Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hello from Japan!

Sorry for the long break between posts. It took three weeks of begging and pleading in broken Japanese to get an internet hookup in my apartment. I finally got connected a few hours ago after much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. I still can’t believe it took almost month to get an internet connection in Japan!

Anyway, enough griping. On with the first post about my adventures so far. Where to begin? Perhaps I should back up to where I left off. Let’s see . . . Vancouver. Four weeks ago. On my way to Tokyo. Right. Only now Tokyo is a bit of a blur. It seems like such a long time ago.

I spent four days in Tokyo wandering amid the neon lights before flying out to my new home on the backside of Shikoku Island in southern Japan. This is where I will be spending the next year.

I live in a little town nestled in the mountains, near the ocean. It has one main street filled with lots of little shops and old buildings. There are miles of empty country roads that are perfect for cycling, running and walking. I live in an apartment on top of the town library. This is the view from my bedroom window.

It’s all very beautiful. But, holy crap, the heat! It’s killing me! It’s been 35 degrees every day with 100 per cent humidity, making it feel like 45 degrees.

What makes it even worse is that the women in this town don’t wear shorts or sleeveless tops. It’s a pretty conservative place. Apparently, showing a little shoulder or leg above the knee is extremely scandalous. So I’ve been wearing jeans with long sleeved shirts. Sometimes, if I’m feeling daring, I will wear a t-shirt and capris.

Of course, everyone is sweating buckets in their ridiculously heavy clothing. Instead of dressing comfortably for the weather, the locals all wear towels around their necks to mop up the sweat. Or they just tie the towels around their heads. I don’t care how ridiculous it looks, I am seriously considering investing in my own towel.

Luckily, there is a great little swimming hole down the street from my apartment. I am the only adult who swims in the river but I have become quite popular with the neighbourhood kids.

The weather is unbearable but at least the people are friendly. I am being treated like a celebrity. My supervisor at the board of education took me to meet the mayor on my second day here. Through a translator, we chatted a bit about Canada while a photographer took pictures of me for the local newspaper.

At one point, the mayor asked me if I had ever eaten eel. I confessed that I hadn’t. He suddenly declared that he was going to make it his mission to get me to eat eel and invited me to a party at the town hall that night.

Later that night, after several glasses of beer and sake, the quiet, mild-mannered 70-year-old mayor turned out to be quite the wild man. The more he drank, the louder he got. I have no idea what he was saying because he was yelling in Japanese but it must have been quite funny because he had everyone in hysterics.

At one point, the deputy mayor walked in wearing shorts and the mayor yelled out the only English expression he knows: “Hot pants!”

The deputy mayor (aka Hot Pants) was an even bigger character than the mayor. He would randomly yell out “heavy drinker!” and “I am Quebecois!” By the end of the night, both the mayor and the deputy mayor had invited me back to their place. Perhaps they thought I was easy because I was wearing short sleeves. Here’s a picture of me with my new friend, the mayor.

I already have an undeserved reputation in this town as some sort of star athlete back in Canada because I listed “triathlon” as one of my hobbies on my resume.

For example, I was riding my bike down the street my first week in town when I was flagged down by a guy driving a delivery truck. He brought the truck to a screeching halt in the middle of the street, jumped out and demanded “You play volleyball with me!”

Through his broken English and my basic Japanese, he told me he belonged to a volleyball team that played every Monday night and he had heard the new English teacher in town was a star athlete.

Now, I hate volleyball. I mean, I really, really hate volleyball. I suck at it and it hurts my forearms. When I see a ball heading towards my head, my gut instinct is to scream and duck for cover. But I agreed to join his team because I’m desperate for friends. I just hope they don’t kick me off the team once they find out how useless I am.

And then at (yet another) drinking party on Friday night, one of the more quiet teachers got up the courage to talk to me after a few drinks and said, “You play tennis with me tomorrow morning!” (We played for an hour the next morning and I now belong to his Thursday night tennis club.)

He also asked me to run a marathon with him in February. I think. He kept pointing at himself and me while saying “marathon” and “February” over and over.

That’s not to say that these first few weeks have been easy. It’s frustrating at times being a very illiterate and very visible minority. Grocery shopping has been the biggest challenge so far. I have no idea what I’m going to eat for the next year. I can’t read Japanese and I’m not adventurous enough to try the things that have English labels (ie. canned whale).

It’s also hard not to feel lonely and isolated at times. This is a pretty small town in a predominantly rural area where almost no one speaks English. A lot of people refuse to make eye contact with me and some have blatantly turned the other way when they see me coming. I hope it’s just because they’re shy and not because of anything more sinister.

But I'm starting to feel a little less lonely each day. I’ll probably get into a groove once school starts. Right now, I’m just filling my time at the board of education trying to learn Japanese. The first day of class is this Friday and I have to give a three-minute speech (in Japanese!!) to 350 junior high school students at the opening ceremony.

Anyway, my quick update has suddenly morphed into a long, rambling post. I guess the floodgates have opened now that I have an internet connection. I’ll be posting more frequently from now on so I'll try to keep it shorter next time. Until then!

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