

The cell phone charm collection is now up to two. I was blessed with finding a LEGO shop with my roommate Andrew and his Canadian buddy Eamon in a mall in Sakuragicho (if you want to know more about Sakuragicho, please do your homework). they sold LEGO character keychains which can be converted to hang from a cell phone. I went with the obvious choice of the Storm Trooper LEGO man while Andrew choose a Dragon Ball Z character and Eamon picked Batman. For 500 Yen it was well worth it. Half of the excitement was finally finding the damn store. The mall we were wandering around is set up like a goddamn maze! The elevators were colour-coated and, though they may have been listing that they went to floor 4, the buttons didn't light up when you pushed them. It took us a good 30 minutes of searching before finding the Grail. But it was well worth it.

Japanese children are shit to teach. They are so ill-mannered that I just want to slap them. And it's so bizarre because the older Japanese people get, the more mannered they are. It seems that at age 13 children are religiously beaten until they finally let loose their trouble making ways and cave into the docile environment of Japan. That's my theory at least and I challenge anyone to think of a better one (that means you, Andrew!)

Well, that's what's been happening in my life. I hope you stayed tuned to the blog for more wonderful entries from your favourite Canuck in Japan! Talk to you all later!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why I Couldn't Date A Japanese Woman

When the idea of travelling to Japan to teach English rolled its way into my brain, I truly questioned a lot of things about what my life would become. Then when the job was confirmed I began telling people about it and they had their own advice and opinions to give. While almost all of it held different kernels of knowledge and advice there was one comment that seemed to be consistent throughout: "You are going to go over there and come back married to a little Japanese girl." This comment varied from person to person with slight changes in desire, such as "You better not go over there and get married" but the message was very much the same. While back in Canada I never really thought about it. I was more focused on the trip and the sightseeing and the language, not the women. But now that I am here and settled into work and my neighbourhood I've thought a bit about this subject. The answer became quite clear the other day...there is no way in hell I could date a Japanese girl. Let me tell you why.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Japanese women. It's like any other country: you have all different varieties. And it seems that the consensus on what would happen to English-speaking gaijin (means foreigner) living in Japan is very true. The majority of the older male teachers have Japanese wives and girlfriends. So there is a reason why people have constantly commented on this. But luckily I'm very aware of it and I have the ability to look at the situation objectively. It was two days ago when this epiphany struck me so suddenly that I mentally stopped all other thought processes and focused in on this one little nugget of reasoning. And now here we are; I'm sitting at my laptop now writing this entry. So please, read on and try to understand the logic that is Don.

Two days ago I met up with my roommate, Andrew, in downtown Yokohama after work. He called and asked if I wanted to see a movie with him and a friend. Not having seen a movie in the theatre for well over a month now I felt the pangs of withdrawl swell in my brain, urging me to spend whatever amount was necessary to see any shit American film playing. I naturally said yes and met up with him in front of The Diamond, a massive underground mall inthe center of downtown Yokohama. With him was this little Japanese girl who I would later learn works at Andrew's NOVA branch as a receptionist. Andrew had talked a bit about her and I thought that it was odd to ask me along if he wanted to hang out with her. But that's neither here nor there so I tagged along and we looked for a theatre. And it was here that I began the observation of how a fluent gaijin communicates with a somewhat fluent Japanese girl.

First of all, this girl was not bad at speaking English. She was in the U.S. for a couple of years taking communications in West Virginia so she has some knowledge of English. But it's a limited, non-Native Speaker knowledge that will forever restrict her from being absolutely fluent. And though it was easy enough to have simple conversations with her, there was always that pause and questioning whether she had the right words or not. While she struggled with words or longer sentences I wanted to assist her like we were in a classroom and I was teaching. It felt like we were in a lesson and that is just a feeling that I couldn't deal with. Imagine trying to teach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not to think about the reverse of that as well. I'm not even close to competent with my Japanese. It's a good way to learn, I'm sure, but the frustration would kill me.

