Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Gifu, as I see it...

I am the last apartment on the fourth floor (#501, but there is no 4th floor in my building - "4" being a bad-luck number as it is the same word as "death").* I wasn't planning on making this a panoramic photo, so the pics don't match up perfectly, but you get the idea. Right next to my balcony is the rooftop of the building next door (the concrete that you see at the very left is the wall). The mountain in the background, also on the left, is Mount Kinka (Kinka-zan), and perched at the very tip is Gifu Castle (which you can't really see in this picture since I had to reduce its size). I don't know what the purpose of the round tower on the building behind me (one over) is - all I know is, it blocks a chunk of nice mountain view, and thank goodness I have never seen anyone up in it, as they would be able to see directly into my apartment if they were. I walked past the building it is attached to the other day, and it seems to be a perfectly normal residence...so I have no idea. Immediately behind me, below my balcony, is a garden where an old man comes to work almost every day from about 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Otherwise, it is mostly residential housing behind my apartment. The house next to the front garden is a private residence and has a nice little inner courtyard. There is another large garden across the street (now bare), that had some vegetation growing in it in August. I recently discovered that the patch of trees you can see behind the houses next to the bare garden hides a Shinto shrine, and that is where I take my paper, cardboard and can recycling on the 22nd of every month (the other types of garbage/recycling get picked up weekly from in front of my building). Finally, you can see a long set of taller buildings to the right of where the shrine is, on the right-hand side of the picture: that is the Gifu Red Cross Hospital.

Just past these buildings, and between me and Kinka-zan, runs the Nagaragawa (Nagara River). I plan on heading down there someday this fall and taking some pictures as it's quite pretty, especially now that the water-level is rising again (it was amazingly low in August when I arrived). On the other side of the Nagaragawa is downtown Gifu City - I live in the north end of town (Gifukita - kita means "north" - which is also, of course, the name of my school).

OK, random shot of apartment is next:

Mental note to self: Clean up apartment before taking and posting picture next time!

This picture doesn't do it justice. It really is a nice apartment. And I have a separate kitchen (no pics available), which kicks ass (many city-dwellers do not). The only thing I hate about my apartment is my uncomfortable futon(s), but I'm working on fixing that.

OK, the pic of my nighttime view is not available (turns out I haven't downloaded it off my camera yet, and I'm too lazy to go look for the cable necessary to do so), so here's my futon and me!

Which, incidentally, is where I am headed momentarily.

* Shi. "4" is also, and more commonly, said yon. Shi is, I believe, the word imported from the original Chinese - I don't know if it also means "death" in that language. Many Japanese characters (kanji) have at least two pronunciations (and often many, many more): the original Chinese pronunciation (called the on reading) and the Japanese pronunciation (the kun reading), since Japan "imported" the Chinese written language and applied it wholescale to its spoken language.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


tanjōbi = birthday

As in, getsu-yōbi wa ani no tanjōbi deshita.*

Today my brother Jerome turned 32-and-two-days.**

Happy Birthday, Jerome!

This auspicious occasion serves to underscore the fact that yours truly, in just over two months, will be turning...uh, 26. Yeeeeaahhh, that sounds about right. 26.

Jerome, your (actual) birthday was celebrated by me with a tasty tofu-and-rice meal with beer, and a mango pudding, from a lovely restaurant at the third-largest mall in Japan. All in all, it was a good day. Hope yours was too!

* I think my possessive is in the right order: my brother's birthday, and not my birthday's brother! If not, gomen nasai, and I leave it to Elliott to correct me if necessary. Getsu-yōbi, btw, is "Monday", which was my brother's actual birthday. Again, gomen nasai.

** Fact: I wouldn't be your sister if I wasn't a day or two late!!! :)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I woulda' if I coulda'

I was going to post a bunch of pics tonight to Flickr and here, but I left my camera at Randal's. So you'll just all have to wait.

Now I am going to try to sleep, though I was foolish and commented on Rebecca's blog in response to her having been unable to sleep after watching 28 Days Later. She is in a brand-new house in a brand-new town, of course, and I hear North Bay is a wretched hive of scum and... no, sorry, that's Mos Eisley.

Anyway, where was I? Yes, I am going to TRY to sleep, though I fear that is now unlikely as Rebecca's comments made me think about certain Japanese horror films viewed shortly before moving to Japan, and their effect on me my first few nights in my new apartment (sliding doors have a strange creepy effect if you let them get to you - I can see why Japanese horror films work so well), and now it has all come rushing back, and more! since I had to look up the links to both films on imdb and now it is all fresh in my mind once more. shudder

Ahhh, insomnia due to fear. Nothing a little Milo* and 4-hour Lord of the Rings can't cure.

