Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My fish think everything's gonna be okay.

In the past week and a half, it seems people have been glued to the news watching the disaster in Japan. It's been strange to watch it, because I'm 'here', but I'm not. I'm about as far away as I can be from the destruction (expect for Okinawa). Life here has barely been affected. The kids are raising some money to be sent up north, and there's been some news coverage of towns that look a lot like mine, but I can't tell anything catastrophic happened without watching TV.

One thing that is hard is to judge how bad the situation is. I'm fairly certain that the danger is downplayed by the Japanese Government and Japanese TV programs. I'm just as certain that foreign coverage is equally sensationalized. The French Embassy has told their nationals in Tokyo to leave, while the US only says you should consider it.

Of course I'm not in Tokyo. To usage any left over fears, I'm located in Kumamoto Prefecture. It's about 577 miles or 928.39 Kilometers from Tokyo to Kumamoto. The distance from Minneapolis to Chicago is 354 miles (in a straight line). That's pretty decent. Not to mention that Tokyo is on the East coast and Kumamoto is on the West coast. There are also mountains in the middle, so the wind shouldn't blow over here too much. Hopefully.

Finally, the really reason everyone should, is that much like the parakeet keeping miners safe, my fish are not worried at all. I found them peacefully sleeping side by side last night. Therefore, I don't think I'll stand in line at the airport just yet.

It's shaping up to be a beautiful spring. I was exceedingly disappointed this last weekend. We had Monday off as well for a national holiday, and it rained all three days. =(
Honestly, there's got to be a rule that at least one of the days is partly sunny for any three day weekend.

Although I've been busy the last few weeks, that will change shortly with the coming of spring break. I wasn't planning on traveling much for spring break this year. Last year I traveled quite a bit and now I just want to relax. I've been having fond flashbacks of when Audrey and I got our first apartment right out of college together. We used to have contests to see who could do the least on our days off. Ahhh, that was great.

To add to the potential lazing, I found a nice speaker set by Pioneer, two good sized speakers for either side of the TV plus sub-woofer for only $300. I'd seen the same set for $500 at other stores. So I purchased it as a belated to self birthday present. :D

One of the trees at my junior high has started to bloom. I think I'll do a series of picture blogs of the sakura as they come in. They breed sakura here like people breed dogs in the US. The plant them at schools and city buildings and parks. And then in the spring when the trees bloom we all take extra long lunches and eat under the trees. If you don't have work you go and drink and be merry under the trees. I like that the best.

I'll be keeping a look out at what happens up north safely from my sofa. I should be able to hop a plane to Korea or Singapore if things get really scary.

Thanks to everyone for your support. I hope that the photos I post in the next week help you see how normal life is here in Nankan.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jet Lagging into the New Year

2011 has finally arrived. It brings the beginning of a new life style for those of us in Kyushu, as the new Shinkansen is scheduled to complete sometime this March/April, which should shed an hour or two off of my trips to Osaka.

Although January is the coldest month here, it's definitely worth it to have all the bugs dead or hiding somewhere in the forrest. Damn bugs. Living here in January is COLD. My friends back in MN might be laughing, saying, '32 degrees? Cold?' but I will remind those of you living your posh lives with things like insulation and central heating that we don't have such comforts here. If you'd like a taste of my winter, just open your windows on the next 32 degree day and try it.

My parents came to visit last year at the beginning of April and Mom tried to heat my whole apartment with one pitiful heater (about the size of a window air-conditioning unit). I had to explain that the walls leak like a sieve and it will just break the heater using it in such a large space. Well, I probably didn't explain it that well or that nicely. I think it was more along the lines of 'What do you think you're doing!?'

In Japan, they tell you to forget everything about last year before you begin the new year. I like this. Forget and just let the new year come. Today I went to class and left the old year at the door. I had been quite worried. So many things didn't go the way I wanted last year. I became frustrated with my kids because I couldn't see that I was helping in any way. Also, I have to say: This is my third year here. I have done these games many times. I have taught these lessons many times. I have dealt with students who don't study and then complain that English is impossible more times than I can count.

