And just as I'd gotten in the rhythm of it, we get hit with the special events. There was MultiCultural Festival and the field trip the day before. What insanity? you think. No no no. The field trip was to get the rugrats out of the classrooms for a day while their moms decorated for MCF. And MCF was only on a Wednesday because Labor Day (May 1st in most of the world) fell on a Wednesday.
This means I did a presentation all morning (had the foresight to make a video for that, so I simply had to flash a little charisma and hit play for that part) and teach a dance all afternoon. Not just any dance, the haka. To elementary kids. Having been without a bicycle for a month and thus my cardio has gone downhill, and my leg muscles aren't what they could be either. And I had to do
yeah that. For about four hours. I've got blotchy bruises on the tops of both thighs, worse on the right because I'm right-handed and wear rings on that hand. I mean, great fun but it took a couple Bufferin to get through my day, and a glass of bokbunja to get through last night. My hair has yet to forgive me.
And yet there's Yong Yong, happy that I remembered to fill the basin from the shower last night, happy to roll over and receive lovins and 'help' me read a smutty novel on my tablet. So life's not all bad by any stretch--just hard work.
Nearly bought the tablet today but the only standing keyboard they had was for iPad and that won't work. It's the year of the Snake, and I'm leaving nothing to chance.
Had a wonderful time with colleagues/new friends Friday night. We had no end of fun at N---'s expense. It seems that, possibly due to his virtuoso saxophone skillz, his fingers won't give the middle finger. I don't know how we got on the subject of flipping people off, but we all compared how we did it and N--- just held up claws. He could not get his middle finger straight and the others folded in. Total hilarity, suggesting that the guy is too nice for such a gesture. He really is a nice guy, but we all found it unthinkable that anyone could get to adulthood without the sheer need to flip someone off.
I'm forgetting some small thing I wanted to write about because this bigger thing has been playing around my head for a little while.
Folks--particularly folks in Japan in the dispatch business in some form or other--like to say that the difference between Japan and Korea is the higher cost of living, and shoganai (there's no helping that). While that helps one sleep at night, creates most important harmony, it's not the main difference. Sure, the salaries are comparable if you only look at the paystub. But there are bigger differences.
The intangible difference--and the one that got me leaving Japan a few months ahead of schedule--is the job insecurity inherent in the dispatch system. An ALT who is a good teacher, gets along with others, essentially does everything right could still find him/herself out of a job at the end of March because the dispatch company employing her failed to get the bid for the school. If you can live out of a couple bags and can relocate anywhere on a moment's notice, this is not a problem. Those are the employees the companies want, plugs that can go into any port without any fuss. Hell, even Japanese teachers get moved around like priests not knowing at the end of March where they'll be living in April, nevermind where they'll be working. The old system of lifetime employment apparently doesn't apply to teachers now. I blame corporate America for teaching Japan its bad habits, but I don't know that that's where they get it.
The tangible difference though, the one I knew and chose to ignore, is money. The salary is close, yes, but on top of that Korea offers flight benefits, rent benefits, and in some cases a utility stipend...plus an exit bonus of about a month's salary. 400 a month rent, 1300 for flight (used to be 2000), 2300ish for exit bonus....you're looking at a difference of 7600 a year. Depending on exchange rate that figure is in the neighborhood of 7 thousand dollars a year's difference. That does not take into account that Japanese living expenses really are higher. Food is comparable, but internet is double or triple, utilities about a third higher IIRC, transportation i.e. buses and trains a solid three times higher. Those costs could be absorbed if the compensation was on par, but it isn't. Seven grand a year buys a lot of comfort.
Found a cat cafe in town--Daejeon is a good-sized town. There is apparently a public bicycle rental system I need to check out, but I still want a bike to own. Belt-driven bicycles like the one I had for a song in Japan are rare here but can be bought. I'll look at prices--it might actually be cheaper to go back to G---, buy one from him, and take it back here on the ferry. If I do that, though, I'd need to find a mechanic here who could service it! One thing at a time though...watch for local bikes on the cheap, tablet, bathtub, bidet on the cheap, DVD drive and/or player. See what comforts a little money buys? I don't ever want to be poor again. And it's the Year of the Snake--I can leave nothing to chance. Must get Loki--must get smart, and crafty, and pragmatic, and somehow keep my natural better nature besides.
