Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Travel Home and My First Impressions

Travleing home was crazy. I stayed up as late as I could the night before I left, I made it to around 1:30. I woke up at 3:30 am in Tokyo so I could bring my Mom, step-Dad and girlfriend to Tsukiji Fish Market. You have to get there really early to get into the tuna auction. They've become very strict with how many people get in. Anyway it was a grand old time. We went back to the hotel and were there by 6:30am. Everyone else went to sleep, I decided to stay away so I'd pass out on my flight home. I also tried to use some of my frequent flier miles to upgrade to business class. I figured this was my 8th time flying between Japan and America, I deserved some pampering.

I got to the airport early and I could barely stay awake. I was running on about 2 hours of sleep. It got the point where I couldn't tell if I was saying things aloud or not. I'd think something in my head and hear myself say it but I really didn't say it. Or I'd start to have a dream and not realize that I was dreaming and mention something about it aloud and no one would know what on earth I was talking about. Then I'd have to cover up really fast. Example:

They played "California Girls" by Katy Perry all over the place in Tokyo when I was there so it got stuck in my head. I had a dream about it on the bus to the airport and thought I was listening to it. I was like "This song has great bounce." to my girlfriend and she didn't really hear what I said, she said "what was that?" then I had to cover up but the best I could say was "Oh, I said I'm so tired."

I got to the airport, I was denied an upgrade to business class since the flight was full. I got to my seat and the two people next to me were in their early 60s and had giant name tags pinned to their shirts that said their names and then "TO PITTSBURGH". I could tell from their last name, Nguyen, that they were from Vietnam. Also because they were speaking to each other in Vietnamese. They both look like they had no idea what was going on. They kept saying/kind of yelling stuff to me in Vietnamese and I'd just kind of raise my eyebrows and smile and try and figure out what they were saying. They were asking how to lean their seats back, where their headphones jack is, stuff like that. We figured it out.

Once we took off, I couldn't sleep. I'm an anxious flier. It also didn't help that we didn't get those personal TVs for each seat. I know that sounds kind of spoiled, but every flight I've flown to Japan has had those, the first time I flew was in 2002 and this plane STILL didn't have them? Just the one screen in the aisle for people to watch the selected programming... booooo. Our first meal came... curry chicken with rice, a roll and butter, a salad and dressing. I ate some of the rice, the chicken was bad, I ate my roll, didn't touch my salad. The woman next to me opened her butter and started eating with with a spoon. After about two bites she screamed something in Vietnamese. I'm not sure what it was but I'm pretty sure it meant "I THINK I JUST ATE A SPOONFUL OF BUTTER!" The same thing happened with the salad dressing. I felt bad so I tried to show her that the butter goes on the roll. She took this as "GIVE ME YOUR ROLL!!!!" so she started looking scared and shoved her roll at me. "No no no" I waved my hand in a "no no no" kind of way. She imitated this movement and then yelled at me in Vietnamese, then shoved the roll to me. "No no no, you." I gestured it to her with a smile. "NO NO NO!" followed by more Vietnamese. I showed her with my roll what I did, then she just put the roll (it was wrapped in plastic) into her purse and went back to sleep.

There were occasional other moments like this throughout the flight. I never really knew what she was yelling at me about, but it was kind of funny and kind of scary... I was seated in the middle section of the plane on an aisle. Then next to me was the lady, followed by her husband, then some other American guy. The husband was doing the same thing to the other American guy. We often gave each other a look like "Do you happen to understand what is actually going on here?"

Eventually the flight attendants handed out our customs and immigration forms. I filled mine out. The lady next to me was asleep when they handed them out and about 30 minutes before we landed. They hadn't filled out their sheets so I tapped her on shoulder and showed her the slip. I showed her mine which was filled out. She took out her passport and handed it to me. Then she gestured that I write for her. "No no no" I said, again. Then I gestured toward her to do it. Again, this was followed by, what to sounded to me like complete gibberish. I filled out everything I could. I had no idea how to explain to them things like "Do you have any disease agents, cell cultures, or snails?" "Have you been in close proximity to any livestock?" and so on. So I just checked "No" for all of the things. I knew I was definitely going to get arrested. I gave it to her to sign. I pointed to mine, showed her that I signed it and she looked terrified and again, yelled at me in Vietnamese. She shoved the pen back at me and I signed her name for her... I wondered, what if I just checked "Yes" for "Has disease agents" and handed it back, they'd have no idea... and it'd be the craziest welcoming to America ever for them. I didn't, but it's just a slightly entertaining thought. They would have been fine, it just would have been crazy for a while.

