Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Who's Up for Smelling Like a Dead Animal?

July 22, 2008

It is approaching 4 months since I last posted. I will quickly catch you up on the last 4 months and then spend a little more time talking about a recent excursion.
Here we go…Jack Johnson, Mason Jennings, Matt Costa concert in Tokyo, a 10k race on down streets lined with blossoming cherry trees, purchase a Japanese suit (looks good), body boarding, beach volleyball, riding my bike to and fro, studying Japanese, being told I look like I am from the Lord of the Rings (I hope I am not an orc), studying the Bible with a good friend, realizing how much I need to grow in my faith, rafting, canyoning (sliding down a steep river in a wet suit, like a natural water slide), attending the Japanese National Track and Field Meet, searching all over Tokyo for a Burger King and after giving up looking up as the door is closing on the train home and seeing a Burger King (a horrible feeling), playing a lot of basketball, several hundred miles of running, and finally my most recent adventure; a 24 hour relay race. I know what you are thinking and it is true…wasabi makes people a little crazy. Let me set the scene for you. Over 200 teams (average of 12 people per team) drive through the night (at least we did) to arrive at the base of Mt. Fuji. At 10am a runner from each team lines up on the start line on the track. For some reason it was deemed that I would lead off. I took off with a pack of 200 kindred spirits and we raced out of the stadium up a steep hill. After about 500 meters I began wondering what I was doing and I still had about 23 hours and 58 minutes left luckily after a 1000 meters we began to descend and all I could hear was the huff of breathing and the slap of shoes on the pavement. We came back into the stadium to pass the sash (it had an electronic chip in it to record our progress after each lap) I handed off the sash in about 7th place after a 5:11 mile. After roughly an hour of rest I did it again, and again, and again, and yet again, then finally 3 times. Again it was deemed that I should finish the race. Sounds good, whatever, at this point my legs are numb and I can’t really think straight. “What’s that? I didn’t catch that…oh 3 laps instead of 1. Huh? That wasn’t part of the deal.” But it was too late and after 3 painful miles I entered the stadium again, and was surrounded by my teammates as we approached the finish line. It was a great experience. As a team we ran 299 kilometers (if I could have run about 15 seconds faster over the last 3 miles we would have broken 300, oh well). That comes out to 185 miles for those of you who are in the West. Two very important things that I learned from this experience: after running in the heat and humidity for about 10 hours and then through the night then again in the morning heat, not showering and not changing clothes, I smell like something that has been dead for 4 days. I would like to publicly apologize to anyone who smelled me at the race or even in neighboring Korea (it was that bad). Oh and the second thing that I learned was that runners come in all shapes and sizes. I saw Darth Vader (with activated light saber), the Red Power Ranger, many men dressed like women, one woman dressed like a man, a kangaroo, a swim team, and a person wearing a business suit and a rubber horse head.

