Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween Hijinx

It's been a while since I've updated this blog and I swear I have a good reason for that: nothing interesting or blog-worthy has happened to me lately. Work has become routine and, therefore, pointless to talk about, I am saving my money for one nice trip on my weekend and contrary to popular belief I do not drink that much. So when I had this crazy Halloween story happen to me I instantly thought "This is definately going up on the blog! Finally, a story!" Prepare yourself for what is going to be a classic Donald/Don/Donnie tale (depending on who you are the name changes. And my family only get the use of the last one, so don't even think about it!)

Andrew, the roommate, has been hyping this house party for weeks. Ever since the crazy evening in Yokosuka I have heard nothing but "Oh man, this house party is gonna rule!" So when the day finally rolled around I was beyond prepared. I had prepped myself for working a full 8-lesson day hung over and had reserved myself for dehydration, headaches, nausea and all other alcohol-induced sufferings. The night was ours! Or, it was ours until I met my roommate walking past me on the way to the party while I was still in the process of walking back home to change and round up Mia and Kat, two of my crazy friends who are gothing it up for this party. He says that he's gonna leave early to start drinking but he will email me the directions! About 30 minutes I get the two-page text message on my cellphone of the most ridiculous directions known to man: take any bus at Kamiooka station. Listen for stop A. One stop after stop A is stop B, get off here. Look for a McDonalds and walk towards it. Keep walking til you hit the next set of lights and turn towards a gym. Walk past the gym and take a seriest of random turns until you reach the party. Make sure you solve the Riddle of the Sphinx and get through the Maze of Death, avoid the minotaur and replace the Idol with a bag of sand. Then you will be at the party. Oh crap...

Mia and Kat meet me at the station and we attempt the trek. After 20 minutes on the bus we know we have gone much too far. We get off and somehow, by a shear stroke of luck, get off near a train station. We decide to say to hell with the house party and go to a bar Mia and Kat know. After a couple of street beers from the convenience store we walk towards the train station. Hilarity follows us as we slowly slip into a comfortable state of "Why are we in the middle of nowhere dressed as goth rockers and Canadian fratboys?" You can only guess which one I was! After sliding slowly off a perfectly smooth, round bench (completely sober, mind you) we find the subway and proceed to freak out the Japanese patrons by just cackling like madmen and women, staring, acting like idiots and knowing it. That was a fun train ride!

After getting to the train stop the urge to urinate overpowers all rational thought. Luckily, there was a dark alley nearby. So I head there and proceed to go, not realizing that there is a hollowed-out concrete block that is housing a homeless person in a sleeping bag. The homeless person did not stir and I left him in peace. We head to what has now become my favourite bar: Free Birds. The bartender and owner are extremely well-versed in English, the other drinkers are a blast, the beer is cold, the Amaretto Sours are the best I've ever tasted and the Wild Turkey flows like water! It was a fantastic alternative to a house party that I later found out was broken up at 11:30 due to neighbours complaining about the noise.

Mia informs me as I munch away at the pizza we just ordered that I have missed the last train back home. I could walk but I've already prepared myself for a long night, so the decision is made to head back to Mia's place and watch Final Fantasty anime. As we are watching the movie Mia and Kat argue over what characters they would marry while I am contently the only male and have no competition for Tifa or Yuffie. Lucky me! At 3:30, we all crash for the evening with me pulling up the couch. I set my cell phone alarm for 7:00 and drift off to sleep. 7 rolls around and I am listening to the sound of ironing. Laura, Mia's roommate is up and, having been in this position many o' times, she is none too concerned about my current state: a little hung over, still wearing my frat boy clothes and groggy from sleep. I head to the train station, hit my bed at 8 for two of the best hours of sleep I have ever experienced (I swear, it felt like I slept for 12 hours!) and went to work fit as a fiddle that had been out til 3:30.

So I say to all of those who read this: may your Halloween be just as much fun, if not more! Happy Halloween everyone!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Rant by Donald Ames

One of my favourite lines from the movie Vanilla Sky is as follows: "Without the sour the sweet would not taste as sweet." That rule applies for life in so many ways that it is startling to think that it was written by the same man who penned the ridiculous phrase "Show me the money." What I refer to today in this most polar opposite of blog entries is my outlook upon the worst part of my Japanese experience. Oh, Japan is fantastic! I can't deny that fact. But there is one element of Japan that I loathe with every fibre of my being. I warn you in advance that this will be a very bitter rant filled with a lot of vulgar language, I am sure. Uncle Frank, you could probably forego printing this entry off for Gramma C.

