Monday, July 30, 2012

moving sucks

I don't suppose I have to tell anyone in the world that packing and cleaning a place in preparation to move out is not a fun task. When I was a kid (since I NEVER moved) I saw moving as a sort of cleansing, a time when you were forced to clean and sort carefully (because if not forced to do these things I could always find a better use for my time) all your possessions. When I heard people say "That got lost in the move," I could never understand it. In my mind, you FOUND stuff when you were moving, stuff hidden in places you would not have seen had you not emptied your house.

I think some of these notions still hold on because I was hoping to find treasures as I took apart my place. Mostly I just found dust, lots and lots of hidden dust.

I also found that my previous conviction that I would make it out of Japan with no more than my two allowed suitcases was pure folly. I've been here for three years; I've amassed a good ton of junk. I knew this, but I assumed that this would all be 'junk' that I would just leave behind, whether as give-away stuff or as trash.


So I bought three boxes for shippin' stuff back, and given three boxes, I've now filled three boxes. Since my sorting/cleaning choices expanded from pack, give, or throw away to pack, give, throw, or ship, several odds and ends have been literally chucked into the box area of the living room (I lined them up side by side in a corner and then would just fling things into that direction if I wanted to ship it).

I'm still throwing out and giving away a good deal of stuff, of course; I got rid of 31 kilos of used clothing, not all of it mine, a bit over a week ago. To the stayers go the spoils, and I've been dividing up my stuff amongst the staying ALTs and my successor, mostly 'useful' things and 'pretty' things. I can't believe I have to be out of there by the end of the week, although the walls are finally bare (and that does help it look more like progress).

I traded the tall couch for a short one, better suited for sitting at the kotatsu come winter, and I traded back my kotatsu for the one Sam and Carl had (I gave them the giant one that hardly fit in the room and took their tiny one that couldn't fit Carl's legs under it). I'm leaving the vanity, the green chair, the denki carpet, the kitchen unit, the bike, the heater.

But moving stuff around in this heat is anything but a fun pastime. I have interrupted the process frequently for social and other excursions, like visa-getting trips to Himeji, parties with leavers and stayers (as a leaver myself)... the weekend of the 21st was a sort of "party all the time" wherein we spent basically the whole weekend kicking it with Shiso all over town. I'll do posts about all that (as well as.. I suppose... my bye-bye work events). But there's no putting it off forever, and the process has been slow and painful and hot and painful and slow.

So it goes!

I did find some things I had squirreled away, forgotten, or thought lost.

This is something I mentioned in my farewell speech, unaware that I did still have it in my house. It's a talisman-like gift from a school excursion from back when the current 3rd-years were in the 6th grade. It says something like "Emily-sensei, please make fun memories with us." In writing my speech (writing, not even saying, just pre-work), the thought of including a reference to this object followed by the question, well, did we? would cause me to leak tears on my desk.

This is just a man-en with a different version of birds on the back of it than usual. I'm gonna have to spend this, though, cause that is a hundy right there.

This is a twenty, and though they are rare, I've somehow been in possession of several of them over the course of my time. I am gonna spend this too, cause I think I have one back home. 

Back of the 20.

This isn't something I lost, it's just something I thought was kind of funny and wanted to share.. try to ignore the total chaos and... Above my kitchen table I had placed a picture of Siena, Italy, because there was a larger version of a very similar picture above the table where I often at at the Centro in Rome. I created my own version of that place here, right after I moved in. 
Anyway, all these various treasures don't really make up for the fact that moving sucks, it really really sucks, even more so when it's hot and your house doesn't have 'real' AC, and topping that off, you don't really WANT to leave, you just kind of have to.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Real Vacation

This past weekend was the July three-day. It happens every year and I can't for the life of me remember what we did last year or even the year before... Probably some kind of endtimes bender to prepare for the fact that early leavers leave like... well too soon to think about.

But for this July three-day, I was on the ball months in advance. I figured it would be a big weekend for the folks at HappyRaft and really wanted to get in that river in July, not September, because my only other experience there was awesome saving the one factor of the (relative) cold.