Moreover, I'd become frustrated with the work culture here. People being married to jobs, not being able to have any free time at all, even to sleep. It just seemed so strict, so structured, and such a pain. The teachers I spend my days with can't ever go out for a casual drink after work. 1. There's no place to drink here. 2. Japan has a zero tolerance for drinking and driving. Any alcohol in your system earns you an immediate trip to jail, interrogation, and for ALTs, a trip home. 3. The teachers have to work on Saturday and Sunday unless they have small children and are women (and therefore the primary caregiver, and don't have any time).

Yet here I am. For all the bad things, I still like my life here. I like my freezing apartment. I like my genki non-studying students. They really are fun. (It's just hard to make games when they haven't learned the grammar.) I love going to my super market where all the cashier ladies know my name and look so excited to get to chat with me for a few minutes.

And yes, Mom, I love my restaurant that serves some of the most outrageously fabulous parfaits I've ever had. I'll have to get some pictures. Mom and Dad, if you have some of those parfait pics would you send me a copy? If not...guess I'll just have to go do some reconnaissance :D

So you don't need to be in a new place with a new job to have a new year. Leave the old one at the door.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm just stuck

Some of you may not know about my latest project: I'm building my first gaming computer. Originally I just wanted to buy one, but that idea was dashed when I saw the shipping estimate. Ouch. And so I started the process of familiarizing myself with all of the current parts and equipment on the internet.

And now I have reached the point of TMI. I have read so many things about some of the pieces that I'm completely stuck. I can't choose! It's at the point where I know all the pros and cons, but I'm just stuck. I guess I'm afraid of making the 'wrong' choice. Or maybe not the wrong choice, but that I'll regret it later.

I've managed to get everything except the graphics cards.

Well, recently I've also been questioning my PSU, but I'm focusing more on the graphics cards.

Here's what I've chosen thus far.

Coolermaster 932 AMD edition
Intel i7 960
ASUS x58 rampage iii
Corsair 1000w HX
WD 1tb @ 7200 rpm

Now don't go all medieval on me about putting an intel chip in an AMD box. I wanted the Coolermaster HAF X, but guess what??? It's not available in Japan. Shocker. This was the biggest case I could find here, with a side window. No I wasn't going to install my own window. I've been thinking I might try and change the badge on the front of the case.

I haven't chosen the ram either, mostly because I'll probably place the order on a website other than due to limited selection on that site.

And so the graphics cards are:

Geforce GTX 480 & ATI Radeon HD5870

(Whichever graphics card I pick, I will get two for my system.)

From what I've read, the GTX is more powerful, and NVIDIA has a good rep on making up to date drivers for their products that work well with games. However, this card runs much hotter (is designed to withstand the heat as well), and is supposedly noisier. It also chews up more power than the ATI.

The ATI isn't as powerful, but it holds a cooler temp, is quieter, and still holds it's own against the GTX. Also, this family of cards has gotten really good reviews since they came out, and because of the heat etc, some still think the ATI is a better choice if you're not over clocking it.

To make matters worse, in Japan the prices on these cards are within $50 of each other.

If I was living in the US, I'd probably just buy the GTX. But power here is a big thing. My electric bill is no joke, and to be honest, I'm a little scared that this new computer will blow fuses all over the place at my old house. And since I don't *technically* have access to my breaker box, it's kind of a pain unless I want to ultimately move. Which, is an option, but would suck.

Also, air conditioning here is just not on the same level as in the states. Houses are made to fit loosely together and pretty much leak like a sieve. When I told some of my teachers how houses in the US are built tight with good insulation, their response was, 'It must be so hot in the summer!' I tried to explain that we use central air in the summer and that since it's so tight this works quiet well, but they weren't buying it.

Thus any heating or cooling ends when you turn off the aircon and that's not central air my friends. To finish it off, my apartment is on the 2nd floor (and no basements here - hello earthquakes).

