Sun Burn and Boredom

To My Yet Met Friends,

When I was younger, and living at home, my mother all ways used to say, “only boring people get bored.” So, right now, I am bordering on become a bore…. For the last week or so I have just been going through the motions here at the guest house. Wake up, clean rooms, fold sheets, wash dishes, dry sheets, hoover the hallways and eating onigiris. But, tomorrow is my last day here at Maruei Organic B&B.

There is not much to say about the last week. Normal work was done, food was eaten and I slept (quite a lot more than usual because of the heat) but yesterday was a bit more interesting than usual. I shall tell you the tale, now.

Yesterday was my day off. Finally I had a day off. I seemed like for ever since I have a full day free to do whatever I wanted to do. Of course that was not the case, for only 6 days previously I had had a day off but here all the days have seemed to roll into one and I still don’t know what day of the week it is. Being here feels like I have escaped reality. Here there is no days of the week, no date, no weekends, just what time each shift starts and how many onigiris there are for each of us for lunch. Anyway, as I said it was my day off yesterday. I had been told by Aya (the daughter) that the Irago cape was one of the best places in Japan for surfing, in fact the World Championship of Surfing had been held here last year. With that in mind, I decided yesterday was the day I would stand on a surf board. Aya kindly made a reservation for a early morning surf lesson with a pro shop called Keeper. Keeper was about 20km up the coast from the guest house, so Yusuke (the son) offered to give me a lift in his mini-bus to the surf shop, on the condition that I take one of Maruei’s folding bikes with me so I could cycle the 20km or so back. Of course I graciously accepted the offer and after loading the bike and myself into the bus, we were off.

We arrived at Keeper at 9am, unloaded my self and the bike and watched as Yusuke sped off into the distance. Knowing that my Japanese would be put into practice, I took a deep breath and entered the shop. 30 minutes later, dressed in a wet suit, carrying a long board and my wallet 5400yen lighter, I was standing at the waters edge looking out at a sea full of surfers catching the early morning waves in the baking Japanese sun. There were 3 other people taking the lesson with me. Japanese. Female. First time surfers. After the introductory pleasantries, the instructor took 5 minutes to explain where to lie on the board, how to paddle and how to stand up. After a further 2 minutes of dry land practice we were wading into the sea. At this point I was rather excited. I have surfed twice before but I had yet to stand up on the board. I was determined. I was focused. I was in the zone….. or so I hoped.

Lying on a board on the sand and lying on a board in the water is completely different. I know this but I was still surprised how difficult it was to keep your balance while paddling. I have been on quite a few lilos in my life time, so I had a little experience with lying on a long thing that floats. But I had never tried to catch a wave while lying on a lilo, so the next step was going to be touch more difficult. When we all made it to the where the instructor was waiting for us, we lined our boards up next to one another and waited. One by one, the instructor helped us catch our first waves by holding on to the back of the board while we lay on it, ready to hop up and expertly ride the wave all the way to shore, and as the wave arrived he gave us a little push and shout “立って!” (stand up!) and that was it. WE were learning by doing. I watched the other 3 students try and fail to stand up on the board during their first attempt. Then with a final few tips, the instructor give me a push and I heard the 立って and (while trying to remember all that he said when we were practicing on the beach) I pushed off from the board, set my feet and I was standing!! On the board!! Riding the wave!! I had done it!! This lasted all of 8 seconds then my momentum slowed and I lost my balance and fell off. But I had done it, stood up and on my first try! I was more than a little pleased with myself. Looking back, I saw the instructor grinning and giving me the thumbs up. YES!

The problem with standing up on your first attempt, is that my expectations, which before entering the sea were low-ish, increased dramatically. I now believed I could be a pro surfer by the end of this 3 hour lesson. These expectations were, obviously, overblown. For the next 2 hours I fell off the board during the motion of standing up more than I stood up properly. I was getting better. I was now able to catch a wave by myself, by waiting for the perfect wave, jumping on the board, paddling for a while and as the crest of the wave was underneath my board and I had sufficient speed, I attempted to stand.

When the lesson was over, the instructor told us to catch on more wave and ride it back to the shore. I didn’t disappoint him! The last wave I caught was the best of the lesson. I stood up easily and rode it for almost 15 seconds and almost reach the shore. I was very chuffed!

It was only 12pm but I was exhausted. After we packed up our gear and changed out of the wet suits, we headed back to Keeper Surf Shop for a shower and a spot of lunch. Keeper isn’t just a surf school/shop it is also has a Hawaiian cafe attached to the side of it. The name of this cafe: Cafe Lei Lei. The free “mini-drink” ticket I was given before the surf lesson as part of the lesson package, was used on a Pineapple juice. It came, and almost instantly it was drained and the was it for the mini drink. Along with my other 3 co-surfers, we ordered some Hawaiian home-cooking style dishes and ate in silence as we were so ravenous from a morning of non-stop wave taming. The occasional picture was taken, I tried to tell some jokes but my body language was obviously not tickling their funny bones, so in the end I just ate my delicious pineapple chicken (you see there is a trend here) and read the news on my phone.

Now, I am (in some circles) considered the whitest boy alive and because of this fact I burn very easily. I knew the weather was going to be perfect on the surfing day so I brought my sun cream with me and applied it generously to my arms, legs, chest, and neck. But when it came to putting it on my face, I must of been distracted because as I was showering (before lunch) my face felt like it had just been thrown into a pot of boiling water while it was still alive. This, as you can imagine, was extremely painful and, in fact, still is extremely painful! I looked around the surf shop for some pain relief and only finding “body butter”, I applied a healthy dollop of the papaya scented gloop to my forehead and rub it in vigorously, to make sure none was visible on my face. Then while perusing through the shops wears, smelling strongly of a massage parlour, I laid my eyes on a wondrous straw hat! Then and there I decided, as I had to cycle the 20km back home in the hot sun, to buy that hat. Which I did, and I just LOVE my new hat.

So with lunch and my fabulous new hat paid for I said my “good byes” and off I went, on my mini red bike, into the baking hot mid-afternoon Irago sun (no before heavily applying umpteen layers of sun cream). After 1 hour and 1/2 of intense small wheel cycling along the picturesque coast line, I arrived back at the guest house and promptly went to sleep. I napped until dinner time and that was the end of my magnificent, stupendous day off.

But dear readers, the moral of this blog post is: If you ghostly white and going anywhere near the sun or the sea, apply factor 50 sun cream at regular intervals or you’ll end up looking like a baboon’s ass. Trust me, it’s not a good look.

Until next time, fly my pretties, fly!!

Peace,

Fx

Categories: Homestaying!!, Weeklies | Leave a comment

Tempura, seeds and handstands

To you, yes YOU. お願いします。

3 days have passed since  we last had a one-on-one chat and some stuff has happened. We had little storms, big storms, baby typhoons, daddy typhoons, sunny days and clouds. I think someone is controlling the weather from a remote mountain top lab and cackling uncontrollably at the success of his diabolical scheme to piss me off. Damn him… or her, let’s not get political now.

So day 5 started with rain, breakfast and more pod de-seeding. We sat together in the つる room (where the guests have their meals) with a blue tarp covering the floor and for 3 hours we delicately opened these small radish seed pods, being careful not to crush them under our large, clumsy fingers and then deposited them into a small paper cup. After a while it became quite therapeutic and we almost seemed to be in rhythm with each other. Pick up, break open, scrape, in cup. Pick up, break open, scrape, in cup. Pick up, break open, scr…… well you get the picture. This went on for 3 hours. As it was raining outside, and there were no guest, we had nothing else today. All the cleaning was done the day before. So, there we sat, de-seeding. Conversation was slow, the silences were long and the sound of the rain was almost hypnotic.