What is it about major corporations that make them the dumbest people in the entire world? In all honesty, I cannot fathom how ass-backwards huge companies are. And this is why I feel this way: my commute in the mornings is ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous! I get up around 7:30 or 9:30, depending on if I start work early or late, shower, shave, dress and then start off on my trek. First, I have to take the express train line to Yokohama. Then I have to take a fuckin' bus to my branch. In total, this trip averages around 1 hour with good days being a little less and bad days being stupidly more. This is why it is so ridiculous! There is a NOVA branch a meree 5 minutes away from me! 5 God-damned minutes! I can walk to the train station where I start my long-ass journey and stand next to it! Now, why would you make your teachers ride a ridiculous amount of hours on multiple modes of transportation when you can easily put them at closer branches, save yourself money in the process by not paying out for train and bus passes and save the poor teacher a lot of fucking hassle?! Explain that one to me, you NOVA geniuses!

The reason I bring this up is because I was very close to being late on multiple occassions because you just can't rely on the bus system to succeed. There are too many factors with buses to keep you guessing on when you should leave for your shift: people, stops, traffic, red lights, dumbass drivers, people stopping the bus to ask the driver the most insignificant of questions, EVERYTHING! Today, I didn't even try to catch the bus knowing that the bus equals lateness. I just simply caught a cab, which is an unecessary step in this whole process. Luckily, I got into work on time because if I come in even a minute late I get docked 2 lessons! 2 out of 8 is a hefty price to pay when a company relies on the bus system to transport me from one place to the next. If a company forces me to take a bus they should allow a buffer zone of a couple of minutes to account for the retarded nature of the bus system.

Now, I know what you are saying: "Don, just start a little earlier! It's not that hard!" Well, when you leave your house at 11:30 for a 1:20 shift and still barely make it in on time, you tell me how early I should start leaving. Cause I have no clue! And this is the sour that is fucking up my sweet. Everything else is really cool! I like teaching, my students are fantastic, the people at work are good folks to work with, but it's the commute that is really putting a huge-ass raincloud over my Japanese parade. Due to the running this morning my lungs are shot, my throat is sore, my legs are killing me, I didn't get a chance to shower, shave or brush my teeth, I feel gross, I'm bitter and I'm really considering a transfer away from the peace and quiet of my branch to the hectic nature of another branch all thanks to this commute!

So enjoy your work now! If you ever get a commute like I do, end it all cause the fear of being late and losing money for no reason other than the annoyance of the bus system is not worth it! Now, I will stew for an evening and when I come back I'll go back to enjoying Japan. Promise.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My Trip To Kamakura

Since coming here I wanted my trip to Japan to be everything my time in Toronto was not. I didn't want to sit in the same location all the time, even on my time off, spending money on random things and food. What I wanted to do was travel to as many different locations as I could on my days off. Granted, it doesn't always work out that way but so far, I've been an active Canadian. I've been to downtown Yokohama, Tokyo, and now Kamakura. Sure, these aren't hefty trips that would need planning and overnight visits but it just so happens that my home is located in the historical and metropolis part of Japan. So that is where we are now. I've just come back from Kamakura and ready to put my trip down on the Internet. So here it is: My Trip To Kamakura.

I don't like sitting around doing nothing when I've vowed to do something. Wednesday was one of those days that frustrate the hell out of you. Andrew said that he wanted to go to Tokyo and look around, check out some clothing shops, make a day out of it. I was definately in since the last time I was in Tokyo I did a bunch of touristy things. Now it was time to try and locate some new areas. What I did not tell you is that Andrew is shit when it comes to timing and such. It's like he's running on the classic Hamilton Time clock that we all came to know back in high school (sorry Ian and Dave, it was very true!) The day in Tokyo began at 4:00 in the afternoon. Actually, we didn't get into Tokyo until 5:00 and it was already dark. That will be the last time I rely on Andrew's sense of awful timing to plan a trip. And once we got to Tokyo all we did was hit Akihabara for video games (something I've already done) and went to Shinjuku to find cheap drinks and play video games (something I can fuckin' do at home!) Geez, what a waste of subway fare.

