Andrew Magrath (biggrumpy) wrote,
Andrew Magrath

Back in action

It has been some time since I have updated my blog. I know. I am a jerk for not doing it. But I have good news. I now live in Japan, and have adventures to tell. I am also really afraid my English will fall apart because I will not be exposed to it a lot here, so in a desperate attempt to save my skills I am working hard on reading and writing.

Important things to note, I am currently learning Japanese. The language is wonderfully phonetic when it comes to spelling, but I am not too sure of the phonics yet. Therefore I might spell some stuff wrong because I either didn’t hear it properly or am using the wrong. Here is how to say the vowels:
a’s are pronounced like in “father”
e’s are pronounced like in “met”
i’s are pronounced like the long “e” as in “feet” Sometimes the i sound is dropped like in chi or ki when it would be inconvienent to move your tongue from the long e position to another, you just kind of have to feel this “rule” out
o’s are pronounced like in “fort”
u’s are pronounced like the oo sound in “mood” This is another vowel that is often dropped when the tongue has to be a little too acrobatic

Two vowels together sound different:
ai is often pronounced like “eye”
au is often pronounced “ow” as in “cow”
oi is often pronounced “oy” as in “boy”
ue is often pronounced “we” as in “wet”

Long vowels
Long vowels in Japanese are cool because the sound they make does not change, but the length you say the vowel does. I believe I read that most people hold an average vowel for about half a second, and a long vowel is voiced for about a full second. For me it is very tough to tell the difference unless it is greatly exaggerated. There is nothing that I can really compare it to in English and I find it hard.

It is important to also understand that the Japanese syllabary consists of pairs of consonants and vowels. There are 9 consonants that are paired with the vowels and there is “n” which can be all alone. A good example is Japan’s name for itself is “Nihon.” You just say the pairs, so it is read “Ni-ho-n.” The pronoun “I” in Japanese is “watashi” you say it “wa-ta-shi.”

I went and did the Karaoke thing with Chris, Damian, Kate and Flora (first a Fluer now I know a Flora, ahhh!) Japan is big on alcohol. One commentator said that the Japanese are not able to relax without liquor. I don’t know if I would go that far but it is a part of the culture for sure. So I went down to Chris and Flora’s place and they are not around yet and I meet this guy in the hallway and he talks to me. He is the landlord of the building and an amazingly nice guy with decent English. We go down into the bar and he byes me some tea and a really wonderful woman is there who is 37 years old and jokingly makes us call her Old Woman she is there and talking. The landlord buys me dinner, and wants to buy me alcohol. Now I don’t drink, but it is really rude in Japan to refuse this so I got a very small beer (what they suggested a non-drinker like myself have.) It was horrible; this would make the first beer I have ever drank. I got my one drink out of the way I told him I didn’t drink but thanks for the offer he was really great about it and would have kept on buying me drinks had I wanted them. Chris and Flora show up along with the new JETs Damian and Kate. Landlord buys them dinner and drinks and we talk awhile and head for Karaka. We get a big room and Landlord guy just keeps buying us drinks and appetizers. He pulls me aside and tells me anytime I want to use the internet just come on down and plug my computer in, it is “Free of charge for Flora and Chris’s friends” I am being treated like an honored guest in this country it is really amazing how kind everyone at the Board of Education and city has been to me. One bad thing though, one of the appetizers I tried had octopus in it. I placed the little doughy thing in my mouth bit down and knew something was, amiss. I ate it all and must say that it wasn’t horrible, but I don’t think I will be eating it again. The smartest invertebrate in the world can stay out of my mouth and I will try and stay out of its. We sang a lot and everyone but me drank a lot. I sang “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” because Damian is from Canada, Flora is from Southern Ireland (it makes a difference she is NOT from the UK and don’t suggest otherwise), Chris is from England and I can’t recall where Kate is from, she was quite. Back to the point, I sang “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” because they were ragging on me and the US’s miserable war in Iraq. Later Chris and I sang a duet to “War!” Because England is stuck in that quagmire of Iraq too. I also sang some Dylan Subertarrian Homesick Blues, which is an amazing fast song when you try and sing it! It was great. Landlord’s girlfriend showed up with her daughter and came it. I had to leave a little early because I am still feeling the jet lag. It was a great night.