Friday, April 4, 2008

There is no gas gauge: An Epic of Tragic Betrayal by a Trusted Friend


As I hopped on my scooter Tuesday morning, I noticed the beautiful skies and the contrast of the plum blossoms blotting out the blue sky around my apartment. It was sure to be a great day. Three minutes later my tune changed. Why does this kind of thing happen to me? This was not the first time. It would not be the last but I couldn’t help but feel a sharp pain in the very core of my being. My heart was crushed in one fell swoop. My scooter died just as I was encouraged on my way by my good friend Mr. Green Light (or blue light as it is called in Japan; I still think its green no matter what color you call it). I sadly pulled the off the rode and began the push of shame back to my apartment. There is something embarrassing about pushing a vehicle that you should be driving. I endured the silent looks of awe as I passed a long line of cars waiting to accelerate, without any problem and arrive on time without any hassle. I wanted so desperately to be one of those people. In my attempts to speak Japanese I rely heavily on the facial expressions and gestures that so often accompany a conversation. The telephone is my worst enemy. I had to call school and let them know I would be late. As the phone rang on the other end, a giant butterfly hatched from the cocoon that had somehow found its way into my stomach (I usually don’t ask what I am eating). It continued to flutter around until I heard a voice on the other end. Stupid butterfly tried to come out and I had to choke it down to speak. After clearing my throat, I said (literal translation), “Vice principal”? “Yes”. “It’s Wade” (as if he couldn’t tell by the grammatical mistakes and silly accent). “Yes” “This morning my scooter is bad, so I am coming by bike” “(something I didn’t understand)” “Yep, that's it, I am coming by bike.” This is where it got hairy. I don’t know how to end conversations on the phone with people who have a higher social status or age than I. So I hope that he would wrap it up, and so it began. I squinted into his face and waited for him to make a move. We both stood with fingers twitching above our guns, tumbleweeds running amuck in the street in front of us. After what seemed like hours I panicked and reached for my pistol and shot quickly from the hip, “Ok, thanks”. “Ok, be careful.” I hung up quickly and checked my pulse. I was alive. Why do I get so nervous when I am talking on the phone? Even in English I am not a skilled phone conversationalist. Most of my phone conversations are wrapped up in three sentences (I usually allow four for females out of courtesy.)
I began the ride to school and the day past uneventfully. Maybe the poor beginning was not so bad after all. After school I hustled home to see if I could take my scooter to a mechanic. I changed clothes and slung on my backpack with my Japanese book (it was Japanese class night). I began pushing my scooter along the sidewalk avoiding the strange looks I was receiving. Stop looking at me!! I don’t stare at you when you walk your dog. Don’t stare at me when I walk my scooter. Ten minutes later I approached the gas station. I had decided since my scooter lacks a gas gauge and the light sometimes doesn’t work so well, I should fill up, give it a try and if needed, go see a mechanic. From across the street I surveyed the objective. How to infiltrate it without looking like a complete idiot? How many people walk their scooters into the gas station? Maybe 35% (maybe its lower, I don’t work at a gas station so I’m not qualified to make a valid estimate). Anyway I didn’t want those gas station attendants that I had possibly run out of gas. I decided the best way to go about it was to slide my helmet on and creep across the road and then close to the entrance I should sit on my scooter push as hard, as I could, coasting into the station and making cool engine sounds with my mouth. What a great plan!! To sell it I could even turn the key and stop making “VrrmmVrrmm” sounds simultaneously!! I grinned as I envisioned my success. Time to execute. I started crossing the street and was spotted instantly. It was all over. I was caught and in turn looked like an even bigger idiot because I was pushing my scooter with my helmet on, like I never take it off (even to sleep). I sheepishly pushed it up to the pump and asked for gas and oil. I reached for my….wallet…my wallet. Great…just great. I had left my wallet in my apartment. I chuckled and looked at the confused gas attendant. I explained what had happened and he looked incredulously at me as if to say, ”That’s impossible. No one would ever do that.” I asked if it was ok to park my scooter off to the side and run back to my apartment to grab my money. He grinned and said it was ok. I could tell he was composing a story for his blog about how he met a silly foreigner who was walking around town pushing his scooter for kicks and then running around like an idiot looking for his wallet.
I ran the ten minutes to my apartment and then the ten minutes back to the station. I arrived dripping with sweaty and out of breath. He grinned again and I had to chuckle at how ridiculous I am. It turns out that I was betrayed by one of my closest friends. My scooter had failed to warn me that it was running out of gas. What a backstabber. It seems that word had made it back to my scooter that a car was in my future and out of sheer jealously it decided to maroon me in the middle of the street.

I cut my hair yesterday from about 4 inches to about a half an inch. My teachers were very surprised to see me this morning. One even jumped back in fright when I walked in the door. Drastic changes seemed to be pretty uncommon around here. Most of my teachers told me my hair looked good. I can’t decided if it was in consolation or honesty. I envisioned the conversations later in the tea room. “Yep, its pretty short isn’t it.” Yeah, its horrible.” “We better tell him it looks good next time we see him so he doesn’t feel so bad about it.” I chose to believe that they really do like it.

How To Change the Owner Registration of a Car in Japan (a.k.a. how to turn brown hair gray)


You know that place? The one where no matter what you do you can’t win? You are in the wrong line or filling in the wrong form or you are just too confused to even think so you stand in the middle of the room, head spinning and drool running down your chin, until the security guard realizes that you are a threat to the peaceful chirping of phones and tip tap of computer keys, and decides to escort you outside for some fresh air and a knuckle sandwich. Maybe for you this place is the DMV or the police station, the post office or Taco Bell. When I first arrived in Japan it was the post office with their obscure forms and official titles but last week it was replaced by the Japanese Office of Land and Transportation. Let me tell you why…but first, hows about I go off on a tangent which will inevitably lead to another tangent and eventually you will end up wondering how I went from writing about a place that is scary (the Japanese OLT) to writing about eating parents and their children (please don’t judge me)… my usual rambling.