* Milo is the Asian version of Ovaltine. It's bloody expensive - almost $4.50 for a small container, so I picked up its generic counterpart for $3.00. Hopefully as effective...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Pizza on the Blog

In order to celebrate my first evening with Internet-access-at-home, I decided to have some pizza that had been sitting in my freezer. (Who needs to go out when there's a whole world just waiting at your fingertips???)

The pizza:
2 or 3 kinds of cheese, basil and oil (in that little packet), and tomato sauce ... mmm-mmm, good! Now if only I could read the instructions on the back of the package ...

The problem:

WIDE???? Alas, reports of the toaster oven's wideness were greatly exaggerated.

The solution:

8 years of university and graduate school finally paid off...

Pizza dinner!

(The other two pieces are still toasting.)

Mandatory inedible:

A staple in so much Japanese packaged food, the mandatory do-not-eat packet. At least this one is marked in English. They aren't always, and it's difficult to tell "oxygen absorber" and yummy sprinkles apart, let me tell you.

The satisfied consumer:

Satiated and pizzafied.*

* It's my own blog, and I write and post what I want, so can someone please tell me why I felt compelled to post such an unflattering picture of myself? (My first attempt at "self-portrait", but since I can't flip my screen around to see what I actually look like while I take it, it may also be my last attempt.)


yatta: exclamation meaning, "I DID IT!"

Said in the cutest Japanese voice possible, of course: "Yatta!" Preferably accompanied with a little jump of joy and V-for-Victory sign. Usually heard after examination results are made public, when someone has finished a particularly arduous task, or when Julie has managed to connect her Internet all by herself.

This Japanese Word of the Week brought to you live from Gifu.

OMG, I have Internet!

It took me all of 5 minutes to set up my Internet connection; that was entirely too easy. Even my telephone is still working, the one simple piece of technology I was sure I'd botch up by fiddling with its wires (the phone now runs through the modem so I can use both at the same time...gotta love ADSL). Armageddon must be upon us. This is too good to be true.*

* What can I say? I impress easily.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Blast from the past

Lacking anything better to do with my Saturday night, I have spent much time on my Flickr account, adding photos from ... drum roll, please ... AMSTERDAM. Yes, I know; it has been almost a year and a half since I went to Amsterdam, but I only got the photos finally developed in July of this year, spurred into action by my imminent relocation to Japan. In other words, I have no good excuse.

However, I am now a digital girl, and as soon as that Internet gets hooked up chez moi (whee! I can't wait!), I will be uploading pics much more quickly (and blogging much more, too). Which reminds me: I have a roll of film or two kicking around here somewhere with various pics from the early days in Japan. I need to figure out how to get that developed, hopefully straight onto a CD (like I did with my last set of photos), so that I can share them with you before another 365 days go by.

Randal has almost committed to starting his own Flickr account with his own pics (and perhaps a blog, too), and he has even better Amsterdam pics, but this is a good start ...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Life without Internet...

...sucks. But Randal finally got his hooked up this week - woohoo! I knew I kept him around for a reason. However, mine is supposed to be hooked up next week...Monday or Tuesday, I hope.*

So, in celebration, I am finally posting those two blog entries that I wrote on my laptop the first week I arrived in Japan. Here they are. Scintillating, thrilling stuff, no doubt. Enjoy.

Home Sweet Home, Gifu City Style

Wednesday, August 2, 2006, 9:20 p.m.:

So I have survived until Night 1 in Gifu. I don't have internet, of course, so here I am, sitting on my futon (which took forever to put down properly!), freshly showered, in my PJs, with my laptop, writing this in WordPad.

My apartment is, as expected, small, but so cute! I have a 1LDK, which I thought meant a separate bedroom from the kitchen and living quarters, but apparently not. I tried to take a picture, pre-unpacking (which I'm not finished yet), with my camera (going to buy a digital one soon) and will post it later if it turns out, or will post one once I have a fancy digital. After my Ottawa move, I swore to never live in a fourth-floor walkup again. Well. I live in a fourth floor walkup. I wanted to laugh and cry all at once when I learned that.

