Sunday, January 27, 2008

I love French house music!

This isn't a revelation.

It's a declaration.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What a week...

So this week has been pretty hectic if I do say so myself.

I will start from rank of seriousness. Least serious to most.

1.

I finally had a run in with THE LAW here in Japan!
I usually park my bike across the street from the station I exit at, and just hop on my bike and ride. But 2 nights ago was a little different. I saw 2 people just standing there, and in the dark, it looked like they were uniformed, but I dunno why I didn't think anything of it. As soon as I got closer, they blew their whistle and tell me to stop in Japanese. They ask me many questions in Japanese, and I reply, in Japanese. Where do I live? Where do I work? Do I have my gaijin identification card? Is this my bike? Why don't I have the seal of purchase on it? So on and on... The man who was mainly speaking with me asked me something and I couldn't understand, so I told him. He stops and thinks, then starts speaking to me in above average English! I answer the rest of their questions and they eventually let me go. The reason for all of this craziness...I didn't have my light on, on my bike... You live, you learn...

2.

Tuesday morning (or was it Wednesday...) Sayaka and I were woken up by the sound of her cell phone. She normally won't check it if we are sleeping, but this time she did. It was from her mom. She kept saying "Really? Really?" in Japanese, then told me something happened to her brother, and her parents were heading out to go see what happened. Sayaka called her mom to get more details. I didn't understand everything that was said, but I can tell Sayaka went from shocked, to worried in her tone very quickly. When she got off the phone I asked what was wrong, and she told me that her brother was in a car accident, and had some serious injuries to his head. His body was shaking and he wasn't responding, was the only info we had as far as his condition. She began to panic and cry and I tried to calmed her down and made her realize she needed to head to Kobe (where he lives), where her parents were heading when she got the call. She calmed down a bit, got some clothes together and was out of the house and headed to Kobe via shinkansen rather quickly.

I headed to work like I normally do, and waited and waited for a text from Sayaka and I finally got it late in the day. We found out, her brother was riding his bike home after working the night shift, around 5AM, and he was hit by a truck. A nearby taxi driver witness this and stopped the truck driver and got the authorities to come get her brother. The hospital contacted her parents, and we got the news later, about an hour after it all occurred. Great news soon followed as I received texts from her. Apparently his injuries were not major and he would be able to return home the next day! VERY lucky he didn't have any injuries that could have kept him there longer, or worst... For the first time since dating Sayaka, I was able to talk to her brother, when she called me the next day and when I asked if he was fine, she put him on the phone with me. Of course he doesn't speak English and I am not confident in my Japanese, but we managed a decent conversation. To this day (Saturday morning at 12:05AM) Sayaka and her family are still in Kobe, and I don't know (neither does she) when they will return back. They are waiting until they feel like he can take care of things on his own. I am missing her so bad, but I want her to take care of her little brother (he is only a year younger than her!).

3.

The hardest news...

Since I came to Japan to teach English, I have been lucky to have nothing but great students (save 3...) and have truly enjoyed what I do, EVERY day! I have 3 students in particular that stand out because they are around my parents' age, and treat me like their son!

The Sawada's, a married couple, who learned a lot of English because they go to Hawaii yearly to golf. They treat me almost like a son in class and always bring me back something from wherever they go. Mr. Sawada printed a map during his work hours, and highlighted a trail from where I live to Toyota city, because I told him Sayaka's friend drove from Toyota to visit us one weekend. The next class he comes with this HUGE map, he made from printing pages, taping them together, and highlighting the best route to my apartment! Both of them such great people! The last thing they did was bring me a menu from Yard House in Hawaii, after their coworker went there last weekend. I had mentioned to them that I love Yard House's food and beer, and they were excited to try it out in Hawaii when they went again. They also brought me a menu from Cheesecake Factory from their last trip, which makes me hungry every time I see it.

The other student, is Naoharu Mizuno.