Another reason is simple enough: the investment of cost and time is way too much. It sounds a tad shallow because it is. I'm here because I want to be here, not because I want to find a Japanese girl and hunker down for life. Please. I'm here to say that I was here, I lived in Japan, I saw the sights and taught English. If I were to get attached, I'm not able to focus on me 100%, which is something you have to do that first time in a new, completely foreign country. And not only is it a time factor but it's a cost factor as well. The cost of living is fairly high if you are being extravagant and ritzy. I'm doing well because I get by with cheap food and simple, cheap entertainment. The most money I spend is on transportation and beer. If there was a girl involved there's just so much more expenses: food for two, transportation, entertainment, anything and everything becomes doubled. I'm cutting my Japanese experience in half to pay for someone else. That's just not gonna happen.

There's one final point that I would like to stress: attachment to Canada. I love Canada, I miss Canada and I want to return to Canada when all of this is over. While you may be saying "You can bring your girlfriend with you" there's always that possibility that she would not go and would want me to stay in Japan. I know already that that is just not going to happen. I may consider a second year here after this one but that will probably be it. It's a great country but it's got nothing on Canada. I also wouldn't want to take a Japanese woman away from her family and home country to emigrate with me. Seems a bit much to ask someone, if you ask me.

I know I write this now and that I still have another 11 1/2 months ahead of me but I'm fairly resolute when it comes to this idea. Dating a Japanese woman is just something that I could not be bothered with. I'm more likely to date a fellow English teacher than a Japanese girl, but even that is looking pretty out-of-the-question considering female teachers are few and far between. So there you have it, Don's reasoning why he cannot date a Japanese woman. I hope you enjoyed this entry! Please, feel free to comment on this subject below.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Interesting Tidbits That I Never Knew #2

1. The best sushi back in Canada is nowhere near the worst sushi found in convenience stores here in Japan. Nothing like eating a food in its originating country.

2. English instructors are ranked in popularity with doctors and lawyers in Japan. Students respect and idolize their language instructors to the point of sick obsession. Many NOVA students will travel up to 30 minutes extra to a specific school in order to have lessons from their favourite teachers. The double-edged sword is that if a language instructor says or does something to make a student lose respect and admiration in a student, the world will know that fact. Beware of the obsessed fans!

3. It's the little language differences that will really make you frustrated. While it is difficult to order a meal in a restaurant, you can always point at dishes and pictures to order. When you receive a "Mail Failed To Be Delivered. Go To Nearest Post Office" letter in your mailbox and it holds the directions to the post office, that's what'll really make you frustrated!

4. Bread is very weird in Japan. There are many different sizes of slices, brands, flavours and, worst of all, textures. To find an ideal bread for PB&J sangwiches is a task in itself. Scour as many grocery stores as you can until you find that ideal loaf. Don's Count: 4 stores.

5. 100 Yen Shops (equivalent to the Canadian Dollar Store) are stocked with more than just trinkets and cheap doohickeys. Some shops sell clothes (white t-shirts, ties, socks, etc...), every kitchen utensil under the sun, and interesting food stuffs, to say the least.

6. Do not skimp of nostalgia food. Though buying the no-name brand Oreos the taste is nowhere near the same. If you are looking for that taste of home send that extra couple of bucks and get yourself a massive box of real Oreos or Ritz crackers. You'll thank me when you do.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The First Week. Only 51 More To Go!

My, oh my, how fast a week can go! I apologize for my lack of updating this blog with fun facts and useful information about my life in the Far East of the Globe but things have gone from 0 to 60 in a matter of sleeps. But now that I have my first official day off of work, and that I have been accosted by a Mr. Andrew Franklin on my lack of devotion to this thing, I'm here to update my enthralled audience on escapades and adventures. So please, sit back, relax, cuddle up with your favourite loved one/thing/animal/etc..., and enjoy what you are about to read because, frankly, it's all gold!

