William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

15. Exploring

15. Exploring

January 26th

Right now I’m watching a hilarious high school soap opera on NHK. Most of the time I have no idea what people are saying, except for the odd one or two-word canned phrase, but it’s still quite enthralling. There’s this teacher – the most annoying character in the show, because all she can do is walk around with her head lowered and apologizing for everything – who also teaches kendo, and she breaks or aggravates the break in a student’s arm because she’s such a hard-ass. So there’s a nighttime trip to the hospital and OMG DRAMA DRAMA and where first the student was apologizing to her after her arm was broken, now she’s apologizing to the student.

Then they come back to class the next day, and the teacher walks into her regular classroom, and sure enough there’s a caricature of her as a Godzilla-like monster, with a kendo sword, being a hard-ass. Then there’s a lot of head-lowering and uncertainty, then the student with the broken arm comes in, and everyone is shocked and disappointed…

And (checks watch) thirty minutes later, everyone is redeemed; you can tell because of the uplifting music. I’m speaking very flippantly about the whole thing, but I was actually somewhat touched. The actors emote very well, and they grip your attention – even when you can really only guess what they’re saying. And it’s nice to know that school fixtures like the synthesized bell ringing that sounds like almost like Axel F but not quite and the manual sliding doors are ubiquitous and not unique to S.G..

Heeyy… the next episode will be about their baseball team! Sounds good to me! See, they offer something for everybody.

So today I got up, got dressed, had something to eat, then something to eat, then something to snack on, then something to eat. It got so bad that by noon I was napping with my kana workbook closed in front of me. I didn’t study last night, so this experience made me worry. What I ended up doing was standing in front of the heater and doing my work on top of the (switched off) TV, and that helped. No wonder they want teachers standing at virtually all times during teaching time; it helps keep you on your toes. HAHA GET IT?!?

At two I hopped on my bike and headed to the “Tokushima Prefectural International Association,” or TOPIA – which is the local nexus for… um, international folks (that’s me). I returned an English-Japanese dictionary and a Japanese for Busy People self-instruction book to their library, both completely unused. “Why did I do that?” you might well ask, if you were a voice inside my head. Otherwise you’d ask, “Why did he do that?” and the answer is that neither is much good until you learn the alphabet. Shame on me for not understanding this before – imagine trying to learn English without knowing “a b c d e f g…” etc. You really need to get the alphabet first before doing anything else. I quickly realized that I needed to at least get though the kana workbook I had before the other books could be any more than paperweights, and I’m now glad I’ve so far held off on buying my own dictionary – imagine a nicely-bound $50 paperweight.

I just thought of something: Picture a Japanese person trying to learn English with all the English written in katakana. It would be an unmitigated disaster, for reasons I won’t go into here. But what we neophytes fail to realize until we are banged over the head and having it explained to us is that trying to learn Japanese through Latin transliteration (romanji) is just as ridiculous. You’ll remember I had been complaining that the transliteration was made without a lot of consideration for English speakers. Well, that was a bit of a poorly-informed stance for me to take (add it to the pile). Ideally we wouldn’t use transliteration except in the very earliest stages of language learning, and that’s why the better resources assume knowledge of the alphabet – your pronunciation will ultimately be a thousand times better, and that’s just for starters.)

Anyway, I dropped off the currently-useless books (you can bet I’ll be back for them in a month or two) and headed down the elevator. And someone started speaking to me! Okay, he was speaking to me in Japanese, and so I had to say something like, “I Japanese(language) no.” So then he asked me in English where I was from, and we exchanged “Nice to meet yous” and we went our separate ways.

I then went on a really long bike ride; I had been aiming to just go south until the sun was close to setting, but then I saw a sign pointing the way to the ferry terminal, so I thought I’d better follow it and learn where it is in case I decide to go to part of the way to Osaka or all the way to Tokyo by ferry.

Now, this ferry terminal was no Borden or Cape Tormentine. It wasn’t even a Souris. It was a building on the pier with a small ramp beside it.

It was still a port of entry to Tokushima Prefecture, though, and so there was a perfectural tourist map in front of the terminal with English subtitles and cute representative illustrations, so I took a picture of it.

Amazingly, the garbage man of all people took an interest.

“You go to Tokyo tonight?” he asked.
“No, not tonight, but I like maps.”
“[It’s very cold, isn’t it?]”
“[Cold, yes.] But where I come from…” I unhooded myself to reveal my maple-leaf toque, “it is even colder. More [cold.]” I shivered exaggeratedly.

So there was another brief and pleasant exchange. And as I pedalled away from the dockyards, I realized that my exploring alone wasn’t antisocial – quite the opposite! If I had been with even one other person, neither of these two interactions would have happened. Groups tend to, for good or ill, make little bubbles, and other people won’t pop them. So if you really want to get out and meet people, at least generally speaking it seems like a pretty good idea to do it alone. So next weekend I’ll try actually going out (in the loaded sense of the phrase) alone and we’ll see what happens. Now, I wouldn’t recommend doing this in Halifax. I mean, at least here you could sing karaoke if you have no one to talk to. And here I have the option of just going home whenever I want since a cab is just $12 (as opposed to nearly $50).

