Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hey Big Spender! Dig my blender.

Things that make me smile on the outside and inside...

...drinking from cups or bowls bigger than my face
...the clinking of ice in a cocktail
...eating a piece of watermelon bigger than my head
...Summer nights
...walking in the rain then soaking in a hot bath
and buying new things!

I bought a new floor table and it got delivered this morning! Yes I know it's only a table but I'm so excited! I also bought blue and white floor cushions to go with it. Now I can actually have a decent table in my living room for entertaining dinner parties.

I also bought a blender! Woo hoo! Banana smoothies comin' my way! I tried out my blender by making some pesto. My poor basil plant was drooping because I hadn't been harvesting. Tasty.

My bare basil plant with pesto chicken

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Umeda, Osaka

I met up with Chieko today in Osaka.

After finding a convenience store to buy bandaids for my new formed blister friend (oh when will I learn?!) we hit up Hep 5 for some shopping. Chieko was wearing a gorgeous pair of black, pull-up, suede boots that you can adjust the length by 'scrunching'. Perfect! So I eneded up going home with a lovely pair myself.

She took me to 'Colors' for some coffee and cake. It's an awesome cafe with funky decor, chilled atmosphere and a long waiting list. I had a hazelnut latte with the green tea brulee and she had the chiffon roll with her ice mocha - both were scrumptious!

After doing all the levels of Hep 5 and briefly checking out the new renovations at Hankyu department store, we met up with a uni mate of hers, Yuko. Starving at this point, we followed a restaurant flyer guy with his coupons to this hidden away, nicely decked out, Italian style, wine, izakaya joint. The food was really good and surprisingly not too expensive too.

Chieko & me

Being a Saturday night it was crowded everywhere. Not keen for karaoke we headed to a 'game centre' to try our luck at bowling but it was going to be a 1 1/2 hour wait. The bowling places look pretty hip and happening with their big video screens and vending machine-style bowling shoe dispenser - I kid you not. Next time I'll take photographic evidence.

We headed downstairs to the UFO catcher games just for a laugh but Chieko ended up winning a Big Bird toy thing and I won a Cookie Monster toy thing. Beginners luck? We also went on the 'Hep 5 Big Wheel' ferris wheel - the big red one you see when you get out of JR Umeda station. It was my first time and the view was so nice at night, you could even see Osaka Castle. Our night ended with drinks at Starbucks.

Yuko & Chieko

Friday, September 23, 2005

Another glorious Japanese public holiday

Autumnal Equinox = no work on Friday. Yay!

Headed to Kakogawa for a BBQ. A real barbeque on a real field of grass by the Kakogawa River. Lisa had organised a BBQ for Jamie, an ex-JET who is leaving Kakogawa hood to live it up in big, bad Osaka. We met up at the station which was being rocked by Lisa's 2nd year b-boy students. They were so good and the dude in the black top, daaaamn was he fit! He was lifting himself up horizontally with one hand! and they so kindly posed for a photo too.

Lisa the Mexican dip queen - Too tasty!

And her Thai green curry chicken with Chris' potato salad above

(which he made with potatoes & peas from his garden!!! So impressed.)

Chris BBQ-ing his yakiniku

Youseke & Tomo slaving over the BBQ all day

Me to Katie - "So how do you know Tomo?"

Katie - "Oh we kinda inherited him from our predecessor"

Me (in Lisa's "Yaanki" cap) BBQ-ing my sweet chilli chicken wings

Katie, Ryan & Ben break out Lisa's awesome K-mart plastic cricket set

Monday, September 19, 2005

Day trip to Kyoto

Today is a public holiday. Respect for the Aged Day to be exact.

So I decided to head into Kyoto and so some sightseeing. Bought myself a bus/subway day pass and first stop was Nijo Castle. It's been highly recommended and I've been meaning to check it out for ages.

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the official residence of the first Tokugawa Shoun, Ieyasu. It's listed on The World Heritage List of UNESCO and is pretty impressive with beautiful gardens, ponds, a stagnant moat that looks like bright green tea broth surrounding the Ninomaru Palace and the Honmaru Palace. The inner moat surrounding the Honmaru Palace is more alive with giant ass koi happily swimming with white swans. No photos were allowed inside the palaces but the tatami rooms with painted sliding doors were beautiful.

The highlight would have to be the 'nightingale floor' which the shogun used to prevent intruders from sneaking in. The wooden floors are designed to 'squeek' when trod upon, making bird-like noises such as from a nightingale. I was trying my very best to creep around ninja-like but you never knew which part of the floor would squeek. Clever. I also stopped by a little tea room in the gardens and for 600 yen, was served a nice adzuki bean sweet and green tea. Just like tea ceremony class.

