Sunday, October 30, 2005

October 30, 2005

Old news already, but I got my hair cut! Today was also filled with 9 hours of shopping in Chiba. First, the Indonesians at Uniqlo, then after coffee with Lukas at Starbucks (sorry Dad) another trip to Uniqlo and then finally Mister Donut with Lukas, Hatim, Daniel and Ahmed. A long day without much to write about..

Saturday, October 29, 2005

October 29, 2005

Architecture Field Trip #1 -- Samurai House & National History Museum

After the late return home last night, I wasn’t impressed with my 9 am alarm going off. I hit snooze 3 times, but guiltily got out of bed at a quarter past 9 and stepped into the shower. While I sat drying my hair, Richie emailed me to say he was running late, and I quickly got dressed & ready to go. By the time I made it downstairs, there was a group waiting for me, and together, we ended up waiting together for Hatim, as per usual. The train ride to Sakura was simple enough – mainly because our professor and his family led the way. His wife spoke English, and their 2 sons were happy to attach themselves to Richie & Hatim throughout the day, ironically, the two with the least amount of Japanese language abilities.

Our visit to the Samurai house began with a call from home - Babi called me, which I had not been expecting, and I fell back behind the group to talk to her for nearly 20 minutes. It was so nice hearing her voice, despite the fact that I was melancholic for the rest of the day, and to hear her version of how things were back home was such a treat. After the call, I wandered around the Samurai houses mainly by myself, lost in thought of history and all the things I'd learned about Japan's Samurai class back home. The simplicity and functunality of the homes was inspiring (see pictures!) and I'm so glad I was in a somber mood - which I think the feel of the houses helped to accentuate.

From the Samurai houses, we took the scenic route through a bamboo thicket towards the National History museum. It felt like a scene out of a movie, between the stairs built out of rock and the bamboo lining the pathway. Claudia, Katchan and Richie even managed to get so caught up in the forest that when we arrived at the park entrance for the museum, they were nowhere to be found. Between emails and phone calls, Kai & I figured out that they were finding their way to us, and we gave them directions as best we could.

The park began with a steep climb of nearly 100 stairs, and then a stroll across an empty field before squeezing through the brush into the museum area. The park that lined the museum included a large cafeteria-styled building, where we sat as a group to eat our lunch and wait for the three castaways. By the time they showed up, lunch was finished, and we began our tour of the museum.

5 hours and many many pictures later, when our field trip came to a close, we began the long and tiring trip back home. After a bus ride back to the train station, and 2 trains back to Inage, we again split into two groups, half of us going to Tengu for dinner, and the others returning home.

Dinner was delicious, and full of laughs. Some of the Japanese students from our class had joined us and we were able to continue practicing our Japanese. We shared stories of the party the night before and afterwards, we said goodbye and returned back to the dorm, where Daniel surprised me with Starburst that he'd gotten from back home. Starburst!! (thanks Daniel)

After a failed attempt to share the day's pictures in Stephanies room (failed because there were so many people and only one computer, lol), Kai, myself and Hatim sat back to watch Dragonhead, one of the worst, and I do mean WORST, movies I have ever seen. It was so bad, in fact, that Hatim turned it off halfway through and decided to watch Zatoichi. Since I'd seen it a few days before, I headed off to bed, intent on updating my blog to include a warning to those out there that might one day have wondered whether Dragonhead is a must see or not.

Friday, October 28, 2005

October 28, 2005

After classes, Desy and I decided to go on a bicycle excursion to Inage Kaikan, the local beach. After getting directions from Yoichiro, we headed off with Desy in the lead. The ride took nearly 20 minutes, and as we rode through areas of Chiba that I've never seen before, I couldn't help but wonder just how big Chiba really is.

The beach was less than exciting. The coast was crowded with industrial sized factories and the smoke from their chimneys could be seen drifting into the sky. The shore itself was rocky and deserted, and I almost felt like we were trespassing on some forgotten piece of land, rather than visiting what should have been a beautiful and inspiring sea shore. To make up for our disappointment in the beach, we enjoyed a bike ride through the neighboring park, which was everything we'd hoped the beach would be. Beautiful trees and flowers lined the perimeter and a large green space looked inviting as we rode passed. Perhaps we'll have picnics there next summer - if we're up for the 20 minute bike ride, of course.

After returning home, Lukas and I headed off to Saty for a late lunch at Saizoria. The family style Italian restaurant is cheap and delicious, and has a nice atmosphere for just chilling out and shooting the breeze. We caught up - it had been a few days, and then headed back to the dorms, where I helped Desy re-arrange her furniture.

After a quick nap, we met up in front of the dorms and rode our bicycles back to school for yet another welcome party. This time, the party was being held in one of the cafeterias, and students (other than us 'new' international students) actually had to purchase their entry tickets. Inside, we assumed our usual groups and enjoyed another 2 hours of self-introductions and broken Japanese conversation with some new faces, and mostly old ones. Afterwards, when the party was over and we were ushered out of the cafeteria, we walked to the nearby conbenie and bought some refreshments. We then stayed on campus until the wee hours of the night, chatting, laughing, and sharing stories from back home.

My favorite part of the evening was finally sharing a decent conversation with Kai, a surprisingly quiet friend from Germany. He describes himself as someone who prefers to 'observe', and he rarely says anything just for the sake of hearing himself speak, as so many other people do. We talked about friends and family, life back home, and why we were both here in Japan.

While our other friends drank enough to do the following (see below), Kai & I just chilled, making him one of my favorite people here in Japan.

- getting drunk enough to fall off a bicycle (Katchan)
- shouting my name out and calling me while I snuck away to pee (Lucas)
- dancing without any music (Claudia)
- chatting up the crazy lady who then proceded to stalk him (Lucas)
- happily using my camera and taking all sorts of crazy pictures (Andrew)
- and so many other things happened that I can't even share on a public blog!!

After the party, we split into 2 groups. The first, mainly filled with the Americans & Europeans, headed into downtown Chiba to find a bar where they stayed and drank until very early (late?) the next morning. Andrew, Kai and myself decided instead to ride back home, where we split up and I headed to sleep. All in all, I'd say the drinking party at the Uni was successful - everyone had fun, and it felt true to the Japanese way of bonding -- over sake!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

October 27, 2005

So much homework, I don’t understand why everyone says that Japanese University is comparatively easier than the classes back home – bah!

I went for coffee with Lukas & Kai today, at the coffee shop at the station that Dad & I went to on our first day in Japan. It was a nice visit, they’re both really interesting – usually :). Afterwards, I had another English class, and when I went down to meet Kaori-san and her mother, Aki was in the building. He asked Kaori if it was alright that he join, and she agreed, so the hour was spent having the three of them introduce themselves and practice conversation. I think it is much easier with more students, because they can each practice asking and answering the same question until they really understand the individual phrases.

Afterwards, I settled into bed and watched Kurosawa’s “Zatoichi”, one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. The English subtitles were helpful, but there were even scenes in Japanese that I could mostly understand. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

October 26, 2005

I got to play a shamisen (Japanese guitar) today!! So much fun, I hope I get to try again!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

October 23, 2005

I have now officially seen the Pacific ocean from both sides, and can say that the best vantage point is still dead set in the middle in Hawaii! Odaiba, a coastal area of Tokyo made famous by it’s towering ferris wheel, was a day trip to Tokyo that brought us to my first beach in Japan. The ferris wheel, as you can see in the pictures, was HUGE, taking 17 minutes to make one entire revolution. The wheel actually doesn’t stop, and we had to get on and off while it was moving (relatively slowly). The view from the top was incredible, seeing Tokyo on one side and the vaste expanse of the ocean on the other was exhilarating. Also, it was Richie’s first time ever seeing an ocean, and his energy and excitement was contagious, making all of us enjoy it that much more.

We stayed around Odaiba Park until sunset (check out the pictures!) and then headed back, on a very long and error filled train ride. Somehow, we managed to catch the wrong train, THREE times, and the ride home took over 2.5 hours. We were all so happy to be back, that I think we each returned to our respective rooms to lie down and prepare for another school week.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

October 22, 2005

Saturday October 22nd was a day spent celebrating Andrew’s 23rd birthday. He was busy throughout the day, preparing for his clubs welcome party that night, and he & Madoka could be seen diligently working away at preparing sushi & other various food prep while we went back and forth to Maruetsu and Saty over the day. I managed to spend some time blogging, and catching up on my internet stuff before the party, and otherwise, spent the day close to home just vegging.

