|Date: January 8th - February 14th
Location: Takeo, Japan
Returning home to Takeo was a mixed affair. We were caught somewhere between, wanting desperately to crash out for a sleep, being in dire need of a shower to warm up from the winter cold and wanting to meet up with everyone to share in the excitement of our engagement as we had yet to inform our friends in Japan. However, things were soon decided for us when we found everyone had gone to Nagasaki for the night and so we were left to the apartment block alone to re-accustom ourselves with Japan. The excitement of telling them our news would have to wait one more day.
One long day later and over dinner we got to tell three friends in person, and provide Karen with her second opportunity to show her 'bling'. Once they got past the initial hesitation that it wasn't a practical joke (apparently I do too many so no one ever believes me now...) they were all totally thrilled for us.
The rest of the week was back to normal, pre holiday, order as I got back into school life... the usual one or two periods a day and seeing what I can do to occupy my mind for the rest of the time. Once the weekend arrived (god I live for the weekends now!) we all headed down to a kiwi friends place for her birthday. Was a fun night getting to tell loads more people our news and we had a good old piss up. She ended up having about 20 bodies crash out in her apartment, us included, and then proceeded to cook a massive fry up in the morning. I chose the healthy kiwi fruit option though.
After a healthy dose of social time over the weekend Karen and I proceeded to disappear from public view for the next week as the Australian open had started and I consequently got cable installed. Was really funny going to get it with my supervisor and him explaining to the man I was forking out for cable purely for the next two weeks of Aussie open goodness. I didn't really care about it after that (well at the time at least... I now LOVE it). Even more bizarre was the fact the games weren't even being shown live but merely reply coverage starting at midnight each day. However, my love for the open is such that that afternoon at the conclusion of school I was flying home on my bike to let the cable guy in (no Jim Carrey in sight). I was rewarded with my support of the open as randomly turning on WOWOW early in the evening (the name of the channel) I was met with LIVE coverage!! It wasn't mentioned on the printed schedule but it was on TV for us!!! I'll let you imagine our excitement. The next two weeks consisted of racing home from school everyday, having spent a good portion of it glued to the computer watching the live 'point tracker' internet updates from the mornings matches, and settling down for an evening of tennis. People tried calling us to do stuff but we were always far to "busy". Needless to say, by the end of the two weeks they too were hooked and spent the last Sunday at our apartment watching the brilliant Federer win the men's final. While it was great to see the live tennis it wasn't without its Japanese influence. We were after all watching it through Japanese cable and so were left with no alternative but Japanese commentary. Although I clearly couldn't understand a lot of what they said, it did help my Japanese a bit, and by the end of it I couldn't go back to regular Aussie commentators as these Japanese guys just rock. Also we found it amazing, through hugely frustrating, that if any match was destined to be longer than the programmed schedule it would simply be cut so the channel remained "on time". So annoying when a match is just going into tiebreak, or the final set and you have to run to the internet and jump on the radio commentary to catch the end of the game. One time a Japanese girl was on and they even cut her game!! One of their own I tell you!!!
In-between our tennis fling we did manage to make one big effort with the group. On the middle Saturday we had our Engagement party. We went to a nice Italian restaurant with eight friends for a yummy dinner. The attire, I had decided, was semi formal, since we never get to dress up here when we go out, and everyone adhered nicely. A tipsy while later and we were headed to our apartment for some desert and some more drinking. The night was loads of fun with most people getting nicely trollied after a very successful game of 'circle of death'. Rules such as, no touching your face, no swearing, and no touching your hands together were used... and consequently brought many people to their downfall! Well Lisa at least... After a late night dance session in our apartment with some sick hard trance busting out we all headed out to Rain Beat for a few drinks. Although they can be rather pricey the drinks are always too good to pass up and so before we knew it everyone had a tequila shot in their salt covered hand. The up shot of it all was a very good night had by all!
The next weekend rolled round and it was time to get out of the apartment again having spent so much time inside because of the cold... ok I'll be honest...because of the tennis. After seeing the women's final, the whole one and a half sets of it, Tan picked us up and we headed off to Saga city for a football match between the Saga ALTs and the Nagasaki ALTs. Arriving and hour and a half late, due to "Tan time", he's chronically late that boy, and missing the turn off from the express way without realizing and driving to the next city some twenty minutes further, we were lucky to find the game had only just begun. It was great to get on the field and even though I sucked for most of my time out there I did manage to score a goal within my first minute of game time. I literally ran on into the position of right forward and from halfway watched a trough ball being kicked for me right up the middle! I leapt into action not wanting to look like an idiot and thanks to my fresh legs and a whole bag of luck managed to chase the ball down, control it for a while and slot my shot pass the keeper into the net. Better way to have a first touch? Impossible. Relief showing through in my "celebration" as opposed to actual glory and satisfaction? Complete.
