Monday, July 31, 2006

One last time

I spent all day doing last minute cleaning and packing. My apartment looked so bare. Kind of like how it was when I first moved in.

Sam, Leigh and Marissa went to Suma beach and dropped by later. Thanks for the coolish guys!

Coolish is a delicious ice cream drink in a plastic bag tubing type package. It rocks. Especially in summer. Available from most convenient stores, it's like drinking melty ice cream or a thick shake in a bag. Yummo. You can get vanilla, mango lassi and french pear. I prefer mango lassi.

That evening I headed to Porto Bazar to meet up with some ex-students for dinner, Mariko and Minami. They look so grown up from when I used to see them in their school uniforms. One is studying English at a foreign language university in Kyoto, and the other is off to the US to study English and business. She previously did a year exchange in Texas during high school. They were both a pleasure to teach and I'm so glad they are doing what they want to do and enjoy.

We went to the Tooth Tooth restaurant - highly recommend! Great place for a date - as my student commented. Beautiful view of the bridge and water, tasty food and reasonable too.

I took photos but accidentally deleted them because I thought I had already downloaded them. Eeiiidiot!

I looked at the bridge from my balcony one last time. Watered my plants. Sat on my couch and watched a little TV. I tried to do everything. One last time.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sayonara Sunday

Sue Yen and I headed to Spa World again so I could try the European themed floor before I had to leave my beloved Nippon.

When we got there we were greeted with a mega long line of families, kids and young gangs of bikini, board-short clad, tanned bodies. Our thoughts of a nice, quiet, relaxing soak session soon disappeared when we realised Spa World was having a special 1,000 yen summer holiday deal.

It was crowded. But luckily most people were there for the pools. We got to cover up in the lavender-scented mud, soak with gummy sharks swimming underneath us, brew in a bath of herb tea, sweat it out in the salt sauna and just relax and get squeaky clean. Although I still prefer the Asian themed floor.

Nice and clean with our mango smoothies

Then we headed back to Umeda for lunch.

Sue Yen left for another engagement and I met up with Hiroko to say goodbye. She had just come from a wedding party and looked gorgeous. I took her to Elephant Cafe and she said she would take her husband there next time.

As soon as I arrived at Tarumi station I got a call from my adopted-Japanese-father-sensei. He wanted to drop off some gifts for my parents and myself. His mother makes Japanese dolls dressed in real kimonos. He gave me one dressed in a gold kimono, along with bizenyaki cups and some Shizuoka green tea. Then he decides that we should go out for one last eating drinking session. He drives me back to my place so I can drop off my stuff and he calls Nakai-sensei to come along.

She had also just got back home and hadn't had dinner. So he took us to this traditional sushi bar where he introduced us as his 'other' daughters (Nakai-sensei and I are the same age as his daughter). The food was fresh, huge and delicious. Simple yet so tasty. Although by the end of it, even though I love sashimi, I was getting a bit sick of the very overwhelming rawness.

Fresh local oysters

Akashi octopus

The chef's recommended selection

You like fresh? The chef grabs a fish swimming around in the tank and cuts and slices it. He bends the remaining body and bends it to make a dish with the slices of sashimi sitting in the middle. Eeks! Then when I take this photo, the fish starts twitching (head and tail) when my flash goes off!!!

Sensei makes us eat way too much and the sake, beer and shouchu keeps comin'. He knows that I don't really drink so he orders cold oolong tea for me. But Nakai-sensei is a tank! She politely keeps drinking everything Sensei gives her. Respect yo.

It gets late and we have to catch the last train. We say goodbye at the train station and Sensei gives money to Nakai-sensei for our train tickets and taxi fair to get back to our apartments. He told me that he treats me like a daughter because when his daughter went to study and work in Mexico, she told him the locals looked after her and welcomed her into their families. He really appreciated the kindness shown to his daughter and so wanted to do the same for me, a foreigner living in another country. It was so sad saying thank-you and goodbye to him. I'll always remember him waving to me with his pink, smiling face as I walked through the train gates.

Waiting for the last train

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another lost earring

With only 2 more days left in my apartment, I spent all day cleaning, vacuuming, packing, throwing out stuff and just getting everything organized.

