Wednesday, November 30, 2005

update #2 for today

Claudia just told me about this movie, mainly because of some of the crazy Japanese people that frequent Excelsior.
The Idiots

my earliest memory

Lunch today began with an interesting conversation. Last night, Yoichiro emailed Katya asking her to recall her earliest memory. As she told us about it, I tried to remember mine, and found that it's not altogether early at all.

I couldn't have been older than 6 when this memory took place. Mom had just dropped Stephen and I off at our grandmother's house. He was only 3 or so at the time, and while he probably knew better, was running around the living room with his shoelaces untied. Mom was on her way to a golf tournament, dressed all in white, and had barely made it to the car when she heard Stephen screaming from inside the house.

Tripping on his shoe laces, Stephen fell head first onto the fireplace mantel. The skin on his forehead broke and what I remember most vividly from that fateful day is my mother's clothes bleeding as they soaked in the blood from his pouring wound.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Harry Potter & the Goblet Of Fire

The movie had it's good points and bad, but without sounding too pretentious, I still say the book is better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

November 23, 2005 - Road Trip 2005 (updated)

The plan for Japan’s Labour Day was to head out into the wild craziness that is Japan via a monstrously enormous rental car and Lukas’ shiny new driver’s license (actually, not shiny at all). We originally intended to leave the dorms at 10 am, but after an early morning call to the dealership, Lukas was told that the car would not be ready until 11. Between all of the paper work and waiting, and his solo drive back from Funabashi (to Inage), it was practically noon before we hit the road.

I quickly called shotgun (I suppose I had the advantage since nobody else in the car had ever heard of shotgun before – I explained) and got to sit in the front passenger seat, Claudia and Natasya took the middle section, and Kai got to stretch out in the back seat by himself.
Lukas seemed disappointed that he’d been given an automatic, and the day’s trip included a few brake-petal mishaps when he meant to reach for the clutch. Let’s just say that I now understand why you’re not supposed to eat in the car!

Without a clear destination in mind, we drove in the direction of downtown Chiba, hoping to find a place for some decent coffee to start the journey out in truly Western style. I should take a minute to describe our rent-a-car. For starters, Japan’s road systems are designed English style – with drivers on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. This is not the same as Canada, Austria, Germany or Indonesia and took some getting used to for all of us. Inside the car, everything is automatic, including the GPS console with the touch screen in the center of the dashboard. This became the center of our attention a number of times throughout the day, as we could use it to watch TV, listen to music (radio or CD), and plan our trips with the aid of the GPS tracking system. We also had 2 road maps in the car, one of which even listen each convenience store in Eastern Japan. Because I was riding shotgun, I got to manage most of the map-reading duties, and between Lukas and I, we figured out the GPS in no time. (ok, mainly him because I couldn’t read most of the kanji!)

The drive to Chiba was easy – we followed the road that runs parallel to our dormitory and it led us directly towards Chiba Port, which is where we decided to take our first stop. Chiba port is unlike any harbour front I’ve ever visited before – namely, it had a bizarre tower structure in which we could ride up to the viewing area, but chose not to because there would be nothing worth seeing in Chiba. Other than the tower, there was only a tiny beach front and a few barely-moving wind surfers. One family was having a good time as they forged through the task of building a sand castle, but otherwise, the people around us seemed mutually unimpressed with the industrial view along the coast line, and we didn’t stay long before returning to the car.

Again, without knowing where exactly we were going, Lukas pulled back onto the street in hopes of passing a Starbucks or Excelsior because by this point I desperately wanted a latte. Just before we left the port grounds, we saw some men in uniform handing out red flags to pedestrians around the park area. Wanting to know what the flags were all about, we had Lukas pull over against the curb, and I asked the woman who came up to the car window the following, “赤いの物をお願いします” [literal translation: the red things please] which of course elicited laughter from everyone because I didn’t know the vocabulary for flag. Afterwards, we realized that the flags were in celebration of Labour day, and we quickly lost interest in them, forgetting them in the various pockets and cubby holes in the car.