From my first class with him, my first week of actually working at my school, he began to like me a lot, because I was from California. He was the co-owner of a metallurgy company that created car parts and owned NGK, the company that makes spark plugs for cars. Him and his wife have a garden that they always take care of, and they both take international trips twice a year, and domestic trips more times than I can count. Since our first class, he always brings me English brochures from wherever he goes. Our class was was a private free conversation class that he loved, since he is retired and belongs to an English speaking club at a college for older people. We would talk about politics, Japanese history, his experiences around the world, USUALLY California, and MANY other topics. He was always smiling and happy to be in class, and always looked sooo sad when our time was up. I always let the class go over it's allowed time, just to get more time to talk with him...

Well today I was informed by my manager, that Naoharu passed 3 days ago...

This is the first (and I really hope LAST) time I have had to deal with the death of a student. Not just ANY student, but one I felt really close to. Of course I feel close to all of my students, but this one in particular was special from day one. He was 64 years old and showed no signs of anything wrong until around October. He got sick somehow and would come to class sort of slow and walk very slowly to my class. I began teaching him in the nearest class, so he didn't have to walk too far. He requested a leave of absence in November, saying he would return in January, because he had to go to the hospital. January came, and my Friday time slot came up, where he should have been, and he didn't come. Oh well, possibly at home recovering from what ever brought him down, and I was sure to see him the next week. But three weeks passed and I hadn't seen him. So today he was supposed to arrive again. But he didn't, just like the previous weeks before. It is my responsibility to call my students if they don't show up to class after a few consecutive weeks, and I tried twice, and never got an answer, and that is when I started having a bad feeling. I began asking the Japanese staff to call because of this bad feeling, and as they called, they were never able to get through. I guess my manager got through to voicemail last week and his wife called today to respond to that voicemail.

My manager and I spent the whole last hour of today just contemplating how sudden he died, and how we never know what will happen tomorrow. We don't know what condition he was in, but from our point of view it seemed too sudden. My manager went to have a smoke and I stood next to him (which is rare for me, I hate smokers) and continued our talk. He told me that Naoharu told his wife, who had studied English like her husband, to continue studying English with me if he were to pass, and that is where we stand now. She told him that when she is done dealing with the funeral ceremonies, and everything, she will continue his lessons with me.

I instantly didn't know what to think of this, but I figured, I will be able to help her do what he wanted her to do, and I can be of some help to get her to keep her mind off of everything she has probably gone through. I have only seen her in his MANY pictures he has shared with me (most recently Italy), but she will now become my new student in his normal weekly, 40 minute, time slot. I almost fear the first meeting, but I know I will be strong...

Such a surreal week. I don't need anything else to happen before the end of tomorrow. Just need to try to be happy!

Monday, January 21, 2008

A not so busy weekend!

Finally! A weekend where we don't have so many plans!

Sat on our butts, ate junk food, watched MANY episodes of LOST, and did chores!

We have finished season 1 of Lost, and watched 2 episodes of Season 2. Currently trying to get Sayaka caught up for the Season 4 premier in just under 2 weeks! She has predicted a few things happenings, dropped tears on several flashbacks and plot happenings, and been shocked and surprised at others! I think I have created another fan!

Was watching the Patriots/Chargers game on TV, while watching the Packers/Giants game on the net. I was sooo disappointed that the Packers lost, that I had to just close the website and step away for a bit. I HATE not being able to watch live games, but I guess this loss was extra hard since they have been doing good all season, after such a bad season last year. Oh well, at least I can look forward to next year as they work out their last few kinks!

We went to Shiogamaguchi to Hiromi san's place (Sayaka's friend's cafe where she does tarot readings and assembles power stone bracelets). We met with Nao-chan for some Turkish food (kebab sandwiches finished with White Chocolate Turkish ice cream!) then headed to the cafe for some tea, and free snacks! Today was a kind of event which is too difficult to explain, but we did get free tea and snacks. After we left, we headed home to watch more Lost!

I was able to watch Cloverfield and can not WAIT to watch this on Blu-ray (I hope...) in the future! A great movie, great quick storyline and enough character building to get you interested and care in case something bad were to happen to the characters! No spoilers from me, just go see it, and don't get sick!