Now, its not often we are in the 'big smokes' for a night and so with that thought Tan, Lisa, Karen and I went for a nice dinner before heading to a bar that had been booked out by the ALTs for the post match drinking fun. Was a very fun night getting on the diesel with loads of ALTs we don't get to see often and everyone dancing up a storm to a great array of music. We finally rolled into Takeo and up to our apartment at about 5am thanks to Tan sober driving us back.
After a few hours of heads on pillows we were all awake again and in typical post big night manner, re-living the night again in post drinking talk. Well for some of at least, Karen it turned out had lost her voice... due to going hard drinking or her being sick the week before? A bit of both me thinks. Once our stomachs rumbling was louder than our conversation we headed out for a pizza lunch before regaining our places on the couch and floor to watch a movie and then the Men's tennis final.
Monday, the next day, was my 25th birthday!! While I haven't yet "freaked out" over the fact I'm now a quarter century I'm not going to pretend I didn't have a quiet moment of reflection and panic while on the train to school. Having wanted a relatively low-key birthday I was very grateful and touched to find that my Monday school, Arita, had remembered and arranged a few things for me. I had my busiest day as a teacher yet, 4 classes, and each of them gave me a round of applause, two classes had massive birthday messages on the board for me and sang happy birthday, and one class even had a bunch of flowers for me! The English teachers were also very sweet and bought me a very nice set of Sake cups and a Sake holder, made in Arita, which is famous throughout Japan for its Ceramics and pottery.
Once I returned home Karen had blown up balloons everywhere and had made a very touching book of photos, quotes, art and poems. She also had a nice birthday cake for us to share. After she had sung happy birthday too me with her soft, croaky voice we wrapped up nice and warm and headed out for dinner. For our engagement we had been given a number of vouchers to enable us to go to a nice restaurant and have a private onsen (hot pool). The restaurant was a Korean BBQ style place and was sooo good. It was easily one of the best meals I've had here! After being spoilt with such good food e jumped back on our bikes and into the cold and headed to the Takeo Onsen. For those not in the know, our town is famous for its onsen and the name Takeo actually comes from the fact it was the home to the first Samurai in Japan. They used to train here and made the famous onsen to soak in. Pretty cool huh! Now, Karen by this stage was an onsen virgin so we figured a private onsen would be the best way to appease her fears. It was very nice and super relaxing, and definitely recommended to anyone wishing to visit Japan. The whole day was great and by the end of the night I had had the perfect Japanese birthday. Nice and quiet but with a great Japanese flavour.
On Tuesday I was treated to a surprise birthday dinner. Karen arranged for everyone to go to a cool Chinese place and so off we headed, me thinking that only Lisa was going to be there, but upon walking in I was greeted with the smiley face of Tan and then as I looked around a corner the rest of our friends. Was great as I got to have a second birthday cake, so good too! After dinner some of the guys came over for a movie. We watched the psychological thriller 'session 9' which was pretty cool. Best part of it was scaring everyone when the movie got super intense and on edge. I had pre grabbed a knife from the kitchen and keeping it hidden slid it out at one scene and jammed it into a balloon! You have no idea how much everyone jumped and screamed!! It was so good. Almost as good as the second time I got away with it twenty minutes later!! Hahahaha.
Completed another week of teaching... before.... another weekend!
Friday all the girls were headed to Sarah's for a "slumber party" aka girls in underwear hitting each other with pillows. This meant only one thing to us guys, Poker night. The eight of us started playing poker at about 9.30pm and didn't finish till 5am. The games were varied from the usual Texas holdem to some baseball style 7-card wild thing. I had one good roll of three big wins in a row. Each time it was down to a one on one situation and everyone continually wrote me off as not knowing what I was doing and definitely bluffing...the fools!! By the end of the night I was dead even which was a relief. Definitely something we will have to do again.
On the Saturday I drove Tans car and five of us headed down to Nagasaki for the well-known Lantern festival that was on. It has a huge Chinese influence and involves loads of lanterns being hung above so many streets and arcades. There are thousands of them and by night they make for an amazing sight. There were so many people out for it even through the weather was freezing cold! Oh so cold. We stayed as long as we could handle it, till about 9pm, before bailing back to the warmth of the car and to Takeo for a quite night in, watching some more movies. However, while in Nagasaki, we did manage to soak up the atmosphere and I snapped off a good hundred or so photos.
Sundays excitement came in the form of another yummy pizza lunch, becoming somewhat a regular thing for us, and finding out all the other cable channels I was forced to sign up on (couldn't get just WOWOW channel) were up and running. Karen and I celebrated by spending the evening watching American Idol, which seemed to go for a couple of hours!! Some people might think it's a very sad way to spend a Sunday evening, I don't. I like it... The first rounds are always so good to watch the heartbreak on their faces when they suck and they get told it!!
Back to another week only this time Monday held a little excitement for me as I opened the door in the morning to be greeted with a chill so strong I was blue within a second and glorious snow!! The first for us since our pre-Christmas days. While it's still not in sufficient amounts that it is not melted away by the end of the day it was a good enough cover to offer me some photos.