It's good to cause a little confusion once in awhile.
My niece has e-mail now--I am so proud. I hope she writes often.I wonder if she'd want to go to university in Seoul or Busan? That's at least four years away and I want to go home, but this is an amazing experience and I imagine her uncle would help...
It's amazing how a little cash will improve my spirits. Granted most of it is borrowed but I can look down the road and know that I can repay it without starving, and that matters. Kind of a close call today thought--I saw a "Kyobo" sign near the mall today. I'm safe--it's the office, not the bookstore.
My apartment's bathroom light is dead and I have to light the stove with a match, and I don't mind. I have ondol and an aircon. So there's a puddle behind the washing machine--I know how to deal with that. Looking out for a laundromat so I can dry my clothes when summer hits, but no luck yet. I have way too much stuff but I know that. The DVD player is dead, probably died in transit from Hanam to Japan as the sound didn't work then either. I just assumed the lack of sound was a glitch due to the Japanese plug--nope, apparently it's broken. Since the DVD-ROM in my laptop has a software glitch I have to stick with downloaded stuff if I'm going to watch anything. For now anyway. Makes me want to go to Best Denki and get an external harddrive...oh wait. One thing I'll say about Japan, they've got great electronics. Things here are far from bad but...maybe they're organized better? I always seemed to find the gadgets in Kumamoto.
A couple of parks here and the one in the city seemed to have an event happening. I was up too early to see what it was, maybe some other time. Watching for a peaceful place here as I no longer have the Kikuchi River to breathe at. There are temples here but they are Korean style temples, someone's spare room done up as a meditation space. Socially awkward for me plus showy--a park is better. I wonder where the Koreans hide the shrines? It makes little sense that they wouldn't have them, but history is clear they'd have to hide them. New eyes for a somewhat familiar place.
I'll have to write the story of Taejeon sometime, the guy after whom this city is named. Fascinating insight on how things worked here.
Want that air mattress, want to shake this headache. Headache is achey shoulders plus not having taken care of my teeth well enough. It might also be that today's lunch meat--at home--was slightly iffy. I cooked it well done and it tasted okay, but the smell was slightly off before I cooked it. Normally I'd toss something like that but I wanted meat too badly, and the other meat I bought is marinated. Meaning that if the meat was iffy because my 'frig is not cold enough, the marinade would merely hide the iffiness.
Which reminds me--I need to find a translation for the 'frig dial so I can turn it to near-freeze. The previous teacher M---- apparently was/is a vegetarian (who liked citrus scents, left me some nice soaps and shampoo) so she would not have had the same problems with chilling.
Until next time.
Yong Yong has been an absolute angel through all of this. He knew we were moving, I could see the stress signs, but he always hit the box and never did anything too impulsive over it. He has gone back to hiding under blankets which is actually adorable as there's no real risk of me sitting on him this time. Last night I stayed in the spare room of the coordinator (the Korean teacher who handles necessities for us foreign teachers, what a public school would innacurately call a co-teacher). She was worried, didn't say about what but I know the reputation cats have. He didn't scratch her furniture or pee anywhere outside the box. He cried a lot, and she worried about the neighbors briefly, but we found he likes her and that helped. I've found he trusts people again, and that the Koreans I've encountered actually like cats for the most part. That's such a huge change from only a year ago. I also found that if I drape my wubby over his carrier he quiets down quite well. A car, a plane, and a bus, and then all day in a van and he's not holding any grudges. I love my cat. I must find something better for his box for tonight--the only box P---, my coordinator had handy is barely big enough for him to squat in.
At a PC bang, of course. Went hunting for dinner and found a Pizza Maru, like the one we had in Geumchon except I swear the pizza is bigger. Passing through Daejeon proper there are plenty of restaurants, a Lotte Mart (department store), and a high speed train to Seoul (about an hour, but not cheap enough to do every weekend or anything). Here in Seogu I found two chain coffee joints and one private, so I'll be covered in that department. I'm planning to use some money loaned to me to get a tablet so books will be cheaper to buy and a hell of a lot cheaper to pack. I prefer the look/feel of print, but postage was a horrible blow to my budget.