It was supposed to snow this weekend and I was deeply disappointed not to have any! It has been so cold, but no rain, and then when it finally rained, it didn't snow! Come on!

We bought some junk food from Yu-store today and ate some of the pizza bread we bought. It was good, but not great like the Stauffer's I used to eat back home!

Played a bit of brain training on DS, and beat Sayaka twice in the number memory game! We moved to Wii, where we had a close game of air hockey and ping pong, but I ended up on top (both games down to their last point)! In pool she put up more of a challenge and I won 2 games, and she won 1.

As of now we are taking a break, while she looks for a new job (she left her ultra difficult sales job last week), and I type this post up.

Gyah I just realized it is 12:13AM! I seriously thought it was around 8PMish! We are both wide awake and just hanging around!!! Well, here is to a good work week before we have a "secret" birthday party for Krystin (my coworker) this Sunday! (the secret is, the other staff at work don't know about it. Krystin and I are forced to plan separate parties like this so we can enjoy the company of our students.)

Oh yeah, and big news! I signed my contract for another year at my current job! So I am officially an English teacher until 7/09. Not making anywhere near the money I want, problems with my head teacher, and in a tiny apartment, but I still signed as it will set me up for a brighter future.

1. If I teach for 3 years, I will have the experience needed/required by European companies to teach English there. Europe pays better, and have better living conditions than Japan. A potential future!

2. More time to work on my Japanese to get a better job next year. I wasn't too motivated to study last year, and I have to start this year! I really could land a better job if I get better Japanese. My goal is at least JLPT 3 by end of this year!

3. More time to build my resume. As I said in my last post, I have worked on my Megapixelet's Go site, and will work on at least 2 more sites in the next 2 months! I need this to show clients in Tokyo next year (Yeah, Tokyo is my goal next year. More money, more exciting!)

Wish me luck while I continue being more productive this year!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I have been BUSY lately!

No posts recently because I have been working on a new project of love!

A friend of mine introduced me to a piece of blogging software called Wordpress, and I spent a week learning it and all that it has to offer. Well after that week of hard work, I came up with this!

Megapixelet's Go!

This is just a way to get photographers I know motivated to go out and take pictures! It also forced me to create a forum for it, which I am just using a public theme for, but will eventually make a custom one myself, when time permits!

Forums

The last week saw me getting a package faster than any I ever have from California. My mom sent Sayaka and I's Christmas present, a NICE 6 inch digital picture frame! The frame itself is amazing, but check out my mom's wrapping job! Too nice!



This weekend I was able to pull myself away from coding/designing to go eat some Shabu Shabu with Sayaka and Nao-chan (Sayaka's best friend! Errr one of many...). Anyone who doesn't know shabu shabu, you have a bowl of boiling water in the middle of your table, a plate of raw beef, and a plate of vegetables. You toss it all into the hot water, cook it, then dip it into sauce and eat! The place we went to, has an all you can eat/drink for just under $30!

If the description wasn't enough, check out this video!
video

And in a moment of hilarity, I taught Sayaka the word areola today and she thinks it sounds hilarious. So of course, while eating shabu shabu, before she heads to the bathroom, she tells Nao-chan that I will teach her what areola means! Nao-chan understands 0% English, and my Japanese would have made that explanation very vulgar! So I try my best to change the subject while Nao-chan keeps egging me on. I change the subject to Lost and what I did that day, and she bites! When Sayaka gets back, she explains to Nao-chan and they have a big laugh over it. The rest of the night they would just randomly say it and we would all start laughing! Now Nao-chan says it in almost every text msg she sends to Sayaka!

Girls...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Years Eve, Day, and the following day!

Wow... All I can say is wow...

For weeks we had planned to visit my friend Neil who was in my training group in Yokkaichi, and the day was finally upon us. December 31, 2007!

Sayaka and I were lazier than expected (if you know us, it should be expected) and we stayed around the house until 2 hours before we should be boarding a train to Yokkaichi!

We headed to Meiki (Nagoya station area) and ate at Pepper Lunch for early dinner! Pepper Lunch is this place that does a type of fried rice with either steak or thin cut beef to mix in with it. We showed ourselves why we should eat there more often!

