a special update for ly

Evidently I was wrong. No blog is complete without song lyrics.

Ly (original 'Lee' by Tenacious D)

Ly, Ly, Ly, Ly,
Ly Ly Ly Ly Ly Ly Ly Ly Ly,
We're talkin' fuckin' Ly.
I had a friend named Ly,
She cast a spell a spell on me.
If me and Ly and KG could be three,
Flyin' free Tenaciously,
Skinny-dippin' in a sea of Ly,
I'd propose on bended knee
To Ly Ly Ly, Ly Ly Ly,
Ly Ly,
Ly Ly Ly, Ly Ly Ly,
Ly Ly,
Le-Luh-Le-Le-Le-Ly Ly Ly,
Le-Luh-Le-Le-Le-Ly Ly,
If me, and Ly, and KG, (that's me)
Could be three, (could be three)
Plant a tree, (plant a tree)
Just for Ly, (just for Ly)
Just for Ly, (Ly)
Just for Ly!
Ly, Ly, Ly: [Psycho Knife Song style, 16X]
Ly, Ly, Ly:
LY!

merry christmas

It's Christmas!

So Shane came in this weekend. You'd think I'd be more practiced, as he is my second visitor...
Wait. Actually, let me back up a bit.

Friday was amazing. Have you ever had one of those days that just flows? That was Friday for me. From school, planning for Shane's impending visit, to the way schedules and driving times everything was perfect. It rocked. The trend continued on Saturday even after Shane's arrival. Or so I thought. We found our hotel in short order (hooray for cell-phone GPS with reverse telephone lookup and walking directions) and food without too much snafu. (Sadly my Japanese was not in top-form that day. Turns out I need a lot of practice in restaurant situations. I need to get out more ._.) Sunday however was a different story.

In a perfect world I would have realized that it would have been best to send Shane's luggage to my house from the airport. Freeing us up to explore Tokyo. On a normal weekend it wouldn't probably have been much of a problem, as coin lockers are plentiful. This weekend was a 3-day weekend so lots of people were in Tokyo. It was good in any case. We got to see the Emperor and the royal family on his birthday. (Really well too, we were right in front! I don't think we were much more than 30 or 40 yards away!) It was raining, which sucked, but it passed fairly quickly.

We ended up just giving up and coming back to Kurabuchi. Which was cool. The rain had made snow in Gunma, so that was fun to see.

Yesterday we took a long drive to Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture. It was a really pretty drive, and the castle was the coolest I've been in so far (I've been in only 1 other one so far). Matsumoto-jo is supposed to be one of the better ones in Japan, it's really well preserved and in a really cool location. Matsumoto city is at the base of the Japanese 'Alps'. They actually have a mascot named Alp-chan for the city. It's not surprising, but it's hard to make a mountain cute. Gunma only barely succeeded in making cabbage cute.

The drive back was pretty fun as well, as we opted for the expensive highway. Highway travel is sadly not free here. For the 150 or so kilometers between Takasaki and Matsumoto it cost about $40. Yuck. It was a really cool drive though. At one point you come down a mountain overlooking the valley that contains Nagano. It's all surrounded by big, huge mountains and looks really awesome.

not about japan

Yeah, that's right. This entry won't be about my current country of residence. Instead it's going to be about blogs. Actually, it's going to be about me.

I've been blogging since 2001. Not always very well, or very regularly... but there is still quite a bit of my life for the past 6 (and some change) years. It's weird. Recently I've been going through them and finding certain things surprising and interesting. It's weird to have primary evidence about events that happened to you, written by you. Reminders of events that happened, thoughts and ideas. Even seeing peoples names pop up that you hadn't thought of in years. It's also interesting seeing the transition I made through each successive blog.

My original livejournal entries were quirky, weird and infrequent. I, like most people in the period, hadn't yet developed any respect for what blogging meant. In fact, as I recall 'blog' as a word didn't exist at that point. Almost a year after I opened the account (and had more or less stopped updating), there is a distinct shift in thought process. 2001 was a really interesting year for me. I had written difficult, but really that only tells half the truth. There was a lot going on in my personal life at that time, both good and bad. All I can really say is that during that blogging interim I went through a big change, and it's evident when I take back up.

