Archive for July, 2016
Today my parents returned to Japan for their second ever visit. The first time they came was in June 2004 when I was living in Kawasaki. My sister also came that time and we spent two weeks traveling around Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. They also spent a day with my then girlfriend and her family in Numazu.
This time my sister is staying at home. My parents and I have a schedule that includes Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Tokyo, and a lot more time with my now fiancee and her family. I’m really looking forward to it!
I am now getting to be proficient at traveling to Narita airport, having done so 8 times before. I took the slowest (cheapest) trains, using the long ride to read books. Lately my train reading has been the John Rebus novels by Ian Rankin. I got hooked thanks to the free library in Hello House, and have been a big fan ever since.
I usually get to the airport just as the flight is scheduled to land, which leaves time for people to get through immigration and customs. This time I was surprised to find my parents already waiting inside the terminal because their flight had landed early. They had their suitcases and were ready to leave the airport. I was so happy to see them in person! We talk regularly, but it’s not the same as being able to give someone a hug.
The last time I had seen my parents is when I flew home suddenly last fall when my sister was sick. When you don’t see someone for 6 months, they really look different!
Learning from their last visit to Japan, we activated their JR rail passes right at the airport. When you buy the rail pass, you are given a voucher than can be exchanged in Japan for your pass. The 7 days (or 14 or 21) starts from that point. You can only exchange the voucher for tickets at major stations, and I didn’t want to have to worry about finding a place to do so in Shizuoka.
After getting the passes taken care of, we boarded the Narita Express for Tokyo, and then took the shinkansen to Mishima. We were met at the station by The Penpal and her family in both of their cars. It was the first time for them to see my parents since they were in Japan two years ago, and also the first time since The Penpal and I got engaged. We loaded up the cars and went out to Gomi Hatten for dinner.
Gomi Hatten (Japanese Website) is a noodle shop / Chinese restaurant with huge portion sizes. If you leave hungry you have literally done something wrong. My parents were tired from their flight and were probably not in the mood for giant steaming bowls of soup, but they were happy to be on the ground and with family.
I’m really happy that my parents are here! I missed them a lot and I’m really looking forward to a few weeks of sightseeing!
After several days of intense apartment cleaning (and occasional beer drinking), Azeroth and I believe the apartment is ready for a NOVA inspection before our new roommate moves in. Windows and surfaces are clean, clutter was removed, the kitchen looked inviting, the horrible forest of mold was gone from the bathroom, and Azeroth had finished moving from his room across the hall to the large tatami mat room off the living room.
Was our cleaning job perfect? Not at all. But it was good enough and we had no desire to spend any more time on it.
I briefly considered moving from my oddly shaped bedroom into Azeroth’s old room, which was larger and not oddly shaped. There were a few reasons why I ended up staying where I was. The first reason was lack of time; with my parents coming tomorrow for two weeks, I didn’t have the necessary time to move all of my stuff into Azeroth’s old room and then clean up my empty room before the new roommate arrived.
The second reason was the previous state of Azeroth’s room. Don’t get me wrong, Azeroth is a good friend and a fun roommate, but his room was filthy. I actually found what appeared to be black mold on the wall when I was helping him move. To be fair, it could have also been food sauce of some kind. Knowing what the room looked (and smelled) like when we started cleaning was not a great incentive for moving.
Finally, even though my current room is oddly and inconveniently shaped, I’ve spent over a year getting it the way I like it. It’s comfortable and familiar, and I don’t feel like I am missing out too badly by staying put.
Bring on the apartment inspector!
When I learned that Azeroth and I were getting a new roommate in our company apartment in Numazu, I was also told that my new roommate was in his early 50s. This was a bit unusual because most conversational English teachers are in their early to mid 20s. Most of us travel overseas after finishing University to have an adventure before staring our real lives. There are some older teachers, but usually because they came to Japan and never left.
Azeroth and I are two guys who like staying up late, playing video games, and drinking beer. Worried that our new roommate might not be a good fit with the current culture at Ooka City Plaza, I decided to see what Google could tell me.
My new roommate is most likely an NFL kicker, or a retired classic video game programmer. Azeroth and I are both hoping for the second option.
In preparation for a move in inspection, my roommate Azeroth and I have been working hard to clean our apartment. One of the items on the inspection list is a check for mold under the bathtub.
The “bathroom” in Japan is different from what I was used to in Canada. Back home, “bathroom” was a room with a toilet, sink, and a bathtub or shower. In my apartment in Japan the toilet is in a room all on it’s own, which is very convenient for use when someone is having a shower. The bathroom itself is an enclosed room with a shower nozzle, a deep bathtub, and a drain on the floor.
