Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keeping it in the Family

Oh, Sunday. You're so very grey today. And windy. Do you think you're in Wellington? Because you're not. You should sort that out.

The sky is grey and I am blue because I have just bid (bidded? Biddybid) farewell to my dear father after a positive whirlwind of a three day visit. He came, he saw, he made positive comments about the public transport systems.

How did I know it was my Dad and not, like, Tonks? Or Mystique? Because during his first steps outside in Japan, his first look at the streets of Sapporo, his first question was - 'What are those?":

... "Hey, look Dad! A shrine! A geisha! Buddah! GODZILLA!... You still want to know what the stumpy pipes protruding from all the buildings are...? Ok, fine." (FYI, I took these photographs to school and asked the teachers in my office what they were, because my Dad wanted to know, and they exchanged sideways glances which said "So that's why she eats raw mung beans by the packet and has hair that's longer on one side than the other and walks with her head tilted to the right so that it's less obvious and reads Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban every lunchtime without fail, GENETICS" and, just in case your breath is, like, bated, like mine was, they're heating vents).

Did Dad clean my bathroom with a toothbrush? No, he did not. Unhelpful. But we bonded. Oh, we bonded. We even went on a FATHER DAUGHTER BIKE-RIDE which we haven't done since I was, oh, knee-high to a short person, and we got a full 500 metres down the road before the back tyre on my poor fivemonthsinthesnowmorerustthanactualbike bike blew with the violence of a sneeze and left Dad standing sheepishly on the side of the road and a nearby construction worker laughed and laughed at the hapless foreigner and Fancy Nancy smiled smugly between my legs (lulz).

Dad wasn't in Japan for long, so he didn't get many opportunities to see things, but he did put lots of things in his mouth.

Did I mention he's a PhD? I did? Good.

Anyway, it was certainly a short a visit, but we managed to pack it full of fun. We went to a temple. We ate yakitori. We went up the TV tower. We visited department stores. We went to a park. We drank many many litres of Sapporo. Dad partook of his first sushi train. The waitress was so flustered by Dad's handsomeness that she offered to take a photo of his first Japanese sushi experience:

REALLY flustered.

His trip culminated last night in a Genghis Khan party, during which Dad spent many minutes trying to convince an unswayed Scotsman that it is in fact sensible to study Nuclear Physics at a university in a country that has never, and will never, open its borders to nuclear power, and after which we went into Susukino and partook of sheesha while Dad bewitched the bartender into giving him gifts and free beer through the power of his EYES:

He never stood a chance.

So, I am sad with the departure of family, but sustained by the decision that I will make a three-week trip back home in July to reinvigorate myself with family and friends and dairy products.

Are you excited?

You should be.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fancy Nancy or Racey Stacey

The snow is gone. The roads are clear. And, with the advent of spring, Sapporo's bike culture comes back to life. The racks at the train station are filled each morning. Some have orange choppers. Most have the classic light blue/silver Mama Cherie's. As depicted photographically earlier in my blogging chronology, I left my bike out in the snow allllllll winter, and she is now a sad, rusted shadow of her former self (and her former self was also sad and rusted). Being the callous consumer that I am, the prospect of oiling and pumping and prepping her into a state of readiness was too exhausting to even contemplate, and as such, she remains where she has remained all of the last five months, chained to the fence outside my apartment. She will remain there until I get guilt stricken enough to relegate her to my shed, which may be longer than the average lifetime. I have high hopes that she'll be stolen, but I don't think even the most poverty stricken Japanese person is that desperate for wheels.

How shall I get around, you ask? Well. I have a NEW bike. She is shiny and navy and pretty and she doesn't sag under my weight and she's NEW.



I've been riding around more slowly just so people can get a better look at me. Also, because what I thought was gears turned out to be a bell.

The title is, naturally, me floating options for the name of my saucy new bike (not affectionate nicknames for my left and right buttocks, respectively). She's beloved enough to merit a delightful rhymed epithet, and maybe if I give her a good name she won't end her life frozen and rusted and chained to a fence. Thoughts?

What else? School's back. Opening ceremony was Friday, with myriads of little white first years piling in through the doors flanked by nervy parents. I got all the petrified and wary stares I deserved, and not just because while they were all in black and white suits, I was wearing this cardigan:

It's even glowier than it looks, all sequins and velvet. Just perfect for an auspicious occasion. The principal wore a suit tails, after all, and it's important that everyone understands that I'm the second most important person there.

The ceremony consisted of each student's name being read in turn, a lot of ninety-degree bows and about nine thousand renditions of the school song. There were several lengthy speeches, during which the students were told to carry themselves with dignity, study hard and do themselves proud (and/or grow out their armpit hair, perfect the art of the can-can and perform breast enhancement surgery on each other during lunch time, what do I know?). This next week, I'll get acquainted with my new charges. I'm teaching all three grades, with a special focus on the extra smart ones (the so-called COSMO students, the astronauts of the future are in my tender care, should we worry?), so I'm going to have my most convincing teacher pants on. It's going to be a bit rough, getting back onboard with 6am wake-ups and full school days, but I'm ready, and I have the thought of a lengthy vay-cay-shun in Taiwan in 3 weeks to sustain my sweet self.

Manfriend is back in my universe, having completed his Niseko contract. He doesn't start work in Sapps for another 2.5 weeks, but I'm keeping him busy doing housework. No freeloaders here, friends. Dad is coming to stay for a couple of days on Thursday, and I have grand plans for him to clean my bathroom with his own toothbrush. I anticipate a positive response. PhD stands for Probable Housekeeping Desires, no?

