Saturday, September 29, 2007

Japanese Erg Championships

Today at practice I was told that our team will be competing in the Japanese erg championships in December. They want me to be the Japanese erg champion. I asked what kind of time we're talking about. Our stroke said the time to beat is 6:26. I said I could be the Japanese erg champion in 2 weeks, in that case. Everyone thought that was pretty funny.

The weird thing is, usually every country has a handful of random freaks who are big and strong and defy all logic. Shouldn't Japan have one of those guys? Shouldn't there be some Romanian expat who wanted to study engineering in Tokyo and happens to whale on the erg? 6:26, for reference, is a very good high school male's score in the US. For US colleges, you're looking at under 6:20 for JV and under 6:10 for varsity. I think the best US college score is somewhere under 5:50 these days.

So we'll see if that score quoted to me was a mistake. If not, maybe I can have a glorious victory and almost beat my best time as a 17 year old.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Hike of Doom and Learning Kanji

For no particular reason I haven't posted in six days. I apologize for anyone who missed the epic lulz this blog generates. You can now resume getting your 30 seconds of mild enjoyment.

This weekend I went to a resort town called Onikobe (sp?), which is famous for its hot springs. Our group wanted to go hiking, so we went. It was hiking in the loosest sense. I kept looking for my crampons. The hike was damn-near vertical, and certainly harder than anything I encountered back home (Saddle Mountain included).

Our group was comprised of about six middle-aged men and women, in various degrees of fitness ranging from fit to horribly out of shape. As usual, some people were sucking back cigs the whole way. And yet every single person finished, and in respectable time too. These mountain-dwellers are fantastic natural hikers.

Here are some pictures of my epic weekend:

Here's one of the many sections where you had to use a rope to get up the incline, since it was so steep and littered with loose, muddy stones.

This was the pay-off after the grueling 90 minute hike:

"Use your imagination!" was one fellow climber's suggestion.

The house we stayed at is located in a neighborhood built around a hot spring. When you buy land, you also pay for a spigot that shoots out steaming hot springs water 24 hours a day. This is a picture of the neighborhood's gutters, which have water from the hot springs running through them constantly.

My Kanji lesson for the evening. "Kanji is easy! Look. This means mouth. This is a mouth. They look the same! What could be easier?"

East meets West.

Demon cat is watching you eat dinner...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Failures in Japanese Product Naming

This sounds more like a condition you'd hear about in prison than a delightful crunchy snack. Thus, I pronounce this name to be a failure. The product, however, was a sugary delight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The "Highlander" Method of Teaching

I think of that movie "Highlander" a lot when I'm teaching. If you haven't seen it, it's a crappy 80s movie about these eternal beings who have been fighting throughout the ages because, for some reason, there can be only one. We are reminded of that fact by many characters screaming that phrase throughout the movie. Now, there can be only one, so they are all trying to be that one. Because I guess that's a good thing. The only way these guys can kill each other is by getting their head cut off.

That's kind of my theory on classroom discipline. I look at the class as a highlander. My goal is to defeat this highlander in battle--if I succeed, the class is quiet and does their work with a minimum of loud outbursts. Now, since there can be only one, the highlander/class of kids is constantly battling me too, by being bad--as if I'm a rival highlander.

Now since you can only kill a highlander by cutting off his head, that leads me to my next point. Each class has a figurative "head--" or, the 3 or 4 ringleaders who are responsible for directing the character of the class. I try to focus all of my disciplinary swordsmanship on these miscreants, knowing that it's ultimately futile to waste time on the lesser "body" students. Because, you see, if I can successfully cajole/threaten/convince the "head" students to do their work and follow my instructions, the other students will naturally fall into line.

After their defeat, obviously, I acquire these bad students' powers of misconduct as my own, in a blinding flash of light.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Perfect Bicycle

I went mountain biking yesterday. The ride to the trail was a torturous 45-minute granny gear slog straight up hill. My sleeveless American flag/guitar motif t-shirt, while awesome, proved to be a horrible choice, as it left my arms bare to the mosquitoes and my torso constricted in a soggy cold cotton mess. I would have worn something made of wicking fabric, but that would make me a traitor.

