Saturday, August 25, 2007

Shimoda Mall

Saturday R and K offered to take us three Towada newbies shopping, either at the Towada Jusco or at Shimoda Mall. They all met up at my place, and CH and T (whom we thought were going to watch fireworks somewhere else) also came.

At the bookstore, I bought an issue of Hana to Yume (a manga magazine) because it had Hana Kimi on the front. On a more practical note, I also bought a new pillow, pillow case, and what I thought was a futon cover (it was actually a duvet cover, but I think I needed that more than a fitted sheet for the futon, so it worked out well).

Towards the end of our shopping time, CH and I decided to have ice cream (before dinner!) at the Baskin Robbins. For summer, they had a special snowman (yuki daruma) cone—a small scoop on top of a king scoop—so of course, being the sucker for advertising that I am, I had to try it! The flavours I chose were musk melon and “sweet mariage”. They were both pretty good, but I liked the musk melon flavour better since “sweet mariage” was a bit too sweet.

We had dinner at “Steak & Hamburg” in the mall, and because we were split into two tables separated by a wall/divider, we spent most of the meal throwing messages written on pieces of paper/napkin/straw wrappers back and forth. Juvenile, yes, but also fun.

At the drink bar, they had apple and melon slushies! It was quite tasty, and I enjoyed the neon green colour! =P I ordered "baked curry doria" which is basically curry on rice baked with cheese with a lightly poached egg thrown on top. (Really, I just ordered it because I saw the egg!)

After dinner we watched movies. CH, R and I watched Rush Hour 3, and everyone else (plus CD, who came just for the movie) watched Oceans Thirteen. Oh, the interesting thing about buying movie tickets at this theatre (I’m guessing it’s like this across Japan?) is that there is assigned seating so if you’re in a group you have to buy your tickets all together (and it’s also probably better if you buy your tickets ahead of time).

I’d seen previews for Rush Hour 3 in Canada, and I thought it looked like a terrible movie, but it ended up being not too bad. There were definitely more funny scenes in the movie than I expected from the previews. The unfortunate thing was that one of the characters spoke Japanese, so I wasn’t actually able to understand all of it (since of course they wouldn’t bother to translate the Japanese into English in Japan).

We finished a LOT earlier than Oceans Thirteen, though, so we ended up amusing ourselves by taking funny pictures with the life size cut outs for the upcoming Hero (Japanese law drama, not the Jet Li action film) movie. Well, I took pictures—CH and R posed (both knowingly and unknowingly) for them.

When everyone else came out, they also posed for photos.

Friday, August 24, 2007

S-san's Drinking House

Friday was a rare day at the office because people in our department were actually in! So we all had lunch at Oirase-ya (the soba place across the street).

I hung out at AH’s place after work and then everyone—AB and J—met up with us so we could go together to S-san’s “drinking house.”

It was a lot of fun; there was an abundance of food and alcohol (having learned my lesson from the lemon sour, though, I only drank ½ a glass of beer). We had kimchi nabe (stew), grilled eggplant, fish, sausages, steaks and onions, and scallop sashimi. S-san introduced us to a Towada sauce that’s really good with meat and vegetables. I tried it on a grilled onion and it actually succeeded in making the onion taste decent! I mean, I HATE onions, but I managed to eat the small slice I was given, thanks to the sauce.

Towards the end of the night, S-san’s daughter, KA came home, so we got to talk with her for a bit. She works at the Aomori bank and she’s around the same age as AH, J and I, so it was fun to talk with her. Hopefully we’ll be able to hang out sometime.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Homemade Okonomiyaki!

Wednesday was another half-Kirita, half-office day, but this time I went to Kirita first. Only two (out of the four) students were asked to come in for practice, so I was finished before lunch. Back at the office, AH and I went off on our own for lunch at the soba place across the street, Oirase-ya.