The party for new students started like any other – everyone mauling the food and grouping up into the usual cliques. To remind us of our place, the party included a time where all of the ‘new’ students had to parade up to the front of the room and introduce ourselves (via a microphone) to the room. In revenge, I suggested to Andrew that since everyone now knew who we were, we had a right to know everyone else, and they in turn had to do the same. While we were approaching the end of the self-introductions, I spread the word that it was Andrew’s birthday, and after the last person had been introduced, Sack (short for Alexander from Australia) headed up to use the microphone. He informed the room that it was Andrew’s birthday, and then sang happy birthday to him. We all laughed and clapped, and I swear if Andrew was white he would have been the color of a tomato!

From the party, everyone wanted to do something as a group, and so we headed towards the station to sit in a coffee shop. We enjoyed a long talk over our lattes and cappuccinos, and then stopped by the game center (arcade) to take some puri-kura, the miniature photo stickers Japan is famous for. As 9 of us crowded into the purikura booth, I knew it had been a bad idea, but the photos came out relatively well. I have since affixed one onto my denshi case and gave the rest away to people that weren’t with us.

After returning home from the arcade, we met up with a group of people that were heading towards Karaoke. There was already a huge group there, and it turned into a bit of chaos as we waited to get a bigger room. Karaoke was fun, and before Andrew lost his voice for the night (he had been emceeing the party before hand) we managed to sing BEPs together – one of his favourites.

Friday, October 21, 2005

October 21, 2005

You can imagine how I felt waking up today, knowing I would finally, after a MONTH of waiting, be able to access my money and finally feel like I can afford to live in Japan. I didn’t make it to the ATM before class, but immediately afterwards, a group of us walked over to the train station and I happily approached the cash corner, expecting to stuff my wallet full of crisp thousand yen bills. I was NOT impressed when the bank machine refused to process my withdrawal, and continued to tell me I had no money. Pissed off, and ready to tear my hair out, I hopped on the train back to Inage and marched into the bank ready to go postal on Chiba Gin. Instead, I calmly approached the lady who by now is definitely afraid of me and probably every Gai-Jin, and handed her my ATM receipts asking her what the problem was. She ran up to one of the bank clerks and huddled together, they tried to assess what the problem was. Finally, she came up to me and meekly asked if I would wait until 2 pm and re-try. I of course, said yes, knowing there was no other choice. I decided, mainly since I was so stressed out, to blow off psychology class, and instead, I came back to my room and had a nap. At 2, I went back to the bank, and thankfully, was able to take money out at the ATM. I did so, updating my bank book at the same time, and from now on, I intend to never step foot into the bank ever, EVER, again.

Stephanie and I headed over to Saty together, where I bought myself 2 new futons and a bed sheet. One of the futons is a fuzzy blue velvety-type one, that has elastics that attach it to the mattress, and which I sleep on top of. The second futon is a thicker duvet-style and I use it as a comforter. The 2nd is also blue, but with darker blue squares all over it, and it matches my curtains. The combination now makes my room the prettiest in the building (my opinion, and not yet confirmed) and about 3 times more comfortable than the rented sheet package I’ve been using previously.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

October 20, 2005

I bought curtains!! After almost 3 weeks of living with dingy, dirty, gross looking curtains over my windows and (for one night) against my bed, I took them down and stuffed them into my suitcase until the end of the year. I bought some pretty blue embroidered curtains at Maruestsu (the grocery store with the 100\ shop on the 3rd floor) and put them up. They look so clean and fresh, and make the room feel so much prettier!! Yay me!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

October 19, 2005

Since I begin classes during the 2nd period on Wednesday, I had the chance to run to the administration office at 9 am sharp, the second that they opened. I got my registered mail, which was finally my bank card!! I immediately ran upstairs to get my cheques and headed over to Chiba Gin. When the bank lady saw me again, she refused to come out from behind the teller desks to help me, and I patiently waited until one of the ‘unexpecting’ employees came over. I explained that I had my bank card and wanted to deposit my cheques, and we began the HOUR long process. After many phone calls, questions and dazed looks, the banker finally managed to process my deposit after I agreed to pay 2500 Yen (25$) each and to wait until Friday (2 days) to access the money. I agreed, figuring I had no choice and that a 2 day and 5000\ processing fee was worth it to finally have my money for the year. After the hour in the bank and the many many frustrating questions and waiting periods, I explained that I had to leave for class, and they rapidly got my signature on the necessary forms and said goodbye.

Other than the usual class stuff, I wrote out my first Japanese sakubun (essay) today, and I will include it at the bottom for those of you who are interested. I had Nobu (my tutor) edit it for me, and he had only minor changes, which made sense when I saw them. I’m not sure what the marking criteria will be for assignments like this, but I’m thinking mostly just completion marks, so the writing exercise is more practice than anything else. Keep checking in for my weekly essays and we’ll see if I actually improve.

On the ride home from school, Eugenie and I stopped in at Tsutaya, the video rental store down the street from our dormitory. Together, we signed up for membership cards (which are free for students). Every Wednesday, renting movies or CDs (which they have tons of) costs 210 Yen each. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to watch, but I began my movie renting history with a classic: Aladdin. I figured if I could follow along with the Japanese version, I’d be ready for just about anything.

After dinner and a visit with Stephanie, I began my first teaching session with Kaori-san. Her mother had to work and was going to miss our first class, so we spent the hour introducing ourselves and talking about various things that Kaori likes to do in her free time. Her English proficiency is better than I was expecting, and with the use of our electronic dictionaries, she was able to describe Odaiba to me since I am planning on going there this weekend. I hope each week will go as quickly as today’s session did, because the hour was over before I even realized. We said goodbye, confirming our date for next week, and that was it.

Afterwards, I caught up with the girls outside and was in the process of telling them about my tutoring session when I experienced my 2nd earthquake. We were sitting on the steps of D building and felt it begin to shake. Stephanie was in her room (4th floor) and she ran out onto the balcony. We were all freaked out, but she had it worse than us, because after the ground stopped shaking, the building kept going for at least 1 more minute. I guess it’s a relief to know that when I feel it in my room it will feel worse than it actually is, but for now, I’m glad I was at ground level.

Being shook up by the earthquake, and somewhat energized by my successful English class, I spent the rest of the night in my room, cleaning and rearranging furniture. I put my bed against the balcony doors and flipped my desk around to the opposite wall, where the bed was to begin with. As a result, my room feels bigger (and therefore, less claustrophobic) and after I get some decorations up, this place might start to feel like home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

October 18, 2005

After school and dinner and all of the usual stuff on Tuesday, I headed up to Laila’s room for a visit. I didn’t realize it, but I was heading into the middle of a pajama party, and I wasn’t even wearing my PJs! Desy & Steph joined us in Laila’s room, and we had a mini-party just chatting & laughing as girls will do. I wish I was in the same building as the rest of them, but I suppose there’s some merit to living in my own place – they can be pretty noisy when we all get together.

The only other thing worth mentioning today is that when I was online (back in the lobby of my bldg), Richie came out and let me listen to one of his CDs from home. I heard some Hungarian Hip Hop, which was an experience. I definately recommend getting your hands on some if you get the chance - any music repertoire would be incomplete without it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

October 17, 2005

My first Monday of classes included Japanese History in an International context. The class reminded me of my history teacher back home, Professor Vinh who suffered a stroke this summer. I hope I can get his gift home to him (Lisa, I'm still waiting for your address!!) and I am looking forward to the class to see how learning about Japanese history differs in Japan from back in Canada.

After class, I headed into downtown Chiba with Richie. We wandered around, exploring new stores and a shopping mall. I introduced him to Tower Records, where I picked up another copy of J5, which I've been missing since leaving all of my CDs back home. What was I thinking? I am in music withdrawal here. We wanted to sit in a coffee shop somewhere and just chat, but because we had another welcome party back at the dorms at 6 o'clock, we ended up catching the rush hour train back to Inage.

The party was somewhat dissapointing.. for the 500 Yen (approx. 5$) it cost to get in, most of the food was pork and/or cheese, and I barely ate a thing. After the party, we broke up into smaller groups and visited like usual.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

October 16, 2005

Today I experienced my first earthquake. I was lying in bed, just about to fall asleep for a nap and the bed started shaking. It was very subtle, and at first I thought maybe a big truck was driving by and I was only feeling the vibrations, but the shaking kept going and I realized what it was. According to Daniel, the quake was only a 3 on the Japanese 7 point system, so I guess that would make it about a 2.3 on the Richter? Anyways, as the quake settled down, I drifted off to sleep and woke up 4 hours later to a bunch of missed emails and text messages.