The building's a bit ugly from the outside: grey brick and each floor has about 5-6 apartments. You walk up an outdoor staircase (partially covered) and along a balcony to your door. Very institutional. But I quite like it inside. You enter into a little entranceway where you leave your shoes and then (as in all Japanese homes) there is a little step-up. A second door with frosted glass panes hides the rest of the apartment from the front door view, if desired. You go through that door, and you're in the kitchen, which, while it has virtually no counter space, is a decent size (ie., too bad my predecessor didn't end up leaving me her desk - I would have had plenty of room). To your immediate right is a sliding door to the laundry room (washer only), and the bathroom which, like so many other Japanese washrooms I've seen, is a complete prefabricated unit (kind of like what you'd see in a trailer, where everything can get wet). The sink is tiny but functional. Japanese baths are short and deep, and mine is no exception. There is a showerhead. Above the bath is a small frosted window which I can open (it tilts inward, so no one can see in) when I'm in the shower.

The kitchen itself, like I said, is a good size but has no counter space. There is only one burner (luckily my predecessor gave me a stand-alone burner) and, unlike most Japanese stoves, it is electric not gas. Nice deep sink. The counter is stainless steel. There are some (glass-fronted) cupboards overhead, and three cupboards below the counter. The fridge, which is like an oversized bar fridge, was on the opposite wall when I got here, but I moved it into the corner along the same wall as the cupboards, and stacked a microwave and toaster oven on top (I'm so practical).

Finally, the last room is the living/bedroom. There is another frosted glass paned sliding door between the kitchen and this room. There is a large closet which is mainly for storage and keeping the futon in (you have to fold up and put away the futon every day - if you leave it out on the floor, it will get mouldy due to the high humidity). The room is maybe 8 feet across by 14 long. Not huge, but a good size. The far wall is almost entirely a sliding door out to the back (private) balcony.

And oh, what a view! I am indeed in a concrete jungle, but within walking distance of Mount Kinka (I think that's the right name) - it's right outside my window. Perched on top, in direct view of my balcony, is Gifu Castle. (At least I assume that's what it is - I haven't studied the history of Gifu in detail yet, but I know there is a castle). Not too far away either is the Nagaragawa River,** which runs through Gifu City (caveat: I'm tired and didn't bother double-checking the name of the river, so I may have it wrong, but it's something like that). I went on a walk earlier in search of the supermarket that I had been told was nearby - I didn't find it (though I finally got someone to draw me a map, and I think I'll be able to locate it now), but I discovered that I am 10 minutes away from the Gifu Memorial Arena and the large park where I suspect I may pass an afternoon or two over the next year.

My supervisor, Tomoko, picked me up at the train station just after noon. It is SO hot in Gifu! I thought I was going to melt, in my black suit (I was wearing my pants, too, not the skirt). Little did I know that I was just going to get even hotter. The shinkansen (bullet train) does not stop in Gifu itself, but in Hashima City, about 35 minutes south of Gifu. We chatted all the way to Gifu - about me, differences between schooling in Canada and Japan, the students and academic goals of Gifu Kita SHS (it is the second-highest ranked school in the entire prefecture) - and then drove to the school where we picked up another teacher, then on to the real estate agent's office.

Many thousands of yen later and following much Japanese that I could not understand, we drove back to the school, where I briefly met a number of the other English teachers (it is a large department and there is about 10 of them) who were busy loading up their cars with all of my stuff - my suitcases, my new furniture from my predecessor, etc. Normally I would have taken over my predecessor's old apartment and so such a large-scale operation would not have been necessary, but Michelle had been transferred to a different school after her first year and hadn't swiched apartments, so the school had found me a new one. I met 4 or 5 of the English teachers, none of whose names I can remember now! Then Tomoko-sensei and the other teacher (who does not seem to speak any English, but she was super-nice and we had a good time trying to communicate somehow) drove me to the apartment. I had a quick view of it empty, and then the other teachers started arriving in their cars with all my things. I felt kind of bad - they then proceeded to spend the next 40 minutes or so carrying boxes and furniture and items from their car, up four flights of stairs to my apartment...in the crazy hot heat. Everytime I tried to go down to help, I was told to wait upstairs and put other things away. I made it down once. I wasn't even able to offer them something to drink, as my cupboards were (and still are, at least to some degree) bare.

Finally, around 3:00, Tomoko-sensei took off after I assured her I could take care of myself for the evening, though she did give me her cell number in case I desperately needed her. I jumped in the shower and then headed off in search of the supermarket. As mentioned above, I didn't find it but spotted other interesting things. I finally bought some food, a giant bottle of water and some orange juice at Lawson, a convenience store / drug store that you find all over Japan. That's also where I got the map of the supermarket's location - I will go tomorrow. I have spent the rest of the day mainly puttering around, putting things away here and there as best as I could (still lots to go - I can't believe how much stuff Michelle had!). Crashed and half napped on one of my floor cushions for about an hour until just after 8:00. Never did eat the food I bought at Lawson (noodles and deep-fried tofu), but it will still be good tomorrow, plus I bought some nice brekkie stuff (a giant chunk of tamago, which is the egg you eat in sushi form, and some strawberry yogurt). I am exhausted and falling asleep in front of the computer, plus I can't upload this sucker now anyhow, so I am going to sleep now. Will update again soon! (Hopefully pictures shall be forthcoming as well...)