Lunch was, as usual, some onigiris (rice balls, well triangles) and some miso soup. Although they are delicious, I am getting a little bored of rice triangles and pickled veggies for lunch everyday. So, due to the rain and the plain rice, my spirits dipped a little. I wished for sun, to swim and to read my book on the beach, not to be stuck in a room cracking open a countless number of crusty, old pods. Ayae (the owners daughter) came into the de-seeding room during our break to hangout with us and this improved my mood. Ayae is a very interesting person. She is not like most Japanese people. She has travelled a lot. She spent 1 year in an American High school and 3 years in Oxford (Brooks) for University. She has travelled through Europe and this was where she did her first volunteer work project and brought back the idea of working for you food and board to Irago and her family’s B&B 3 years ago. Her English is very good and she had a great sense of humour, so is constantly laughing. What she is laughing at, I still haven’t worked out. But she is one of those people who lift the mood of everyone around them. We did some yoga, talked about photography and laughed at something.

There was a sudden lull in the storm half way through the lunch break so we decided to go to the port and stock up on snacks. We went to the port terminal building (5 mins down the road) and raided the convenience store for supplies. With our mission complete we made our way back to the B&B, ready to start the afternoon shift.

 

After the lunch break it was back to the pods. This time, we were dealing with slightly larger, tougher pods. I decided to bring my laptop to the room and we put on a film and this helped the hours go by quicker. By about 6pm we had finished taking those darn seeds out of their tiny houses and with sore fingers we tidied up, vacuumed and stumbled into the kitchen to see what was for dinner. We were greeted with a sight of beautiful tempura being cooked by Granny, from scratch. The smell was amazing and we quickly set up the tables for dinner and once the trays were put in front of us, we devoured the silky, crispy tempura and the fluffy, scented rice. No-one spoke. The occasional ”おいしい” or “うまい” were muttered with mouths full. Pure bliss. We topped off the dinner with some chocolate we bought at the port. I felt very well fed. The bland onigiris were forgotten.

With my belly full, I went to bed. I dreamt I was I was showered in soft, fluffy tempura.

The next day, I woke up hungry.

7:30am the wake up call came. We were greeted with beautiful sunshine and already it was hot. Fixing the damage the typhoon had caused was the aim of the morning. So I went to work cutting down some sorry-looking sun flowers and cleaning up the damaged flower bed. I joined the others for an hour of weeding. The heat was so intense, I had to change my t-shirt twice and I bitten by about 1000 insect in the short hour of outside work. When I was relieved of my weeding duties, I was asked to do the laundry. I did this until lunch time. What was for lunch? Yeah, you guessed it. Onigiri.

After lunch the sun was still trying to melt the concrete so we decided to go for a swim. Myself and 2 other volunteers went to the local swimming beach for a dip in sea. I swam, skimmed stones and collect some beautiful shells. My mother like to collect shell from beaches all over the world so I will send a few back to her. As for the others, I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with them. I’ll come to me in a few days. On this particular beach there is a beach bar, but as I had set my self the task of not drinking a drop of alcohol for 15 days I ordered a strawberry かき氷 (kakigori – this is a bit like a snow cone) and sat there happily munching away looking out to sea. I happened to look at the table next to me and there was a young boy sitting there. He was also munching on a strawberry kakigori about the size of his face and looking very pleased with himself. He looked at me, and I at him and there was an understanding between us. We knew what was up. All these other jokers without strawberry ice mountains were losers, they just didn’t get it. But we did. With a nod and a wave the connection was broken and he hurried back to his parents, who were still deciding what to order.

That kid is destined for greatness. I know this now.

With only 10 minutes left of our lunch break, we hurried back to the B&B. The afternoon shift consisted of more outside work. Weeding, cleaning of various tarps and another 2 t-shirt changes. The heat really takes it out of me and by 7pm I was dead on my feet. Dinner was served and while we ate we watch not one but 2 movies: The Grand Budapest Hotel and My Fair Lady. Both of which I highly recommend.

Then bed.

Today was my day off. But as you might have suspected, it was raining heavily this morning. So after breakfast I read for a while, played the guitar, studied some Japanese and hung out in my room until lunch time. More onigiri…. The weather cleared up in the afternoon so, as a group, we went to the big hotel which is connected to the swimming beach. We wanted to do to the cafe in the hotel for some coffee but finding it was double the price of Starbucks we decided against it and went exploring instead. We found a spa, a gift shop and a ゲームコーナー (a mini arcade). Not very exciting. Next we headed to the Port terminal building for coffee but the coffee shop was closed. Down hearted, we resorted to the comfort eating of sweet breads and treats.

As the others had to get back to start the afternoon shift we went back. While the others were working I went back to reading, guitar playing and studying. During the course of the afternoon I had a chat with the son of the owner, all in Japanese my I say, and he told me the story of a previous volunteer who had hitch hiked from Turkey to Japan. He had come through East Europe, Russian, Mongolia, China, North Korea (where he was arrested for being a suspected spy) and finally through South Korea where he had caught a boat to Japan. Yusuke (the son) said he had been told (by the Turkish volunteer) that hitch hiking in Japan was easy and many people do it around here. So with that in mind, I want to try to hitch hike from Irago to Nagoya. It will be a good warm up for when I eventually do my hitch hiking trip around Kyushu.

That’s it really. As you can see some things really did happen.

Well I’m off to bed now. I have the 7:30am shift tomorrow.

Keep it surreal,

Peace,

Fx

 

Categories: Homestaying!!, Let's talk | 1 Comment

I am the Bonzai Master

To my irreplaceable readers,

So 5 days have gone by since I arrived in Irago. A I can assure you, somethings have happened. I previously wrote to you in the middle of my 3rd day and now it’s the end of the 5th day, so I think we have a little catching up to do. Don’t you?

Yesterday was a very over cast day. Mama, the mother of the family (this is what she calls herself), had been telling me for the past 4 days that a typhoon was coming; “台風はきますよ!” I really didn’t want to believe her. You see, a typhoon would surely affect my beach time as well as constantly mess up my hair whenever I walk from my dorm to the kitchen. Oh, the horror.

Anyway, while thinking non-typhoon thoughts I went about my day. The morning shift was easy. I cleaned rooms, folded sheets, swept floors, made up futon sets, dried dishes and then ate breakfast. After a swift organic Japanese breakfast, it was outside to do a little gardening. First, I de-weeded the front garden area, after a very in-depth “How to lesson teachi” from Mama. Then armed with long hedge trimmers I went to work on the bonzai tree outside the front entrance of the guest house. Not know anything about bonzai cultivation, I felt slightly lost and afraid I would destroy this beautiful plant. But after a quick”How to lesson teachi” by Mama’s son, I was trimming down the bonzai like a Zen Master. YOu should have seen me. A little snick here, a chop there, a little off the top…. It must have looked like I was born with a hedge trimmer in my hand! However fun the trimming was, and it was alot of fun, the post clipping clean up was long, boring and by the time I had finished but back was hurting and my stomach rumbling.

Lunch break…..

After lunch I accompanied Aya (the daughter) and Frank (a Taiwanese volunteer) to the beach for a yukata photo shoot. The weather had taken a turn for the worse with the wind picking up and the clouds gathering over head. We did our photo shoot (well more of a “lets take some photos down at the beach while wearing yukatas” kind of thing) on a beautiful beach called Long Beach. This beach is apparently great for surfing. I will have to come back and give it a go. You can view one of the photos that was taken on my insatgram profile: http://instagram.com/fmlharrison.

