Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

To say that my Christmas day was exciting and full of surprises and joy would be similar to saying that Halloween isn't about sugar and scaring the living daylights out of people. I have done pretty much nothing other than eat and drink hot chocolate and Baileys. It's a hard life.

However, I did get one surprise today. I got a phone call from the post office (yeah, they are open Christmas day) and was told that the way I had filled out some paperwork for the two huge boxes of stuff I sent home incorrectly and I had to go back to the post office to fix the problem. The lady that helped me didn't know you couldn't insure a package for more than the cost of items inside. I kind of wondered about it at the time but since she was the one that through the amount out there for me to insure the packages for, I figured she knew what was going on. Evidently not. Anywho, I came back to the post office because no Christmas day is complete without a mid-afternoon trip to a Japanese post office and it wasn't like I had other stuff going on. The lady that helped me before was the one who called and when I got there she apologized to me over and over and I told her it was no big deal but she thought otherwise. After the problem had been rectified, there was a difference of 100 yen in my favor and so I was given two postal stamps that I will never use. As a parting gift and for inconveniencing me on Christmas, I was given a present. I would tell you to guess what it was but you wouldn't get it in a million years so I will just tell you. They gave me a roll of Saran Wrap. I am not kidding, my one true Christmas present this year was a roll of plastic wrap. I can die happy.

Plastic wrap is awesome because you can do so much with it. Of course you can bundle food stuffs in it but that is just one narrow-minded use for the stuff. What about stripping naked and wrapping yourself in it, like in Fried Green Tomatoes, or draping it over your windows to keep out various plagues and virii? It is also fun to wad into balls and throw at stuff and can be colored with a marker and then put on a light bulb to make it cast a different hue of light. Let us not forget the classic, plastic wrap over the toilet prank. So thank you Japan Postal Service for a gift that has left me truly in awe and amazement.

Merry Christmas everyone and I am sorry you didn't get a gift as cool as mine!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Story

I wrote this for a video game site I occasionally write for and figured you all might enjoy it. Now, it is time for bed.

Looking Back Through Christmas Past

When you keep a blog for as long as I have, several odd things morph out of something that started as a mundane way of keeping track of events and small memories. For me, it is almost Christmas Eve, so just for fun I decided to see what I have done for all of the Christmas's since I started this thing. I find it strangely comforting that I can go back and see what I was up to on any given day in the last four years and look and laugh and feel a tad bad because the Tyson that wrote those entries didn't know what was in store for him.

In twenty-five minutes, it will be four years to the day that Becca and I were driving to her parents' house for Christmas Eve dinner and arguing the entire way about the prospect of having kids. I still don't feel that was the most appropriate time to have had that conversation and I still regret the answer I gave her, which wasn't really an answer at all, more of a way to get out of talking about it. Hindsight being 20/20, there are three or four conversation/arguments that she and I had where I still to this day think that had I said something different, so many things would not have happened that did. That Christmas Eve car ride is one of them. It makes me a tad sad but at the same time, the Tyson that argued with Becca all those times isn't the same guy that is typing this now. That entire Christmas Eve was tainted with a bad vibe thanks to that argument. So dumb to think about now, oh well. The other thing that cracks me up was in several of those Christmas time 2004 blog posts I mention the fact that we needed to move to a bigger house. That was pretty much Tyson code for "Becca and I have been bickering and arguing again" and little did I know that about a month and a half after posting those entries, I would indeed be in a different house. It cracks me up. A couple of years ago that wouldn't have been the case but now, what else is there to do?

For 2005, I barely remember Christmas. I was two weeks away from going to Japan and so many things were buzzing by me at the speed of light. I was getting scammed in my car selling on eBay and that sucked but other than that, I don't remember much. The Christmas of 2005 was a blur of people and hugs and knowing that soon, everything would change. I remember being so ready, angry, excited, sad, happy, nervous, and relieved that soon 2005 would be over and I would be very far away from everything I had come to know.