So for me living here, heat is a bigger consideration than in the states. Of course, on the plus side, I could use the help keeping my room warm in the winter...

You are now up to speed on my current conundrum. It's like comparing apples and oranges. They are close enough that either will work well I think, but would I like the quieter card or the more powerful card in the long run? Which would work better for my current situation? Why couldn't one of the cards have been the obvious choice???

Perhaps in this case simply buying the most recent isn't the right move. That goes against everything I believe in as an American.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Into Summer

It's summer here in Nankan. Well, it's the time of year I consider summer. I consider there to be six seasons here. Fall, winter, spring, summer, the rainy season, and then hell.

Yes, it's coming close to the last two; neither of which will bring comfort of any kind.

The fireflies are coming out, and as soon as they leave us, I expect the rainy season to come. It's muggy and it just rains. But not in a fun way like in MN. No, it just rains. Straight down. FOREVER. Last year I started to get pissed off from the continuous noise that never changed and never stopped. I'm hoping this year I will have a higher tolerance.

And of course with the hot and steamy the bugs will mutate and just like in the movie Mimic, will hunt us down. It's hard to say what scares me the most, the spiders the size of grapefruit (bodies the size of a lime), 8-10 inch centipedes, cockroaches that fly, killer bees 3-4 inches long, or mosquitoes that are fast and small and rob you of the chance to have your revenge.

After that, we enter into the really HOT season. I just call it hell. I mean, let's get serious. You don't need some fancy name. I know that places in the US are just as hot or hotter. Do it in the US without air-conditioning and we'll talk. Until then, eat me.

Moreover, this year has a special sad tang to it: many of my friends here are returning to the US (or home country). We'll get new people, and it will be nice to meet them, but it doesn't change the fact that the friends I've made here will leave. It's the way things go, but it still sucks.


Surprisingly, despite this, I'm in good spirits.

I have a new gold fish. His name is Tomo; as in 'tomodachi'. I was going to name him buddy, then thought this would be the Japanese version and liked it. I still call him Buddy half the time. Poor fish. Doesn't even know his own name.

I was unable to find a suitable computer to buy online from America and have sent over here. Shipping plus tariff just cost too much. And so I get to do something I've always wanted to do: build my own. To make things even better, Kat said we'll build it together. So I get the experience, I'll be hanging out with her despite all the demands on her her last months here, and I'll get an awesome computer.

I'm finally going to England this summer, after delaying last year when I found out Joe was going to live there (right after my Summer vacation ended - thanks Joe).

Deborah will come to see me for a bit too, which will be lots of fun. Lots of Okonomiyaki and onsen.

And of course, over the summer I can justify eating ice cream almost every day.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Hello Everyone!

Today is my favorite kind of weather: a little cool, warm in the afternoon, and sunny.

Lots of things have happened since my last post. A teacher I'm not fond of stayed around another year (even though we all thought she'd leave), I had two encounters of the Shelob kind, and have picked up some projects I'd left unfinished.

And of course, through it all, WOW.

You know, I've been stuck recently.
But in the last few days, I've been in my life, as TANK.

I know that doesn't mean anything to you.
Ok, it might mean something if you play WOW.

I'm gonna talk as if you've spoken to me in the last three months. If you have, you've had a basic intro to some of the things in this game. If you have no idea..schedule your next chat time with me now!

When you go in a dungeon, you go in with four other people. The tank gets all the bad guys to hit him/her, the healer heals the tank, and the other three pick off the monsters hitting the tank. The tank is sort of the leader. If the tank doesn't go, the group doesn't go. When something goes wrong, it's up to the tank to control it as best they can.

I love to tank. I really enjoy it. When I play and I don't tank, I think about tanking. I read about it online, and I watch other people tank for ideas. And when things weren't going how I wanted in the rest of my life, a friend told me, 'What about being tank in your life?' Having that same attitude in my life that I do when I tank. Sometimes, no matter how much you try or practice or prepare, it doesn't matter. You just have to go! Give it a shot. And deal with the crap that happens when it happens.