On the road, we saw a street sign directing us to Kujukuri, which Lukas explained was the opposite coast of the peninsula. We left in the direction of the beach, still hoping to find a "Cori approved" coffee shop, as by this time I was desperate for a latte (which for the record we never found!). After a half hour or so of sitting in the car, we were all ready for a snack/pee break, and the easiest place to pull over was at a supermarket called Hayashi food market. The only memorable moment at the su-pa was when a Japanese woman smiled at Claudia for the first time since she's come to Japan. It was so memorable, in fact, that 2 days later she is still beaming about the incident and wondering why the Japanese people in Inage aren't as friendly. (In my opinion, Japanese people in Inage *are* as friendly, they're just bitter about the fact that they live in Inage).

Kujukuri beach is better understand by the vast number of pictures that we each took with our cameras. I'm not sure if it was just the incredble openness of the area or the fact that I was sharing it with a group of friends that don't require a happy facade, but the coast line brought back all of the anxiety that I've been feeling since talking to Dad about Brandy earlier this week. I found a place in the sand where I could sit and think for a while, just staring out into the water and enjoying the fresh air.

Among the sights we enjoyed at Kujukuri, there were Japanese surfers, thousands of sea shells, and a washed up jelly fish. The waves (which were not very high) were crashing against the rocks and the clouds were forming strange shapes around the slowly setting sun.

After the beach, we decided to stop at a Japanese restaurant for lunch. The 5 of us sat back and relaxed over Udon and Ice Cream, and just enjoyed being in a new place with a new environment. The meal was delicious -- the noodles were homemade and the soup was so flavourful that I almost regret sharing with Lukas (who usually finishes my meals for me since my appetite has shrunk here in Japan).

Afterwards, because we had spent such a long time in the restaurant and missed the sunset, we decided to find an onsen (hot springs). Between Lukas searching on the GPS and Natasya looking through the road map, we found one that looked nearby and promising. I was given the road map, and with the use of my keitai's flashlight, navigated us from Kujukuri to Kimitsu, via 2 rural highways, and an extremely windy mountain road, which Lukas insisted on driving too quickly.
I ended up getting queasy (surprisingly) and I took advantage of the back seat and laid down with Lukas' IPod and just chilled.

From my vantage point (lying in the back seat), I missed most of the sights en route to the Onsen, but after I felt the car stop and could sense everyone shifting around, I sat up to see what the situation was. We had arrived at our destination, the Koito Onsen but it was closed! Frustrated and tired, we decided as a group to head back towards Chiba, hoping to find someplace along the way to relax over a cup of coffee (as the search for the perfect latte continued) and eager not to drive back down the winding mountain road, Lukas and Kai used the GPS system to find us the easiest (and fastest) route back. We ended up taking the toll highway and made it back to Chiba in record time (for us, anyways). The trip would have gone off without a hitch, except that after exciting the toll highway and following the GPS to downtown Chiba, Lukas drove a little too close to the side of the road and got into a fight with the guard rail. As you can see from the photo, the guard rail won out, and I have now experienced my first car accident in Japan.

Because the 'crash' didn't actually feel like anything serious, Lukas kept driving, and even after surveying the damage when we parked the car in downtown Chiba, we didn't think that calling the emergency line that the pamphlets explained, as very necessary. Instead, we walked as a group through the Yakuza (mafia) neighborhood in search of a coffee shop that Claudia & Lukas had discovered earlier in the week. We found it closed, a common trend on this trip, and returned to the car. We decided to drive back to Funabashi (Tsudanuma) and return the car, thinking it would be easier to find a coffee shop on foot.

At the dealership, Lukas was informed by the rental agent that because he had purchased the extra insurance (thankfully), he would not have to pay for the damage, but he did have to return to the scene of the accident and call the police to fill out an accident report. Because it was already so late, we split up into two groups. Lukas & Natasya (the 2 with the best Japanese language abilities) went in the car back to the now infamous guard rail, and Kai, Claudia and myself caught the train back to Inage, where we grabbed a quick dinner (Takoyaki) and went back to the dorms to do our homework.

