Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Year End Enkai

I'm off to an onsen, so I'll add more later.  But I'm declaring my Year End Enkai with the Junior High teachers a success.  

It was just me introducing the teachers to my friend Sauza, when the HOT HOT HOT HOT JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) from a neighboring town shows up and starts talking to me.  

I'm sorry, I don't remember all of it.  But I do know that I told him I talked with another ALT and we decided it wasn't fair that he was James' JTE and, you know, not one of ours.  Then a bit later I remember he said something like, "Wouldn't your husband be angry?" and I laughed and said I don't have a husband.  

The killer:  I got his email address!

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I have won the lottery!  Did I mention he went to the ALT Halloween party as a soccer player?  A really HOT soccer player?  For those of you wondering, he's a nice guy to (at least as far as I know now).

Three days ago I let go of my story that I can't find a boyfriend, that it's hard and it'll never happen.  I created the possibility of being popular with men, of dating, and of having a romantic relationship that is fun creative exciting and supportive.

And three days later look who showed up?  That's fast!  This totally rocks!

Okay, I've gotta go to the onsen now.  He he he.  Yeah, it's tough living in Japan.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Listening to the Rain

Hello Everyone,

It's been a rough couple of weeks over here.  Some good things have happened, some bad things have happened.  My attitude with my students is still great and with other people.  But recently, when I get home, I've started to show a little wear and tear.  I'm not really relaxing, and I've lost some of the shine that this place had for me when I finished work for the day.

I wasn't really sure how to react or what to do about it.  So I've bummed around and watched TV and played games.  I've studied some Japanese and talked with various people.  I started making these cards for classes with vocabulary works, adjectives, and verbs.  I do the letters in an artistic way and have designs on them.  It's been a lot of fun.

I also started an English bulletin board at my school.  I'm really proud of it.  

But everyday when I get home I'm exhausted, and I just go numb until it's time for bed (which gets later everyday).  

So tonight I stopped the TV show, opened my sliding door, and listened to the rain storm outside.  

Sitting under the warm kotatsu, and hearing the rain phase from wet to soaking and back again. And my wind chime roll on the wind.  Another new experience I will take with me.  

The rain clouds just sit over you.  Nankan is in a mountainous area, but actually a small valley where the clouds get trapped.  So when it rains, it sits right on top of you like a sibling that won't give up.

I'm giving up my story about why I'm not going into Kumamoto city to explore.  Country was fine.  I hadn't been out this far before.  But for me city means Osaka, and I didn't want another city.  It also scares the shit out of me.  I don't want to drive in the city.  So I'm gonna ditch my car at the train station and ride in.  

Not this weekend, I'm going to Osaka ;)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Best Feeling in the World

Last weekend I was waiting in my apartment for a call from my parents when I suddenly heard fireworks.  It was about 10 am and I felt like getting out so I went to investigate.

I threw on some clothes and put the equivalent of $30 in my pocket and set out.

Over at the parking lot of the public bath there were tents everywhere and a stage.  On stage there was a program with people dressed up as anime characters who were fighting some monster and a woman narrating.  It kind of reminded me of the play Peter Pan, audience involvement and all.  

People were really excited that I was there.  A lot of my students were there.  The people from the Board of Education were there running the event.  Akaki-san found one of my students and coerced her into showing me around.  It turned out to be a lot of fun.  We walked around and bought food and looked at stalls. 

The fair extended into the shops on the main road in Nankan.  So I went in.  Almost every place I went they offered me free food, and almost all of it had natural or unnatural sugar.  Ugh.  I like sweets but I hadn't eaten breakfast.  And the sweat bean paste they use for their traditional  sweets is just unbearable after five bites.  But I still had a great time.

I went home around 2 pm and had a late talk with Mom and Dad and Joe.  Then I went out for the end of the festival.  They did a lottery, which I didn't win.  Akaki-san was very apologetic.  I kept telling him it wasn't a big deal.  Then they threw these traditional sweets to the crowd.  I really wanted to catch one.  I'm pretty sure the lady said they are good luck for the new year.  I almost caught several of them.  

It was near the end of the give away and I was sad I didn't have any.  But I didn't give up.  And I finally caught one.  Yes!  It was a great feeling.  But as I walked away I saw a little girl about 5 years old who was holding her grandma's hand.  She looked really sad.  I didn't even know what I was doing when I walked up to her and held out the mochi I just caught to her.  I told her to smile using gestures. She took it and her grandmother thanked me again and again.  