Today was my first attempt at cooking and it didn’t go so hot. I tried to prepare two things, the first I didn’t eat because it tasted horrible and the second I screwed up getting the hang of this microwave is hard. I will have to pop on over to the 24 hour convince store and pick up some cereal later tonight. Ohh that reminds me tonight a typhoon is schedualed to hit my fair city. The wind is really picking up. Japan is in good shape for such an event I guess the only thing that happens is there is a ton and I mean A TON of rain and strong winds. Nothing tends to be damaged but it is a pain to the homeless and people on the street because no umbrella can protect you from the rain. I can smell the rain on the wind, I am pretty pumped for it. It is lonely to be alone, I need the internet pretty bad to start downloading American shows and feel back at home again.

My first big adventure happened today! I decided to go to Osaka Bay to the aquarium. This meant a train out of my beloved Diato to the Osaka loop then around the loop till Bentencho station than the Chuo subway line then a wake to the aquarium. I was slow and steady and got there without hitch. The aquarium is simply amazing. The main tank is the largest tank in the world, it is 34 meters long, 9 meters deep, and holds around 5,400 tons of water. Here was a blurb about the acrylic glass that holds all that water in, “”The largest piece [of acrylic glass] is used for the ‘Pacific Ocean.’ It weighs 10 tons and measures 5 meters in height, 6 meters in width and 0.3 meters in thickness.” The place was simply incredable. To see a whale shack swim bye you or a huge ray play in a divers bubbles was breath taking. The pacific ocean tank was impressive but for me the best part was the jelly fish exhibit. The color of these jellies was amazing, to see them moving and pulsating many were bioluminescent and magnificent. The Osaka Aquarium is really a must see to be believed. It was well well worth the 2,500 yen (around $25) I paid to get in.

Ahhh the pains of cooking continued again tonight. Another dish I thought I understood how to cook only to taste it and find out, I didn’t. I mean had no idea. But then, like a ray of hope I opened up my curry dinner. I boiled the water put the packet in and then made some rice, way way too much rice but this is a small aside and should not be considered, then the two came together curry thing + rice = dinner I cooked and tasted good! Score one for the home team!

It rained a lot today and there were some mild winds, looks like the typhoon missed us, or it hasn’t arrived yet. I am typing this w/out internet connection and will upload it later so I have no idea what is going on in the outside world.

The new JETs have arrived. HURRAY. There is Anna from England, and my new neighbor Dan. Dan went to, and this is the astronomically improbable bit, Mount Union College! Alliance resurfaces from my past! I went out and bought a wardrobe due to my horrible lack of space. I got it from a recycle (second hand) shop. There is a real drive for new new new here in Japan so owning second hand carries a bit of a stigma. This stigma is great for me because I can buy amazing stuff for dirt cheap. I got a beautiful all wood, hand crafted, several drawer wardrobe for 8,800 Yen. Add another 1,000 Yen for home deliver and you still have a very reasonable 9,800 Yen. What a steal! Especially in this country. It will be delivered tomorrow.

