Thursday, March 30, 2006

Beijing: Day 3 - Late Morning

After the temples, Mike and I ventured out to an open market that we had read about in the Lonely Planet. We took a cab -which was easy enough since the doorman at the hotel wrote down the address for us to give to the cab driver - it also had a map and addy of the hotel for our return trip -nice!!

We got to the market and it was teeming with vendors selling everything from tea cups to art work to Mao alarm clocks. Actually, you could find pretty much anything you wanted with Mao's face on it -lighters, posters, books, playing was quite amusing. Now, Mike and I are very similar in a lot of ways, one of them being we don't like the whole bartering process. We had our Lonely Planet book with us which gave a few guidelines on what to do, but when it comes down to it, you have to go on instinct. Our first encounter cost us just about as much as the rest of our purchases combined. Once we realized that you have to offer about 10-20% of what they are actually asking we had no trouble negotiating for 30-40% of the initial price. And we found very quickly that if you walk away, they will ALWAYS call you back and give it to you for your price. It was a real challenge for me and totally out of my element, but a good experience nonetheless.

Because this was our free day we had to do lunch on our own. We knew we weren't going to top any of the restaurants we had been to so far, so we opted for the opposite end of the scale -McDonalds!!!

Monday, March 27, 2006

March after Beijing

Besides the trip to Beijing -which I promise to wrap up in my next post - March has been a very active month. March 1st, the day before I left for Beijing was our Graduation Day. Students recieved their diplomas in the gym during a cermony (well a representative of each class receives them for the class and the rest are handed out by the homeroom teacher later in the classroom) After that, the rest of the students go outside and line the entrance to the school and say their goodbyes as the graduates leave the school for the last time. It was a freezing cold day, but I still managed to get some good photos...including Shimizu-sensei who was dressed in very formal attire. Usually the female teachers wear kimono and the male teachers wear suit and tie.

I also managed to get one more day of boarding in on the 11th. I had a wonderful lunch a Kirsten's apartment on the 12th in honor of Women's Day. She invited about a dozen women (all Japanese) for a potluck lunch -we ate until we could eat no more. It was painfully delicious -thank you Kirsten!! Hm, now where are my photos....?

March 14th was White Day -I think I've mentioned this before, but Valentine's Day here is set as a day where girls give to boys. And in a brilliant bit of marketing they created 'White Day' and obligatory day of reciprocation where boys give something to the girls that gave them something -it's a nasty little bit of societal extortion if you ask me. Most men and women complain about it and this year's poll revealed that 70% of women want to do away with the custom and 50% of the men feel the same. At any rate, on V-day Kirsten and I had brought goodies to some of our 'boy' friends who work at a local drinking establishement. In return they invited us for a compimentary drink on White Day (March 14th).

On March 17th the English faculty held a farewell party for our vice principal, Yamaguchi-sensei, who is also an English teacher. We went to one of the most expensive chinese restaurants in Toyama city -ate on the 19th floor of one of the best hotels in the city The ANA Hotel. We then proceded to the lounge on the same floor, enjoyed the view of the city and I watched as my co-workers got progressively -for lack of a better word....SMASHED. We decided to proceed to karaoke (this really isn't a conscious decision, it's more like and inevitable circumstance). We lost my supervisor in the maze of karaoke rooms -she had gone to the bathroom and didn't come back. She had forgotten our room number but managed to make it to the front desk where she patiently waited for someone to come and rescue her. We then wandered back to the hotel where I had the luxury of my own room.

The next day I was invited to be the guest at my friend's private english school that she runs out of her home. She usually invites me to do the holiday lesson, and this time was Easter of course. She teaches three levels of students and I have been visiting them for a year now. I only see them once every few months, so each time I see them I'm always shocked by how much they have grown! We always have a great time together.

The 21st of March was the vernal equinox and in Japan it's a national holiday. Now normally I would have grabbed my board and been on a hill like most other sane people, but with the olympics still lingering in people's minds, a group of JETs decided that we should check out the curling scene in Japan. After the Japanese women did so well (even beat Canada) there has been a surge in it's popularity. Well, in Toyama there is only one rink- and by rink I mean it's a hockey/skating rink and every Sunday the curling team is allowed to pebble the ice for a couple of hours to practice. This just wasn't going to do for us -we needed something a little flashier -why not the olympic curling rinks???? Jamie -our resident pro (she curled in college -she's from Chicago - I know, it doesn't make any sense to me either....) is also a pro at Japanese, so she set everything up for us -times, dates, road maps, it was awesome!!! We took 4 cars and drove, and drove and drove -until we were closer to Tokyo than Toyama. Kuruizawa is the name of the town where we played. The ice rental was cheap -about $4 each! Jamie and I did some skills and drills to warm everyone up and then we played!