After the beach, we went to another beach for ice cream (or soft cream as it’s known by here) and to watch the Japanese Pro Surfing tour competition. All very exciting! Tiny dots in the ocean, appearing to be running on the water and then suddenly tripping and diving head first into the water. I was great! What these guys can do is amazing. The waves we very big (to me anyway) and they seemed to be handling them with ease. It just made me want to try surfing so much more. One day, one day….

The evening was less eventful. Work was quick, more folding and room preparing for the next guest. Nothing to difficult. I spoke some more Japanese with Mama and listened to her amazing stories and ideas about Japan and the world. Ate dinner (I forget what is was) and then fell asleep at around 10pm. The heat of the day had made me exhausted.

Today started early (7:30am) and I was greeted by high winds and rain. Drat!! What a great way to start the day!! Due to the bad weather, we had to scramble to make sure everything outside was weighed down or put away before the true storm hit later this afternoon. After that, rooms we cleaned, beds were made and breakfast was eaten. Went all the morning work was done a phone came in saying that the 50 or so university students that were coming to stay had to cancelled because of the typhoon. At that point I took my leave and had a power nap until about 2pm. Without anywhere to go, or to do, I read for a while and surf the net…… Stupid typhoon.

Afternoon work consisted or de-seeding radish pods. A long and, for the most part, extremely boring process, it took us 3 hours to collect all the seeds from the pods that were given to us. The highlight was the arrival of 2 high school teachers and the chat myself and Mama had with them. I think at some point she tried to set me up with one of the teachers; “You two can get married, but he will have to stay in Aichi of course” or something to that effect.

So here I am now, at 11:30pm, writing my blog and thinking of Himeji. It’s only been 5 days but I miss it. I miss the castle. I miss my apartment. I miss Nobu. But especially miss the people. I am thinking of them fondly and I want to let them know that they will always be in my heart.

I hope this typhoon carries my thoughts to them and then stops because I want to swim!! I’ll give you one more day Mr. Phoon and then there will be trouble….

Until next time readers.

Stay frosty.

Peace

Fx

Categories: Homestaying!!, Let's talk | 1 Comment

To My Beautiful Readers,

This is a love letter if ever there was one.

I have been absent from the blogging space for a while….. for which I have no excuse. Now it is time for my return. Sound the trumpets, roll out the red carpet and tell your friends because I hear to talk to you about…………… Homestaying!!

That’s right. I’ve done it. Even though I live in Japan, I have decided to do a volunteer/homestay thing. My reasons behind this decision are; I want to get away from Himeji for a while and live near the beach, I want to be in an environment where I have to listen and speak Japanese constantly, I wan’t to relax for a while during the summer vacation and THE BEACH!

So I chose to go to Irago, which is a little cape at the southern most tip of Aichi Prefecture. Aichi is most know for is big city, Nagoya and for being where the company Toyota comes from! “What’s in Irago?”, you ask…… Well as it turns out, not that much. Melons, strawberries, beautiful beaches and an organic B&B at which I am currently working as a volunteer. For just 5 hours of work a day, I get a semi-comfy bed, 3 meals and all the laundry I can do!

I arrived 2 days ago and have so far learn the way of the, “Japanese Hospitality”. The guest house has been run by the same family for 3 generations and still all three generation live under the same roof, with each generation getting taller and better at English. Funny that…

The B&B uses natural farming and most of the veg given to the guests and myself comes from this garden. I have yet to enter the garden (I have to be accompanied by a member of the family if I even want to put a toe in) but I hope to get the chance to work among the veggies. They also use natural spring water and eco-friendly everything, from shampoo to washing detergent. So, the sheets smell a little like olive oil. Strange but nice.

I am living with 3 other volunteers, all of Chinese decent and all very nice people. They can’t speak Japanese so well speak English to each other which is ok I suppose, but I would like to speak more Japanese so I often speak to the Mum of the family who likes to talk about conspiracy theories and my past lives. She is an incredibly interesting person. I am learning new words everyday.

Work is very easy. Clean, drying, hoovering, folding and repeat for a few hours in the morning and the afternoon. We have alot of free time so I sleep, go to the beach, play guitar, read, sleep, beach, read, eat and of course go to the beach.

So far it’s been great. The food is great, the people are delightful and those beaches…..

love

Fx

 

Categories: Homestaying!!, Let's talk | Leave a comment

My Year in Facebook Pictures…

So New Years Eve is nearly upon us, and I thought I would look back over 2013 to see what it meant to me. Many people do the same thing this time of year. They look back at the year and try to measure the success of their year:
Did I get that promotion I wanted?
Did I achieve everything I set out to do?
Was I successful at that thing I wanted to succeed at?
Did I break that World Record for “Number of chicken wings consumed in 30 minutes”, that I’ve been trying so hard to break?

This list, I’m sure, is endless.
But how can we actually quantify the success of the past year? Is it the amount of money we made? The results of those exams we took? How much weight we lost? Or maybe, our highest score on Temple Run 2?
Each and every person has a different way to quantify success and what they achieved.
For me, I use happiness as my scale, and the experiences I had as my data points. When I put these together, do a little bit of Excel magic, I can draw myself a graph of the past year’s success. The scale goes from “content” to “my heart is bursting with joy”, and the data points… Well, they have been collected by hundreds of participating parties and recorded on the world’s largest database – Facebook.
Facebook is mostly full of horribly irritating things:
“No, I don’t want to help you raid a village on Clash of Titans”,
“Why do I have to like your page to watch a video, I don’t want to tell everyone I like pet grooming. I just want to see a dog in a funny sweater”,
“No, I don’t care that you made a double-decker sandwich for lunch with ham, tomato, lettuce, mayo and cheese and that it was super yummy but hard to eat. Oh and yeah, there it is, a picture of the said sandwich.”

But, after you filter out the game request, guiltless advertisement and pointless status updates, you see the real reason Facebook is such a great thing – the connections that can be made. People on the other side of the world from each other can communicated as if they were face to face. They can post life updates for absent family members and friends. Grandparents in London can see photos of their new-born grandson in Tokyo. Parents in Sydney can watch a video of their daughter’s university dance show in New York. And I can see photos of my friends graduation, in Indiana (USA), on my computer from my freezing cold apartment in Himeji (Japan) as easily as turning on my computer.
But why am I talking about Facebook? Well all these data points (experiences) I’ve been talking about, have been recorded and logged on Facebook in the form of photos, videos and wall posts. I have gone back through time, so to speak, on my Facebook and found the best of a great bunch of experiences and have complied and presented them below, with explanations, as a way to quantify the success of the past year.

So here we go, the first 5 months of 2013 in Facebook Pictures…. Enjoy!

1.January
I called in the New Year by wearing a Christmas jumper, sporting a tash and going to a pub in North London.

The year started as all years should. A christmas jumper, a terrible looking tash and plenty of merriment at a North London pub. Close friends with a generous helping of red wine is a recipe for a great night. I drank, danced, laughed and shared a bed with another man.
Happiness rating: What a way to kick things off!!

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For Christmas on 2012 my father gave me a camera. It was the first time I had a camera of that quality so I was very excited to play around with it. At the time this photo was taken I was living and working as an English teacher in Bologna, a city in Italy, and each weekend they close the historical city centre off to cars so the streets are full of people and street performers. This picture is of the hand of the trumpeter from a brass quartet that always played on the weekends. This was a cold day in Bologna but the music was great and the atmosphere was even better, it made me feel alot warmer. I would always listen to this quartet if I saw them on one of my walks through the city on the weekends.
Happiness rating: Brass for the heart.

