Friday, December 17, 2004

Holiday itinerary

I should be packing, but I thought I'd write a short post to explain my travel plans to any folks on the homefront who're wondering.

I'm due to leave my place in less than two hours. Sayuri is giving me a ride to Matsue, cos she has a meeting up there at 9:30 anyway. This is great, because I was previously looking for a place where I could park my car in Matsue for three weeks. I'll catch a bus at 10am to Osaka, and arrive there sometime around 3pm. My plane leaves shortly after 7pm, so I need to get to Kansai Airport at 5pm. This gives me two hours to navigate the trains between the bus station and the airport, which I trust won't be too much of a problem. I'll see about catching a shuttle directly to the airport, if possible.

Then it's 12 hours and 15 minutes to Chicago, one hour and 40 minutes milling about O'Hare, and two hours and 20 minutes to New York City. If all goes as planned, I'll be touching down at LaGuardia at 9:25pm, local time.

Mom and Kreg are picking me up at LaGuardia, and I'll be spending Christmas in Poughkeepsie; Chris has to work on Christmas Eve, then he'll be down to Pok for the holiday as well. Sometime between Christmas and New Year's, I'll be going to Syracuse to spend the rest of my holiday there. Dad's driving me to LaGuardia on the morning of January 8th, and I won't return to Japan until the afternoon of January 9th. Monday, January 10th is a public holiday in Japan (Coming of Age Day, for all the 20-year olds), so I'll catch the night bus back to Matsue, and then probably take the train back to Nita Monday morning, and sleep the rest of the day. Or go to a Welcome Back party that's being hosted somewhere in the area. It depends, I might desperately need the sleep, or I might desperately need the company.

Tane-sensei has my birds. She's such a sweetheart. I asked her two weeks ago, "Do you like birds?"
"Mmm... why?"
So I told her I needed to find someone to take care of them while I was out of the country. "Anyone, really. Teachers. Students."
I forgot to bring it up at Yokota, but I figured it would probably be better to get someone in Nita to watch them, to minimize travel time. So when I returned to Nita JHS this week, I still hadn't found anyone. Well, that's not entirely true; Amy in Kisuki had volunteered, but Kisuki's a half hour away, and apparently her apartment gets pretty cold. I've since discovered this isn't such a huge problem (someone on BigDaikon rationalized, "Some of these birds come from Florida, and sometimes it freezes in Florida"). But still, yeah, Kisuki's kind of far.

So I had the plane tickets, the bus tickets, and a bit of pocket cash graciously loaned by Mabel; my last stress was the birds. I said to Tane again yesterday morning, "You sure you don't like birds?"
"Mmm..." she thought about it for a minute.
I explained to her that it was okay if the birds weren't kept toasty warm all the time, but that it was more important that they be kept away from kerosene and other oil heaters.
"Oh, they don't like it?"
"It will kill them."
"Ahh, so ka."
She lamented the fact that she has only kerosene heaters, and I agreed it would probably be best if I found someone else.

But then during lunch, she said, "If you can lend me your halogen lamp, I can care for your birds."
"Yes! You can definitely borrow my halogen lamp! Oh thank you, thank you!"

So she came over last night and I showed her how to change the food and water, and told her that if they got too noisy, she could put a blanket over the cage to make them fall asleep.

So I've got to remember to pick up some Lucky Charms while I'm home; Tane said she wants to try them. "They're very sweet," I warned her, as most Japanese people don't care for very sugary things. She was unphased.

This post is longer than short, so I'll finish off now.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Christmas in Japan

I had an interesting conversation with some of the folks in my eikaiwa (English conversation class) back in September. A typhoon was blowing through, and though we only got some bad rain, I think that was the main reason why only three people showed up that night. I'd planned on playing Charades, but with only four of us I abandoned that idea. Kenji, to whom my predecessor asked me specifically to say Hi for her, is turning out indeed to be a pretty cool and interesting guy. I hardly knew him at the time, though, so he startled me first with his English, which is pretty decent, and second with his questions.

Right out of the starting block: "What do you think about 9/11?" Then he wanted to know what I thought about the Iraq war. These things are difficult for me to express in the full robustness of the English language, mostly because I'm not entirely sure what I think about them, but it was a real challenge to explain these things in a way that he (and the other two people at eikaiwa that night) could understand. So, okay, I was mostly concerned with explaining them to him, since he could translate bits for the other two.