My dad picked me up and I was home.

It's been one whole year since I was in America and here's what I think...

1) Grocery stores are amazing. I forgot how many kinds of apples, onions, tomatoes, chips, cookies, cereals, juices, yogurts, and crackers actually exist. The aisles were massive they towered above my head. In my local grocery store in Japan the aisles were about 5 feet high and I could see the entire store over the tops of them. I could see all the shoppers and all the items pretty much. Here, the aisles must be about 40 feet tall and are filled to the top with all sorts of crazy items.

2) People are giants. Not that everyone is short and skinny in Japan but honestly, most people are. Especially in Urasa where the highest age population is 60-80 (it's a fact, I looked it up on their city's website). People were often tiny. In America there are some really really tall people. There are, of course, tons of fat people, but in general people are just larger. Like you just zoomed in on someone and they became that size... does that make sense?

3) It's weird seeing Asian people who are so good at English. I know it's a bit "off" sounding, but it's just weird. I was surrounded by tons of people who, even if they were great at English, still had a strange accent. Here, Asian-Americans of course are naturally fluent in English and it was so surprising.

4) Diversity. I don't think I saw a single mexican person in Japan. That means I went over a year without seeing a single Mexican person. That is weird. I saw a couple of other races but no mexican or latino people. When I went to the grocery store it was amazing, there were all kinds of people all walking around and shopping. It was amazing. America's population is soooooooo interesting looking. I love it so much.

5) We really do have bad attitudes. I was at the deli counter at the grocery store. I was the only person there, with my dad. The woman behind the counter goes "who's next?" in a slightly cold tone. I didn't really hear her so I said, "What's that?" She got mad and repeated herself. "Oh, I am. Can I have a half pound of the oven roasted turkey breast?" Then, of course, my Dad goes "WAIT! I'M NEXT!" as a joke. I thought it was funny, he though it was funny, the lady at the counter... she didn't think it was funny. She rolled her eyes and stood there. When my Dad and I giggled, she just grabbed the turkey and walked away. I got my half pound, but I got it with a side of attitude.

In the parking lot, I saw a guy kicking his car. I imagine because it didn't work. I wasn't really sure what was going on.

My first few meals were the following...

1) Poppy-Seed Bagel with turkey and provolone cheese. YES. CHEEEEESSSSEEEE I MISSED YOU! TURKEY! I MISSED YOU TOO!! BAGELS!!! OH MY BAGELS!!! I MISSED YOU!!!!!!

2) Mexican food. Salsa, Guacamole, rice, refried beans, and some tasty softshell crab. Hooooooray!

3) Limeade. Limes are expensive everywhere but in Japan, one lime cost between 2 and 4 dollars. You can't just buy a giant bottle of limeade, it'd cost about 150,000 dollars. I bought some here and it was magnificent.

I'm so glad to be home. I miss Urasa, I miss my students, I miss Japan, but damn it's good to be back.

Home Sweet Home

After living in Urasa I've really grown to love small town-ness. I'm sure it'll go away once I get back to life in a really convenient city but I just love Urasa so I'll be sad to leave it... here's what else I'll miss...

Edzumiya - The local restaurant that has awesome fresh Japanese food. I went here often and even though the owners and waiters didn't directly say they knew me, they stopped bringing me the "English Menu" after going there twice so I knew they knew what was up.

Heated toilet seats - seriously, there's nothing better. At first you're like "eeeew, it feels like someone was just sitting here." You slowly get used to it and after a you finally get used to the seat and don't really notice it's heated, you'll sit on an unheated seat and say aloud "This feels like I'm sitting on broken glass or something... where's that heated seat???"

Good fruit and vegetables - Even though the prices were pretty ridiculous at times (seriously, who pays 30 dollars for a watermelon?) the fruit was good 99.999% of the time. It was amazing. At the end of the year the famous Yairo Watermelon came in season. This watermelon... is crazy. It's not one of those square or heart-shaped ones... but it's insanely good. The best watermelon I've ever had.

Other things I'll miss...