2.February:
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It was dinner parties galore in February in Bologna. I was lucky enough to have a few Italian friends, and an English friend, who could cook a mean pasta and know their way around a wine cellar, so I was spoilt when it came to food and drinks at dinner parties. This was one of these dinners. Great food and even better company.
I tried many new things in Bologna and each were as delicious as he next. I’ve got to admit, when it comes to food, the Italians do it better than anyone else.
Happiness rating: Getting fat never tasted so good.

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Bologna is full of live music. Most of them aren’t musicians full-time, they just do it for fun. The city is full of bars with live music, open mics and jam nights. These bars are full of people listening to great (well… most of the time) music and enjoying life. It’s funny what effect a little music can have on the soul. This particular night was an open mic night organised by the international university in the city, which happened every month or so in the basement of a great little bar in the historical centre of the city. The crowd was always great, singing along and showing a lot of support and appreciation.
Happiness rating: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

3.March:
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This was my Alexander Supertramp moment. On a beach on the Northern coast of Sicily. Beautiful place, beautiful island and one hell of a trip.
After returning from this trip my Facebook status read:
You win Sicily, you win – it’s been a week of sole, pane, ricotta, pancetta, cafe, pesce, cannoli, tanto vino e amici fantastici!!!
Read on to find out more.

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This photo was taken atop Mt. Etna.
That’s a lie, it wasn’t quite the top. This volcano is still active and while we were there, there was smoke billowing from mountain so we made the executive decision to stay well clear of all that mess. We were quite a way up the mountain when this photo was taken. The wind was strong and the ground a little unstable but the view was breathtaking, an almost 360 degree view of the whole island.

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The people in the picture are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. We have the three Americans; Nate,  Jenn (white sweater) and Grace (black sweater) and our Brazilian (in the turquoise sweater) , Nathalia. There are so many things I have to thank them for and I know someday I will be able to do just that when we are reunited.
Happiness rating: Happiness is real when shared!

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This is one, of many, couchsurfers who stayed with me during my time in Bologna. Esmeralda was originally from China, but at the time she visited me, she was working in Mallorca, Spain. She was a Chinese language teaching in an elementary school! I know, strange right? On the tiny Spanish island there is a school that does a Chinese language lessons for toddlers. Great! She was a great guest and a fantastic person. Full of amazing stories and ideas, we walked around Bologna, drank coffee and talked all day. Esmeralda, wherever you are now, I hope you are having a wonderful time and are happy! She gave me a beautiful bookmark as a thankyou and also my Chinese name – 高心, which reads like: “gao xin”, it means tall and happy heart.
Happy rating: Tall and happy

April:
This was a month packed full of fleeting visits and weekends away. This was the best month of my Italian life – you’ll see why.

Let’s start with a visit from a Greek … or is he Italian, no Spanish … wait, he’s Portuguese, or is he… well all I know is he’s got black hair and his skin is slightly olive. My man Coles came to stay:
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Taking a few days out of his busy work schedule, Coles jumped on a plane and flew an hour and a half to hangout with his old uni buddy. This was a trip full of food, wine and merriment. We made the “Manino”, did a pizza crawl (four people, four pizzerias, four different pizzas and 4 road beers) and spent an afternoon drinking wine, eating snacks and relaxing in a hammock in the sun. This will not be the only time Coles jumps on a plane to come visit me in this year. It was amazing to see him, introduce him to my friends in Bologna and show him the place I had been living for the last 6 months. We had a great time together and it’s something I won’t forget for a long time!
Happiness rating: Pizza crawls for the win!

Not long after Coles had left Bologna, another group of Brits arrived:
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These beautiful beauties are more friends from uni. As the sign (made by me, not bad eh?) says; Ben, Becky and Caitlin came to stay. Luckily enough for them I had plenty of spare mattresses so no one had to sleep on the floor. Along with Coles and a few others, these 3 are my closest friends and it was a joy to see them. I hadn’t seen them for over 6 months and it was like going back home for a long weekend. Like I was back at uni all over again. Now, I not living in the past, I’m just saying, it was the dose of nostalgia I needed.
Sightseeing: Check
Best pizza in town eaten: Check
Red wine and German beer drunk: Check
Scattergories, in Italian, played: Check
A hell of a good time had: Check
Again, this is not the only time Ben will be visiting me this year, so keep an eye out for him.
I had such a great time seeing them and I can only hope they did also… 🙂

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Happiness rating: This really is the life

In weekend of the April, Karen (my girlfriend at the time) and I, rented a car, hit the country roads and drove through Tuscany.
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Our destination was Cortona, but we made a pit stop along the way. We stopped for dinner in the beautiful walled city of San Gimignano, where we shared a fiorentina steak. This was a 1kg cut of beef, and Oh My God! it was good. This was the first time I had ever eaten a fiorentina steak and it just melted in the mouth. After the meat sweats subsided, we hit the road. En-route to Cortona, we may have got lost but eventually we arrived and checked in. The following day was full of driving, walking, eating until our stomachs and feet could take no more! We dipped into Umbria to visit a tiny town called Castiglione del Lago and to take a walk around the lake. On our way back to Bologna, we stopped in Siena, climbed the basilica’s clock tower and got lost in the back streets.
We returned to Bologna exhausted but full and with smiles on our face and with the car still in one piece. So, all in all, it was a successful weekend.
Happiness rating: Sun, water and nothing else

May:
The first two weeks of May were my final days in Italy, but I still managed to fit a few things in:

Couchsurfing in Budapest:
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Walking on tram lines:
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Drinking in “Ruin Pubs” in the old Jewish Ghetto:
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Seeing the Hungarian Parliament at night:
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Enjoying a sunny day in Venice:
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And having my old man come visit me only days before I left Italy. It was a packed two weeks but it was worth it.
Happiness rating: All great things must come to an end

I flew back to London (for good) on 15th May, just 10 day before my Birthday. I had a beautiful, yet emotional, send off at the airport and that was that.
All the things I did, all the pizzas I ate, all the glasses of wine I drank, all the churches I saw, all the bowls of Tagliatelle al Ragu I consumed, all the gelato I wolfed day on hot days (and cold ones), all of it would have meant nothing if I couldn’t have shared it with all the people I met while in Bologna and all the people who came to visit me, be them Italian, American, British, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, French, Polish or Hungarian. I will always be grateful for what you did for me and you all mean the world to me. Cheers chaps!

Happiness rating: This is something I will never forget

My birthday was a crazy affair. All my friends from university (including my brother) converged on Canterbury. We had a great night. I was sick, there were fights (verbal ones) and some cigars made an appearance. It was the perfect coming home gift!!

So there we have it, the first 5 months of the year 2013 in pictures.
Stay tuned for the next half of the year….