I really liked this idea because it let me play my life as a game. It's not so serious that I can't mess up. You just read the situation and go. Don't think too much about it or your group will get bored, just like I was this past month. I just thought too much about it. Just go and deal with the problems when they come. If you wipe, run back and go again.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Where am I?

I've got a lot of things going for me. And I'm finally out of the cold weather, and rain. But there seems to be something bugging me. There seems to be something off. I can tell you the things that led me down this road, but I can't tell you where it goes from here, or where the road I was on before went.

I just feel like something is off. Something isn't right. And I just can't put my finger on it. I just want to know, so that I can breathe a sigh of relief and move on. Go back to the road I should be on. The road I was on before it all went downhill. Where'd that road go? Where'd that hope and determination and energy get to?

I don't know. I don't even know where I am anymore. It doesn't feel right. I know I need something. Something basic. But my mind won't work and it's like walking in sand. How do you let go of this sad feeling and move forward? What if you don't know where forward leads anymore? What if forwards has become backwards somewhere along the way, and every step you take leads you back to where you were before? Isn't it better to just stand still?

Monday, March 15, 2010


Today is graduation day. My 3rd year students (9th graders) are leaving. They've done well. I'm proud of them. It's difficult to be responsible for your own future. Many of them still don't understand exactly what that means, and are just going on to the next step, the next place. They don't know that they can go anywhere they want to go or do anything they want to do. They are so many things to see. I wonder what they will see.

Of course, they will go places I will never go. They will do things I will never do. And yet, our lives will be the same. We will all be people and we're the same.

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I didn't want to live abroad. If I didn't have any interest in foreign language. If all I wanted was the house the kids and the husband. An office job and a dog. I'll never know. Because although those things are nice, I want something different.

Before I felt sad for my friends and other people I knew who were 'trapped' in that life. I thought that they were just as upset as I was when I lived that life. Eventually I realized that they didn't feel that way. They might not like everything about their lives, but overall, they liked it. I tried to be happy with that life, and I failed. All I wanted was to come here. And any commitment that could interfere with that wish made me uncontrollably sad, and I ran away from it.

So now I don't feel sorry for my friends back home, and I don't feel sorry for my students and the lives they will have. Even if they work at a gas station or someplace I would find inadequate, perhaps they like it. Or perhaps it allows them the life they want. Or maybe it's just a stop on their way someplace else.

In the past few months, I've come to some peace with myself and my life. I am who I am. I can't be anyone else. Sometimes I might wish I could see life from someone else's perspective. I think it would be interesting. Especially to be at ease in places that I feel uncomfortable in in my life. Or to be a part of a group I was never a part of.

Deborah used to tell me that just because I'm choosing one thing, doesn't mean that I need to feel like I'm missing out. If I choose to do something, it doesn't mean there is something better happening and I'm excluding myself from it. I used to always be upset that I couldn't do everything I wanted every day. Now I realize it just means I can be happy everyday, no matter what I choose to do.

I know that although I could have done different things with the students, I impacted them. I can see it. I also received a letter from a student. She asked me not to let anyone else read it. I promised I wouldn't. She's not the best at English. But she just shines. I know that I connected with her. I know that for the rest of her life, she won't be the same person. And I know how special she is. I hope she continues to be the beautiful person I see. There are many fun and funny students in my classes. She was always a bit quiet. Didn't raise her hand much, didn't join the English speech contest. But I would have to say she is my favorite student. We connected in a profound way. I'll never forget her. I'll always think of her. I'll always wonder where she is and what she's doing. I'll always be proud of her.

It's really true what they say in the landmark advanced course. You have a possibility. Great. Good for you. But where the real power is, is sharing that possibility; is having someone else get it too. If there's nothing happening over there [with the other person] then it's just you. The real power is in inspiring others.

And so I'm sad to see my students go. But I'm so excited at the same time. I can't wait for them to leave. Whether they know it or not, or want to or not, they'll take the rest of us with them.