That part of Shikoku, down by the Oboke and Koboke, near the Yoshino River, right about the smack dab middle of the island, is unlike any place I've ever seen before. I went white water rafting for the first time in Tennessee, and the second time in Shikoku, and I liked Shikoku way better. It may be because I was more comfortable then (with the idea of rafting), or ready to see the landscape around me with more awe-infused eyes... Or it may have been that the whole atmosphere was different, the cliffs and the guides from Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, the fellow boat-mates from Japan. Rafting is a team effort and it helps to have a good team. Japanese folks are pretty good at teamwork, you know?

Everyone in that valley that we encountered seemed relaxed and laid back. The homes and businesses were almost all built clinging to the sides of the mountains, as there was no real flat valley area to speak of. Going to the grocery store requires you to just take what is available (which may not be enough meat for your group for that night) because it's a little mom n' pop place. Everything down there feels older, most lost somehow, like if you went down there without a cell phone, no one would ever find you again.

It's perfect for a vacation. Back  home, there's an apartment to sort, sift, pack, and clean. There are Last Lessons to conduct and all kinds of paperwork to begin or continue or finish. There are speeches to think about and write, there are books to read and just.. a lot of stuff to do. Even more (haha, yeah) than normal. But when you're in the middle of Shikoku, where it takes twenty minutes to zig-zag your way up to whatever small cabin you happen to inhabit, when you're under the sun on the turquoise water, when you're neck deep in the ice cold canyon creek.. it's like all that stuff doesn't exist. When we're cooking dinner in our cabin, drinking our beers, it's like.. you forget that this is the last weekend we're going to do this kind of thing together, maybe ever. It's like you're so far away that nothing matters.

So you get back, and yeah it's all still there. It's all still waiting for you. The endtimes are still upon us. And now you're three days closer to the deadline, and no closer to done. And all you may have to show for it is a sunburn, a digicard full of photos, and the memory of mountains vastly different from these, a valley much steeper and deeper and wilder than this one full of mundane Shire-like idyll.

But that's kind of what vacation is.

Tales from the road, Day 1:
All five of us in our massive van.

Carl expresses his feelings about our first stop: the Sapporo Winery Okayama

Sam has the driver sticker despite his position in the backseat.

The long bridge

Last minute decision to stop at Kompirasan, home of one of the biggest ships/seafaring shrines 

The approach to Kompirasan

We note that everyone coming down from this shrine looks like they have been on a log flume. We hope there is a log flume but expectations are low.

A very cute dog.

Tales from the River, Day 2:

Morning view from our Wada Hideaway

Way better than a log flume.

This is not the highest rock jump

THIS is the highest rock jump.

This is what we look like after

Tales from the canyon, Day 3:

The way home

Complete with little origami on the dash that we picked up at some tollbooth or other

And this is how we all feel at the end.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Helpful Shit: Getting to the City (and beyond)

I'm amazed at the amount of stuff I now treat as common enough knowledge in my life that I simply did not know upon arrival.

Like that the main station of Kobe is Sannomiya station, not Kobe station, although there IS a Kobe station, it probably isn't where you want to get off the train (unless you're going to Motomachi I guess)...

And I've gotten to a place in my life where I just kind of know how to get to the helpful information I want to use by either google searching key words in Japanese or linking through a series of steps that are natural to me. But it's high time I gathered these transportation links into one place for easier access (both for my own benefit, and anyone preparing to or continuing to live in Shiso).

Searching up directions to Shiso on a google map will give you some alarming results, based mostly on our lack of trains. It'll say something like, train as far as Shingu, then walk forever to get to Shiso.

But around here, the word to know is Shinki Bus, and that sucker will get you most places that you need to go. Unfortunately, their website is still Japanese only, but if you can operate in Japanese (or make your way though a google translate version), you are good to go.

Most especially the navi feature, which like hyperdia does for trains, allows you to put in your departure and arrival locations to search bus times. It'll give you several of the upcoming buses as well as the cost of travel. I have used this basically just to figure out bus times from Himeji to Yamasaki and back, but I'm sure it can be even more useful than that so long as you know the name of the bus stops you want to use. This is a local bus so it doesn't have luggage space underneath like the highway buses do.

Then, there are the highway buses, most often used by me being the Osaka and Kyoto buses. The line goes from Tsuyama to Osaka and Kyoto but their uses are different.