** You'll notice that I have started an Earthquake Counter on the right hand side of my blog. It will stay as current as possible, mainly because the earthquakes continue to freak me out, and that way, everyone back home will know I've been through another one **

I met up with Steph for dinner, we had Italian, and afterwards, everyone was grouped out front chatting about the quake and life in general. It sounds like we’re going to the Tokyo Amusement Park next week and our new vocabulary word for the day was Ferris wheel ‘kanransha’.

The rest of my day was spent trying to do some of my Economics reading. It is so dry and full of concepts that I don’t really understand that I made very little headway. I finished up my Japanese homework but I still have my self-introduction essay to write this week. If I can get it written by Tuesday, Nobusan (my tutor) will help look over it for/with me.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

October 15, 2005

Thanks dad!

I just got my first package from back home, my rain jacket and pillow - the two things I've been missing most from back home. After getting my stuff upstairs, I had a 30 minute from home and other than that, I spent all day blogging!! Still so far behind, but I'm trying to catch up, I swear!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

October 14, 2005

(From now on, I'm going to make the blog entries short & sweet until I catch up. There is so much happening almost every day that I can't keep up with it and I want my comments to be in sync with what I'm actually doing!)

My first day riding to school by myself, started with a visit to the bank at 9 am when the opened the doors. I was actually a few minutes early and got to experience waiting in line for the bank to open, followed by the chorus of irashaimase as the gates opened up. The bank manager was waiting for me, and together we filled out all of the forms that I needed and sat through the hour long account opening process. I wonder if it takes that long for a local to open an account? Anyways, after an hour I explained that I had to leave for school and so he told me that they would mail my bank card to me. After I got it, and ONLY after, would I be able to deposit my bank drafts. I thanked him and left, vowing to bomb threat the bank under my breath. If I never have to deal with a Japanese bank again, it will be too soon.

From the bank, I followed the course that I thought would take me school. In hindsight, I should have asked someone for directions before I left the dorm this morning, but I thought I remembered the route Stephanie led me on the night before. I was wrong. After nearly 30 minutes of riding around in circle (mainly following various Japanese teenagers in school uniforms) I pulled into a convenience store and asked the clerk for directions. Thankfully, she was able to show me on a map so my limited Japanese language abilities weren't an issue. I managed to pull into the CIRE (center of international research and education) building a mere 2 minutes before class started.

Getting home after school was exciting, mainly because I had a slip in my mailbox from Fed Ex. The package I had asked for from home was here, and I had Yoichiro (a Japanese friend) phone them and arrange a drop-off time for Saturday morning. After wards, I went on a bit of a shopping spree and I filled my fridge with goodies.

After dinner and some visiting in the front steps area, Hatim gave us a glow-stick show. He has been glow sticking for a year back in Chicago, and in the dark it looks really cool. The glow sticks are attached to strings, which he uses to spin them around and perform various tricks. I tried taking pictures, but because the background is so dark, first my camera wanted to use a flash - which of course ruined the effect. Also, the glow sticks move so quickly that I couldn't get a decent picture. I wish I had a manual camera so I could have set the shutter speed, but my digi-cam doesn't have that option.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

October 13, 2005

Waking up, I remembered that it was Yom Kippur, and hit snooze on my alarm clock. I figured I could get at least 5 more minutes of sleep since I would be skipping breakfast.

My sakubun class was alright, we had a few writing exercises and got our first homework assignment. We have to write our self-introduction. Luckily, I've had so much practice with it lately, the homework should be a breeze.

After class, I met up with Mariko. She introduced me to her boyfriend, and then helped me buy my bike. Since I didn't care about all of the available options, I chose the bright red one - mainly so that I will be able to recognize it in the long lineups of bikes that I will undoubtedly be parked in.

We stopped at a bookstore to browse the Japanese children's books. I was tempted to pick up Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, but considering my Japanese language abilities, I reconsidered and walked out with 2 Doraemon comics instead. We visited in the park for a while, and then promising to keep in touch, I headed to class. Afterwards, Stephanie led the way home (since I'd never biked it before). It only took about 15 minutes, but since I'd been fasting all day, it just made my hunger pains worse. I decided to spent the last remaining hour of Yom Kippur in my room, preparing a gourmet feast. I chopped up veggies and tofu into a salad, and made a pot of instant ramen. It wasn't very fancy, but I was hungry and it was filling. It also led to my first trip to the garbage, which was also not very exciting, but still had to be done. It's almost reassuring that no matter where I am in the world, the garbage will still have to be taken out.

After dinner, I visited with Steph for a bit, and then headed down to wait in front of my building. At 7 pm sharp, Kobayashi-san and 2 Japanese women walked up to meet me. We introduced ourselves and headed inside to the meeting room, where we figured out our teaching schedule. I am going to teach Matsuda and her mother for one hour a week, on alternating Wednesdays and Thursdays. I had them each introduce themeselves in English, and we said goodbye until next week.

Kobayashi stayed behind afterwards to figure out a payment plan. I am going to email her at the end of each month and tell her how many hours I worked. She'll bring my money by the dorms afterwards, and then I'll have $$!

Afterwards, I caught up with Heather on MSN and then chatted with Richie out on the front steps. He is from Hungary, and really interested in American Culture during the time of the Japanese Internment Camps. He's been a pretty cool guy to hang out with, always full of energy and something to talk about.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

October 12, 2005

My first day of classes started with Japanese during first period. 8:50 doesn't seem early, but somehow I still have to get up at 7 to make it *just* before class starts. The class itself was uneventful, mainly just self-introductions, in Japanese, and an overview of the syllabus. It looks like we will have a quiz at least once a week, sometimes twice or even three times. There is Japanese language class Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, a reading (Kanji) class on Tuesdays, and a writing (Sakubun) class on Thursdays. Every day of the week, we have a different teacher, and something tells me that is going to mean many more jikoshoukai.

After lunch with the gang, I found a computer in the international building that has fast enough internet for me to upload pictures. I started up my photo site (see link to the right) and finally got to share some of my vacation with everyone back home. What I didn't realize was that to use the computer room, I was supposed to take my shoes off at the door. I didn't know - we have no rooms like that in Canada, and there hasn't been anything else like that on campus!! I felt really bad when I realized, and I'll make sure not to forget any time soon. At least I can use the computers whenever I want/need, since they are specifically for the JPAC students (namely, me).

My first architecture class was really interesting (to me, anyways). I love looking at the pictures of buildings around the world, especially when you can see how culture and lifestyles change the needs and building structures. The teacher speaks fluent English, although a bit slowly, and the class is packed since he grades based solely on attendance. I signed up thinking it would be an easy credit, but it turned out I'm really interested in it. I guess I should have stuck to the architecture dream once upon a time - that is, if I understood physics even a little.

After class, we went to Saty as a group and bought our dinner from the grocery store "deli" area. I rushed through my sushi since I wanted to start Yom Kippur on time, and afterwards, I spent the night in my room avoiding people and their food. I had a big dinner, so I wasn't very hungry, but didnt want to face the temptation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

October 11, 2005

There isn’t much to report on today. We had an opening ceremony this morning at the university, but it lasted for only a half an hour and consisted of each of our teachers introducing themselves, mainly in Japanese, and then it was over. I helped Hatim open a bank account. .or rather, I introduced him to Ikeda-san, the man at the bank who spoke English and he helped Hatim open the account. Other than that, today was filled with a lot of travelling between the Uni and home, and none of it with much purpose.

I did manage to start my photo album on Yahoo, but by the time this entry makes it onto the blog, that will be old news.

Maybe tomorrow will be more exciting.

Monday, October 10, 2005

October 10, 2005

All in all, this was a very uneventful day. I woke up with my cold in full force, so I spent most of the day in bed, or at least within the vicinity of my bed. I did 2 loads of laundry, and discovered that the dryer is a complete waste of laundry. After 2 drying loads, my 2 pairs of jeans and t-shirts still came out damp. I decided I had to suck it up and use the balcony, so after wrapping my broom with a plastic bag, I headed out onto the balcony. I swept for what must have been 20 minutes, just trying to clean off all of the dried pigeon poop. I then tied my laundry rope up, and proceeded to hang all of my soggy clothes. I wonder if they will even dry out there? It’s been raining non-stop for days now, and the forecast doesn’t look good for the coming week.