After work, I really wanted to go to taiko practice again, but we (AH, J and I) had to “teach” at an English conversation class (eikaiwa). That was fun too—we met S-san (a former All-Japan soccer player!) and other nice people—but just hearing the taiko practice going on outside made my hands itch to grab some sticks and to drum.

Thursday AH and I went together to Sanbongi JHS to help the students with their speeches for the contest. T-sensei was supposed to pick us up from the school (to take us to get our gaijin cards and to open our bank accounts) afterwards, so I decided to walk.

Luckily I left a LOT of extra time, because I actually managed to get lost!! For some reason, I thought the school was further south than it actually was, so I overshot it and had to ask for directions to get there. As I started going back north, I decided to ask someone for directions, just to be safe. Well, that turned out to be a bad idea since the first person I asked was an elderly lady who didn’t really know where it was. When I talked to her, I thought she was giving me rough directions, but it turned out she was actually just suggesting that I look for someone else to ask!

Of course, I didn’t figure this out until I’d walked a fair distance back south (the way I’d come—the wrong way) and finally saw another person, whom the old lady then told me I should ask. Thankfully the lady (a storekeeper) knew where the school was and was able to give me directions that I could actually understand.

So I ended up going back up north, but a little more west. Thankfully I made it just on time.

We were supposed to finish around lunch time, but we ended about an hour and a half early—just about 10am. Not knowing what else to do, we called our office (well, I asked AH to call since I hate phoning!) and made arrangements for T-sensei to pick us up from AH’s house.

T-sensei took us out for lunch at a restaurant in a downtown hotel. We all had the unagi special—yummy! Then AH and I finally got gaijin cards and opened our bank accounts! It was quite the process, since you can’t make any changes/corrections on a form, AH and I ended up having to re-write our forms a couple of times.

AB and RB had invited us to their place for dinner that night, so AH and I made plans to meet up at J’s place, but I was late because I missed the turn off of Route 4 and ended up going WAY far south. (Yes, I made the same mistake twice in the same day!) On the plus side, though, I found the Uniqlo!

Anyway, we (re: I) eventually made it to A&RB’s, where we enjoyed homemade okonomiyaki! The way RB made it was different from the restaurant in Aomori in that she didn’t mix the egg in with the batter, but just cracked it on top and let it fry that way. It was really delicious—even better than the restaurant’s!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day of Firsts

Tuesday was a day of firsts. It was my first (half) day in a school. All of us (AB, AH and I) went into the office in the morning, but I went to my base school, Kirita Junior High School in the afternoon to help some students practice for the Towada English speech contest. It was also my first of many taxi rides to Kirita.

At first I had no idea what I was doing, but after listening to the comments the JTE (Japanese Teacher of English), N-sensei made, I started to figure out what I was supposed to be listening for in the speeches. The students were great, too. They really paid attention to what I was saying (even when they weren’t 100% what I was saying) and tried to make the changes I suggested.

That night was also my first taiko practice! It was a lot of fun, and I mostly had the rhythm down by the end of the practice, but I definitely wasn’t hitting the drums with as much force as I was supposed to.

Oh, and I rushed home after taiko practice and made it back just in time to watch the "Hanazakari no Kimitachi e" drama on TV! (Another first!) I didn’t realize it before I started watching, but the male lead character (Sano Izumi) is played by Oguri Shun, the same guy who played Hanazawa Rui in Hana Yori Dango! Unfortunately I didn’t really like his portrayal of Sano. In the manga, Sano is a cool but slightly aloof character. In the drama, however, he seems more like an anti-social jerk. And I’m not sure how much of that characterization comes from the drama’s scripting, and how much comes from Oguri’s reading of the script, because I definitely got a “Rui-like” feeling from “Sano.” =/

Monday, August 20, 2007

Small Kindnesses

Monday was back to work at the office. I rode my bike to city hall and took the bus to work. It was a very slow day at the office, and it was pretty warm/humid in the office. Even the rain didn’t help much to cool things down!