Last Christmas was much better. Reid and Karie were still in Japan and I spent the entire holiday season with them. It was probably the most laid back and relaxing Christmas I have ever had and I enjoyed all of it. I especially enjoyed getting mildly toasted on Christmas morning thanks to hot cocoa and Baileys and various other tasty beverages. Last Christmas I was pretty much back to being me and it was the happiest I had been in a very long time. I know I have quite a few Christmas holidays left in me but the Christmas of 2006 will be hard to top. It was a good time that I will never forget.

This Christmas is...well...this Christmas just is. 2004 may not have been a gloriously happy Christmas and 2005 was definitely a lonely Christmas, but I have never been truly alone for a Christmas until now. It is very strange. I can't say I dislike it, but it is definitely a change of pace from the previous 27 Christmas seasons I have had. I have an extremely hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it is Christmas time. Today, it was almost 60 degrees here and pretty sunny with a little rain. The biggest conversation I have had with someone in person over the past three days has been the Jehovah's Witness that knocked on my door earlier today. Fortunately, I have been able to talk to friends and family over the internet but it just feels strange. It also doesn't help that I haven't decorated at all this year, nor do I intend to. There is just no reason.

This will be the Christmas that I will quietly nod my head to in acknowledgment as it passes me by and then go about the rest of my business. I feel like I should do more or be more sociable but I am not sure what I would do or who I would talk to. If there was something like a volunteer kitchen for the homeless or something, I would probably go and help out there because I haven't been doing anything around my apartment or town today. It has been a desperately boring past couple of days and I am going stir crazy.

Looking forward, next Christmas is going to be very loud and very Christmasy. There will be all of the yuletide stress and noise but when I get in a bad mood around this time next year, I will have this post to look upon and realize that I am taking for granted what Christmas time is about. Christmas time isn't about rushing or pretending to be happy or even presents. It's about the people you care about and celebrating the time you get to be with them. I am not sad to be spending this Christmas by myself and no one else should be sad for me because this year is my test Christmas to help me bring focus and understanding to all of the years that follow this one.

Merry Christmas everyone and take a minute to think about the people and things in your life that make this holiday so special for you!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Overdue Update

Get ready, this post will most likely be all over the map.

All sorts of stuff has been happening over the past week. None of it is horribly big or exciting but all of it sums up to be rather significant and has kept me rather busy.

I will start with the news that I may have a job prospect upon returning to Boise. I am not going to say a ton about it until I am more certain that I actually have a job but I can say that I think I at least have an interview. While it isn't a teaching position at a school, it would utilize my education degree a little and I would be helping people. Hopefully it pans out but at this point I am not totally certain I even have an interview, though it has been suggested that I most likely will. One thing is for certain, meeting people online isn't a bad thing sometimes. :)

Next, today I finished wading through all of the bureaucratic smoke and finally got my visa stuff taken care of. This is good because it means I can get all of the money I have coming to me from my company and I am not going to get a lot of hassle when I leave the country. Everything I have to get updated is updated, tomorrow I just have to mail a copy of it all off and I am done.

Speaking of being done, I booked my flight home and that is all paid for and finalized. I will leave Japan on the evening of January 26th and land in Boise in the middle of the afternoon on January 26th. I love traveling into the past, I gain a day.

My next big project is house cleaning. Tomorrow, I am going to pay some bills and get the ball rolling for getting stuff turned off and canceled at the appropriate times next month. Then comes the sorting through everything and figuring out what goes, what stays, and what gets thrown away when I move. Most of it is staying or getting chucked, I just need to sift out what I am actually taking with me when I leave. I already have two boxes of books and manga that I am preparing to send to Singe_ID and will probably be mailing that off tomorrow. Singe_ID, that means get ready for books and your Christmas present. Feel free to browse through the boxes but know that you probably won't understand about half of it unless you have been studying Japanese. :P