I wanted to go for ramen at lunchtime, thinking that the soup would help my throat. I emailed Steph, but she was staying in to talk to her boy toy, so instead I walked to the market and bought a ready-made lunch. It was tasty, just not as satisfying as soup would have been. To make up for it, Steph & I went for ramen at dinner time. We found a new restaurant (just new to us) that let us choose what type of noodles we wanted, how strong of flavour we wanted, and the amount of oil we wanted in our soup. The food was yummy, but with my cold my appetite has dropped. I couldn’t finish, and I’m starting to think it’s not worth going out if I can’t finish a meal. Money is spread thin enough as is.. something to think about for the future I suppose.

After dinner, we headed over to C building (the building directly behind mine) for Soushi’s birthday party. When we entered the building, everything was so dark and quiet that we thought we might be in the wrong place. Heading up the stairs, we began to hear signs of life, and found the party just starting up on the 3rd floor. The group that was there before us was just sitting around and chatting. Being anti-social, like usual, I went and sat on the benches outside of the meeting room. Steph joined me, and when some more people showed up, they came to visit us there too. When the food arrived, everyone crowded into the meeting room for birthday wishes & such, and then a group of us quickly retreated back into the hallway/lounge.

For his birthday, Soushi managed to get his hands on a wig of blonde ringlettes. All the guys took turns trying it on, and brought many laughs to the festivities. Beer pong was a birthday favourite, as Anthony explained, demonstrated, and won the game. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and as we headed out, it was to invitations to join one group for dinner, and another for a movie. Since I’d already eaten, I decided on the movie. Meeting in the 2nd floor meeting room of E building (my building), Akmed and Daniel set up the movie via laptop & projection screen. We watched Kingdom of Heaven, with Ralph Fiennes and Orlando Bloom, and the best part was that throughout the movie, whenever a language other than English was used, somebody would call out the translation. I never realized how useful living in an international dorm could be. Besides the fact that everyone had turned their keitai to silent mode, phones kept flashing open throughout the movie. I even had 2 emails come through while we were watching, and I’m embarrassed to say I took the time to answer them. I guess there’s something to be said for turning cell phones off during a movie…

Anyways, off to bed… I am really going to try and finish blogging tomorrow so that I can post things as I write them. It would be nice to find a way to include all of my pictures too, but since internet here is so iffy, it will have to wait. I miss everyone back home, but I’m having a blast and not homesick in the least. I hope my cold is gone in the morning, classes start officially tomorrow after our noontime opening ceremony. I hate starting the school year sick, but it seems like I usually do.

October 10, 2005

All in all, this was a very uneventful day. I woke up with my cold in full force, so I spent most of the day in bed, or at least within the vicinity of my bed. I did 2 loads of laundry, and discovered that the dryer is a complete waste of laundry. After 2 drying loads, my 2 pairs of jeans and t-shirts still came out damp. I decided I had to suck it up and use the balcony, so after wrapping my broom with a plastic bag, I headed out onto the balcony. I swept for what must have been 20 minutes, just trying to clean off all of the dried pigeon poop. I then tied my laundry rope up, and proceeded to hang all of my soggy clothes. I wonder if they will even dry out there? It’s been raining non-stop for days now, and the forecast doesn’t look good for the coming week.

I wanted to go for ramen at lunchtime, thinking that the soup would help my throat. I emailed Steph, but she was staying in to talk to her boy toy, so instead I walked to the market and bought a ready-made lunch. It was tasty, just not as satisfying as soup would have been. To make up for it, Steph & I went for ramen at dinner time. We found a new restaurant (just new to us) that let us choose what type of noodles we wanted, how strong of flavour we wanted, and the amount of oil we wanted in our soup. The food was yummy, but with my cold my appetite has dropped. I couldn’t finish, and I’m starting to think it’s not worth going out if I can’t finish a meal. Money is spread thin enough as is.. something to think about for the future I suppose.

After dinner, we headed over to C building (the building directly behind mine) for Soushi’s birthday party. When we entered the building, everything was so dark and quiet that we thought we might be in the wrong place. Heading up the stairs, we began to hear signs of life, and found the party just starting up on the 3rd floor. The group that was there before us was just sitting around and chatting. Being anti-social, like usual, I went and sat on the benches outside of the meeting room. Steph joined me, and when some more people showed up, they came to visit us there too. When the food arrived, everyone crowded into the meeting room for birthday wishes & such, and then a group of us quickly retreated back into the hallway/lounge.

For his birthday, Soushi managed to get his hands on a wig of blonde ringlettes. All the guys took turns trying it on, and brought many laughs to the festivities. Beer pong was a birthday favourite, as Anthony explained, demonstrated, and won the game. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and as we headed out, it was to invitations to join one group for dinner, and another for a movie. Since I’d already eaten, I decided on the movie. Meeting in the 2nd floor meeting room of E building (my building), Akmed and Daniel set up the movie via laptop & projection screen. We watched Kingdom of Heaven, with Ralph Fiennes and Orlando Bloom, and the best part was that throughout the movie, whenever a language other than English was used, somebody would call out the translation. I never realized how useful living in an international dorm could be. Besides the fact that everyone had turned their keitai to silent mode, phones kept flashing open throughout the movie. I even had 2 emails come through while we were watching, and I’m embarrassed to say I took the time to answer them. I guess there’s something to be said for turning cell phones off during a movie…

Anyways, off to bed… I am really going to try and finish blogging tomorrow so that I can post things as I write them. It would be nice to find a way to include all of my pictures too, but since internet here is so iffy, it will have to wait. I miss everyone back home, but I’m having a blast and not homesick in the least. I hope my cold is gone in the morning, classes start officially tomorrow after our noontime opening ceremony. I hate starting the school year sick, but it seems like I usually do.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

October 9, 2005

Laila’s birthday started with a 9 am wake-up email from the birthday girl herself. With the plan to meet at 10, a group of us headed to the train station to begin our day trip to Tokyo. We started in Akhibara (the electronics district) where we wandered around looking at electronic dictionaries. Nobody bought anything, and we quickly decided we were hungry and anxious to find a place to eat. Laila had plans to meet her friend Mami-san in Harajuku, so we took the 1/2 hour train ride and met up with her there. We wandered around, taking pictures of crazy Japanese people in their wild get-ups, and we stopped for lunch at a curry-udon restaurant. We were happy to sit in the Japanese style seats for approximately 30 seconds, until we realized that sitting with our legs folded under us was excruciatingly painful, and by the end of the meal, most of us had lost all feeling in our legs.

After lunch, we walked up to Meiji-jingu mae, a famous bridge that made Harajuku famous, where all the Japanese punks hang out. They were happy to let us take pictures with them, and of them, and we did. For over an hour. You can see why, and we had so much fun that we are planning to go back. We actually made it as far as the front gate of the Meiji-jingu (shrine) but decided it was more fun to stay on the bridge than to visit the religious center.

Hatim, Natasha & Desy hadn’t gotten up early enough to join us in Tokyo, but they had followed after us and were in Akihabara. After e-mailing back and forth, we met up with them and wandered the streets of Akhi-ba (as the Japanese call it) together. I bought a USB memory stick for my computer (finally) and after those who wanted found their dictionaries, we headed back to Inage.

The train ride back home was quick and not very exciting. Most of us were tired and hungry, and the train was full, so we each kept to ourselves. For a while, Hatim, Steph and I chatted about books, but even we sat back and closed our eyes for a big. When we pulled into Inage station, I think we were all happy to be back. Tokyo had been fun, but even fun has its limits.
Like usual, none of us could agree on a place to go for dinner. Needing to find something easy, cheep, and that would accommodate everyone’s food preferences, we ended up at Saty, the department store with the food kiosk in the basement. I wasn’t very impressed with my department store ramen, and barely finished half of it. At least I had some fresh veggies in my fridge when I got home, after which, I quickly snuggled into bed to nurse the cold I could feel coming on.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

October 8, 2005

Waking up this morning, I realized that it was to the sound of my keitai and not my usual alarm clock. Reaching around under the pillow and sheets, I couldn’t find it, despite the incessant beeping of the phone. Finally, I sat up, turned on the light and searched behind the bed, on the floor. Picking it up, I flipped open the phone to receive my incoming email, and glanced at the clock. 9:40 am, not too early, I guess. My email was from Laila, asking me if I was going to today’s guidance session. Surprised, I wracked my brain trying to remember if I’d read anything about a session today, and replied asking her when & where it was and what it was about. I guess people were meeting at 10 am to go on a tour of Inage (the area around the dormitory), but since I had slept in, I decided to skip it. Besides, I’d rather explore the area on my own – that way I can take my time and see the things I want instead of what our tour guide suggests.

