Monday, December 08, 2008
Quite obviously I returned from Japan this summer. Following this was a whistle stop tour of London and the grand return to Blackpool with a parade and dancing girls for all to see. I slowly became accustomed to new and exciting things that were in fact old and boring but were new and exciting to me, such as the fact that…look! The sun, he shines! But where is the humidity? Also, what are these odd discs, heavy as a thousand yen and inscribed with the face of an old lady?
After further exploring the exotic weather and frankly massive monetary units, it became rather evident that the time was rapidly approaching when Hannah would be returning to her adopted homeland. Obviously, this thought wasn’t really relished, at least not by me. Unfortunately for our last day we had taken a trip to Leeds so I could revisit the old University stomping ground and Hannah could meet up with a pair of depressingly successful friends. I think one of them was pregnant. Successful at getting pregnant.
I say “unfortunately” because the experience of driving to Leeds at speeds of over 30mph warped my fragile brain, so used as it was to trailing behind some senile Japanese layman transporting a Nissan full of seed to market at a pace making the Nissan all but redundant. Basically I had a headache. As Hannah chewed the vegetarian Sunflower fat with Mses Pregnant and Successful I, rather than wandering around the city muttering about how young everyone looked as I had planned, lay prostrate in the car trying to keep the sun from my eyes and avoiding the stares of the suspicious car-park attendant. After a few hours, I was invited for a final drink with the threesome. I’d probably have enjoyed it under any other circumstances but I’m afraid that my mind was not only elsewhere, but in a place that seemingly involved prodding with red hot Lego bricks. I joined them regardless and did my best to keep up my end of the conversation but as this revolved mainly around being pregnant or successful I found myself at something of a loss. I’ve never been pregnant, nor have I known anyone suffering from it. Although the results of a pregnancy are well known, what can you say to someone who’s barely halfway to achieving their goal? Obviously weight gain comparisons aren’t going to go down well, no matter how self-defacing. Similarly, fat ankles and lack of breath aren’t usually something I like to point out to a person unless either is causing some sort of public obstruction. As for Ms Successful I didn’t even bother, just glared suspiciously.
Anyway, parting was indeed sweet sorrow especially as this particular parting took place on a dodgy Leeds backstreet with one party safely ensconced behind a thick sheet of Mega Bus brand safety glass and the other trying desperately to stop his brains falling from his ears onto the cold, hard pavement. It was sad. Even sadder, I had to drive back to Blackpool which is not a place I envisage fulfilling the role of happy ending. It’s quite an odd feeling being the one left behind, a role I inflicted on poor Hannah not 3 years ago. I suppose I deserved it really.
Fast forward 4 and a half months and you find me now, a shattered hulk of a man who’s had any and all thoughts of a successful, productive life blown from the water like an errant fishing boat failing to avoid being hit by a Japanese Aegis cruiser (http://www.japanprobe.com/?p=3821). 4 months into the job hunt and I can surmise these 3 things;
1: A recession is not the best time to return to a country.
2: The system wants me to live a cold, boring life shifting numbers from one page to another, and to thank it with the gift of my first born for the pleasure of doing so.
3: To be granted a work experience placement, you must first accrue significant work experience, which of course you need already significant work experience to have access to, which requires a mountain of work experience experience, which of course required you already possess a decade of work experience, which needed…etc etc
4 months. Exactly how many interviews would allow me to qualify 4 months as a successful period do you think? 4? 8? 10? In a 4 month period I have secured precisely 2 interviews, both for the same job. The same job, incidentally, that I did not receive. It’s quite hard not to get rather jaded. I must admit to considering other options over this extended period of prostitution. Perhaps I would say “bollocks!” to these capitalist pigs and abscond from their corrupt regime and travel the world, making sure to stop at the world’s remaining bastions of Socialism to drum up support for the eventual Revolution. Oh yes my friends, Barack is just the beginning. Perhaps I would become a lifelong jobless, a loveable rogue, a jack of all trades; the sort of person the local landlord calls a “rotter” but occasionally hires to move the barrels of IPA. A cheeky chappy. Or maybe I would dedicate myself to more flowery pursuits. I could write a radical account of the young and jobless while listening to the Ramones and channelling the New York scene of the 1960s. Instead, I found myself applying for job after meaningless job. Anything. Everything. Graduate schemes I found to be elitist snobs; sales jobs are snarling pimps demanding targets hit and quotas met. Even the lowly, street sleeping temp jobs evaded my grasp putting me, if we carry this metaphor through, squarely in the role of cancerous leper.