"What do you think about the war in Iraq?" I asked him.
"I hate it. I think George Bush is a terrorist."
He's nothing if not opinionated.

"Are you a Christian?" he later asked me.
"Yes, I am."
"Err... yes."
"Most Japanese people are Shinto, right?"
"Umm...." They looked at each other.
"Or Buddhist?"
Kenji said something to the other two in Japanese, and then, "Most Japanese people don't have a religion."
"Oh. But those who have a religion are Shinto or Buddhist?"
"I am Buddhist," he offered. "On December 24th, we are Christian. On January 1st, we are Shinto." He smiled.
"Oh." I didn't know quite how to respond to that, so I said, "In the U.S., we often celebrate each other's holidays, without 'becoming' another religion. I've celebrated Chanukah, but I'm not Jewish. Not everyone who celebrates Christmas is Christian. Do you mean something like that?"
Yes, they decided, that was more like what they meant.

It makes me uncomfortable when people here assume that I'm Christian just because I'm American; it makes me think that they don't have any regard for any choice I may have made to be Christian.

On a related note, Christmas itself is a well-known holiday, with its own Japanese traditions now associated with it, but it is wholly commercial. In the States, we always talk about how commercialized Christmas has become, but at least we know (or most of us do, anyway) the meaning behind Christmas, and those who don't believe that the birth of Jesus Christ is of any particular significance generally view the season as a time to remember our fellow man, and so forth... what I mean to say is that for most Americans (and if conversations with my other Western friends are any indication, for most of the West), the holiday season means something. And in Japan... I can't say that it does. It's all Santa Claus and Christmas cake. If it means anything more, I don't know it yet.

It's as if we started celebrating the Obon Festival in the States, but knew it only as a big drinking party.
"What do you do for Obon?"
"Oh, it's a blast, man. Best party of the year."
Though Obon is something with which I have only recently become familiar, an attitude like that just smacks of sacrilege.

I don't say this without realizing that we've probably already done this with a host of other holidays. And the Japanese attitude toward Christmas is a disrespect based in ignorance, so I can't fault them for it; I just wish that it weren't that way.
And it's why I want to be home for Christmas this year.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Indian food in Hiroshima

Indian food in Hiroshima

Made by real Indians!
I don't remember the name of this restaurant, but it was a great place to escape the rain and eat something tasty. Pretty popular with the foreign crowd, too. But then, Hiroshima City probably draws more tourists than all of Shimane Prefecture.

Friday, December 03, 2004

December Dandelion

December Dandelion

I know! Can you believe it?!
I can't.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

The 3rd-year students are doing a unit on giving directions using train lines. So I drew up this highly simplified NYC subway map.
Critique it if you like, but I already know it's severely flawed. My goal was to include several popular sites on as few lines as possible, and to make it easy on the eyes for students sitting in the back; I think it succeeds, but I'll know for sure when I actually do the lesson.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Christmas Cards Please!

I know it's normally a social faux pas to request Christmas cards, but that's just what I'm doing.

Itohara-sensei wants to do a Christmas lesson in two weeks, and he asked if I had any Christmas cards to show the students. "Mmm... not yet, but let me see if I can round some up."

So if you're up for it, please send me a Christmas/Chanukah/New Year's/Holiday card by this Saturday, December 4th. It takes about a week for cards from the US to reach me (Grammy has been writing to me faithfully about once a week since I've been here), and it'll run you about 80 cents (again, if you're mailing from the US--I have no clue what postage will be from other countries).

I can't tell you on what days I'll actually be doing the lesson. No one ever knows what next week's class schedule will be, let alone two weeks in the future, so the safest thing is to ensure they reach me by Monday, December 13th (when I have no JHS classes). I suppose if they were mailed out on Monday, December 6th, they might arrive in time, but that's cutting it close.

As I'm reluctant to post my mailing address here, I kindly ask you to e-mail me first; my e-mail address is at the bottom of the sidebar (the column to the right). I'll get back to you straight away with my mailing address.

And if you know anyone else who might be interested, please let them know, too. I would be one sad, sad gaikokujin (foreigner) if I got only one card.

Do it for the children.