The Osaka bus is way more frequent any way easier to use. It goes by almost every half hour or so, and to get on you just.. get on. Take a little ticket showing that you got on at stop like 9 or so, and keep it til you get to the end. The bus terminates at Osaka station, but pro tip if you are going down to Namba or Shinsaibashi areas, it's easier and a tiny bit cheaper (not enough to really matter.. the best thing about doing it this way is more the avoiding of the massive entity that is Osaka Station City) to get off at Shin-Osaka rather than Osaka Station and take the red line subway downtown.  On this bus it usually takes about two hours to get to Osaka.

The Kyoto bus only runs four times a day in each direction, and you have to buy the tickets in advance (I've gotten away without doing so, but it always seemed like a big deal to the driver). The easiest way I've found to do this is to roll up to Lawson and use the machine, because reserving online and then paying for them seemed to be a bitch. If you do this, though, you have to select the bus line first, so make sure you say you are going from Tsuyama (which is in the Chugoku region, not Kansai!) to Kyoto first, then later you can specify that you are getting on the bus in Yamasaki. The machines can be a little confusing and I mostly navigate it as I go each time on sight.

There is also a Tottori bus, which runs from Himeji to Tottori with a stop at Yamasaki inter. I don't know anything about this other than that it exists and some people I know have taken it before.

After that, there is the fairly new but apparently popular direct bus from Yamasaki to Kobe's Sannomiya Station, affectionately known to us as just "the Kobe bus." Unlike the other highway buses, this one leaves directly from the in town bus station, so you don't have to meet it at the highway gate unless you want to.

If you are driving, and planning to take the highway, and want to know how much that will cost you, check out this page, which can help you figure out your toll cost based on where you are going and what type of car you drive.

Flying? There are a bunch of small airports in the area, but I've only ever used Kobe, Itami, and of course KIX (kankuu) myself. I've heard good things about Okayama, and I know Tajima has an airport, but I don't know what it's used for. There is no longer a direct bus along the Tsuyama-KIX line, sadly, but from Himeji station you can get buses to both Itami and KIX. Kobe airport is accesses by the Port Liner, which runs from Sannomiya, which you can get to by direct bus.

Domestic flying in Japan is a breeze compared to doing it in the US, especially out of one of the smaller airports. There is security and paperwork, but it's nothing like the clusterfuck I'd learned to expect from flying. You can even bring your water bottle so long as you let them open it and check the contents (by machine but sometimes by smelling!). Skymark (Kobe) has some cheap fares, but the new carrier Peach (KIX) is even lower. There's always ANA and JAL, which you can sometimes get deals on too (I think we used someone's "birthday fare" once?). Sometimes it is cheaper and faster to fly to a place than to take a shinkansen (king of trains), sometimes not. If comfort and flexibility are a priority, shink is the way to go. If you need to save money, check out flights but also remember the cost of getting to and from the airport in your figuring!

International flights are predictably a bit more painful, and depending on where you are going, will cost a pretty penny more. Going international from Japan is almost always a flight, though there are some boats. To Korea, boat is a good option, but that's the only one I know. For Southeast Asia, I've had good experiences with the bare-bones low-cost style of AirAsia, though you may have to fly through Malaysia or something to get where you want to go. It's super cheap, but just know that the fare you are browsing does not include your baggage, food, or any other perks: those you have to add on as you go. Once you do, it's still pretty dern cheap.

My final confession on this topic will be that I've spent way too much of my life checking out the different options for how much it costs to get where by what different forms of transportation. 

Both Ways

It's Friday the 13th, and we return to cookie baking. I told myself, we're gonna do this again, and we're gonna do it right this time.

Planning well in advance, I got my wonderful parental units to supply me with a shit-tonne of the instant pudding necessary to make the cookies. The also brought along some chocolate chips to make my ordering load lighter.

I can't believe we're making them today. Not because it's Friday the 13th, but because this week has been so incredibly intense and it's only been like four days long.

I want to do a 'real' post about this.. complete with pictures and all that, but for now I'll just fill in the outline.

Last weekend was a sort of mess. Friday, I didn't go to work, but instead to Kobe where I was made an official Goodwill Envoy of Hyogo Prefecture. This just means that wherever I go I should spread the good word. This is easy; I'm liable to pimp out anything I think is truly any good (someone once told me I would be a good saleswoman when I vehemently extolled the virtues of some thing or other.. but the truth is I can only sell something I really know and love).