Good service
Trains that come right on time
Being able to see mountains all around me
The snow (Even though the winter was rough, the snow was beautiful... )
Japanese pumpkin (it's plain old fashioned delicious)
Great TV commercials
Yummy - The local place with all the crazy flavored ice cream/gelato/sherbet. I'm convinced it's the best ice cream/gelato/sherbet place in all of the world.
Festivals - The naked man shoving festival was awesome.

most of all
My students. I love my students. Even the ones with the bad attitudes who hated my class, they cracked me up, I loved giving them a hard time. I'll really really miss them the most. There were some great teachers I worked with but the students still really pull ahead by being awesome.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010



I CAN'T WAIT: until a 1.5 hour drive to a mall with an import store is no longer necessary in order to enjoy a root beer or tortilla chips.

I CAN'T WAIT: for someone to give me a sassy *sigh* or "ugh." when I take a long time counting out my change at a convenience store in America. Japanese people just politely wait in silence...that's not going to make me go any faster.

I CAN'T WAIT: until the night when frogs no longer keep me up. (Even though they're cute.)

I CAN'T WAIT: for a variety in breads. (See my posts about rye and wheat bread.)

I CAN'T WAIT: until I get my pension refund... gimme back my money, JAPAN.

I CAN'T WAIT: for pizza without mayonnaise

I CAN'T WAIT: until I can sleep at night knowing I'm safe from poisonous centipede attacks (the evil mukade).

I CAN'T WAIT: for breakfast food! (Baaaaaaaaagels!)

I CAN'T WAIT: for insulated homes!

I CAN'T WAIT: Air conditioning!!

I CAN'T WAIT: to see movies when they come out! (we get them 1-6 months later than you folks... Iron Man 2 just came out a few weeks ago...)

I CAN'T WAIT: For restaurants other that aren't Italian or Japanese. (Here's looking at you Mexican. *Wink*)

I CAN'T WAIT: for all things barbeque (the sauce and the actual party around some charcoal with hot dogs and hamburgers)

I CAN'T WAIT: to live in a place where the the average age of the local population isn't in the mid to late 50s. (That is true, I checked the city's homepage [based on 4 year old data.] 20-24 year olds are even greatly out numbered by 75-79 year olds...that probably means now that 20-24 year olds are out numbered by 79-83 year olds.)

I'm compiling the things I'll miss for later.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy 4th of July

By complete coincidence my 4th of July was filled with grilled meat. A local family who has helped me out here a bunch invited me and my girlfriend to "yakiniku" which literally means "grilled meat." It's basically the same as korean bbq, you order plates of raw meat and grill it. You can also order salads and all sorts of random side dishes...it's also the place to go to drink a lot of beer. I've been to this many times and knew what to expect for the most part. I was told to meet at the station at 6:30 to catch the 6:40 train to Muikamachi to chow down.

We arrived at the yakiniku restaurant around 6:55... The husband from the family was going to be late so the son, who is my age, ordered the first round of meat, salad, bibimbap, and beer. I think being an American, I'm spoiled when it comes to my cuts of meat. If you ask me what different cuts of meat are I'd say something like sirloin, filet mignon, skirt steak, pork rump, pork shoulder, ribs, and so on... in Japan... absolutely none of these register at a place like this. Our options were...

Pork esophagus
Pork tongue
Pork intestines
Pork liver
Pork ovaries
Pork heart
Pork fat
Beef tongue

Here's part of round 1:

Yeah, that's about it. It wasn't bad. None were as awful as they might seem. Liver doesn't taste bad, but the consistency is just bizarre to me. Ovaries were a bit tough and took some serious chewing but they made it down. The fat was just gross because I knew it was just pure fat, it didn't taste so bad though. The tongues were actually really good, especially the beef tongue. I have to admit, pork esophagus is probably one of the least appetizing of all, though. It literally is just a cross section of an esophagus, there's a bunch of cartilage in it and barely any meat. When you chew it, it's got this kind of rubbery crunch to it. Here's a photo of it (it's on the right and the ovary is on the left, i'm not sure what the top one is...)

The bibimbap came and that had some nice red meaty steak. Unfortunately it was raw and was intended to be eaten raw and covered in raw egg. I downed it though, I was assured I wouldn't get sick.

