Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cooling Down

After being hopeful for a few days, I am confident enough to say that it is cooling down finally. Soon, no more sweating at the most minute movement, no more coming home to an apartment that feels like a jungle, and no more going through gallons of liquid just to stay hydrated. Soon it will be the best time of the year, fall. Sweet, colorful fall.

I noticed a couple of days ago that I was sleeping better at night and that I was actually waking up feeling slightly chilled in the morning. It is about time! I have a horrible time sleeping when I get too hot and prefer my room to be ice cold when I sleep, therefore, the changes are quite welcome.

Not too much else is going on. I am just trying to soldier through the next week and a half so I can get a break and chill with Ben in Tokyo. I have an office day tomorrow which means I will be going into Osaka or Kyoto. I have a pass that will let me ride the trains for free and so I think I will escape and do something fun...or at least out of my town. I need a haircut and there is a cheap place near the Costco in Amagasaki. I think I will get that done tomorrow and then stop by Costco to grab some cheese. That sounds like a solid plan.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lazy Day and a Minor Rant (You've Been Warned)

I could have gone to the beach today. I could have gone out drinking with the rest of the teachers tonight. I could have stayed over with a goofy kid that would have wanted to play his Playstation 3 and tried to compete with me. I could have done all sorts of stuff but instead, I chose to stay home today. I have a meeting tomorrow and my boss thought it would be fun if we all got together, it is unfortunate though that that can only mean one thing, drinking. It's fun to do and Lord knows, I have done my share but it isn't easy on the wallet and I don't care to hang out with most of my coworkers. I am just getting sick of almost all of them. Not to mention, last time we had this kind of outing my boss got a huge hangover and slept through part of the meeting we were having.

So today I have stayed home, playing video games, watching Sopranos(evil addicting show), and drank Dr. Pepper. The convenience store next to my apartment finally started carrying Dr. P, I thought I was going to freak out. In exactly two weeks, I will be on a train back up to Tokyo and will be picking Ben up from the airport two weeks from tomorrow. I am getting excited for him to come, we will have a blast.

The only downside to his visit is the way Peppy Kids Club is dealing with my work schedule while he is here. My boss is forcing me to call in sick for three days because he is too lazy and lacks the foresight to look for coverage while I am gone. Instead, he is going to let me call in and look bad, and then let corporate deal with who will go where in my absence. I don't even care about the money part and I honestly don't even care about calling in, I am more concerned by the fact that this is something that is totally avoidable but my boss lacks ambition to work out. If I get a call from head office and they try to get whiny about my sick calls, they will be hearing a few things from me about their timeliness in handling time off requests and middle management. Since I am taking days off, they are making me work on the next three Mondays, days I usually have off. Next Monday, I am going to a school four hours away and won't get home until after 11pm all because they are insistent I work to make up my time, I would be fine with just not getting paid but no, I get to ride seven hours of trains for two hours of classes and the person that usually teaches that class gets the day off. It is not because some one is sick, it is because they are essentially punishing me. It is half tempting to call in that day too.

I understand that I work for a company and I should not get a million days off just because I ask, but I do expect the company to not take a month and a half to get back to me on my request and in the meanwhile, to have my boss tell me to go ahead and make hotel reservations because the request was sure to get granted. If they were a little bit speedier, then the whole mess could have been averted. What would be super sweet would be if corporate calls me up after all of this and tells me that I have jeopardized my bonus and then I will just quit on them and go home. The bonus is the only reason I am still here at this point anyway.

Oh well, after Ben comes and goes then it is smooth sailing until April. I will keep my head down, keep the money coming in, and save as much as I possibly can. I think once I get back into my grind, everything is going to go very quickly. That is my hope anyway.

In completely different news, a group has found a way to unlock the iPhone so it will work on any carrier, not just AT&T. You basically run the software and pop in the SIM card of your choice and you are good to go. If I wanted to, I could order an iPhone right now, unlock it when the software is made available to the public, and use the iPhone in Japan if it were not for the fact that Japan is 3G and the iPhone is not. But at least I know, when I come home I can find a cheap cell plan and then use the iPhone on it. That is something to look forward to.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

George Bush Is A Complete Retard

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you have probably noticed that I don't usually talk politics on here. This is not because I am not interested in politics, quite the contrary. It usually has more to do with the fact that most people who know me, know where I stand on a lot of issues and I don't feel like making this the place to argue about some of my near-Fascist(aka Republican) beliefs. But after seeing a snippet about Bush using what happened in Vietnam as a parallel for why we should stay in Iraq, I can't stay quiet anymore.