I finally made it to the top of the road, sweating like a rented mule and covered in mosquito bites. I located the trail and started to descend. Just as the road up was a near-vertical incline, the ride down was a frighteningly steep decline, but it was also composed of loose gravel, skull-sized rocks and exposed roots. If I let the brakes off and just tried to coast I would have been going about 40MPH in five seconds. I went down going about 2MPH, my mid-90s cantilever brakes shrieking at the cruel twist of fate that transferred them from their quiet garage life into this pitiful existence. I'm actually surprised that my descent at speeds roughly equivalent to "kindly grandmother riding home from the grocery store" didn't warp the wheels or something.

So I think to myself, what kind of bike would excel at this type of ride? Something that climbs easily, but somehow also has tons of suspension and slack angles for going straight downhill. And that's when it hit me. This is the perfect bike for Japan:

I'm one international driver's license and a simple road test away from being a menace to myself and others, both on and off-road. Depending, of course, how much these things cost used.

The mighty Yamaha TW200. It seems to be a fairly popular choice in these parts, and yes, that is a really gigantic rear tire with tread the entire way around.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Franzia in a Bottle

For those of you not familiar with this fixture of college pukefests, this picture sums the brand up nicely:

I defy you to go any frat party in America, bring a box of Franzia, and try to go the whole night without seeing someone do this. It's impossible. This colored bilge water was designed with one purpose in mind: rapid and cheap intoxication. Sure, it's got nicer graphics on the box and probably makes some allusions to grapes from Napa Valley, but don't kid yourself: the only reason homeless dudes pick Cisco over this stuff is because the 5-liter cardboard cube doesn't fit in a paper bag.

So what? There's good wine (I've heard. I've never actually tasted it because I'm poor), and there's bad wine. Good wine comes in bottles, and bad wine comes in boxes, cans, and can be seen mixed up with chunks of Ballpark hotdogs splattered across the floors of dorm rooms across America.

Well, Japan decided to defy convention and offer Franzia in a bottle, which prompts the question, WHY? Isn't the entire brand centered around it being crappy, cheap, and in a box? Is your average Franzia customer really going to be put off by the wine's packaging not being "classy" enough? This boggles my mind. I know there's other cheap wine in bottles (3 buck Chuck), but Franzia is synonymous with "box wine." I think there's some aphorism about dressing a pig like a lady that might apply here, and if there isn't there should be.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Japanese People are Skinny

I was leaving work the other day, and noticed one of my co-workers carrying a small plastic bag.

"Leftovers from lunch?" I inquired.

"Yes, I couldn't finish it."

"Oh, what were you eating?"

"A roll."

I'm suspicious. "Oh, like for a sandwich? Like with meat and lettuce?"

"No. The roll has some butter flavor baked into it, so it's good enough by itself."

I'm finally getting the picture. She ate a roll for lunch. A ROLL. A woman with no discernable eating hang-ups simply eating a normal lunch. And I spied a diet Pepsi in the bag, too.

Ignoring the fact that, nutritionally, this lunch is a disaster, this is why it works:

Total calories: Roll, 300-400. Diet Pepsi, 0.

Body weight: Approx 120.

Approximate minimum calories needed for someone that size: 1200

400 calories x 3 meals = just about right. That is insane to me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Teaching in the Shadow of Godzilla

I took some pictures of the Buddhist temple/preschool we teach at once a week. Enjoy, and as always, if the spirit moves you, you can comment.

There he is, out on the big dirt playground. Watching. Waiting. I pray the day never comes when Mothra attempts to disrupt our singing of the "Hello" song, but when he does we'll be ready.

These children wear green hats. They are the alphas. They will attend prestigious universities and eventually run Miyagi from mahogany-paneled offices. The unfortunate wretches in the red hats are the helpers. They are betas, doomed from this early age to grovel at the feet of the green hats. Actually, I have no clue why the little kids wear different colored hats. Probably some mundane's safer to make a story up.