Christmas is going to be interesting this year and by interesting I mean boring and uneventful. No one is coming over and I am not visiting anyone I think so that means sleeping in, getting up, taking a shower, getting some hot chocolate and Baileys, and watching movies all day. I may go somewhere for dinner or I may just make something kind of fancy for dinner, I am not sure. The only thing I am sure of is that I can do whatever I want because it's just going to be me. Speaking of Christmas, it doesn't even feel like Christmas. The weather has been nice and today was sunny and in the high 50s. Snow hasn't even attempted to invade my mountain town and only a handful of people have put up any lights. It just doesn't feel like Christmas. I am not bothered by this because how many times in your life do you get to have Christmas exactly how you want it to be? I would prefer to not be alone but other than that, I can't complain a ton. I don't have the constant pressure that the holiday season puts people under in the United States and I don't have to worry about any obligations that come with visiting friends and relatives. Not that visiting people isn't nice, it is just a funny feeling to know that I am not in a position to have to even think about it. I imagine this will make next Christmas seem hectic and crazy but I think I am about ready for another hectic and crazy Christmas. I know that I am getting bored with being alone regardless of what day or time of the year it is.

As of this very moment, I have one month, six days, one hour, and eleven minutes until I get on the plane to come back. I am getting excited worried about coming back to the US, and homesick for Japan all at once. There is so much to do and see and start again in the United States but I am also starting to remember all of the entanglements and complications that come with the culture and society I am going back to. I think that once I get back to Idaho, I will be ok for a few months but after that, it will really start to sink in that I am not going back to Japan to live again. I am expecting March and April to be rough months because they are two of my favorite months here and I will be missing cherry blossom viewing. Oh well, I will see it all again someday because I will come back to at least visit again.

Anywho, that has been what's been going on in my world. I am on Christmas vacation now and if last night was any benchmark for how the break will go, I am going to be bored out of my mind until New Year's Eve. I do have plans then but I will elaborate more on that in another post. Now, it is time to watch a movie and relax for a while.

Friday, December 14, 2007

After today, I only have ten days of actual teaching left before heading back to the United States! d(^_^)b

Speaking of heading back to the US, it looks like I may already have an interview lined up for a pretty good job too. Yay!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And So Begins The Downward Spiral

It is setting in on me rather quickly that my time here is starting to get very short. While I am glad to be heading back to the US and getting a fresh start on everything, pangs of sadness that I am leaving all of this behind are becoming more frequent. Japan has been very good to me and I am going to miss it. I have seen and done so much while I've been here and now that is all coming to a close.

When I left America, I knew I would be back at some point. Leaving here though, I am not sure if I will ever see a lot of the places I have grown to love again. There are so many nooks and crannies that I have explored here and now I am going back to familiar ground and won't have as much to explore that I haven't seen before. This bothers me, but at this point, I am ready to leave Japan and start anew somewhere else.

I am now to the point where each day I teach is the last time I will ever see these kids and for the most part that is just fine with me but I do have a few that I will miss and I wish I could do more to explain to them that I have had so much fun with them and I hope they keep studying English. As for me, I am firmly resolved I will keep working on my Japanese. I have learned too much to forget and have no desire to stop now. Who knows, if I get good enough, maybe another door will open for me that will lead me to this wonderful country once again.

The cleaning and the sorting has begun in earnest and I am fairly certain I will not be taking a ton of stuff back with me when I leave. Aside from books and my largish collection of manga, I have not bought a lot of stuff while I have been here. At least not meaningful stuff. The nice part about my manga collection is that when I buy a new book, I know it will help me keep studying Japanese and as I learn more, each book will become more accessible and more fun to read. My manga collection will also probably make me a god amongst all of the Japanese cartoon and manga nerds in the US. As I am learning, it sounds like there are starting to be a lot of them too. I am not sure how I feel about this but whatever works, at least when I read manga, I will be doing so in Japanese, the way it was meant to be read. Elitist, yes I am.

Anywho, everything is starting to wrap up and I am going to try and stay cheerful because I know I have no good reason to be sad. While I will be leaving Japan, there isn't much here that I haven't accomplished that I set out to do. I have seen centuries old temples, I have climbed mountains, I have seen sprawling metropolises. I have pretty much conquered this island nation and now it is time to go.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Guess They Liked Me

Tonight was the last night for me to teach my private lessons with Maya.