Lukas and Natasya didn't get home until nearly 3 am, and they explained that after they had waited an hour for the police to show up, they had to wait an additional hour, answering questions and waiting for the police to finish. It was too late to return the car, so after driving back to Inage, they had dinner and returned to the dorms. Lukas then had to call the insurance company and give them the information regarding the accident and the police report, and while the rest of us went to sleep hoping to wake up in time for class, he and Natasya arranged to meet up in the morning and return the car.

All in all, I'd say our road trip was adventurous and full of stories. The pictures tell it better than I ever could, so check them out!

Monday, November 21, 2005

what to do...

I wasn’t expecting good news when Dad emailed me this morning asking what time was good for him to call, but I also wasn’t expecting the news to be as shocking either. Spinal disks in Brandy (my 14 year old Shih-tzu) have disintegrated and left her hind legs paralyzed. Over the weekend, she struggled to pull herself around the house with her two front paws while her rear ones dragged limply behind her. Between shaking from the pain and not eating for nearly 2 days, she worried Dad enough to leave work early on Monday and drive her to our family veterinarian, where she received a shot of cortisone and a prescription for medication that has a 20% chance of repairing the disks in her back.

These are the options that Dad has laid out for me, and basically what I have to think about and decide on between now and Sunday, when her medication is finished and decision making time will begin.

1. Do nothing – this means that Brandy will most likely be in constant pain and will also be a burden on Dad & Stephen who will have to carry her everywhere: to eat, to drink, to bed and outside. She most likely will not regain any feeling in her back paws, and within 3 months, the vet has predicted that she will lose control of her bladder (a sign of more internal injuries) and we will have to put her down.

2. Surgery. There is a procedure that offers a 60% chance of recovery, but because she is already 14 years old, there are added dangers in the use of anaesthetics and she may not wake up from the surgery table. Also, she would then need to be bed-ridden (which means kennelled when there is nobody home, and which she has never been before) for 4-6 weeks, and she will be much more susceptible to various infections and other fun maladies. Besides which, even if she recovers after the surgery and 6 weeks of healing, we’re not sure how long the repaired disks would even hold out.

3. My suggestion, although not much of a solution, is to find some sort of attachment on wheels for her back legs that will allow her to pull herself around and increase her mobility to almost normal. Since there are no stairs in the house, this seems like a viable option, but again, I don’t know – none of us know – how much pain she is in, or will continue to be in, and whether or not the ruptured disks are due of something worse or what will come next.

Irregardless of what solution I/we decide on, I’m having difficulty facing this problem from thousands of miles away, especially after the last time I went through this, barely more than one year ago. I remember reaching the end of mid-terms back in my 2nd year at the UofA when Dad called to tell me that Bogey, my first Shih-tzu had been diagnosed with cancer and I was faced with similar choices. At least in that situation, I knew that he was in incredible pain and there would be no chance of recovery, and the decision to put him down seemed at least humane. I was devastated – as those of you around me will remember, and I could barely get out of bed for days. My grades suffered, my friends didn’t know how to help me, and I ended up back on medication to help deal with my depression. After feeling so torn at not being with him for the last few years of his life, I decided to bring Brandy to Edmonton with me, where we lived together for the last year, and I got as attached to her as I once was to Bogey. Now, to be going through this again, seems almost incomprehensible. Rationally, I knew she wasn’t going to live forever, and that being away for a year left a good chance that I wouldn’t be there when/if something like this happened, but that doesn’t help emotionally, nor does it make going through this any easier.

It’s probably not fair to post something like this on a blog, where everyone expects to read about my adventures and experiences in an exotic country, but since I feel so disconnected from people back home, I’m writing this in hopes that everyone will take a few moments to share some thoughts and stories from that side of the world.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

November 12, 2005

3 people, 4.5 hours of karaoke, need I say more?