First, anytime you are a politician, especially the President of the United States and you are using the Vietnam War for anything other than a way to win over vets, you are an idiot. There is not much that can be said about Vietnam that is going to strengthen any pro-war argument you can make. While I won't go so far as to say that our involvement in Iraq is Vietnam all over again, I will concede that the two conflicts share similarities that shouldn't be ignored. Bush basically said that if we do not stay in Iraq, what happened post-US pull out of Vietnam will happen there. What Bush doesn't get is that whether we stay there or not, we are not changing what Iraq will become for the better. Iraq is on the verge of civil war and we are not going to be able to stop that; we are merely delaying full blown strife.

Bush is trying to play up the Cold War tactic of "containment" minus the Communism, but what he doesn't see is that most of our Cold War efforts to prevent the spread of Communism failed. Our track record for trying to shape countries into how we would like them is pretty bleak. Look at Cuba, Korea, China, Vietnam and now look at our Middle East policy, if I were just looking for black and white, positive outcomes in any of these areas, I would say that our foreign policy and strategy is being dictated by a one-legged, illiterate, semi-autistic, monkey on acid. If Bush had half or even a quarter of a brain left in him, he would realize that, just like in Vietnam, if we stay or if we go will not dictate how the country will turn out but how many American lives will be lost. The United States is extremely good at militarily dominating a country but has absolutely no idea how to deal with other cultures. If we are dealing with other white people, we usually do okay. Throw in an Asian culture or, God forbid, a Middle Eastern one and we are screwed. As a government we have no clue what it means to be Muslim, especially a fundamentalist one. We can't comprehend why they fight amongst themselves and why they fight against us and until we can, we will never have any minute effect for the better on that region. Like the United States learned in its various wars in Asia, I think soon it will start to realize that the best thing it can do to help the Middle East will be to keep out of it and let those countries figure stuff out for themselves. It will be a hard lesson to for George Bush and I doubt he even is willing to learn it but, when we leave the Middle East it is going to get ugly and stuff is going to probably turn out in a way that is not favorable to the US but something we will have to deal with nonetheless.

Whether you like the way China does things or not, you cannot deny that it has become tremendously powerful and extremely wealthy. The key to remember is that it did this largely without the help and against the will of the United States government. Most of the bright spots in Asia came to light without US help. The only real exception to this is Japan and its economy sucks right now, just like ours. It is high time that the United States starts to focus on the United States again. We are the hands that are trying to shape the rest of the world but the sculptor is not as healthy as it once was and needs to work on getting better.

Sadly, I don't think any of this will happen in George Bush's time in office. I voted for the guy twice and I am now positive that the second term was a definite mistake. Given the choices at the time it seemed like the right thing to do but if I knew this is how he would waste his last four years in office, I would have not voted at all that November day. You will hear some of the Neo-Cons say that history has yet to catch up with George Bush and that judgment on the effects of his Presidency are years away. I can save you the wait and tell you right now how history books will see George Bush. He will go down as a middling to sub-par President that happened to get lucky when September 11, 2001 occurred. Thanks to that tragedy he was given the chance to look like a hero and had he only been a one-term President, he probably would have stayed that way and most people would be willing to overlook his stupid quotes and at times "gray area" administrative practices. But thanks to his second term, the majority of the country and the world now see him as a shady, bumbling, unintelligent, hick. His domestic policy and his choice in aids and cabinet members will be compared to those of the Hoover administration, while his foreign policy will be sorted in with the likes of Jimmy Carter and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Many people start off by comparing him to Richard Nixon; what they don't get is that Nixon wasn't that bad of a President policy-wise, but Nixon the man was a shady and paranoid character. As for foreign policy, I dare you to name a 20th Century President that did more good than Nixon did for this country; I can only think of one that would beat him and two that even come close. George Bush on the other hand, has done nothing. He will be a nothing President because he was too dim-witted and bull-headed to grasp or act on what should have been done both at home and abroad. His Vice-President hasn't helped matters either, but then again, Cheney was also Bush's choice. If his track record holds, the next time Bush does anything of positive significance will be when he leaves the office and someone else takes over. He has hobbled the Republican party for at least the next decade and he has back peddled the US in the eyes of the rest of the world. I am frankly ashamed that I voted for him at this point.

The Downward Spiral Begins

Yesterday, I officially declared when my last day with Peppy will be, April 22, 2008. Thank goodness! It means that the most I will have to see any of my kids now is eight more hours. It means that in a bit more than eight months I will be back in a place where I am average and I have friends that live closer than two hours away. It means that I can go to a movie or go shopping or get a haircut without having to make a day out of it. I can finally get a real apartment or, heaven forbid, a house again and that house will have a real kitchen in it and a room for my Queen-sized real bed. The only downside to coming back is that I am going to have to get a real job too. Sadly, I am even kind of looking forward to that as well.

Tonight, I have started to seriously figure out how to de-clutter my place and looking at everything in a light of what is expendable and what isn't. The more I get rid of in the coming months, the less I have to think about this next Spring. It seems like it is a ways away but it really isn't that far out. I think once Christmas hits, the rest of my time is going to fly by, I hope so anyways, I want to be done.

