Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Aomori Orientation: Day 1

Wednesday I walked to the train station to catch the bus to Aomori. All of us Towada and Shichinohe newbies were on the bus together, which was nice. We were early, so after checking our bags at the hotel, we went across the street to wander around Auga, a big department store. Once we’d gone through all the floors, we went into a cafĂ© on the ground floor for coffee. No one really spoke/read Japanese except for me, so I ended up reading the katakana menu for everyone and talking with the waitress. I wasn’t using very good Japanese, but she understood, so it was all good.
The first thing we did for orientation was we lined up in alphabetical city order, by type of position: CIR, municipal ALT (elementary and junior high school), prefectural ALT (senior high school). Then we walked into this big ballroom (still in order) and they introduced everyone by name; we had to step forward and give a little wave when our names were called. Then there were a bunch of speeches, and finally free lunch! There was a lot of yummy food, but the cold apple soup definitely had the best presentation!

Then they walked us to the Board of Education building where all of orientation sessions would take place. We had some introductory sessions, and then it was back to the hotel to check in and look at cellphones! There representatives from Docomo set up in the hotel lobby to help us get our cellphones! Even though we couldn’t do it in Towada, we were able to get our cellphones with just our passports and alien registration card receipts in Aomori City. I got a Motorola—though it wasn’t the nicest phone, and it wasn’t a free phone—because functionality was my primary focus. My phone was the only one that had an English/Japanese dictionary, and 3M and GSM (so I can pretty much take it anywhere in the world!).
After that, C’s friend JA met up with a small group of us—C, G and TR—and took us to an Indian restaurant called Ahkbar’s. It was really good!! And the serving sizes were pretty big.

Even though the guys drank seven beers between them at dinner, we still ended up going out for drinks after (sans JA, as she was still a bit sick, and she had work the next day). We wandered into a random snack bar at first, and the lady who owned it was a little…odd.
I didn’t understand everything she said, but G (who’d studied in Tokyo for a year) translated a lot for us later. Basically the lady had traveled a lot—through Europe, the Caribbean, etc. She’d been to Paris FOUR times and said she really liked it, but she also said she didn’t eat/like anything other than Japanese food! Then she kept going on about different countries and why they were bad. For example, she said that Russian people are very beautiful when they’re young, but once they hit their thirties, they all get fat! She also asked G why Americans are all fat—was it because they ate a lot of meat? But as prejudiced/xenophobic as she seemed to be, she didn’t seem to have any issues talking with G (a white guy). Then too, at one point she commented that “foreign girls are all so pretty” but when G replied that many Japanese girls were pretty too, she was like “no, they’re not.”
Basically the woman was a bundle of contradictions. And when we wanted to pay the bill, at first she said it was 1500 yen (~$15) per person!! All we’d had was a couple of beers (one each for the girls, two each for the guys) and some snacks (like mini-pepperoni sticks). Apparently we weren’t just paying for the food, but for the conversation and atmosphere! Thankfully G talked her down to 1000 yen for each of the guys, and 500 yen for each of the girls.
We kept on walking, and after checking a couple of places, ended up at a “Western style” bar (i.e. NOT an izakaya) called Pago Pago. The music and atmosphere in the place were pretty good, and we stayed there for quite a bit. I was talked into another beer (of which I drank a third or less), C had a couple of Guinness’ and the guys had another 3-4 beers each. When we got our bills, we found out that there was a 500 yen table charge (per person). It wasn’t a lot, but if we were going to keep bar-hopping (as G wanted) it was going to be really expensive!
So C and I made G ask at the rest of the places we checked out whether there was a table charge. We asked at 3-4 places before we finally decided to go to karaoke. Everyone had more beers, except me. G ordered me a lemon sour—which actually didn’t really taste like alcohol to me, which is rare—but I only took a couple of sips. The place we went to looked nice on the outside, but it was a hassle. G had to sign up for a membership card (otherwise it would’ve been more expensive) and half of the songs in the song catalogue weren’t available when we tried to choose them! Plus we were upstairs and the air conditioning wasn’t working very well (that, or we just didn’t know that we could adjust the temperature settings).
After that, it was back to the hotel. I managed to find a weak wireless signal, so C came to my room to use the internet. When she left, we saw TR passed out in front of my door! I’d told him that I got a signal on my floor, so apparently he’d been wandering the halls trying to pick up a signal and coincidentally ended up passing out in front of my room. @_@
That night, I jacked up the AC way up and had the temperature set to something like 18 degrees! It had been so long since I’d slept with AC, I guess I went a little nuts.