Monday, March 28, 2005

Case of the missing umbrella(s)

If I were to have a conversation with Spring, it'll go something like this;

"Hello? Umm Spring? Where have you been? You were meant to show but you didn't. Pretty disappointing effort. Do you even know what month it is? What's going on?"

With her long golden locks, warm and familiar embrace, she graces us with her presence one day, gets my hopes up then vanishes the next day only to reappear whenever she pleases.

Spring is such a tease.


Not one, but two of my umbrellas which I have brought to school in the morning have disappeared. Luckily when I first came to Japan, one of the teachers gave me an umbrella to keep at school all the time, just in case. It's bright and flowery with clashing blues, yellows and greens. I guess nobody would want to steal that one but thankfully it's saved me from walking home in the rain on several occasions.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter!

I hope you all had a lovely Easter and made the most of your 4 day weekend.

As commercialised as it is, it felt kind of weird not seeing all the usual Easter decorations around the place with chocolate eggs, easter bunnies and hot cross buns in the stores. I guess it's these times of familiar festivities that make make me miss home.

Good Friday was spent at school and saturday was the usual cleaning, laundry and chill out day.

The cold and rainy weather doesn't quite motivate me to leave my place but Easter Sunday was a beautiful,sunny day. I met up with Claire and Cheryl at 7.00AM for a walk around our area. We're trying to get into a routine of early morning walking. Why? It's crazy early yes and I am still asking myself, "Why exactly am I doing this again?"

But with the gorgeous weather, I didn't mind. After that I did some odd jobs around my place then went to Harbourland to meet 2 girls from ESS club. They had asked me to meet up with them during their Spring holidays so I agreed, a bit hesistant and not knowing what to expect.

We went to The Old Spaghetti Factory for lunch. It was really nice with good food and atmosphere. I'd heard about it before from some other JETs and I'm definately going back again. We then went for a cruise around the port on the boat "Roman 3." After that we went to take Purikura Club - Yes, I felt weird taking them with my students but it was all good. This place was the first one I've been to that has CosPlay outfits that you can hire for free when you take your picutres. Crazy!

The place was packed out with girls, young and a lot older, and also with some mothers who were waiting while their daughters and friends got dressed up and took photos. It was a really interesting experience into the female culture and fascination with CosPlay and Purikura Clubs.

The outfits were crazy - from cheerleaders, Snow White, waitresses, nuns, flight attendants, chefs to even a Nazi police woman! That one was way random. There were also little outfits for children. I politely refused as one of the girls chose a Japanese female temple staff outfit and the other chose to hire a prop instead. She had a pink bear puppet with sharp white claws and I had a frog with a big mouth puppet. Random - yes.

After meeting up with the ESS club memebers, I headed to Sannomiya and went to Kobe Bible Fellowship for their Easter Sunday afternoon service. They hold bilingual services and there are quite a few international people, including JETs, there too. A Japanese lady, who had lived in New York for seven years and attended the Harlem Gospel Church, gave her testimony and also sang with some backup singers. Her voice was amazing, powerful, convicting and full of passion, prayer and praise. It was amazing that there were so many people in this little church from all over the world celebrating the true meaning of Easter. The worship was in English and Japanese - good practise for my Japanese, and the message was just what I needed.

They had a potluck dinner fellowship afterwards which I stayed for a bit and met some really nice people. But I was way too tired so headed home shortly after, had some leftover Thai Red Curry I made yesterday then called it a night.

Harbourland Posted by Hello

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Cruising on "Roman 3" Posted by Hello

CosPlay outfits Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 24, 2005

My high-tech Japan

Yes, Japan is a very high-tech country.

A place of automatic toilet flush detectors and seat warmers, musical rice cookers and washing machines, the wonders of satellite navigation and a whole lot more. Sometimes a little too high-tech but still mind-boggling amazing.

However I do have a few items in my apartment which I can't help but laught at.