The stand out moments of the mid week quietness was a random old guy who I saw peeing in public twice in two days! The first time I saw him I was heading home from school for lunch and was just crossing over a bridge on my bike when I looked over the road and had to do a double take as I realized the guy was clearly relieving himself on the concrete in midday sunshine! Shocked as I was, my surprise went up a notch the next day as I was biking along the same riverbank, though further along this time. I glanced to see a person standing next to their bike and this time had to do a triple glance before it registered. He was standing there, one hand holding his bike, the other holding his... well you know what... and a warm stream of urine flowing onto the concrete! I proceeded to ride my bike on the other side of the hedge line past him. What is with Japanese and their public urination?... and I thought I could be bad!! At least I find a bush and usual wait till night time.
In typical fashion the week shot by at tremendous pace... before you know it Friday has rolled around and with it potential for a great weekend. To kick things off we had Jamie's 25th Birthday party. The theme was "5th Birthday" as he is a little down at hitting the 25 milestone. We had a great dinner at a local Yakitori place before heading home to some fun games of 'pass the parcel' and 'truth or dare'. Needless to say a spell of 'truth or dare' with a whole bunch of your friends while most people are rather drunk is funny to say the least. Some how I escaped anything really bad and thus retain my dignity, or what is left of it, for at least one more weekend...
After too short a sleep we were up and packed into cars headed to the Saga orphanage. There were about 10 ALTs and 5 other foreigners who went for the purpose of saying "hi", give out sweets, chocolates and Valentines Day cards and play some sports. After arriving, in usual gaijin (foreigner) style, nice and late, we were quickly ushered into a small dinning hall full of kids and asked to give quick introductions. Once the formalities were out of the way it was time to 'let the kids at us' and we quickly armed ourselves with a massive bag of sweets and a pen each. The next half hour was spent with about 60 kids taking turns to get us to sign their cards and fill their goodies bag with more... well...goodies... The kids were so adorable and really a lot less shy than I expected. They ranged from the youngest girl who was almost 2, up to the bigger kids who were 17 and who will very soon have to leave the orphanage and start supporting themselves in the world alone. Although the trip made everyone experience guilty and sad feelings about children it also provided many happy emotions too as one could easily see just how much the staff care for the kids and try to look after them. We had a massive game of dodge ball between the kids, gaijin, and staff after which we just played tag and other games for a while. By the end of the trip it was easy to see how much of a success it was as everyone, adults and kids alike, were grinning from ear to ear and we quickly told them we would be back for another trip come Easter. The few hours we got to spend there were very moving and without doubt one of my favourite experiences since arriving here six months ago.
Upon awaking on Sunday I looked outside to see clear blue skies and little wind. There was only ever one thing on the cards for such a nice Sunday, hiking! It didn't take any convincing before there were seven of us were stepping out of cars at the base of Mt Kurokami and began walking along the path. It was to be, for Tan, Jamie and I, our second ascent, having completed on in autumn. The walk was, once again, beautiful and provided spectacular clear views from the top. The bush was again in its brilliant, "kiwiesque" glory and the sun was still beaming down on us once we scrambled the rocks to the summit. Once we had milled around at the top for a while I enforced a three minute compulsory silence in order to really become 'one with nature'. This was followed with an embarrassingly long game of "look down....look up!" The game involves you literally looking down then up at the same time and if you and another person are looking at each other you both sit down and the remaining players look down and up again until a winner... so childish but highly addictive!!... The only natural progression after Jamie was crowned the "look down look up king" was to shout at the top of our lungs
"Thunder cats HOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!" while standing on the edge of the rocks overlooking a massive valley. Lets just say things could have gone better had a Nagasaki ALT and his fiancé not interrupted us, at the top of the mountin yelling out stupid chants! Wow we really are going to give the Saga ALTs a brilliant rep for being so cool....
So when in Japan what do you follow up a nice Sunday hike up a mountain with? Some hot Ramen that's what! Tan took us to a sick ass place in his little town, which was in usual style, very oishii (delicious) and good.
Now as I write this it is in fact February the 14th. Valentines day with my fiancé how exciting! I'm sitting here in the staff room trying to waste... well actually one could argue I'm being productive...so not waste... but trying to "use" my morning before I take off home at lunch time with a POD (partial office day). The oldest kids are finished with classes for the year as they prepare for final exams and graduation in March. This of course means fewer classes for me. Good you think?... no I actually wish I had them so I have something to do at school. Oh well. Come April I'm sure I will be busy again... but that's not till APRIL! Oh dear I need a project. Something to really occupy my time wisely whilst at school. After all, there is only so much Japanese that you can learn in a day! Hmmm... currently stumped for ideas but will attempt to figure something out soon. Hopefully by the next entry I write I will be able to inform you all of my great progress I have made in 'growing as a person'... and adding to my "skills" collection.