the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Friday, August 18, 2006

The update to end all updates

Sorry, I didn't have internet for about a week. But I kept writing:


It just hit me as I was waiting to board the flight to Tokyo; I'm leaving. I'm going to be a foreigner for two years. I'm going to be a permanent stranger for two years.

The trip has been rather uneventful (aside from a few personal problems getting to the airport). I came three hours early just like the TSA recommended, but there weren't many people in MSP at 7 am. But the check in lady there said they had been swamped around 5 am, and they were expecting to be backed up again by 8 am. So I guess I came at a good time. I wasn't randomly searched, or personally searched, and my carry-on was never searched 窶� just the regular security line shuffle. And aside from the lack of personal beverages on the plane it's going pretty well.

I went to an ecumenical church service at MSP, mostly to kill time. It was pretty liturgical in a homey sort of way.

I sat next to a woman from Syracuse on the plane to Detroit (and I didn't have to walk a marathon across the DWT airport!!). She had a neighbor whose daughter went to Coe, and she was genuinely interested in Japan in a New England sort of way. She and her husband were working on a crossword from The New York Times, and she nibbled at a bran muffin with her left hand while she chatted with her right hand. She said maybe I would get lucky and the flight to Tokyo would be empty so I could stretch out across the seats. I told her I doubted it 窶� every other time I've flown to Tokyo it's been a full. Yet here I sit in the middle section of row 43 in a Boeing 747, all by myself. There's a first time for everything.

I bought 窶彜laughterhouse Five窶� and 窶弋he Old Man and the Sea窶� for airport books. I also picked up a copy of 窶廾utside Magazine窶� because they had an article on the best outdoor getaways in Japan (Jay, I'll mail you a copy, whether you want it or not :) ) I already slept once but the turbulence over the Canadian Rockies woke me up. I might try stretching across the seats once we get out over the Pacific.

On the domestic flight everyone was very nice to me. My stewardess paid extra attention to me and gave me an English magazine. My neighbor (who either spoke no English or was shy) showed me how to use my stethoscope shaped headphones, and directed me to the English pop station. By bobbing his head he showed me he was also listening to that station.

Where everybody knows your language

My friend KS-chan once asked me, 窶廬sn't it weird to come to a foreign country where everyone speaks your language?窶� I wasn't so odd then, but here in the countryside, it's weirder. I watched everyone at the gate, and I know that I was the only Caucasian foreigner on the flight. I suppose there could have been other English speaking Asian foreigners on the plane. All announcements on the plane were followed by the translation in English. I wondered if they did that when there were no foreigners on the plane too.


Mr. U and Mr. O picked me up at the airport. I was looking for an older man, but both men were in their early thirties at their latest. Mr. O came to summer institute at NWC with Justin so he knows a little about the NW and Iowa.

O-san has been very good too me. I suppose there could have been other English speaking Asian foreigners on the plane. He has been the person who has taken me to the bank, foreign registration, etc. He also took me out to the mountains. H is on a sort of plateau and is surrounded on nearly three sides by mountains. And it's beautiful up here. H also has some shopping, some parks, karaoke, and a castle. There is a village, O, that is closer to the mountains. The village mascot is an alligator. O-san took me to a tea shop on the top of the mountain where you can watch the parasailers fly. He asked me inquiring questions about my family, why I came to Japan, etc. I believe he is a very intelligent and caring person. He just isn't rushed. God bless Mr. O.

The main industries in H are rice cultivation and apple orchards. I believe this is why I have been told that H is a rural town 窶� despite its population of 180k. The price of apples is recently in decline, and the town has not quite healed from the Asian market crash in the not too distant past. This is why only fifty percent of high school grads in H seek higher education. Most need to enter the work force to support their families.

Although H is larger in population than SF, it is smaller in area. My apartment building is at least eight stories tall. The school is four stories tall, and the local department stores are all at least four stories tall. Departments are separated by floor 窶� groceries on the first floor, women's clothes on the second, men's third, arcade/electronics on the fourth, housewares on the fifth, etc. Apparently schools are the same way. The student's year in school determines which floor they will frequent.

The mansion

My apartment is very linear. It goes from entryway (lose your shoes) to kitchen, living room, bedroom, and then balcony. The bathroom and laundry room are just off the kitchen. This is pretty typical.

The kitchen is raised slightly from the entryway, and has a two-burner stove, a sink/counter all in one, a refrigerator that is about twice as big as a dorm frig, a microwave, toaster, and of course ricecooker.

The laundry room is the gateway between the kitchen and the bathroom. It has a top loading washer, and some shelving above it for laundering products.

My bathroom is slightly raised from the kitchen, and has a shower, sink and toilet all in the same room. This is not typical. Most residences have a separate room for the toilet. The light switch is outside the bathroom (that is typical), and I am still getting used to turning it on before entering. The sink comes up to my thigh, and the water for the sink and the shower both come from the same source. There is a switch at the base of the sink that let's you choose between sink or shower. The shower has a removable spigot with a flexihose (that is also typical) and when I place it in it's holder on the shower wall it is at the right height 窶� actually better than the shower in the basement in CL. The toilethandle swings both ways. One flushes a large amount of water, and the other a small amount. This allows you to decide who much water you want to consume based on your excrement. The entire room is actually one large plastic box, and the baseboard of the door is nearly three inches tall (to keep spilled water in).

The living room is just that. It has a TV, couch, dinette set, and a wall full of shelves. The books range from language learning to history, pop fiction, religion, historical fiction, Japanese tourism, Japanese culture, etc. There is also a large collection of National Geographic magazines. I've started calling it the library. Thank you Justin.

The bedroom was originally a tatami room. But someone has covered it with a large area rug and inserted a bed and dresser.

Through the paper doors (and then some patio doors) is the balcony. It is about three feet wide with two chairs, a clothes line of sorts, and a wonderful view of the south side of H and the mountains. The balcony is hands down the best part of the apartment.

Where the streets have no names

I woke up with a start this morning. Every morning I wake up to tile roofs, building up to taller buildings, then mountains. All this is covered in the sound of moped and bike traffic. It's quite a change for someone from the flatlands of the Midwest. I live about two blocks away from a main intersection, and from the height of my apartment, it sounds like I'm right there at the intersection.

Theres no daylight savings time here, so the sun actually rises at about 5 am here 窶� I've watched it twice in my jet lag, but I'm getting better, today I missed the sun rise by nearly two hours) and it sets by 8 pm. I keep looking out my apartment window, trying to make the streets line up with the rising sun in the east, but I can't. I tell myself that it's a mountain town, and there are too many hazards to build a straight road. But I know this is not true. :) I am glad my building is nine stories tall (I counted them on the directory yesterday) that way I can find it by walking in the direction I think it is, and then finding it on the horizon.

I asked O-san what the street signs here look like, and he told me that the streets here have no names (and you thought U2 lyrics were creative :) ) so you pretty much have to just know where you are going. Or in my case, get lost on purpose and then find your way back home. I make fun of the streets here 窶� probably because I am still afraid of getting lost 窶� but there is some reason to them. On the map it looks like all the main roads either head downtown (where I live) or they make circles around it in a sort of polar grid configuration.

Oh, one last thing. I can't seem to stay hydrated. I don't understand; I drink even more water here, plus tea. I hope it is just the elevation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

glad to hear you made it there, lost, and safe


8/20/2006 2:15 AM  
Blogger ariel said...

Is it pretty dry there right now? Or windy? Those might be reasons.

Thanks for the update! Glad to hear you're there safely. We want pictures soon! (From balcony esp.)

8/20/2006 1:01 PM  

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