I have been given a car free of charge. This is quite common inside the AET program because most people in Japan drive newer cars, so old cars are harder to sell and if you want to get rid of a car you have to pay to have it crushed. So for an AET who has been in Japan for a few years and decides to return to their home country it is easiest to sell or give your car to a friend (except for the rigorous paperwork). When I was offered a free car I accepted immediately. Think of the adventures I could have!! My world consists of a circle with a radius of about 20KM (about 13 miles) and the places that are accessible by train. I can drive across the country, explore exotic places and best of all pay around $6 a gallon for gas. Wait a minute….gas costs that much? My scooter has a 5 liter tank and gas is about 150 yen per liter so I spend about 700 yen a week on gas. If I start driving a car then I will spend a great deal more on gas and probably won’t be able to support my habit (bottled drinks from convenience stores). I want to have my cake and eat it too (in this case, drink my cake in the form of delicious tea, coffee or coke.) There must be a way that I can get around spending so much money on gas. Then a brilliant idea began hatching in the deep recesses of my mind. There was one beautiful night in my life…I had just stumbled into my apartment after running for an hour with the cross country team and who should greet me but Homer Simpson himself!! I could tell he had some crazy scheme up his sleeve by the gleam in his eye and well…the bulge in his sleeve (he actually had something in his sleeve). I watched as Homer and Bart spent roughly 23 minutes siphoning cooking grease from fast food restaurants and eventually the school cafeteria (the episode ended when their operation got shut down because they stepped in on a local gangster’s recycled cooking grease and shovel business). Immediately following this episode I flipped to the Discovery channel and watched in awe as a man detailed how he had revamped his car to run on refined cooking oil from fast food restaurants…THAT HE GOT FOR FREE!!! That was it!! That night several years ago had been a fateful meeting with destiny. I had unwittingly been groomed for a future of free transportation and adventure!! So a few weeks ago I began researching this promising alternative. Of course, I watched the Simpsons episode again, gleaning some valuable insight into the proper technique on siphoning grease from cooking vats. I then read some articles on the actual process of converting a car to run on vegetable oil. That was downright discouraging. I didn’t even understand the title of the articles (my English has eroded since moving to Japan). Yet I was a man on a mission. I would not be deterred. I decided to case my neighborhood for eligible restaurants. I thought for a second, sushi restaurant? No grease. Rice and beef bowl restaurant? Same story. Ramen shop? I like to eat there too much to have it ruined by my seeing the nastiness that lurks in the kitchen of every restaurant in the world. My list was getting shorter and shorter. Then, I violently slammed into a major road block. In my limited knowledge of Japanese I had yet to study the phrase,

“Can I have the grease from your fryer, free of charge. Oh, yeah and I will probably be coming back every week for awhile going through the same process and could I maybe have a cup of tea because I am getting kind of thirsty. One more thing, is it possible for you to actually dump the grease into a bag and leave it outside for me so I don’t have to spend so much time or work too hard. Yeah, could you please just do all that for me. Thanks!!”

Just how do I say all that in Japanese? I am sure I could get my point across with my clutch technique, my 1, 2 punch if you will, of gesturing wildly, shouting the few Japanese phrases I have mastered (like “I am sorry to leave from work so early.”, “Please give me the large portion”, and the ever versatile “Where is the toilet”. Armed with these phrases you can carry on a surprising amount of conversation provided you play your cards right (the order you say these phrases is very important) and throw in few “please” and “thank you”. Despite the fact that I think I could convince a restaurant to give me their used cooking grease I would like to like to respect the culture and carry on the conversation with the correct formality level and correct grammar so I decided to wait until we study this particular situation in Japanese class. I am sure that we will study that soon maybe that is in Chapter 25: Going Shopping. But until then I needed another way…