We had three classes and she told me before class that she had told the kids tonight would be my last lesson because she didn't know if I would have to time teach in January. I am not sure why she thought this because I told her two or three times I could definitely teach in January but whatever. Since it was my last lesson and all of the students and their families had been informed of this, I was sure I would get a couple of thank you cards from the kids and maybe a small gift from one or two of the parents. I was wrong.

As it turns out, my last lesson was also meant to be the Christmas party of sorts for the kids so at each of the three houses, there were snacks to be munched upon and pictures to be taken. Toward the end of each class, I did get the usual thank you cards and Christmas cards from the kids but I was floored at what the parents got me. One family bought me a complete dictionary set, one volume for Japanese to English and another for English to Japanese. And I am not talking about a student's beginner dictionary either, I am talking a full-blown academic set with very nice bindings and very complete word lists. These are nice dictionaries and it set the parents back at least $60, I know this because I have actually looked at getting a similar pair of dictionaries. When I saw them, I was almost speechless.

Another family surprised me because I had only taught this specific group of kids a handful of times but it turns out, all of them really enjoyed having me as a sensei. I walked out of that house with a box of cookies specific to my town, a box of traditional Japanese kelp snacks, a post card set from Fukuchiyama, and a thank you card. The generosity shown by everyone tonight was extraordinary and I was extremely grateful for all of the gifts, especially since I wasn't expecting any.

After my lessons, Toby and I went out for sushi and then to the arcade to play some ultimate air hockey and a racing game. It was a good time and was a nice ending to a great and fulfilling day. I am glad I at least was able to have some impact on my private students because I enjoyed teaching them. When I get the pictures from tonight, I may pop one or two on here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Still A Bully

I have always had a faint hint of a mean streak and my friends know that no one can rip into a person with quite the verbal finesse like I can when I am on a roll. There were times in high school that I did things to people that I shouldn't have and I felt bad for them afterward but it doesn't really change the fact that I did them. I was kind of a jerk and still in a number of ways, I still can be. Here is an example.

Today, I was in a school that I have never been to and will never again be at. I had one class of six and seven year olds with one kid that was four. The four year old was the younger sibling of a kid that was actually old enough to attend the level of class I was teaching at the time. Peppy drives me crazy with how they decide what kids go into what class. Because Peppy wants money and isn't horribly concerned whether the kids learn anything or not, if an older kid has a younger brother, often times they will place the two kids in the same class. This is especially true if Peppy wants to rope in an extra little kid but knows the tyke won't be able to cope well with the material or may be afraid of being away from his or her parents.

I think this tactic is nothing but money grubbing BS. If you are going to teach a kid a new language, start him out in a class of kids his age. Don't throw him into a big kid class and expect him to keep up. And on that note, don't expect me to pander to the little kid just because you want to milk the family for a few extra bucks a month. If I were to dote on every ankle biter that should be in a lower class but isn't I would spend my entire lesson dumbing stuff down just for them while more advanced kids sit there and ponder the finer things in life like whether or not they will be able to get every gold coin in The New Super Mario Brothers for the DS.

This poor kid was in somewhat of a double jeopardy because he was whiny and jumpy around me. Kids that are creeped out by me just because I am bigger than they are and white kind of annoy me. Most kids will come into class and just see me as another adult but one in every ten of them will see me like a child eating monster. Little do they know, children do not taste good, therefore I do not eat them.

So anyway, I am playing with the other kids and chasing them around the room and everyone is having a good time except for the kid that shouldn't be in the class to begin with. I am running around and out of the corner of my eye I can see this kid waving his hands in the air as if by magic, his frantic gesturing will make me go away. To be honest, the opposite is true. It is at this point that I proceed with the "breaking in" section of the lesson. Basically, Japanese kids are very pampered. The boys especially, are brats. So I figure that if the kid's parents are forcing him to be exposed to white people, I should kind of get him used to what he should expect when he encounters the great Caucasian beast from the West. This is how I legitimize scaring the crap out of little kids.