This is one of the wooden gods that stands at the entrance to the school. He's about ten feet tall, and filled with barely-corked asskickery, as you can tell from his expression. Shaolin warrior monks, giant monster statues--Islam better watch out if it wants to retain its "scary foreign religion" crown.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Miniature Military

Today I went to the Yochien (little pre-schoolers) sports festival. My boss described it as a miniature military demonstration, and he wasn't far off. We looked onto a giant dirt circle. There's a jungle gym and a Godzilla-shaped slide in one corner, and the school in another. There's a Buddhist temple and mountains rising off a hundred feet to our rear.

All of a sudden there's staccato bursts from a whistle and drums banging to a marching rhythm. Out march streams of little kids, wearing tiny little colored hats to denote their class.

They march, they dance, they sing, they cry. There is always at least 3 children crying.

After a few hours of watching, I was told to join the next activity. I was kind of given vague instructions in Japanese and handed a red headband, which I tied around my forehead. I was confused. Then me and about 20 of the parents were ushered into the center of the ring to face off, gladiator-style. There were about 500 people watching from all sides.

We were given a huge, thick rope. Ah, a tug-of-war. This is something I know. Unfortunately for the other team, I only counted as one person, but my rope-pulling abilities are glorious compared to the 100 pound Japanese women we faced.

The whistle sounded and the war began. In the underdog upset of the century, my team won. We played one more time, and we won easily again. If you haven't competed in a brute force no skill no aerobic capacity needed contest against young mothers, you should treat yourself--it makes you feel like a badass.

I wish I had pictures, but I woke up, got dressed, and left in under 3 minutes and forgot my camera. I'll try to rustle up pictures from someone else. This being Japan, probably 10,000 digital pictures were taken today.

Friday, September 7, 2007

My Top 5 Songs With Video

These are my top five songs at the moment. Draw your own conclusions.

I'm not sure why, but I really really enjoy this song. I never get tired of it. For whatever reason, it just really does it for me. I've listened to it about 10 times a week for the past 3 years. No joke.

I don't know who this Nelly Furtado person is, but apparently she's pretty popular. I absolutely love this song. The video is incredibly stupid, so don't watch it. Click play and go read or something so you don't have to see that self-indulgent tripe. The song is quite original. Again, it just does it for me for some reason.

Unfortunately, the best sound quality for this song came coupled with some random chick's crappy photo album. Sorry. This song epitomizes 1994 for me. It was the year both NOFX's "Punk in Drublic" and Rancid's "Let's Go" albums came out, both of which were defining records for my 11-year-old self. I listen to both to this day.

I like the fact that Whitesnake existed. Any time I listen to them I feel like some badass rebel hitchhiking across America with all my belongings in a snakeskin suitcase or something. They're so purely comical, drenched in adolescent hormones and retarded sexuality that you can't help but be charmed. Plus their videos are the best of the genre in my opinion.

He's a born-again Hassidic Jew reggae artist/rapper. Hey, it's America, why not? Actually, like the glorious Dred Zeppelin, he's a novelty act who doesn't acknowledge that he's a novelty act, and has poured so much of his heart into his craft that he's quite good.

Damn, I forgot how much I like music. Anyway, enjoy, and if you're listening to anything cool at the moment, post it in the comments section.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Class 9 Typhoon

As predicted, the typhoon that was meandering up from the Tokyo-area hit Miyagi early this morning. It forced me to close all my windows for the first time since I arrived in Japan. I hate rooms with no air circulation, but I hate rooms filled with water more.

This typhoon is ridiculous. It actually prevented me from sleeping last night with the random bursts of 8000 mile an hour wind blasting out of nowhere and rattling my windows and the incessant sheets of heavy rain careening sideways into my walls. This is the worst rainstorm I have ever seen.

To top it all off, I had a lot of big plans today. Big plans which do not involve me being a soggy and unhappy mess. This thing doesn't look like it's gonna stop any time soon though.

