Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ho Ho etc..

Merry Christmas! My internet gift to you lucky readers is this Youtube clip of a monkey bullying a couple of tigers. Please enjoy.




Adam and I went on a day trip to Haruna shrine on Christmas Eve, easily one of the nicest shrines I’ve been to in Japan, and it’s only about an hour from home. Most shrines and pagodas are rebuilt as copies of the originals due to fires or earthquakes or bombings, but this one is the original structure, built in 1869. You can really feel the history in the faded paint and weathered wood. To get to it you have to hike alongside a mountain path lit by lanterns. Really nice. We packed a bento and drank some hot tea before hiking up to the top, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

At sunset we headed up to Lake Haruna at the top of the mountain, where there was a Christmas illumination show taking place. This was an involved production which culminated in Christmas lights, hand-holding couples, peevish adolescents in Santa suits, and a bubble machine. (Which was awesome because the bubbles froze in mid-air. Frozen bubbles. Frubbles, if you will.)

We caught a bus back home and bought some fried chicken for dinner. I could go my entire life without going into a KFC and be content, but Japanese eat fried chicken on Christmas, so I thought we’d do it their way this year. Japanese are also big fans of Christmas cake, so I decided to make one of those too. We don’t have an oven, so I made a cake in the rice cooker. This is completely reasonable, since most Japanese homes aren’t equipped with ovens or anything else that would encourage much baking. Rightly so, as baked goods in Japanese homes are doomed to failure. 7 hours after putting my cake in, I gave up waiting for it at 2 am and went to bed. After that time I turn into a surly underslept harpy and nothing good happens after 2 am anyway. The aftermath of it all was something more like a Christmas bagel. We dressed it up and ate it anyways.

Christmas morning was spent hunting down presents and opening packages from home. Thanks to everyone from home. All the gifts exceeded far beyond what I deserved for Christmas; namely pervasive neglect or a swift punch to the nose.

Also, I made Adam a Christmas TARDIS. I am the coolest.

Oh, and check out what Adam made me for Christmas. He was a slave to Microsoft Paint for 2 weeks in order to make this. Steampunk Santa! If you look closely, you can see a man riding a penny-farthing in the background. There's also a TARDIS if you can find it...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Scavenger Hunt

The next clue is an easy one,
If you can read between the rows,
Tralfamadorians and guns,
Dead one by one, and so it goes!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sick Muffins

I write this in bed on a Monday afternoon. Having taken a sick day from work only to wake up briefly in the morning to accept a Christmas package from my dear friend Mandy, I slept all afternoon and am the better for it. And so begins my undoing: blogging under the influence of cold medicine in excess. A slow but steady progression to sedatives/uppers.

This weekend, Adam dragged my sick-ass out of bed so that we could take a 1 hour ride up into the mountains to go see something called the Sistina Chapel Trick Art and Monkey Show. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. That is to say, it’s a facsimile of the Sistine Chapel set up in the middle of nowhere. Inside, there’s a stage where a troupe of zoot suited monkeys do shtick for a keen audience. The rest of the building is devoted to various optical illusion exhibits that provide great photo ops for camera-happy tourists such as ourselves. Enjoy. (note: there are no pictures of the monkey show because both of us were just too depressed by it to take any. Contrary to what their whimsical costumes would have you believe, the monkeys were defeated and broken. So sad.)
An anatomically incorrect statue:



Trapped in a mirror.Vampire Chelsey.
There has been a lot of Christmas shopping lately, which means multiple trips to Tokyo. Living so close to a world class city has its advantages. You get a nice mix of old:




And new.



We took a shopping break to go to Ueno zoo, which was all kinds of amazing. I saw some animals that I never even knew existed. The tanuki were my favourite, mostly because Japanese folklore makes them out to be the bearers of drunken tomfoolery. They also have magic testicles that can take the shape of anything. Also, someone was rather underdressed for the party:



In other news: License to scoot!