Friday, November 11, 2005

November 11, 2005

I don’t know why, but I woke up today with a shooting pain in my upper back, and after class this morning & lunch on campus, I came back and spent the day in bed, napping and trying to feel better. I have taken tons of pills for it, but they don’t seem to be helping – what I really need is a massage. Ouch!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

November 10, 2005

I got my microwave! Thanks Tedi!! Have I mentioned this microwave yet? It’s been in the works for a few weeks now, and after hearing from a mysterious source (thanks Desy) that Tedi had a microwave that he wasn’t using this year, I’ve been anxiously awaiting my room’s addition. Since Tedi moved his micro to Mae’s room, I checked with her how late she would be up tonight, and with my 11 o’clock curfew, I asked Kai for help carrying the microwave. (Normally, I’d have no problem schlepping it myself, but Tedi said it was ridiculously heavy). After kidding around for a bit, Kai of course agreed to help (such a sweetheart) and finally, the plan was in motion.

After school, Lukas, Claudia, Stephanie, Kai and myself biked to Chiba and sat around at a coffee shop shooting the breeze. It was nice to just relax and catch up – I can’t believe how often I am organizing coffee shop visits here in Japan. Afterwards, we went on another visit to Yodobashi Camera, where Lukas bought his IPod, I got an S-Cable (to watch DVDs from my computer on the TV) and we once again tried to get me a faster internet connection. From Yodobashi, the gang went for dinner and I left them to return home. I had to teach at 7:30 and didn’t want to risk being late, especially after calling in sick the week before.

Kaori-san came early, and was already waiting outside when I went down just before 7:30. We headed to the meeting room after she told me her mother wasn’t coming, and spent the next hour talking about what we’d done for the past 2 weeks. She had some difficulty getting a handle on the phrase ‘the week before last’ but by the end, was using it like a pro. She has asked me if it is alright if she spends time throughout the week writing me a letter and then we can use it for content to talk about during our weekly sessions. I of course agreed, although somewhat nervously when she explained that the letter would most likely be in Japanese. She agreed to use very little Kanji and I will bring my dictionary from now on, just in case. (hah, who I am I kidding, I’ll need it!)

After class, I came back up to my room and was just ready to settle in for the night when I got an email from Claudia that they were back from Chiba and wanted to do homework together. I invited her and Kai up to my room, and quickly claimed the best seat in the room (on the bed next to the pillows). When I heard a knock at the door, I was surprised to find Kai by himself – Claudia had to make a “quick” stop at her room, which turned into nearly 20 minutes in which she was outside of her room looking for her keys, which were inside on her desk. Oops! The 20 minutes turned out to be the best part of my day, Kai came in and we chatted one on one for a change. It was nice to have a conversation with him, rather than feeling like I’m the only one interested in talking, and I was a bit disappointed when Lukas called asking if he could come up. But, he came, finding Claudia along the way, and he was able to help us with our dictation homework. Afterwards, Lukas spent well over an hour playing with his new IPod (and my computer!) while Kai & I continued bits of our conversation with Claudia. Since we all got hungry, Lukas cooked again, and we enjoyed noodles with Chicken & Tofu a la Austrian, while listening to a bizarre CD that Claudia was lent by Salvatorez (the Italian). They all enjoyed a group named Stereo Tonic which had a woman singing French and German songs in a terrible accent. Even I thought it sounded funny, but then again, sometimes when L,K & C are chatting in their native language, I think the same thing.

Just before 11, Kai reminded me about my microwave (which I’d been hinting about all night long) and we headed across the mini-quad to C building. On the 4th floor, we found Tedi, Desy and Poo in Mae’s room, and they kidded around with us for a bit as Kai picked up the microwave, exclaiming how heavy it wasn’t. He ended up carrying it all the way back for me while I opened doors for him.

The microwave looks right at home on my desk, but the inside is nauseatingly dirty. I will have to spend a few hours over the weekend cleaning and airing it out before the microwave will be safe for use. Afterwards, I’m looking forward to being able to warm up my own food rather than running down to the combenie.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

November 9, 2005

Another Wednesday meant another visit to Tsutaya, and today we rented the following:
- The Machinist
- Shrek 2
- Aladdin
- Blood & Bones (Japanese)
- Pi
- Requiem for a Dream
We watched the Machinist and Shrek 2 in C building (with the couches) after which we had a late night homework party and went to bed way too late for a school night. I love Wednesdays!

