Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kemushi, or my close call with certain death

As the weather has gotten warmer and warmer here in Gifu, I am constantly reminded that the spiders here are insanely crazy-huge. Everyday, I walk carefully up three flights of outdoor stairs to my apartment, avoiding the myriad cobwebs that lurk in the corners of the staircase (both at floor- and head-level. Each morning, I get down to my bicycle and brush it free of yet another set of cobwebs.

Spider! (4)
Beware of monstrously large spiders. At least they're not this big yet this year, and I will hopefully be gone before they get this size again.

However. It turns out spiders are not my only foe.

Today, after school, I walked down to the bike racks, unlocked my bike, threw my purse in the front basket, and wheeled the bike out to the parking lot. I was about to jump on, when suddenly, on the right-hand handlebar (the side I *wasn't* holding - thank god), I saw THIS:

monster looking for a free ride

I almost dropped the bike. But I managed to put the kickstand down and then just stood and stared. What was I going to do? How was I ever going to get home? I couldn't bicycle home with that thing on my handlebar??? Where else might such fierce monsters be hiding??????

After scratching my head for a minute or two, I did what any self-respecting, independent, modern woman would do - I called my boyfriend.

Randal: "Hello?"
Julie: "Hi sweetie."
Randal: "Where are you?"
Julie: "I'm in the school parking lot. Uh, I have a problem."
Randal: [sounding concerned] "What?"
Julie: "There's a caterpillar on my handlebar and he's HUGE."
[more silence]
Julie: "Hello? Sweetie? What should I do?"
Randal: [starts laughing] "Aww, caterpillars are so cute! Take lots of pictures! Is he big? Is he hairy? I bet he'll become a big, beautiful cicada."


Finally I managed to get Randal to stop laughing at me and explain the proper procedure for caterpillar removal from handlebars; namely, take a stick and a leaf, prod the hairy beast onto the leaf, and then deposit him in the garden.

But caterpillars don't always do what you want them to do, and I couldn't get him to move! Where oh where are the students when I need them???

Luckily, just then, our school caretaker came out of the main doors. I ran over in my best damsel-in-distress fashion (luckily, I was wearing a skirt today, so it was pretty easy), and then, despite any Japanese-language skills whatsoever, got him to come over to look at my bike (my communications consisted of "sumimasen ... jitensha ... caterpillar ... onegaishimasu" and a bunch of hand waving). He laughed when he saw the caterpillar just sitting there, as content as could be, then went to the nearby storage shed, pulled out a broom, and gently brushed the caterpillar onto the leaf I had been using and put him in the garden. He then went on to carefully brush off my handlebar, and taught me the word for caterpillar: kemushi.

It was a close call and I'm surprised I made it through in one piece. Phew.

look at the size of its fangs!
I tried to get a face shot of the caterpillar in all its fierceness, but was obviously too frightened by it to get close enough to get a decent shot (yes, even using my zoom). What can I say? I'm a city girl.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Post, Interrupted

So I was writing a nice, long post about today's sports day (how's that for timely???), but one thing led to another and I realized it was almost 9:00 and there was just no hope in hell that I was going to get the post finished and all the accompanying pictures posted tonight, plus do all the other, non-computer things I want to do (I know, gasp!), and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. Just not going to happen.

So instead, I've decided to test Elliott and see how long it takes him to retract his comment to my previous post about the Kagoshima pics. To test this theory, I've gone ahead and posted a bunch of purikura from our trip to Flickr.

do as the japanese do ... in fukuoka

I'm surprised - there are at least four electronic copies of these pictures floating around, plus the originals of course - why am I the first to post them online? Does this imply something about me???

Anyway, for the unitiatied, purikura or "print club" photos are basically Japan's answer to the boring little photo booths that we have at home, that friends crowd into and take their pictures together in. Except these are photo booths on LSD. After you take a series of pictures (usually 8-10 photos, depending on the booth), you then all run around to the other side, where there is a counter and touch screen with magic pens to then decorate your picture further. Japanese teenagers are absolutely fantastically creative with these purikura, and it's a bit of an addiction for many of them. Case in point: I asked my students to make out name cards at the start of this school year (which is in mid-April here), including a drawing or photo of themselves, and I told them purikura were OK. Instantly at least half a dozen of the girls had whipped out small plastic cases, like pencil cases, that were just FILLED with tiny purikura of them and their friends. Just amazing.

Also in Japan, these purikura booths are not standalone booths stuck in an obscure corner of the local mall (like our photo booths seem to be). In most malls and shopping arcades, there will be at least one large roomful of them, often near or combined with a videogame arcade. There will be anywhere from 5 to 20 booths to choose from, each of which offers its own range of photo styles, colours, and decoration options.

I myself have only done purikura pictures once or twice this year, plus once a few years ago when last in Japan (with Rebecca T.), but I think I need to get another set or two before coming home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Timely as always

I just finished putting up some more pictures from our Golden Week travels. This time around, we go to Kagoshima, near the southern tip of Kyushu.

In a nutshell:

Day One: We get lost.
Day Two: We get lost again.

God, I love traveling in Japan.