“I found a city of stone, I left a city of marble.” Octavius Caesar

Much to report. The great news is that Operation Apartment of Marble (OAOM) has made its first great leap forward. The wardrobe has arrived! It was amazing how the movers so effortlessly slid out of their shoes when entering my apartment never really breaking the stride of moving the wardrobe in. It turned out to be a bit more imposing a structure (180cm x 85cm x 60cm.) It looked very large once it was in my Apartment of Stone, so I had to do some rather extensive moving of my stuff. I now have a really nice setup. The way I found the apartment when I moved in was not the most functional so I knew I would have to rearrange eventually. Yet, there are still several steps for OAOM to reach completion. On the furniture side I need:
1) Inflatable bed
2) One wrap around couch or two smallish couches
3) A place to store my dishes in the kitchen
4) A computer desk/entertainment center
5) A nice chair
On the decorative and somewhat functional side I need:
1) Privacy curtains for my window that let sunlight in but obstruct the view of the inside
2) Long solid blocking curtains, my predecessor obviously didn’t measure and just bought curtains because they are too short for the window.
3) Some wall coverings of some kind to break up the monotony of white walls
4) A rice cooker in English
On the purely “would be nice” side
1) A larger fridge
2) A better washing machine maybe even with a dryer – a luxury item here! This place is so darn humid that nothing dries on the line. I have had towels out there for a day and a half and they are still a little moist.
3) A larger TV for entertaining guests… and myself

The horrible news is that my brand new not 6 month old computer has had a major failure of the DVD rom drive. It really urks me. But it is still under warranty so as soon as I get the internet, yes dear friends as I write this I still toil without the outside world, IBM will be getting an email to ship me out a new drive! Luckily while trying to solve the problem I discovered that the drive just pops right out in a jiff so I will not have to take my computer anywhere I can just get the new drive plug it in and that’s a wrap! IBM has many locations in Japan, they have a help line here also but alas it is Japanese language only, or I would have called there! No big deal but a royal pain in the butt. It means no DVDs and limited computer games. Grrrr. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had the internet. Things go so slow here. First I needed the land line which is the actual telephone line, that took a few days. Now I need Yahoo BB to contact me and hook me up with a modem. The good news is Japanese broadband is blazing fast. The bad news is the time it takes to actually get it hooked up is not.

Well bed time for me, moving furniture all day was hard work. Ohh one more thing, all the JETs went out to dinner at this place that looks like an upside down house, things are weird here sometimes, it was a great ¥200 a plate so you just order a bunch of stuff and share. It was all in Japanese luckily Dan is fluent conversationally and decent reading/writing and Tyrom (a non-JET but that is also teaching English though another program) had been to this place before and helped order. The food was really amazing. All said and done the total was ¥1300 yen each for the amount of food we ordered, and the amount my friends drank, it was a great deal. I may brave the place again with someone that knows some Japanese. Hopefully Dave or Eric can make the trip down to Osaka-fu the coolest place in Japan!

For lunch today I grabbed some stuff at the Family Mart across the street. It is a 24 hour convenience store. Now unlike in the states Japanese convince stores are, well, convenient. You can pay your bills there and they sell everything. Think of it as a mini-Wal-Mart. Anyways I had this sticky bun thing filled with pizza stuff, which more or less consisted of cheese and spiced red sauce. It was decent, next I will try the curry one and then maybe the sweet black bean paste one. The really good news is that I tried a rice cake as well and ohh my goodness are they wonderfully delightfully great! Mine was white sticky rice bundled together with a seaweed wrap and under the seaweed wrap was a really tasty tuna paste. Okay it doesn’t sound all that great, I realize, but it was scrumptious. I am going to try another flavor, after I buy another one of these. Well it is just about 4:30 pm here, I am meeting Anna, Damian, Flora, and Chris at the station we are headed out to Osaka to meet Mike whom we met earlier on the Shinkonsen (bullet train) to Osaka. He is a JET as well, it is his birthday.