The new and improved livejournal Lyle isn't afraid of the medium, but is still cautious about posting each and every thought. I talked a lot about my feelings and things that were happening to me, but largely left other people out of it. I rant a bit, but my normal entries are short. Things die off a bit at the end of 2002, but I pick up again in the new year with a new and improved blog.

omphaloskepsis.org departs rapidly from what I was writing about in my livejournal. I still talked about what happened, and how I felt about it. I'm a bit more raw and unbridled though, there are entries that Brad Blanton would have been proud of. It took awhile for me to figure out that people actually were reading, and in some cases hurt, insulted, or annoyed by what I had written. I slowly started figuring it out and being a bit more guarded.

When I left for Benin in 2005, lostinbenin.com started with a specific purpose. I suppose the first iterations of my blogs had purposes, but none so singular as providing my friends and family with a view into my life in another culture. A culture which ultimately almost none have, or will experience in any other way. It was sort of a big responsibility when you think of it in context. I also was, in a sense, representing Peace Corps. So, not only an entire country... but also the US Government. It wasn't long though before my audience grew to include not only my friends and family, but the friends and families of countless other volunteers in Benin.

I never thought writing things on the Internet would bring me fame or fortune. I found out though, that being the sole portal of information from parents to children can be quite the lucrative business. I got quite a few care packages from other peoples parents, and requests from visiting families to come out for dinner. (and I thank them all if they're still following me. Seriously, that was so awesome!) It got even better when the next group of trainees came in. I was already a celebrity!

What was most interesting about 'blogging with responsibility' wasn't the external effects like fame and food. It was the effect it had on me. I tried hard to keep my blog in positive tones. There were of course frustrations in Benin, but after years of reading (and writing) negative blogs I came to the realization that no one likes to read them. Blogs filled with whining, poetry and song lyrics suck. So, I tried to keep things positive. In doing so, I think I shaped my experience for myself. In situations where other people got angry and bitter, I found I was simply thankful.

So, here I am. Still writing, still trying to keep it positive. Actually, no, I'm not trying any more. It's so easy to be positive when your life is awesome.

If anyone is interested in the full linkage to my old works:
Lyle's livejournal
omphaloskepsis
lostinbenin

Enjoy!

drink-lish

In one of the ten thousand orientations I've been to since August they discussed 'enkai' and they're affect on relations with your co-workers. While 'enkai' (宴会) translates most directly to 'feast', it's really better described as a drinking party. (Actually the kanji for 'enkai' are interesting. 宴 is composed of the characters for 'woman' and 'day' under a roof. Perhaps the kanji writers are saying a feast something that takes the women all day to prepare? 会 means meeting). A topic at every one of the orientations was something about how at enkai you'll discover many new teachers who speak English. It's true that alcohol lowers the inhibitions enough to actually let your language skills shine through, but my school is pretty small. I never thought that this would apply to me. Turns out I was wrong. I re-met a totally awesome young teacher last Wednesday at an enkai in honor of some Australian guests we had at the school.

It was particularly funny, because even the other English teachers didn't realize that he spoke so well!

Not two days later was our annual 忘宴会 ('bonenkai', whose kanji are also interesting. 忘 means 'forget'). Bonenkai are end of the year parties. Everyone gets together, you drink and forget all of the bad things that happened that year. (After the new year there is another party too... the 新年会, 'shinnenkai' or 'new year party') Ours was AWESOME. It was held up about 20 minutes drive into the mountains from my house at a place called Hamayu Sanso. Really pretty, really nice location. Since Japan has such strict drinking and driving laws, and the teachers all live so far away, this was an overnight affair. We had awesome rooms at a totally awesome place. The food was amazing and plentiful. I've never been so full off of Japanese food. Of course there was beer too, and it was all you could drink all night long.

Before going I was somewhat concerned that it wasn't really going to be fun. I was so wrong I couldn't have been more wrong. It really was a blast.

The day after was a small Christmas gathering, that provided the perfect mellow counterpart to the bonenkai. All in all a a great weekend.

strange paths

I like it when things work out in a way you never expect. On Saturday, I went to Tokyo to do some Christmas shopping. At least that was my intent. I forgot however that I didn't have any cash (well actually I had 10000 yen), which sadly in Japan means you're S.O.L. after 7pm or before 9am because the ATM is closed. If you belong to a bigger bank you might be able to use the ATM at 7-11. I belong to a pretty big bank, but I can't use 7-11. Sadness.