To be truly Japanese, you need to wash yourself with the shower until you are completely clean, and then sit neck deep in extremely hot water. The bath water stays clean this way, and can be used by different people. My roommates and I have probably never used the bathtub for its intended purpose, opting instead for the convenience of the shower.
Since the bathroom is always hot and damp, it’s a great breeding ground for mold. Until we started our cleaning exercise, I had no idea that I could remove plastic panels from the side of the bathtub and get access underneath. When I did this, I discovered a black forest of thick mold everywhere. It looked like the entire underside of our tub had been taken over by the dark hair of Sadako from The Ring (Samara for those who have only seen the American remake).
After trying to remember if I had recently watched a haunted VHS tape, I headed across the street to the small supermarket in search of one of the most popular mold killers on the market: Kabi Killer (literally mold killer). I returned home, and sprayed about half of the bottle under the tub, periodically stopping to rinse with the shower nozzle. I’m not sure when the last time this was done, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been years ago. The whole experience was nasty.
English Teachers: when you get an instruction book on how to maintain your apartment in Japan, actually read it. Nobody wants to discover a dark mold cavern under the tub.
2016 Bonus Material: For an excellent read on maintaining your bathroom, check out this article on the excelled website “Surviving in Japan” http://www.survivingnjapan.com/2012/07/prevent-and-clean-mold-in-the-bathroom-japan.html
With a new roommate coming and only a week to get the apartment in order, Azeroth and I have a lot of work to do. NOVA is supposed to send an inspector for company apartments to make sure everything is clean and in order before someone new moves in. This apparently hadn’t been done for the last few people moving into our three bedroom apartment in Ooka City Plaza. We considered the chance that nobody would come again, but decided that we didn’t want to take the risk. It was also a good excuse for us to finally clean our filthy apartment. After work we cracked a beer and looked around to assess the situation:
- Azeroth wanted to move from his current room across the hall from me to Palmer’s old room off the living room. His room was literally knee deep in beer cans and food wrappers
- The main storage closet was filled with expired vitamin supplements and liqueur
- The living room was decorated with small toys from fast food meals and those plastic bubble machines in stores
- The fridge had condiments, booze, and expired food
- There was mold under the bathtub (apparently a common problem in Japan)
- The shoe storage in the front hall was filled with shoes that did not belong to Azeroth or I
- The kitchen cupboards were filled with pint beer glasses from local izakayas
- Everything was dirty
The closet was the first item on our list. Japan’s garbage disposal rules are confusing, so we decided that the best way to get rid of the supplements and liqueur was to dump it all in the toilet. Our toilet had seen some terrible things over the years, but I don’t think it was ready to handle load after load of vitamin pills. We topped off the vitamins with a bottle of egg based liqueur (eww) that had been in the apartment for at least 3 years. I recorded the occasion for posterity with my phone as the rancid liquid glooped into the toilet.
While we worked on the living room we returned to the poor toilet periodically to give it a flush. By the end of the evening the living room and closet looked much better, but there was still a lot of work left. We both made vague promises about buying cleaning supplies and curtailing our recreational activities until things were in order. It’s going to be a busy week!
** 2016 update – I watched the video of our cleanup again while I was rewriting this post. Seeing the state of our poor toilet made me giggle uncontrollably.
There were a bunch of sore, tired teachers at work today thanks to St. Patrick’s Day. Since it was Saturday, most of the teachers had to start at 10:00am. I started at 1:00pm and still felt rotten. I’m actually surprised that we didn’t get more complaints from students about pale, nauseous looking teachers on weekends.
During the day I found out that Azeroth and I were getting a new roommate at the end of the month. Since Palmer had moved to Hokkaido, we had been enjoying our 3 bedroom apartment between the two of us. Before anyone moves in to a new apartment NOVA sends out an inspector to make sure things are in order. My parents are coming to visit on March 25, which only gives us about a week to get things inspection ready. Azeroth and I are not the best housekeepers*, so we have a lot work to do in a week!
* When I say not the best housekeepers, I mean that we generally never clean anything.
Today was St. Patrick’s Day, a cultural celebration of someone that I assume was named Patrick. Like many Canadians, I don’t know the reason for the celebration, but I do know that it’s a great excuse to wear green and drink.
It’s not easy to find a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Japan, but my coworkers managed to do just that. They learned that Speak E-Z, billed as an English school and bar, was hosting a St. Patrick’s day event.
