Sunday, December 14, 2008

Can't wait to go home (for Christmas)!

Nothing beats Christmas at home, surrounded by family and friends!

This year I'm particularly looking forward to it not just because I stayed in Japan last year, but also because I'm so completely worn out!!

Once again lesson planning has kept me working until quite late recently. Of course this resurgence of work coincided with the time I decided I had enough free time to apply for a proofreading position with one of my favourite manga scanlation groups. *sigh* I'm excited to be contributing to the manga fan community, but I can only hope now that I won't regret taking on the responsibility...

But anyway, this is the last week of school before Christmas break!! I'm really looking forward to jishu gakushu (extra English) this week. My mom gave me a heckload of things to give to my students, but apart from the stickers I haven't really had a chance to distribute them, so I decided that this year I'm going to play the "present stealing" game. ^_^ And of course, I'm also continuing my annual tradition of baking Christmas cookies for the Kirita students and staff.

Unfortunately the problem with baking large quantities in Japan is the lack of a proper oven; all I've got is a regular-sized toaster oven. Just think: I can only bake about 9 cookies at a time; each batch takes about 11 minutes plus 2 minutes cooling (on the oven tray) time; I've baked about 150 cookies so far. Do the math: 150 cookies divided by 9 equals about 17 batches; 17 batches times 13 minutes per batch equals 221 minutes, or about 3 1/2 hours. Add the prep time for the batter (about one hour since I do everything by hand and creaming the sugar/butter together takes forever) and you get 5 1/2 hours I've spent (spread over 2 days) so far just baking cookies. And I'm only halfway done!! Not to mention, I still need to wrap all of them. @_@

Well, normally I wouldn't feel that tired from baking for just 3 hours, but today was a particularly long day. I spent 3 hours (round trip) on a bus going between Towada and Aomori City so I could spend 2 1/2 hours shopping for Christmas presents. But I guess it was worth it since I got the stuff my mom asked for (for my dad), plus presents for Nate, Jen & Syv, and for our small group present exchange.

(Digression: Had to put almost all of it on the credit card, though, since I messed up my budget this month and only have 6000 yen (in my wallet and bank account combined!) to last me until Friday, i.e. payday! Normally that'd be more than enough, except I'm supposed to go out for dinner with Tomabechi-sensei and Higashi-sensei this week, and I also need to mail some Christmas presents out tomorrow...)

The Aomori shopping trip wasn't the only thing I did before baking, however: I also went into the office for about 2 hours to make materials for tomorrow's classes. *sigh* This is about the third time in as many months that I've had to go into the office on the weekend. And it isn't as if I'm going in on the weekend because I neglected things I needed to get done during the week, either! When I go in on the weekend, it's almost always in addition to spending all my weeknights lesson planning/going to eikaiwa/going to dance class (i.e. valid obligations)!

I'm definitely going to be out like a log on the plane ride home.

Post Script: On a more random note, one of the small things I appreciate about Japan is how they package eggs in clear plastic cartons so you don't have to open the package and check for cracked eggs--you can just pick it up and look!

Post Post Script: I really miss everyone at home! It really made my day to get an email saying: "We want Melissa back for Christmas!"(Thanks, Alan!) I know it's my own fault that I've been too busy/broke lately to hang out much with the other ALTs, but it also seems like there've been things this year that all the other Towada ALTs went to that I simply didn't know about/wasn't invited to.

And I mean, it's not that I'm hurt or anything--I can totally understand how/why that would happen--it's just that I guess it shows that I haven't been a good enough friend to be remembered for certain social events. (And I'm also feeling really tired/stressed right now, so a lot of those emotions are probably what are speaking to me right now.) Well, I've always admitted to slight anti-social tendencies, so I really shouldn't be surprised that they (the anti-social tendencies) would affect how others treat me; I can't expect other people to always be making the effort to include me in things; I need to make an effort to maintain/develop relationships, too. (Difficult to do when I'm so busy with work, though...)

The old saying "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" is really true. The longer I'm in Japan, the more I realize how integral (the MCBC) Christian community has been in my life and how impossible it is to replace it with other relationships. I want to truly know and be known by others, but developing that type of trust takes time and effort--particularly for "reserved" people like me.