Ally and I really had no idea when were supposed to leave so it was a good thing that Mi-san was there to look after us (neither AB nor T-sensei were in that day) and to take the bus back with us. On the way to the bus stop we walked through the Oirase Brewery area. There were a number of food places plus a market. Mi-san also bought us ice cream sundaes (strawberry).

Since it was raining, Mi-san showed me a stop closer to my house where I could get off (and I left the bike at City Hall). When I was nearly at my house, one of my neighbours stopped me and asked me if I had cooked dinner yet/if I liked potatoes—or something along those lines! I really had no clue what she actually said (again I was so flustered to be speaking to someone in Japanese one-on-one that I wasn’t able to process what was being said), but the gist of it was that she was going to drop by with some potatoes for me later on.

I had been planning to head back out to the ¥100 store and to pick up my bike, but I waited for my neighbour. She came to my door about 15-20 min. later with a bag of potatoes and tomatoes! It was really very nice of her!

Then as I was leaving (for the store and my bike), a guy from Towada Gas pulled up randomly. Again, I had a hard time figuring out exactly what he was saying, but I figured out that he wanted to come in to replace something and not to collect money or anything. So I went back in and he checked out the outlet where my fridge was plugged in. I already had a new plug (or whatever) for the fridge, though, so it turned out he didn’t need to do anything.

Finally I was able to go out to the ¥100 store and to retrieve my bike!

Later that night, my mom called (from work). I also talked to my coworkers from the bank since apparently my mom was calling from Distribution—my old department. It was nice to hear how things were going at Scotia.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Watching Sumo and Biking

My second weekend in Towada was very relaxed. Saturday all of us Towada ALTs went to see the Junior High Sumo competition. AB managed to lower my bike seat, so we all biked there.

On the way home, AB showed me how to get to Tsutaya, a large dvd, cd, manga/book store.
It was a bit more of an eventful trip than it should’ve been, however, as I managed to fall off my bike twice. (Up to that point I hadn’t ridden a bike since 3rd or 4th grade, so…) The first fall was pretty impressive, as I managed to fall over the little curb thing onto the road, with my left foot trapped awkwardly between the pedal and the bike. Luckily there wasn’t any oncoming traffic at the time. It didn’t really hurt, but it was pretty darn embarrassing, and I ended up with some spectacular bruises—bad enough that I didn’t wear shorts until the bruises were gone. The second fall wasn’t too bad, I just got a bit freaked out as I was going through a narrow section of the sidewalk and I lost my balance a bit.
Anyway, the trip to Tsutaya was worth the bruises because I was able to buy the last few volumes of Fruits Basket (in Japanese, of course). (Below is an out of focus picture of my bruise. It actually got more "spectacular" looking later on. And I also discovered a couple of days later that I'd also bruised my right foot, just under my ankle!)

The rest of the day/night I spent cleaning and reading manga.

Oh, and I also made onigiri with moulds I had purchased at the ¥100 store (Japanese dollar store, basically). Whoever made the onigiri mould is a genius!! It cut down my onigiri making time by probably 50-75%! Plus the moulds were really cute! Along with the standard triangle-shaped moulds, I got a set that was heart-shaped, star-shaped and bear-shaped! Kawaii

Sunday I got on my bike and went shopping. Riding my bike again (after having fallen twice the day before) was actually something of an accomplishment for me. It sounds silly, but I spent quite a bit of time debating with myself over whether or not I should ride my bike to the stores or if I should just walk. I actually started walking before I changed my mind, turned around and picked up the bike.

To me, the decision to take the bike, even though I wasn’t confident about my ability to ride it and I was worried I’d fall again, was significant. I’ve always avoided doing things which would require skills I wasn’t confident in, or would push me out of my comfort zone. But a big part of my decision to come to Japan was the desire to change my failure-avoiding tendencies, so riding the bike was my first step towards change.
And it was a practical step, too. It probably would’ve taken me 20-25min. to walk to the electronics store, but on the bike, it was only 10-15min.