Getting my license was a giant pain in the ass. The prefectural driving office offers foreigners a half-hour window to come and apply for a license, and if you’re not closer than 4th in line, you’re pretty much SOL. I know this because I went to obtain a license last Friday, and being 7th, was promptly told by an overly shouty man that there was no point in me waiting around since they probably wouldn’t get to me anyway before the window closes. I had to come back on Monday and elbow and pinch my way to the front of the crowd in order to be first. It’s a terrible system, and it’s almost as if they’re trying to make it so frustrating that foreigners give up on getting a license completely. But there’s a silver lining, at least if you’re Canadian. People from the U.K, Scotland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, etc, are all exempt from having to take any kind of test. Americans have to take a written and practical exam, both of which are extremely hard and I’ve heard of people failing it 13 times before they could get a license. Presumably, I’m exempt because all of the aforementioned countries drive on left side of the road… same as Japan. Which is true. Except for Canada. Yeah. I don't know either.

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve decided that the best Doctor of all time would be played by either Michael Caine or Geoffry Rush. Despite my wild arm-wavy attempts to advise the BBC to increase their budget to accommodate either of these actors should they wish to consecrate the show, they’re still going with Matt “I-can’t-pronounce-th” Smith. Please accept this vandalized Matt Smiff photo as a symbol of my irrational resolve to dislike him, as Caine or Rush could likely drop a fart with more intellectual and emotional resonance than anything put forth by Mr. Smiff. (I find googly eyes are most effective.)


11 days till Christmas!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

DEAR JAPAN YOU ARE ON THE MANK

My favorite is the ping-pong ball drop and the shuffle for first base.



I'm not dead

Sorry for the ridiculously long delay between posts, though I’m sure my readership is low enough that very few of you care. I’ve been without internet for over a month, but have safely resumed bereaving my senses and being utterly reliant on it like everyone else. Case in point: sharing the internet with another person is terribly unproductive… very often “I Internet” becomes “Let’s Internet” and instead of blogging I usually end up playing impromptu Wikilink games where the object is to see how many Wikipedia pages you have to go through before you wind up at a proposed page by clicking on the links for related articles. Incidentally, it takes 10 pages to navigate from Mussolini to penny-farthings. And there are only 5 between Cary Elwes and Chernobyl. Don’t say I never taught you anything.

There’s been too much goings on in the last month to cover in any detail, so it’s bullet time:


· Took salsa lesson/ paired with Salary Man/pondered the probability of real-life Shall We Dance
· Boyfriend came and we did Tokyo
· Was served food by a ninja
· Razorback pig on a leash
· Went to all night psychedelic rock festival/made eyes at Gene Wilder*
· Found and moved into new apartment
· Bought a Vespa/woo-hooed
· Got addicted to Dr.Who
· Went out into the mountains/rowboating
Here are some pictures of the apartment. I’ve enjoyed dressing it up in curtains and buying it things and whatnot. Truly a domestic thrill… more than it ought to have been, really. I think this means I`ve gone through some sort of twisted rite of passage and soon enough I`ll be putting cocktail wieners into Jell-O moulds. (Logistically, that`s how these things work. If curtains then Jell-O wieners.) You’ll be interested to know that my apartment is located next to a pirate bar. The owner has spared no expense in making it as piratey as possible: including treasure chests, plank booths, and possibly latent syphilis.


Japanese fruit stacks well



Living room with kotatsu


Tatami room/bedroom



And here's a picture of my new (relative to me) Vespa:




And while I'm in the spirit of uploading pictures, this is from a test I gave to the first year students:


I'm pretty sure they're fucking with me. One student was apparently under the influence of LSD when he wrote this test:





In case you can't read that, it says:

1. When's your birthday? "My birthday is April 18th."

2. What is your zodiac sign? "My sign is Aries."

3. What's your blood type? "My blood type is lazy."


4. What kind of person are you? "I am clean my room."

5. What kind of person do your friends say you are? "My friend is help with cooking."

....ANYWAY.

Tokyo never disappoints. Especially on Sundays, when the Harajuku Dance Gang, a faction of the Tokyo Rockabilly Club, are out in full force. Yes, this lot is bad news. Dressed in full 50’s Greaser garb, they’ll hang around like miscreants and reinforce their bad-ass street gang image by dancing around to Sha Na Na. You don’t want to mess with these people. They rebelliously endorse pomade and suspenders with no shirts. These people take their exclusivity seriously. I mean, they have T-Shirts:





Yes, that’s a pompadour skull with a comb and a switchblade. I’ll leave it there...