Anyway, thank goodness I'm going home for Christmas this year, otherwise I might get homesick enough to change my mind about staying for a third year!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Easy recipe for people who can't cook

Moving to Japan and living on my own hasn't made me a better cook. Luckily, though, I have a high tolerance for repetition and very simple tastes, so I am able to keep myself reasonably well (and healthily) fed without having to eat out or buy ready made meals (microwaveable or supermarket bentos) every night.

If, like me you're not much of a cook but would like to save some money by cooking your own meals, here is a super easy and cheap recipe. Believe me, if I can make these dishes without any difficulty, anyone can!

Mabou Eggplant

- eggplant (350g - approx 1 1/2 - 2 regular sized ones)
- green peppers (40g - approx 2 small ones)
- carrot (50g - half a small sized one, or 1/4 of a medium sized one)
- ground pork (100g)
- cooking oil
- mabou eggplant sauce

Cooking time: ~20min

1. Heat oil in a large frying pan.

2. Stir fry eggplant until slightly brown over medium heat.

3.Reduce heat slightly and add carrots and green pepper. (Apparently reducing the heat helps to keep/make the eggplant juicy?!) Cook for a couple of minutes--until carrots/green peppers are slightly softened.

4. Put vegetables aside in a bowl. Cook the ground pork in the frying pan.

5. When the pork is cooked, add the sauce and vegetables.

6. Keep cooking (stirring frequently) until everything reaches your desired texture/consistency.

7. Serve over rice.

Usually the one dish can last me 3-4 days. This time, though, I only wanted it to last 2 days (since I knew I'd be eating out on the weekend) so I used one eggplant instead of the usual 1 1/2-2.
If you'd like, you can substitute fairly firm tofu (cut into largish cubes) for the ground pork. Instead of removing the vegetables (step 5), just add the sauce and add the tofu last. You don't want to cook it for too long once you've put in the tofu because it (the tofu) will start to disintegrate (also the reason you want to cut it into largish cubes rather than small ones). I did this (used tofu instead of ground pork) a lot before I learned which grocery store(s) (in Towada, Powers U) carry small portions of meat at good prices.
eggplant ~70 yen
carrot ~50 yen
green peppers ~50 yen
ground pork ~80 yen
mabou eggplant sauce ~150 yen
TOTAL: ~400 yen

[Edit: If you can't find/don't want to use packaged sauce, here's a recipe to make it from scratch:]

Friday, December 5, 2008

Putting my wallet where my mouth is

So after a year and a half in Japan, I finally got caught by the NHK man. (NHK--Nippon Housou Kyoukai a.k.a. the Japan Broadcasting Corporation--is Japan's television public broadcaster.) Actually, I saw him once before shortly after I moved in, but at the time I didn't have any money so I honestly told him "gomen, ima tarinai" (sorry, right now I don't have enough) and he just said he'd come back later.

This time, though, I did have enough money, and I also got the form to have the fees automatically deducted from my bank account. Looks like they've finally gotten wise to some of the tricks people use to avoid paying.

Before my doorbell rang, I heard my neighbour's bell being rung, so I pretty much knew it was the NHK guy without having to open the door. I honestly considered ignoring the bell, but then my principles kicked in. Even though I don't watch TV very often, I do have a TV and I do watch shows occasionally, so I should be paying the NHK fees.

I had another mini crisis of conscience when the NHK guy asked me if I have BS. I knew that if I just said no he would accept that, but I do have it, and the BS weather channel is one of the few channels I actually tune into fairly regularly, so I had to truthfully answer "yes"--thus increasing my bi-monthly fee from 2000-something yen to 4580 yen. ^^;;

But I believe in honesty, so I had to do it.

*sigh* Normally I wouldn't be too troubled by paying such a fee, but this month my budget is pretty tight because I sent money home before I remembered that I'd have to pay for my train tickets to Narita airport (to go home for Christmas). Usually I would just pay by credit card, but with the yen-dollar rate the way it is, it's not worth it to use a credit card. Unfortunately, I may have to pay for at least part of the ticket fee on credit card because I don't think I've got enough to pay in cash anymore. =( Hopefully I'll be able to do a split cash/credit payment so I won't get too badly dinged on the exchange rate.