Miwako invited me out for dinner in Sanners so I was looking forward to getting out. When I got out of the shower and looked straight into my mirror, I realised that one of my diamond studs was missing *cue dramatic music - Bum BUm BUM!* Not again.

I found the backing of it in my bath tub and feared that my earring had gone down the drain. I looked everywhere! All over my apartment, in all the corners, cleaned out the drain, sifted through the vacuum bag - everywhere!

Giving up, I sadly went to dinner but soon forgot all about it chatting and eating sea slug things in a Vietnamese restaurant. Thanks for the lovely night Miwako! Mecha arigatou! Samishii ne.

However there is a happy ending to this lost earring story (unlike all my other ones).
Having to vacate my apartment soon, I was desperate to find my earring (I refused to believe it had fallen down the drain - c'mon, what are the odds?!) The next night after stumbling home late, I decided to have one last look. Armed with a torch, I pressed my cheek on my shower floor (only because I had scrubbed and cleaned it the day before) to look under my bath. I saw a little twinkle. Excited and full of hope, I made an awesome MacGyver thing with 2 chopsticks and sticky tape. When I slowly pulled it out from under the bath, my earring was revealed. Hooray and so happy!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sayonara Maiko

It was my last day at Maiko today. It was sad. Heart-breaking really.

Bit by bit I've been slowly clearing my drawers, desk and locker. My desk is so bare.

I bought slices of Marui-pan's apple pie for all the teachers and office staff. When I told her that I was leaving, Mrs Marui-pan gave me a huge discount and a free ice milk tea. She's so cute.

I gave out all of my last thank-you letters, cards, photos and gifts. Teachers kept giving me presents and cards. It was hard to control the emotions.

Gai-sensei and Senou-sensei

I went for my last lunch at the bento shop. Being summer, unagi is the season's favourite dish. I don't understand how grilled eel served on hot rice with sauce is so popular during the hot, humid summer. Woulnd't something cold be more appropriate? But it was super tasty and satisfying!

Perfect timing - my Maiko baseball hat and shirt order arrived just in time. I put it on straight away and wore it around the staffroom.

Me and my baseball boys

When it was time for me to go I packed up all my stuff and prepared for the worst. Kocho-sensei announced that all the teachers were to see me off at the front gate. As I walked down the hallway and cleared my shoe locker, I couldn't hold back the tears.

As soon as I got to the front door, it was waterworks central. All the teachers, office staff and students who were at school for club or whatever had made a guard of honour from the front door to the school gate. They clapped. I cried. I tried to smile. They took photos. I kept crying. I bowed. I said thank you's. I waved. I shook hands. I hugged. I sobbed. Eventually I made my way to the gate, walked down the steps, and like any good predictable movie ending, I turned back and waved and said goodbye to Maiko through tear-filled eyes.

I am forever grateful for my placement at Maiko and so thankful to all the teachers and students who showed me the heart and soul of Japan. I'm going to miss Maiko a lot. Thanks for the memories.

That night I was invited to a student's house for dinner. Now before you start singing to me ("..and here's to you Mrs. Robinson.." thank you very much, Alison) it was his mother that invited me because I had helped her son (a 3rd year student) with an English speech and other English work.

I invited Leigh along and he was the perfect guest. He impressed them with his Japanese and made them laugh with his Osaka-ben. I thought he would be a great encouragement to my student too because he studied a foreign language in high school and university and is now living in a foreign country with a job that utilises his foreign language ability. I think that impressed my student a lot.

The home-cooked dinner was delicious. We were stuffed on asparagus bacon rolls, gyoza dumplings, tempura, vietnamese spring rolls and this tofu dish with slimy beans.

Then it was back to Leigh's place, running for the bus (we are awesomeness) and eating ice cream with Alison.

Thanks Leigh - I owe you.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Eating & Farewells

A few teachers and myself went to Adzukian for a long lunch.

Eggplant cooked like agedashi tofu - totemo tasty and healthy too.
I'm going to miss that place.

In the evening I went for dinner with Kawatobi-sensei and Tanaka-sensei. I also introduced them to Cheryl, who is also a very keen hiker. I took them to the thai/vietnamese place in Tarumi and I finally tried the pad thai. It was a huge serving (I was defeated) at a very good price but I still prefer Baan Thai's version.

