Alive & Buying Take-Out

Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2001



Hello all. After a two-week e-mail drought, I have finally acquired access and I'm sending out a single mass e-mail to let everyone know I'm alive.


I'm alive.


For those who weren't aware of my exact flight details, I was in the air about five minutes before someone decided to slam an aircraft into the World Trade Centre. We were ordered to land in Winnipeg, which was convenient for me since my entire extended family lives in that city. So I spent a week with my cousins and grandparents and left for Osaka on Monday morning, spent a night in a hotel and arrived in Shizuoka (where I'll be staying and teaching) on Wednesday (if that doesn't add up, consider that Japan is 13 hours ahead of Ontario time).


Incidentally, prior to take-off, I predicted that my plane would never get past Winnipeg since I've never managed to set foot west of that city in my life. So I wasn't so much surprised that I hit the Western Wall of Winnipeg, but rather that the plane didn't crash on the runway when I took off a week later.


In other news, Shizuoka is pleasant but horribly humid, my room is surprisingly large but beyond the reach of the air conditioning unit, I'll be having my orientation at work on Monday, and once I got past some of my initial trepidations I found that my Japanese is good enough to get me by in most situations. I've had to learn to listen for intent rather than specific words, but I'm getting better. The one word that keeps nailing me is the Japanese expression for "take-out", which I finally made a point of looking up. Last night a helpful guy in the little shop I walked into had to describe it as "Do you want to take your food from this place to your apartment?" before I understood what was going on. Then I hit my head on the doorway as I left. I think they'll remember me.


I've got limited time here right now, but I'll try to send more information later. All the best.


Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2001

Subject: Re: This is my address


Got your e-mail... I'm not sure how often I'll be able to check my account for a bit, but I'll see what I can do. I found a place with free access.


Incidentally, laptops are even more expensive over here... ah well.


I'll be going to Nagoya for orientation on Monday, and I guess I start work on Tuesday.

On the Plane, Off the Plane

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001

Subject: Re: hey


Winnipeg was fine for me since I just stayed with my cousins and grandparents - it's the only other city in the world where I have direct relatives. When we were on the plane, we were told something to the effect of:


"Ladies and gentlemen, you've probably noticed that we've been descending for some time (nope, I was ignorant). We've been asked to set down in Winnipeg due to misty conditions."


"Misty conditions, eh?" said all the passengers. “What's REALLY wrong with the plane? Do we still have both wings?”


The first person to make a call on a cell phone once we got the baggage claim area became a public address system as everyone crowded around.


Thankfully (?) my housemates get the Japan Times in English so I can follow what’s going on…

Language Barrier

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001



Actually, it's rather odd. It doesn't feel all that different yet. I mean, everything IS different, but it's not that big a deal. My only problem is that I tend to freeze up when I try to use Japanese around other foreigners because I don't want to look like an idiot (since they could probably get by just as well saying key words in English,and often do). But otherwise I'm getting by fine. When they slow down to talk to me, I almost always get the gist of what's being said and I can say what I need to. The silly thing is that I never even try to formulate complete sentences. Maybe I'll work on that when I get some actual Japanese friends...


Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001

Subject: Re: MIKE LIVES


The roommates are fine (one is rarely seen, while the other showed me around town on his day off), and I've been cooking for myself except for my first two nights and last night. They have udon noodles you can cook in a frying pan, which is rather convenient for stir-frys. They also sell chicken in cut-up little chunks, which is also convenient... and it looks cheaper than the full strips, but that could just be a false impression.


Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001

Subject: Re: MIKE LIVES


Heh... broke the take-out barrier at a McDonald's last night. "Mochikaeri"


It'll be October 5th before I get my registration card, and only at that point will I be able to get a cell phone since my Visa is actually attached to my parents' account. But I'll be sure to give you a call when I get it.


[Editor’s Note: When I came to Japan, you needed either a credit card or an alien registration card to get a cell phone.]

Head Impacts

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001



The only Japanese girls I've met to date were friends of my housemates, so all is well.