We boarded the train to Yokkaichi at the time it said we should, and took our first Kintetsu to Yokkaichi! The train said it would arrive at 6:17, but we got hung up 4 stations before Yokkaichi and got there 20 minutes later!

When we arrived, Neil and Stuart met us and we went to go shopping at Apita for some beer and things we would need the next morning.

We went to Neil's apartment which is twice the size of mine (but he is farther from Nagoya, which has its cons) and drank a bit to save money we would need on drinking at the Jazz bar!

We ALL (Sayaka included!) drank a tall can of Kirin and a small can as well before it was time to head to VeeJays for some Live Jazz until the new year clocked in! We walked over through the immense cold and made it less than 5 minutes. When we arrived, we saw Ryan (also from our training group), his coworker Susan and friend/girlfriend/? Atsuko (maybe that was her name, of 4 of us, we all had 4 different names...). They had awesome seats near the front where people would perform all night long. As soon as we sat down, Stuart paid for all of our cover charges and first round! We were shocked! Interesting enough though (things were crowded so it happens) I had to pay for my first round and my drink, Sayaka didn't. Oh well! The night was filled with amazing live jazz, a man who spoke ZERO English, but rocked Ray Charles' Georgia on My Mind, and loads of alcohol! Midnight came and went while we continued to drink, shout, clap, and so on throughout the morning. Ryan, Susan, and Atsuko (tm) had to leave because Atsuko was heading to Yosemite the next day! This was around 1 or so. 2 hours later, I found myself so drunk, I had to leave, because I was just way too dizzy! (I have seriously drank twice as much with NO results. Alcohol, go figure!) Neil, Stuart, Sayaka and I headed back to get me to a bathroom (yes I spoke to god (errr threw up)twice that night), drinking some water, and into a nice warm futon. Sayaka was AMAZING and took care of me until we both headed to sleep. Our hosts, the Brits, went back for more! They got home about 6:15 or so.










Around 11AM, we woke up and Sayaka showered. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Nagoya, where we got our day pass for the subways (600 yen!).

We headed to Sakae to see if they were doing any fukubukuro at Bathing Ape, but that wasn't until the next day. Everything else in Sakae was closed! This is strange, because this is the most popular shopping area in Nagoya! Luckily The Gap was the only store open, and we made our way there to buy Sayaka a new knitted cap and me a new scarf (I left my old on in the izakaya, Sayaka, Naoko and I went to at the start of the vacation!). We called it quits for any other shopping potentials and headed to Atsuta shrine to go pray for the new year. Atsuta shrine is one of the biggest shrines in Japan, and very popular for the near year. When we got there, there were TONS of people, stands selling food, masks, and various other things! We made the walk to the shrines entrance, stopped holding hands (Sayaka said this would make this God jealous, since it is a woman god), and walked under every Torii gate in the shrine. During the walk to the largest, most popular shrine, it began to rain. The rain continued to grow harder, and it even began to snow a bit! First day of the year, and we have snow! We made it to the large shrine, threw 5 yen, and made our prayers! We quickly made our way out and headed for Aeon JUSCO to go do some potential shopping, look at the dogs/cats and eat.

When we arrived, I picked up a new knitted cap from the winter sports store (my old beanie is too thin, and this new one protects more of my ears and back of my neck). We looked for other things for Sayaka and I but couldn't find anything else. We found a ramen shop she really wanted to take me to, and I was super hungry, and was cautious about eating ramen now. Lucky for me, this was THE BEST ramen I have had in Japan so far! We got 10 pieces of mini gyoza, and I even got 2 refills of noodles for the ramen and was proper full after that! Sayaka finished with some black sesame ice cream, that I really didn't like!

After that we headed to the pet store to watch the dogs and cats like we always do, and eventually made our way home, after some SUPER light grocery shopping. It was SUPER cold today and we were happy to be home!








That night we got a text from Sayaka's mom that she would be in the city shopping and she invited us to go with her and go to the Aquarium too! Can't pass that up! I kept tossing around the idea about going to Bape to try for fukubukuro and finally decided I would let Sayaka sleep in and go check it out, then meet her and her mom later.