There is nothing particularly wrong with Speak E-Z, but among NOVA teachers it had gained a reputation similar to the way that people react to GasPanic; meat factory for foreign guys to meet Japanese women. Speak E-Z was far less sketchy than GasPanic, and didn’t have any indication that you needed to have drink in your hand at all times to remain inside (author’s note – don’t take that sign literally!)
After work the other teachers and I headed straight to the bar, which was already unusually busy. I would guess that Speak E-Z should comfortably hold about 50 people. There was a band set up in the corner taking up space, and by the end of the night there must have been over 100 people jammed into the remaining space. I didn’t care because they had 300 yen green beer.
My memories of the evening are fuzzy. I remember running into Palmer’s ex-girlfriend and talking to her for a while. When she and Palmer were together, she was ALWAYS at our apartment, even when he wasn’t. This kept Azeroth and I from getting along with her, so it was good to get a chance to talk to her afterwards. She is a pretty cool person overall.
I also remember drinking more than enough green beer, and then later finding out that the mugs had left green rings around my mouth. This led to another vague memory of deciding that I was done with green rings around my mouth and that I should switch to tequila shots.
Drinking pro-tip: if you are half way through an evening out and suddenly think that tequila shots are a good idea, go home. You’re judgement is impaired and you will only make bad decisions from this point forward.
We left at closing, covered in green spills, smelling like cigarette smoke (yes, you can smoke inside in Japan), and still tasting tequila. Someone decided that they would offer Vivian a ride home in their bicycle basket. Vivian is a tall, full figured British woman who has trouble buying women’s clothes off the rack in Japan. She was not designed to fit in a bicycle basket. They surprisingly lasted about one city block before the bicycle fell over, spilling both driver and passenger. I ran to assist and managed to twist my knee YET AGAIN. Despite the anesthetic effects of the alcohol I had consumed, I had a miserable walk home and an unpleasant sleep.
At least I didn’t have to work early shift like the other teachers!
This is a post that existed in an idea in my head, but never made it to my blog 10 years ago.
In my 3 years in Japan, I have had a few different work schedules. The one constant in that whole time was the late Saturday shift.
Like most service businesses, conversational English schools in Japan adjust their teacher schedules to meet student demands. This means that evening shifts are more common on weekdays, and morning / afternoon shifts are much more common on weekends. As an example, Kawasaki NOVA could have 12-15 teachers on during a Saturday morning shift (10:00am – 5:40pm), but only 4-5 for the evening shift (1:00pm to 9:00pm). Smaller schools like Numazu and Mishima would usually have 1 or 2 teachers on the Saturday late shift.
I spent my entire time in Japan on the Saturday late shift. This has allowed me to work with a variety of different people who also had the misfortune to be stuck at work when all of the other teachers were out having fun.
In Kawasaki I worked late Saturday shifts with a group of people including Anzac, who was always good for some teaching advice and beer after work. At Mishima I worked with Veronica, who was about 20-30 years older than the other teachers and had absolute control over any NOVA kids class.
After Veronica, I worked with the asshole who quit by fax. Even though he was an asshole, he was at least occasionally interesting. He was a speed chess master who coded instant messaging apps in his free time.
For a short time I spent Saturday evenings with Charlie, who didn’t last very long in Japan. I think she had a crush on me most of the time, and kept giving me hypothetical situations about wanting to kiss a guy who didn’t know she liked him. I did my best to mention my girlfriend regularly, but she never really got the hint. It was awkward.
Out of all of my Saturday evening partners, my favourite was Vivian. She was fun, outgoing, and just generally easy to get along with and talk to. She was always getting out and having some crazy adventures, and her personality went a long way towards making work fun.
After a few Saturdays together we started calling ourselves “FabSat”, because we were Fab and worked Saturdays. Fun fact: it’s hard for a Canadian to pull off the word “Fab”. We would show up late to the Saturday evening activities with other teachers, catch up on our drinks quickly, and yell “FABSAT” at each other while high fiving.
One of the cool things about being an English teacher in Japan is that you get to meet and interact with a bunch of people that you wouldn’t otherwise talk to. I also learned the importance of good coworkers; they make the difference between simply working and actually enjoying your job.