Tanaka-sensei gave me a book of photographs capturing the beauty of Japan's distinct seasons. The images are amazing and I hope to see them in real life some day. Kawatobi-sensei gave me a Japanese-style hair clip that I promised to wear with my yukata.

The next evening I met up with Nakai-sensei and took her to Malibu. We shared the Malibu salad and a white fish pasta. With only one main chef guy in the tiny kitchen, the food takes a little while to come out but it's always really good. Alison and Marissa joined us after they had dinner at the thai/vietnamese place.

After dinner Nakai-sensei and myself picked up some desserts from Sweets Garden and went back to my place for tea. She is so sweet and really cute in her expressions. We talked about work and she brought over photos of her family and exchange trips to Canada and on the Hyogo Floating University (which drops by Perth). She literally lives down the road from me and I wish she had been placed at the school earlier so we could have hung out more.

I'm going to miss all of them a lot.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Kingyo = Goldfish

Tonight I met up with Noel for dinner. After walking around awhile trying to find a place to cater for our indecisive tastes, we went to Kingyo.

Kingyo is a cosy, izakaya style restaurant specialising in Okinawan food. I've been there with some teachers before and remember walking out very full and very satisfied. Tonight was just the same.

The funky Okinawan decor featured an illuminated indoor pond with goldfish

Gonna miss you Mr. B - all the best with your future plans, maybe see you in Japan again.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Asian Days

Sue Yen stayed over my place and then she headed to her shodo (Japanese calligraphy) lesson.

I met up with Alison, Marissa and Leigh for dinner in Sanners. The Kobe crew have been telling me so much about this restaurant called 'Asian Days' and I've always been busy on the days they've planned to go there. But tonight I finally got to try the famous all-you-can-eat dim sum.

It was pretty good for Japan (especially the fried dumplings they brought out first) and the price we paid, but I guess I'm just used to Perth's standard dim sum.

My beautiful sayonara flowers brightening up my apartment ~ bittersweet.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More eating and farewells

After the eating marathon that took place last night, I dragged myself out of bed to meet up with my ESS girls for lunch.

They took me to Cino, a nice Italian restaurant in Akashi by the water. The pasta and pizzas we ordered were fresh, simple and very tasty.

They are so sweet. One of them was an ESS student last year and is now studying Russian and English at university.

The girls standing behind the taco ferry

After lunch we went to take some purikura (print club stickers). Being my last time with them, we decided to ... cos play.

We chose the sailor suit school uniforms.

That evening I met up with Keita in Sanners. While waiting for Sue Yen to get in after work, we went to the beer garden on the roof of Sogo department store. He had just pulled an all nighter in Osaka so both of us were in no state to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat-and-drink.

Then we met up with Sue Yen and he took us to some funky restaurant/bar. I can't remember the name but it was near the KR&AC ~ ii osusume ne! Keita's gorgeous girlfriend, Asami joined us after she finished work and they showed us photos of their holiday in Bali from their new, waterproof camera.

Ogenkide - matane!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sayonara Bakamono club

The Bakamono club strikes again.

Everyone has been so busy that we haven't had a bakamono club meeting all this term. I'm really grateful that even though the teachers had parent-student interviews, exams and what not going on, they managed to organised a final sayonara party for me. It was also so good to see some teachers who left Maiko last term and are working elsewhere.

They presented me with a bunch of flowers, a beautiful ceramic, hand-painted, wind chime bell (common in Japan around Spring time) and a furoshiki cloth.

Black sesame tofu


Computer-sensei loves her nihon-shu, with 'service' of course

Even though we've all been busy, during the week two teachers and I would have a tea-time break and just sit back and relax for a bit. In that time they decided to have a Chris-quiz at the bakamono dinner. I had to think of my top 3 favourite places in Japan, top 3 favourite Japanese foods, top 3 memories of Japan and the top 3 things in Japan that shocked or surprised me.

Maths-Tennis-sensei would ask the other teachers to guess and I would have to say "PING PONG" (correct) or "BU BU" (incorrect). If their answer was correct, he would peel off the paper to reveal the answer. He is classic.