Now we find ourselves once more in the grasp of the festive spirit. Christmas. Anyone who knows me will also know that I adore Christmas. It is, contrary to the rest of the populace it seems, my favourite time of year. This year is obviously different. For one I can’t find a bloody advent calendar. Between the emailing of licky-licky emails to Aldi and The British Coalminers Union I have conducted an extensive search of nearby newsagents, supermarkets, off licences, pet shops, butchers, chiropodists, plumbers and tanners in a vain effort to procure a numbered box containing bits of manky chocolate. Not a single one. Everywhere, sold out. I wonder, did people hear our government urging public spending and apply it solely to advent calendars? Did the manufacturers think people would revert, Cromwell-like, to a sort of post-Christmas state in the glare of collapsing society? Who knows, but I can’t bloody find one. An advent calendar-less Christmas. If there’s a better analogy for my current mental state I for one cannot imagine it.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
The fact that I haven’t written anything here for, ooh going on 6 months (actually closer to a year, looking at my blog dates), is probably an indicator of how much I’ve been up to. In fact, it should be seen as a testament to my laziness of late. I have actually been writing entries but either decided against posting them for all to see or have simply forgotten to, hence the laziness. Those in the former category are usually omitted as they’d hold as much interest to people who aren’t me as would listening to the rumblings of someone dissatisfied with daily inane goings-on. Which is, coincidently, exactly what most of them consisted of. Also, I’ve discovered that this blog is accessible from Google under the search term “choseibi”. Try it. I command not only the pole position on the list of results, but also second place as well. I almost deleted the entire thing when I was told of this; thankfully another ALT discovered the fact rather than one of my JTEs. Hello Rachel! Still, a lot of my unpublished entries were negative in the extreme and covered such fascinating topics as the Japanese medical system and cash flow. Oh, and a review of Cloverfield. Most of these entries were therapeutic rants rather than observations of any interest and posting them here seems an unnecessary risk. Anyway.
Three months to go. This is a fact I have to keep reminding myself of, as it seems so ridiculous. Three months? Surely not. It was six months only last week. Wasn’t it? No, it wasn’t. Time has not so much flown as chartered a jet, and taken its best mates Day, Week and Month too. My exact date of return has yet to be set but I’m grasping at the idea of it being sometime in early August. Because of the proximity of my triumphant repatriation, job applications stream constantly from my computer into the jungle that is the interwebnet. So far all appear to be lost, no doubt eaten by some backwards tribe of Email Filters, their remains shovelled hastily into the rapids of the great river Rejection. Never mind, I have plenty of volunteers left.
I’ve been experiencing a great deal of Lasts recently: my last Golden Week holiday, my last Self Introduction lesson, my last birthday in Japan. Even with all these minor farewells the imposing fact of my imminent departure seems to evade my mind, meaning that I’m not all that worried about leaving. No doubt I’ll cast a furtive look back as I enter the plane at Tokyo in six (no wait, three) months time but from where I sit now it’s hard to see much I’ll think of during the inevitable fits of manic tears after I return home. I don’t want this entry to veer into my own un-publishable territory but there’s little of my current day-to-day situation that I’ll miss with much enthusiasm. There’s the obvious apprehension that precedes any life change, but so far it hasn’t overwhelmed my current disposition of pleasant oblivion. By that I suppose I mean that I’m not really anywhere, mentally, at the moment. My daily life consists of appearances, being at a certain place at a certain time like a soap star’s supermarket opening schedule. I imagine the job satisfaction is of a comparable level also.
Still, I owe it to my future self, as disease ridden and incontinent as he may be, to make the best of the time yet available. Hannah and I are in the planning stages of a trip to Okinawa where we shall dance on the ancient fields of victory, singing the American national anthem and raising the Stars and Stripes, adorned as we shall be in George W. Bush masks. Hannah has decided to stay for another year, a prudent decision based on the fact that I won’t be here, but will accompany me home for a fortnight’s holiday. It works for her; family reunion, much missed cockney bantering, and it works for me; a gentle learning curve and an excuse to do nothing for a while longer. Aside from these pleasant distractions, Mum and Dad are visiting at the moment. No doubt at this very moment of typing they find themselves in Narita airport surrounded by otakus and hentai. Assuming they emerge unsullied we’ll be meeting them in Fukuoka this weekend.