My apartment is quite small but with a patio and ondol heating I think it will be quite comfy. What it lacks right now is a television, and without my computer functioning that will make it a dull place for a little while. Not like I can do yoga in there, though even with plenty of room in Yamaga I didn't do it there very often. One of my new coworkers/neighbors has a bicycle, free but needs repairs. I think I'll take it. That's a good habit I should keep.
Brain fading...ah yes, work. Private church-affiliated school. I am the teacher--not co-teacher but actual mostly solo teacher--of 2nd grade elementary students. They're in an English immersion program so most do understand English well, though I must remember to talk more slowly and use age-leveled English. The school is already five weeks in, so I've got to hit the ground running. Fortunately, as they say about women in general, this is not difficult. A bit of work but all familiar ground, minus the fact that this age group really does not sit still for more than seven minutes. And they hug. A lot. I was warned in advance so I mentally prepared myself for this and actually enjoy it, though I have to be mindful not to be perceived as having favorites. A girl called me 'mommy' several times and I just kept smiling and saying no, no no I'm not. Teacher. I'm still an introvert and I still know that affection can be selfishly motivated, but so is a cat's, and I enjoy the hell out of that.
One of the lesson plans, a last-minute thing a colleague came up with, involved compare and contrast using Tom & Jerry cartoons since the kids like them. I got to show off my mad opensource skillz, and got to introduce the kids to the joys of YouTube's "MeanKitty". Now the kids are hooked on Sparta and Loki and Ding-Ding the doggie. :) Next up: Simon's Cat. After that: Barry Fun English. I don't think I could ever have taught this age group before I found such toys. I'm just not that entertaining.
Most kids play music and there are stacks of violin cases in random places on campus. I might actully get back to lessons and not just haul Layla around again.
Suddenly shivery--should probably hit the convenience store and go home. Coffee will wait for another day, and instant will have to stave off the addiction tomorrow morning. In Japan I cut back, and it won't kill me to stay cut back a bit. I wish I could have left Japan more elegantly by a mile but it was just too risky. There is the old metaphor of the east Asian brothers, and some truth to that.
Yes, I am aware of the news with Lil' Kim, but as before it doesn't seem to affect average people here.
Seriously, should go home, unpack my radio and see if I can get anything on it. Until tomorrowish then.
A JET friend of mine sent me a lead on a UNESCO trip that included local (Yamaga) burial grounds and a workshop on making and using samurai swords. Ye olde samurais used two, a short sword whose name escapes me at the moment, and the world-famous katana.
On the way there I got pictures and video of rural Arao because, why not? It’s pretty countryside and odds are I won’t be back that way again.
But pretty countryside is not why you’re reading this. We get to a neighborhood near Greenland amusement park and the bus pulls into a lot barely big enough to hold it. We all pile out, people from all over the world though heavily from western Asia—you’ll see that in the group portrait. We walk through a neighborhood to a rather unassuming house/workshop that reminded me of the little temples that dot this place, a lovely garden and a sense of serenity. They had a sweet old tabby cat who didn’t mind us petting her at all contributing to the overall chill atmosphere of the place. That may seem odd, but you must remember that since the postwar de-facto occupation of Japan the katana has been kept legal strictly as a work of art. Only handmade ones are legal in this country, mass-produced ones are considered weapons and are thus outlawed. Besides which, as my gun-loving friends and relatives like to remind me, an armed society is a polite society! A place like this, brimming with the world’s finest sword, is not going to tolerate hotheads. They don’t live long.