I have learned so much from being here that I am a tad eager to come back to the United States and field test of some my new habits and knowledge. Japan has changed me in a few ways and it will be funny to see what changes are permanent and what will fade away. I know I need to keep learning Japanese and not let that slip once I come back, especially if I am going to teach Mr. Muffins attack commands in Japanese. I am just so ready to be done and to start new again. I can also safely say that after this, I will never teach another child under the age of 13 again and I especially mean I will never ever teach kids between the ages of 6 and 10 again. I don't have the patience or the will to deal with them anymore.

They. Cannot. Be. Reasoned. With.

They. Are. Evil.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Funny Random Memory

While visiting the sheriff's website, I found the picture of a girl that for some reason triggered a very funny memory that I hadn't thought about in a long time. I figure if I post it on here, I won't forget it now.

When I was nineteen, I was at this party at my friend Jon's apartment. Being like the average get together at Jon's apartment, I was really, really drunk. I was beyond the "Tyson Won't Stop Giggling" phase and into the tried and true, "Prepare To Pass Out On The Comfy Couch" level. Jon had a very comfy couch that was my bed for many a night in my late-teens and early-twenties. It was gray and very cushy. Cheap, yes, but cushy. Anywho, enough of the couch.

So here I am drunk and lolling next to Jon when our friend, Tyson walks through the door. Tyson was a year younger than the rest of us but was basically a fixture at Jon and Kendall's apartment. Tyson was also a ladies man. Notice that I did not use the possessive "lady's" there because Tyson was friendly with multiple/all girls and I can only think of one girl that he ever was very attached to. On this particular evening, Tyson had brought two girls with him. I didn't pay much attention to them because odds were good I would never see either of them after that night...or so I thought. About this time, one of the girls says, "Mr. Chaplin!? Is that you Mr. Chaplin? Are you drunk?"

Then I noticed who this particular girl was. I don't remember her name but I do remember that she had dyed green hair and was in the 11th grade history class that I was student teaching in at the time. I could barely believe what was happening and could only utter in a slurred and drunken drawl, "You! You're not supposed to be here!" It was at this point that everyone else at the party clued in to the fact that she was one of my students and hilarity ensued.

I became kind of worried at this point for a number of reasons and had I been significantly more sober, I probably would have taken off. First, I was nineteen at the time so I was underage and drinking. Second, if I was nineteen and underage, then my 11th grade student was waaayyy underage. Like, into the underage limit that I don't overly approve of drinking, especially since she could also tie me to drinking. Third, I knew that next time I showed up for class, I was screwed. These were high school kids and there was no way I was going to live this down once this got out. After such deep thoughts, I resigned to my fate and grabbed a bottle of something and imbibed.

The rest of the evening is pretty hazy. I think we watched a movie or played some video games but I don't remember a ton else. The only other thing I can remember of that night was Tyson sitting on the couch with a girl on each side of him, making out with both of them at the same time. It was almost like he was eating two ice cream cones, first a taste of the flavor on the right and then a lick off of the left one.

The next day I taught was interesting. Sure enough, it had gotten around that I had been spotted pretty sauced at a party over the weekend and all of my kids were doing their little whisper, look, and laugh thing. During one of the breaks, my supervising teacher walked up to me and asked if what was going around was true. I replied that it was indeed, to which he just laughed and said, "" and walked off.

Looking back, I realize how badly the whole event could have turned out if various people had reacted differently than they did. I was probably lucky and from then on I made certain that none of my students were going to be appearing at any of the parties I was attending. It is funny some of the stupid things you get away with when you are younger.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Journey To The Top Of Japan and Back Pt.3 - The Damned Duffel Bag

As I headed away from Mt. Fuji, I was a shell of a man. I was tired, dirty, and just overwhelmed by the whole ordeal. But, I had to retrieve my red duffel. As it turns out, this was kind of a chore to do. Actually, that is an understatement, it was a total pain in the ass.

The first leg of the duffel bag quest took me from Mt. Fuji to a town called, Fujinomiya. I slept on and off during the hot and bumpy ride and was happy to be back into a town when the trip ended. In Fujinomiya I had to by another bus ticket to go to Kawaguchiko. After getting the ticket, I was lucky to find a place with an ATM and I grabbed some cash and a 2 Liter bottle of water and headed back to the bus station. The bus I got on was a local loop bus but for being local, it took an insane route and traveled an hour and a half before getting to where I needed to be.

While on this bus, I met a nice family from Canada who were on vacation and I helped them plan out their time they were going to spend in Kyoto. It was nice to talk to someone and it made the bus ride go quicker. Finally, we all arrived at Kawaguchiko.