...



No, I can't leave it there. It's just too absurd. Here's a video:








Did I mention that Adam and I were kicked out of a yakuza bar? Bored on a Saturday night and thirsty for adventure, we wandered out into Takasaki in search of a place to drink. We came across a shadowy brick building, no windows, with a life-sized statue of a black man in a white suit holding a trumpet out front, and the words BLOCK SHOT flashing in neon across the entrance. So of course we went in. The entrance led to a set of stairs, which we climbed, and when we turned to go inside we stumbled right into the middle of some smoky, skeevy club house where a dozen men in suits all stopped what they were doing to look at us. Uncomfortable silence. Chelsey weighs her options, and settles on giving an unassuming double thumbs-up and asking to come inside LIKE AN IDIOT. We were promptly welcomed by the bartender, who then turned our asses around and showed us to the door. Adam and I ran away to the nearest Belgian bar to lick our proverbial wounds.


Anyway, that’s it for now. I'll leave you with a couple engrish pictures I took.







Cheers.



*May not have actually been Gene Wilder

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First Week of Classes

JOHNNY DEPP. JOHNNY DEPP. JOHNNY DEPP. There. I had to make sure that if he ever idly googled himself he might stumble across this page, whereupon he might find me winsome enough to make contact, and I can woo him into a steamy bang session. It’s crass, but at least I have my bases covered.

So classes have begun for me. The first morning was allocated for formal speeches and a welcome ceremony, where I had to give a speech. It was only 2 minutes long, but it took me ages to write since the Japanese had to be perfect. It took me ages to memorize, too, since all the teachers in the office who saw me trying to memorize it just had to come over and see. My furrowed brow and tappy fingers may have given me away. At any rate, I would show it to them with a HAY LOOK WHUT I MADE grin, but they would take it from me, kindly tell me that I fail, and begin to make big red X’s everywhere, regardless of whether the speech was my final draft. Each time the speech was changed, I re-made it since I wanted to have a final copy to practice with. I would presume each revised copy was my last and memorize it all over again. I’m just too much of a pussy to say no.


My classes are impossible to predict; sometimes the students will be completely silent and unresponsive while at other times they’re impossible to control. So far, I’ve found no reliable way to gauge how rowdy my class will be. The students in my first ever class were completely disengaged, and some were even sleeping. (Sleeping is more or less acceptable in Japanese classrooms, by the way) At any rate, I spend most classes talking to myself. Or throwing things at the students to get them to shut up. I suppose things will be easier when I get the hang of this teaching thing and settle into a routine. Or maybe I’ll quit and be free to concentrate on my new career as a mail order bride.

My apartment has a ton of leftover stuff that I’ve been using to settle in with. For example, I’m using my predecessor’s lunch box to pack my lunches in. Her name is Lesley and she’s one part bunny rabbit, one part cotton candy, and one part bubbles. So it stands to reason that I’m now in possession of the most adorable lunch ever:





I spend Tuesdays and Fridays at my visit school, Takakoh ‘Le Monstre’ Kogyo. So that you may understand what this school is like: I was told by the teachers that the students were “monsters in a zoo.” I was advised to buy a double bike lock, as it was likely my bike would be stolen otherwise. It’s a technical school and English is low on their priority list, so it’s not the students’ strong point. I went in assuming I would be teaching a bunch of these:




As it turns out, it’s mostly a bunch of hormone-saturated teenage boys who all credit themselves as the epitome of virile manliness. One boy actually claimed that his shirt fell off through no fault of his own, and had taken that new found opportunity to flex, no doubt his attempt to invite me to some manner of gun show etc etc. My JTE had to ask him to keep his clothes on while in school.

I have all the classes do a paper airplane self-introductions on the first day, which means they have to write their names and something they like on a sheet of paper, fly it across the room, and have someone else introduce them. I gather all the papers at the end of class. One cheeky scamp wrote this:


That last bit can either mean that he loves me because I’m young, or he thought it fitting to divulge his love for Angus Young. Or both. I’m commonly mistaken for that guy in AC/DC.