I tried to get around this situation by meeting the friend I was going with as late as possible, but the ATM I can use near the station sadly was locked in a building that wouldn't open until far too late. The train was getting ready to leave, so I let it be and thought I'd see what would happen. I wasn't in danger of being stranded in Tokyo by any means. Normally when I go, I buy a round-trip discount ticket (which is actually 10 yen or so MORE expensive than buying each ticket, but you get to use all the trains in Tokyo for free... so it's worth it). So, purchase of that at least guarantees I get home. So, down to $60 for Tokyo.

Arrival there we met up with others in our party. The plan was to go to some sort of "Arabian" restaurant... but they were closed. Someone suggested we go to this great Mexican place near the station. I was picturing a little haute-cuisine type affair. We've got a fairly decent Mexican place in Takasaki that fits that description. Nice atmosphere, authentic cuisine. You know the type of place. Imagine my surprise when we head down the escalator to El Torito.

For those not in the know, El Torito is sort of the Mexican food equivalent of Denny's. Don't take that as a sleight, I like Denny's and I like El Torito. It's a family style restaurant with prices to match... which was exactly what I wanted! It just was the last thing I was expecting. It was there one of those magical moments occured. You're at a Mexican chain restaurant in Tokyo with 2 Canadian girls and 2 Japanese girls. What? It sounds like the beginning of a joke.

It was a good time. After that there was light shopping, and to complete the oddness of the day we waited in line at Krispy Kreme (which incidentally is just a stairwell and a few steps away from El Torito). I headed back to Takasaki, and when leaving the train station happened on another friend who was talking to 2 people on bikes. I stopped to say 'hi' to find out she had just started getting 'the talk' from a Mormon missionary and her Japanese protege. After some name dropping (Moroni, Joseph Smith, "Lost Tribe") from me, they let us be. I continued on my way, she on hers. My last 1000 yen was spent on parking.

So the day worked out just right. Although altogether differently than I had expected.

the travelling road show

This week has been almost exclusively elementary visits, as the majority of my Jr. High students are taking finals. I've said a thousand times how much I love elementary, but I this week I figured out a new reason why: I'm a rock star. I have a show I perform at 3 locations to screaming fans. Students have literally asked me for my autograph. I was worried that when I left Benin I would go through withdrawals after having left my celebrity status behind. I think I'm actually even more of a celebrity now (well, among a specific age demographic).

As for my show (you might call it 'class') it's been fun this week because they visits have been so close together. I've gotten an interesting feel for what works and what doesn't in rapid fire succession.

What works well:
- farting noises. I may have written about this before, but I only have one class in all of my schools that doesn't appreciate my farting noises of disapproval. It's more from shyness though, I can see their smiles and swallowed giggles.
- the word "super". There is a roughly equivalent Japanese word, 'cho', that can be used as a suffix on adjectives. My students used to be just 'happy' when asked how they were. Now they're "super-happy". (Except the Jr. High students, who are now "super-tired")
- Japanglish (eihongo). In close relation to 'super', when requesting loud voices I no longer demand "大きい声". I demand nothing less than a "SUPER 大きい声". There are other great examples that I can't think of right now. I think the kids like hearing english, but at the same time also being able to understand an entire sentence. There is also a popular comedian who speaks only in Japanglish. Maybe I'm just banking on his fame.

*****

Yesterday during recess we were playing "Onigoko" (鬼ごっこ, essentially 'tag'). Rather than the general 'it' we used in my school yard days, 'it' is actually an "oni" (鬼, 'ogre, monster'). While we were playing I eventually got tagged (actually I got tagged a lot.. it's fun to tag the teacher) and declared that I had '鬼の力' ("oni no chikara" - the power of the ogres). To my surprise this essentially stopped the game, as I was no surrounded with 1-3 graders demanding that I tag them and give them the power by tagging them. It had changed from a competition to not be tagged, to a competition to be tagged. Strange.

don't drink kerosene and write kanji with your bum

My heater is awesome. I'm in love with it. It has a timer, so when I wake up I can actually stand being awake (in my living room... sadly not my bedroom). Like most heaters in Japan though it's a kerosene heater. As such it has to be manually filled with kerosene. This is a problem. First, it can be messy. I did have a hand pump that worked well... but it cracked and started shooting kerosene everywhere. Now it's pretty much unusable, since you pump as much kerosene onto the ground as you do into the heater tank.