Since I was awake, I got dressed and headed downstairs. I said good morning to the porch dwellers, (Hatim, Evan & Michael) and walked to the train station. Catching the train for Chiba, I was determined to find a global ATM machine. After wandering around for a half hour or so, I finally gave up and went to the Chiba Information Desk. The woman drew me a simple map, explaining that the cash machine I was looking for was inside the department store around the corner. I thanked her and headed over to the ATM. It was easy to find, with the map, and even had an English instruction button. I chose withdrawal, slid my Visa card into the slot, and happily punched in the 25000 amount I wanted to withdraw. I was not impressed when the machine beeped at me and my card came out telling me the request had been denied. Shaken up, I tried again, this time trying 10000 thinking that maybe my available funds were less than I’d remembered. Again, my request was rejected. By this time, there was a girl standing behind me wanting to use the machine, so I stepped aside and let her go while I organized all of the papers the machine had spit out at me. As she finished up, I went back to the machine, determined to walk away with money. I took my time, slowly reading each screen twice over to figure out what I was doing wrong. Despite the fact that the instructions were all in English, they were not grammatically correct, nor were they detailed. When I was putting in the $ amount I wanted to withdraw, the machine was interpreting it as Canadian funds. Well no wonder I was being denied, I only have a 500$ limit on my Visa! I again punched in the number 25000, and this time, included the \ button, making my request for 25000\ or 250$. Like magic, my request went through and my stomach almost gurgled at the thought of being able to afford lunch today.

As I walked back towards the train station, I decided to spend some of my newly acquired funds on a rail pass, making my morning rush to school somewhat simpler (not to mention lighter – no more coins). The Rail Pass machine had an English button, and I easily inputted the information it asked for. My name, the stations I wanted to travel between, my birthday, my gender, my age (shouldn’t the machine be able to figure that out from my birthday?) and finally how long I wanted the card valid for. My choices were one month, 3 months or 6 months. I decided to try one month for now, mainly because I didn’t want to spend all of my cash at once, and I haven’t decided about a bike yet. I put my money into the machine, got my Suica rail pass card & my change, and then headed back to my dorm room.

Determined to once and for all get online, I grabbed my laptop and headed down to the front steps, where I knew I could find an internet signal. Frustratingly, my internet still wouldn’t work. I was pressing buttons and must have looked frazzled, because Evan offered to look at it for me. I happily passed it off to the Computer Science major, thinking he might come up with something brilliant. He did. On the bottom panel of my laptop, there is a tiny switch. He switched it from ‘off’ to ‘on’, and voila, internet. I felt like such a dumbass, but it didn’t matter, because I finally managed to upload 3 days worth of my blog. I also checked email and did some other computer stuff, before offering my CP to some friends to check their mail. Internet really is one of those simple things in life that makes me happy.

While I was waiting for everyone to check their email, I decided to check what Mariko was up to. Sending off a quick email, I was happily surprised to find out she was free for the evening, and we quickly made plans to have dinner. Excited to have an outing for my first Saturday night in Chiba, I came back to my room for a siesta.

At 6-ish, I headed out to towards the train station, where I would be meeting Mariko. As I waited for her, I people watched, but unlike at home, here everyone kept stealing glances at me. I suppose I must stand out in a suburban place like Chiba, but I’m still not used to all of the staring. Back home it was easy to be invisible and people watch. I need to find a way to look more Japanese.

When Mariko arrived, the first thing I noticed was her short haircut. Very cute! We quickly rushed up to each other and decided to head into downtown Chiba for dinner. I followed her onto the train and we chatted as the train made its way north. She tried to figure out where we should go for dinner, asking me what types of food I liked and what I had already tried here in Japan. She decided on Izakaya, a style of restaurant that allows you to order many tiny dishes and share with the table. We went to a restaurant that specialized in Tofu (pronounced Tohu). Inside, they had us remove our shoes and walk through the restaurant to the Japanese style seating. I was getting worried that I would have to sit saiza (kneeling), but the floor under the table was lowered so we could sit normally. The hostess that seated us explained the specials to us in Japanese, which I couldn’t understand, and then explained that when we were ready to press the button on our table. It was like having our own personal pager button. Mariko went through the entire menu with me (it was in Japanese, as usual) and we picked out some dishes. After ordering, we chatted some more, getting caught up and discussing what it was like now that we were both in Japan instead of Edmonton.

When the food came, we were both excited to dig in. Everything was oishii (delicious) and I wrote down the names of things I wanted to order in the future. Mariko had me try a glass of sake, which was extremely potent. I watered it down, twice, and was able to drink it, but I think in the future I will have to stick to cocktails or just plain soda.

After dinner, we headed down to the game center in Chiba. Inside, Mariko introduced me to pikureki, the tiny Japanese photo stickers that everyone has pasted all over their electronics. We chose our booth, inserted our money and posed in front of a variety of backdrops. After the pictures had been taken, we left the booth and walked to the back where we could accessorize our photos. There were choices of stamps, frames, coloured pens, and various other features we could add to each picture. Since the photo sheet let us choose 4 pictures that we wanted, we each decorated 2. After 5 minutes, our time ran out and we waited for the pikureki to print. In the far corner of the game center, they had a table with scissors available, so we cut the photo sheet in two and shared the pictures.

On the train ride back home, Mariko and I arranged to meet later in the week at the University. She is going to help me find a used bicycle, and we will have lunch together. I said goodbye to her as she left the train, and rode the one last station back to Inage.
Back at the dorms, I ran upstairs for a quick shower and then hung out on the front steps until 1 am with a big group of friends. Yoichiro tried rollerblading for the first time ever, and we all had a good laugh. By the time I headed upstairs to bed, I was exhausted, but it had been a pretty good day.

Friday, October 07, 2005

October 7, 2005

I can’t believe that after all of the waiting, and all of the headaches, everything is finally falling into place. I have my bank account, my school schedule is set, and this morning I went to pick up my new cell phone (keitai). The process itself was painless; filling out the form wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d been expecting after yesterday, and my Visa went through without a problem. I did have to pay the 1\ fee for the phone, but even that was more of a joke than anything. (1\ is worth approximately 1 penny) I met up with Nobu-san, my tutor, and he helped me change my phone menu to English and we exchanged numbers & email addresses. He introduced me to a friend of his, Yuu-san, and together we sat in the shade figuring out my new keitai. They had to leave for class, but we arranged to meet again on Tuesday, after the long weekend, and then we can compare our schedules and figure out a regular meeting session. Besides, now I can email him whenever I have a question or need help.

On my own, I headed back to the CIRE building where I met up with everyone else. Those of us who had phones exchanged numbers & email addresses, while the others jealously asked questions and picked out which phones they wanted to buy. At 1:15, I had Japanese class guidance with Stephanie, Anthony, Kai, Claudia and Ruth. We are all in Intermediate 1 together, and our teacher, Yoshino-sensei handed out a syllabus, explained which textbook we needed to buy and quickly went over some of the class information. Afterwards, we all walked over to the bookstore and bought our textbooks, where I spent the last remaining cash I had on me. If I don’t find an ATM that takes my Visa soon, I think I might starve. I can probably borrow money from somebody, but I’d rather not ask if I can avoid it... and now that I have my keitai , I should be able to look it up on the net from my room.

Stephanie & I said goodbye to the group and went in search of the media building. We had her map, but managed to get lost twice anyways. We found a bulletin board that listed a bunch of classes that looked interesting (all in Japanese, of course), but because I had class at 2:30, we didn’t have time to dawdle. (Hah, who else could work the word dawdle into their blog!) When we finally found the building we were looking for, we still didn’t know where to go inside to apply for our internet access on campus. The building map was not much help, so Steph asked the woman at the help window, and she had us fill out a request form then and there. She explained that we needed to return in one week (the following Friday) and we would get our access passwords then.