After shopping (at the electronics store and a different bookstore), I went grocery shopping. I bought a package of sauce mix for an eggplant/peppers/carrot/minced pork dish that I used for dinner on Sunday…and Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday!!
That night I also made the dumb move of downloading mIRC so I could download manga scanlations. I stayed up pretty late
downloading and reading a heckload of manga!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Aomori Orientation: Day 3

For the last day of orientation, it was cool outside, but inside the Board of Education, it was disgustingly warm and humid. It was a major struggle to stay awake through all the sessions!
Lunch was across the street at a Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon. I had nasi goreng. Yummy!

Finally it was time to return. T-sensei picked AH and I up and drove us back. I was tired, so I was dozing off and on throughout the car ride home.
When I got back I was planning on sleeping early, but the mailman (again, I LOVE the Japanese postal service!) delivered my modem, so I stayed up setting up my internet, checking email and Facebook, and otherwise getting back in touch with people.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Aomori Orientation: Day 2 - Chronicles of Okonomiyaki

We had no idea what to order! All okonomiyaki looks pretty much the same when it's cooked, so we couldn't just point at a picture and order. ^^;;

It was pretty embarrassing, actually, because I asked the waitress what one of the pictures was, and she said "okonomiyaki imagi" i.e. of okonomiyaki. But I didn't process "imagi" as "image" (darn katakana-ized English!) so I thought she was saying a type of okonomiyaki. So I was like, oh, okay, I'll order this. And the waitress was like, which one (in Japanese, of course)? ^^;;

So then I finally figured it out, and we managed to order. C got bacon and cheese, and I got plain old pork.

Then when the food came, we didn't know how the heck we were supposed to cook it! The waitress saw our confusion, though (well, she likely figured it out when we had such a hard time ordering!) and asked me (still in Japanese) if we knew how to cook okonomiyaki, and I admitted with some embarrassment that I didn't know how (shiranai). So she told us that someone would cook it for us! (Thank goodness!)

How to cook okonomiyaki:

1. Pour the oil (in the can on the grill) onto the grill and use a spatula to spread it evenly across the cooking surface.

2. Mix up everything in the bowl well. (This step may differ depending on what type of okonomiyaki place you're at. Some places/people layer their okonomiyaki: batter, toppings, batter, egg, etc.)

3. Pour the okonomiyaki batter onto the grill, making a nice, circular shape (like a pancake).

4. Let cook for 5-10 minutes before flipping. (This is the trickiest step, apparently, because a lot of people try to flip too early and it makes things messy. I don't know how to tell when you're supposed to flip it, but I've heard that when the top starts bubbling, it should be ready for flipping.)

5. Cook for 5-10 more minutes. Again, patience is important here to make sure that it's actually fully cooked. Once it's done, top with sauce, bonito flakes, seaweed flakes, and/or mayonnaise, to taste.

Step 6. Enjoy!!

Aomori Orientation: Day 2

Thursday morning a group of us got a little lost on our way back to the Board of Education Building, so we were a little late. (So much for my resolution to be on time for everything, after my Tokyo Orientation gaffe!) Then it was a loooong morning of information sessions. I was pretty sleepy for most of it, but K presented TESL (teaching English as a second language) tips, so I made an effort to stay alert through that.

During our lunch break, we tried MOS Burger, the domestic McDonald’s competitor. (MOS stands for Mountain, Ocean, Sky.) It was okay, but when I ordered, I didn’t realize that the sauce had a heck load of ONIONS! xP I don’t know if I’ll be eating a MOS (beef) burger again anytime soon. (A bit of a moot point, anyway, though, since there isn’t one in Towada.)