So I found a new apartment. It’s all hardwood except for one of the rooms, which has a tatami floor. It’s 2 rooms plus a kitchen/dining area; well-lit; near both my schools and Takasaki station; it’s the corner unit of the apartment complex so I only have to worry about neighbours on one side; and it’s CHEAPER than my other place. Also, it comes with a free stove and 2 air conditioners. I’m looking forward to moving out of this confounded excuse for a solitary confinement cell and I won’t be looking back, lest I turn into a pillar of salt and other such colourful metaphors which are either from Greek Mythology or the Bible; I can’t quite recall as I am uneducated.

In other news, check out this awesome moustache mug I bought! Complete with jaunty top hat! SEE?


YES I AM WEAK SO WHAT OF IT.

Also, please enjoy this video I took of the accordion lady who hangs out in Takasaki Station on weekends. She makes me want to wear a stripy shirt! And eat baguettes and smoke at the same time! And get drunk on cheap wine and curse at everything! And other fun qualities that all stereotypical Frenchman have!



video

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

Largely against my will, I am now the proud owner of an iPhone. This was no easy feat. Yesterday, I spent the better part of 5 hours attempting to procure one. In truth I was only actually seated with a representative for a cumulative hour, and the rest of the time was just spent waiting while my phone was being put through various stages of activation. Here’s the story on this:



"...phones phones phones phones phones..."



This is Eli. When I first met him I made the mistake of telling him about how I hadn’t gotten a phone yet. I had unknowingly triggered some sort of involuntary reflex that compelled him to barf up every bit of information he knew that related to the iPhone. Mildly interesting at first, but after 5 minutes of listening to him blather on, I tuned out, occasionally offering an indifferent “mmm” and “oh, rly?” Roughly 10 minutes later, I began asking him barbed questions that did little to veil my indifference on the subject, like “So Eli, what do you do when you’re not talking about phones?” and “Are you getting paid for this?” Eventually I brought out my camera to commemorate the moment where I had heard the most about phones from anyone, anywhere. And suddenly, silence. I was like “No! No! Keep talking about phones!” Ironically, he had nothing to say, so he compromised by repeating “Phones Phones Phones Phones Phones” while I snapped a picture.

My will to resist his aggressive pitch for iPhones ebbed, and he took me to set one up yesterday. It turns out that he’s an incredibly cool guy and has set up phones for at least 4 other JETs. He just really likes iPhones. We went out for drinks afterwards. Eli has a tattoo of Geraldo Rivera, which is probably the hipsteriest thing I’ve ever heard. In the end, I actually really like my iPhone, so it just goes to show how often I superficially reject the unfamiliar with a parochial desperation bordering on pathetic.

In any case, I got to choose the last 4 digits of my phone number. They are 4815. I’m a geek, I know. Those of you who know the significance of these numbers get a gold star.
You may have seen the pictures I posted of the Maebashi conference already, but if not, here are some interesting people:





This is Li Shan. He is from Montreal. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson circa 1986. You know, after he got pretty but before he got freaky.







This is Michelle, from Vancouver. I had been told repeatedly by different people that Michelle was my twin. (For those of you who know the story, I also have a twin living in Prague whom I've never met. This leads me to believe that I am actually one of a set of three. And the three of us combined, with the use of our power rings, can call a superhero. It's all very scientific, you see.)



This is Brent. He is an ALT advisor in Gunma, which basically means he is responsible for giving wise and sound advice to JETs, should they ever find themselves in a position where they need help. Let it be known that at one point during the weekend he can be quoted as having said "My weenis is legendary."

In other news, I’m still looking for a place. My supervisor and I went to investigate another apartment yesterday. I had high hopes; the location was great, it was cheap, and it had 3 rooms, not including the kitchen. The landlord, however, had neglected to inform us that it was a freaking haunted house. We began our climb up to the third floor of the mansion complex braving giant moths that had been lynched by the cobwebs that hung from the ceilings. The space outside apartment number 307 (a prime number) was occupied by a family of freaky-looking spiders. I couldn’t help but picture the scene in Star Trek II when Khan put those mind-controlling Ceti parasites into Chekov’s helmet and they crawled into his ear and subsequently burrowed into his brain. On the apartment application form I checked the ‘no’ box for the ‘Do you want spiders to crawl inside your head and lay eggs in your brain for purposes of mind control’ question. That was low on my priority list. Anyway, we got inside and the layout had an unsettling Kubrickian feel to it, ominous doors at the end of long, narrow corridors etc etc. Complete the experience with old, creaky floors, filth, and an off-putting smell, and we had seen enough. When the landlord asked us when I could move in (as he was sure he had won us over) my supervisor politely told him to fuck in the direction of off at his earliest convenience.