I woke up extra early in the morning and headed to Sakae to line up. I got nervous as I exited Sakae station and saw tons of people lined up for Matsuzakaya, Mitsokoshi, Parko, and Lachic! I swear they looked like lines from Disneyland! The day before we read that Bape would be holding it's line in a big park behind the store (in front of the store would be too small). When I was close to the park, I saw many people wearing Bape clothes, running towards the park. I kept my pace, but was in complete SHOCK when I saw the length of the line! It was about 8 rows deep, with roughly 25 people per row! I got in line and waited patiently, with my headphones on, since of course, I was alone, and no one would even talk to me anyway, just stare, look, point, laugh. Welcome to Japan.

Eventually one of the store staff came and stamped my hand, and my number was 207... This was going to be a LOOONG wait. Once 10AM hit, we were guided throw the line to receive raffle tickets. These tickets would give us a new number and order to get into to line, to enter the store... Complicated? Yes. Confusing? When you speak little Japanese, yes. Fun? Well, I have to admit, kinda!

My new number became 85, and I made my place in line and waited! During the wait, I came across a few interesting things. One, the age and sex of people into Bape amazed me. I typically see guys get a few things for their girlfriends, but in line, I saw girls by themselves, with 100% Bape clothes on, head to toe! I saw men and women in their 50s, dressed the same! I also heard some guy who was speaking English, and obviously from the US or Canada, and he was SUPER annoying. He was with a Japanese girl who spoke excellent English and I can tell even she was annoyed. The stuff he was talking about was super petty, uninteresting, repetitive, and annoying. I was blessed when the security moved them out of line because it was too long. They had to go wait on these huge steps while the rest of us stood in the shade, in the freezing cold... Hey better than listening to him! I finally started talking to people as my ipod died, and I found the 2 guys next to me's conversation funny. They saw me laughing and figured I understood Japanese, and began talking to me. We had some fun conversations about Bape, movies, music, and America, and eventually 4 other people joined us, and it became a Tommy interview.

It was finally my turn to enter the store! 3.5 hours later! I went in with one of the guys I was talking with and we had hopes to find certain things we wanted. When I got in, I didn't see anything that caught my eye on the first and second floor (third is for women). I went back to the first, and found that my new friend had already collected 5 or 6 items!!! I looked at the shoes and one pair caught my eye. I had never seen them before I tried them on in my size, which they only had one of. That fact, plus I just waited for almost 4 hours to come in here, I was going to buy something! So I bought the shoes, and the new season's magazine!







After my shopping, it was time to meet Sayaka and her mom in Osu. It wasn't as hard as I thought it was because Sayaka gave me a great description of where they were, and I have a great memory of where certain stores are in Osu. Osu is a HUGE shopping area, with smalls stores placed throughout, with restaurants and different things thrown in for flavor. We met at a jewelry store that had fukubukuro and her and her mom bought a big bag! After that we headed to one more store where her mom bought another bag, and a small case. We were pretty hungry so we headed to an all you can eat and drink Italian food place! Their pizza was GREAT as was their cesar salad! I wasn't impressed with their pastas, but was more than happy with about 9 slices of pizza and 3 salads! After we finished, we headed to Aeon JUSCO to go find something for Sayaka's dad. We found him a nice shirt, then went to go find a calendar that her mom wanted. After a lot of shopping, we headed to go get a smoothie after a day of hard shopping! Her mom was shocked to see it was 7:30 when we prepared to leave!

We headed to Akaike via subway and helped her mom get all of the bags to her car. She drove us to the nearby game center (we call it arcade in America), and her mom gave us money to play air hockey twice! We played after what felt like a year since we played last, and I won both times! Sayaka gave me her sad face, but I still had to win! After this, it was time for the long subway ride home. I think we literally went to sleep less than an hour after getting home, which is VERY unusual for us.

This vacation has been expensive and tiring!