Incidentally, I get lost about once daily, and subsequently find the most beautiful things around here. The centre of the city is surrounded by the moat and walls of an ancient castle, and there are hills that just appear out of nowhere looking like they're covered with perfect model train foliage - or perhaps like giant broccoli.


I finally broke the take-out barrier (yay!) and subsequently ate in, and felt like an idiot.


Following orientation, 6 of us looked for a bar (oddly, of the 16 people at orientation, 4 of us were from Queen's) and found one by following the international sign of the Carlsberg beer can. It took some time, and it represented my daily dose of lost-yet-finding-neat-stuff. The bar was dank and dark and we went up to what looked like a plaster dungeon on the 3rd floor. I was able to read only the drinks menu, so it was good that nobody was hungry. My usefulness ended there... The guys who spoke no Japanese were communicating with the waitress more efficiently than I was. I had to look up the word for "bill", which is rather ironic given that I'd considered leaving my dictionary behind. Two years of Japanese, and nobody thought it was important to learn how to get the bill.

Nice socks, though. How much did they cost?


On the way out I wailed my head on a square beam above the door. I'm going to come home with a skull fracture. 5'11" is too tall in this country. At least I know how to say, “Atama ga itai n desu.”


I'm out of time on this computer and off to "on-the-job-training" so I'll catch you later.


PS: Don't worry, my head's fine

I Think I’m Speaking Japanese

Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2001

Subject: Re: MIKE LIVES


Actually, I wasn't really over the Sea of Japan... we kinda traced the edge of Alaska and came down from the north, which made me happy since I was a little worried about the "lost in the middle of the biggest piece of empty space on the planet" possibility.


The funny thing is, it seems that everyone here assumes I speak reasonable Japanese anyway. Nobody ever even tries to use English on me, so sometimes I get a little lost. (Paying for the newspaper this morning was a total mess until I caught the words "shinbun dai".) I think that's just a little characteristic of the town I'm in. For that matter, I'm not stared at, either.

The Office

Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2001



Actually, the Queen's crowd was only at orientation; most of the people in my town are Australian. It's rather odd. I was asked yesterday, "How you going?" by one of my co-workers, and it stopped me dead for a second. My trainer had the best response: "I'm going on foot." He got a look of death. Fun people here; they like to joke.


It's rather like an extended university atmosphere. Everyone's taken care of, they live day-to-day and pay as little attention to work as possible, while night-time activities are at a premium. Like grad school, I guess this is just another way to hit the snooze button on "real life".

Training of All Kinds

Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2001

Subject: Re: MIKE LIVES


I now have superfluous passport photos of myself...


My swords got through surprisingly easily. The guy at the baggage check even helped me attach them to my bag better, which is rather well since a friend suggested I'd have to hide them in bodily orifices. They were surprisingly lax about things going into the cargo area. I did, however, have to relinquish the nice pair of scissors I had in my carry-on. I'd forgotten that I'd put them in there, so I was a little embarrassed when I had to own up to having them after insisting that I didn't have any scissors.


As for sword training, if it's still warm out, you should keep it up... and even if it's not, the stretches and warm-down will do you some good. I'll try to get a list of all the exercises out to you soon so you can do them on your own. Heh... no excuses >=)


I'm doing the "on-the-job-training" thing now. They do their best to explain everything to you, and then they throw you into the classroom for increasing lengths of time. I think the greatest thing I learned at university was that NOTHING will go perfectly, so don't sweat it. The other guy being trained with me seems to have graduated with a degree he actually understood, so he's having some trouble dealing with the catastrophic messes our lessons inevitably become.


Okay, they're not THAT bad... at least, as far as I can tell...

First Lesson

Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2001



I had my first "real" lesson yesterday, and like all the practice lessons, it was by degrees a giant explosive fireball of a catastrophe, but I always feel great at the end of them for some reason.


Did I mention that I keep smashing my head into things? This country isn't designed for people who are 5'11"... My English housemate is 6'3"... I wonder how he gets by. The cabinets above our sink are carefully designed to nail the top of your head when you wash dishes.


Everything is expensive here, but I found like 400mL of ice cream for ¥100 at the train station. That was an amazing snack.


I'll let you know next time I smash my head on something.

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