Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Indian dinner in Kokura

I decided my birthday present to me would be a night out in another city. Some other members of my foreign wives’ club had arranged a dinner at an Indian restaurant owned by the friend of one of them. I stubbornly stuck to my plan, despite some potential child-care issues (they eventually stayed with Baachan), and a massive downpour.

I drove. I briefly considered taking the train, but I didn’t want to be stuck having to come home early to catch the last train. So I persisted with the car. I left late, and then tried to take what looked like a short-cut on the map, but which just got me lost. I found where I was again, and had just decided that I was running out of time, the traffic was too busy, and to head for the main station instead of my friend’s house, (where I had been promised a bed for the night), when I took a wrong turn, and ended up heading towards her house anyway. I decided fate had laid its hand, and I should go there. The road was wide and not as crowded anyway.

I got to her house about half an hour later than I thought would be the latest time I would get there. A little late, but still doable. She was already on a train – we had arranged that I would just park in front of her house, then take the train from her station into town. So I walked to the station, easy. I got my ticket, no problem there, I’m good at that. I heard a train come in – I rushed through the ticket gate, but it was not my train. I found my track, and headed through a tunnel towards it. As I came through it, I saw a train waiting, and heard the whistle, so I rushed up the stairs, ran towards the train and got on it just before it left the station. I was feeling pretty proud of my train-catching skills, until I passed a few stations and started to get a little nagging suscpision that I was going the wrong way…

It took me about twenty minutes to admit I was on the wrong train, after twice falsely reassuring myself that I was going in the right direction, once with a slightly glimpsed road sign, once with a river. I hopped off and called my friends, and waited on another track for the train coming back the other direction. At least I didn’t have to pay for my mistake (I bought a ticket from point A to point B, so as long as I entered the system at point A and exited at point B, it doesn't matter where the hell I went in the meantime). By now I was 90 minutes later than my initial expected arrival time. My night was shrinking horribly. Thank God for the iPod – listening to a few songs kept my mood up. I listened to ‘Don’t you forget about me’. And a BeeGees song from Saturday Night Fever that made me think of John Travolta on a subway train on the way to a disco in New York. Not me on the wrong train in Kitakyushu.

Well I finally met my friends at the restaurant, and ordered a long-wished-for cold beer, and my dinner – chicken and naan. Well, what a disappointment! It was over-cooked and tasteless, and the naan was doughy and underdone. The others had curries that consisted of curry-flavoured tomato soup with a chicken leg in it. At least the beer was good. We followed up with a visit to a ‘gaijin bar’ (where foreigners hang out, main difference is that drinks are paid one by one, rather than the vague total passed to customers in ‘snack’ bars). I had a Black Russian and a glass of wine. We had to go home early, to catch the last train, but we had a few more drinks when we got back, while we fiddled with our iPods, and I petted my hostess's two fat ginger cats.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Today is my birthday, but it’s not a big deal because I have officially doled it out to other days, including dinner with Kanji on the 18th, a home party yesterday, and a night out tommorrow night.

I’m fond of saying that I’m half way to dead, if it’s true about your three score years and ten. It remains to be seen if the best half has been or is yet to be.

I worked – Mrs Fukuda, who is, now that Again have finished, my longest lasting student, came this morning. I actually did housework in the afternoon. And I taught at Keio this evening, one kids’ class and one adult beginner’s class. All I did there was games, however. Alphabug soup for the kids, The game of Life for the adult (only one came to the class).

And I got a present – Kanji came home with a necklace for me, a silver key with pink stones on a leather chain.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Birthday cake

Well I kept myself busy today organising and holding a day-long family party, to make up for anticipating a rather dull work day tomorrow.

I baked the cake last night, and we went to the supermarket this morning to shop for lunch and dinner and witch's eyes. We iced the cake, had chicken pie and egg sandwiches for lunch, then watched a DVD and ate popcorn and drank coke. It was Anne of Green Gables - and it was long so I had to start dinner while it was still on.