Most of the whiny, afraid of whitey variety are very easy to break in. I look at them, say their name and give them a kind of wild and crazed look that I expect many Roman soldiers came to fear when eradicating the Visigoths from Eastern Germany. You know what I mean, the look that signals to someone that you may actually try to eat them if you were even the slightest bit hungry...and if children tasted better than they do. All it took to make this kid squeak in fear was my eyes.

Now I do not want to terrorize children; I just want to keep them on their toes. There is also a section of the class that involves a lot of running and playing and it was during this section that I actually had the kid in tears three times. I didn't mean for that to happen per se, it just did because the other kids enjoyed the game I was playing with them and I didn't see a need to damper the fun of seven kids because of one wet blanket. But my plan worked and by the end of class he was totally comfortable with me. If he were to complain to his parents, maybe it would inspire my company to move him to a more age appropriate class where he belongs anyway. He was a nice kid, it is just a shame to think he won't be learning as much English as he could be from this point on. Oh well, as of right now I only have three more weeks of teaching to go.

Also, you won't hear me say his too often anymore but the kids I taught this week were for the most part, an amazing group of very smart kids. I actually enjoyed teaching every lesson I had this week. It is a shame I only had the opportunity to go there once.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hotel Bliss

Being the swinging, crazy bachelor I am, I am spending the night in a hotel. Alone. In the middle of nowhere. Since I have nothing better to do, I am going to tell you about Japanese hotels. The difference between in Japan and the United States can be summed up just be examining the hotels that populate each country.

The hotel I am in now is small. Not the smallest hotel I have been in but definitely not the biggest. The room is about 9ft x 8ft and has a bathroom that is about as big as an airplane toilet plus a shower. There is a tiny mini fridge, a 12" TV, a tea set, two pairs of slippers, and two pairs of pajamas. I think the bed is a full and there is a chair off to the side of the room near the desk, upon which I am typing this. Oh yeah, this is a double room.

Americans crack me up because whenever we go on vacation, the first thing out of our mouths upon opening the hotel room door is, "Ohhh, this is a nice big room." It is as if we are going to magically fill the entirety of a 15ft x 15ft room with stuff accumulated by two people and a couple of days of shopping. Maybe it is just me but the American obsession with size and space is a tad odd. I will be the first to admit that I can't wait to get back to a full size kitchen and a queen size bed but I will also say that having lived in Japan, I do not need that much. I have done well on a twin sized mat and with a gas burner and a microwave and rice cooker for two years. Except about six months ago, I got all spaced aged and bought a crock pot. I have gotten by without an oven, though I miss one and I do miss the comfiness of my cloud-like mattress on my big bed, but really, those aren't things I need.

The second things Americans look at when entering a hotel room is the TV. Did they get a good sized TV? Does it have a VCR or DVD player? My question is, if you are in a hotel, why in the world do you even need a TV? Go out and explore the alien landscape that you find yourself in. Sure a TV is nice but if you are on vacation, do you need it? If you are on a business trip, I can understand wanting a TV but still, why not go out and explore?

After basking in the glory of the TV, Americans then turn it on to see how many and what channels it gets. And lets admit it, we all scroll past the Pay-Per-View to see what porn is playing. I honestly think more porn would be watched in hotel rooms if Pay-Per-View didn't attach itself to your room or your credit card. Japanese hotels cleverly skirt this issue. On every floor near the elevators, you will find a little upright rectangle that looks like it could be an ashtray but it isn't. Oh yeah, no smoking in American hotels, in Japan, just don't smoke in bed. Anywho, this little ashtray looking gadget has a money slot that you feed a ten dollar bill into and having eaten your cash, the machine spits out what looks to be a cheap calling card. You then take this card back to your hotel room and pop it in the box on top of the TV set and you have yourself at least an hour of pixelated censored hardcore porn. Yes, in Japan you are not allowed to view uncensored porn. But at least when you run for President no one can track down your porn viewing habits by looking at your hotel invoices and credit card history. This is a good thing because the last Japanese Prime Minister before Abe-san is rumored to have had a voracious appetite for porn.