I have a microwave...well kind of. I'm thankful that I have one at all but it's a shocker! I swear it must have been one of the first microwave models to have been released. It looks like a mini oven and the inside plate doesn't rotate but all it has it a timer dial and bascially an 'ON' button. I don't know how much radiation it would spew out but just have a look for yourself.

I also have a stereo which is great. Nothing over the top fancy-shmancy, just a decent CD player and tape deck with good sound. But when I first saw the remote control I was thinking,
"Are you serious?"
With all the technology in this country I would at least expect it to offer more than 4 functions.

As I said before, all I can do it laugh.

My 'microwave' on top of my fridge Posted by Hello

My stereo remote control Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring Holidays

We had the school's closing ceremony today and that means it's Spring break.

The students have 2 weeks off and then they start their new school year.

I was invited to join the 3rd year teachers for another one of their secret lunches in the home economics room. We had udon noodles from Hokkaido, sushi, red bean and mochi (pounded rice cake) desserts and home ec-sensei made a chocolate cake. I was so full I just wanted to fall asleep at my desk.

The teachers also had a meeting to find out who would be staying, who would be moving schools and what role they would be in charge for the next school year. Before the meeting, you could really feel the anxiety in the staffroom. The tension was so thick, you could carve it, fry it up, serve it in a sesame bun and call it McStress Deluxe. But after the meeting, the staffroom was like a school yard with little groups of teachers whispering about the outcome.

I found out that one of the teachers I teach with will be leaving for 2 years to study psychology at university. I'm really going to miss team-teaching with her as her classes are the most hillarious. They're the ones where we end up laughing so much I have to hide behind the desk or face the blackboard pretending to write something so the kids can't see me losing it.

Yep, I'm going to miss that a lot.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

In the dentist's chair

I went to see a dentist today.

I found an English speaking clinic in Sannomiya and it was recommended by other JETs as meeting international standards. It was a nice little clinic but not as high-tech as back home.

The dentist had got his degree in the States and lived in Chicago for quite a while. His wife also spoke English and helped out with the front desk. They were the cutest little Japanese old couple ever.

After I had told them I was from Australia, they said,
"Oooh Australia! We have many Australian patients that come here."
"We also had Miss Australia come to us. She was very beautiful, tall and had blonde hair. She had a lovely smile."

A very interesting experience indeed.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What's been cooking

My mouth is on fire! Yet still I go for more.

I made Thai green curry tonight - yummy!
I was inspired to give it a go after Claire made it for us for Cheryl's birthday dinner the other night.

But I think I still need some practise because the veges were a bit too soggy. It had a 2 chilli rating on the packet. Shouldn't be too hot I thought but boy, was it HOT and SPICY! But tasty nonetheless. Next I'm going to give the Thai red curry a go.

Here are some photos of what else I've been cooking up in my little kitchen.

Thai green curry and rice Posted by Hello

Gyoza (some got a little burnt) Posted by Hello

Pan fried yellowtail, honey butter carrots and soy bak choy Posted by Hello

Grilled herb chicken, potatoes and tuna pasta salad Posted by Hello

Miso-marinade beef stir fry and veges Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

White Day - 14th March

I totally forgot that yesterday was White Day.

If there ever was the most commercialised Hallmark holiday ever, it would have to be White Day.

I think I explained it before on Valentine's Day but basically White Day is celebrated on March 14th where guys give chocolates or whatever back to the girl(s) who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day, or to the person they fancy.

In the work environment it's the same, but the meaning is more of appreciation and respect for their fellow colleagues.

I received beautifully wrapped buscuits, Starbucks' chocolate coated coffeebeans, almond caramel slices and the most exquisite chocolates. 'Tea-time'-sensei gave me these chocolate squares which were delightfully melt-in-your-mouth soft and dusted in cocoa. Apparently they're a famous type of chocolate from Hokkaido made by this master chocolate company.
They were heavenly!!