My second stop was to another World Heritage site, Kinkakuji Temple (Rokuon-ji Temple) aka The Golden Pavilion. It was built in 1937 by Yoshimitsu, the 3rd Shogun of Ashikaga. A golden Chinese phoenix sits on top of the roof and the temple is gilded with gold-leaf. The temple overlooks the Kyouko-chi pond (Mirror pond) and is surrounded by a beautiful garden and has a shrine, Fudo-do, dedicated to the god of fire.

As soon as I got off the bus and entered the gates, it all came back to me and I remembered this was where I had tasted my first green tea ice cream soft serve. This was second time visiting Kinkakuji. When I first came to Japan on a school exchange, we visited heaps of temples and shrines. I remember trying a bit of Jasmine's green tea ice cream and it being the most deliciously refreshing thing ever. I wanted to go off and buy one but our tour bus had arrived. So this time round after taking photos of the temple (it really is a beautiful sight), walking through the gardens and perusing through the gift shop (it was exactly the same one I had been in before, it was so surreal) I went straight to the ice cream shop and bought myself a green tea ice cream soft serve cone.

I was afraid it wasn't going to taste as good as I had remembered. But it was the most deliciously refreshing thing ever.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saturday Night Fever

One of my student's does traditional Japanese dance and she gave me tickets to see her perform at a concert. So in the morning, Cheryl and I headed to the 'Kobe Culture Hall'.

We watched a few performances before my student came on. There were group and solo performances with beautiful kimonos, smoke machines and lighting effects all accompanied with traditional Japanese music. Many of the performances we saw were older women who probably did dancing as a hobby and even though they were out of sync, they looked like they were having a good time.

It was quite amusing when one older lady yelled out across the silent hall from behind us. Her friend had just come on stage and she yelled out something along the lines of "Good luck! Give it your best!"

My student was amazing. Her kimono was far more elaborate than all the others we had seen so far. She was done up like a maiko (apprentice geisha) and did not look like one of my 17 year old students. After her performance we took photos with her backstage and gave her some flowers and chocolates. We met her family, who ofcourse thought I was just another student and Cheryl was the teacher.

Then Cheryl and I went into Sanners and she showed me where LUSH was. Just the smell of the shop reminded me of shopping back home. We were there so Cheryl could pick up a birthday present, however we both ended up getting something for ourselves; delicious honey soap and a matcha (green tea) face mask.

That night I met up with Hana, Sam and Leigh for dinner. I also met Rachel (a new Kobe JET from the US) and Miwako (? their Japanese language exchange friend). We went to Sapna, an Indian restaurant with a really good and inexpensive mini course set. It said 'mini' but I was stuffed and the lamb curry actually had nice chucks of lamb in it. Along with the nan, rice, salad, a piece of tandoori chicken and a cup of chai at the end - it was perfect.

Afterwards we made our way to Polo Dog for some drinks. It was nice to meet a lot of the new Kobe JETs and they were out in full force that night. Highlight would definately have to be Sam's danceoff with the random, older Japanese guy (acutally I have met that guy in Polo dog before, he speaks good English) to Michael Jackson's 'Beat it'. They had us in stitches! You didn't need David Bowie to call this danceoff, it was simply GOLD! Everytime I need a good laugh, I can just watch the video footage I got on my camera.

And the older lady (we affectionately called 'Grandma') with lovely, long, grey curls gets RESPECT for giving Sam a run for his money with her booty shaking moves. This obaa-san could seriously bust a groove.

Rubbing the monk's newly shaven head for good luck.

Scenario: Dragons

Scenario: Ugly crew of pirates

Friday, September 16, 2005

It was the strangest thing...

I just knew today was going to be an interesting day.

It just has to be when you wake up after having a vivid dream of sharing a taxi with Richard Grieco hahaha remember him from that 90's flick If looks could kill? Man, he was so hot.

I don't know how, why or what-the-hell but I dreamt that as I was leaving the airport in a hurry to get somewhere and I ended up sharing a taxi with Mr. Grieco (who looked exactly the same as he did in the movie). Random. But I did wake up at 6am thinking, "Did I just dream that?"

Today after school as I was running to the bus stop I passed this little boy dawdling on his bicycle. As I ran (not very fast as I was soon getting puffed out and am unfit) past him I heard the little cogs in his brain click 'I'm going to to outride that girl running!'

I decided to pick up the pace as he rode as fast as his little legs could peddle. I was already puffed out and sweating when I wondered what the heck I was doing?!? I slowed down to a walk. As the little boy rode past me with his head held up high in triumph, I could only laugh at what just happened and myself. *You Eeiidiot!* He heard me snickering to myself, turned around and grinned at me cheekily. You didn't need to know Japanese to understand what his little cogs were clinking, 'Me - 1, Silly, slowpoke girl - 0.'