As I walked away I had the best feeling of my life.  I felt such a connection to every person and I almost cried with joy for giving the girl the mochi.  I've never felt that way before, but it was fabulous.  

The next week one of the people I work with at the Board of Education came up to me and thanked me for giving his granddaughter the sweets.  He said she was very happy and that she remembers my name.  I had met her before when I was walking around Nankan.  About a year ago her mother died so she lives with her grandparents.   I'll never forget that day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Freakin Cold

I would like to start this post by saying it's cold.  It's colder inside my home here than it is in Minnesota.  My bedroom at home was usually around 50-65 degrees.  It is colder here. 

So I couldn't help myself from writing some comments about the cold.  Here they are.

Ramblings of the cold

You’re too cold when

* You take the toast out of the toaster oven a minute early and stick your hands in.
* You fill your bath with 50 degree C water every night because you can’t help yourself.
You stay in said bath until you start to prune
You stay in even when you have to pee.
You stay in when you get hungry.
You stay in when you feel light headed.
Eventually, you get half way out, but keep your feet and hands in.
Later you climb back in because you can’t stand the thought of waiting another day until you have another bath.
* You look around so you can stand in front of your space heater and realize you already are.
* You have to pull your pajamas out of the blankets on your bed because that’s where you changed this morning.
* You use your computer continuously and put your hands on the bottom where the fan is to try and warm your fingers.
* You wear two pairs of pants, a sleeveless shirt, two t-shirts a long sleeve shirt a sweat shirt, jacket, and the pair of socks that in America you loved but couldn’t wear because your feet started to sweat, all at the same time.
* You who has never run for any reason find yourself jogging five times a week because you want to feel your toes
* You remember exactly how god awful hot it was in the summer and still want to go back in time.
* You boil water so you can put your hands in.
* When you drink tea your nose runs and you can smell for the first time in days.
* You pull out the strange heaters that have illegibal or unknown words on them and decide to experiment until it turns on. you don’t care that it could burn the house down if you have it set up incorrectly.
* You cry when you have to turn the heater off at night because if your blanket gets on it it could start a fire.
* You take the heated floor rug and use it as a comforter on your bed.
* You stop seeing people because it could interrupt your bath schedule.
* You wear your ski hat to bed.
* You can't seem to stop thinking about the weird ass things you do when you are cold.

PS I found out today that my airconditioner (which turns into a heater) is very very broken.  Also it turns out that the slot on top of my small space heater in my bedroom is for water so that the heater can make steam.  Oops.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What's Next?

Hi all.  

You know, getting to Japan kind of threw me.  I dedicated a year of my life to getting here.  After arriving, I faced one of the same difficult questions I did right out of college: what's next?

And since I have been sick for over a week now, with nothing to do but sleep, try to sleep, watch House, and survive my classes, I faced the question.  I did it in a round-about kind of way, not admitting at first that this was why I've felt agitated for the past three months.  

The problem I faced was: I want to live in Japan.  I don't want to be a regular member of the Japanese work force that works for 10 to 14 hours a day.  And I don't want to teach English for the rest of my life.  I love it; my kids are great.  But after 3-5 years I think I'll be ready for something new.

And I was sitting in my bath tonight (I mean really, where else do you expect me to be?) and I accepted the answer.  I didn't find the answer.  I didn't come up with the answer.  The truth is, I've known the answer all along.  

But what did they say in every Landmark class, introduction, or water break?  Knowing makes no difference.  I've known the answer since I went to Kansai Gaidai.  It was something I wanted just as much as returning to Japan, but I said it was impossible.  

I want to work at Kansai Gaidai as a history teacher.  I love the area.  I love Osaka.  I love history.  In the past I said it would be too hard.  I wouldn't get into the grad programs.  And trying to balance being published and work as a teacher would be too difficult.  

Before I came here and started teaching English I also said I wouldn't make it as a teacher.  I was really scared.  Just as scared as I was of coming to Japan the second time.  That's how I know this is what I really want.