After assuring me he was in for Kamakura, Andrew bailed out Wednesday night ause his leg still hurt from this really weird cramp he had. A blessing in disguise! Now I am guarenteed some time to myself. I take off around 1 for Kamakura, a good time considering I've already done a load of laundry, showered, ate some cereal and mailed my postcards. Damn, my timing is incredible! Lucky thing too cause I took the wrong train and ended up having to search for a different route. Minor setback. I arrived in Kamakura in no time.

Kamakura is known for its giant statue of Buddha. That was the first thing I wanted to see. So I found it on the map and headed in that direction. After a long walk, I was sure that I had missed a turn or something. So I walked almost all the way back when I saw a sign pointing in the direction I had just come. So, I turned around again and this time found the turn-off I missed. Thank God for street signs pointing out all of the tourist sites. I walked a little longer and found Kotokuin Temple, the location of the statue. I pay the minor entry fee and walk in. The statue appeared in front of me in all of its majesty. After many pictures and a quick trip inside of the statue (which was ridiculously warm since bronze is great for heat!) I headed back to find some more temples.

I found Zeniarai Temple close by Kotokuin, which is famous for instructing people to wasah their money. It is said that if you wash your money at this location it will double. It was also lined with a small row of wooden archways, which looked very Memoir of a Geisha-ish (I must find that big row of arches! Maybe for next weekend). After that came Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the biggest and most important temple in Kamakura. Apparently, the history is that this temple represents and is dedicated to the samurai. Whatever the history it was amazing and beautiful, so the majority of my pictures were taken there. Check them out on my picture site.

So there you have it. My trip to Kamakura. Like I said the pictures are all up on the picture site so take a look. I'm now trying to decide where to go next weekend: Nikko is supposed to be nice but I do want to climb Mt. Fuji before it gets really cold so I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I Was Long Overdue...

It's been a while since I have a good "Night on the Town" story; hence the title of this post. It's been nothing but sightseeing and interesting ground-shaking events. But now I have the material to return to the stories that truly interest you. So, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society I call this story "The Mystery of the Missed Mass Transit System."

My roommate Andrew informs me on Saturday morning that some friends are getting together to celebrate a NOVA teacher's resignation. Interested, considering how long it has been since I've been out for a night on the town, I ask where the festivities are taking place. The area in question is Yokosuke, a seedy little chunk of concrete that houses the large American Naval Base. So you can assume what kind of characters loiter around that area: American navy assholes, whores who are interested in some shore leave fun, and innocent Japanese citizens who look at every foreign person with a look of utter and morbid disgust, no matter what nationality they may be. "Of course I'm in!" I say. Oh, the red light is going off people! But I just threw on my sunglasses and ignored it. Stupid man...

My teaching shift ends at 6:30 and I begin the trek back home. Once I get there I find Andrew changing. He's running very late, which is fairly normal for Andrew's internal clock, but he manages to leave before I finish my Ichiban and change into my Trogdor shirt. I get on the train and arrive at Yokosuke to find the most disgusting piece of Yokohama ever! It's riddled with filth and garbage! And that's just the people! Ugh, this is going to get ugly. But not as ugly as that girl standing by the Naval Base gate. Ew... So Andrew gives me a ring and tells me that he's gonna come and pick me up cause finding the place is a little difficult. After a quick walk we arrive to a packed house full of drunk NOVA teachers and drunk NOVA students. Jeff, the leaving teacher, is very popular and the festivities are well into the third circle of Party Hell: Nicely drunk and rapidly getting drunker. Unfortunately, Andrew and I will not be joining that circle of Party Hell because last call just went off and we don't have time to grab a beer. So while everyone is saying their goodbyes Andrew and I tip out the door and grab a Chu Hi. Chu Hi is a Lemon and Vodka mixed drink that they sell in tall boy cans in convenience stores. 200 Yen for 7%. Better than beer!

Outside, we are joined by Alex, Andrew's friend and a very cool guy. He joins us in a Chu Hi and tells us that everyone is going to Morrigan's, an Irish Pub that is half price on the 15th of every month. "Why the 15th?" you may be asking. Well, let me tell you! The 15th is the NOVA payday. This bar has so much NOVA teacher clientel that he had put half price day on freakin' payday! What the heck have I gotten myself into in which the teachers need to drown their sorrows away the MINUTE they get paid. Anyways, we head to the pub and I run into Mia and Kat, two of my friends that I met through working at different branches. They are pretty cool to hang around with and they are happy we've brought more people with us.