Monday, November 07, 2005

November 7, 2005

After missing each other for nearly a week, Richie and I met up and headed over to the combenie together after school. Grabbing a chu-hi and a beer respectively, we proceeded to the park nearby where we sat for over an hour just talking and catching up. His Japanese experience is so completely different than mine, it’s difficult to believe we’re here on the same program, but it’s definitely nice to hear what type of lifestyle I could be living if I’d come to Japan back when I was 18. (clubbing in Tokyo sounds like a blast, if only I didn’t require 10 hours of sleep on a school night, heh).

Following our talk, we headed back to the dormitory and ran into the usual suspects drinking beer and planning a karaoke excursion. At first I was excited to go with them, but when messages got mixed up, I ended up getting ditched by them when I had to excuse myself up to my room for a minute. I wasn’t impressed at the time, but when I found out afterwards (i.e. Wednesday afternoon) that they were all drinking, smoking, and singing until 5:30 in the morning, and while half of them slept the day away to wake up hung over, the other half had made it to school without any sleep at all, and all of them were in rough shape. Kudos to me for staying in and sleeping, I suppose. It would have been fun, but there will be plenty more karaoke visits on the weekends.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

November 6, 2005

Good grief, trying to read an ENTIRE school book in one day is not fun. Today was spent struggling through “You’ve Got To Have Wa”, the novel basis for Tom Sellick’s film “Mr. Baseball”. While it started out semi-interesting, after the 5th chapter describing all of the racism and difficulties that foreigners face in Japan, I was sick of the one-sidedness and needed someone to vent to. I emailed Kai asking if he wanted to come up later, and after getting a vague answer, gave up on him and invited Lukas up. He agreed to come, after he’d finished the first 100 pages, and so I settled back in to read while I waited.

When he came up, he brought food (yay) which we shared while we vented about the novel, and then sat down to read (surprisingly quietly) for another 45 minutes or so. We mutually agreed to skip that last few chapters, reading only the titles and headings for a basic idea of what each chapter was about, and then we skimmed the epilogue for any last minute information.

When we finished, we decided we deserved a treat, and after calling Kai to come up, we set up my computer to watch a Japanese Mafia movie called “Brother”. The film takes place in LA, and used too much English for our tastes, but otherwise had a really good story line and some decent cinematography.

After the movie, Kai left and Claudia came up. After I made the mistake of mentioning that I was hungry, but didn’t want to go out in the rain, Lukas excitedly took over my kitchen and cooked for us. I invited Natasya over and the four of us shared Lukas’ interpretation of Japanese stirfry over noodles. I’m glad I had a fridge full of food, but we were somewhat short on the bowls and chop sticks. I guess I’ll have to make another trip to the 100 Yen shop one of these days. I plan on having many more ‘hanging out in my room’ days – it feels more like res. this way.

my contact info

sorry everyone, I got tired of looking at the giant picture of myself so I deleted the blog entry, but I saved all of your comments in my email folder. Anyways, I've been asked about contact info, so here goes.

Cori Plucer
263-0043 Konakadai
Inage-ku, Chiba-shi, Japan
6-33-7 E-405

Japanese (for those of you brave enough to try the kanji)
パルサー コリー
263-0043 小仲台
6-33-7 E-405

For anyone interested, my keitai (mobile phone) is 080-5413-4196, but I'm not sure how to call from overseas, and my keitai email is but use for urgent emails only, since it costs me LOTS to reply from it.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

November 5, 2005

Another day trip to Tokyo included a visit to Akiba (Akihabara), an hour in Yodobashi Camera, boy shopping in Ueno’s Ame market (where Dad & I did most of our souvenir shopping) and late night drinking in Ueno park. Check out the pictures for a better idea of what that entails!

We finally got to play pool, which we did back in Inage after catching that last train home from Tokyo. The pool is located in a building that is a members only club. We had to join up, which was relatively cheap, and head upstairs to the third floor where 5 pool tables and some dart boards line the walls. I took a detour to the private computer cubicles, where I jumped at the chance to catch up on email and blogging, now that internet is impossible back at the dorms, and then I joined the gang for pool. We were there well into the morning, after which, we came home and sat in the meeting room laughing and talking until 5 am.