I see Mom reading this and saying, "Save money for grad school."  I see Dad reading this and thinking, "Damn all that money to airplane tickets."  I see Joe not being surprised.  I see Deborah saying, "But you're supposed to come back!" I see Audrey using this as an excuse for many future vacations.  Amanda I see you coming to eat really awesome ramen with me (before the grad school!).  

Courtney, you have a good game face.  I'm not sure what you'll think.  But I do see Andy convincing you he should come over and 'practice' his driving.  Just let him know that all he has to do is show his driver's license at the AAA and pay $15 to get his international driver's license.  I thought of you Andy the other day!  We could hear the cars on the race track over at the school where I teach.  And I thought of you Courtney yesterday when I walked by a house in my neighborhood and there was a woman brushing a long haired version of Clutch.  Same color and all.

For everyone else, I think of you too.  I think of things to say to you everyday.  But I'm sick, I'm going back to bed. 

Good night!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

He He Again

Compared to when I lived with a host family in Osaka there are some things I like better about living alone.

The best by far is the bath.  When you are the third to take a bath with five people in the family, you tend to keep an eye on what time it is.  You relax, but there is the ever impending thought, "Oh I'd better get out so that X has enough time."  

But alone, I can just sit in there for as long as I want.  There is no one else.  And it really is a waste to draw all that water to only sit in it for 15 minutes.  You really need to stay in until it cools down to a medium level.  There are bathless kids in Africa, after all.

And thus I have discovered a new way to determine when it is time to get out of the bath:  When I am so relaxed I'm about to lose control of my bladder, it's time to leave.  

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dumb Bugs

I lay on my couch, listening to the blood thud through my veins.  It's hard to move after spending too long in a tub of water that was too hot.  

I look up at the light on the ceiling and wonder how dumb bugs are that they stay so long next to a light that they die of the heat.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What I Want for Christmas

There are really two things I want for Christmas this year.  One is a cool wireless book reader.  Since it sucks to have to pay to ship books, and they're heavy etc.

The second is this:

Dee has one.  It is a portable oven.  She says it works better than many ovens in the US.  It is made in the US and they don't ship to Japan.  But it is large enough to cook a turkey or a cake.  I'd probably be making chocolate chip cookies for my students.  And neighbors.  And self.  Can't forget self.  Or I.  Can't forget I. Or me either.

Bring the Funny!

Alright, so here's a funny story for those of you who take life too seriously.

Today we had our Culture Festival at Nankan Junior High School.  After, the students were really excited.  They were hanging out in the hallways waiting to go home.  I was wandering around, talking to them.

Two girls started to talk to me.  They pointed to a boy in their class and said, "Katharine, he is crazy boy."  I politely responded, "Oh really?"  The boy in question overheard and came over and said, "Please Katharine do not believe this person."

Now it started to get interesting.  Knowing that they were getting to him, the girls started to dig their heels in.  They insisted that he was a "crazy boy" and adamantly refused to take it back.  

I don't really think that he was worried that I thought it was true.  But he wouldn't let it go.  So the girls moved on to new territory.  Next stop was, "He's a lie doctor." after learning the word 'lie' from me.  Then when he reacted by speaking in very loud and extremely fast and slurred Japanese, we reached, "High tension".  

I guess that "high tension" is an adjective in Japanese, because that's how they were using it.  The boy kept getting louder.  Then he tried to get some of his friends on his side.  I knew something about his friends.  Two of them come up to me several times a week and point to themselves and say, "We are crazy boys!" with looks of pure pleasure on their faces.  He was screwed.  They were as amused by his reaction as the girls, so they started to support the girls' theory.  

But they didn't move onto anything else, they just strung those three together.  So the "Crazy boy, lie doctor, high tension" boy and his classmates continued until they had to sit down for homeroom and dismissal.

I turned to Yoshida-sensei, the English teacher for the third years, who had walked up near the end of the discussion, and said, "Well, at least they were using English."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

To Osaka!

On October 9th I hopped the train and rode it all the way to Osaka. I met up with my old friend Dee who I met at Kansai Gaidai. She is currently working as a kindergarten teacher in Osaka and was willing to take me around a bit. Dee also let me crash at her place, which was fabulous.

I went to my old school - Kansai Gaidai. I was surprised. It was the same. And yet it had moved on without me. I guess part of me always thought of Kansai Gaidai as it was when I was there. My image was static. So when I saw it full of life, with new students making their way, I was surprised.