This brings me quite nicely onto my final paragraph, that being the one you, the reader, is reading right now; my wants. There are certainly more than a few activities I wish to avail myself of before I leave and this paragraph has been reserved for the purpose of listing them and perhaps expanding upon them by giving a few circumstantial causes of interest. First, and best connected to the last paragraph’s closing of Fukuoka, is a baseball match. At home, the television is often switched on and inevitably enough a baseball match will appear on its magic face once or twice a week. They look fun. There are balloons and big foam fingers, the kind my friend who had been to see Gladiators came to school with back in 97. I wish to buy a foam finger and if this means watching a bunch of eager Japanese and portly, has been Americans amble around randomly for a while then so be it. Unfortunately, my premature booking of this entire paragraph to list my desire was exactly that, premature, as I can’t at the moment think of anything else I actually want to do over here. Is this a case of having done everything of interest already, or has the blade of my imagination dulled itself against the thick armour of boredom? I know not. Either way, it is time to take my leave. Lunchtime approaches and I have some bitches to pimp, courtesy of GTA IV. Forsooth and away!
Monday, July 16, 2007
I’m feeling a bit down at the moment. A bit lonely. It’s that time of year again when the departing ALTs are, well, departing. Apartments are being packed and rumours are being spread, rumours about the newcomers. Apparently the new ALT in my town is called Ryan, an American chap with a Spanish heritage. He sounds interesting already!
The majority of the Yatsushiro ALTs, old and new(ish) alike are leaving, meaning we’ll be getting 7 or 8 new people in the city. I am reliably informed that out of these 7 or 8, 6 or 7 (ie all except one) are women. Not quite sure what to make of this at the moment, I don’t want to start prejudging people again. Most are American though and this is something I can comment on; I really wish there was more of a balance. In the vast majority of cases, Americans are as nice as any other people but I’d really like a bit of variety.
In my first year there was an Irish ALT, 2 Australians, 4 Canadians, 1 South African, 3 Americans and 3 of us Brits. This past year there were 2 Brits (me included), 3 Canadians, 1 South African, 1 Indian and 6 Americans (5 by the end of the year). I much preferred the mix during the first year, not that I disliked anyone this year. Well, not really. However, the few times I did go to Yats the concentration of not just Yanks but Californians (of the 6 I think 4 were from California somewhere) made me feel in the minority. An Englishman in New York if you will, although Yatsushiro is about as far from New York as that Welsh tramp wandering around Leeds.
There are a few people staying over from last year but only one other remains from when I first arrived. Of the others staying, two are cool and one is…a bit of a challenge but I shall persevere. If there’s one thing I mucked up this year it was the delicate Balance between girlfriend and friends, meaning that Hannah got too much of me and my friends were neglected. Not that I think they minded too much. Still, this year is another chance to even that out.It’s a bit nerve-wracking though, especially getting a new ALT in my town. I sort of fell out of contact with Ellison this year, something I do regret, but hopefully this new chap will be as nice as the last guy. We shall see. Apparently he doesn’t speak any Japanese so that’s something we’ll have in common. He’s going to love that.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Tokyo in two words. Fucking Huge. Tokyo in another two words. But Good. It was like taking 5 microtrips to different cities all of which were fucking mental. Massive shopping centres? Yup. Huge TV built into the side of a building? Check. Déjà vu despite having never been there before (thanks to Lost In Translation)? Certainly. Tokyo is like a Monet floating in a swimming pool; you know it’s going to be expensive but you can’t help but jump in. The ward we were staying in, Asakusa, was perhaps comparable to Kumamoto city in size and scale. Perhaps. Perhaps Asakusa is bigger, we didn’t see all that much of it. However, 20 minutes train ride away is the frankly ridiculous Shibuya, whose massive skyscraping shopping centres go on forever. Probably not literally forever, but as near as makes no difference. It’s also home to the crossing made famous in the aforementioned film. It’s the one with the dinosaur on the building. The moving one. You know. Needless to say I walked across that crossing as many times as I could in the short time we were there, hoping for some cooky Bill Murray type to appear. He did not.