At Kawaguchiko, I had to get on another bus that would take me back to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji, where I would retrieve my duffel from the locker and head back toward home. If you were to look at a map, I had just made a weird "V" from and back to the mountain again. I parted ways with the Canadians and went to get my duffel.

At the fifth station, I learned that I had just missed the last bus back to Tokyo by 22 minutes and that I would need to take the same bus I had just arrived on back to where I came from and then take a train from there. It was on this bus that I met a couple from Hawaii that I would spend the next four hours talking to. He was American and she was Japanese and we talked about the mountain and how they were not able to make it to the top and we talked about life in the US compared to here. They were fun to talk to and helped to make the time go by. The downside to all of these bus rides was that they were eating up precious time for me to get back to Fukuchiyama. I was supposed to watch the festival and fireworks in my town but by early afternoon it had become apparent that I would be lucky to make it back to Fukuchiyama that night, let alone, see the festival. After a bunch of trains and parting ways with the American couple, I found myself in Shin-Yokohama with a choice to make.

By the time I was in Shin-Yokohama it was almost 9pm, my day had been eaten up by bus rides and trains, all for my red duffel. Grrr. The choice was this: Take the next available bullet train to Kyoto or Osaka and get there a little before 11pm which meant that I would arrive a little after either of the available trains going back to Fukuchiyama had left. I would be stuck in the train station or looking for a hotel for the night. The other option was to call it a day in Shin-Yokohama, get a hotel, get some dinner and a shower, and get some well-deserved sleep and then start fresh the next day. I chose the latter option this time. I figured that I was going to be in Kyoto the next day for a festival anyways, I may as well only make one trip there instead of trying to go to Fukuchiyama and back. I also reasoned that a hotel in Shin-Yokohama would be cheaper than one in Kyoto or Osaka. I was glad I made the choice I did.

I got a very reasonable hotel and when I got up to my room I found a Domino's Pizza brochure. I haven't had pizza in months and Dominos, while not my favorite while in America, is very tasty here. They serve American-styled pizza and so you can find pizzas that don't have nutty toppings on them like chicken and corn or salmon and potato. I ordered the Giga Meat which has five different meats packed on to it. After ordering, I jumped into the shower and grabbed a Coke from a convenience store near the hotel. By the time I was ready to rock, the pizza guy was at the door with my meaty delicacy in hand. I made him happy by giving him a tip that would be standard in the States but is kind of big here and he told me that I had given him too much. I told him that I hadn't and when he figured out he got a $4 tip I thought he was going to hug me. Tipping is still not standard here but it is acceptable to tip pizza delivery guys, though I do not think many Japanese do it. I asked him if it was okay before giving it to him because sometimes they get very weird if you try to tip and they are not allowed to accept them. Fortunately, he was able to and we both came out winners. The rest of the night was spent enjoying pizza and relaxing on an actual factual bed. I slept very well.

Yesterday, I woke up, checked out, and jumped on a bullet train to Kyoto. I met up with Terri in the early afternoon and we ate lunch and then went to Arashiyama for the lantern floating. After that, I misplaced and then retrieved my Mt. Fuji walking stick and then came home. But not before, I had to go back to Kyoto station to get my red duffel out of another locker. Stupid duffel bag.

I finally got home last night and had today off so it all worked out pretty well. I think there may have been a small earthquake while I was away because some things were tipped over that were upright when I left. Nothing major though, I just found it odd to not find things how I had left them. That is pretty much the end of my adventure. I work tomorrow and then have two days off. And then in about three weeks, Ben gets here and I start another whirlwind tour of the country. I am working on getting all of my good pics uploaded to Flickr and then I will also put some on here too. Just keep checking either site and you should be able to see pics soon.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Journey To The Top Of Japan and Back Pt.2 - Mt. Fuji

After two days in Tokyo, Andre and I jumped on a bus and took the two and a half hour trip to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji. There are two ways to look at climbing the benevolent, Fuji-san. First, you can say to yourself that Mt. Fuji isn't really that big of a mountain and it isn't when compared to most other popular mountains. But, it IS still a mountain. Second, you can look at the gentle slope of the mountain and say to yourself, "Wow, this is just like walking up a medium incline, easy." Which would be a true statement if the mountain were a paved sidewalk and not loose volcanic rock. Not that it is much of a benchmark for athletics but climbing Mt. Fuji was definitely the most physical thing I have ever done.

The climb was a great experience but one that I don't think I would ever do again. While the trek has once again urged me to be more athletic, my idea of a good time doesn't include a two day march to the top of a volcano and then back down again, slipping and falling on loose gravel and inhaling who knows how much dust. I think I will trying to go hiking more when I come back to the US and I would like to try another mountain as well just to have something to compare Fuji to. I have to say though, seeing the sun rise while crouching on a ledge at the top of the mountain has to be one of the coolest things I have ever done. I was so drained and tired but when you see the yellow orb burst through the blanket of clouds and rise into the sky above Tokyo many miles away, it truly is an amazing and beautiful thing. I haven't been that happy and grateful feeling in a long time. It was simply amazing.