From there, we headed back to CIRE. I had my first class, Theories of Cross-Cultural Psychology at 2:30. The professor was late. So late in fact, that by the time he showed up ,I was sitting outside chatting with friends thinking that class had been cancelled. Another student from the class came out looking for me, so I made it to class, which was a good thing, since there were only 3 of us. Class consisted of self-introductions, and then the professor handed out photocopies of the textbook’s first 4 chapters. He asked us to read the first 2 chapters for the next class (one week later) and let us go early. I caught the train back with Suvi, spent my last few 100 \ at the dollar store and spent the night in my room with a sore throat. I looked through my new textbook and entered phone numbers into my keitai . I tried calling home nearly 20 times before I finally figured out how to manage the call. Rather than simply dialing the numbers, I have to dial the – as well. (1403281…= bad, 1-403-281-…= good)
Dad called just as I was falling asleep, and I mentioned my financial crisis to him. He said he’d do some research for me, and we said goodnight. Just before I fell asleep, I got an email from him listing a bunch of global ATM machine locations. I decided to look them over tomorrow, and put the phone down for the night.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

October 6, 2005

It’s probably a good thing that I was born in such a low-density populated country, because after all the line-ups and waiting I went through today, I think I might move back home.

First, the bank. At 8:40, I headed back to Chiba Bank, hoping the clerks that had helped me yesterday would be there. Instead, as the gate opened at 9 AM sharp, the helpful English speaking man who’d helped Dad & me 2 weeks earlier, was waiting for me in the front doors. He checked my forms making sure they were completely filled out, and walked me over to the bank clerk. Working as my translator, he and the bank clerk went through all of the forms, having me sign where necessary and even pick the bank card style (out of 4 possible choices) that I wanted. Every time that we completed one form, they would thank me and ask me to have a seat in the waiting area. I would be there less than 5 minutes when they would ask me to return to the ticket window and start on the next form. It was almost comical the number of times they had me sit down and stand up, especially since the ticket window is in plain view of the waiting area, and they were not helping anyone else at the same window. However, I was happy to comply with their requests as I was finally opening my bank account.

The man that had been helping me asked for my checks and went back behind the counter to help figure out how to process them. 10 minutes or so later, he returned looking flustered and explained that because the bank needed to confirm my mailing address, I would be receiving my bank card in the mail. Until I had my bank card, they could not deposit the checks, after which there would still be a 3 day waiting period to get the money. I wasn’t happy, but seeing as I had no choice, I agreed just happy that I would have the card (and therefore my money) soon. Stupidly, I asked the man helping me if he knew of a global ATM machine in the city where I could withdraw funds from my Visa. He asked for my card and went back behind the counter for another 10 minutes, where he was on the phone. I assume he spoke with Visa because he returned with a phone number for me to call to ask about global machines. He was trying to be helpful, but unfortunately, seeing as I didn’t have a phone yet, the number was virtually useless. Thanking him, I stood up to leave and he asked me to wait yet again. Running over to the ticket window, he took a pen and wrote out his name and email address for me. He explained that he was the branch manager and if I had any questions or problems in the future, to please contact him directly. I thanked him again, surprised both by the gesture, and by the fact that he was the branch manager. I hope I didn’t do anything to offend or embarrass him throughout the process… If I did, it was unintentional, and I think he would understand that, but still, I want to find a way to thank him again for all of his help. I will ask Mariko and Nobu-san if there is an appropriate way to thank him.

All in all, I was at the bank from 9am until nearly 11. I had enough time to return to my dorm room and grab my school bag, and then I was off to the University campus. My interview with Yoshino-sensei was scheduled for 11:40, so I was pretty nervous about arriving 5 minutes late. When I knocked on her door, however, she was still in session with Michael, so I sat and waited in the lounge area around the corner. When I went in for my interview, I was surprised to find out this was actually part of the placement test. I wasn't prepared to practice my Japanese conversation abilities, I thought we would just be deciding on classes or something, and so she asked me if I wanted to sit in the beginner (level 2) classes. I politely declined, explaining to her (IN JAPANESE) that I had already studied for 3 years and was passed the beginner level. She said okay and placed me in the Intermediate Level 1.

At first, I wasn't very happy with that placement, but I've since found out that I'm in class with people that have been studying much longer than me, and I think it's the right place.

Afterwards, I dropped off some pictures at my faculty office (which I'd forgotten the night before) and had lunch with the girls - Laila, Ruth & Eugenie. Around 2:30, I went back to my faculty office and picked up my Student ID card, which I needed to attend the library orientation at 3. The library buildings were stifling, and we all used our introductory pamphlets as make-do fans. By the time we finished our tour, I was excited to try using my new library card to take out some books, but when Stephanie & I tried to get into the library, our cards did not work. After being let through by the librarian, we tried to access the internet, which also didn't work for us. I don't know if there was some sort of back-log on the new accounts or what, but we need to find out how to get online from campus. It's hard enough living at home without internet, but at school too? Ugh.

At 5 o'clock, we had homeroom back at the International Building. The time was pretty much useless, but they seem to like getting us all together and going over everything twice (once in Japanese, and then a summarized version in English).

Following homeroom, with our new student ID cards in hand, we went in search of keitai - the Japanese cell phones. Cell phones in Japan deserve their own name, because they belong in a category all their own. Unlike their 'Western' counterparts, the Keitai are capable of both telephone and text-messaging services, as well as internet, radio, TV, and GPS. They can take pictures or make videos, and some of them can read barcodes, although I've yet to figure out the benefit of a phone reading barcodes. I can even access a Japanese/English dictionary on my phone, although I've found it a slow process and prefer to use my electronic dictionary when I can.

The search for a keitai turned out to be way more trouble that we were expecting. A huge group of us headed into Chiba after class to start the hunt. Yoichiro came with us to try and translate, and between him & Lucas, we found 2 stores in Chiba that wouldn't agree to sell us the student discount plan. [I should explain that because we are international students, our student IDs are different than 'regular' students, and we are therefore not considered permanent students. It is not to the phone company's benefit to sell us the discount plan, because we are only here for one year. We were hoping to find a store with sales staff that didn't know that.] After Chiba, we were feeling discouraged, but decided to try Saty (the department store in Inage) on our way home. We were happilly surprised to find 2 guys working there that were willing to process our accounts. While we were sitting, Eugenie & Anthony both left, because they were waiting to get different phones & phone plans. I sat and waited, but because I had left one of my forms behind (I wasn't expecting to go phone shopping today!!) I couldn't fill out all of the paper work. After TWO hours in Saty, including an hour after the store actually closed at 9, the staff explained to us that because it was so late, they couldn't start the phones, and asked us if there was any way we could return in the morning to pick them up. Agreeing, and happy to be leaving and finally able to get dinner, we were escorted out through the back doors of Saty. Instead of the usual front doors of the department store, we walked out past the garbage dumps, and closing staff on their cigarette breaks. It was an experience I don't think most people go through in Japan, but it was so unexpected that I didn't pull out my camera in time to take a picture!

We had a good dinner (because we were with Lucas!) at yakitori. This is the food that comes to the table raw and you cook yourself over a hotplate in the center of the table. Everyone had fun and everything was delicious. We were so many people and our bill was so expensive, that at the end, the restaurant assumed we were some sort of business meeting and gave us 1000¥off of our bill. Yay us!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

October 5, 2005

Thankfully, I set my alarm properly and woke up in time to make it to the Uni for my placement test. As I got off the train at Nishi-Chiba station, I headed towards campus seeing Anthony up ahead. I caught up with him and followed him to the building we needed to get to (he had a map, which I was too lazy to pull out of my bag) and we sat down just before the exam started. The first part was a reading comprehension exam, and we were not allowed to use dictionaries. I struggled through the multiple choice, trying my best when I couldn't read the Kanji words or recognize the vocabulary. The listening section, as usual, was practically impossible, as I wasn't used to the voices or the accents and couldn't follow the conversation. Afterwards, we switched papers and were allowed to use our dictionaries on the short answer and essay questions. I nearly ran out of time on the essay becaues I spent too much time looking up Kanji, but I got enough written out that I did better than the people around me. (I could see blank pages being handed in at the end, and I had at least a few paragraphs written).

After the test, I was hoping to call Dad at the hotel and catch him before he left, but we were told to stay seated in our classroom and that our new tutors would be arriving shortly. My tutor's name is Nobu-san. He is an economics student at Chiba Dai, and between his broken English and my broken Japanese, he led the Faculty of Economics students & their tutors on a tour of campus and to the cafeteria for lunch. We were joined there by Ikedo-sensei, my official supervisor, who entertained me through lunch with stories about his time in London, where he wrote his PhD. Thankful that he speaks flawless English, he helped explain to Nobu-san what I wanted to accomplish that afternoon, and after lunch, despite the fact that he should have been showing me more on campus, Nobu & I said goodbye so that I could rush off to the bank before it closed at 3pm.