Shinjuku was where I’d stayed when I first arrived in Japan. It was home for 3 days. I was convinced it was the “hotel district” and that was it. As with so many things, I was completely wrong. It was fucking mental. There’s a chain over here called Don Quixote but it may as well be called “everything in the whole sodding world under one roof that has various stuffed toys hanging from it.” The Shinjuku branch was 6 floors of chaos; bloody minded, consumerist chaos. I loved it. To add some spice to the mix someone thought it’d be funny to have all of these 6 floors, containing such diverse goods as Doritos, flick knives and Rolex watches, rely on one checkout situated right at the very back of the first/ground floor. As I say, absolute chaos.
Akihabara is the otaku centre of the world, otaku here meaning geek. Although it’s been heavily romanticised in the western world don’t be fooled; your average otaku is a social freak that should be avoided at all costs. Hundreds of stores containing cartoon porn, people dressed as cartoons and cartoons you can control with a joystick are crammed into Akihabara’s main street. Next to those healthy signs of the coming apocalypse are dozens of electric stores selling everything from computers to wall fans to lengthy appendages that I was assured were not backscratchers.
Ometesando is the new Shibuya apparently; the fashion capital of Japan’s youth. It reminded me of Camden town. I’ve only ever been to Camden once and most of it was spent cowering in fear behind poor Hannah. Why are you looking at me Old Asian Lady? Why are you offering me overpriced Chinese food? Why are you offering it so loudly? This place was much nicer. Lovely backstreets filled with archetypal Japanese Goths, hobbling around on boots so stacked they were almost as tall as a normal person. Shops selling handmade socks for the price of a small French chateaux. Toy stores stocked to the brim with oddities and perversions, all aimed at the under-5 market. It was great.
Roppongi is Tokyo’s red light district. Restaurants and bars give way to brothels and “lingerie bars” on a street culminating in the largest phallus ever created; Tokyo Tower. We didn’t spend much time here, disturbed as we were by a 333 metre high metal…part. The shopping centre was nice though and it did contain the Konami headquarters. Worth a photo, that.
So yes, fun was had. We had a few nice meals and tried to forget about our medieval torture chamber of a hostel. The weather was good to us and the people, although completely oblivious to our presence, didn’t try to harm us. I had already planned a return visit before realising that a twenty foot high anime maid splashed across a banner offering to “serve” me had not registered as strange, and that I really should go home for a bit.
Friday, June 08, 2007
This ramble is basically to lend some explanation as to why I haven’t written here for coming on 3 months. Basically I’ve been on Facebook. See what I’ve done here? You already know why I’ve been on Facebook because I started the entry with reasons why it’s great! It’s like I know what you’re thinking!!
Also, not much has happened in the last 3 months. It’s a fact that I didn’t want to face. Nothing has happened. Nothing. Well, I’ve seen Hannah a lot and been to a few dos but that’s it. I’m not going to talk about school here as all I seem to do is complain and no one really cares anyway. Well, Mum doesn’t and I’m pretty sure she’s the only one reading this. How do I know she doesn’t?
She told me.
Moving on; yes, I’ve seen a lot of Hannah. I mean, I’ve seen her almost every weekend. See, I do know what you were thinking you cheeky boys. Trying to actually remember what we did during these times is difficult. We ate a lot. We may have talked a lot too. I know we went to the shops.
Other than doing things that I can’t remember I’ve been invited to a shocking total of 2 social engagements. More specifically, I’ve been to a total of 2 shocking social engagements. I may have been invited to more and then forgotten about the invites. These social engagements both took place in equally shocking locales; the beach and Kumamoto City.
Beach outings consist mainly of going to a beach and sitting on it. We were only partly successful in this endeavour, spending most of our time slightly adjacent to the beach so as not to get sand everywhere. I believe the term “Underpant Sahara” is appropriate for what we were trying to avoid. Most failed in this task. Among the numerous fun activities partaken were See Who Can Jump the Highest (me), See Who Can Wear A Borrowed Hat (me), See Who Can Wear The Most Yellow (me) and Let’s Trying Not To Catch Salmonella (me, joint first with Geoff). Also dodgeball.