Well it turned out to be quite the adventure after all. Getting there was pretty problematic. It required 3 train switches and we got on the wrong train. We had to back track and there was more problems with trains. What should have taken about .5-1 hour took us a grand total of 2 hours. We get to Nambla station in Osaka and Chris’s phone dies, so we can’t call mike and find where he is. We just start ideally roaming the area. When I spot a vodaphone shop. Vodaphone is where Chris got his cell phone, I come up with the idea to go in and see if they will charge his phone, because this is Japan and they do stuff like that. The plan worked! I was redeemed in the eyes of my cohearts (I had shown up to the station late) We called Mike and went to where he was. He then took us to the restaurant which was suppose to be all you can eat and all you can drink but really wasn’t. We had a 5 course meal that wasn’t too stellar and then the food stopped flowing as did the booze. I even had my supply of orange juice cut off. They then more or less asked us to leave. Very politely of course, but it was still a cultural difference. We where not being rowdy or anything it is just the way parties are done in Japan. The meal cost us each ¥3000 which was outrageous for the food we got. Having not drank any, I was not to happy. My friends, having consumed a lot, were grumbling but did not seem so mad as I was. We then all went to a bar and drank more. I had an orange juice but finding out it cost ¥500 one was my limit! My friends got pretty seriously hammered except for Kate. It was getting towards 10:30 and Kate and I along with the group headed for the door. Trains in Japan stop running very early in the evening. The Osaka Loop more or less shuts down at 11:30. We were all walking except Chris and Damian began to talk in the bar some more, then this other JET came and Anna and Flora started talking to him. It was nearly 10:45 and our window of escaping Osaka was closing, so Kate and I pressed on without the others. We made it to the station found the good old JR ticket consul planned our course and caught the last train out on that line. Our friends had one more train to catch at 11:23 before the station shut down. Kate and I made it back into the Osaka Loop then switched trains to escape Osaka. On the platform we met this really nice, and heavily drunk, Japanese guy. He was really inquisitive about me. We talked the whole time on the platform and in the car. He was such a nice guy and really indicative of everyone I have met here. He asked a lot about what I thought about Japan, how I liked it, what I didn’t like about it, where I was from, standard stuff. But he was really interested in what I had to say and really funny. He also apalogized several times for being drunk, and said he really enjoyed talking to me. He was with a friend and when I introduced Kate he asked “Are you married to each other?” I said no, and he laughed and pointed to his male friend and said “Ohh we not married either!” It was funny and we all laughed. On the train he saw me looking at the stops and said he would tell me when Suminodo came not to worry about it. He really was the nicest guy! He then taught me some Japanese. He taught me how to say “You are beautiful.” It was hard to learn because he was laughing so much when he told me. He also told me how to say “delicious” because I said the food here has been wonderful. True to his word, Suminodo Station came and he told me this was my stop. I thank him and said it was a great pleasure to speak with him. He again apologized for being drunk and said he was really happy we could talk. The country is really like that. It is strange because I feel really left out sometimes because I can’t read, I can’t write, I look different, and sometimes people are a little intimidated by me. It makes me feel a bit sad, but then I meet people like this guy, it really makes me happy to be here again. I realize that I can learn to speak the language. I can learn Katakana and Hiragana (although anything but basic Kanji are probably beyond me for some time) and that people are intimidated because Japan does not quite always know how to react to the West, just like the West does not always quite know how to react to Japan.

I was out and about today searching for good prices on furniture. I have a few ideas but nothing is fixed yet, namely because I don’t have the money to fix them. I don’t quite know how bills work so I am being extra cautious with my funds. I have enough for next months rent and a little more. I will be getting paid on like the 16th or 17th. So I don’t really have much to fear. I would like to find a few more recycle shops if I can. I know of two and both have nice selection but there are more in town so I will be going hunting soon. I am working with some rather restrictive size restraints and I really have my heart set on a nice wrap around leather couch for my living room. I would rather go that way than two smaller couches. I am also toying with the idea of a chair, but it depends on what I can find. I want a nice big desk I can put my laptop and TV with VCR and Gamecube all in the same area. But that is a really tough bill to fit. I found a really nice computer desk with a matching book shelf thing that would be nice but they were too long for the space I need. I may just end up getting a kitchen table and putting everything on that with a little sprucing up and maybe a shelving unit under one side it could look nice, again it all boils down to what I can find. I have greatly digressed from the point of all of this, which is I am a celebrity here! It is a little strange and a little intimidating and a little ego boosting. I was just walking around in the recycle shop looking a table and I notice some old women looking at me. I took out my tap measure and measure the table and they were really impressed that I was measuring this table. It was funny. Then while walking around. Three boys walked by me and said “Hello, how are you?” I said fine and told them to have a nice day. They were excited to have spoken with me. Later I was walking and I hear someone yell, “Goodbye nice to talk to you.” It was the three boys again, they had seen me and wanted to yell goodbye to me. I said have a great day. Stuff like that happens a lot here. People want to practice their English with me. I am happy to let them, hopefully in a few weeks I will be strong enough to practice some Japanese with them.