Everything was ready by 7pm. First course was fried camambert with an apricot sauce. Then I had stuffed chicken breast with gravy, mashed potato, peas and cauliflower with cheese sauce. For dessert we had bananas dipped in chocolate and nuts. And the cake of course!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Damned Right Turn

I got pulled up by the Police today. It buggged the hell out me because this is my birthday week, and things like this are just not supposed to happen! It didn’t help that I did it, I was in the wrong, so I could not even get righteously defensive. It was an illegal right turn – on an intersection where I always turn right to get home from the main road. Policemen in Japan are so kind and nice and polite that you can’t even get mad at them for being bastards when you are looking for someone to blame while trying to avoid blaming yourself – the worst thing they did was call me 35 four days before my actual birthday. So, that’s another black spot on my license and 7000yen to the state coffers. Maybe it’ll go towards the next Great Nakatsu Bicycle Theft Stake-out.*

* We really do live in a low-crime area – a friend had her bicycle stolen. She reported the theft to the police, and then when she thought she saw someone riding her bike, the police cooperated with her on a stake-out to catch the thief. They really have nothing better (or worse) to do around here. Did I tell you that ELEVEN policemen responded within ten minutes when I thought I had an intruder in my house?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fairy Wands and Crowns

That silly tooth fairy didn’t come the first night – maybe she forgot, maybe she was busy, maybe it was because Amy put the tooth under the wrong pillow or in the wrong packaging...

But she came the second night, good on her! She left Amy two 100yen coins, and not soon after she woke up, Amy knew what she wanted. But she also wanted to get a fairy crown and wand for her baby sister too, so Mummy helped her out. Amy bought a crown and wand for Lena with her tooth money – and Mummy bought the same for Amy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Early Birthday Dinner

Kanji took me out to a wonderful dinner at the French restaurant down the road from our place.

Thiord, fourth and fifth courses

Desseert, and a Singapore sling at a cocktail bar.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Origami Chess Set

Of all the dumb things to do on a boring summer’s day. The kids are spending whole days at Baachan’s. My student Yoriko brought a Science magazine with an article about intelligence and chess. She had never played chess before, so I said I would teach her. It was the day of her class, and we were going to continue the article, so I wanted a chess set. I didn’t have one, so I figured that I could make one out of paper, that there must be directions for making origami chess somewhere on the internet. We had origami paper to burn – I bought tons of it at the 100 yen shop for Amy and Lena to make thing during their summer holidays. I found origami chess set instructions on the internet – and gave up after step three. Turns out those instructions are for committed amateurs, full-time hobbyists. Really, REALLY hard. So I made up my own, based on a simple box for the pawns, and the same box plus either a modified box or a modified crane stuck on top of the box for the main pieces. I sat and watched DVDs and folded all day and did not finish in time for my lesson. Never mind – she didn’t come. So why did I continue and finish the set the next day? Never mind, I did it. By the time she came the following week, I had found my magnetic chess set, and now my cacky drippy folded box chess set (I also wove paper like a Maori kete for the chessboard) sits gathering dust in a box and for what? Cos these are the things you do on a boring summer’ s day.


Monday, August 14, 2006

To the river in Usa and Bon Dancing in Yabakei

More river swimming and more Obon events today!

This time we went with friends to another river, with a more ambitious concrete treatment consisting of two large, deep pools with slides. The water was diverted from the river, which had been left in its prisitine condition, with pools and waterfalls much like, but much prettier than, the fake ones at Hachimenzan. The water was REALLY cold, which was a super treat for us. We had a picnic lunch, and hopped back in again. Amy, Emily and Masaki enjoyed the big slide, while Lena discovered a wonderful game in the upper, shallower pool, in which I was the car? seahorse? something? that she rode to the deep end. She would call on me to stop, then get off and go 'shopping' or 'to work'.

In the evening, we went to Baachan's childhood home for dinner and Bon dancing. It was a little more small and intimate than I was expecting - I was expecting something like our local 'Toro Matsuri' with food stalls and a massive circle and troupes of dancers in matching yukata. Instead it was just the neighbors in a small parking lot outside the local community hall. We didn't stay long, but it was interesting to watch the dancing which had been celebrated here for who knows how many centuries by generations of ancestors of the people there that day, including Amy and Lena!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hachimenzan and Obon

We went up the local mountain today for a paddle in the creek. Never content to leave any bit of nature alone, they have lined the creek with concrete steps and artfully arranged stones to create a series of pools and waterfalls in the style of the famous Japanese garden, which so cleverly mimics the grandeur of nature on a miniature scale. Why they couldn't leave nature to nature, we will never know. I suppose it can't be trusted, to either be safe enough, or ironically, beautiful enough.

