Monday, May 25, 2009

Pig Flu

Japan has gone crazy over swine flu. I thought I was a hypochondriac but I don't even compare to the Japanese. My sister sat on the plane in Narita for almost an hour while health officials came through, kitted up in full body suits and masks, and took everyone's temperature. A red dot meant you had to stay for further testing. No dot meant you could leave the plane. Thankfully, she didn't end up in quarantine and our trip went smoothly.

But now that there are confirmed cases of the swine influenza in Japan there is a mask shortage. Schools are being shut down. Nathan's friends are here visiting and he had planned on bringing them to school two days this week so they could experience the craziness that is a Japanese junior high school. Already at two of our schools they have asked us about swine flu and if there are any cases in Kentucky. We assured them that they were healthy. They were still worried but maybe it's okay if they visit school. We should have known with the maybe. Maybe in Japanese is a pretty strong NO.

Nathan was already using nyenkyuu to spend time with his friends, but then the superintendent called as we were heading out to dinner to tell him that he could have those two days he had planned on working as "special" days off school to spend with his friends. In other words, keep your dirty flu-infected gaijin friends away from our students. Of course, I still have to go to school so now I have a whole week of being by myself. I've considered telling them I made out with one of them just to see if I get sent home too.

Although to be fair, one teacher did say today, "I don't know why they are so worried. It's not that bad." I knew there was a reason she was my favorite English teacher.

Special mask I made for my sister when she visited, back when you could still find masks.

In other news we had a small tremor tonight. I really really hate earthquakes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

How I became the best dancer in the Tahara Mixed Chorus

Mostly by being a smart ass. I think one of the worst things a choir can do is dance but that's because the kind of choral music I like isn't exactly dancing material. Would you dance to Mozart's Requiem? Or to Shubert's Mass in A Flat? What about to some Morten Lauridson or John Rutter? I think not.

So there's the first problem. I could almost tolerate the music we were singing until they decided we should dance to it. When I found that out I realized I had two choices. I could sulk in the corner half-assing it or I could make fun of the whole affair by being completely over the top Broadway wanna be with it.

I went with choice two. Then my plan backfired, because even though I was standing in the back, I was still spotted and suddenly I was being dragged to the front of the room as an example of how to do the dance. I think maybe only the director and one guy in the bass section, Mr. Suzuki, (who was also dancing like a loon) understood that I was being a bit of a smartypants. Everyone else just thought I was AWESOME. Of course once I set the precedent of over-the-top silly dancing I had to keep dancing like I was trying out for Footloose right up until today's concert. I got big pats on the back afterward from the other choir members and even from a few random strangers in the audience.

So yeah, that's how I became the best dancer in the Tahara Mixed Chorus. Lesson learned: don't be a smart ass because Japanese people won't get the joke. Instead they'll try to make you do a dance solo in front of the whole freaking town and then the joke's on you.

Speaking of choir, I was actually thinking about quitting the choir recently because I found out it's going to cost me $120 every six months to stay in and the twice weekly rehearsals are really starting to get to me. But then randomly one of the little old ladies gave me a cake, just handed me a whole cake one night after practice. How can I tell them I want to quit when I'm holding a cake in my hand? I can't. And then today after I had declined to buy a bento lunch (because they are expensive and I'm never sure if I'll like what's in it,) one of the other ladies insisted and bought it for me. Apparently I'm a sucker for free food.

Although at a cost of $240 a year and countless hours of my life sucked away doing a horrible dance about a fish girl named Ponyo, I'm not sure it really counts as free. My plan is to wriggle free after summer break, using the JLPT as an excuse. I'll explain that I need the extra study time to pass the test. Unless of course they make me another cake in which case I'll never quit.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clam Digging

I'm from Ohio. For those of you geographically challenged that is nowhere near the sea. It's a good ten hours by car to get to an ocean. We have a dirty river and Lake Erie and that's about it. So living in Tahara where I'm a fifteen minute ride from the Pacific Ocean and the Mikawa Bay has been great.

A few weeks ago I found out just how great it really can be when I was invited to go clam digging. I love clams. Particularly in chowder. My family took an epic road trip through New England when I was in junior high and one of the things I remember is eating grilled cheese and clam chowder for lunch every single day and sometimes again for dinner. It was great. You could tell it was fresh when every once in awhile you would crunch down on a piece of sand. Really, really great. So I was really excited to go clam digging.

Shiroya Beach on the bay side.

