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!)  :)