Monday, March 14, 2005

My sister

My sister is amazing.

We used to draw pictures together with our crayolas, now we paint our nails together.
She would help me with my homework and she would eat my random cooking and baking.
I used to borrow her clothes, now she borrows mine.
We like eating KFC zinger burgers and chips together.
I like going shopping with her and pushing Callum in the stroller.
I remember how amused I was the first time Callum was running around calling her 'mummy.' Priceless. I still can't get over it!

When she told me she was going to get married - I laughed.
You? A wife?!
When she told me she was pregnant - I laughed even more.
You? A mum?!
When she told me Andrew had cancer - there was no laughter.
I could see the sadness in her face, but there was faith in her eyes.

So why is she amazing?
We went to the same schools, studied similiar subjects and even went to the same university. During that time we were never given classes about getting married, being taught how to be a mother, lectured about raising children or how to help run a family. But somehow she got married, had a beautiful (and very cheeky) boy, helped her husband recover from cancer and now has given birth to another gorgeous baby boy!
Personally, I think that's freakin' amazing!

Congratulations you guys! Yay! It's a boy!
Well we all knew it was going to be a boy but I still couldn't contain myself when I got the phone email while hiking up a mountain!

Baby #2 popped out on Friday March 11th.
Enter baby Sean.
Apparently his eyes are dark blue at the moment (Callum's were bright blue) and he arrived with "..a killer armani hairstyle, complete with chocolate brown highlights." hahaha classic!

When I stood next to her as she said her vows on her wedding day, I didn't think I could be any more happier for her (that and also the joys of waterproof mascara). But I was, when she had Callum. Then again, when she told me that Andrew would be okay. And now I am again, upon hearing that through all the ups and downs they've been through together - they've been blessed with another healthy baby boy - a gift of love and grace.

I can't wait to see Sean and hold him.
I can't wait to play with Callum again and hear him make sentences.
I can't wait to get the latest 'goss' from Andrew.
I can't wait to go out shopping, eat KFC, do our nails and chat together again.

Blessed and ever so thankful

Sunday, March 13, 2005

My new love

After I did my cleaning and hung out my washing, I headed to Osaka. However on the train ride there it started snowing. *sigh*

Mission: Purchase ipod mini

I headed to 'Yodobashi Camera' in Osaka, a huge-ass electronics store which you can spend hours in. After picking out my accessories (a blue leather carry pouch and protective film) I was told that they had run out of silver ipod minis and only had the pink one in store. So I left the store with my ipod mini accessories but alas, no ipod mini.

So I headed to Shinsaibashi to the actual Apple Store - straight to the source. Again a place where you can spend hours just looking and playing with all the shiny toys. They even have a lounge area upstairs where you can sit back and listen to live electronic music performances. Very nice! So I finally picked up my new silver, 6GB, 2nd generation ipod mini. Yay!

Now I can listen to my music everywhere I go, espcially walking to and from school and those long train and bus rides.

Task Completion: Affirmative
Bonuses: I also bought a new bag!
Evaluation: Oh yeah baby!!

My new baby Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Today I went hiking up some mountain in between Kyoto and Osaka.

Sorry I forgot the name of it but it's famous for being a battleground for 2 warring clans before the Edo Period. Waking up at 6am isn't my most ideal way of starting my weekend but I thought the exercise and fresh air would do me some good.

We walked through bamboo forests, up steep muddy paths, saw old (and I mean ancient) temples and shrines and when we reached the peak we were rewarded with being sprinkled with snow!

After we descended from the mountain we headed to the Asahi Brewery Villa which doubles as an art gallery and cafe. The villa was gorgeous! Old western styled villa with big, wooden, sculpted doors, romantic balconies, waterfall ponds, central heating! (definately a rarity in japanese houses), plush carpets, draperies and stained glass windows. The current exhibition was something to do about orchids and they had all these paitings and prints of orchids in the rooms and a greenery room with all these blooming orchids on display.