Gecko alert!

Monday, August 7, 2006, 8:00 p.m.

I just spotted a gecko climbing up the side of my balcony. Or at least, since I am no ichthyologist (or whatever it is), a small, gecko-like lizard.

Well, Week 1 is (almost) over and I'm still standing, though barely. Thursday I went to school and met a bunch of teachers whose names I can barely remember (but I have a "seating map" at my desk, luckily). Tomoko-sensei is nothing short of nice and sweet. She and two other female teachers (Yoko-sensei and Toyoko-sensei) took me out to lunch. We had a "ranchi-setto" (lunch set) at a little restaurant somewhere in my neighbourhood. Yoko-sensei spoke a bit of English and Toyoko-sensei very little; however, Toyoko-sensei decided she was going to be my Japanese mother, and then finding out she was the same age as my actual mother (a youngish 35, of course) and that her two daughters were around my age (31 and 28), cemented this idea for her. We bicycled home together, since she lives near me, so I got to discover the shortcut to school.

I had to borrow one of the school's bikes since the seat was WAY too high on mine (Michelle was obviously a giant, though I am no runt myself!), which was fun. I am enjoying my crash course in bicycling. Then, because my life isn't exciting enough, I decided that I was going to cycle over to Kitagata-cho, a few towns over, to see if I could find Randal's building (and hopefully him too, of course). I had gotten numerous directions from Tomoko- and Toyoko-sensei, with scribbled maps that sort of made sense, but of course, being Japan, no one was able to actually tell me where he lived, despite my having his complete address. Japan doesn't really have street names. You have a building name - in Randal's case, "Liberty Kitagata" - and then a region - I don't remember his exactly now (and am too lazy to look it up), but mine, for example, is 4-20 Soudensakaemachi. It took me well over an hour to cycle to the area! Then I picked a main street and headed down it until I found a kusuri (pharmacy) and asked for directions. Which consists of me whipping out my map, taking out the written address of where I am trying to go, and asking "X doko desu ga?" - "Where is X?", then hoping I'll understand something of the answer. Luckily, Fumiyo trained us well (I just haven't been studying enough) and I already know massugu (straight), hidari (left), and migi (right). I quickly figured out that shingo, or at least something that sounds like it (I really should look it up in my dictionary), are "traffic lights". Also, when they tell you "3 lights then turn left", they really mean, "2 lights after the first one" - LOL, as the pharmacy guy did.

I found Randal's apartment and Randal inside. He was pleased to see me though tired, since his start has been a bit rougher than mine. Not to steal his thunder (he keeps saying he will set up a blog once he gets online again), but his landlord has been trying to get the most money out of him possible. Anyway. It was nice to see him. But it was about 6:30 by this point, and I'd forgotten how quickly and early it gets dark in Japan. I didn't want to cycle in the dark. So I stayed over and left the next morning at about 6:15, which worked out well as I got home around 7:30 - it would have been earlier but I missed my turnoff and I got lost!

Poor Randal had gotten quite sick Thursday night, so in a way I was glad I was there to take care of him. I told him I'd come back the next day, so Friday afterschool, I did some errands in my neighbourhood, unpacked a bit, then around 5:45 headed back to Kitagata-cho for the weekend. When you don't get lost en route, it only takes about 45 minutes. That being said, I'm sort of glad we decided to not live together this year. It would have been rather unpleasant cycling all that way twice a day, without the ability to take a shower upon my arrival at school (have I mentioned it's freakin' hot!?!), though I did learn today that there is a fairly direct bus route which only takes about 15 minutes.

Friday night we played it low-key, with Randal still quite sick (he'd been sent home from school that morning, in fact). Though that didn't prevent us from getting lost on our way back home from the large grocery store near his house). Very lost. And when you ask a gas station attendant for directions to the Big Max pachinko parlour which is right near your house, I guess it is only normal that they will get a HUGE kick out of the fact that two gaijin are heading to a pachinko parlour with groceries in tow - those gaijin just can't get enough of gambling, eh. :)

Saturday morning I awoke with a sore throat. Ugh. We had been hoping to meet up with some of the other area JETs for a tour of the downtown and the big fireworks festival that was happening that night, but no go with us both down for the count. We spent the day mainly indoors, trying to avoid the heat. That evening, we watched some of the fireworks from Randal's balcony, but they weren't at the greatest angle so it wasn't very comfortable. Too bad - the fireworks were being shot from Mt. Kinka which if you remember I already mentioned is right near my apartment. We would have switched apartments and gone to be sick at my place, except Randal had to get up at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning for his apartment's Cleaning Hour. They have a cleaning roster and every Sunday, parts of the common areas of the apartment are cleaned by the tenants. Each apartment is up for Cleaning Hour duties about every 5 weekends or so. And there are fines if you don't go. Randal said he had a really good time, however; he got to meet some of his neighbours and they were all cheerful and got him to wipe down all the high-up, hard-to-reach places.