If you're sequestered like me, you can go visit this website. My brother sent me the link. The slogan is the best of any company ever.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My New Girl's Bike

Well, I finally broke down and replaced the sad old teacher's bike. The thing hadn't been maintained at all since its purchase five years ago, but the nail on the coffin was my hideous treatment. The bike sucked, and I hated it, so I abused it to make it pay for being a terrible bike. I hit every pothole, curb, and ledge in striking distance. A month ago I got a flat on the rear wheel. I rode it on the rim and eventually started breaking spokes every few days.

At this point I had a wobbly-ass rear wheel that's all rusty and out of true, and the rear tire was making a horrible rubber-smooshing-on-pavement sound, and yet I rode on. A couple weeks ago I got a flat in the front. Now the front's making the smooshy flat tire sound. I felt like I was riding the thing through molasses, and yet I still rode on.

Every time I rode across a slight lip on the pavement, the tires would slide off the rim and the whole bike would flop about an inch to the side of the slippage. Disconcerting, but I ignored it.

My breaking point came after work yesterday. I had just applied the dynamo to the front wheel to power the headlight. The dynamo was dragging on the rim to generate the power, the two flat tires were pancaked against the road making their horrible noise, and both of my wheels hopped at different points in their revolution due to being more oval than round. So there I was, a big white guy on a little bike with 2 flat tires and football shaped wheels clanking and clattering down the road at about 3 miles an hour.

Even though it would have been less than 30 bucks to get that rusty deathtrap rideable again, I ditched it and bought an entirely new crappy bike for the low low price of 8,800 yen (75 bucks). I felt like I was riding a Colnago on the way back from the store. It just goes to show you--you don't need fancy things, just crappy things for your mediocre things to seem great in comparison to!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

This Man Out Spinal Taps Spinal Tap

This has nothing to do with Japan, but it's one of the shreddingest things I've ever seen, so you should watch it:

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Damnation, I Forgot My Camera!

I was roused from my slumber by the phone ringing. It was about 8:15AM, and I rasped hello into the mouthpiece. On the other end was a local JET (Japanese English Teacher, part of a government-sponsored program), asking if I wanted to go to a culture festival at the high school she teaches at. Normally, I run as fast as possible from "cultural" things--the word makes me think of boring museums and ancient pottery sitting inside a glass case. Besides, I was going to a ramen shop with my boss, so I thought it was a moot point. Apparently I was the only person who could possibly make it, and after some mild arm twisting I agreed to go. It turned out to be a very good decision.

I had 20 minutes to shower, dress, chug a pot of coffee, and bike over to the meeting spot. I barely made it on time, but forgot my camera. So of course I saw the most bizarre stuff yet.

The cultural festival was half cultural stuff like calligraphy and paintings, and half random Japanese festival craziness. The best parts:

1. 6'3'' Japanese guy with Darth Vader helmet, full-size cow costume, and a stuffed horse head attached to his crotch.

2. A "haunted house" which involved wriggling commando-style through pitch blackness with no direction through a claustrophobic maze some students set up in the gym. There was maybe one rubber severed head, but the whole experience left me unafraid and sore.

3. Another tall Japanese guy in a bright red spandex outfit with a giant question mark mask over his face and a golden faucet attached to his crotch. Crotch modification seemed to be a theme with the costumes.

4. Crappy Japanese high school rock band performances. Like crappy American high school rock band performances, but with more style and eyeliner.

I spent the rest of the day hiking, onsenning, and eating. Here's a picture dump from after I picked up my camera:

Zieg Heil, let's go for a hike! Nope, it's the Buddhist version. The hills are safe from Nazis.

Uncle Rico heard there was a high school culture festival. He's rushing to make sure no one turns 18 on him.

One of the beaches we went to today. It had a Pacific island vibe to it...wait just a minute..

This little bay was protected from typhoons and Godzilla attacks with these weird stone structures.

Doesn't this picture, like, totally make you think you're gonna fall in?

Well, that was a lot of pictures. I'm not changing the title of this post though--now it's just ironic.