As I walked around I remembered, but most importantly I just let it go. This place isn't only mine. It is everyones. So I went and picked up the piece of myself I'd left there. At least part of me wouldn't ever have to leave. But I took it back, and I also took Kansai with me. The buildings could all fall down, and it would still be there for me. There's more to this world than we can see; and Kansai will always be with me.

So onto business. I only spent about an hour wandering in my memory. After that I went over to Kyomizu-dera. A temple in Kyoto with the best view of the city.

  Don't you agree?

I'm reminded of Dave Matthews' "Ants Marching".

Here is one happy climber.  Even with my knee I did pretty well.  It usually takes about 30-45 minutes to climb to the top.  Mostly because there are a lot of shops on the narrow roads up to the top and there are tons of people.  Luckily, lost of people meant someone to take my picture!

But really, this is one of the prettiest temples to visit.  Lots of stuff to buy, and a good work out too.  Does it get any better?  I think not.

Next up:  Pastry!

Ah yes.  The beautiful french pastry shops with a Japanese twist.  They make all different kinds of pastry.  And each one is a work of art.  You wouldn't believe how happy everyone was that I wanted their picture.  I told them I would put it on my website and you'd think it was the coolest thing ever.

Look and drool.

So in this picture on the right you can make out the word "トトロ".  Yes.  They made a pastry shaped like the head of Totoro, from the Miyazaki Hayao film.  Things like this are a regular occurrence in Japanese pastry shops.  There everywhere!  I went by two or three just in the train stations!

The really amazing thing is that this is a pastry shop.  The cake shops are just as elaborate and just as much fun to eat at.  If I was living in Osaka, I would not have lost the last five pounds that I have.  Nothing can give you an appetite than passing by these shops all day long.  

Sitting in Style

My living room currently.

Well, I took the plunge and bought a couch.  I just couldn't stand the black "couch"  It was about eight inches off the ground and it put my knee at a really bad angle.  So my plan is to buy a new TV stand that is about the same height as the couch, that runs the length of the wall.  I will get rid of the book case and simplify the room.  There should be plenty of storage for the electronics.  Of course, I'll get a new TV too.  Thanks for sending my Playstation Mom and Dad!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Walking Around

I think the best way to get to know a place is to walk around.  If you drive, it may take only minutes to arrive somewhere, but you don't see every house, or store front.  You can't appreciate the various flowers that color your home.  You don't really know a place until you have walked around.

In that vein, I went on two walks this week.  Each was 45 minutes to an hour.  My knee held up pretty well.  In fact, the knee didn't hurt half as much as the back of my legs!  Youch!  

I asked people here if there are hiking paths etc around.  They all said no.  So I just set out on my own and walked down streets I had seen but never taken.

On my first walk, I was stopped every few minutes by people in the neighborhood to talk.  Some of them I had never met before.  Some of them I could understand; some of them I could not.  I spoke for several minutes with a husband and wife.  I got some of what they were saying.  Then when I was starting to leave the man gave me a present - a yogurt drink.  I guess as a way to welcome me to the neighborhood.  I also met a couple who own a small market/convenience store.  The two seem to meld out here in the country.  Small convenience stores that have personally grown produce.

I also went by interesting looking buildings.  The first had a marker outside with some kanji on it.  I'm fairly sure it was a buddhist temple.  It kind of looked like it and it had the 'temple' kanji at the end.  

The second had a big entrance and building inside.  There were markers on the outside, but I didn't have any idea what they said.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't a house though.

The third building looked like it may have been some kind of restaurant.  It had a sign outside that I couldn't read.  If it is a restaurant it is upper scale.  I guess it could also be a high end bar?

From there I ended up over by the Board of Education.  I continued on, and ended up going up hill.  Behind my apartment and the rest of town there are some mountains.  They aren't extremely high, but I'm sure that the towns people don't have to add dirt to them every five years to make sure they still have a mountain!  

Before I knew it, I was on a path that led up the mountainside.  There was a small Japanese building that I thought was a shrine, but turned out to be a look out shelter with built in benches.  It was beautiful.  I watched the sun set and the people go home from work.  I couldn't imagine that they didn't want to stop and look for a moment.

On my way down, I found another staircase going up.  Unfortunately it was getting dark, so I said, "Next time."