That afternoon, we bicycled out to Malera, the third-largest mall in Japan. We both wanted to pick up some odds-and-ends, the most important being curtains for my apartment. Malera is HUGE, and unfortunately neither of us was feeling completely up to the task, but we had a good time. We even checked out the pachinko/arcade/claw-machine area and Randal tried to win me a large blue alien-like stuffy. No luck there - those claw-machines are hard! (He was feeling lucky, as he'd won a small stuffed Stitch (the alien from the movie Lilo & Stitch which, incidentally, if you've never seen, is quite good) a few days before from a claw-machine in Tokyo after only two tries.)

By last night I was in rough shape. A guy Randal knows, Andrew, who is the husband of a JET in that area, dropped by to see how Randal was getting along. He stayed about an hour and while he is a great guy, I was really suffering. I guess in retrospect, I should have excused myself and taken a long cold shower. I was overheating like there was no tomorrow! I finally did get in the shower and it felt sooooo good. Then I hung out on the balcony, sitting in a captain's chair in the dark, and Randal made me some toast with apple jam. Tasty. I spent the night there again (I had originally planned to go home at the end of the afternoon, but the mall excursion exhausted me) then came back this morning, without getting lost this time. It's a fairly nice ride, except my bike seat hadn't been adjusted tight enough and on a bump about three blocks into the ride, it tipped backwards at a 40-degree angle. I couldn't get it forward and so had to cycle home that way - not comfy!!! Our school handyman has since fixed it and it feels okay - hopefully it will stay that way. At school today I went through about 50 tissues, plus in Japan it is considered rude to blow your nose in public so I had to sit there and sniffle and dab all day long. Sorry, Mom. I'm still sniffling and dabbing now, but with lots of blowing in between (I figure my house, my rules). I fell asleep on my floor chair for almost two hours once I got home and then I went out to pick up my dry cleaning and some food for dinner.

Oh, the excitement of Thursday before finding my way successfully to Kitagata: I dropped off dry cleaning all by myself, then I had gone to get some food from Lawson. When I got home and was putting the snacks away, I realized I had also been sold some cigarettes! I shrugged and walked back to Lawson and managed to get across to the salesclerk that I didn't want the cigarettes - suwanai - "I don't smoke" - and got a refund! I was quite pleased with myself. There are two regular girls who work there, plus a few others, and the two girls both know me now. Today when I went back, the clerk laughed and said something to me, I looked puzzled, and she showed me the cigarette package - I lauged and said, "no, no, arigatou, suwanai" :) Then I told her "Nihon-go o benkyou shimasu ga, muzukashii desu" - "I am studying Japanese but it is difficult".

I need some good furniture in my apartment, however. It is all at floor level, which is fun at first but not so good for some things, like napping. Randal has some floor cushions plus a couch and the captain's chair at his place (by "captain's chair", I mean those portable folding canvas chairs), the latter two which are both good for napping. I do like napping. You can only nap so long on a floor chair (it's like a chair with padded bottom and back, but no legs) before you start to feel stiff all over. And it is, of course, too humid to leave my futon out regularly (you are supposed to put it away every day and also air it out on the balcony regularly, otherwise it will get mouldy). I don't have room for a lot, but I may pick up one comfy regular chair, or even a captain's chair, at some point.

But first, I must finish unpacking! I was supposed to do so tonight and have spent my time sleeping, eating, and fake-blogging. I think I will spend about an hour puttering about - I also need to iron! - and then go to bed. As long as I can keep my temperature down. I need to get better, and fast!

* I'd like to formally retract the statement about keeping Randal around simply for the Internet access ... I am likely to need his help next week in getting my aforementioned Internet connection actually up and running ... ;)

**The Japanese-savvy folks in the crowd will be pleased to learn that I have since discovered that it is in fact the Nagara River, not the Nagaragawa River, since that is akin to saying the Nagara River River. I even know the kanji for gawa too, but currently lack the Japanese fonts on this computer to share with my adoring fans.