Sadly my heater ran out of fuel this morning before I woke up... so it was cold. I haven't had a chance to replace my pump yet, so I thought I'd be creative and use a piece of hose to siphon kerosene into the tank. BAD IDEA. I always do this outside, so mess wasn't a problem... but drinking kerosene was. I got a pretty good mouthful, and spit it out. In the process I managed to swallow a bit too. Not enough to make me sick, but more than enough to make me burp kerosene fumes all day long.

****

Elementary school was fun today. I've started staying after I'm done teaching at one school to go to class with the kids. It's fun to see the Japanese education system at work, and I get a little Japanese practice in. Today with the 1st graders we did Kanji. Amazingly I knew them all, so it was fun to be smart again... even if it was among first graders. The process for being introduced to a kanji in grade school involves watching the correct stroke order. Copying in your notebook, and then drawing it with your finger. I've seen this in a few schools. I hadn't, however, ever seen the teacher request that everyone turn around and write the kanji in the air with their butt. Yeah, that's right. It was pretty funny, and surprisingly difficult. Can you write 百 with YOUR butt?

okayama and thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was great. I ate so much I really can't even describe it. Thursday night we had a catered affair in Maebashi. All of the trimmings were there, and the turkey was actually quite good. (I'm generally not a turkey person, too dry 90% of the time) Actually everything was amazing, and there was plenty of it.

Early the next day I left my house in a rush to make the train. I made it, but barely... and with neither breakfast or a packed lunch. It was a 3 day weekend here in Japan, so that meant lots of travelers. I had a very nice ride from the Shinkansen station nearest me, but arriving in Tokyo... well it turned into a huge clusterfuck. I mean, it is Tokyo... and it was a 3 day weekend. I don't know why I was expecting something easy.

I got on the train okay, but unfortunately everyone else did too. And no one got off. And more people got on at every stop. I was standing near the bathrooms (which did turn out to be convenient) for the entire 3.5 hours from Tokyo to Okayama. It sucked. It sucked even more because the Shinkansen is expensive as it is... and when you're paying that much you want a seat. Sadly you're only guaranteed a seat if you pay even more. Japan: the easiest country to get around in... but the most expensive.

Within 20 minutes of arriving in Okayama I was eating again (and not a moment too soon). This wasn't the ritzy affair we had in Gunma. It was home cooked, there was lots of beer, and it was awesome. So, so very delicious. I thought that I was going to be done eating for the day, but it also happened to be a birthday. We went out in the evening to a restaurant that had deep fryers at each of the tables, and a buffet of raw ingredients. There was tempura batter and panko (bread crumbs; japanese style) at the tables and tons of sauces. The best part: all you could eat and drink (mixed drinks, beer, whatever) for 3,000 yen. Yeah!

The next few days were spent doing cultural things. Okayama is well known for a few things:
- Okayama-jo: one of two black castles in Japan. The original was destroyed in WWII, so the one there now is a reconstruction. Still awesome though.
- Korakuen: one of the three most famous gardens in Japan. Largely unchanged since the 17th century
- Kurashiki: (actually its own city) has a beautiful section of town that hasn't changed since the Edo period. REALLY, really awesome.

So we went to those places, hung out and had fun. It was an awesome weekend, and it was good to see Ethan again. Going back was greatly helped by the fact that I went on Monday, and I was probably the only person in Japan with Monday off. I grabbed a seat in Okayama with no trouble at all. I did make the same time miscalculation that left me without breakfast and lunch on the way there though... but thankfully the trains were just normal type crowded so they were running the snack cart. Hooray.

The week went by quickly because a conference and an elementary school visit. And now, here I am.

Last night I had friends over. At night we went over to Seseragi park to go down the giant slide. (there are pictures in the gallery of the park) We however did not take into account the mist that had settled earlier that evening. As a result, everything was wet. Which as a further result led to at least a 2 fold speed increase on the slide. The end result was panicked attempts to grasp wet slide to speed down, and flying and skidding at least 10 feet past the end of the slide. IT WAS AWESOME.

One would think we would have learned a lesson, but one of our group (at the prodding of me and the other) went down another slide with equally awesome results. She likely doesn't agree that the result was awesome though.

Tomorrow is the JLPT. Wish me luck!