But, to get to the amazing part, you have to zig zag your way up a big hill. You have to stumble over loose rocks that are too small to climb over but big enough to trip you up. You have to hop from one small ledge to another and pick you footing out of all of the niches in the rocks. You may not need climbing gear for Mt. Fuji but a walking stick sure doesn't hurt. I bought a walking stick at the starting point and was glad I did. The other cool thing about the walking sticks is that at each station on the mountain you can pay them a couple of dollars to brand a stamp into the wood so that by the time you reach the summit, you have a really cool souvenir of your progress up the tallest mountain in Japan.

The one thing that annoys me about Fuji and this is very true about Japan as a whole, was the amount of people that were trying to make a buck off of the tourists and climbers. Fuji is an expensive mountain to climb. Ramen = $7, Small Cup of Coffee = $5, Pepsi = $5, Water = $5, a place to sleep for five hours = $55 and that gets you a mat in a room that is crowded with other weary travelers. Fuji is spendy because the Japanese are crazy about exploiting their big attractions.

My fellow climbers were a lot of fun to hike with. I found one friend who I nicknamed, Pacino because he looked like Al Pacino if he were Japanese and let himself go a little bit. He and I had similar climbing speeds and we also took frequent breaks so we kept up with each other. When one of us would get tired the other would urge him on and this was the pattern until we hit the seventh station on the mountain when my athleticism and climbing prowess became too much for Pacino and somehow, we got separated and never found each other again. Last time I saw him, it looked like he was about ready to keel over so hopefully he made it to wherever he was going safely. Everyone climbing the mountain was very encouraging. When you walked into one of the stations, you were greeted with congratulations from total strangers. When you looked worn out, you were encouraged by the people passing you. When you looked like you needed help, people were there to give you a hand. Even when struggling up a mountain, there was a sense of community between all of the climbers because we were all struggling together. At one point we were even singing "Hey, Jude" together. The Japanese make you feel welcome, even when you are almost two miles above the rest of the country.

The weather was very nice for the climb. It had been cloudy and almost rainy at the start of the trail but after climbing for a few hours, the clouds started to break up and areas that were once shrouded in white fluffiness, opened up for us and we could see the green hills and forests of the land below us. As the sun set, it turned the horizon red and it really felt like God was performing for you, trying to show you that there are still wondrous things left in the world. When it became dark, some of the climbers above me started to yell and cheer and when I turned to where they were looking, I saw fireworks being set off from all of the cities below us. It was the Obon holiday and everyone was celebrating. At one point there were fireworks going off in four or five different places below me and I got to see them all at the same time.

By about 10pm, I had met up again with Andre and we decided it was too cold and windy to make the last of the hour and a half of trek to the top of the mountain. I negotiated us rates to stay in a hut for about four hours and we took shelter there. These huts that are spread out along the climbing route are funny. You go in and pay the owner, who then leads you to a mat and a blanket in a room crammed with bunk beds and other people. For the amount it costs to stay in one of these places, you aren't treated to much more than you mat and your blanket but hey, it's better than freezing your butt off on the side of a mountain. At 2am, everyone started waking up and the final push to the summit was on.

Andre decided to ditch me in favor of trying to beat the pack to the summit and I was lift with the other Japanese climbers which was just fine. As I said, everyone was very cool and made the experience just a little bit better. Since it was the busiest day of the busiest week of climbing season, I was not alone. The final scurry to the top turned into more a crawl and that got tiresome very quickly. Basically, it was like waiting in line at Disney Land for a bit more than two hours. When I reached the summit, I turned around and could see thousands of flashlights and headlamps winding down the mountain, trudging toward me. It was about 4am, I was exhausted but I had reached the top. The sun crept into the sky about half an hour later and I was given a once in a lifetime glimpse at Japan from a place I would have never thought I would ever get to visit. Life is funny that way.

This is where Mt. Fuji really sticks it to you. You make the climb and get to the top. You are tired and dirty and ready to call it a 5am. But are you finished? No, you have to climb back down. And in order to climb back down you have to either go back the way you came,against traffic or you have to climb to the highest peak at the top of the mountain and the go down a path off from it. Just when you thought the uphill stuff was over. Beh. For me, climbing down was hard than climbing up. It seemed like the paths were more cluttered with rocks and there were fewer obvious routes to take. It could have also been that I was dead tired and ready to be done.Andre again decided to go ahead of me and so I hiked by myself for the last three hours of the journey. Not talking to anyone made this part of the hike go by very slowly for me and I have to say, when I reached the bottom I was finished and not in the best of moods. I think I fell three or four times on the way down and I was sick of being dirty and tired. I think I would have moved a little faster had I not had my camera with me but I was trying to be extra careful as not to damage my precious Nikon that was in my backpack.