My teacher told me that they also had Monet paintings.
Say what?! What? Where?!? Oh there must be a travelling exhibition going around in Japan? Nope.

You see the owner (quite wealthy as you would be owning Asahi,) has his own private collection of some of Monet's waterlilies paintings, and they're exhibited in this circular vault-like room. They were so beautiful!! I wanted to take photos but the old guard didn't look the forgiving type to a potential tourist's plea of "Gomen, zen zen wakarimasen. Sorry, I don't understand." haha

I remember seeing the "Monet & Japan" exhibition in Perth and being totally mesmorized. It would have to be the best I've seen to date, but then again I have yet to experience the art galleries of Europe.

We had coffee, tea, Asahi beer, pretzels and cake in the cafe then went for lunch at this quaint, little Okinawan restaurant. After that we headed to the Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Distillery and joined a tour group.

I'm not a big fan of whisky (any brown coloured alcohol as a matter of fact - bourbon - no thank you) but I'm sure the boys would have loved to be on this tour. We went through the distillery and were given a tour on how they make the whisky - thank goodness for the english placeboards. The smell wafting in the rooms was quite strong (slightly sweet) but not to my liking as blurry, alcohol-dazed memories came to mind. *shudder*

I managed to sneakily take some photos, but without the flash they didn't turn out that good. The store room was massive! Rows of barrels and barrels and barrels were just sitting there while they matured. They even have this locked room which looks like a giant jail cell where they store barrels of whiskey which have been purchased by people. The amount for a barrel was ridiculously insane.

Then onto the tasting room - what everyone was really there for. We sat down and were served snacks while watching the tourguide explain how to mix 'whisky on the rocks.' Yes, literally. Then we helped ourselves to the different types of whisky and whisky chocolates. Yes, VERY generous indeed. One of my teachers had a grand ol' time. hehe

Plum blossoms Posted by Hello

Rice paddy fields Posted by Hello

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Posted by Hello

Suntory Whisky Distillery Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello

Barrels in the store room Posted by Hello

Library of whiskies from all over the world Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Art and Yukata

The part-time art teacher won't be back next school year (beginning of April).

She's going to Tokyo to be a full-time art teacher at a junior high school. She invited me and another teacher to try traditional Japanese painting. They use ground up rocks, mud, clay, coral etc..and mix it together with a melted glue gum substance. They then paint with a brush (like watercolour) onto traditional Japanese paper (washi) which has been specially coated.

Being in the art room reminded me of Special Art classes back in high school. The smell of oil paints, acrylics, turps, clay, glaze...I miss art classes and painting. I would also have all these ideas in my head but somehow they never turned out on paper how I had wanted. haha but it's relaxing nonetheless.

We also made these paper weights using this sticky plastic glue substance and dyes. I think the fumes made us all a bit delirious.

For the last tea ceremony class of the school year, we cleaned the room, practised making and serving the tea and were taught how to wear yukatas (Japanese kimono worn in summer). I haven't been to class for a while and I forgot heaps about how to make the tea. Using the right hand instead of the left hand, crossing the tatami with my left foot and not my right, how to fold my fukusa..and my legs killed (not that they ever were used to the seiza sitting position in the first place). I now have my own red fukusa and sensu (fan).

I haven't bought a yukata yet (definately a must in Summer!) so my teacher lent me one of her daughter's. It was really fun and I can't wait to buy my own one - only problem will be having to choose what colour I want, and you have to wear it really tight just above the stomach so it's kind of hard to breathe. But compared to other things females go through to look good, this is a piece of cake.

Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"Life in Australia"

That was the title of my presentation I did today.

I was asked to do a talk about 'Life in Australia' to the 1st years in the gym. I prepared a speech and my ESS club members translated it into Japanese. I'd been busy preparing my slideshow presentation with colourful photos, maps, animation and what not. I wanted to make it interesting and interactive. I don't want to be the boring, mono-tone lecturer with bad breath and greasy unwashed hair. You don't want to be that guy - that guy sucks.