Walking into Chiba Gin, I was reminded of the last time I'd been in there with Dad. I couldn't remember the name of the man that had helped us in English, so I tried to explain to the Japanese bankers that I needed to open an account. They finally understood, but because it was so close to 3 (I was actually in the bank until 3:15 or so), they asked me to come back the following morning and that I could open the account then. Frustrated, but understanding, I agreed and returned to campus to meet up with my tutor again.

Together, we went to Ishido-sensei's office, and we went through my academic plan for the year. He and Nobu-san looked through my course info pages and helped me narrow down some of the class possibilties. Afterwards, they both explained to me that if I had any questions or problems, than to please contact either or both of them, and they would be happy to try and help me. Thanking them, Nobu & I retreated from my teacher's office and went next door to the International Lounge. He explained to me that I was welcome to use the room at any time - there are computers & internet access, and always Japanese students willing to help with my Japanese. Afterwards, he needed to leave for his class in fifth period, and I quickly got online happy to check my email again.

At 5 pm, I headed downstairs where I met up with all the students in my faculty and we signed up for our student cards. While here, I met Stephanie, a girl from New York who's background is a little bit complicated. She was born in Hong Kong while it was a British Colony, and so she is a Chinese American with a british passport, learning Japanese. In the picture next to her is Lucas. He is from Austria, and his Japanese skills after only 2 years of studying are incredible. His English is also fluent, to the point where he takes it upon himself to teach English to the Japanese people that hang out at the International House. Outings with Lucas have become tradition around here, he seems to know his way around Inage, Chiba and even Tokyo despite the fact that he's only been here as long as the rest of us. I've recently heard him speaking Portugese and I'm not sure how many languages he speaks, but he obviously has a talent for them.

After the meeting, Lucas, Stephanie & I walked back to the dorm from campus together, along with Suvi, a girl from Finland, and Kai, a guy from Germany. It was raining, but we managed to find our way. When we got back, Yoichiro, a Japanese student was hanging around, and we went for Ramen dinner as a big group. Over dinner, he tried to talk to Stephanie & I in Japanese, but it was a struggle - mainly, we were tired after a whole day of talking & thinking in Japanese, but he also speaks fairly good English so we were able to communicate fairly well.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

October 4, 2005

After an early start at the hotel, I caught the train from Funabashi to Inage and made it back to the International House in time for my 9 am orientation. The session was held in the administration building, in the large meeting room. We were assigned our seats and as I sat down, I was happy that it was next to someone that spoke English. Hatim, as he introduced himself, was from Chicago and had only been studying Japanese for one year. Together, we figured out how to fill in all of our forms – the application for electricity, utilities, health care, alien registration, and some others that we didn’t even know what they were for. After everyone had the forms filled out, we walked as a large group to the prefectural ward office (a local government building) where we sat for over an hour each applying for our Alien Registration Cards one at a time. The hour turned out to be pretty useful, as we all spent the time visiting and meeting each other, and even managed a bit of Japanese practice.

As we were sitting around waiting, one of our supervising teachers was calling people up one at a time to help them fill out a bank account application form. Those of us who were not given the Jasso Scholarship, were not called. I went and asked the teacher if I could apply, and she explained to me that because I wasn’t Jasso, I would have to go on my own to the bank, but that ‘it should be no problem’. Sceptically, I sat back down, not looking forward to that outing.

After returning from the Ward Office, we were left on our own, and a group of us decided to walk to the nearby 100\ store to do some shopping. I tried calling Dad from the payphone before we left, but since there was no answer in his hotel room, I figured he was out exploring Chiba. At the dollar store, I didn’t buy much, mainly because Dad & I had exhausted the storage possibilities in my room the day before. I grabbed a few notebooks for school and otherwise just wandered around the store visiting with other people. By the time we finished shopping, everyone was hungry and we went to a restaurant that specializes in takoyaki. This is a Japanese dish that looks like tiny meatballs, but is actually a dough ball filled with octopus, sauce and spices, which is baked and served with mayonnaise on top. The takoyaki was tasty, but kind of expensive.. I don’t know if I’ll be going for more any time soon, but maybe after I get my money from the bank I’ll reconsider.

By this time, I’d met lots of the people I would be living with, and short of giving everyone’s self-introduction, here is a brief summary of my new neighbours.

From left to right,Me (Canada; English, French, Japanese), Eugenie (Taiwan/Australia; English, Mandarin, Japanese), Desy (Indonesia; Indonesian, English, Japanese), Michael (pronounced mi-cha-elle; Germany; German, English, Japanese), Hatim (USA; English, Japanese), Ruth (Canada; Mandarin, Cantonese, English, Japanese), Laila (Indonesia; Indonesian, English, Japanese).

There are so many more people, but I'll slowly introduce them as I go on. Anyways, after our shopping & eating excursion, I finally got ahold of Dad at the hotel and made arrangements that he would meet me back here at the dorms. I had some time, so I did some more cleaning & organizing in my room, and then came downstairs to wait for him. While I was waiting, I met some more people, but this time, they were people that had been here for a longer time. It was interesting listening to them talk about things they'd seen and done while here in Japan, and I can't wait to ask them some questions and get an idea what I'm in for.

Dad's half hour trip ended up taking him over an hour, as the train he was on stopped halfway on the tracks. He couldn't understand the announcements so we're not sure why the train stopped, but by the time he got here, it was already dark and we decided not to go far. We found a sushi restaurant near the Chiba station and had our last meal together here in Japan. He seemed to think I was distracted through the meal. I suppose I was, thinking about spending my first night in the dorms and my Japanese test the next day, but I just felt like we'd spent so much time together over the last 2 weeks, we'd run out of things to talk about.

After dinner, we went to Saty, the department store down the street and bought a pillow and alarm clock - my last minute necessities for my dorm room. Afterwards, he walked me back to the dorm and we said goodbye. I was surprised at how upset I was after he left, but I quickly distracted myself reviewing Japanese for my placement test. Dad & I left things pretty open, mainly because I had no idea what my schedule would be after the test tomorrow. If I had time, I would call him and try to see him off to the airport, but otherwise, he'd understand that I was at school and there wasn't anything I could do if the timing didn't work out.

As I settled in for the night in my dorm room, I went to sleep picturing Kanji characters in my head, hoping the placement test wouldn't be too painful.

Monday, October 03, 2005

October 3, 2005

October 3rd continued our hunt for the international ATM machine. We tried 3 different banks, and finally found one that could manually take money from Dad’s Visa card, with only a 10 minute wait in the bank waiting area. It was a relief to have money again, and we caught the train for Inage, where the University Dorm was located. Instead of our first visit, this time there were people in the building to welcome us, and paperwork to be filled out. Mie, the girl who spoke English remembered us, and showed me to my luggage. As I filled out the paperwork, I was given a gift (which each resident received) from the Japanese Mothers Association, and a free roll of toilet paper. (I guess that makes a pretty standard house warming gift). Afterwards, we loaded up a luggage cart and headed over to my building. My room is in E-building, on the 4th floor, and there is no elevator. Dad doing most of the work, we carried my 2 extremely heavy suitcases, my travel back pack and my shopping bags up the 4 flights of stairs to the 4th floor, and over to my room near the end of the hall.

As I opened the door, the first thing that struck me was how close the opposite wall was. The entranceway was also so tight, that we couldn’t leave my bags at the door, but had to carry them in through the room and pile them on top of the bed to leave space to walk. I occupied myself with checking out the drawers under my bed and the inside of my closet while Mie explained the kitchen & bathroom to Dad. I wish there was a way I could show you my bathroom – you would hardly believe the design behind it. To begin with, it was filthy and I had to request the dormitory send someone in to clean it, which they did. To get a real idea of what my bathroom is like, imaging yourself in a walk-in closet. Now, cut that closet in half, and make sure you have the closet door opening in. That’s about the size I have to work with. The door (accordion style) opens in, as I already mentioned, and with the door open, I have the usual sink & toilet set-up. Above the toilet there is a tiny medicine cabinet and there is also a mirror on the side wall. Above the sink, there is a shower faucet sticking out of the wall. The hose runs (loosely) from the shower head down the wall and attaches behind the sink. In order to take a shower, my choices are to stand behind the sink (where I have less than a foot to stand, let along turn around), or to swing the sink over the toilet, creating a void in the floor under the shower head. It’s an ingenious design, and the toilet fits snugly under the sink area – there is a cavity built into the sink’s back). After swinging the sink over, I have to use the same sink taps to operate the shower. Temperature is temperature, and easy to figure out, but instead of a cold (right) and hot (left), there is a temperature knob (top) and water release (bottom). I set the temperature knob and haven’t touched it since moving in. The water release on the other hand, takes some getting used to. If I twist the knob downwards, the water runs to the sink. If I twist the knob up, the water is directed to the shower. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve twisted the knob without thinking and ended up giving myself a shower when I was trying to wash my hands.