Anyway, the end result is a convenient and easy walk up or downstream, splashing through the pools and climbing the small waterfalls. It was a cool way to spend a hot summer day.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Keio Summer Camp

Keio held their summer camp at Ookie lake again, although with the unique detail this year that there was actually no camp, because no-one stayed the night. Except the kindy kids and their moms, who, once again, hired a bungalow by the lake, had a barbecue, attended Keio's bonfire, got the kids to sleep then stayed up sipping wine and chatting.

Baby Sachi, Suzuna, Lena, and her classmates Tatsuki (Suzuna's little brother) and Kyosuke (Sahci's big brother) in a baby pool by the lake.

Our bungalow is one on the right. They are all two floors, with a main room, bathroom and kitchen on the lower floor, and a small bedroom on the upper floor.

Me and Keito's mum. The fire was a little too strong at first, and we were all running around and getting things while they cooked, hence the black sausages in need of a trim.
Maia's Mum cooking lamb chops and beef and vegetable kebabs - not your usual Japanese barbecure fare, but the others let me and her decide what to cook, and I'm a kiwi and she's a gourmet so we came up with some interesting new stuff!

The kids tuck in. They decided to arrange their chairs overlooking the lake. From right Amy, Keito, Maia, Lena, Tatsuki. Mums from left, Tatsuki's mum, Yuuto's mum, Kyousuke's mum and Koushi's mum.
From the bungalow overlooking the lake.

Keio's campfire. We toasted marshmallows and had smores (toasted marshmallow with a hunk of chocolate between two biscuits)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Public Pool

We finally made it to the public pool today, after several years of worry and not bothering! As expected, there was not a lick of shade, and you had to shower before getting in, so sunblock was probably not allowed. I didn't dare, I was so afraid of being told off for doing something wrong! No-one got in with t-shirts on, but it seemed that wading parents were allowed to wear hats and shirts. I got in with them for a little bit. I wanted to teach Lena to put her face in the water. She managed 1 second, and by the end of the session was quite proudly showing off her new skill. Tomorrow, 2 seconds, and by the time she starts swimming lessons next month, she should be happy to do the whole 5 seconds underwater!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Memorial Day

Just got back from the memorial event at Amy's kindy. Boy was it hot! There is no air conditioning at her kindy, which gives you some small appreciation of what it was like for those people that day - one of the recurring themes of the atomic bomb stories is the incredible thirst felt by the victims who had basically had their body's moisture sucked out of them by the heat of the blast. And on such a wickedly hot August day!

We gathered in the small kindergarten hall, and first up, the teacher gave the children a brief summary of what happened that day, showing them some drawings from a book.

Next, we came down and sat on the floor with the kids, and made an origami crane, a potent symbol of peace and healing in Japan.

Next was a talk by an elderly man who served on an aircraft carrier that was sunk by American planes. He explained how he had survived, and how of his kindy group of six boys, only he came back. Note the little plane on the end of one stick and the hot sun on the other. He used to be a teacher, and was a very good speaker. The kids were rapt.

Although I was disappointed that no mention was made of the current wars and conflicts going on in the world, the emphasis and focus was on not doing this again, creating and maintaining peace, not 'this is what the bastards did to us', which is what so many memorials can become.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A No-Show

Her name was Akiko Era. She was a student who did not turn up for the free English lesson in Buzen that I am teaching. (I get paid, the students don’t pay, the council makes up the difference). She called me, explained that she cannot make it to the free lesson, and arranged to meet me. She came to my house, and we decided on times – three lessons a month – and payment. Then the time came…but she didn’t. And she didn’t call.

They say Japanese are polite, and it’s true, they are. But they are also timid, with a tendendy to hide their head in the sand when it comes to problems. So polite that they don’t have the guts to say something bad. I would prefer a phone call.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006