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


It was traumatic.

Don't call me over-dramatic because this has seriously made me grade-A paranoid!
I found a cockroach in my bathroom *shudder* just the thought of it makes me squirm.

Now, I can usually handle other insects but cockroaches just freak me out. They never use to when I was little but now they're as distressing as having a bad-hair/skin day.

When I first moved in I cleaned my place from top to bottom. I bought all the fancy schmancy cleaning products, brushes, sprays, insect killers and rubber gloves and cleaned away. Like all places there are bugs and insects everywhere outside and I've seen my fair share of ugly, flying cockroaches. But this is the FIRST time I've seen one IN my place!

Luckily I was standing near the cupboard where I keep the spray, so I slowly reached for it and sprayed the intruder, which then decided to fly towards my direction! EEEKS! That's when I lost it and actually screamed out aloud to no one who could help me anyways. It flew into the shower so I closed the door and fumigated it through the vent. Eventually when I got the guts to open the shower door again (very slowly mind you) I found the uninvited guest, dead. Hmm, now there's a thought.

I'm thinking it could have come through the shower exhaust fan and now I'm paranoid about taking a shower. My shower, once a place of refuge of cleanliness and bubbles, my favourite relaxing spot has now been tarnished. That would have to be the worst - to be having a shower or bath; naked, defenceless, vunerable, not within reach of a weapon of any kind and stuck in a small room with one.

Cockroaches, univited guests - they're all the same. Oh and I hate mosquitos too.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The circus is in town

I was so glad it was Friday. Even moreso when Cheryl calls me up and offers her ticket to Cirque du Soleil's Alegria 2 (2nd time it's come to Japan) tomorrow, and after seeing Quidam in Perth recently, how could I refuse!

Then she goes one more step further with, "Have you had dinner or started cooking dinner yet?" With only my half defrosted pork sitting in the sink and vegetables I had just taken out of the fridge before the phone rang, and it being a Friday night, the answer was a clear "no". So it was off to the local Korean restaurant for some cheap but very delicious delights.

I'd never been to the place before but always pass by if I decide to walk home from school. Cheryl has been there about 2 times in the last week or so and swears by the corn tea. It was indeed very refreshing and tasted like popcorn. I had the bi bim bap set (so filling and tasty with so many side dishes!) She had the Tsu chi mi (?) the korean pancake. Dessert was a new Kit Kat flavour (green tea and adzuki beans/icekachang) Cheryl had bought from the local 7-eleven.

On Saturday morning I met up with Felicity and we headed to Osaka together. After a little bit of shopping and lunch, we headed to the big top. Again, Cirque du Soleil was amazing and breathtaking. From the trampoline performances, fire twirlers, trapeze artists to the clowns, contortionists, tightrope walker and guy-on-the-elastic-rope-thing. Simply captivating.

It was quite interesting to see how the Japanese culture and audience would react to such a thing. Apparently they're not that big on the clapping but in our show, it was pretty normal. The main difference was the gasps and verbal sucking-in-of-breath "sugoiiii!" and "heiiiii?!?!" that tightened the audience together for a split second, like a chorus right on cue.

At the end of the show, people also gave the performers little bouquets of flowers (sold at the gift shop during intermission, ofcourse). During the intermission the crowds would swarm the gift shops for omiyage and lunch on o-bentos, hot chips and sandwiches.

I was quite eager to see how the whole 'pick someone from the audience to play along' would work in Japan. Surprisingly, the 2 guys they picked were good sports and did play along. We just couldn't imagine a shy Japanese girl being dragged up on stage in front of a huge crowd at the risk of embarrassing herself. But I'm sure they change a bit to adjust to each country and culture. For example, the clowns would randomly burst into little bits Japanese and the audience loved it. Even the little boy at the beginning gave instructions to turn off mobile phones etc.. in Japanese. But with his French (?) accent we couldn't even understand his Japanese but it was cute nonetheless.

Felicity's eyes are closed - Sorry! but it's the only photo I took before being told photos weren't even allowed during intermission, outside! And she's a lot taller but so kind enough to make me look not as short.

Afterwards we headed to Green Earth. A very nice and cosy vegetarian place recommended by Cheryl via the local mag, Kansai Scene. After trying the eggplant curry with nan and mango lassi, I'll definately be back for more.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Himeji Back to School Beer Garden

On our way back home from Okayama I stopped off at Himeji and headed to the Hyogo AJET Back to School Beer Garden.