Peace
Fx

Categories: Weeklies | Leave a comment

Pancakes and Sweet Potato Salad

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I first want to explain to you, dear reader, what CouchSurfing is. If we split it up into 2 words we get “couch” and “surfing”. The majority of the English speakers in the world will know what “couch” means, but for the older British generation of you out there, it is what our friends across the pond in North America call a sofa. So, we have “sofa” and “surfing” (click here if you don’t know what surfing is…. but you really should know.) The literal meaning of both these words together is a bit strange. Can you picture yourself riding a 12ft wave on a 5 seater corner unit? Odd. But if you look at it in a abstract way the mean becomes clear. The people who are part of the Couchsurfing community are people who are passionate about travelling, seeing the world, meeting new people and cross cultural interaction all for the grand total of $0. Couchsurfing is a website (more a community, as I have already said.) full of people who offer their couch/sofa/spare bed/camp bed/tent in the garden/bedroom floor/kitchen counter to a traveller/backpacker/stranger looking for somewhere to stay and, but more importantly, looking to meet with a local of where ever that may be so they can share stories/a drink/a meal/laughs/experiences with a like minded person. All for free. No money changes hands. The currency within couchsurfing is a drink/meal/present bought for your host. Nothing is expected, only offered. It’s a fantastic idea and it’s even better in reality.
I started couchsurfing 4 years ago in Chicago, purly out of necessity. I had run out of money, so could not pay for a hostel for the final 2 night of my stay. Couchsurfing was suggested to me by one of the people working in the Hostel I had just been kicked out of. Using the computer and free internet in the hostel I made a profile and sent out “couch requests” to anyone from Chicago on the website and within 2 hours I had found somewhere to stay and another person wanted to meet for coffee the next day. Two days and nights on a not-quite-big-enough couch later, I was hooked. From then, I have hosted people from France, Italy, Germany, USA, UK, China, Japan, Poland, Denmark and Spain.
I have slept on couches in the US. Slept on a floor in Africa. Shared a spare bed in Hungary. Sofa surfed in Italy, UK and others. Now it’s time to add “flopped on a futon in Japan” to that list. Destination: Osaka.

In my job, I have quite a few irregular days off. Mid-week days or Sunday and Monday. This week I had Tuesday and Wednesday off. When you have days off work in the middle of the week there isn’t much to do. The majority of the people I know are working so it’s time when I have to entertain myself.
Osaka is only 60 minutes and £10 by train away from Himeji and a lot of people have said how great it is so I really had no excuse. From Himeji I could’ve done just a day trip, seen a lot and got a good feel for the city, but I wanted to meet a local Osaka-ite and see the places they like in the city. Be a local for a few days. That’s where Couchsurfing came in.

After sending out almost 10 couch requests without any luck, I posted a comment of the public Osaka notice board and that same day (2 days before I was due to go) I got a message from a Surfer asking if I wanted to stay with her. I quickly checked out her profile; Japanese (good), 25 (good), fan of Studio Ghibli (fantastic), intermediate level of English (I can work with that), coffee lover (same here) and enjoys meeting people from different cultures and countries (just what I was looking for!) I sent her a message almost straight away and it was settled. I was to stay with Suma (すま)for a night. Sorted!

Up early, backpack full, breakfast on the go and jammed into the 8:10am JR Rapid Service to Osaka. As I sat and watch the world go whizzing by, I realised I didn’t know anything about Osaka. What is there to do? What should I go see? All I knew was that the city is famous for it たこや(takoyaki), fried octopus balls. I had to eat some of them. Other than it’s cuisine, I knew nothing. A quick google search of “Top 10 things to do in Osaka” gave me an idea. I jotted down some places that looked interesting and planned to ask Suma what she knew about them.
Three trains later I arrived at Suminoe Station and waited for Suma. I only waited 3 minutes until she arrived, running up the stairs and assuming the only non-Japanese person in the station must be the person she was looking for. With a big smile she introduced herself and we set off back to her apartment so I could drop off my bag.

Meeting someone for the first time is always fun, but you would think that because I was staying with a complete stranger, first impressions would be super important. The fact that we had read eachothers profiles and we already knew quite a lot about the other person meant we had already had covered the basics, sort of. The conversation flowed easily and we hit it off straightaway and as she did not have to work that day she asked if she could join me;
“Of course, I was about to ask if you wanted to hang out for the day and show me your favourite places in the city!”

For the rest of the day we explored the city together.
First stop, Osaka Castle:

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The Castle was the first stop of the day. Situated in a beautiful park, it a huge traditional looking Japanese Castle – although it’s been renovated and it’s a museum inside, it makes it no less impressive. We met this amazing looking OAP who volunteered as a bin-man. Dressed in handmade full samurai armour, he uses a grabber that is made to look like a katana (Japanese sword). Garbage pick up like a boss!
For 550yen you can enter the castle at see all the exhibits explain the history of the castle and Osaka. At the top of the Castle, you get a full 360 degree view of the whole city:

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We hoped back on the train after some ice-cream a headed up to Namba, the place where it all goes down in Osaka. This district is where you will find a plethora of high end fashion stores, game centres, takoyaki stalls, giant hanging puffer fish, a 60ft high running man statue and an ancient Shinto shrine with a moss covered statue:

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This is Dotonbori – a long street of flashing lights, screaming tourists, bizarre stores and alot of takoyaki. We stopped and had lunch at Suma’s favourite place. It was delicious. Top tip for when eating Takoyaki – wait a while before shoving the whole ball into your mouth or you will suffer 1st degree burns to the roof of your mouth. Not pleasant.

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From the bridges that span the river running parallel to Dotonbori you can see huge advertisements for candy or souvenir shops. These two were the biggest.

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This tiny shrine is down a tiny back street near Dotonbori. They whole statue is covered in moss because everyone throws water over the statue and have been for hundreds of years. Suma showed me the correct way to wash my hands in a Shinto way. The thing I really like about Osaka and the whole of Japan is the contrast of old and new that can be seen everyday. An ancient Shinto temple tucked in next to a 60 store high-rise building. Old and new working together to create a powerful mixture of tradition and innovation.

After our bellies were full of octopus balls were decided to walk down towards アメリカ村(Amerikamura), or America Village, where everyone is dressed in the latest trends and its survival of the flashiest. When we went there is was about 4pm and there wasn’t much going on. Apparently when night falls, this place heats up and that’s when things really kick off. Noted.

We went south after we grew tried of America Village. Our destination: Ebitsuhigashi and the Tsutenkaku, an old, rusty tower. While walking towards the tower, we passed through the computer and anime area – full of manga book stores, dirty animation (hentai) movie DVD stores, computer and game centres and of course maid cafes where a beautiful Japanese girl dressed as a French maid will serve you tea, coffee and cakes for a extortionate price. But hey, a mans got to find a way to fore fill his fantasies.

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We reached the tower, snapped some photos and then headed to the park close by. Talked some more. It was a very peaceful place right in the heart of the city and the sun was low in the sky so it threw long shadows, from the skyscrapers around the park, across the path we were walking along and in that moment was very happy, not just to be in Osaka, but happy to be in Japan. To be doing something I like doing. To be exploring an whole new world to me. To be meeting new people and making new friends. To be couchsurfing again. All way good in my world.

Suma had to go to a party that evening so I dropped her off at the closest station said I would see her back a her apartment later. I then found a British style pub and had a pint and watched the sun go down until it disappeared behind the wall of high rises.
After this point my phone died so I don’t have anymore pictures of that night and to tell you the truth I got lost. I just wandered back towards what I thought was Namba station and wondered the through the side streets looking for somewhere to eat. I found a nice ramen restaurant and after slurping down some above average noodles I stumbled upon an Irish bar, had another pint, asked if I could charge my phone for a little while and asked for directions back to the Nanba station. As it turned out, I was only a few blocks north of the station.
I jumped back on the train and arrived back at Suma’s place around 11:30pm. We sat up talking about all sorts of stuff and listen to music until about 3am.

The next morning she made me breakfast of pancakes and sweet potato salad.