After eating and drinking loads, a few of us headed to a cafe for round 2! I had a fruit parfait with a cup of tea. Needless to say I was oh-so-stuffed.

I had such a great night and will miss these teachers dearly. They really made me feel welcome and I'm so thankful for their kindness and letting me into their lives to experience and enjoy 'Japanese culture'.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Let the tears begin

Finally the day had arrived.

The final day of school (for the students) before the summer holidays, meaning my last closing ceremony and my farewell speech. I had prepared two speeches. One for the teachers in the staff room (Japanese) and one for the closing ceremony (Japanese and English) held in the gym in front of all the teachers and students.

I don't know what happened but when vice principal-sensei called me up to do my speech in the staff room, something clicked - I think reality switched [ON]. All the teachers stood up and faced me and I started to feel nervous. I smiled and said "Ohayou gozaimasu" then bowed. They did the same.

And then it happened. The tears just started flowing. I couldn't blink them back. I guess I was 'overcome with emotions' but I couldn't continue with my speech for about 2 minutes (though it seemed like forever). I looked up at Principal-sensei and said "sorry, excuse me" and he told me to "take my time." So there I stood, giving my speech in Japanese with tears running down my cheeks. I was so embarrassed and must have looked dreadful.

After my speech I had to 'freshen up' before the ceremony in the gym but each time a teacher would come over to me to say "Thank you" or "You spoke Japanese very well" or gave me a goodbye present, the tears came back again.

Mystery writer-sensei gave me one of his books and he even signed it for me. He thanked me for all the times I spoke English to him and for taking the time to talk to him. Music-sensei gave me a miniature pair of wooden geta. She said they weren't new but knew I would appreciate them because I was really interested in Japanese culture (she had made such a fuss when she saw my wannabe maiko photos). Another teacher gave me sakura tea and matcha milk packets. Another teacher gave me a Japanese tea ceremony whisk because he knew I was part of the tea ceremony club.

I think the teachers must have thought I was a nutter after my waterworks show because before I headed to the gym for the closing ceremony, they all told me to "stay calm," "do your best," and "good luck." This time I was a bit more prepared for my emotions as I had a pink Burberry handkerchief with me (another gift from a teacher).

Just looking at my students' smiling faces, their shouts of "Hey Chris!" and their polite little bows made the tears well up again.

"Chris, is this your last time at Maiko?"
"Will you go back to Australia? Please come back to Japan."
"I am shocked! I am very sad."
"I will miss you. Please don't forget us."

How could I not get emotional when my kids say these things to me? Especially when they try so hard to say it in English.

I tried really hard not to cry during my speech, I didn't want to leave that impression with them. I wanted to leave a happy and thankful one, not a sad and emotional one. Switching back and forth from Japanese to English, I could stall and pretend I was having trouble with my pronunciation but really I was just buying time to calm myself down so I wouldn't start tearing again.

I did much better than before. I thought I was home free but then some members of the student council came up and did a thank you speech in English for me (in English!!) and presented me with a huge bouquet of flowers. Hello tears.

I think what gets me is that I probably won't see many of them again. I hope to be able to return for the 3rd years' graduation ceremony next year. They were my 1st years when I first started teaching, and now their already 3rd years! I'm going to miss them a lot.

In the afternoon the tea ceremony club had a last practise. Tea-sensei gave me a farewell present; a bamboo tea whisk and the proper powered green tea used for tea ceremony. I performed tea ceremony for the last time at Maiko. I concentrated really hard to get it right that I forgot about how sad I was and how much my legs were hurting.

Here are photos of the new 1st year students learning the basics, while the older girls and I happily ate the brown sugar manju sweets.

That evening I was invited to Sakamoto-sensei's house (part-time English teacher) for dinner. She made a delicious home-cooked dinner (yellow coconut curry and cold shabu-shabu pork salad) and I brought Reve Chef's strawberry shortcake for dessert. Her English is really good as she lived in Canada for a while.

When I got home, I was cheered up by what was left on my doorstep. Cheryl, knowing that I was upset from my closing ceremony, had left me a colourful pot plant and a tasty, Japanese style dessert that came in a beautiful, Japanese clay cup. Thanks sweetie, you made my night! I'm going to miss you heaps!

My kitchen floor and red table - oh how I will miss you.