So I haven’t updated in approximately… Forever. I know I know, but in my defense I have been pretty busy. So lets run down the order of busisness:

Operation Apartment of Marble:
Nears completion! On a tip from Saigie I went out past KFC (yes they have those here, and it is a Christmas tradition to eat there) and what do I find but a two story recycle store! It had everything I needed and more. I got paid the 20th and ran right back out and bought: 1 new desk chair, 1 new computer desk, 1 new sofa. My apartment will look great. I have the layout planned out and everything. This Friday it will all arrive and it will be great.

September 2nd
This is a very important day for me. It is the second day of school but that is not too important. The real importance is this is Burnable Trash day! Burnable trash are paper products. I have a massive stack of cardboard cluttering my pathetic kitchen (which is next on the list of Operation Apartment of Marble.) Luckily the 2nd is not too far away and I can wait it out until then. Trash is pretty strict here in Daito but no where near as strict as other places in Japan. I have to sort my trash into General Waste (food and such) Cans and Glass Bottles, PET (plastic) bottles, Burnable, and Non-Burnable. Non-burnable trash is stuff like sofas and old pots. I don’t have much of it. The day they pick up non-burnable trash is literally called “Super Trash Day” because you can put anything out and they will take it. It only happens 4 times a year I think.

I still struggle to learn Nippongo (pronounced Nee – hon – go) also known as the Japanese Language. The seminar in Rinku town helped me a lot with structure and basic form. I now desperately need to start filling in some vocabulary and then I think I will do decent. The language does not seem too terribly complicated but the writing system is a mess. With four systems to learn I am not really too hip on that. Katakana (phonetic system used for loan words) is very useful and I am getting it. Hiragana (phonetic system used instead of Kanji, easier to read and faster to write think of cursive) is equally helpful because then I could write stuff down and not have it be total taboo. One should not write loan words in Hiragana, only in Katakana. There is Romanji which is the Roman letters of Japanese words, I already pretty much know this but I know the Hepburn style. Unfortunately, not everyone uses Hepburn so you end up with some weird Romanizations that are not phonetic. Finally there is Kanji. I fear Kanji and doubt I will learn much. I have a few of the basic Kanji like for Osaka, for Daito, Tokyo, Japan but that is about it. I don’t plan to actively try and learn that many for some time. Hiragana and Katakana should keep my busy for now.

Package from Home
My parents came through and I got some much needed supplies from the Mother Country. I got a great inflatable bed, no more sleeping on my miserable sofa/couch/iron maiden. I also got some much needed cooking supplies: gravy packets, taco stuff, and mac n cheese. I have already cooked hamburger rice and tacos tonight. I was able to find some sour cream at Lucky’s grocery store. Yippee that was a find, but expensive around 250 yen for a very very small packet. Hamburger meat is also really expensive about 400 yen for a quarter of a kilo and most recipes call for a pound of meat so that is around 0.5 kilos so I spend a lot, but it is cheaper than eating out when I get 3 or 4 meals out of the deal.

