So, I seem to have rather a lot of notes scribbled in my little book and it must be some kind of personal record that I`ve not been near an internet cafe for a whole week.
After getting my gaijin card I was able to get a mobile phone. I have no idea what most of the functions do, and the instruction book -- well there`s about 100 pages, and five of them are in English. Go figure. I`ll have to persuade someone in my regional office to download and print it off for me. It`s a pretty funky phone though. It has a huge display panel and opens by sliding up. (It`s Vodaphone and a Sanyo V401SA for any geeks who want to know these things). And it accepts emails and I can send emails from it. This is VERY exciting. Why don`t phones in the UK do this?
I`ve also joined the local DVD store, had a landline installed (internet will take THREE weeks!), opened a bank account and bought a bike.
The bike is green. Well, everyone has a grey bike here and I have to be able to at least try and find it, don`t I? Like pretty much all bikes you see here, it has a basket in front and no gears. It`s legal to ride it on the pavement (sidewalk), unlike in the UK and pedestrians just sort of get out of your way. You can ride it on the roads, but most people choose not to. I`ve tried out an umbrella with it yet. The biggest, and most stressful nightmare though is parking it. In the UK, let`s face it, you can bung your bike pretty much anywhere. In Tokyo, everyone has a bike. Imagine the problems that could occur...... As a result, trying to find somewhere to park your bike is a nightmare, and if it gets taken away it costs 3000 yen (fifteen pounds) to get it back. Not fun. There are designated bike parks, but it`s the luck of the draw if you get a space. I didn`t park in a proper place yesterday and was very lucky my bike didn`t get taken away. It had a note on it and had been physically moved when I got back to get it. I was warned. This morning, I put it in the proper place and went to pay my 100 yen (50p) but couldn`t get the machine to work. I grabbed some poor old passerby and got him to help me. Poor guy. But the light kept flashing and I was convinced it`d get taken away. My lovely Wednesday receptionist made some phonecalls for me and it should be safe.
I can see this will totally do my head in!!! And could end up costing me a fortune. Of course, it`s properly registered, so there`s no getting away with anything anyway.
Oh and it has a basket in front and NO gears. Like most bikes here! And my sales assistant spoke wonderful English. When I complimented him, he replied he wasn`t a Japanese, he was Chinese. I didn`t quite see the connection, but he was very helpful anyway.
Opening a bank account was stressful too. I had miss extremely unfriendly bank assistant. Something very unusual for such a friendly and helpful place. She wasn`t happy my name was written first name and then surname on the form, as my Gaijin card has it the other way around. She wasn`t very sympathetic when I pointed to it in my passport either. Silly bint. Anyway, the account is now open. I chose my own pin number and told them. Very odd. And was given a passbook. I`ll get an ATM card in about three weeks time.
People here play train sardines. Apparantly the white gloved guards have been known to push people onto trains but I`ve not seen that yet. Trains here, especially the later into the evening you get, get pretty crowded. Actually, that`s an understatement. You know that joke where someone fills a pint glass with stones to capacity, and then finds there`s room for pebbles and fills it even more, and then manages to get a load of sand in and it looks like it`s totally choca, until they pour a load of beer into it? Well, that`s kind of like the trains here. I was watching the other night and it`s incredible. You really think nobody else could possibly get on, and another three shove there way in. This continues until about 30 or more people have shoved themselves into the no-space space. And teeny petite girls are the worst. They use their entire bodies to thrust people back so they can get on. You also get people hovering by the door until it starts shutting and they then shove on. Believe me, getting a seat is wonderful. Even if it means two businessmen falling asleep - one on each of your shoulders. Lovely.
Leading up to my road the other night I saw four policecars parked, two either side of someone`s car and they were hovering over it. I have no idea what the poor driver had done, but I did think four policecars was a bit much. Apparantly the police here only bother with things they can sort out? I`ve heard this. I donno if it`s true. It is, however, one of the reasons I bought a brand new bike and got it registered. I don`t want any run ins with the police, and have seen them stopping cyclists near where I live.
Newest definition of cute: seeing 54 five-year olds walking down the street in two`s all wearing wellies and pink or green hats and matching shorts and white tops. And followed by another 70 in blue or orange hats. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO gorgeous. Unlike British kids, I`ve not seen an ugly Japanese kid yet. I have to resist the urge to hug all my students (the kids I mean....) and remain totally professional!
My back has been hurting. I thought futons were meant to be good for you? What`s going on?
The nicest apple juice I`ve ever tasted is sold in the vending machine near my apartment. This makes me very happy.
I got very positive feedback from the first class observed last week. (The second one I get tomorrow). And today`s class with the nine year old boys went really well so I`m no longer concerned about having to teach them. The feedback gave me lots of good tips for dealing with them too.
I start Japanese lessons next week.
Saturday was interesting. I started off with a 10am class with a cocky 12 year old girl who`d lived in the UK for four years. It was my first lesson with her and she talked to me for 20 minutes without stopping telling all about Doremon...... I asked her what she`d enjoyed doing in England and she told me she`d been to loads of ballets and musicals and listed them. She then asked me what I thought about Cosette (Cosine??), one of the characters from Les Miserables. I was SO shocked! I can`t believe she asked me that. So, I just said it was a long time since I`d read the book and hurredly got up to rub off the game I`d prepared on the board thinking she`d laugh if I asked her to do it. She was most disappointed, and said she`d really wanted to do it. Guess you can`t win. A mature adult-child. This could be very interesting.
I`m sure you`re aware there were some massive earthquakes in Japan on Saturday. Previously, all the ones I`ve experienced I`ve been at home for. Home is a very new apartment block especially designed to cope with quakes. It`s on springs, or something. So, when a quake happens, it sways and shimmers. On Saturday I was working and in a very old building. No swaying and shimmering. Just shaking and vibrating. I had two adult students who looked terrified. We felt several more throughout the evening.