Weird stuff to be found in a Japanese hotel room:

1)Tea packets and a hot water maker.
2)Pamphlets advertising what porn is viewable for the day.
3)A flashlight near the bed in case of earthquake.
4)A bright red rectangle on the hotel room window to let the fire department know
that there may be an occupant in that room near the window in case of a fire or
5)This room doesn't have one but I have been in rooms that have emergency rope
ladders in a steel box in the corner to climb out the window with in case of a fire
or earthquake. Ever get the feeling like Japanese people are into earthquake
6)Most hotel rooms locate the radio, alarm clock, lighting, and air conditioner
controls all in a tidy little panel at the head of the bed.
7)Every hotel I have ever been in here comes with a bidet and toilet seat warmer
called a "warmlet". Japan is obsessed with bidets but that shouldn't come as a
surprise because the Japanese are neat freaks.
8)To go along with the room slippers, there are also several packs of slipper sheets,
think of them as toilet seat sanitary covers for slippers. Yup, clean freaks.

One other odd thing about Japanese hotels. Many of them have a strange habit of insisting that you give your room key back to them whenever you leave the hotel. I know this is so you don't lose it or attempt to make copies of it but still, it is just a strange thing that most of them make you do. For one reason or another, I hate this rule and make it a habit to sneak out of hotels so that I don't have to turn over my room key. I have no idea why it bothers me so much but I will say that the sneakiness of it all adds a James Bond-ish mystique to all of my hotel stays. The one thing James Bond had going for him in most of his movies is that he wasn't the only white guy in at least a ten mile radius, for me, this fact just adds to the difficulty level of the game.

The one thing I will give to American hotel rooms is that they are kept looking new and up-to-date. Japanese hotel rooms, especially the not so fancy ones, all look like they were made in the 60s, 70s, or early 80s. I am currently in an 80s room at the moment.

I guess the best way to sum up this whole post is that Americans value two things above all. They like space and they like frills. They like knowing that they are getting their money's worth. Japanese people are much more utilitarian. Size is almost never a concern and the Japanese as a whole, are not known to be the type who cheat people out of money so the worrying about getting shafted out of your money isn't too much of a concern either. There are other things too but it is funny that the differences in culture can be seen so clearly in something so mundane as a hotel room.

In other news, I found out who will be replacing me and have emailed him. He has a very strange name but I am not going to post it here because I don't want him finding my blog if he hasn't already. You see, I need him to buy all of my old stuff off of me before he finds out how much my town and Peppy suck. I feel for him because not only does he have a goofy name but he is getting stuck in a tiny town with a lousy job, however at the same time, I feel for my wallet too.

I don't mean to be complaining about my town because I like it a lot but I don't think I am normal. I know Toby hates it and no other foreigners I have talked to seem to like living there either. Who knows, maybe my replacement will come to enjoy the little place too.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Smell Memory

I just had the weirdest thing happen. I have a good nose, I don't smoke and I don't drink coffee everyday so my nose and taste buds are usually very good about picking out scents and flavors. I am kind of like a bloodhound in that way. Anywho.

I just lit a stick of incense that I found laying around my apartment and it was an identical smell to an incense I used to love during the second year I was in college when I shared an apartment with a couple of my friends. Instantly, I was transported back to a string of memories that all had to do with that smell and my room in that apartment. It was so strange, as soon as I got a whiff of it, I was back in the Fall of 2000. Very strange.

This happens to me sometimes but I am always amazed at how vivid the memories are just because of a smell. I keep a mental list of all of the smells that do this:

Berry Body Wash from Bath and Body Works
Old Spice
Bacon and coffee mixed
This incense
Cut Grass
New Car Smell
Apple candles from Eye of the World near the Co-op
Lucky Strike cigarettes
The smell of my grandpa, which smells like Old Spice, sweat, and...my grandpa. I smell it on my pillow sometimes and it is weird.
Pickled Asparagus
Magic card smell
Brush fire smell