Wednesday the 22nd was a ladies lunch for all of the female teachers at my school. The closing ceremonies for the school were held on Friday the 24th and the new students came in the afternoon with their parents for orientation and to be fitted for their uniforms.

On Saturday I attended my school's spring concert at Cosmo Hall -the local art/community center and then went for dinner at the Muro's house. The Muros are a family of 3 brothers and one sister. Their families all live within a stone's throw of each other in Nyuzen. The first Muro I met was Shizuko -daughter of the eldest Muro brother. I met here waaaay back when I was working at NOVA -she was one of my students!! We became friends and after moving to Nyuzen I found out that her cousin, Ryu, was going to be one of my high school students. He's the son of the 3rd Muro brother -and this Mr. Muro I met because he works at the Nyzuen town hall and speaks great English!

This was my second visit to the Muro house. The first time was for Obon almost 2 years ago. It had been a while, but they were as friendly and generous as the first time. We had sukiyaki for dinner and were entertained by Shizuko's sister's new baby, Shudai! He's 5 months now, and as round as a button. Everyone doted on him -including me! It was a fabulous evening, but unfortunately I had to cut it short because I was catching the night bus to Tokyo to meet up with friends from home.

OK, technically, I was only meeting up with one friend from home, but he was bringing a friend and meeting another friend from Calgary who lives in Japan. Let's just say that by the time the introductions were finished and we'd had our first cup of coffee -we were all friends. Since Doug (the friend who lives in Shizuoka as a 3rd year JET) and I had been to Tokyo multiple times we were in charge of entertaining the troops -that being Mitch, a friend I had met last summer during the great canadian VW trip to Vancouver (he also gave me a ride to the airport the night I was leaving -thanks Mitch) and his partner in crime, Rory. Rory, I found out, is from Prince George but went to school in Lethbridge -at the same time as me!!!! Crazy.

I had arrived in Tokyo at 5:00 a.m. and planted myself in my favorite coffee shop in Ikebukuro with a latte and a new book. Usually when I do this little ritual the coffee shop is dead with only me and one or two Ojiisans (grandfathers) sipping quietly, waiting for the city to wake up. But this was a Sunday morning -and also university graduation weekend. So at five in the morning I had to wait in line behind a hoard of 22 year olds coming in from a night of celebrations. I divided my attention between my book and the mini dramas being played out at each of the tables. 3 girls sat quietly, dressed to the nines, hair done up, and make up streaming down their faces as they came to the realization that they probably wouldn't see each other again for a long time. They dabbed their tears and managed to get a few photos of each other with their cell phones before saying goodbye. Then a group of 'couples' came in. Everyone was paired off except for one. He looked like the ring leader -dressed in white, not the typical black suit every other boy was wearing. He wandered around, never sitting down, going from table to table making sure everyone was still being entertained, hugging the girls and kissing the boys on the tops of their heads....and then came the 3 boys who sat down beside me and said nothing but "DAME" (dah-may :which means 'stop', or 'no more') and "ABUNAI-KORE" (ah-boo-nigh-co-ray: which means 'this is dangerous'). Over and over and over again -this wasn't in reference to me it was the fact that they had had too much to drink...I think they managed to sober up a bit before leaving the coffe shop -but those are still the only words I heard them say.

I met Mitch and the boys Harajuku, where we also hooked up with Jimmy -another 3rd year JET from Toyama and also Canadian.

We went to the Meiji Shrine and watched the weddings stream through.

We had lunch in a great little restaurant, watched the Harajuku kids strutt their stuff, visited a funky art building, tour our picture with some of the rockabillies, strolled on to Shibuya -one of my favorite districts in Tokyo. We did print club, played some video games and then did the inevitable -karaoke!! Jimmy had to catch his train so we said goodbye and moved on. We shared a few more drinks together, met up with MORE people from home (another guy who went to Lethbridge at the same time as I...know people I know -this world is so small....). And then it was time for me to say goodbye. I had another night bus ride ahead of me...thank goodness the wine began to take effect -I had a great sleep on the bus, arrived in Kurobe at 5:00, home by 5:15 -a quick 2 hour nap and I was up and ready for work!

Now it's Tuesday, and almost the end of the month!!!! On Thursday, there will be a farewell party for the teachers who will be leaving this year and Saturday I'm off to Kanazawa for a friend's wedding!!! Whew!