Oh yeah! If you want to know what fukubukuro is, it translates to Happy/Lucky Bag/Box! It is a tradition in Japan where stores throw a bunch of random stuff into a bag or box, and sell it for much less than the total of all the items. Some stores even throw in a random GRAND PRIZE of sorts, like a car (keys to the car)or something, so people love going shopping for those items. Last year Bic Camera gave everyone a Nintendo DS Lite in their 10,000 yen fukubukuro, at a time when Nintendo DS Lites were sold out everywhere in Japan. So going shopping for these items is a great deal and a chance at some cool stuff!

Winter vacation has begun!!!

I am writing this all in hindsight, 2 days before the end of vacation, but I have had a lot of fun (and spent too much money so far...!)

Christmas Eve was a bit hit and miss. We had plans to go get my gift before it sold out (a Bathing Ape wallet), eat ramen at Sunshine Sakae, do some looking around and then go eat yakiniku for dinner! We got out of the apartment and I felt sooo sick! We got the wallet, and I felt worst, and continued to decline after we ate ramen. I had to call it a day and go home. I was sad we couldn't eat ramen and promised if I slept a bit, we could go get yakiniku when I wake up! I slept about an hour or so, and went to yakiniku, without my sickness interrupting anything else! The next day being Christmas, meant nothing here in Japan! Sayaka and I both worked! Before work I bought myself a new point and shoot camera, that is MUCH smaller than my older one and better quality (go figure, living in Japan...)I had to go to Akaike to teach a corporate lesson, but after I stopped by Oozone to get Sayaka's Christmas present ( a new ipod Nano and case for it). I had her meet me at Oozone station so I could present the present to her, and she loved it! We stopped by a izakaya across from Shin Moriyama station and enjoyed a great dinner there! The next 2 days were work days, so vacation was yet to begin!









Vacation began at the end of me teaching a corporate lesson in Meiki (near Nagoya station), which was a lot of fun. I met up again (had coffee with them before my lesson) with Sayaka and her friend Naoko (who just came back to Japan after living in Mexico for a year+). We found an izakaya and ate some AMAZING and CHEAP food!



video

The next day we had to wake up early to head to a mochi tsuki party in Toyota! We got to the station and Sayaka's mom met us, and drove us to the place we would have the party at. At a mochi tsuki party, you get to pound mochi gome (which is a kind of rice for mochi) with a mallet like object to soften it up. I got to try this out for a bit and it made me exhausted! There were soo many kids here, so if I wasn't eating, drinking, or pounding mochi gome, I was taking pictures of kids, or talking to them. It was fun to have them ask me to speak in English and they would shout "Wakaranai!" which means they don't understand! That is why you don't have me speak English! Some kids would say I was African or Brazilian, but 2 kids would quickly correct them and say "AMERIKAJIN!!!" or American in Japanese! Too cute. When the mochi was ready we had some dipped in kinako, or inside a radish and soy mixed sauce. I LOVED the kinako (tastes like a sweet peanut based powder) the most, but was made fun of because it is for kids!

After we did the mochi tsuki, Sayaka and I were exhausted and thought we would go bowling, but we sat there, nearly falling asleep on the bench. We went to the liquor store after a while to buy her dad a gift that should have been from California, but we had liquor import issues. We bought him a bottle of Johnny Walker which came with a special edition cup and he loved it. Sayaka's mom picked us up from the liquor store, we went to go get her dad, then went to eat yakiniku together (just like we did before we went to California!). Again we ate and drank sooo much! Her parents love taking us out to eat! We did the long train ride back home and I think slept instantly!











The next day, we were super lazy most of the day, but at night we went to Sayuri's house to do a kimuchi nabe party! We took the train to Nissin and Nao-chan, Sayuri, and Aiko were waiting for us. We went shopping and bout everything we needed for the night. We got to Sayuri's new apartment (which is a Leopalace like mine, but WAY nicer and a bit bigger, with a loft!) and I built a glass table we would use to eat on (IKEA style table). After all of the cooking and preparation, we ate some of the best nabe I have had yet! There was some thick cut pork in there that everyone was drooling over! Overall, a GREAT meal!




video

New Years Eve will come at a later time!