Saturday night was a blast. I went to a tt pissup in Tokyo. We went to a bar that sold 50 yen beers. Yes, that was fifty yen beers (ie about 25 pence). And when we got kicked out -- apparantly we weren`t spending enough money -- we went to do some karaoke! In Tokyo, you get your own private ROOM to do this in and key in the songs, grab a mike and away you go. I found myself singing along to Rick Astley - though, please note this was NOT my choice, and several other dodgy artists. It was great fun, and I can`t wait for my next go!
On Sunday I visited my local cemetary and Buddhist Temple. Cremation is what most people go for here, so the cemetaries, to my understanding, are more of a memorial place and where bones and ashes are laid.
Actually, to go off on a tangent for a moment: there`s all sorts of etiquette here regarding chopsticks, etc which I was aware of but didn`t understand until now. Such as, you mustn`t have your chopsticks resting in a bowl or standing upright and you mustn`t pass food from person to person with chopsticks. Bowls of food are offered up to the dead with chopsticks leaning inside, so that`s pretty simple. The passing though: At a cremation the body goes in to be incinerated. When it is half done, it comes back out again. Relatives then pick up the bones with chopsticks and between them, move the bones into an urn. Lovely. Anyway, that`s why you mustn`t do that.
So, the cemetary and temple. The Temple had two extremely scarey looking deities guarding it. There was lots of bamboo, shrubbery and trees all around and it was very peaceful and beautiful. In the cemetary the graves/shrines/memorials, have headstones and long wooden prayer sticks about 6 foot high coming out of them. These are placed every 3 and 7 years apparantly in memory of the dead person, although living people can place them for themselves too..... All the graves had incence holders on and little containers for water. There was a hut with loads of buckets and water in it, and that, apparantly is for cleaning the graves. I was so perplexed by many of the things, that I`ve been interrogating some of my students. I have so much to learn, which is one of the many things I love about being here.
Contact lenses. I have Gas Permeable contact lenses. They are not hard. They are not soft. They are gas permeable. I don`t think they exist in Japan. I had a long `conversation` with a couple of optitians here and this is my conclusion. For cleaning and soaking purposes, this presents an interesting dilemma. Do I keep getting them sent from the UK, or consider changing to a different type of lens? I think it`s going to have to be the former. Though why they have something called `saline solution` which is only suitable for soft lenses perplexes me. Isn`t saline solution saline solution? ie salt and water? gah! too confusing.
In the same department store I had the contact lens conversation and bought the bike, they have kitchen wear. Now, let`s get this straight: kitchen wear, ie toasters, kettles, scales, oven grills, irons and so on are for adults, right? So, can anyone explain why there was an entire range of these goods with Hello Kitty all over them? And another range with Disney all over it? It`s all too much to bear!
Though I do want some cute dangly things for my phone....!
Newspapers. After the joy of the Japan Times the other day, I thought I`d try another English language newspaper. I`ve never seen such a creative use of punctuation in newspaper headlines. I saw commas and semi colons in headlines. I was MOST shocked. And the quality was no better, and just as amusing as the Japan Times. I dispare.
Tissues are an interesting thing here. It is extremely bad manners to blow your nose in public. Spitting on the pavement and sniffing are fine though. This being the case, it`s most interesting to see the quantity of people employed to hand out free packets of tissues to passersby. I may never have to buy another pack again.
I`ve been bonding with one of my neighbours. She invited me around for tea the other night. She`s another teacher and it was nice to just sit down and natter.
I`ve also started saying hello to random westerners now. It`s taken four weeks to break me in!
For three days, we had no rain. On my day off yesterday, guess what? It pissed it down!!! Oh joy to these typhoons and earthquakes.
I`ve also made `friends` with the girl in the local convenience store. She spent four years in Boston and is happy to practice her English. I`m happy to have another Japanese person to ask questions to! She charged me twice for a bottle of wine. I was too dozy to notice. She came running after me up the street, shouting: `Jo, Jo`.
I took the lovely bottle of Californian Shiraz home and couldn`t wait to pour it down my neck. You know how animal psychologists think it`s funny to put a nut into a bottle so when a chimp puts it`s hand in and closes it around the nut, it can`t get it out and has to figure out another way to get it`s prize? Well, the only other bottle of wine I`ve bought here (hey, they`re not cheap) was a screw top, so I didn`t realise just how crap the corkscrew I own is. Think chimp. I got into that bottle through sheer bloodymindedness, a lot of perseverance, a cut fingure, a knife, a bent decrepid corkscrew, a splinter of shattered glass, and a cork that ended up in a few dozen fragments. But the point is, I managed. Shit, did it taste good. Once I`d removed a few bits of floating cork. Must remember to buy a decent corkscrew. I can`t go through that `trauma` again!
I`m so in love with the concept of Bento boxes. You get them in convenience stores as well as restaurants and it`s a little packed meal in compartments. Typically, a load of rice or noodles, and some meat or fish, some pickles and maybe some salad. I think they`re wonderful. And so cheap too. I also love the little cylinders of cooked rice you get which are either plaine, egg fried, with tuna in or other things. It`s pot luck which I get as I can never remember which is which. I also love the dough balls with fillings. Again, pot luck -- point, and get.
And one of my students, a really old guy who`s a floating student (ie doesn`t book regular lessons) and comes in for chats, that I`ve met once before, gave me a present today: a really cool bilingual map of Tokyo. A really good one too. And considering how hard it is finding things in English, I`m so touched.
I just can`t believe so few people say Japan is a place they really want to visit. I don`t get it!