Several beers pass and I am wondering when the last train back home is leaving. Andrew has said that he is definately catching the last train so I am gonna depend on him. Stupid man... Andrew forgets to tell me that since it is Sunday the last train is about an hour gone. Shit! I don't want an all-nighter cause I hate working exhausted. Mia and Kat are also interested in getting the hell out of Dodge since we have drifted into the 6th circle of Party Hell: Stop This Train I Wanna Get Off! Mia heads to an ATM while I tell Andrew that I'm heading in a cab. He's not interested in heading home so it's just me and the two ladies. I then head to the ATM with Kat and I slip into Western Don when I use this ATM. The instinct arose to simply push "Withdrawl Dollars" which gave me $60 American. I now have $60 American in freakin' Japan! Damn you American Navy! That's no good to me. Now I have to rely on the girls to pay for the taxi ride, which comes out to 25 bucks person. Remind me not to miss that last train!

We all struggle to get up the hill to my apartment, I set out the extra fouton and blankets in the living room and head to bed. What a night. 7th circle of Party Hell: The Party's Over But My Head Is Still Rockin' Out. Damn you Yokosuke!

Monday, October 16, 2006

EARTHQUAKE!!!

You hear about the earthqukes in Japan all the time: "Did you feel that earthquake?" "Man, that was quite the earthquake we had last month!" "Whoa, nothing like a good earthquake to wake you up!" (All of these are, indeed, fake) But to date I had not experienced this popular natural disaster. Until last Tuesday! It was 6:30 AM and I was sound asleep awaiting my alarm's monotonous beeping waking me to begin another work day. Suddenly, I am woken up much earlier than expected by the sound of a roll of Scotch tape falling over on my bedside table. Oh, and a ridiculous amount of shaking. I shoot up and realized "I'm having an earthquake!" Then I fixed that stupid sentence and thought "Whoa, I'm experiencing an earthquake!"

There are things people don't tell you about earthquakes that I plan to inform you about in this blog entry. First of all, the shaking is not side-to-side. It's more of a bad rollercoaster bumping type of feeling. I was left, right, up, down, felt like the Fall Fair was in my bed. And trust me, I've thought of all the bad "Oh, an earthquake is the only way your bed's gonna shake, Don!" jokes so don't even think about it! Second, even the smallest earthquake is enough to excite and terrify you, cause you just don't know how sturdy your house is. You really can't test your house to see how much force it can take cause you'll find that apex once you watch your house collapse around you! Third, the excitement is that of Christmas morning! It's that wonderment of not knowing exactly what you are getting! Unbelievable!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

One Month Down, 11 More To Go

It's hard to imagine that I've already been here a full month but it appears to be that way. Time really does fly in the most insane situations. I would like to briefly reflect on my first month here by sharing some wisdom that I have fabricated in my time, so please, if you are ever in Japan, heed this advice and you will have a successful and amazing month as I have had.

1. If you only learn one phrase in Japanese I highly recommend "excuse me." Used in the right context and tone of voice, it is universal. You can use it to get past people on a crowded escalator, you can use it to grab the attention of waiters and bus drivers, or use it to have things repeated to you. So far, this phrase has been a staple in my daily life because a polite foreigner is looked at better than a mute foreigner.

2. Explore cities with both people and on your own. Going out on your own allows you to go at your own pace and forces you to ask strangers to take pictures of you. While this may seem a little ridiculous by asking strangers to take a picture of you you further your ability to ask other Japanese people other things. Plus, being able to wander around Japan as fast, or slow, as you want is an ideal situation.

3. Don't be cautious with food. Just throw all inhibitions to the wind and try it all. Oh, you are definately going to eat some bad stuff every once in a while but there's more good than bad out there. And you cannot eat McDonald's all the time. Who wants to be the stupid tourist who doesn't experience the country to its fullest?

4. Watch your finances. Don't go pissing away your cash as quickly as you can. Yes, it's fun to go out every night and drink to your heart's content but the punishment later on down the line outweighs the constant drinking fun. Don't get me wrong, go out and enjoy yourself but all in moderation.

5. As with many destinations no one tells you about the freaking weather. Purchase a hankerchief to mop your brow and wear undershirts if you are wearing conservative clothes. There is nothing worse than arriving to work drenched.