Ahhh… I’ve just poured my third can of chu-hi. At 78 yen a can, you can’t go wrong – now I’m moving up to the 88 yen store-brand stuff. I bought one or two cans of a bunch of different cheap kinds so that I’ll find my favourite. =) Hmm… I liked the “Heart Cocktail” lemon and lime kinds better than this “Top Value” lemon-lime. But that’s not a fair test, so I also have the “Top Value” lemon and also their lime.

Say what you will about going out, but staying home certainly has its merits. The bars here tend to err on the side of expensive; or at least the places I’ve been so far do. But there’s (as usual) a reason why; a lot of these bars are small - picture a bachelor apartment and you’ll get the right idea. Some are even smaller than that. So they have a very high cover charge ($40 or more is not unheard of, although that is on the high side), and the drinks start at $6 and go from there. I mean, even a coffee is $6, as I discovered last weekend.

But then there are the places that give preferential treatment to foreigners, like Casanova. And then there’s Ingrid’s, where sweet Ingrid pours the vodka for your chu-hi halfway up the glass. That chu-hi is still $6, but with the cozy atmosphere, friends, karaoke, and atypical alcohol content, it’s now more than worth it.

So… um… where were we? Oh, right, so I’m biking. Here’s a tip for those using a Japanese city map to decide on the best direction to bike: pay attention to the width of the roads! If you see a road that is both a major thoroughfare and of the narrowest width, it might not be a good idea to bike on it. I say might because your mileage may vary; sometimes there’s still plenty of room. But on one particular road I biked today, there were only inches to spare as I rode on the right side against the traffic. I wasn’t the only brave person attempting it, but it was unbelievably narrow for a thoroughfare. Anyway, I won’t go that particular way back into the city from the south again.

Closer to the downtown the road mercifully widened, and I didn’t feel like I was defying death twice a block. Back downtown, I did some shopping and then I went back to CoCoICHI. Same great place, same great service, same great curry. But this time I overdid it. I had been raving to others about this place, and one of the other interns couldn’t resist saying, “Level 3?! That’s nothing, I had Level 4!” So I had Level 4.

There wasn’t enough water in the jug. I needed an ocean.

I also got too much rice. 100g more than the base level of 300g, for a total of 400g, would have been sufficient. But I got 500g, because I was hungry. Maybe that was just a little bit too much as well. At any rate, instead of having more rice to mop up the curry with, they had just poured on more curry! That defeated half of the idea of ordering more rice! So now I know that no matter how much rice I get, I have to use the curry liberally. Next time I’ll go back to Level 3 and just get 400g of rice. It should be, as Goldilocks finally experienced, “just right.”

I limped back to my bike hiccupping and breathing deeply, and on the way almost got hit by a bus. Yeah, um… yeah. I was crossing what I thought was an unsignalled crosswalk – it wasn’t and I thank the driver for having the presence of mind to honk his horn. I noticed a man standing at the other side when I got there; I pointed at the signal that I had just noticed and said “[Red.]”

I had meant to find a 100 yen store (the direct equivalent of a North American dollar store) on the south side of town, but failing that I decided to go to the one I already knew about. This necessitated going a bit farther north past the bridge than usual, but once in that neighbourhood I instantly recognized the road we took Thursday night to go to Queen Anne Hill, a fine Italian restaurant. Seeing that I had time, I took the turn so that I could find it myself and know exactly where it was (we had taken cabs to get there).

I was on top of the place before I knew it. Here it was, Queen Anne Hill, barely a dozen blocks due north of Fuji Grand. (I mean, you could almost see Fuji Grand from there.) I rode back to the road I was on, laughing at the apparent laziness of some of the other participants. That was $8 apiece that could have been better spent, I think. Not that it was a bad idea to go by cab, but it would have been so easy to go by bike that I think we could have given it a little more consideration.

I didn’t find what I was looking for at the 100 yen store, so I bought some chocolate and canned coffee instead, and then I went to MaxValu and bought some beer and the chu-hi you read about / scrolled right past earlier.

Tomorrow I hope to catch the final day of the New Year’s Sumo Tournament; it’d be a huge thrill to watch. Wrestling of any kind is always great; the only trouble is the matches are so short! (“Professional” (worked) wrestling is a different animal, since it’s a work.) If you’re watching a Sumo bout, don’t blink! The upside is that those ten to one hundred seconds are thrilling beyond description. You’d really just have to see it. And the good part about the short matches is that on the nightly sports highlights, they show the entire bout, so you don’t feel so bad about missing the original broadcast.

By the way, these guys are in shape and train hard. Sure, they’re carrying around a few extra pounds, but think about how hard it would be to maintain your health, speed, and power with all that girth! For me, that’s part of what makes Sumo such an art form. (It’s also my impression, but I could be wrong, that the wrestlers lose the weight once they retire. They kind of have to!)

I’ll also clean up tomorrow; I like easy, lazy Sundays when all you have to do is tidy up. Maybe I’ll do laundry. I’ll probably vacuum and finish that DVD I’m authoring of a Bedford Christmas concert. There’s always something to do, both at home and at school.

Things are good, I think.

Tomorrow is Wednesday, but it’ll only be Sunday in the journal. The sneaker networking continues…
Tags: japan, television

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