The second outing did indeed take place in Kumamoto City. It was someone’s birthday I think, whatever. There were loads of people there I didn’t know and this scared poor Hannah and I senseless. Obviously I see people everyday that I don’t know on an intimate level but they are Japanese people and I content myself in the knowledge that they all want to know me. These people were different. They were cruel and unforgiving. Within one minute of meeting with their leader he had already asked for my name and age. I strained an answer from my puckered mouth and tried to hide my shame. His breeding was obviously atrocious.
After an exceedingly expensive meal that consisted of raw salmon and a pizza base lathered in egg yolk, an impromptu meeting was held in the middle of the street in order to decide where to go next. Hannah, obviously bored by everyone except me, was looking fractious so I suggested a nearby bar that made up for it’s lack of clean toilets by pricing its drinks in line with the economic environment of the 1930s. Of course, everyone agreed immediately. Some people may have gone somewhere else but all the important people stayed. By important I obviously mean important in the context we were in, not genuine decision makers or anything.
So yeah, it was OK after that. Hannah was obviously bored through and through but I persuaded her that the final club might be OK. After entering and discovering their wine was limited to “Red” or “White” our spirits fell somewhat. Then some stuff happened and we went home.
We’re off Tokyo next week though. That’ll be nice.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Kyoto then. I’d been once before but was so tired after the completely pointless Kobe recontracting conference that I’d just attended that I didn’t really get to see much of it. This time however Hannah and me had 4 days to explore. As Hannah had also been before and had in fact managed to make it out of her hostel without keeling over we had a pretty good idea of where to go and what to do.
Obviously there was a lot of temple hopping, Kyoto having something of a temple surplus. There was the famous Golden Pavilion (a wee bit tacky if you ask me) and the less well-known and inaccurately named Silver Pavilion (much nicer and probably my favourite). There was the precariously balanced Kiyomizu shrine replete with the rudest people in all of Japan. Inari shrine also resides with the city, along with its thousands and thousands of corporate sponsored Tori gates.
Just outside the city proper is Nara, which was apparently the first capital of Japan. Most of Nara seemed to consist of a park full of deer and tourists that also contained the world’s largest wooden building which itself houses the world’s largest upright Buddha. That’s a lot of the world’s largest stuff. The building was big, the Buddha was fucking huge. For a Buddha.
Then there was the city itself. Kyoto is a long, long (looooooooooooooooong) way from Kumamoto and I’m not just talking about miles and kilometres. If Kumamoto is to be considered the Slough or Wigan of Japan then Kyoto is surely its Manchester or Leeds. I’d say York but that quiet, historic town has nothing on Kyoto’s vibrant people and outstanding nightlife. It’s an amazing place. For what was possibly the first time in almost a year, I felt like I was somewhere that was fun, somewhere that mattered. It felt familiar. I was constantly reminded of my time in Leeds, up to now possibly the most content I’ve ever been (well, the first two years anyway). We weren’t being stared at or commented on (well, actually we were but nowhere near as much as in Kumamoto). I didn’t feel like an alien. People didn’t feel the need to comment on my clothes as I walked down the street, nor stop and giggle at the sight of someone who wasn’t from Japan. It was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders.
I realised that all my opinions of Japan, of its people, its rules, the way things are run, are not in fact indicative of Japan as a whole. In fact, my views and opinions are probably completely erroneous. Kyoto proved to me that Japan is more than the farmers and convenience store workers of Kagami, more than the salarymen of Kumamoto city, more than the teenagers on the tram taking sly pictures of the gaijin with their phones. Although we still got a few comments and the odd glance, the whole experience made Kumamoto look like a racist Nazi state in my mind. Needless to say I dreaded going home.
But home I am, if you can call it that. My recent exploratory venture into interior design has made my apartment feel a bit more homely, especially thanks to Hannah’s birthday present, but the town of Kagami itself is, I think, about as far away from being a homely place as anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve taken to calling it a ‘place’ rather than a ‘town’ because, well…that’s what it is. It’s a place for farmers to live when they come home from the fields. The only reason there are two high schools here is because it’s situated exactly between Yatsushiro and Kumamoto and even then no one wants their kids to go to school here.
Still, I had a great time in Kyoto. It was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. Next stop, Tokyo.