After lunch it was back for more info sessions, and finally we broke off for excursions. I was in K and R’s group, with AH, C and G. Some people needed to wait a bit to get their paperwork and documents ready for the multiple-entry visa, so we went back to the Auga for a little bit. When we came back to the hotel to pick up them (the people who were finishing off their applications), our keitei were waiting for us! Once everyone had their keitei documentation and Docomo freebies put away, we went off to visit a local shrine before going to get our multiple-entry visas.
The shrine was pretty nice. Plus it was cool that one of the monks actually explained to us about the rituals and the shrine (with some of the guys more fluent in Japanese translating).

Oh, and one funny story about our shrine visit was that AH accidentally dropped her hotel room key into the koi pond while she was trying to take pictures! One of the monks had to get a net and fish out!

The multiple-entry visa application process wasn’t as long or complicated as I thought it’d be, but there were still some interesting things. We had to go up to the fifth floor to pay our fees. Once we paid, they gave us stamps which we had to stick on our forms as proof that we’d paid. Then the room where they actually processed the applications, they would only accept five people in the room at a time—everyone else had to wait in the hall!
When that was all done, R and K took us to a foreign food store. I didn’t really feel a need/craving for anything from home, so I just used the opportunity to pick up some omiyage (souvenirs) for the office. Apparently it’s not necessary for a business trip, but I figured it was better to over-omiyage than to under-omiyage.
The guys, G and D, were planning on going to a beer garden, but C and I were kind of tired so we went off for okonomiyaki on our own.

It was good, but I forgot that in some places you’re supposed to make your own! Thankfully the waitress figured out pretty quickly that we were clueless foreigners, so she asked us if we knew how to cook it and offered to have someone cook it for us when I shamefacedly admitted that I didn’t know (shiranai).
On our way back to the hotel from the okonomiyaki place, we passed the weird snack bar lady and she asked us if we were going home, if we were still at the conference the next day, &etc.! I answered as best I could, and then we hurried away. =P
When we got back to the hotel, G, D and TI (a Taiwanese girl from New Zealand) were just hanging out in the hotel lobby, so C and I decided to join them. There were other people hanging around waiting to go to karaoke, and some of them decided to come with us. When we got to the place, though, we saw that it closed at 9pm! We weren’t 100% sure if we were reading the sign correctly though—I mean, why would a beer garden close so early?—so we went up to check it out. They were just cleaning and closing up as we got there. Some middle-aged/elderly Japanese ladies came up right after us, and we held the elevator doors for them to come down with us, but they didn’t want to get in the elevator with us scary foreigners. =P
Since the beer garden was a bust, we decided to go back to Pago Pago. On the way, we met some more JETs going back to the hotel to meet for karaoke, and once again picked up some of them. It was quite a sizeable group that came into Pago Pago, and it was a small bar, so we nearly filled the place!
Once again the guys had beers, and C had Guinness. G ordered me a lemon sour, which tasted fine, but I drank WAY too fast. Usually I take a long time sipping beer, and have a lot of water in between sips. I still drank a lot of water, but I drank the lemon sour a lot faster than I should have, because I couldn’t taste the alcohol. I was okay for most of the time, but after a time, I started feeling it, especially when G, TI and D all started smoking. C was great and noticed that I wasn’t feeling well, and offered to go back with me. I stood up to pay, and all of a sudden, it hit me.
Luckily the bathroom was empty at the time. I ran in, headed straight to the toilet and threw up. It was pretty gross. Thank goodness I had gum in my bag!

I felt a lot better after that, but it was still good to leave and get some fresh air.
On the walk back, we stopped by a konbini (convenience store) so C could go to the washroom. G bought another beer (this after 4 beers at the bar, plus a tequila shot), and I bought a kiwi-flavoured Kit Kat. (I ate it the next day, and it was really tasty!)
Further along on our walk, we saw a bunch of people breakdancing on the sidewalk. It was pretty cool, so we stood around and watched for a bit.
Then it was back to the hotel for a good sleep!