Next time happened yesterday.  I had a goal in mind, so set out at a faster pace, ready to explore.  For some reason not as many people were around this time, so I made it over to the path pretty quickly.  I found another path that led to the first one I used to go up the mountain, and set out.  I made it to the new path, and the climb was not too hard.  However, as I went further I noticed it became darker.  Duh.  I mean, I see the trees, I look at the trees.  I admire the trees.  Trees block light you know.  I walked up the staircase anyway.  

When I made it to the top of that staircase, I couldn't believe the view!  This was so much better than the look out!  They should make another look out!  Except that this one was more of a secret beauty.  From here I found another staircase to take me further.  I went up.

This brought me to the top of this part of the mountain.  I couldn't believe how much bigger the mountains all seemed from up there.  I followed the path back to a plateau area.  There was a gateway and an open area.  Eventually I came to a grave yard.  I did not go in here.  I turned around and came home, saying, "Next time".

I never imagined that Nankan would have so many hidden places, and so many secrets.  I will keep exploring them.  And let you know about some of them at least. 

If you want the whole story, or to see what pictures can't show you, you'll just have to come see me, won't you?  And for those of you with financial issues keeping you away, figure it out!  It's not impossible you know.  I say to my kids in class, "I only hear English."  To you I say, "I can't hear excuses!"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Time for the Funny!

This morning I got up and was half watching tv, half still sleeping when they showed a fat cat on tv.  Fatter than Mindy by at least five pounds.  A woman who owns a shop had this cat (really cute).  

Every time her daughter came to work at the shop and took off her outdoor shoes and changed into her work shoes the cat ran into the back room and stuck its head as far into the discarded shoes as possible!  Then with its head in the shoes, used its back legs to move the shoe around.  The cat acted like the shoes were catnip.  

Then when the daughter was done with work the cat switched to the shoes she had just been wearing.  The cat didn't care about the mother's shoes though.  Only the daughter's.  

That was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time.  I laughed for ten minutes.

Good morning everyone!

Be Creative!

Today I want to pose a question to all of you. You have a large tea pot in your kitchen that you found in the back of a cabinet full of used cooking oil. It has been sitting in the corner of your sink for three weeks, and you want to get rid of it.

What do you do?

A) Tell your supervisor at the Board of Education and ask him to take care of it?
B) Ask your neighbor for help
C) Figure it is someone else's problem and throw it in a plastic bag and then into the garbage
D) Say, 'Screw it' and dump it down the drain

Well what would you do?

If you have two eyes, you could easily see that your supervisor has a crazy schedule, and works on the weekends as well as late hours during the week. It may be Christmas before he gets around to it.

If you ask your neighbor for help, they probably have never had to get rid of that much oil at one time and have no idea which garbage/recycling group to put it in.

If you figure it is someone else's problem and throw it away, it might work. But you would then have an angry garbage man who looks at your trash and won't let you get away with anything from now on. He might also say, 'Screw you right back' and refuse to take it because pots and pans are recycled separately. Then you have a VERY gross mess and no idea what to do next because his note is written in Japanese.

If you try to dump it down the drain, call a plumber. The Assistant Language teacher before you didn't cook a lot, and this oil is probably over ten years old.

So, now you may ask, what did you do Kate? Here is my answer:

Given the following:
two disposable chopsticks
one small black plastic bag
one small milk carton
an almost empty bottle of cooking oil
an empty coke bottle

I made this

I took the milk carton and cut the bottom off.  Then I cut one corner of the plastic bag.  I put the plastic bag inside the carton, and pushed the cut corner out of the carton's opening.  Then I put it on top of the almost empty cooking oil bottle.  

I used the chopstick to push the plastic bag into the plastic bottle.  Then I poured the used oil into the plastic bag/carton.  I used the chopstick to make sure the bag stayed open and allowed the oil to go into the bottle.

When the plastic bottle was full, I switched to the empty coke bottle.  It took about half an hour, but now I have two bottles to take to the BOE and a clean sink.  The tea pot will go out with the cookware recycling next week.

If you're wondering why this wasn't one of the options to choose from, it's because it wasn't an option for me either.  Is this a 'normal' idea; I don't think so.  