Our group being too large for the forge area we were split into two groups, one to see the swords being made and the other to see them used. I saw the ‘used’ portion first. Three men, all retirement age and one declared to be 76 years old, demonstrated how to use the katana. Rolled up bamboo mats were placed on target stands to hold them upright, and with proper reverence these targets were sliced like so many celery stalks. They made it look easy, though not quite as easy as you see in the movies. Don’t believe movies…
We were asked for volunteers to try these swords out. Wild horses could not have stopped me, and I stepped up first. I was nudged into proper stance and coached into correct hand position, and my tiny bit of fencing way back when was apparently on display. They told me (and I’m translating pidgin and gesture here) to bring the sword down from overhead at approximately 35 degrees, that the slice is largely vertical but that if you get the angle too far wrong you endanger your left foot. I like my left foot, I said with a grin. Keep your belly pointed at the target (which I misinterpreted as ‘suck in your gut already’), step into the slice, contact the target with the upper third of the blade but not with the tip. They stepped back and let me at it. The sword bit into the mat just enough to cut about a third of the way through and tip the thing over. Nuts. “Power” they said, turned the target around, coached me on the angle again, and let me at it. Not even. Four tries later and I only nearly bisected the damned target, despite hearing “power” a few times and trying to put more strength in while maintaining the new technique. Mind you, this is a target that a 76 year old guy had zero problem hacking apart. Like I said in the ‘teaser’ post, a katana is not a three-foot long razor blade. It’s sharp, sure, but you still have to put strength and velocity behind it. If you’re facing a zombie apocalypse, you’d better get someone who’s trained with this thing before you get cocky about having it.
I got some video of other participants but sadly none of me. I didn’t know anyone on the trip and I do know the Pentax can be a little fussy about battery and memory, especially since I was low on both. Had spares, sure, but…well, I’m an introvert. It’s just difficult for me to ask a total stranger to take video of me unless that’s his job.
So we switch places, to the forge. There’s an old-fashioned furnace inside, and I make my way to it figuring this would give me the best view of things while obstructing the fewest other people. Matsunaga-san, the artisan who makes the things, stepped into a stone depression and showed us how it was done. Sometimes he used our translator but sometimes he spoke for himself too. He explained the type of ore that was used, heated up the hot thing and showed how to work it. We had a handout which I will scan that goes into the process of making a sword, an approximately two week process for each piece. I’ve attached his business card in all this, but be aware you’re talking about two weeks of handmade, custom-made work. It’s the real deal but I didn’t even think about asking what they cost. He showed us how to hammer down a point and invited some of us to try it—I stayed back for that. After showing how that was done he pushed us spectators back a little ways and opened up the machine. It was a simple electric hammer really, festooned with Shinto straw and paper (!!!) cleansing symbols. He pulled a square piece out of the fire and set it under the machine, working it with a pedal like an old sewing machine. Wham wham wham turn over wham wham turn over wham wham wham wham. Then he took a piece of cold metal and split the piece like a chocolate bar, not all the way through. Using a little muddy water he cooled the narrow middle and folded the whole thing over, forming a nice block again, and the process was started anew. The famous “this steel is folded so many times” up front and live. He worked without eye protection, unless you count ordinary glasses. His outfit (don’t know how to describe it) was pocked with tiny little burn holes. None of this bothered him in the slightest.
When it was all over, our translator asked us if we had any questions. I said yes, do these guys realize how famous these swords are in the world? After a little discussion he showed me a picture of the time the ambassador from California (from the consulate, presumably in Fukuoka) had come to visit. He also saw a promotion opportunity, and said he could ship the swords to the U.S. I told him that unfortunately it was illegal to ship them to California, which in part was a dodge, a polite way to say that no way in Hell could I afford to buy one of these treasures. All the same I asked for a business card, in case someone with more money and nerve than I might want one. He’d shipped some to Vegas in the past, he’d said. When we got back in the bus we all smelled pleasantly of soot.
The burial mounds, while nice, were anticlimactic after that.
General notes while looking through the pictures:
The male translator/tour guide—he was with us for the Noh workshop. Seriously attractive guy.
The little white things protruding from the mens’ clothes are traditional. They are both a notepad and a stomach protector, in other words a shield you can take notes on. How cool is that?
The pants are called hakama according to my local barista. They are traditional wear both for warriors and teachers.
I wanted a picture of me wearing the katana properly but we were being hurried to our bus at that point.
The video of the hammer/fold is sideways. I have software that will correct that but I need to pay the registration on that and right now I have bigger financial priorities. If you know a free way let me know. If it’s okay sideways that would be good to know too.