On August 29th I may be heading out to climb Mt.Fuji. While Mt.Fuji is not a technical climb, it is said to be a difficult climb because of the loose volcanic rocks that make every step forward slide half a step back. So I’ll let you know how that goes. I may opt out since it’s relatively expensive and most of my funds this month will be allocated towards moving, and I don’t want to be poor. Being poor means adopting a cockney street urchin accent à la Oliver Twist, an altogether unbecoming prospect, as I am already sufficiently irritating.

Here are some videos I thought I would share. Both of these people are popular on Japanese TV right now. The first one I can’t stand and I usually end up flipping through channels to avoid him. The second one is of a TV personality I love immensely because she’s hilarious and reminds me a little of myself when I was young and homely.



...I just realized that both of these TV personalities have weird eyebrow gimmicks. Huh.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Welcome to Japan

Welcome to my blog. Here you will find relatively low-key mind wanderings about my life in Japan, which is, I’m afraid, only slightly more interesting than my life in Calgary, so feel free to close this window and continue your Google image search of ugly celebrity children.

Japan has proved itself to be way more awesome than pistachios, as per usual. I’m settling into a routine now. In keeping with Japan’s doomsday image, the weather has proved itself to be a meteoric cock-up of catastrophic proportions. Since I’ve arrived, there has been two tornados in my city (I was not present for these, as they occurred during Tokyo orientation) and an earthquake. Luckily the epicentre was somewhere north of Gunma. So I’m still alive. For now.


Even though it’s summer holidays, most of the kids come to school anyway. They participate in club activities and get help on their summer homework from the teachers. Not only do the kids get homework during summer holidays, they take tests on their first day back. So be good or you might be reincarnated in your next life as a Japanese High School student.

The school I work for is a well-oiled machine. Every teacher is instrumental in helping the students, and everyone does their best to make the whole machine run smoothly. At this point, because I haven’t taught any classes yet, I contribute an approximate value of 0 to the team, yet they still let me come back every day to continue making a fatuous gimp of myself. I was under the impression that I had one supervisor who was wholly responsible helping me get set up and answering any questions I may have. I met her, and she’s delightful. However, the powers-that-be at this school determined that one person would simply not be enough to manage the amount of ineptitude ejaculating from my wee self, so they charged the whole of their sizable English department to be my handlers. Every few days an English teacher will come up to me and inform me that they are “assigned” to me that day, and will I please just sit at my desk quietly and not make trouble please and thank-you. I’m sure we’ll all get along just fine in the end.

As most of you know, I’m currently in the process of hating my apartment and looking for a new one. I’m not sure how my predecessor managed to live a year in this ill-conceived monstrosity. Lofts may seem cool in theory, but in practice they are just plain dangerous. When it comes down to it, our groggy cave-man brains have not equipped us with the ability to skilfully maneuver down steep ladders at 6:45am every morning.

One thing I won’t be able to escape are the ubiquitous cottage cheese walls that plaster every apartment I’ve seen so far.




Care to see what I made myself for dinner last night? No? Tough titties, here it is:




This is rice and pumpkin and salad. I spend unreasonable amounts of time inside grocery stores, staring dolefully at exotic foods I can't read for packaging for. This usually ends in me buying recognizable foodstuffs, like the above, and more than often means I end up eating popsicles for dinner. This isn't really due to my lack of kanji-reading ability, but I'm a grown-up now and I can have popsicles for dinner if I want to. So there.

I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. In the next few days I'll be attending a conference in Maebashi, the next town over. I'll be meeting a lot of Gunma JETs and there will likely be drinking and karaoke and butt dragging on carpets etc. Not by me, of course.