It was fun. I had samples of vegemite and asked for volunteers to try them. One of the sports teachers also tried them. While the students pulled faces and said in Japanese "Salty!!" the sports teachers said "Hmm delicious" and took another helping.

Ofcourse they were rewarded with Caramello Koalas and Freddo Frogs.

And on the side: I'm so craving a Mrs. Macs steak and mushroom pie!

Sunday, March 06, 2005


This weekend I was invited by the 3rd year teachers to join them on their after-graduation roadtrip to Kanazawa in Ishikawa-ken.

With accommodation, transportation and meals already organised in a sweet package AND great company including 2 english teachers - how could I refuse?

We met at Osaka station and then took the 'Thunderbird' super express train to Kaga-onsen station. There a bus took us to our ryokan and we settled in. The ryokan was beautiful - really fancy-shmancy! It had 2 onsens (one outdoor one that closed at 1am and one indoor one that closed at 3am..I think), karaoke rooms, a club, a performance stage area, a Japanese style restaurant, cafe, lounge with live pianist, gift shop, table tennis room - I'm talking the works!

The rooms were tatami with paper sliding doors - yes, very zen. There were 11 of us and the women stayed in one room and the men in another. After we were served hot green tea and local sweets, we headed out for a stroll around the area. We had expected snow or rain and even though the wind was icy, it was still nice and sunny. We went into little shops that sold unique earthenware and pottery famous in the region. We dropped by little shrines and an outdoor foot onsen.

I was spoilt rotten. Being the youngest and the token foreigner, I was well looked after - which I really appreciated since I hardly knew what was going on, and was given all the bonus gifts like special onsen bath salts, painted ceramic magnets, Japanese print envelopes and a green tea ice-cream cone - it was so cold but still so tasty!

After we got back to our ryokan we changed into our yukatas and went into the outdoor onsen. It was simply bliss! Nice, calming and relaxing. Sure at first it was weird getting naked with my teachers but I think I'm used to onsens now. They had charcoal body soap, shampoo, treatments and sea salt scrub!!! Heavenly! The outdoor onsen was extremely hot - it was like human stock "Taste of a thousand men" haha Jon and Brendon know what I'm on about. But with the air around you icy cold, it's quite nice. But my whole body was red for about an hour afterwards! eeeks! slightly poached.

While relaxing in our room, we got a call from some of the male teachers asking us to play table tennis with them. There we were, yukata-clad, playing ping pong - it was hillarious! Still in our yukatas, the 'traditional Japanese ryokan uniforms' I was told, we then moved to the banquet room for dinner. It was a large tatami room with a traditional Japanese dinner - crab, sashimi, soup, rice, soba noodles, nabe beef, grilled fish, pickles, vegetables, dessert, beer, sake, chu-hai and wine.

After the official dinner party, the second party began in the male teachers room. They had brought snacks, chocolate, beer, shochu and a variety of Kobe wine. We snacked, drank, chatted *repeat process several times* We ate oh-so-much and I was surprised that we were heading back to the onsen again. But what about my gut?!? the bloating?!? my tipsiness?! what time is it?! But when in Rome...

The highlight will definately be the head of the 3rd year teachers getting nicely toasted, impersonating a monkey, telling us how he's super healthy and has never had a cold in his life, trying to take his shirt off in front of us and *in Japanese* "Feel my foot, here..feel it. It's hot isn't it? Feel it. I don't get cold easily. I'm really healthy. Feel my foot!" hahaha

When we got back to our rooms our futons were already laid out and I fell fast asleep in my yukata. Apparently you're meant to wear them to bed.

Woke up at 7.15AM and had a sumptious traditional Japanese breakfast. I couldn't help but laugh when the male teachers were drinking beer with their breakfast - at 7.40AM!!! Now that's hardcore! After breakfast we headed to the onsen one last time.