My first real day in Yokohama was the most intense day that I have experienced since I stepped foot on York University's fabled grounds. Was I up to the task? I came here, didn't I? But the real question was my ability to function in a place that, unlike much of York, considered English a second or third language. Luckily, I ended up in a great apartment with a roommate willing to help. Andrew is a Brit who's only been here a month but the guy who lived in the apartment before him had a "help those who need it and pass on the experience" mentality. So that first day had us wandering the busiest sections of Yokohama, viewing some of the most amazing sites, getting me my first cell phone, having a plethora of amazing Japanese food, playing Mario Kart, drinking Asahi beer (which is slowly becoming my second favourite beer. Nothing competes with Keith's!) and just generally immersing me in the culture with an excellent tour guide. For that I am forever grateful and indebted to Andrew. Now, I'm trying to pass along any of my help to my two fellow trainees by giving them my email address and trying to help them in their shitty situation. They are in a couple's apartment, which means no roommates, in a neighbourhood with very few English-speaking people to assist. They are a good couple of people too, I'd hate for them to look badly on this experience because they struggled in the beginning. First impressions go a long way...

Training began on Monday while all of you lovely people were enjoying Sunday night television shows and getting ready to drift off to sleep. And considering the daunting task of the first day of training I can say I was more than envious. After 5 hours of training Adam, Zara, and I were thrown to the wolves and asked to teach half of a lesson on our own. You can imagine the look on my face upon hearing this factoid. And you can also imagine my bladder the minute I walked into that classroom to see four very happy and anxious Japanese adults awaiting an English lesson. Needless to say, I bombed. I bombed huge! Adam did as well but that's neither here nor there. We just sat in the employee's room just flabbergasted and questioning this whole endeavour. I figured that I'd have to borrow money from Mom and Dad to book my flight back home after I was handed my resignation slip. Monday ended with me slinking my way home in a funk only describable with Tom Waits blues music playing in the background as I stoop over the dark edge of the filthiest, nastiest bar in all of the world.

Day Two rolls around and I make up my mind that it can only go up from here. And fortunately I was right. Three full lessons later and I'm knocking the proverbial ball out of the park! Day Three shows up with more difficult tasks that the three of us murder. It's good to hit bottom every once in a while because there's nothing but up from there. And I shot up like I had a rocket taped to my ass. After training was all over a big group of us went out to the Beer Factory and had a great time. I did learn what "All you can drink" was in Japanese that night but you can imagine why I forgot it.

Not all of my exploits have been group adventures. I was lucky enough to arrive in a country that valued the English language instead of castigate it which meant that the subway system was very accomodating. Riding the subway has become almost nostalgic: rather than picture a massive Japanese monolith at Sakuragichi Station, I imagine the countless times I travelled to Yorkdale on the TTC. It's not much but you look for the little things when you want a little taste of home. It's like taking minor details from the faces of people you just meet and attributing those to people you've known for most of your life. I've already seen a Japanese version of many of you. There was actually a British version of Lisa in my training, and this wasn't just a little bit of a similarity. It was downright freaky. But let's get back to my travels. I've travelled all over the place on my own, with only some Yen and my MP3 player in hand. It's the way I explore new areas; it's how I found my way to some of the cooler places of Toronto. I'm starting to wonder when this independence streak is going to run dry.

So that was the first week in a condensed kind of way. If you have any question, please leave a comment or shoot me an email. I'd love to hear from you all in any way, shape or form. I do have one request though: I seem to have too few of pictures. I need pictures. Anything related to anything going on just send them along. The address is:

Kasahara 2f
2-19-42 Okubo
Kounan-Ku
Yokohama-Shi
Kanagawa-Ken
233-0007

For the price of a postage stamp you can poster the walls of Don's bare apartment. Please, make a donation today!

That's it for now. I guarentee I will be posting more now that I am on a strict teaching schedule. I will talk to you all later.

Don

Friday, September 08, 2006

Japan Subways Stop Way Too Early!

I was going to try to keep this blog in a specific order but I had one of the craziest nights a person can have! So, I'm writing this first before my big "This was my first day in Yokohama" entry. Enjoy the saga I like to call: "Trains, Tequila and a 5 o'clock Shadow"

So let me tell you a story about my first outing late at night to a bar. It was about 9:30 PM on Friday night and I decided to give my mom a ring to just say hello and see how things are back home. Just as I am about to dial I get a text message from Andrew saying that he and a couple of teachers from his branch are getting together for a couple of pints and that I am welcome to come along if I want. The bar is located at a subway stop I've never been to on a subway line I've never ridden. Nonetheless, I'm up for the adventure. So I write back stating that I'll be on my way, give my mom a call, get changed into something that looks bar-like and boot it out the door by 10 PM.