When I hit the base station to get back home, Andre was waiting for me. Why he was waiting for me is beyond me because I hadn't seen him in several hours and figured he would have gone home since he hadn't stuck around for the rest of the trip. But either way he was there and this is what started the third part of the journey, the quest for my red duffel bag. When I was packing for the trip, I knew I was going to be in Tokyo for a couple of days prior to the climb so I needed to bring clothing and toiletries, I also knew I was not lugging my laptop up the mountain, therefore, I needed my red duffel. I love the word "duffel"...anywho, back to the story.

So when we went to the mountain, I put my red duffel in a locker at the fifth station starting point, figuring I would be back down to fetch it the following day because Andre said that is where we had to head back to in order to catch the bus back to Tokyo.Through the course of the climb, it became apparent that it would be complete pain to come back the way we came because of the amount of people struggling up the path. We knew there were buses at the other side of the mountain and we figured that they would wrap around back to the fifth station. We were wrong.

Andre said that he had talked to the cab drivers and they told him that to drive me back to the fifth station was going to be $165. This was not going to work. I asked him if he had looked to see if a bus went there and for some reason he had not and so I went to the ticket station to ask how much it would be to take the bus. When I got to the ticket station,I got good news and bad news. The good news is that the price of a bus back to where I needed to go was nowhere close to Andre's taxi estimate. The bad news is that the bus I needed to take was leaving in about three minutes. I had to make a decision; get on the bus and do what I needed to do in order to get home or go back and tell Andre what I had found. I chose to jump on the bus. I felt mildly bad about leaving him there like that but I didn't have enough time to go back and tell him and he doesn't have a cell phone so I didn't feel like I was left with much of a choice in the matter.

Thus concludes this chapter of the Mt. Fuji journey. I left the mountain a worn out and dirty person but happy to have left with an experience that definitely added to my life as a whole.

Journey To The Top Of Japan and Back Pt.1 - Tokyo

Wow and Ouch are the two things that have been going through my head a lot this week. Mt. Fuji was amazing and yes, I made it all the way to the top. However, thanks to my determination, I am sore in ways and places that I never knew existed until a couple of days ago. Even my fingers and toes are sore! (@_@)

The reason this entry is going to be two sections is because A)I have done a lot in the past five days and B)Before going to the mountain, Andre and I did a bunch of stuff and after coming down from the mountain, I had an annoying ordeal with a bag of mine that turned into a quest of its own. So sit back, relax, and get ready to hear the tale of my journey to the top of Japan. (Insert dramatic intro music hear.)

The trip started out pretty well. I do not mean to say that it ended badly, it just ended on an inconvenient note. Either way, I met Andre (a guy I know through work) at the bus station in Osaka and bought my ticket for the overnight bus to Tokyo. As it turns out, he and I were on the same bus, which was funny because we had tried to arrange that earlier in the week but were told that there were no seats left on the bus that Andre had reservations for. The bus trip went very well because I was in the aisle seat on the last row of seats in the back of the bus. This meant I had a ton of foot room and space to put my stuff. There was a kid that was sitting across from me that was traveling to Tokyo by himself and for one reason or another decided that I was a big white squirrel in need of feeding and gave me candy during the trip. Why kids do this to me, I have no clue. I am not complaining, I just think it is amusing that more than a couple of my encounters with random children have ended up with me eating some of their snacks. Anywho, the trip to Tokyo went smoothly and much more comfortably than the last bus ride.

Upon getting to Tokyo, Andre and I were left trying to figure out what to do in Tokyo at 6am on Sunday morning. Most places don't open until ten or eleven so we didn't have many options. We ended up going to the imperial palace and seeing all that one can see there, which is not a great deal. For those who have been there, you can't even get to the area to take pictures of the bridge that has the guardhouses on it anymore. I think Andre was a little let down about the lack of outward coolness of the palace, despite my warnings that there wasn't a ton to see there. This was the first let down of the day for him.

After the palace, Andre remembered that the Hard Rock Cafe serves breakfast and so we decided to try our luck and see if it was a Western-style menu. It was! I had bacon, eggs, and toast for the first time in a while. We sat around there and watch music videos as we ate breakfast and hung out for a while. After breakfast, we headed over to Ueno park and looked around for a bit. There isn't much of note to see there but it was close and I like all of the lily pads in the pond.

By this point, it was getting toward late morning and we decided to see if we could find any of the Cosplay kids that hang out at the bridge and park near Harajuku. This was the second disappointment of the day because very few weirdos and freaks were to be found. On the upside, there was a huge group of Rock-A-Billies at the entrance of the park. Rock-A-Billies are Japanese guys who dress up like The Fonz from "Happy Days" and drive 1950s American cars and motorcycles. They enjoy phoofing their hair up and then greasing it back so that, from afar, you would think you have stumbled into a Japanese Elvis wannabe audition.