Besides the unimaginably small bathroom, I have a single bed, a desk & desk chair, a bookshelf that doubles as clothing shelves, a mini-closet style wardrobe, a mini-bar-fridge and a single stove burner in my kitchen. There is a Wal-Mart style shelving unit at the front door, and I use that for shoes & other miscellaneous stuff. I wish there was more to tell, but that’s my room.

After Dad & I finished up our ‘tour’ with Mie, she said goodbye and we were left on our own for the day. We decided to go shopping. Finding the nearby 99 cent store, I piled goodie after goodie into the basket he carried around for me. I found things like ziplock bags, a can opener, bread & milk for my fridge, air freshener for the bathroom, and hangars, each 100\ per piece. There were so many things, I can’t even remember, but we made 2 trips just trying to stock up my room & get things that I would need to move in comfortably. After our shopping excursions, Dad spent sometime sitting at the front steps of my dorm and I stayed upstairs unpacking & organizing. While I was trying to cram everything I had brought & bought into my new abode, Dad was making friends with some people downstairs.

When I finished, we headed back to his hotel, and found a place for dinner. It was going to be our last night together in the hotel, but because I had to be up early for orientation back at the dormitory, we stayed in and tried to get to bed early. All in all, it was a relief to have my room and know that I was unpacked, but I was still glad to be in the hotel for one more night, seeing as I didn’t know anyone back in Chiba.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

October 2, 2005

October 2nd is a day I think I would rather forget. Dad & I ordered a room service breakfast and spent the morning drifting through the Japanese Zen garden at the hotel. Afterwards, we checked out and took the train to Chiba. Dad called it the ‘Milk Run’, as the train stopped at every station along the way, giving us a very detailed view of the Tokyo Suburban landscape. When we finally arrived at Funabashi (the station near our hotel), we looked around in confusion, unable to see our hotel. Deciding on a taxi, we headed out the nearest entry and found a cab. 900\ later, the cab driver pulled up in front of a building that was literally one block away from the station, on the other side. Unimpressed, Dad paid the driver and we checked into our room. Once there, I decided to call Mariko and let her know we were here. I searched through my purse, my suitcase, and all of my miscellaneous shopping bags, but couldn’t find my day planner anywhere. Frustrated, I called our Tokyo hotel and spoke with the Lost & Found. I’d left it behind.

Dad & I went back to the station – this time, we walked – and caught the train back into Tokyo. At the hotel, we were escorted to the check-in lounge where my book was brought to us wrapped in bubble wrap, then tissue paper, and placed in a gift bag as though it was some sort of present. Almost laughing, I verified that it was the right book, and with that, Dad & I returned back to Chiba.

We were hungry, and had the hotel clerks direct us to a revolving sushi restaurant. It was only a block or so away, but when we walked in, the restaurant was packed. The tables and booths around the sushi were all full, and the benches lined up against the wall were also crowded. Dad noticed a table on the far side of the room being cleared off, and we quickly sat down, anxious to start lunch. What we didn’t realize, was that all of the people on the benches were waiting for tables, and we cut in front of all of them when we sat down. I felt terrible, Dad didn’t seem too concerned, and the staff seemed more confused than anything that we were eating but that nobody had assigned us to our table. They probably didn’t mind as much when we were finished – I’m sure our bill was higher than most Japanese people’s are.

I think the piece de resistance that was October the 2nd is that after a late dinner in our rooms, we asked the hotel clerks about a movie theatre. They explained that there was one at the next station over, and that their last movies started around 9. Since it was 7:30, we headed to the Raraport movie theatre. As we got off the train, we realized we had no idea where to go. Luckily, there were signs on the streets pointing out the direction of the Cineplex, which turned out to be on the 3rd floor of a huge shopping mall. Instead of heading straight for the movie, Dad & I walked around trying to find an international ATM machine where he could withdraw money. We didn’t find one, and had an interesting time trying to ask the girls working at a 7-11. Dad even had the brainstorm of trying the post office, because in Kyoto, the international machine had been located at a post office. I remembered the Japanese, and asked the girls about the Yubeenkyoku, but they still seemed to not understand me. Finally, I pulled out my dictionary and they grabbed it, eagerly looking up the word for ‘closed’. Realizing that they meant the post office was already closed, we thanked them and gave up, hoping that the movie theatre would take Visa.

We never found out if they did or not, because by the time we got to the mall (which was closed) and made our way up to the 3rd floor (of the SECOND bldg, not the first), the theatre looked dark and somewhat deserted. Confused, we found a guy working there and asked about the movies. He pulled out his schedule and showed me that the last movie started at 7:45. We were NOT impressed.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

October 1, 2005

Feeling lazy, we grabbed breakfast at the hotel buffet, rather than working our way back to Subway. We made it a quick one, as we had a day full of shopping and sightseeing ahead of us, beginning with the Ameyoko Market. As my guide book describes it, “One of the great bazaars in Asia, Ameyoko is a place where anything is available, almost always at a discount.” The market is situated under the JR rail tracks; the booths literally shake with the passing of each train, and the vendors can be heard yelling over the train sounds. Trying to sell everything from fresh fish to brand name knock-offs, the market was fun to navigate, not to mention gift-buy in. As we passed further away from the train tracks, the market changes into boutique style shops, still discounted, but with more permanent locations. Restaurants are squeezed into spaces between jewellery shops, with hobby/souvenir shops tucked in deeper amidst them.

With our gifts and souvenirs in hand, we headed for Ginza, where we would encounter almost the complete opposite shopping experience that Tokyo has to offer. Ginza, designed in Western fashion, is the modern locale of designer fashions, brand name galleries, land-mark department stores and the infamous Sony Building Showroom. Because we were here on the weekend, the streets are shut down and opened up for increased mobility through the shops of Ginza. (There are so many people, the sidewalks get too congested.) There is one street that reminds me of Rodeo Drive, where pedestrian crosswalks line not only the perimeter of the intersection, but also cross diagonally through the center. Traffic is shut down in all 4 directions while tourists, consumers and other miscellaneous people cross the busy intersection. On all four sides, sky scrapers, reaching ever-growing heights, are lined with advertisements and colourful displays.

One of these buildings is the Sony Tower. Inside, we were amazed by the examples of Sony’s latest technology and electronics that were on display throughout the 7 floor showroom. Wireless home entertainment systems lay along side digital camera no larger than a deck of cards. The Vaio area was awesome, letting you figuratively build your own computer by choosing options and writing out an order form. I wish I’d known – I might have skipped Akhibara altogether. Despite all of the gadgets, I think my favourite feature, however, was that a DVD featuring scenes from Banff and Lake Louise was what Sony was using to try and sell their TVs.

Following the Sony Building, we visited the Apple Showroom, where we checked out the Ipod Nanos, and used their free internet station. Other than sending home a quick email, the building was disappointing. Maybe if we’d visited it before Sony I would think differently, but as they say in Japanese, shikataganai (c’est la vie).

Returning back to the hotel, we took a brief nap and headed back out on the town. This time, we took the train to visit the Tokyo tower, a tower built to look like Paris’ Eiffel Tower, only twice as high. As we neared the tower, we noticed the bright red and purple lights being shone on it from below. The throngs of people sitting around the outskirts of the tower parking lot seemed content to people watch in the glow of the tower lights. Dad & I took the elevator up to the first observation deck, and marvelled at the city below. In the dark, my pictures didn’t come out, but the streets of Tokyo were lit further than we could see from over 100 meters up. Apparently, during daylight hours and on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji from the observation deck. I will have to try it at one point during my year in Japan.

We decided not to go up to the 2nd viewing level, mainly because we didn’t know the city we were looking at below. Instead, we browsed through the souvenir shops where we finally, after nearly 2 weeks of searching, found a snow globe for Stephen. Paying way more than any ball of water can be worth, we returned to our hotel satisfied that his collection would now be complete, with a miniature Tokyo scene complete with the mini-Tower.