I make it to the bar with no problems. The subway system here is unbelievably easy to navigate if you just do a bit of travel right when you arrive. As I get out of the station I give Andrew a call and ask where the bar is. He tells me to turn to my left and, sure enough, the bar is right off of the subway station. Perfect, now I know that if I'm stumbling home I've got easy access. The bar itself is ridiculously cool: The Honey Cafe has no more than 5 4-person tables and about 9 bar stools, a very quaint environment. And when I walk in the bartender introduces himself and to my surprise he's an American who came over here to persue a career in music. Very cool guy, very chill. Hell, the bar even has a set of dominoes and Connect Four! The Dougler would be proud!

I meet up with Andrew's two teacher friends, who are a couple from the U.K. as well, and we all start to talking about random stuff. Two pints later and a free tequila shot bought by John, the American bartender (first free shot ever) and we are on our way to catch the last train. For some odd reason the train system stops running very early. We purchase our tickets and everyone is giving me advice on how to take the training and teaching (stuff I really needed) and we run to catch the last train. We launch ourselves into a car and...that's when we realize we are going the wrong way. Uh oh! We travel up one station move over to the other side of the tracks and realize that we are not getting to where we need to go tonight. Stranded in some weird area of Japan. This is going to be an interesting evening!

Emma, Andrew's teacher friend, comes up with an idea: one subway stop away she knows a guy named Jeff. He's also a teacher and his apartment has a decent-sized living room. And somehow, there is one last train running to the subway stop. What are the chances! So we hop that train once it arrives and head over to Jeff's house. Jeff is an American teacher who has two roommates: another American and a Brit. He asks me where I'm from and when I tell him he goes "We've got an international celebration up in here!" After a run to a local convenience store for food and pizza-flavoured potato chips that have real cheese melted onto them (so good!) Jeff and his roomies go to bed while the four of us castaways stay up most of the night and chat about movies and books and shit like that.

4 hours later, at 5 AM, the trains are back up running and we head over to catch one back home. We part ways, Andrew and I get home and crash. Hard! Poor Andrew had to work at 10 AM the next day but he's done this before. These Brits know how to party!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Interesting Tidbits That I Never Knew #1

1. School girl uniforms are not only required uniforms for school but they are fashionable and worn at any time during the day and week, whether the female is in or out of school.

2. In conjunction with the above noted tidbit, it is very easy to feel like a creep when walking in downtown Yokohama.

3. Mario Kart is in arcade game form here in Japan. Not only does this make Mario Kart one of the greatest console video games but it makes it the ultimate arcade game. Driving against three other opponents, you have the option of playing an extra 100 Yen (equivalent to $1 CDN) to have a card printed out of your stats. This card can then be used in future games and it continually documents your stats, remembers your driver, allows you to collect items throughout the game and registers all information in the arcade cabinet. It's easy to blow tens of dollars in one sitting on this amazing game.

4. The Yokohama ferris wheel in Minato Miria centre (which is the main city centre and home to Landmark Tower, Yokohama's tallest building with the world's fastest elevator) acts as a clock with 60 lights around the circumfrance to indicate seconds as they tick by. Every 15 minutes, on the quarter hour, the lights burst into a spontaneous and brilliant light show for five full minutes. This makes the ferris wheel one of the largest and more interesting timepieces in the world, considering Big Ben just sits there and chimes occassionally.

5. Do not believe all of the hype regarding the high cost of living in Japan. While it is easy to get lost in the hype of a city and spend hundreds of thousands of Yen on the very best, a fantastic living can be made on eating well and planning. Supermarkets offer fantastic meals at extremely cheap prices and there is a nice variety of well-known name brands and generic products, much like those in Canada and around the world.