Then we took a bus back to the station and took a train to Kanazawa. According to my Lonely Planet, Kanazawa is known as Kaga Hyaku Goku for the one million koku (about five million bushels) of rice it produces in the area. It was one very wealthy region. It's also famous for its black lacquerware, Ohi pottery, Kutani yaki porcelain, Kaga Yuzen silk dyeing and gold leaf products, including tea and sweets (Lonely Planet - best $40 spent!). There were so many places I would have loved to go to like the Nomura Samurai house, Higashi geisha district, Kanazawa-jo (castle) and Omicho market. But we didn't have much time and you had to take the bus to get around. We headed to Kenroku-en, ranked one of Japan's top three gardens.

Kenroku-en was gorgeous, simply breathtaking! It was massive, sprawling with ponds, bridges, 500 year old pines, waterfalls, stone paths and little tea houses. Courtesy of Lonely Planet, "Kenroku means 'combined six' referring to a renowned garden from Sung Dynasty China that required six attributes for perfection: seclusion, spaciousness, artificiatlity, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. In winter, the branches of the trees are famously suspended with rope via a post at each tree's centre, forming elegant conical shapes that protect the trees from breaking under the heavy snow. In spring, irises turn the waterways into rivers of purple." Oooh how I wished I could have seen the irises and flowers blooming. But I saw funny looking ducks - so I was happy.

We also went to a contemporary arts museum which recently opened. It featured international artists as well as Japanese artists. Personally, I prefer the classics - oil paintings, water colours, prints or sketchings - when art was art and crap was crap. I didn't quite get the 'art' and neither did my teachers as we giggled and walked out of rooms with confused expressions on our faces. But what I gathered from all my art classes in high school is that art is subjective. Art exists in its interpretation.

Some exhibits were quite interesting like the white room turned into a airy-fairy jungle of flowers, butterflies, birds and vines or the room situated under a pool so you could look up into a glass ceiling or the shiny, reflective spikey capsule that you could walk into or the human vacuum seal box (too bad I had missed the operation times) and the pastels on mounted paper. Crap was the room with a black circle painted on a slanted wall, the room with mounted panels of glass - that's all it was! Truly! and the sound AV rooms with random footage.

After heading back to the station, we hit the omiyage shops, bought our gifts and lunch o-bentos and boarded the 'Thunderbird' back home. All of us were so tired we slept most of the way back to Osaka.

This was such a great trip. Not only was I able to get to know the other teachers a whole lot more but I also got to see more of Japan - one of the main reasons why I'm here. I also found out some interesting facts about my teachers.

One of them is a mystery writer who has 10 books under his pen name, with the most recent one just published last month! Wow! They are all murder myster stories and has a photo of him wearing dark shades on the book jacket cover. Classic! I was told that's why he always looks so sleepy at school because he's always up late writing. I thought he was quite scary looking at first and he didn't talk much before but during the trip, and after a few drinks, he was trying his best to speak to me in English and made funny jokes.

Also two of the teachers had their respective weddings early last year and while honeymooning in Tahiti? Figi? they bumped into each other, not knowing that each one was going there AND both their wives are English teachers.

The head of the teachers, yes the funny-drunk-"feel my feet!"-head of the teachers is one of Japan's weightlifting coaches. He was on the coaching team, one of five members, for Japan's olympic weightlifting team! Wowee, impressive!

As for me, well I think they just dragged me along for pure entertainment haha - I was "Tokey" the token foreigner who would try to taste all the Japanese food they offered, take an abundance of photos (in true Japanese tourist style) and amused them with my bad ass Japanese. But it was well worth it.

On the 'Thunderbird' Posted by Hello

Me & English sensei Posted by Hello

Shopping Posted by Hello

Eating ice-cream while freezing Posted by Hello