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Suma had to work later that day, she is a nurse and she had a gruelling 13 hour night shift ahead of her, so we said our goodbyes, I thanked her for her for being an amazing host, promising that if she was ever in Himeji, she could stay with me. That’s the way Couchsurfing works.

This time I headed up to the Umeda area around the Osaka JR station. This is more stylish area of Osaka. More smartly dress men and women, rushing around, always having to be somewhere.

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It was extremely hot (33 degrees) so within minutes I was sweating and quite uncomfortable. I dined on Udon for lunch and then decided to call it a day and caught the train back to Himeji, but not before stopping at a souvenir shop.
I arrived back in Himeji at 5pm yesterday. A little tired, with sore feet but extremely happy and after have had a great time.

Next time I will go to Osaka purely for it’s famous night life – that I look forward to!

Peace
Fx

Categories: Food and Drink, Weeklies, WTF Japan | 4 Comments

The Kindness of Strangers

Ok ok, I know. It’s been 10 days since I last posted on my blog. I can practically hear you screaming, “but you said you were going to write something at least every week. You said it was your aim, the challenge you have set yourself while you’re in Japan. This just won’t do, won’t do at all.” Hush your lips people. I have my excuses:

1. I have been working too hard to even think about writing anything. My every waking moment is consumed with work. Lesson planning, resource searching, teaching, paperwork, reports and more lesson planning.

2. If you are my friend on Facebook you will know that the above statement is complete hogwash. Lies and slander. Yes, I have been working, and enjoying it, rather a lot over the past few weeks but it is by no way talking over my life. I have found I have a lot of free time.

3. This leads on from number 2. Because of all the free time (暇) I have been exploring Japan. Weekends are filled with trips to the beach. I tried surfing for only the second time in my life in the Sea of Japan. Surfing in water almost as warm as bath water makes a welcome change to the English Channel. Trust me on this.
I went to Kyoto on Monday and stopped off at the 金閣寺 (kinkaku-ji), the Golden Pavilion, and the only working geisha district left in Japan.

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I lunched on a plethora of different tofu dishes, at a reasonable price, and filled myself up with the best Macha (green tea) and Dango in Japan, or so they say, in Uji (a beautiful city south of Kyoto).

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4. Ninjas broke into my apartment while I was sleeping. Their assassination attempt was foiled thanks to my superior fighting skills. But sadly my laptop was destroyed in the scuffle. There’s always going to be collateral damage in a knife fight with ninjas. I am still grieving my loss.

So as you can see, i have had absolutely no time to put my thoughts, feelings and wisdom onto paper, or in this case, cyberspace.

But, luckily for you, beautiful reader, I am currently sitting on a train, on my way back to Himeji. Today, I taught in Kyotango, which is on the northern coast of Hyogo. Three hours away. By train. No wait, scratch that, four trains.
So now, with no laptop, ninja battles or trips to take up my free time and only a smart phone to keep me amused, I have ample time to write.

Today I not going to right about my recent trips, the pictures can tell the stories. No, today I am going to write about the kindness of strangers. A kindness rarely found in the UK. A kindness that puts your faith back in people. A kindness so genuine and heartwarming it makes me wonder, if it is this easy why isn’t everybody doing it.

It wasn’t just one act of kindness, it was a succession of kindness, serial acts of kindness if you will.

I started with an old man with no teeth, wearing an amazing straw hat. I was riding my final train towards Kyotango and a few stops away from my destination this old sits down opposite me. Looking up at me and realizing I am a gaijin he smiles widely, showing me too much gum and by far not enough teeth. From what I could see of his eyes, I could see he was extremely happy to have gotten on the train to find a gaijin just sitting there, riding the train. It was a look of pure joy. He strikes up a conversation the second his bum hits the seat. I was astounded to hear him speaking English, and a good level of communication too. The pleasantries were exchanged and then after a while he says, “I will tell the the history of this area.” All the while, giving me a wide, toothless smile. There was no air conditioning in the train, so the windows were open causing a lot of noise inside the carriage making it difficult to hear what he was saying but I did my best. When he was finished, we had arrived at my station and think I had learnt something but I can’t really put my finger on what.
We disembarked together, chatting all the while, and he was headed the same was I was so we walked together. He stopped of at a fruit shop at the side of the road and bought me a peach. When we arrived at my classroom I bid him farewell and watched him walk away, his hat blowing in the light breeze and suddenly realizing I never asked his name. This sweet, old man had just talked to me, explained the local history, bought me a peach and walked with me and I didn’t even ask his name. This was not a huge act of kindness, but I was very grateful for the company, the peach, and his genuine interest in me and willingness to talk to me. I could see it was making him happy and this in turn made me happy.

The second act of random kindness came from a group of high school girls. Again I was on a train. But this time it was after my lesson had finished and I was on my first of four trains on my way back to Himeji. This only happened only 2 hours ago. I had run from my classroom to get to the station in time to catch the last connecting train back to Himeji. The planned departure of the train was 19:37. I arrived just in time, ran into the platform and boarded the train in a rush and out of breath. I sat down and waited for the train to leave. 10 minutes later I realized something wasn’t quite right. The always on time rail service was late. There must be a problem. Then the conductor stood up a said something in Japanese and half the train got off the train. Baffled, I just sat there, looking around with an idiotic look on my face. A group of high school girls who had just got off the train came up to the window I was sitting by and one of them waved their iPhone at me. Open on the screen was a translation app and the English that had just been translated from Japanese read;
“Do you know the nature of the situation?”
– I shook my head.
“There is a problem with the signals on the tracks. Where is you destination?”
– Toyooka.
“Please transfer at the next station”
– Urrm, ok.
Abit confused, I thanked them and waved goodbye as the train left the station. I transferred at the next station and got onto a different train. If I hadn’t have done this I would still be in Kyotango. They didn’t need to help me, they didn’t need to come up to me and ask me where I was going. But I am so glad that they did.

The final random act of kindness came while on the train I had just transferred onto. By this time the train was already 10 minutes behind schedule and because the signal problem was on going there would be more delays. I was starting to get worried that I would miss my connecting train. I only had one chance to get home. If I missed the next train I would be stranded in the middle of no where, tired, hungry and more than a little pissed off. There were only 4 people, including me, on the train and so the conductor started moving down the carriage, asking where each of us were going. When he got to me I told him I was going to Himeji. His face fell and he made an “x” gesture with his arms. From that, it was easy to see that there was a great chance I would miss my next train. He must of seen the reaction on my face because he hurried off back to the front of the train and started talking feverishly on the train’s telephone. Having no idea what he was doing, I just sat there, crest fallen and lost. What am I going to do? I started going over survival strategies in my head. What would Bear Grils do in this situation. He would walk into the woods, skin some poor animal, drink his own pee and lick algae off a rock. I could do that. But just as I was thinking I hadn’t drank enough water to produce the amount of urine needed to survive the night the conductor came hurrying back to me and with little English and a lot of gestures he says that I will be fine and able to make it back to Himeji. I later found out, or worked out, that he had called ahead and asked the connecting train to wait for me. Even though we were 10 minutes behind. I was met by a very nice lady at the end of the line who directed me to the right train for the next part of my journey. She even gave me a print out of trains I had to take to get back to Himeji with all the kanji translated.

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So, because of that conductor asking to hold the train, I am now on my last train home and under an hour away from Himeji. What happened to me would have never happened in the UK. Yes part of it is costumer service, but I like to think of it more like kindness. He knew I couldn’t read kanji that well so he asked if they could be written in Romaji for me. A whole train full of people was held at a station for 10 minutes and no one seemed to mind.