My new Japanese friends
Great news I have new Japanese friends! The bad news is they are in a cult. Well not really but it is a weird religious organization. They stopped by tried to talk to me and then dissappeard because we simply couldn’t talk. They appear like two hours later with a new brouchure in English. Then they called this girl who spoke really great English and we talked for a while. She explained about this cosmic energy and such. Do to their passive aggressive asking and my curiousity I let them in and they did a thing where I sit and they put cosmic fire energy into me to heal me and what not. I was a little nervious because they were in my apartment and I didn’t know them and the ceremony had my close my eyes. But in the end I was just being stupidly paranoid, they were really nice and my wallet was accounted for when they left! They came back the next night and ask if I have read the literature, I hadn’t so they came back again tonight. This time I had read it. It was not translated the best and it talked a lot about kind of vague things in terms of cosmic energies and the Light Era and the Dark Era. It was pretty interesting due to the fact that it was a very Japanese look at religion. The Japanese have not traditionally seen conflict between religions. Shinto and Buddhism, the two primary religions of Japan, believe in some pretty different things, yet have always coexisted peacefully. It is completely exceptable to believe in aspects of Shinto and Buddhism. Some Japanese even hold Christian beliefs on top of the other two systems. The literature really reflected that, it talked about Buddha and Jesus believing the same thing and both being true. It was an interesting read, the parts I could understand that is. Anyways tonight I told them thank you for the literature and the kindness they have shown me, but I don’t think this is for me. The girl on the phone was really nice as where they. The girl on the phone said she wanted to get coffee sometime when she was back in Osaka. She made it sound like a social thing, but who knows maybe she hasn’t given up on me as a convertee.

Yahoo BB modem finally came. I hooked it up and am on the net. It was tough due to the fact that it was in Japanese. So I am not sure if I have it configured properly or not, but it is working. Tomorrow a guy is coming to hook it up so I will have him double check my work. But I am on the net!

Not much else to report. I am downloading all of the series Angel. I realize I should have started with Buffy, but I caught an episode of Angel while in Rinku town on cable TV (in English) and it resparked my interest in the program. I watched the 1st season on TV but then college came and watching TV stopped. I think there are 5 or 6 total seasons. I am looking forward to it. I really liked the limited amount I have seen of Buffy. I think it was quick, quirky, and well done. Angel took the formula and made it darker and more brooding. I am really pumped to watch it. I have gotten the 2nd and 3rd season already but after watching episode 1 of the second season I realized I need to start from season one. So thanks to I am on my way!

Enkai! Tonight was my Enkai, my greeting party in Japan! My principle, vice principle, and two English teachers went to Kamodo restaurant. I haven’t eaten there yet and was not disappointed. It was amazing food. In Japan portions tend to be small so you order a lot of stuff at once and then just keep it coming. My principle was not afraid to drop some yen on my behalf. I don’t recall what a lot of the stuff was called so sorry if you want to play along at home. From Japan we had some amazing sushi (raw fish/meat with rice), some sashimi (raw fish and/or meat) in the form of tuna, clam surrounded with a mayonnaise backed until it was a more of a jelly than the mayonnaise I know and tolerate, a pork dish with an amazingly spicy yellow muster (I have had this mustard before and my mouth was watering when the dish arrived it is liquid fire, but wonderful) we also had breaded chicken tough meat and “soft bone” whatever that might be. I don’t like this dish too much but the sauce they served with it was a treat with soy vinegar and a fruit taste. From China we had these dumpling type things, they are slightly undercooked dough that is really tacky and filled with a meat dip in soy to taste, they were heavenly. We ate a really good spicy noodle dish from China as well. For Korea we had a dish that was like an omelet with sea weed, I believe, baked in. It came with a mildly spicy sauce. I liked everything, except the clam was a little too much. I am a fan of clam chowder but the clam was still pretty whole so I had didn’t eat all the clam just the meaty bits. I also took pains to avoid some of the sushi. I don’t like shell fish so I passed on the shrimp sushi, I also didn’t eat the salmon egg sushi. It was fun to hang out with the staff and we got along well. The principle use to teach fine arts and was very interested how American’s say different names. The last JET that worked with this school was Larry from Ireland. So he was really excited to compare how the Irish say things compared to Americans.

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