Teaching In Socks

Devil Birds and Dark Magic
May 26, 2009, 5:09 pm
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Last week left me feeling pretty intelligent. While it’s been years since I was on an academic calender, I’m convinced my brain still follows the school year routine; In which case last week was finals week.

My two exams this year: birds, and a crazy lady.

First, the birds. The lovely spring weather has inspired a pair of starlings to nest on top of a utility box, three feet from my door. This arrangement quickly transformed the normal enjoyable act of returning home after a days work, to intense Hitchcokian detente.  I feared an impulse defensive dive-bomb and the birds nervously (I think) feared whatever birds fear.

I’m generally pro-nature, so I did my best to cope with the situation for a few days.  However, I have guest coming soon, and I reasoned that the longer the birds stayed there, or the more offspring they had in that nest, the more unpredictably defensive they would become. I needed the birds to leave.

Once again, the magical entity that is the 100 yen shop came to my rescue. In America, we really don”t treasure or utilize the dollar store to it’s full potential.

Last Wednesday, on my way to work and while the birds were away, I used a mirror  to check the nest for eggs. The nest was empty and I was beginning to feel like McGuiver.

With the nest empty, I had he moral clearance to proceed with my plan. During my lunch break I headed down to the 100 yen shop. The amount of things that have–all which can be procured for 100 yen is astounding (thanks China!). Amongst the cornucopia of cleaning supplies, sundries and toys, I found a large and intimidating rubber snake. I picked the fiercest looking of the bunch, dumped the tags in the store and hastily headed home.

I again was fortunate as the cost was clear. I quickly placed the snake on top of a portion of the nest. Since then, the nest has been bird free. It’s almost sad how proud I was of myself for outsmarting a few birds. Still it’s nice to yell “scoreboard” at nature every once in a while.

Later this week  I was approached by the crazy lady voodoo chiropractor who hangs out at the shopping center after hours. She again, wanted to practice dark magic on me under the auspice of relieveing tension in my back.

Now, I enjoy a good eccentric personality–and within reason I try to keep a genial rapport with everyone I meet, crazy or otherwise; however this time the doctor of dark arts approached me while I was in the middle of eating an ice cream cone. I don”t care you who you are, unless it’s a life or death emergency you time is not more valuable to me than my time enjoying an ice cream cone.

Thus, as much fun as I had last time, I elected that this was an experiment that had gone too far. Ice cream melts, and time was of the essence:

(Amateur Translation)

Crazy Lady: Hello

Me: Hello.

CL: That ice cream cone looks delicious.

Me: It is delicious. Ice cream is my favorite.

CL: Hey, by the way do you ever have shoulder pain?

Me: Nope, they’re pretty good, I got a massage.

CL: Oh nice! What about your back? Any back pain?

Me: (Flexing) Nope, all good.

CL: No back pain?

Me: I do Yoga (I don’t do yoga)

Cl: ohhh, that’s great.


CL: How about you legs? any pain in your knees? Do your legs feel tired?

Me: No, they are fine. I jog every day.

CL: Wow….hmm, that’s great. Although, I really wanted to practice my (flexes her forearms, pumping her hands into a fist on each hand.) devil magic. I am sad that we can’t share this awkward experience again. I’m trying to study it.

Me: Sorry, this ice cream cone is delicious.

I dare say, it was Ghandiesque, except for that I was eating ice cream and being curt Ghandi usually exhibited overwhleming kindness and protested by not eating anything (although, when he wasn’t eating I am sure he had surly moments). Still a stoic sacchrine affair. All the money I have spent on Japanese lessons has been worthwhile just to tlak myself out of that moment.

Vend Diagram
August 29, 2008, 4:58 pm
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I’m going to keep it light for the weekend. Attached are images and descriptions of the vending machines that are keeping me alive.

Here is sector one.

The Grail

The Grail

Nothing exceptionally special here, however i would like you to take notice of the volume of machines, and perhaps the ration of machines to customers at this given moment. It’s usually like this, and since I’ve arrived,  I can’t recall seeing a queue, or small riot demanding more machines. Maybe I missed the great “storming of the machines”  and there’s a holiday dedicated to it that I am unaware of but frankly I see five drink machines bunched up together. It’s a bit of an overkill. Perhaps even machine cannibalism.

I do enjoy the variety though. Within in these machines there are roughly around 100 different buttons you could hit that would provide you with a can of brewed, chilled coffee for 120yen. Would you be surprised if I told you that I caved to this dark master every morning?

That said, each variety has 2 buttons of territory, but you’re still looking 50 different varieties of coffee, all somewhat reasonable priced. We may not have a Starbucks in town (that I’m aware of) but this lonely mall corner caters to my needs.

Scientifically, this corner alone contains enough caffeine for a few third world countries. If only we could deliver it to them somehow it would provide that igniting spark of energy eventually leading to a repaired developing world with a new economy, government, agricultural practices, transportation infrastructure, criminal justice system. social hierarchy…but I DIGRESS (coffee does that to a man).