What a wonderful country, full of wonderful people.

A little kindness goes along way. So pay it forward because some time in the future it will come back around when you are in need of help. One random act of kindness everyday, how ever small, is all it takes. Hold open a door for someone. Hold the lift for someone. Help someone who looks lost. Let someone with less items go in front of you in the queue at the checkout. Say thank you. Say hello.
Smile.

Peace
Fx

Categories: Let's talk, Weeklies | 1 Comment

Speak no evil…

How do you communicate without words?
Is there a way to get your point across? Your feelings? Your meaning?
What other ways can we speak without speaking?
Can people really make a connection on a base level without being able to confess likes and dislikes, emotion, interests and attraction?
What is the other person really thinking?

These are questions that I am constantly asking myself while I am here in Japan. The language barrier is horribly obvious. It rears its ugly head everywhere I go. I go through the day and let the language wash over me like the sea over a shipwreck. Relentless, ever present and it leaves me battered and bruised (mentally speaking) each and every day. I do pick out some words. Like a ray of sunshine the break through the dark clouds of sounds and I brighten up. Oh, somebody mentioned something about the castle or Ok, someone is saying something it too hard.

The best way to combat the complete lack of understanding? Smile. Smile and eye contact. Also a little nod. I may not understand what’s going on or what has been said but it helps to seem like I do and generally from the situation I’m in I can deduce the basic meaning or theme to what is being said. Certain situations call for certain language and knowing the response to what you hear; be it a “nod”, a “wave goodbye” or a “point at what you want”, goes along way. Although it is scary to respond to a question, well what I think is a question, something is better than nothing. Being polite and wrongly understood is much better than being rude and blanking someone. Remember it goes both ways. If I speak English, I can’t be certain they will understand me or the question I ask. So, for now, I just smile, nod and play dumb. It seems to work well enough… I think.

But what about communicating with friends, old or new, and possible love interests (or that hot chick you keep seeing in the bar and would like to take home). The thing I have found that works for me is just to go with the flow. Normally when I hangout with the friends I have made here in Himeji, there is at least 1 native English speaker, other than myself, present. Also, luckily enough there are a few of my Japanese friends who understand and speak English very well (though, they will tell you their English is terrible. Don’t buy into that!) But still, the majority of my Japanese friends have basic English and although their English level is higher than my Japanese there is still a significant language barrier. So, as I said earlier, I just go with the flow. Whenever we are doing together I just go with it. Be it setting off fireworks or hanging out at the beach. Japanese is spoken 80% of the time and I listen, try to grasp the context or subject of the conversation and let the language wash over me. Content with just being with these crazy, bizarre and wonderful people. I smile and nod and laugh. I think that sometimes they must feel bad and try to use English. A few broken sentences and words go along way. I am happy that the want to include me and even with only a few words I can get the gist of the conversation currently in progress. I reply whenever possible with my broken Japanese. For me, it is important to me to show them that I am not against using or speaking Japanese and I am trying to improve. Slowly but surly. “Piano piano”.

There is one particular girl who I want to speak to more than the others. For the simple fact that I have become intoxicated with her. She is incredibly interesting, beautiful, funny, clumsy, bonkers and just…. well it’s hard to explain. But alas, her English is not so good. I feel like her understanding is good but when see wants to speak she finds it difficult. She tries really hard and it’s adorable and hilarious at the same time.
She gets these wrinkles in her nose when see is trying to remember an English word.
Anyway I have found that we can still communicate and have a conversation. The rate is much slower and its a shit mix of good Japanese, shit Japanese, good English and not so good English. Iphones are used. Google translate is utilised. But a lot of things get lost in translation so we have to use our imagination and body language a bit more than usual. We both now have a long list of words and phrases both in English and Japanese, mostly funny sentences, but also a few very important, causal, Japanese phrases on our phones. See, I’m learning all the time, even when I am having a good time. It’s early days but things seem to be going well – I hope – from what I can understand – oh god, have I just misinterpreted everything she has said – ummm…… well….. we’ll see….

The language may be like white noise to me, but recently, snippets of understanding have broken through the static. Which goes to show, if you surround yourself with the language, really live it, you can pick things up. This is very encouraging to me and it has motivated me to really crack on with the actual learning of the language. I have a few lessons booked and I have started learn the Kanji (the Chinese characters). So… beautiful reader, send me some motivating thoughts, in any language you think suitable so I can get this thing going.

And remember,

No matter what part of the world you are in, no matter which language you speak, a smile is the same in all languages and can over come any language barrier.

Until next time,
Peace and love,

Fx

Categories: Language, Weeklies | 1 Comment

Summer School and Sushi

Before reading this, go turn on your oven. Now bang up a roast. With all the trimmings. Potatoes, carrots, parsnips and throw them all in the oven, which now should have been pre-heated to about 200 degrees. Make sure it is on the fan assisted setting. Not only will this help the cooking process it will also help the analogy I am about to make. After about 45 mins of cooking time open the oven and stick your head inside. But only for a short time. I’m not trying to start a suicide cult here. What you should feel is a wall of hot, moist air slap you around the face and make you instantly start to sweat and feel very uncomfortable. Well this, my good people, is the feeling I get every time I step outside my nicely air conditioned apartment. Like nature has balled up her hot, wet fist and punched me in the face. Then she has round house kicked me right between the shoulder blades with her blazing, damp and uncomfortably sticky heals. Bitch.

Ok, it may not be that extreme but when you come from a cold, dark isle with a mild climate like I do, you really feel the heat. As some of my friends already know I am very susceptible to the heat and therefore sweat very easily and rather heavily. This is my cure. I must bare it. So as you can imagine the heat of the Japanese summer is getting to me. I have started packing another 2 sets of clothes as back ups and I always have a can of deodorant in my bag. You have to do what you can.

Last week was the Summer School program that PKC runs for a week during July. The program is 5 days long for each classroom and the native teachers (that’s me) teach 2 days out of the 5 at each of our 4 schools. So to put it plainly, in the last 9 days I have taught for 8. Going for four different classrooms in the space of 9 days is a lot of commuting and a lot of different trains, buses and walking directions to get my head around. After successfully getting to each school, I taught days 2 and 3 from the 3 course that were running. “A course” with 1-4 year olds and their parents, “B course” with 5-9 year olds and “C course” with 10-16 year olds. All the courses were tailored to the students having fun while through learning and using English. Overall summer school was fun. I got to teach in my regular classrooms and meet my regular kids but there were some very long days and it was unbearably hot everywhere I went. In my first class the air con wasn’t even working so I taught for 2 days in a classroom that was almost 30 degrees inside. It was like working in a Turkish bath.

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Ten point to anyone who can understand those controls.

With summer school over and done with it was time to celebrate. This meant only one thing. SUSHI, SUSHI and more SUSHI.

When I told people in England I was leaving to go and work in Japan, most of them said, “you’re going to eat sooooo much sushi” or “you’ll come back looking like a salmon roll!” Well, from what I have experienced, sushi is really only eaten once a week (if your lucky) or on a special occasion. So, for this reason, I decided that finishing the Summer School program was cause for a celebration and an excuse to have my first real Japanese sushi experience.

In London there are chain sushi restaurants, where you can go and sit at a conveyor belt and pick at whatever dish happens to pass you on it’s endless way around the sushi train. Over priced, lacking taste and not really worth it. But an authentic Japanese seafood restaurant is a whole different experience.