Composed offline--pictures mostly here http://s218.beta.photobucket.com/user/lu
That said, Hunger Games was a far lesser film than Battle Royale. SPOILERS AHEAD The point that struck me about HG was how nobody was fighting the system, tiny ineffectual gestures of protest but nothing of any substance until the very end. Here's Katniss, lethal ranged weapon in hand, not even a pane of glass between her and her oppressors, and she does NOT go postal on them?? Nor do any of the other kids?
'Bad' kids bragged about killing and got killed. 'Good' kids only killed to defend others if at all, and died offscreen. In BR there were no such silly distinctions. Even Shuya got his hands bloodied.
Both groups of kids had trained quasi-professionals in the mix, but in BR you actually feared them because they were actually older, stronger, and batsh-- crazy. HG's pro led a little group of bullies, then as he was dying *whined* about how he was no good because he was only ever a killer. He *whined*. Ugh.
HG had to resort to CGI despite the premise. Armed kids aren't scary enough--we need fireballs!
The character who survived the last games is a drunk in HG. Good, I thought when he came up, maybe he'll give us some insight on the emotional scars this gives someone. Nope, just a drunk. We get some interesting insights from the registration lady who goes on about 'manners', wholly oblivious to killing and stuff. Just a tease though.
The guy from Rue's district helped out Katniss "for Rue's sake." And how exactly did he know? The whole world gets the video feed except the kids.
Katniss survives because she gains the sympathy of the audience and her crush. Shuya survives because he gains the trust of the other kids. I think that's a better moral to the story, and a higher bar to overcome. She's an excellent bowyer before going in. He's got no martial skills at all. I find him a better hero, despite the sequel.
No real betrayals in HG, none you could care about anyway. BR was middle school writ large, and since I'm actually working at a Japanese middle school I see every day how close to home that film hits. HG is too distant. The kids were friends for a week, tops. No emotional connection between them, no connection between me and them. Didn't really care.
In her defense though, the actress playing Katniss was quite good. People complained that she was numb/dull to watch, but she's no Kirsten Stewart. The role called for stoic and numb and that's exactly how she played her. The ending 'interview' was very well done--I was afraid of Katniss at that point, as we all should be.
So in short, HG was predictable and pat compared to BR. It had the slaughter around the supply chain just like BR, the well-trained killers in the mix, the hero couple, and a wide variety of weapons. The game's rules were more arbitrary--dystopian Japan has a much better handle on their people than dystopian Panem, because they didn't have to change the rules midstream. Of course HG had a Hollywood budget but that actually worked against them. The Capitol was eye candy but the characters didn't seem to react to it. And Lenny Kravitz played possibly the most lovable character in the lot, the one with the most spirit in him.
Glad I saw it. Glad I didn't pay theater prices to see it, though I wonder what previews they showed when it was played out here. That might have been worth the ticket.
New icon. I'd say base is
stolen but it's more a case of not keeping track of where I grabbed it
from. The text is my own--an old tagline from WWIV days, in green which
is Marvel-Loki color (as opposed to Supernatural Gabriel/Loki, who
tended towards khaki). I figured the quote fit, though if I'd gone with
the snarkier one (I'd have to delete another old icon for that), I'd
have put "bag of cats" instead.
I grabbed a few others and thought of a few other quotes, but this is it for now.
This is my nightmare, not the horrifying want to die kind, just the things are wrong for no good reason and in discomforting ways nightmare.
My home internet shut itself off Sunday morning. I'm typing this at home with the plan to post it tomorrow from work. Had I made that plan this morning it would have ended badly—internet in Kahoku was also off. I got one brief message out on the game board this afternoon when the connection went screwy again, got on my e-mail long enough to see that I had a voice mail, but with no number attached to it. I don't know who it's from, or when it was left. I'm hoping for a call regarding work so this outage timing could not be worse
I tried to call Yahoo myself and, despite being told otherwise when I signed up, I could not reach an English speaker. I called LuckyBoy who called Yahoo, who suggested I shut the modem off and on and check the wires. Of course I've already done this, multiple times and in every sequence I could think of. Nothing. That was the best suggestion they could come up with other than sending me a new modem, which will take a few days, may go to the wrong address again, and won't necessarily come with a tech person who can diagnose the problem if that's not it.