Even though I was tired, unshowered and looking like a hiker backpacker, I decided to go to catch up with people I haven't seen in ages. It was so good to see familiar faces and find out how they had spent their Summer holidays. I didn’t take many photos because batteries were dying.

I met a few new 1st years but there were so many new faces and I still hadn't seen all the recontracting 2nd years. Apparently they sent about 29 new JETs from Perth this take and 23 of them ended up in Hyogo. I know that there is a sister-state relationship but geez, you'd think they'd spread us out a bit more. But I am looking forward to meeting them and discovering the 1 degree of separation between us just as last year's lot did.

Yukata-clad Lisa & me

Zack the monkey (again) scoring my 2nd year Himeji banana

With the stunning Yukata-clad NZ girls (Shelley, Lisa & Katie)

On the topic of new JETs, I finally met Claire's successor on Sunday night with Cheryl. I'd already seen her a few times on her bike as I bus-ed it to school in the mornings. Krystal is over here with her boyfriend, Jon and they're from San Francisco. They're really nice and lovely people and I'm looking forward to getting to know them better.

We went to the 100 yen kaiten sushi place near the ocean. It was my first time there and it rocked! I was so excited because they have touch screens at each booth where you can order what you want and as it comes around the conveyor belt, it starts beeping when it gets to your table. They had a huge selection and they even had desserts making the rounds. AND after you finish, you dispose of your plates in this slot which calculates how much you've had and for every 5 plates, you get a chance to win a toy thing. Super exciting stuff!

Touchscreen baby!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Country Hospitality

It was so good to catch up with Cheryl again. She had a friend over visiting from Perth and had organised a quick trip to Okayama prefecture. In order to encourage more tourists and foreign visitors to Okayama prefecture, the government built 6 International Villas which give visitors a taste of what Okayama has to offer.

We stayed overnight at the Takebe Villa in the inaka town of Takebe (many of my teachers had never heard of it). As much as I love my town and living relatively close to the city, I also enjoy heading out into the inaka and experiencing the real countryside of Japan.

After school I dashed to meet Cheryl, Pat and Masao (the nurse at Cheryl's school who has really good english). We took a super rapid train, a bullet train and then a local train to get to our destination. After being on a few bullet trains now, it's quite sad to say that the whole novelty of it has slowly worn off. Don't get me wrong. I still love them and would definately fork out the money to ride in one over other means because they're just so efficient and convenient. You don't realise how fast they're going when you're sitting inside. But when you're standing on the platform and one races by, boy do you feel it. It's insane! You are left speechless and in awe at the speed it rushes past you.

Okay I digress...
When we arrived at the station it was about 9pm and a fair walk to the Villa. Masao asked directions from a girl who had also just got off the train and not only did she tell us where it was, she walked her bike with us all the way! Gotta love the locals.

Cheryl, me (in our yukatas), Pat & Masao

Engrish - not just in Japan. We found this in a Taiwanese Cosmopolitan at the villa.

The very space conserving and innovative toilet... swing the sink around and voila - the toilet!

We headed straight for the onsen and it was exactly what we needed on a Friday night after a long week. The outdoor onsen was so relaxing! The villa overlooks the Asahi River with a backdrop of misty mountains and rice fields. In the morning we hit the onsens again before checking out the local area. It was so nice to be surrounded by lush, rolling mountains, vegetable farms, a flowing river and fields and fields of rice paddies. The rice paddies looked like waves of green oceans, a fresh green carpet being swept and combed by the wind. We visited Yahata Village and it's educational facilities including the Killifish School, Asahi Freshwater Aquarium, Toy Museum and Yoghurt Workshop. The mango yoghurt parfait was perfect for the hot weather.

View of Asahi River from the balcony

Cooling off with our yoghurt drinks and parfaits

We also hiked it to Keikaen Gardens where we had lunch and tea. It was an amazing Japanese garden complete with a small bird zoo. Our waitress at the restaurant even accompanied us and gave us an impromptu guided tour of the gardens. Now that's service!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Back to School

Our school's Open High School went well. Thankfully my sore throat cleared up. Having a cold in the middle of Japan's Summer is rather strange. By the end of the day I was tired and could pretty much give my presentation by memory. The vegemite samples were as always, very amusing.

Kendo master-sensei came back from Nepal and I was delighted to hear that his english had slightly improved since his trip last year. He even brought me back a gift - a gorgeous suede, embroidered bag!

Computer-sensei also gave me some photos that she had taken earlier this year when I forgot my camera. A group of girls (mainly from the track & field club) made me a cheesecake for my birthday. I was so touched because I don't even teach these girls. We just casually chat when they come into the staff room.

It tasted real good too!