So that just meant no school that day. Saturday was supposed to be a school day, sort of.. we were to go to work and then after an hour of hanging out at school, go and watch kids compete all over town in various taikai things against the other schools (then get Monday off as a trade in day). But Saturday got rained out so hard they called in an O-ame (too much damn rain) warning, which cancels school in the city. (This happens way more than o-yuki, or too much snow warnings, actually... seriously, imagine a place where rain cancels school more often than snow does!)

So Saturday got pushed to Sunday, and we still had Monday off... I had a visitor in town to hang out and see the taikai, and we thought go to the beach Sunday, but no cigar.

Long story short, it was planned to be a sort of schedually challenged weekend and became EVEN MORE SO because of the rain.

This thrust me into Tuesday's 'last lessons day' at Small Elementary with little mental preparation (since I had Monday off and work on Sunday? I don't know). And then suddenly everything was happening at once. Tuesday was an exhausting run of six class periods conducted for all grade levels, including kindergarten, made heavy with the knowledge that it was the last one for each and all of them. By the end of the day I was a ragged mess. Wednesday was first-year classes back at the middle school (Mario Kart game ftw), and Thursday was the actual last day at the bigger elementary school, which left me less wrecked by still glad I wore waterproof mascara.

I felt better at the bigger school because they made a bigger deal of things.. I felt okay about crying because I could tell they wanted me to cry. They were doing things with the express purpose of making me cry. Then the entire school "hana-michi" style harassed me all the way to the front door. It was exhilarating, and exhausting. More about all that later when I get the photos ready.

In an oddly fitting gesture from the universe, the little girl who walked into the office on perhaps my first day (she was a second grader then) was in the office again during the end of my last day. She was the first student I have memory of speaking directly to; as a second grader she came up to me and told me that I was cute (which was a shocking thing to hear from an adorable second grade girl willing to walk right up to you), and gave a sort of botched self-intro in English. She's one of the special needs kids and is absolutely precious still. She's a fifth grader now and she thanked me for the time I've spent there before I slipped out to put all the presents I'd gotten near my desk at the middle school.

And since I realized (that afternoon) that I was going to be making cookies the very next day, I decided to just get all that stuff when I had my car, which I would on Friday, because I would need to transport said shit tonne of pudding mix (not heavy) and 5.5 kg of chocolate chips (kinda heavy) along with a few other odds, ends, and things.

So yeah. It's been a short week (too short... I almost wish I'd had Monday) and now I'm facing this weekend when I will rent that giant effing van I once drove, roadtrip to Shikoku with some of Shiso-plus-Alessandro, and go rafting and canyoning again. 

All that because it's a three-day weekend, which leads into another too-short (blasphemy, I know) week, which is the last week of this semester, the last week of my job in any actuality. Ending ceremony is the 20th, the day after our Salamander farewell dinner which is the same day as the BOE last 'greeting' for which I'll get out of school early (I am never sure these days whether skipping school time is a good thing anymore)... 

There is no time to think, little to plan, and I feel like I should have seen this coming, but I didn't realize it would come on so fast! I know there will be another quieter period once the school year ends (after my 'word' at the closing ceremony, etc.) for me to pack and clean and sort, but the way all this descended in a rush makes me feel like I should be packed and ready to go, like, tomorrow. Which just adds to the sense that there was probably a time to think and feel and plan, and that time has come and gone while I was marveling at June and how for the first time it wasn't a shit show. Whatever was missing from June has about hit the fan and here we are up on the final countdown.

So some moments I'm really happy, and some moments I'm hearing a song I just discovered on a CD I unearthed in the packing process and it's making me cry. And some moments I'm feeling relieved that I don't have to plan for/worry about/English educate this or that group anymore -- that their enthusiasm for or knowledge of English is no longer my responsibility. Other moments a particular face will come to mind.. a kid or a teacher, and I'll have to forget for the moment how much it sucks to leave a place.. how much I always did hate graduations.

One of the third graders summed it up pretty well at my send-off ceremony. "She's crying! Look! Now she's smiling. [confusion]" There's that saying, don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened. But I was always one to have it both ways.