Back at the coffee corner I should mention that they have more than coffee. In fact there is a plethora of choices available: your typical selection of teas, juices sports drinks for the active shopper (Gatorade, however, is absent as it is not a global thirst quencher) as well as water–which happens to be the most expensive item of the lot at 130 yen. Typical.

Here is sector two, which is a mere 7 meters from sector 1.

The Moneymaker

The Moneymaker

This is really celebration station for me.  In the center we have the juice box machine. This is the best value at 100yen a box, and is a panacea for the health-conscious sugar addict. I turn to this machine when I’m feeling guilty about drinking too much coffee, or more accurately, when people ask me why my hands are shaking and I realize that I’ve had too much coffee. In retrospect, I should probably make more use of this machine in the future because I have a feeling students can understand me better when I’m not trembling with the excitement of a caffeine buzz. My pronunciation is a little more articulate and my sentence structure perhaps a bit more diligent.

To the left, yes that is a cigarette machine.

On the right, is what I refer to as paydirt. Yes, you are seeing that correctly, those are ice cream cones in a vending machine. I have tried every flavor except the ones that look gross–namely Pina Colada and some form of fruit slush that I haven’t been able to deterine the fruit base of. Rule of thumb, if you can’t locate an exact citrus foundation of something orange and yellow and you are in a foreign country, stay away from it, it could be ANYTHING. There are no “safe” colors here.  You have to remember that in Japan, no matter what color the food is, or the medium in which  it is presented to you, it could always, I repeat always, be fish.  Sometimes, you just don’t want fish.

Regardless, I have sampled the six other flavors fearlessly, and I have no favorites but tend to stray to the chocolate side of things (insert whatever inappropriate punchline you can think of here on your own time, this is a family site).

I apologize if this dissapointed. I know most of you were expecting a more otherworldy array of contraptions, like a coffee machine with a tiny dog baraista inside it, or perhaps a machine with an army of sushi making robots. Unfortunately, I haven’t found those…YET. In the meantime, this vending machine cornucopia keeps me alive, gets me through the day, and pushes me down the path towards early-oneset-diabetes. So worship it accordingly.

On nourishment…
August 25, 2008, 2:59 pm
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I could be wrong about this, but I suspect a number of you back home are wondering what I eat here in Japan. For those of you who aren’t interested in my Japanese dietary habits, just keep hitting the “refresh” button until I write another post.

My answer to the curious bunch: For the most part, ice cream. It’s summer, and nothing, let alone a trans-Pacific move, will keep me from my daily summer sugar, cream, and ice ritual. Aside from saccharine pseudo sacrament, I do eat real food on occasion.

Obviously, the general American consensus is that they eat a lot of sushi here. My suspicion of this stereotype was confirmed when almost everyone who learned I was moving to Japan asked, “wait, do you LIKE sushi?”. I get it, we don’t hear much about Japan cuisine that doesn’t involve raw fish, and I don’t really give off the “sushi aficionado” vibe.

I admit I may have had a reputation in the past of confining my culinary preferences to a few options. However, the days of “Ted doesn’t eat anything green” and “Ted fears the prospect of uncooked fish on top of rice” are over. I eat things. And as part of the travel experience, sometimes those things are weird.

However, I have only had sushi once since my arrival–today in fact, and it tasted soooo cliche. One might say it was comparable to uncooked fish on top of rice in America.

Aside from the occasional squid-fest (as I mentioned in a previous post) I try to keep a diverse palette, including both Japanese dishes and a number dishes with varied ethnic origins. The Indian restaurant in the same shopping center as my school is a nice asset because they serve a decent curry and they speak English. In fact, if they didn’t aggressively blast Bollywood soundtracks over their speaker system all day, I would probably refer to this restaurant as The American Embassy. For now, the “Japanophone” yet American influenced KFC, McDonalds, and Baskin-Robbins (aka: 31 Flavors) food court takes that title.

In terms of traditional Japanese cuisine, so far the highlight has been Okonomiyaki. This is essentially a pancake of sorts filled with whatever you want–pork, shrimp, beef, vegetables, and topped off with “sauce” (BBQ sauce) and mayonnaise. It is not as good as my grandmother’s pancakes, but aside from those, It’s probably the most delicious thing I have eaten; unsurprisingly, it has a health value of negative five.

My only complaint about Japanese food is the temperature. While many people, clearly with sushi and noddles on their mind, associate Japanese foods with being cold and slimy, the truth is quite the contrary. Anything ordered hot is served at near sizzling temperature. Fries from Mos Burger, roasted chicken. an even the “hot” towel they give you pre-meal, all clock it somewhere between searing and meltdown on the thermostat.

Thus, I generally burn my mouth three to four times a week. It’s a painful and inevitable process. I’m sure there is a Taoist/Buddhist/Zen element to this that Japanese people have mastered, but I clearly have not studied those texts diligently enough. Regardless, as an American, I fear the level of patience necessary is not in my repertoire. However, there is a silver lining: One no longer fears a strange or unfamiliar food when he is aware that all scalding food tastes the same (think about that Lao Tzu!).

For when I want American food with a Japanese feel.

Mos Burger: For when I want American food with a Japanese feel.