Angst from Hell. And my dearest oldest friend facing a funeral, and I can't even text her.
I'm listening to the Silent Hill 1 soundtrack because it just seems appropriate
At work today...well, this morning there was a very light rain but warmish. The weather has been very comfortable for a little while, warm for what I'd expect of February, and rainy. Is there a storm offshore messing with things? So I go to work and they're still doing construction on our office, so the office is surrounded by translucent plastic. You can see the color outside but you can't see anything else, no birds to watch, no nature to connect with, no view at all to ground me. I went out to the pond in front to see if the koi had been moved to save them from the stresses of the construction. I was happily surprised to see at least three of the five of them still in the pond and not belly-up. What made this a nightmare was that they weren't moving. They didn't swim towards or away from anything. Their tails were perfectly still. I was too far to see if their fore-fins were swaying. If I weren't fairly sure they'd be belly up I would tell you they were dead, but they were right-side up.
It was dark outside much of the day, raining off and on I think but hard to tell under that tarp. Walking up the stairs to class I put my hand on the rail. The metal rail that holds the handicapped lift, wet. The marble divider between the stairs, wet. Went into the bathroom, leaned on the wall to change shoes—wet. Not just a little damp, but a coat of water on the wall, on the stairwells where they'd do me less than no good in a fall, on the lower steps where they'd invite a fall. Wet. Wet and
Dark. Not so bad for the trip home, which I made without stopping at the Toki because I'd left my glasses and meds at home this morning, so sipping coffee and reading would be pointless and getting in to call Yahoo a much better deal in theory. But being in that covered room, being under those dark clouds, being cut off from communication, the mind swims into ugly places. Was there some big event? Massive storm? Nuclear plant gone boom? Volcano that curiously does not smell? I'm not imagining zombies or anything so obviously fanciful, and discarding what I can, but it is an uneasy feeling tonight.
Here's hoping I can post this in the morning.
It is a lovely place to visit. I'm still cursing that I don't have enough money to travel, at least before New Year and new paycheck, though I haven't ruled out finally getting to Miyazaki then. I mean, the alternative is getting to the east coast of Hawaii, and that doesn't seem realistic! Besides, Miyazaki is a beach town--got to be pretty, right?
Eating a little healthier, though I find myself in my old bad habit of buying good food and then not actually eating it. On the bright side that means there's healthy food in the apartment. I'll probably head back up the street and get another one of those generic Jiffy Pops, unless I find oil and corns the next time I'm in town. I forgot how satisfying popcorn can be.
I'm comfy warm at the moment though I must admit that's more artifice than nature. I have three "wives" (hot water bottles) and used them all last night. Two of them adorn this desk chair, and all three preheat my bed for me. Plus the real cat (the bottle covers are cat-shaped) and I sleep quite comfortably, even when the space heaters can't get the room up to 20C (about 70F). I've also got two hot packs on at the moment, one in each pocket, plus two layers on bottom and three on top. My hands aren't cold--not sure why that is but not arguing with it either. At night I heat up the kettle (bought it for popcorn actually) full of water and use it as a de facto humidifier, and that works really well. My downstairs neighbor/landlady has a wall unit heater, lucky dear.
So very much filing to do, some worksheets, a ton of paperwork, did I even do anything about my taxes? Need to get a new CV book as the old one--I'd say bad planning, but it's worked well for ten years. It's just time. Tried to get one locally but couldn't describe it adequately, so I may go into town for it. It's the end of December and they've got racks of yearly planners, just have to find something on those racks that will do the job.
Meanwhile I'm supposed to be assembling some shelves on which to sort my to-scan boxes, so I'd best get on it. Pictures will come later--they're in the mental inbox right now.
Now what to put on the radio?
And say what you want about Yoko Ono, but I doubt I've have seen the Lennon tribute band tonight if she hadn't married John. They were quite good too--will post the footage...,meh, tomorrow. Not feeling ambitious after that therapeutic beating.