Finally the husband showed up, after we'd been eating for an hour and a half. He sat down and ordered whole new slew of ovaries, tongues, intestines, and all the gutsy-classics from earlier in the evening. He ordered everyone more drinks and more salads, bibimbaps, and four bowls of kimchi. I hadn't been hungry for about 45 minutes at this point but I figured, what the hell? It's the 4th of July!

Eventually we got some kind of beef and pork rib meat that had been marinated in yakiniku sauce. Not that the other stuff was as bad as it sounds, but it was a total relief to get some recognizable meat.

So after over 3 hours of eating (for which the second half I wasn't even hungry...yet continued to eat) we realized our train home (the last train) would be leaving the station in 5 minutes so we booked it out of the restaurant and got on the train to head home. On the walk home my girlfriend and I picked up some sparklers and enjoyed some good ol' fashioned 4th of July fun... with all the thousands of frogs in Urasa.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wheat and Rye Experiments

As a gift for my teacher who didn't know the difference between/anything about Rye or Wheat bread, my mom sent me a surprise package with a loaf of wheat and rye bread.

I delivered this to his desk and he smiled wide and said "Thank you!" moments later he appeared at my desk "Do you think you could come to my class and share this bread with the students??" "HECK YEAH!" I loved getting food in class when I was in school so I assumed they'd be no different.

So we brought the bread to 1st period class and first I talked about how big the average loaf size is compared to Japanese bread. I pulled out the bags and they grew excited. We gave a piece of bread to split between 4 students.

First I gave them the wheat. The general concensus was "This is very good, it tastes so American." Many of the students had studied abroad in America for 10 days and likely had wheat bread then. Then I took out the rye bread. Actually, I had two kinds of rye. First I gave them a pepridge farm rye. I had tasted it that morning and the flavor was a little weaker than the second rye. They kind of cringed, many said it tasted like cheese.

Then the last rye, this was clearly a more expensive rye and it was much stronger and, in my opinion, it was SUPER delicious.

Students gasped as they took their small nibbles of this bread. I don't think I could overstate the amount of disgust they felt as they attemtped to politely swallow it. "How is it??" I said. First there was silence... then they all started laughing. One student raised he hand, he looked like he was going to be sick. "Can I go drink some water? PLEASE???" The teacher said "OK." and with that, about half of the class got up and ran out into the hallway to drink water and throw their small pile of remaining bread away.

I asked them which they liked the best. Of course they all liked the wheat the best. I asked which was the worst, the last rye. They asked me and I said that actually the last rye was my favorite. "WHY!?!?!?!" asked one student. I think it made him feel sicker that I liked that one the best. "Because! It's DELICIOUS!" of course eating a piece of rye bread on it's own is a bit intense, especially for the first time.

There's a food here calle "Nattou." It's fermented soybeans. They're brown and they are insanely sticky, When you put some in your mouth, there will surely be little strings of this gooey sticky goo from the bowl to your mouth. Nattou is the test for American who come to Japan. Pretty much no one likes it...except for the Japanese, they LOVE it. Apparently it's insanely healthy. When Japanese people ask me if there's any foods I don't like or don't eat when we are selecting a meal, first they always go "Raw fish ...ok?" I say "Of course, anything is fine." Then they go, "Nattou???" and let me get this straight, I don't like nattou, but I don't hate it. The taste isn't so great but its tolerable, the goo-factor is the hardest part. So I go "Nattou is ok." They applaud. "WOW, so RARE!"

I've always wondered what the western version of nattou is. Now I know, it's rye bread.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A video of my spring break trip


This is from a 10 day trip I took with my friend from Niigata, Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo.

There's some strange audio artifacts and distortion that come up thanks to Youtube's awful compression but it's less audible after the first minute or so... enjoy!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Creative Answer

When I have extra time in class, I like to give my students a short assignment where they recommend something to me.

Last week we learned about movies and how to talk about them so I asked for the students to recommend movies to me. They had about 10 minutes to write 4 short answers. The recommendation could be a western movie or a Japanese movie but it had to be written in English and it had to be a movie.

All they had to write was... (I wrote these directions on the board)
1) The title of the movie
2) When it came out (or guess if they don't know)
3) The genre
4) Why they recommend it

my favorite two answers were written completely in Japanese but here are the translations of them...

Student 1
1) Avatar
2) I don't know
3) Science Fiction
4) Because the humans turn blue.

Student 2
1) Udon (noodles)
2) Long ago
3) Food
4) Noodles are delicious, next period is lunch and I can only think of food.