I figured that it wasn't fair to make the garbage man deal with this mess.  I guess it wasn't fair for me to deal with it either, but someone had to.  I could have just crossed my arms, stomped my foot and pouted, but sometimes all you can do is just deal with the problems that are sent your way.  

Now what was a problem is a great success!  Since none of you are hear to properly congratulate me, I'll do it myself.  That was F%@# ing awesome!  

I missed my calling to be one of those people who work with the astronauts and make a round peg fit into a square hole.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hello Kate is in Ameripan!

Say hello to my new friends and my favorite weekend.  I really didn't spend all weekend watching house.  In fact, I did a very enviable thing.  I saw the new Hayao Miyazaki film which just came out in theaters in Japan.  It is Gake no ue no Ponyo.  I highly recommend it.  Ha ha I saw it first!

I also got to hang out with the girls who are in Tamana-gun (machi = town, shi = city; gun = county).  We went to the movie and shopping.  I got a lot of new stuff for my apartment.  Plants, mop, broom, new rugs for the bathroom and toilet.   And hangers.  Lots and lots of hangers.

But by far the best thing was that I found Mountain Dew that tastes like Mountain Dew.  In 2002 in Osaka, Mountain Dew tasted like half Dew, half sprite.  Now there is a slight difference, but it's close enough for me!  Horray.  And I bought two kinds of Pringles that are not in the US.  The one in the picture is Extreme Cheese.  Sorry Deborah.

And last night I saw the biggest spider I have ever seen.  Body and legs were larger than my hand.  The body was around the size of a tennis ball, maybe a bit smaller.  I had nightmares about being surrounded by large ugly spiders.  I'm surprised I didn't die of fright.

Sweat dreams!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

That's a deep forrest!

So, for those of you who have been waiting, here is my blog about cleaning the kitchen in my apartment. I may have to add some more of this a bit later, seeing as how I'm dead tired.

Something strange has been happening lately; I haven't wanted to go to bed. Usually this is a sign that something is wrong in my life, but I promise you that I am doing pretty well overall. I really like my job and living here.

Anyway, because of my lack of sleep, I am happy to report that I only have to clean out the refrigerator and then the immediate kitchen is finished. I still have the attached sitting room to take care of, but that pales in comparison to what I discovered already.

Hmm. I am the seventh ALT in Nankan. And they all lived in this apartment. I know that because of what I found in the china hutch (that has an area that doubles as a pantry).  Many of the expiration dates were from 1992.  

I also found old bug traps (plus dead bugs) and old empty beer boxes on top of the china hutch.  I had a lot of extra or old cooking utensils.  At one point, I found a rusted out cheese slicer.  I put it on the table and said, "well I guess I'll have to buy a new one" and then moments later I picked up a new, perfectly good cheese slicer.  I have two blenders, six fry pans, four cheese graters, three coffee pots, three hot water insulated tea holders more pots than I can handle, a tortilla press, a garlic press, two tea kettles, and a tea set for 10.

I mean really, that's just nuts.

My kitchen table.  It is completely full of pots and pans.  In Japan there are recycling days and guidelines.  The dishes go out on  9-24 and the china goes out on 9-19.  Did I mention this was half way through the kitchen and I had piles on the floor too?

This was a used tin can of some kind.  It already started to decompose.

The can and one other just like it were so old that the lids would not come off.  I had to open the lid, but without a can opener.  I used a hammer to bang a screw driver in through the top.

If anyone ever said that spices can't go bad obviously didn't wait long enough.  I had to dig this out with a chop stick.
I have no idea what this was besides gross.

I believe this used to be some kind of jam.  Probably raspberry.  It did not smell good.  And since it was jam I had to put some of it down the drain and then clean up what wouldn't go down.  Yuck.

This used to be honey I believe.  It solidified and took a long time and a lot of hot water to get out of the bottle.  Originally the bottle was full.

Oh and Dad, in answer to your question earlier, "How do you get people to follow the recycling restrictions?"  You refuse to pick up their trash if they have something that needs to be recycled in it.  (trash goes in clear plastic bags with your name written on it and then if you have an item that should be recycled they put a note on it and leave the trash there.)

Good night!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pictures of Nanakan

Here are the pictures you've been waiting for.  Look for videos later, when I have fast internet.

View from the window near my desk in the teachers' room.

The trees in my 'backyard'.