There are a few good stories coming up involving my friend and coworker Vivian from England. I met a lot of different people during my 3 years teaching in Japan, and Vivian was always one of my favourites due to her personality and attitude. Here’s a good example of what made her so cool:
Shortly after Vivian came to Japan, she learned that the local “English school and bar”, Speak E-Z, had salsa dancing classes one night a week. Vivian loved salsa dancing, and was really excited to go check out the classes. In the days leading up to her first class, she invited virtually all of the teachers in the area to come with her. Some said no, many said yes.
On the night of the first class, she got dressed up, and started trying to collect her dance team. One after the other, everyone cancelled. Some didn’t feel like it, some didn’t have anything to wear, and one small group decided to watch a movie instead.
Many people in this situation would have given up, taken off their salsa dancing clothes, and sat at home, quietly hating their friends. Vivian decided to go by herself instead.
She walked into Speak E-Z, introduced herself to everyone in the room, and then proceeded to have a lot of fun dancing and hanging out afterwards. She came home with a phone full of new contact numbers and three dates set up over the next few weeks!
I know that walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself is not easy for most people. But if you’re going to move away from friends and family and travel half way around the world, you should at least get out of the house and make some new experiences. Vivian had exactly the right idea, and she made the most out of her time in Japan.
I have had a dodgy knee for years, which as you can see in a recent post, I occasionally re-injure. The story of my knee injury is in two parts, the first one is not so good, and the second one I stand behind proudly.
Part 1: Everclear is never a good idea
I joined Delta Upsilon Fraternity in 2002, and in the summer I went to my first “Big Ass” meeting. We had weekly meetings during the school year, but only one meeting during the summer. The summer meeting was usually held outside of the city, and included a full afternoon and evening of discussion about the previous year, the upcoming year, and a chance for brothers to air and resolve any grievances. Also, drinking. A lot of drinking. Due to the size of the meeting, we called it “Big Ass”.
After the meeting we were sitting around a fire drinking beer. During that time, someone pulled out a bottle of Everclear, which I had never tried before. For those unaware, Everclear is a grain alcohol drink that is usually somewhere between 75% and 95% alcohol by volume. At the time it seemed like a good idea to start doing shots (it wasn’t).
Everyone was already in a pretty good mood, and the combination of the beach setting, fire, and fraternity brothers led to some good-natured rowdiness. At some point I snuck up behind one of my pledge brothers and tripped him for some reason, which I can’t recall, but again probably seemed like a good idea at the time. I ran away giggling as he chased me. I am not the fastest of land mammals, and he was a hockey player with much better cardio than I had. He quickly caught up to me and gave me a shove / bodycheck from behind while I was at my unimpressive top speed. My right leg planted on the ground and my entire body twisted around it. I felt something pop and hit the ground in a heap. I was surprised to find that I could barely stand after that, and had to be helped back to the cabin. We laughed it off, but within a few hours my knee had swollen to about triple the usual size. After a very uncomfortable sleep on the floor I was returned to Winnipeg where I spent the rest of the day with my leg iced and elevated.
Getting hurt during alcohol fueled shenanigans – not the best story. Keep reading!
Part 2: Runaway balloon
Several weeks later my knee was feeling normal again, and I was out with my girlfriend at the time (The Ex) and her family. We went out for dinner with her parents and family. We had a total of 6 adults and 2 kids. One of the kids was just a toddler, and had been given a nice red balloon on a string. She was proudly carrying her balloon, waving it, bouncing it, and generally enjoying a balloon the way that only a toddler can.
Winnipeg is a windy city. The terrain is very, very flat, and the newer areas of the city don’t yet have tree cover to provide windbreaks. We happened to be in a big box store area off Kenaston, and it was a very windy day. As we were getting into the car, a gust came up and ripped the red balloon out of the happy little girl’s hands, blowing it towards the undeveloped empty field nearby. Without a thought, I took off running after the balloon. I reached the end of the parking lot, and continued sprinting in the nearby as yet undeveloped field trying to catch up with the balloon. Just as I started to get close enough to consider grabbing the string, I felt the familiar “pop” in my knee and my leg gave out.
When I was a child I spent 4 years in kids gymnastics. I credit this with training my body to roll and protect my neck when I fall. Thanks to this instinct, what would have been a fall on my face turned into a somewhat graceful roll to a stop. I watched from the ground as the balloon blew away, never to return.
I limped back to the car, looking and feeling ridiculous. However, my selfless sacrifice did manage to earn me some respect and sympathy from The Ex and her family.
When people ask me how I hurt my knee, I like to gloss over the first part of the story and focus on the balloon chase. Anyone can be a drunk idiot and hurt themselves, but there are few things more noble than trying to rescue a little girl’s balloon.