The rest of the day, we roamed around various other places including Akihabara where I picked up a sweet new Hello Kitty cell phone dangly and a really cheap 18-50mm lens for my camera. We also watched security guys at one store come close to beating a kid down after he slapped away one guard's hand. We think he was caught shoplifting but aren't sure exactly what started the whole ordeal but it did make for an interesting spectacle for a few minutes.

By the end of the day, Andre had seen most of the major spots around Tokyo and I got a call from Jessica, a girl I work with, wanting to know if we wanted to come and have a beer or two with her and her dad at a bar across town. Andre doesn't drink...or spend money for the most part so he went back to the hotel and I went to Roppongi for what I thought was going to be a quick drink. The quick drink I had imagined didn't really pan out. The event became more of an epic conquest of bars in Roppongi that kept me out until 8am the next morning. Fortunately, we had seen all of the big stuff so I was able to sleep and recover until noon.

Feeling slightly hungover but hungry, I took Andre to Shinjuku where we scarfed down my favorite Indian buffet. The place is called, Raj Mahal and I love the all-you-can-eat goodness coupled with a mango lasse. Yummy. After lunch, we went to the TMG building and shot some pictures from there. Speaking of pictures, I will put a couple on this blog but if you really want to see a ton of them, go to my Flickr page, it is going to get a massive update as soon as I post this.

After lunch, we went to a place that I had wanted to go but have never had the chance to visit. It is a kind of out of the way, man made island called, Odaiba. Odaiba is a nutty place and I am glad I found it. Ben, when you come we are going there. I would appreciate it if you didn't look it up because I kind of want it to be a surprise for you because it is a very whacky very Japanese experience that I think you will get a kick out of. For everyone else, feel free to look up Odaiba to see what is all there. From Odaiba, we made a brief trip to Asakusa shrine and then called it a day so that we could get a good night's sleep before the early bus ride to Mt. Fuji the next morning.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Off To The Mountain

Not too much to say in this post other than this is the last post I will make for a day or two because tomorrow night I leave for Tokyo and then from there, on to Mt. Fuji. It should be a good time and I am looking forward to taking some sweet pictures. I am just packing up the last of my stuff and other than that, I am pretty much good to go. The weather looks good and so I think it will be a great experience.

See ya when I get back!!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Random People in Kyoto

I love Kyoto. As far as breadth of things to see and do and the variety of locales, Kyoto is a hard place to beat. I can go from a temple that was built before 1000AD to one of the biggest shopping areas in Japan within a fifteen minute walk. Kyoto is one of those places that can go from one cultural extreme to the next almost flawlessly. It is a fun city to explore.

At first, that is why I thought I liked to go there but yesterday I became conscious of another reason. As much as a loathe at times, I really do enjoy people as a whole. I like random encounters with strangers and I find that they usually enhance my experiences. The first few times I had this experience in Kyoto, I bumped into people on accident and then ended up helping them and enjoying the day with them. Now, I think I am more purposefully looking for people that I think would be interesting to talk to and then randomly meeting them. Therefore, I guess it isn't very random but nonetheless, it is kind of fun.

Living in Japan makes it very clear to spot who is and is not a tourist. Just by watching people for a few seconds I can pretty much know where they are from and how much experience with Japan they have had. The key to all of this is not picking out another white person that lives in Japan because most of them are Caucasian rejects that fled their countries to be super heroes and drama queens here. In short, white people in Japan make me want to make little cuts on myself with a sharp razor. Anywho, we return from our brief trip to Tangent Land.

Yesterday, I found a couple in their late-fifties, early-sixties and I could tell they were tourists but I wasn't familiar with their accent so I was automatically intrigued. They looked and behaved like Americans or Canadians but I knew their accent was not Canadian and so I decided they would be my "random encounter" of the day; I wanted to see where they were from. I saw them a couple of times and on the second time, they looked indecisive which is a good indicator they have no clue where they are or what is going on. So I asked if they needed help getting somewhere and they told me that they didn't know what it was they were trying to get to and were basically just wandering aimlessly. Perfect.

I talked to them for a couple of minutes and found out they were from New Hampshire which struck me as odd, because their accent didn't sound like the New England accents I had heard before. As it turned out, they were both educators for a junior college back East and the guy was here on business and his wife just came along for fun. They are negotiating with a Japanese technical institute to set up a student exchange program. Anywho, after standing around for a bit, I asked them where they wanted to see. They didn't know. So then I asked them how much time they had and if they wanted a tour guide. I figured, I had no timetable and didn't have any specific goals for the day so I volunteered to take them on a walk that would end up at Kiyomizudera. They said they could only site see for one day and so I told them that Kiyomizudera was something that they definitely needed to see. So I took them on a walk.