Surrounded by Japanese friends and knowing I was in good hands, we headed to Sawa Sawa last Friday night. In we went, removed our shoes and we were show to our “table”. The table was half the hight of a western table, there were no chairs just cushions for our buttocks and not a conveyor belt in sight.
“Beer please” was the first thing I said and low and behold a minute later I had a beer.
“Now I can look at the menu.”
But of course the menu was in Japanese so I left the ordering to my friends. Having no idea what was coming I sat a waited for the food, secretly hoping they decided not to go with the eel, jellyfish or any other crazy fish found in the Sea of Japan.

The following list is what was presented to me – and I can tell you, it was the best seafood I have ever eaten:
Dish 1: Yamakake: Raw Tuna chunks with yam puree.
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Dish 2: Tempura Prawns w. garlic mayo and fried cheese of some sort
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Dish 3: Mixed sashimi (fish unknown – to me anyway. I think there was tuna and salmon in there) with rice
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Dish 4: Gigantic Salmon rooooooooooooooooll – the biggest one I have ever seen….
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Dish 5: Steamed Clams. oooooooooooh man they were good!!!
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Dish 6: Onigiri (rice ball) x 2

All of this was shared between 4 people and the total cost per head was (including 2 beers) $20. Amazing price for the quality of the food.

The sushi squad

The sushi squad

There you have it, that’s what real sushi is like. My eyes have been opened and my taste buds tantalised and I shall never go to a cheap knock off sushi train again!! (This is a lie of course because here in Japan the sushi train restaurants incredibly cheap and very tasty and, let’s be honest, it’s always fun challenging your friend to a eat off to see you can eat the most plates.)

And this was the costumer service that greeted me on that friday night:

After all the excitement of summer school ending, eating great sushi and staying up that night till 4am watching all the poor people who have missed the last train home sleeping in the JR station I went back home a happy, full and slightly tipsy man.
Thankyou Japan!

With love,
Fx

Categories: Food and Drink, Weeklies | Leave a comment

Crazy eyes, secret ramen and porno fans

So I have my first week of teaching under my belt. It’s was good fun, hard work and uneventful. No accidents, no tears and no deaths. I might not be so bad at this whole teaching kids thing after all. I went to 2 different classes last week. Dai 2 Kasai and Himeji Shirahama. Communing was a bitch but I knew that was going to be a issue before I started teaching. Kasai is an hour away by bus, out in the sticks of the Japanese countryside. But it’s not all bad. This hour commute gave me some time to think and reflect. This is what I am doing right now. I am on my way to Kasai, this time for summer school classes, sitting in the #62 bus trying to fan myself and type on my phone at the same time. Not an easy task. Apart from a few middle school pupils, I am the only person on here below the age of 70 and that’s just a estimate. Adorned with large summer hats and oversized sunglasses, the Japanese OAPs are enjoying the ride. Some are reading, some are chatting quietly and there are a few that are asleep… At least I hope they’re sleeping and not dead… That would be… No that’s not possible she was alive when she got on the bu… Oh wait, she scratched her nose. It’s ok…..
As we make our way through the towns, villages and rice paddies to the north of Himeji, I start to reflect on the weekend that has just past. The more I think about it, the more I come to realize that Japan is a strangely wonderful place. I think I knew this before coming here but just being in the country has really brought that realization home.

For example; last Saturday I went to a party in Himeji where the theme was anime eyes. I was about as clueless as you are now when I first heard about it. But my friend said it should be a good party and we should go just to say hello and give me a chance to meet people. As it turns out, anime eyes is a type of makeup that makes your eyes look huge and like anime eyes. When we arrived there were girls, and boys, with this eye makeup on and let me tell you, it is bizarre. Every time they closed their eyes another set of much larger eyes where staring back at me. Freaky. Not wanting to be left out, I volunteered my eyes for a anime makeover. Well, when I say volunteered I mean forcibly persuaded. Because of my years spent doing musicals and plays, I was use to having makeup applied so I sat down in the chair and let her have at my eyes. After what felt like ages and an overly violent use of the eye liner pencil I had a beautiful set of anime eyes. Many pictures were taken and laughs had and the end result was this:

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So for the remainder of the party I looked like a drunk drag queen’s mistake. Smashing!

That was Saturday, and I had a great time and met a bunch of really great people that I hope to see again in the near future.

Another trainee from my group had come down from her area, not so far from Himeji, to come to the party and had crashed at my place. So the following day we decided to explore the city. The main objective for the day was to find some good food. It was a very hot day in Himeji, a high of 34, so we chose to walk under one of the many covered walkways in the city. The walkways are flanked on either side by shops, supermarkets and restaurants. People were handing out free samples and leaflets. I took a few, purely out of politeness because I could not understand what was being advertised. Alex, the other trainee, got handed a fan, very useful in the hot temperature. Turning it over she was surprised to see it was advertising a women lingerie. Pictures depicting beautiful women wearing practically nothing were literally being waved in her face. Well at least you can keep yourself cool while getting your rocks off.

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As we continued our search for food, I remembered a little place I had passed with another friend of mine earlier in the week and he suggested I try it saying, “this is the best to go for the best ramen in town.” So we headed in what I remembered being the direction of this ramen place. Soon enough we found the entrance to “Koba and More”

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It looked like a great little place from the outside but sadly it also looked closed. There was a chain across the door and the door was shut. Just to make sure I took a quick peek through the window to the left of the door. Inside I saw 2 people sitting at the bar and no cook in sight. I came to the conclusion it was closed. Slightly disheartened, we started walking away until we heard a shout coming from the other side of the door. We heard the noise of a blot being pulled back and the door opened. Out from behind the door popped a towel covered head. He had a big grin on his face and said “come come” and waved us in to the restaurant.
I remember thinking, Have we just gate-crashed a private Japanese party or event. Or, are we being unwittingly drawn into some dodgy goings on. Of course none of these things were true because as the man showed us to our seats at the bar, he said “now closed, but we make exception!” Smiling all the while. He had us some menus (in English) and we chose our lunch. The house special ramen for both of us.
While waiting for our meal, we looked around the restaurant. It was tiny. Just a bar, where both the eating and drink were done, and behind was a visible kitchen, where you can see your food getting prepared. Softly lit and cool in side, the walls were covered with old and dog eared jazz records along with old Polaroid picture of customers. All of the people in the pictures were gaijin. Obviously this is the place to come for travelers and foreign residents alike. On each Polaroid there were messages of thanks to “Koba” and his oiishi ramen. Seeing these made me want to be up on the “wall of fame”. Immortalized in a white frame, to be seen by others who stumble across this delightful place. I must ask this “Koba” about getting up on his wall. I wanted to take pictures, but after seeing a few signs of “no cameras” on the bar, I decided not to. That was until I saw this:

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So of course we took many photos after this.

“Doozo”. Our food was ready and on the bar. When we sat down our chef introduced himself as Koba! “Ah, your Koba. Can I go on your wall.” After abit more explaining he understood but said they were old pictures and now he puts pictures of customers up on his Facebook page. Cyber fame is just not as cool as the real thing. We had our picture taken with our ramen and 10 seconds later we were on Facebook. Friends were added and pages liked. It was official.
Etta James’s voice could be heard over head as we finished our ramen. We talked more with Koba and his friends, who were sitting at the bar, and before we knew what was happening we were behind the bar, holding cooking utensils and have our picture taken with Koba.

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With our food finished and our iPhones full of photos we paid up, thanked Koba, promised to come back soon and left.
So “Koba and More” is the place to go for good ramen. I will return and try the rest of the menu. See you soon Koba

Peace
Fx

Categories: Food and Drink, Weeklies | Leave a comment

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