You can view the whole set (currently Fukuoka to Kagoshima - Nagasaki will eventually appear) here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A quarter of a century ago...

Happy Birthday, Robert!

My little brother, Robert, is 25 years old today. A quarter of a century. God, that makes me feel old.

Before he was born, I had been the youngest for 5 1/2 years. And I liked it that way. When my mom asked me whether I thought she would have a little brother or a little sister, I cheekily replied, "Maybe you'll have a chair!" But, alas - I was never allowed to sit on my little brother. When I first saw him, however, I was smitten. He had big chubby cheeks until the age of 2 or 3, and I gave him the nickname "Bushy", short for "Bush Boy" (I was also going through an Australian folk song kick at the time - don't all 5-year-olds?).

Anyway, Robert, I hope your day is a good one!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My mom is the coolest person ever*

My mother could barely type 10 years ago, and she has since taught herself to be quite computer literate. Her specialty is photoshopping pictures (she uses ACD-See, actually, which I have also just started using since it came free with my digital camera), and the proof is that she removed the telephone wire which was obscuring the nice view of the mountains and clouds in my previous post. (The other two wires remain, but they would be more difficult to remove, and they don't impede the view as much anyway.)

neat clouds, wireless version!

Thanks, Mom!

* And it's not even Mother's Day yet!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

An afternoon in the life

So I left work at 4:30 (I finish at 4:10 but never actually leave then) and cycled to the bank and to the pharmacy. On the way, I passed a few students who actually called out to me and asked me how I was, and I told them, "Kyotsukete!", which means "Be careful!", as they cycled off. I took my time cycling home, and even stopped at the conbini (convenience store) to pick up a salad and onigiri (rice ball) for tomorrow's lunch. (I usually leave this till last minute on my way to school, which often translates into not going at all and then scrounging around for lunch food.) I also picked up a large package of edamame, the best beanpods in the world. I'd take a picture but, alas, they are already no more...

As I locked up my bike downstairs, I had a sudden moment where I actually thought to myself, "Gee, it might have been nice to stay here a second year."*

Halfway up the stairs, I realized I had left my bike key in the lock, so had to go down to retrieve it. I do this on a fairly regular basis (my mind is going). However, it's Japan, and even though bike theft is not unheard of here (and in some urban areas is apparently an actual problem), it's pretty likely my bike would still be there the next morning. Once I went away for the weekend and left my bike key in the lock the entire time. But I'll try to not repeat that.

In my apartment, it was hotter and stuffier than hell. I think I need to kill the rest of my plants and just start keeping the curtains closed all day long. My windows all face south. (OK, who'm I kidding - my ONE window faces south.) Out of short-sleeved dress shirt and light grey dress pants, into shorts and a tanktop. What I wore all last August, September and most of October. Summer is back.

It was quite hot today, and now it has clouded over and the air has that heavy feel it gets before it starts raining. I hope it rains. The rainy season is coming, however, and I've heard that can be less than pleasant. I'm not afraid of rain, but unlike, say, Halifax, where heavy rain will last an entire day and then go away, I have been told that here, heavy rain will fall for almost the entire month of June. In fact, when I mentioned to one of the teachers today that there had been some rain in Kyushu while we were there, she said, "Oh, has the rainy season started there already?" Maybe.

On my day off on Monday, amongst other things, I finally decided it was time to pack away my two heaters. I am stubborn, however, and refused to take the fan out - it's only early May! But last night, I slept with no covers and was still too hot. Resistance, I fear, is futile.

Anyway, all of this is really just an excuse to post a picture I took upon returning home on Sunday, in the late afternoon rain. I got to my floor, and was taken aback by the neat effect the low clouds and light were having on the distant mountains. (Now, if only someone could remove those telephone and electricity wires.)

neat clouds
* Luckily, it was merely a fleeting moment.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Once upon a time in Fukuoka...

After being harassed/goaded by unnamed person(s) on Facebook, I am slowly putting up my thousands of pics from the Golden Week travels. "Slowly" being the key word here. Fukuoka, the first city in Kyushu that we went to, is now online. I'm pretty sure we were in Fukuoka with Erin & Elliott, at least part of the time, though my pictures don't do a good job of proving this. I think Randal has more on his camera, but I haven't had a chance to steal any from him. When I do, I might add more pics at that point.

In a nutshell: Fukuoka was great. We were both really impressed with the city. It was vibrant and there was a lot to do and see. We proved this by completely exhausting ourselves by walking halfway across the city and back, visiting a mall with a canal in it, a castle, a giant park, a small park, a few temples, a glass-encased 234m tall tower (yikes!), a beach, a few good restaurants, and a video arcade or two (probably - I don't have any pictures to prove it, but I'm sure we did - we always do). Next time, I think we need to better acquaint ourselves with the city's public transportation system.

I have a friend who taught English for 4 years in Kyushu, 2 1/2 in Fukuoka and 1 1/2 in Oita, which is about 50km away (I think), and I can see why she liked it so much.

Anyway, still to come, of course, are Kagoshima and Nagasaki. Not tonight - I must sleep.

In non-Fukuoka-related news, I also reviewed the books I read in April (all 2 of 'em!), so knock yourselves out in the stacks.