6. The Japanese people are unbelievably hospitable towards tourists and foreign citizens. It has been noted that while other Asian countries frown upon using English to assist tourists, Japan feels almost obligated to help out in any way, shape or form. Almost all commercial enterprises have a grasp of the English language and are always willing to assist you.

7. Avoid the fast-food chains by eating at Mos Burger, a burger joint that grills up burgers and fries immediately after you order them. The burgers are fantastic and meals are extremely cheap!

Don's Trek Part I - The Flights

My journey began at 6:00 PM on Monday, September 4th. My mom, dad, and myself packed the van with my two large suitcases, my two carry-on bags and everything else required for the journey and headed off to Thunder Bay. The 3+ hour van ride was uneventful (as that drive usually is so no surprises there) and we arrived at the Travellodge hotel safely. Once settled in with a bit of food in our stomachs (Wendy's at 10:00 PM is a bad idea! The chicken did not sit well!) we slept until 4:30 AM, which is when we had to begin final preperations for the triple threat of flights awaiting. We travelled to the airport, met up with my Uncle Gary and Aunt Evelyn, grabbed the last Time Horton's hot chocolate (something that will surely be missed those early mornings before teaching) and I said good-bye to my parents. Time to start this journey.

Now, for some bizarre reason, I am flying on three different flights and much of it requires a lot of backtracking. I am flying from Thunder Bay to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver and from Vancouver to Narita Airport in Tokyo. Would it not make sense that I fly from, say, Thunder Bay to Vancouver and save myself roughly 4-5 hours of travel time? I guess not, but that's neither here nor there. I didn't set up the flights and it was still cheap so who knows. There must be some logic behind that mentality that I'm just not seeing. The flight from Thunder Bay to Toronto began with a piece of the aircraft falling off when I put my carry-on luggage in the overhead bin. Great! Just what I wanted to see! Luckily, it was just a piece of molding for the overhead bins so it's not life-threatening. The flight goes off without a hitch and we land in Toronto. Toronto to Vancouver, fortunately, goes off the same way, just for 5 hours rather than 2. We watched Nacho Libre, I tried to avoid the annoying high school field trip that occupied the 20 rows behind me and we land in Vancouver.

Now it's time for the big 'un! 9 painful hours on an Airbus crossing the ocean to Narita Airport. The first 4 hours breeze by without any sort of problem: we watch Mission: Impossible 3, have our first meal which is quite good, the girl sitting next to me is doing a similar program as me so we chat about that and it looks like I should be set for the next 5 hours left. Right? Wrong! While there were the minor inconveniences on the flight that make air travel less enjoyable the main problem I had with this flight was that I mixed up the times of when we were flying in. Rather than arriving at 3:15 AM we are arriving at 3:15 PM, which means that it's daylight for the entire journey. I haven't seen darkness since 4:30 AM this morning and sleeping in a plane that is engulfed in perpetual light for the entire flight makes it difficult to sleep. By Hour 9 I'm ready to fling myself out of the aircraft just to rid myself of the tortures of flying. It sucked. Big time! Luckily I only have to do that flight once again in a year from now so that's a relief.

The flying is finally finished when we pull up into Narita Airport. We walk off the plane and the humidity smacks us in the face like a wet towel. Unbelievably muggy! At the airport we are greeted, given the proper places to go for customs and getting our luggage delivered to our apartments (free of charge), given a package the size of a bible of information on where our apartments are, locations of our training and teaching branches, an apartment key, the whole works. The Canadian group meets up with the Americans and the Britons and all 48 of us, which is a ridiculously large amount of teachers, head off to our destinations. There are 6 of us catching the Narita Express Train to downtown Yokohama so we all group up and head out to our destinations. I met this really cool Scottish guy named Graham who just joked around and marvelled over Japan's incredible talking toilets. We arrived at our train station (Kamiooka) and I was met by Michael, a NOVA rep. who has been in Japan for 8 years. He walks me to my apartment through the oddest, most traffic-filled backstreet in Kamiooka, the suburb I am living in, and luckily only got lost once.