Turns out I'm not so good at clam digging though. For starters we showed up in shorts and flip flops and then realized that all the locals were wearing raincoats and boots. That's because it was FREEZING. We were also missing some vital tools, shovels being the main item. Let me state that it is possible to dig for clams using only a very large rock but I wouldn't really recommend it. My hands ached for days after. Eventually, I gave up and went to sun myself on some nearby rocks, leaving the work to the experts like Miyuki's grandma. It took our group of six people to get the same amount of clams as that seventy-something year old woman.

My friend Miyuki and her grandma.

Nathan shows us what we're looking for.

Our catch for the day.

But while I may suck at digging for them, I excel at eating them. After soaking in salt water for several hours, Miyuki declared them ready to cook. A little steam, some sake, onions, and a clove of garlic and they were ready for consumption. And man oh man were they good. They were definitely worth the sore hands, back, and legs the next three days. Oishikatta!


Side note: I'm holding chopsticks in this picture but it's practically impossible to eat these little buggers with them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hiroshima and Miyajima

So Vietnam wasn't the only place I traveled to this spring vacation. I also ended up taking a weekend trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima with my neighbor, Vanessa, and her friend visiting from the States, Sarah. I'd been to Miyajima before last year when my parents were in Japan but we had skipped the nearby Hiroshima and its Peace Park because we had limited time and Dad decided he would rather see Himeji Castle (thanks to a childhood spent watching samurai movies.)

Miyajima was just a beautiful as I had remembered and was well worth the second look and Hiroshima turned out to be both sad and vibrant at the same time.


Both the tori gate and the temple are in the water because the island was once considered too sacred for human feet to touch.

We got to Miyajima in the late afternoon, just in time to watch the sunset. We ate dinner at a small Italian restaurant on the mainland across from the island. It had a wall of windows with binoculars that you could use to peer across the water to find the famous orange tori gate. Then we caught the ferry over to take a look a closer look in the dark. Unfortunately none of those pictures came out very well. The next morning we headed back again and spent the first half of the day taking pictures, touring the temple, and meandering the streets browsing the many tourist trap shops. I ran off for a bit to find a geocache hidden under a 500 hundred year old tree. Then we caught the train to Hiroshima and spent the rest of the day exploring the Peace Park.

The A-bomb dome. One of the few buildings left standing after the bomb.

Thousands of paper cranes are hung at the Children's Memorial - honoring the children who died in the bomb or from after effects later.

The Peace Memorial. You can see the A-bomb dome in the background.

The park was beautiful, especially because the cherry blossoms were still in bloom. The museum was hard to process and I went through it quickly. I didn't know it but the mayor of Hiroshima writes a letter to every government who conducts nuclear testing, begging them to reconsider. Everyone from the US, Russia, France, India, China, and Iran and North Korea has received a letter asking them to keep history from repeating itself. I had to hold back tears after reading some of them.

I was surprised to notice that the museum acknowledged that the Japanese army had forced Chinese and Koreans into slave labor, some of them working in Hiroshima. But then I wondered after it kept getting mentioned if that wasn't just a way to emphasize just how many innocents had died in the attack, a "hey it wasn't just Japanese that died but people the Americans were trying to help!" I don't mind America being called to task on that point, I just wish the Japanese would more openly acknowledge their own atrocities, not just when it's convenient. I'm hyper-critical of museums due to my background in history, but overall I would say this one was pretty well done.

After the museum and the park (and a few more geocaches for me) the three of us headed back to the hotel where we ordered Pizza Hut. You don't know just how good a greasy piece American style pizza tastes until you live in the middle of nowhere and can't get it. And then of course stuffed full of pizza we went out to meet Vanessa's friend Shoko who took us to one of the hundreds of okonomiyaki restaurants, famous in Hiroshima. It was delicious but I didn't want to look at food for a very long time afterward.

This building was full of nothing but okinomiyaki restaurants!

Our food being prepared.

Okonomiyaki is a sort of pancake with lots of cabbage and then other things mixed in like egg and squid with a sweet sauce and fish flakes on top. It tastes really good, I promise.


The next morning I split from Vanessa and Sarah in order to do some more geocaching. They were leaving early to head onto Osaka so I wandered around, checking out the castle and doing some shopping before I caught the train back to Tahara. All in all it was a great trip and a nice end to an exciting spring break.



I'm back from a week in Tokyo, Kamakura, Ise, and Tahara with my little sister, trying to play catch-up with my posts. Here is some cherry blossom picspam from back at the end of March. Enjoy!