In other news, these men exist in the world:

Which I think we can all agree is a relief. CLIMAX, indeed. However, they're not nearly as exciting to Japanese women as... ME. As I took these photos, a little old lady with a lens as long as her leg approached me and took several very-close-up pictures of my foreign face, totally ignoring the Japanese John Travolta's doing their best to bring Grease to Sapporo on a cool Sunday afternoon. What enticed me out of my bed on a Sunday, you ask? I was a member of a group of foreign folk who gathered to scare Japanese people into donating money towards earthquake relief. It was satisfyingly effective. Tsunamis and 9.0 earthquakes aren't nearly as terrifying as foreigners with boxes and matching t-shirts, lemme tell you.

What else? I bought a toaster. Good. Which means that I no longer have to endure the spectacle of black squares of bread being pitched across the room as Manfriend proves himself incapable of sustaining the attention necessary to make toast on our tiny gas grill. What will I do for entertainment? Photograph foodstuffs with dubious names, of course:

Dyslexic people with a tenuous grasp of English should NOT be permitted to name cheese. Just sayin'.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chutney Is a Funny Word...

It's a weird time of year. It's Spring Break currently - spring being characterised by sudden Flurries of Snow and Lots of Dead Grass, but it's my first one in the northern hemisphere, so maybe this is what it's supposed to be like? ANyway, the rinks of snow that had taken the place of the roads for the last 5 months have begun to melt away, and the remaining piles of ice on the curbs are blackened and old and look ready to depart for cooler climes. I note that today is New Zealand's daylight savings weekend, meaning that ya'll are now only three hours further into the future than I (I'll catch you yet, friends mine), and anticipating drops in temperatures, and I must start to consider what the hell I'll do with my wardrobe when tights become once more defunct.

The changing weather is not the only confusing part - when I go back to school in a week, it will be to a whole new school year and hundreds of unfamiliar faces. Some of my favourite teachers have departed, along with some favourite students, and I will be embarking upon a whole new school schedule which may or may not include - horror - actual work. The last few months have been slow, to say the least, with the wind-down, and exams, and the departure of the third years, and I'm only just beginning to appreciate how good I had it. There was exam marking, sure, but most of days were taken up with marking time, interspersed with movie watching (all six of my first year classes watched the movie UP as part of their final lessons with me (I'm REALLY hard working) so I watched it 6 times in one week (the first half four times in one day), and I cried every time) and sports days.

Sports Day in Japan = not comparable with Sports Day in NZ. As I recall, at my high school, it was only compulsory to enter one track event and one field event in order to have completed all Sports Day Requirements and so I spent the majority of this day sitting on my arse, in the grass, eating a sausage and wearing fairy wings, because nothing says Serious Athlete like a Tinkerbell costume, and the one time I actually took it upon myself to go over and above the TWO compulsory events, I partook in a three-legged race, and there's a reason THAT's not an Olympic event, and when your wings get entangled... well. Exhausting.

This was Serious Business. With the possible exception of this most excellent dude:

The language barrier makes my life a Better Place.

They competed as classes in sports including badminton, basketball, table tennis and dodgeball - it still being more or less Antarctica here, everyday, every sport was one that could be played inside. It was Intense. They wore Matching T-Shirts and Expressions of Intensity. All these kids are phenomenally fit and driven and amazing and I spotted not one single pair of fairy wings.


Not something one ordinarily equates with the humble Japanese, but I saw much of it. Except, here, when one kid knocks another kid over, and knocked over kid loses his glasses, kid who knocked him over picks up the gasses, wipes them off on his t-shirt, and puts them back on his face, while the remaining members of both teams kindly pause and wait until the unfairness has been rectified and play can resume.

Sports Day in Japan = also NOT JUST ONE DAY. I don't know why this surprises me. They do everything more hardcore than everywhere else. Kids are all always at school by 8, and linger on in the hallways long after I make my exit at 4. They're on holiday now, but when I made a cursory trip to school last week to tidy my desk, half the kids were there, running laps around the school or blowing enthusiastically into various instruments. Sports Day at Kaisei lasted three full days, which is my generalized concept of Hell, but which seemed to make them happy.

After Sport's Day came the leaving ceremony, where all departing teachers said their goodbyes and people cried and played guitars and there were flowers and people standing in very straight lines and I was really quite sad because among the leaving was this gentleman:

The poor gentleman, put in charge of me upon arrival, has called my landlord for me, and filled in forms for me, and woken me up on the one occasion I slept through the bell, and boiled the water for my myriad cups of coffee and lent me terrible books and once called me "fashionable" (which in Japan-speak means, "Fairy wings are not appropriate school-room attire") and generally made life easier and will be sorely missed.

In four months time, the JET changeover will kick in, and my new school schedule will commence, which will involve my spending only three days of my week at Kaisei (two at another high school), and so I will be given a whole new schedule, which seems like arbitrary and weird timing, but which I'm sure is explained away in my employment contract which I Haven't Read and What Kind of A Law Student Am I Anyway and Why Am I Eating Chutney Out of a Jar with a Spoon?

Tonight is Ladies Night, which means we are going to drink to much and sing romantic songs to each other and yes, it's a Sunday, but if people down (up? gah) in this hemisphere can decide to change over the school year in April, as if that's a sensible period on the calendar in which to do so, and call the period in between school years Spring Break when it's clearly The Depths of Winter Still then I Can Drink On A Sunday If I Want To and, dammit, I'm bringing my fairy wings.