With the trip finally over I walk into my apartment and meet Russell, the American roomie, and say my hellos and such before I inform him that I am so unbelievably tired and just flop down on my really comfortable futon. Sleep. Glorious sleep!

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Final Canadian Entry

The summer has passed us all by. No matter what you were doing the comments are always the same: "Time flies by, doesn't it?" What that means for me is that Japan is no longer a distant date on a calendar or an unrealized apartment blueprint or a pile of Yen sitting in an envelope; Japan has become a reality. And this new reality begins tomorrow at 6:30 AM (5:30 AM Dryden Time). With this new reality comes the closing of a chapter in the Big Book of Don. Another Phase of life, as someone so eloquently put it. And I thought that I would send my best wishes to all of those who read this.

To The Family - A year will fly by. Trust me. I'll be home before you know it. Thanks for all of the support. I could not have done this without you.

To Jessica - Red Lobster will be there in a year. And you better believe that come Sept. 2007 I'll be needing some crab legs.

To Heidi - As the only other Alumni on my list you know the odd feeling of not going back to school. Not that it's a bad thing, it's just different. Keep in touch and enjoy the West Coast.

To Mike, Liz, Kristen, John and Steph - Enjoy the fine province of Alberta. If the economic boom is still alive and kicking once I get back, who knows, you might see more of me. Liz and John congradulations! If only the wedding were one month later I could guarentee my attendance, but we will have to see how August looks. Expect that toaster! Mikey boy, if you blow something up at Halliburton it's cause you didn't pay attention in Grade 10 science. Don't get me wrong, neither did I, but you're the one with the chemicals! Kristen, have fun in the E.R., I'm sure you'll save many lives...unlike that one trip out to your camp...so many body parts! Steph, that was one step in the right direction, you are the queen of independence now!

To All Those Still At York - You lucky bastards! Still in that 'carefree' mode. I'm envious. Enjoy it despite the classes and those still there Sept. 2007 will expect a visit when I fly in.

To Everyone In Stong - Stong has been my home for 3 amazing years. Keep it at the same level of spirit and enjoyability as prior years, cause like a great bottle of wine, Stong does get better with age. I had more fun in my last year than the year prior. Funny how that happens. So, enjoy it and don't take it for granted.

To Nicole - I know it's a whole different world now that res is missing some key figures but you'll survive. I want to hear/read/see that first water polo goal! And remember: "nothing bonds two businessmen together more than one of them finding the other hungover with a hooker in their bed the next morning." I really need those seasons...
To Rachel, Cory, Andrew, and the Stong Players - Don't know if you'll get my phone number or not! That would be the ultimate prank! I want to hear about a reunion.

To Ainsley - Interesting summer, wasn't it? What's happened has happened. I'm glad we've gotten past it and have gotten to where we are now. Remember, don't let Kevin drink in the stairwell!

To Kevin - NO DRINKING IN THE STAIRWELL!

To Lisa - The bitterness stage, while fun, is fleeting. But if you ever need the urge to vent again, check the time zones and I'll try to find a coffee place with internet access so we can have another bitter little chat.

To Denise and Jill - I swear next September I'll come to Waterloo and visit! Promise! Don't break my legs!

To Ruby, Poonam, Mark and Michelle - Scrabble in intercontinental. Webcams and microphones are cheap. But having Don and Poonam kick your ass when half the team is not even on the same continent is a story that will never leave you. Time and a place, people, that's all I need. Right Poonam?! DAMN RIGHT!

To Anna and Chris - No idea if you read this cause I haven't heard from either of you in a while but The Clique will live on in Japan. Enjoy that new nephew and good luck in September with school, whether attending or teaching!

To Travis and Deanna - Good luck relocating. You better send off that address soon so I can send you crazy Japanese stuff! "Bring on the piss!"

To Everyone - Have a great year! You will all be sorely missed, especially when I'm the only one in a ten-block radius who knows a hint of English and I need to find a bathroom. Have a great year and don't go doing anything drastic that would force me to have to fly back and bitch slap some sense back into your head. Got it? Good!

I will see everyone in a year. Take care