Finally, you get to see the outside of my apartment.  Not a bad color.  The green car there is mine.

One more picture from my tatami room.

So you might think this is just picturesque.  But they actually use that broom.  It is not a lawn ornament.
Ah yes, you sickly trees, I missed you.

A palm tree.  There are some here, it's definitely hot enough.  But I think they need to be imported or are just more expensive, because they do not make up a large portion of the landscape like I thought they would.

That isn't grass, it's rice.  Sticky rice.

Email to Dad

Good Morning Dad!

This has been a heck of a week.  I started feeling isolated this weekend, ironically when I met the other JETs in my area.  I guess I just didn't realize what I was missing until I was faced with it.  Other JETs hang out with each other every night.  Some live next to each other.  And to top it all off they have spent a month with each other this summer that I didn't get to.  Poor Me :(

On the bright side, when I get upset I clean.  And I don't like going to sleep.  So my kitchen is almost done.  I only have the fridge left to clean top to bottom, and then to clean the floor.  Of course, I have to also wash all the shelves and what not in the connected tv area.  But still, the kitchen is almost done.  I have even done the windows, the sliding door, and all of the connected petal pieces that I soaked in glass cleaner, because for some reason that worked wonders on the never-coming-off sticky gunk that was plastered all over them.  Before they were kind of a orange/off white.  Now they are a bright ivory.

I'm going to be so proud of this place when I'm done.  Maybe I will buy my PS3 as a congratulatory, 'I have nothing else to clean' present.  I have also talked to my supervisor, Nakashima-san today about new screens for the doors and windows.  They are so old that the ones in the tatami room are completely ripped from the top (but in a straight line, so it isn't too open, but needs to be fixed).

I also got the washing machine working.  So the problems were:
1) didn't agitate enough
2) water would take 3-8 hours to drain out
3) lint still on clothes after washing

So I was messing around with it while the water was trying to drain and I saw this tube that connected the washer to the drain.  I picked up the tube and the water started to go down really fast.  So I messed with it a bit more, and the washer drained out.  I thought, hey this is good.  Even if I have to hold the hose each time, it's an improvement.  Then I found a cleaning brush with a long handle that had been left in the back where the tube was.  I used the brush to prop up the tube, and I don't even have to hold it now!  It just drains on its own in a matter of minutes.

Next, it didn't agitate the clothes, so they didn't really get clean.  I was looking at the top of the machine and noticed a button that James hadn't mentioned.  The one next to it,  had the word 'soft' and was pushed.  So I pushed the unknown button, and started it up and lo!  The washer agitates much more strongly and for a longer time. 

Flushed with my success, I looked at the lint trap on the inside of the washer.  There was a plastic button that obviously belonged to it, but I had tried to remove it before and failed.  I tried again, and because I tried to pull at it a different way, it came out.  Now the washer pulls the lint off the clothes.

The washer is still old, but I don't even know that I want a new one.  This one has a great cycle for my delicate clothes and it works fine.  The only thing is that for whatever reason the towels came out stiff and not how I wanted.  I'm considering telling Nakashima-san to just wait on the washer and give me new wallpaper instead (which is BADLY needed). 

The morale of this story is - never give up (never surrender).  If I had taken what James said as the only possibility, I would be trying to find a way to get all my heavy clothes up and down a set of dangerous stairs to go out and clean them at the laundry mat.  But I just kept poking at it, and tried a lot of different things.  So when you have something that is impossible, don't treat it like that - just treat it like an old washer that you just need to 'adjust'.

BTW, I'm going to post this washer story on my web blog.  That turned out better than I thought it would. 

Hope this makes up for the lack of a good morning email yesterday.

I'm going to bed.

Love Kate

Or actually, I should say, I'm going to tatami.

(buy computer!)  :)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hot Diet

I finally got some pictures of outside.  These are taken from my windows / veranda.  I'll get some more when I go exploring later.

So I had my first run in with an overly protective community.  As some of you know, since I have come to Japan I have had some problems eating.  I got a really nasty stomach from the airplane.  I haven't done very well on the 14 hour plane ride in the past and this time was no exception.  Although it was better than the first flight I took.  I think it was particularly bad this time because I hadn't fully recovered since my surgery, which also made me extremely ill.  So my stomach was not prepared for the random food that came it's way.