Overall, my month has been filled with alot of great times with very few exceptions. As long as the next 11 are very similar, I think this year will go off without a hitch.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

My Trip To Tokyo

My latest 2-day weekend was fast approaching and I had no idea what I was going to do. Shall I go to downtown Yokohama and explore the interesting malls and shops? Should I go to Sakuragicho and buy more Cold Stone ice cream? Does laundry and ramen noodles fit the bill for my weekend? All of these ideas left a bitter taste in my mouth, not because I don't like Yokohama and delicious ice cream (quite the contrary, in fact) but because I can do any of this on a normal evening after work. No, I needed an adventure; an outing of epic proportions! Therefore, I decided on the biggest, coolest, closest location I could think of. Realizing I only knew one big, cool, close city nearby I decided on Tokyo: Capital of Japan! Home of 12.5 million Japanese folks! Lots of temples, bars and big buildings. It seemed inevitable that this would be my first real destination that I decided to make it my first solo day trip. So I gathered up my important belongings: my sidebag, my camera, my wallet full of Yen, my Gameboy, iPod, and agenda, and hit the road that is actually two parallel tracks that move trains, not cars.

My first stop was Tokyo Station, which seemed appropriate because beginning in the heart of a city is naturally the best way to start. Think of it, where to you start off in Toronto? Queen St. which is not the last stop on the subway but somewhere near the middle! Winnipeg, where do you start? Portage St. which is the main street in that city! So I started at Tokyo Station which held, and still holds I believe, the Imperial Palace. Before I got there though I found a really cool fountain set-up that I took many pictures of (follow along with my picture website for an added feel of interaction!) After that I came upon a closed Imperial Palace. Closed! How dare they! There were many black sedans scurrying in and out of the compund so I can only assume there was a big hoopla going on in there. Nevertheless, I took an assload of pictures of a very cool-looking bridge!

After Tokyo Station I went to Asakusa Station, last stop on the Ginza Subway Line. Once I got off there I walked a little ways to find a gigantic lantern gate! Just massive and swarming with people, as you can see by the pictures. Behind that lantern is a full block of little shops and stores selling tons of touristy stuff and SWORDS!! I found the swords! Not cheap swords, that's for damn sure, but I cannot leave Japan without buying a samurai sword! After I priced swords and searched for souveniers (they will arrive soon...alright, a month or two) I found Sensoji Temple, a huge temple that was swarming with people! I partook (English major, I swear that's the past tense of partake!) in the ceremonial throw smoke in your face ritual, I threw 200 Yen in the donation book, went inside and marvelled in the traditional Japanese atmosphere. Nearby there was a 5-storey Pagoda and a beautiful garnden filled with statues and shrines. Again, more pictures were taken and I finally was overcome with the feeling that I had found a traditional piece of Japan's culture.

With that feeling of tradition came a need to find something modern and new. So I travelled to Hamamatsucho Station and found Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower is Japan's answer to France's smug sense of superiority in the Tower Category. Tokyo Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower and painted bright orange! So it is bigger and more gaudy than its predecessor. Well done Japan! So I went up that, took some pictures of Tokyo's skyscape and travelled back down (what else do you want me to do up there? Have lunch and dance a jig?). The problem with coming down was when I took a wrong turn and was trapped on the stairs going all the way down the tower. 600 steps later, I made it to the ground. As I was travelling back to the subway station I found another temple which was holding a very small ceremony. I wandered in, sat down and watched monks chant and bang drums and bells. It was quite the experience!

Now it was time to do what I wanted to do for a long time! Find the Lost In Translation bar and order a whiskey. I went to Shinjuku and gave my roommate Andrew a call to see if he was interested in that plan. Andrew brought Yimin and we all looked for the place after a bit of food. After 5 minutes Andrew got bored and just wanted to find a pub. Shit, this is why I wanted to do this alone, but I really didn't want to ask some waiter to take my picture of me in a bar holding a whiskey. So I gave in and we went to a bar called the Hub, a very cool English-style pub with cheap drinks and a good atmosphere. After a few drinks we travelled back to Kamiooka Station in Yokohama and I headed home as Andrew hit the late night bar scene again (by this point he was on his 7th straight night of drinking and staying up past 5 AM).

So there you have it! My big trip to Tokyo. Stay tuned, I've got a trip to Sapparo in Febuary and many more places to search here in the Kanto region.