It was a fun experience and they were very nice people. At first, I think they were a tad apprehensive about me just volunteering to show them around but after a bit I think they enjoyed it. If you are a tourist here and you do not have someone to show you around, I think Japan would be a rather difficult place to enjoy. Despite Kyoto being a major attraction for foreigners, it still does not have the support infrastructure to adequately support the tourism it generates. This is pretty typical of Japan as a whole. The idea of foreigners coming to their island was a definite afterthought for the Japanese.

We went to the temple but got there shortly before it closed and I told them that unless they could dedicate some time to wandering around, it wouldn't be worth the money to go in and feel rushed. After the temple, we went into a place I had never been and ordered smoothies. Actually, I did all of the ordering, they just paid. Another reason being a tour guide is nice, free snacks. I had a mango smoothie that was awesome. Anywho, they told me that their hotel was near where I first met them and so I took them back in that direction. General rule for guiding tourists #564: Always put the tourists back where you found them. You can't go leaving stray tourists wandering about because many times they were not paying attention to the route you used to get them somewhere and could end up lost. This is not a fun aftertaste of the experience to leave with your new random friends.

Once they told me where their hotel was, I knew exactly where to go and got them there with no problem. As it happened, the Starbucks was directly in front of the hotel lobby so we stopped in for a final refreshment. They were peeved by it but when I ordered, I told the guy to ring my drink up separately so I could pay for my own that time. The advantage to being the only guy that knows Japanese in the group is you can pretty much make any situation go however you want it to without too much interference. My general rule is that I will not accept more than one free snack unless I have really done something to deserve it. I don't tell people this but I try to stick to it, I am not helping people out to get freebies, I just like having someone new to talk to and I genuinely enjoy showing people places and telling them things that they wouldn't have seen or known otherwise. This is probably the history teacher in me coming out.

After talking for a bit longer in Starbucks, I wrote out the names of two places that they were interested in taking a taxi to the following day and then made sure they were good to go and showed them that the geisha district of Kyoto was just down the block from their hotel so if they felt like relaxing for a bit and then exploring by themselves for a little while after I was gone, that that may be a good spot to go to, given its proximity to their accommodations. With that, we shook hands and went our separate ways. The path I took from there was to a bookstore and then to Wendy's which sadly enough, was one of the reasons I made the trip yesterday to begin with.(Shakes head in shame.)

After this story, you may be wondering what happens if I talk to the wrong people and end up leading around jerks. Honestly, it has never happened. If I watch someone for a minute or so, especially if I talk to them, I can usually gauge what kind of a person they are. I just kind of have a knack for reading people and character, I can't explain it any other way than that. I suppose if I ever did get stuck with goobers and I really didn't like them, I could just ditch them or pretend like I got a phone call and explain to them that I had to go somewhere. After that, I would probably either lead them back to where I found them (see Rule #564)or give them basic instructions on how to get to wherever they were heading and take off from there. I figure, the cards are always stacked in my favor because I am not the one who doesn't know where he is going and I know enough Japanese to survive just about any random event. The people I lead around are usually at my mercy. HAHAHAHAHA!!!! Oops...sorry about that, just had an evil moment.

Aside from Wendy's, the other reason I went yesterday was to take pictures so I will leave you with one that I snapped while wandering about.

This was taken at the front gates of Kiyomizudera. I am happy because it was sunny yesterday.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Last Day Of Summer School

So today marks the end of my eight days straight of working. Yay! Summer school was pretty easy and it went by pretty fast so I don't have too much to complain about. I am just hoping that the parents tonight show up on time to get their kids. Last night, two parents were 15 minutes late and forced me to miss my train so I had to wait over an hour for the next one.

Not a whole lot is planned for the next three days that I have off. I know on Monday, I will be teaching my private lessons so that will give me a little more cash to take with me to Mt. Fuji when I leave a week from tomorrow. I will probably just relax for the most part, though I do need to get a new spindle of DVDs at some point, I am running very low.

It has been very muggy here over the past few days. For a while, it seemed like the rainy and humid season was over but then another typhoon popped up and made things humid again. The thing that really irks me about the typhoon is this one had a shot at making things around here interesting but it wussed out and now nothing cool is happening. I want to see a good typhoon!

I have managed to get all reservations for the upcoming Fuji excursion and Ben's arrival taken care of so that is one less thing to get done. I also found out that my last day with Peppy Kids Club will be April 22nd. It seems like a way away but it isn't too far out. Ben and Monique, expect to see me around the 24th or 25th if that is good for you. I am in the process of figuring out how much it will be for a ticket to Sydney and then from Sydney to the US and am looking forward to the visit and hanging out with you guys for some "Suntory times" again.