In any event, I didn't eat much for the days in Tokyo, and when I did I usually regretted it.  Then I came to Kyushu which is the most South/East island.  The heat here was so much worse than in Tokyo I thought I would die a couple times.  It has gotten a lot better recently.  However, my favorite dinner has been a liter of water.  

Well, that didn't sit too well with my co-workers at the BOE (board of education).  I did consider lying to them, but that's not who I am.  Also, my supervisor Nakashima-san has been taking me everywhere for the last week and a half.  So he knew I hadn't made it through five pieces of bread in as many days, and that I was supposedly eating two or three meals at home each day.  

When my co-worker asked one day what I had made for dinner last night and I said I hadn't eaten anything, I stressed that it was due to the time difference (6pm Japan = 4am America).  Apparently she either didn't buy it or she didn't care.  Next thing I know I have four people or more asking me each day if I made dinner and what I ate.  Luckily a few days later when I didn't eat anything no one asked me.  They must have been busy that day.

To top it all off, a few days later the same co-worker I originally confessed my lack of nutrition to told me she was worried about me.  Asuka asked if black was my favorite color.  I said that it wasn't but that they told us to wear nice clothes when we first came to Japan, and that all of my nice clothes were black.  She didn't say it in as many words, but I believe she thought I was depressed.  The next day I wore a cherry red sweater.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hmm, Not a Couple Pics at All

From my window in the Tokyo hotel around 4am.  Ah, jet lag, how I missed you.

From my window around 6am.  Hey, I thought it was 4pm! Gimme a break.

Big apartment.  The kitchen is to the unseen right.  Maybe I will take a short vid of the apartment...
My beloved tatami mats.  Sorry, you all lost to woven bamboo :]

Amongst Mountains and...Grass Skiing?

So here I am in the tatami room of my apartment.  It is my favorite room in the house (at least try to look shocked), except when it is too hot.  Then my favorite room is the kitchen where the air conditioner is. 

I missed the tatami mats so much.  It was one of those little things I didn't even consider.  I used to wake up (reluctantly) and many times I had been sleeping on my stomach with my hands stretched out on the tatami mats. 

I missed feeling them under my feet while getting ready in the morning and falling asleep with them at night.  

For the first few days I lived in the kitchen.  It was really hot, and my supervisor and the two others who met me at the JET center in Kumamoto took my futon from the bedroom and put it on the floor of the sitting room connected to the kitchen.  There was a lot of discussion as they had in impromptu inspection of the place and commented on all of things that needed to be fixed.

On the second day of life in Nankan-machi (machi = town) I was given a driving tour of the area.  I was pretty impressed.  For such a small town, it has a lot of cool, diverse things you wouldn't expect.  From the small race track, the local potters (whose house/studio looks just as you imagine a Japanese artist's place in the mountains would look), and of course, the onsen.

But there was one surprise.  There was a ski lift.  It was a weird case of culture and reverse culture shock all at the same time.  It was just so familiar and so wrong.  I asked my supervisor, Nakashima-san, "I thought you didn't get snow here." and pointed to the lift.  He said, "No, we don't get snow here.  That is for grass skiing."  I double checked to make sure I heard right.  

I had.  I am in the land of grass skiing.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Snow Fox on the road

Hello to the opening of my blog. If you had asked me a few months ago if this day would ever come, I would have defied time and replied it wouldn't. And even if I had lied, I just couldn't have known. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have called you a liar and truly believed it.

I am going to Japan. The return trip I never imagined possible and yet prayed for every moment. I have a 10,000 yen bill in my wallet that I never thought I would get to spend. I saved it five years ago when I left my exchange school and returned to the US. That bill only ever left my wallet when I would hold it up to the light so see the water mark.

I will miss all of the people in my life so much. But there is no job in America for me. I want to thank everyone who helped make this possible. The doctors, the nurses, my physical therapist, my not so physical therapist, my family, and my friends.

But especially, I would like to thank Deb - Deborah to the rest of you. You are amazing. The most trustworthy, stalwart, accepting, fun-loving person I have ever met. You didn't know how to help, so you just stood by my side, waiting for me to pull my head out of my ass (sorry little children, this blog is not for you :)

I go forward
step after step
raising my eyes toward the sky

Always to remember
the time before
with a smile

Never forgetting
the people who led
my feet to the path once again.