Since I still had connections with Dan the Biscuit Man at the Hardees in Fayetteville, (I worked there flipping burgers for 2 summers in college) I explored the possibility of coaxing him into air mailing me plastic bags of leftover cooking grease from the fryers (I know what you are thinking and I settled on proposing he use the big 40 gallon Hefty, Hefty, Hefty instead of wimpy, wimpy, wimpy garbage bags). I was chewing on this half baked idea when I realized that there was a huge flaw in my plan (it has probably been clear to you the entire time): I was a cook at Hardees and I remember all the leftover bits of French fries and chicken that lounged in the grease after a hard day of making delicious fried fatty foods. They were like children in a pool on a hot summer day, except crispier. Imagine the logistics of refining all that cooking grease until it could be used as fuel. Dan might not go for this idea after all. But what if…what if we could barter something. That's it!! He could cover the cost of refining and airmailing several hundred pounds of used cooking grease every week and I could send him something once or twice a year to ease the strain of such a difficult job. What could I send him…? YES!! I was on a roll I had met and crushed several problems in the last hour of scheming and this would be no different. I would send him seaweed candy. Healthy and delicious, who doesn’t like seaweed candy? (It really isn’t too bad, but I have the suspicion that you would judge a book by its cover and would never let this brownish green confection past your lips much less dissolve into a delicious seaweedy syrup on your tongue.) Now that I had a plan of attack, it was time to act. But…I haven’t seen nor spoken with Dan in 3 years, nor did we speak much when we actually worked together (he did yell at me once for cooking the roast beef to long and another time for not shouting loud enough when I needed more biscuits to “build” delicious breakfast sandwiches. I know, I will just look him up in the phone book. Simple enough, right? Nope, he wasn’t listed under Biscuit Man (the whole time I worked there I thought that was his last name). So my plan to operate a vegetable oil vehicle has been sidelined for the moment.

Lets get back on task. I went to the Office of Land and Transportation with high hopes. I had just dominated the police station (successfully obtaining proof of a parking spot (in Japan you have to prove you have a place to park your car before you can buy one)). I asked a parking lot attendant where the notary was and he told me something along the lines of, “I don’t understand the words that are coming out of your mouth.” Not what I wanted to hear. Oh well, this wouldn’t be the first time in Japan that I had wondered around a building for hours, looking for something that might not even exist. In fact, it has become a hobby of sorts. I walked into the first building, too many people staring at me, that couldn’t be it. Next building, please. I walked in looked around, didn’t see anything that shouted notary, then left. At the next building I decided it was time to ask again. Hot dog!! I was in the right place! They understood my Japanese, take that parking attendant man!! The lady pointed me to the right place and I stood awkwardly waiting for them to acknowledge my presence. Apparently I had my invisible suit on. People even walked through me to get to the desk. Finally I recognized that a line was forming and I hopped in the back of it and nervously checked out the crowd around me. I had a bad feeling about this. I just knew that I would get to the front of the line and either not have the right form or not understand what they were telling me and odds were it would probably be both. Yep. It was my turn and I timidly stepped forward and told her why I was here. She said something and I immediately knew I had done something wrong. Apparently I needed the original ownership form instead of just a copy. Great!! I just worked up the courage to ask to leave work early and I wasn’t even going to accomplish what I had set out to do. Worse yet, I was going to have to go through the same process again in the future. This called for some major sulking. I went to a convenience store (called conveeny here in Japan for convenience sake) and found some chocolate and a coke to soothe my woes. The next day I worked up the courage to ask off early again. Two days in a row is really pushing the limits. I returned to what I now refer to as the demon lair (except for that one nice lady who smiled and was very friendly). As I walked in the room I set my jaw and was determined not to take no for an answer. I went confidently to the same desk as yesterday, presented my papers and prepared myself to meet instant success. “Please wait over there”. OK, ok, I could settle for semi instantaneous success. I sat down and they called my name. I stood up and shuffled forward. A lady asked for some money and gave me some papers in exchange. She told me to go next door to the 2nd window. Another line. I waited and then handed my papers to the man who looked at me then at the papers then back up at me suspiciously. Oh, man that is not a good look to receive. I asked him politely to not look at me that way (in my head of course). He stamped my papers with emphasis and told me to go wait at the 3rd window. Paranoia crept into my brain. Are they trying to stall and keep me here until the authorities arrive to arrest me for attempting to change the ownership of a vehicle without correctly dotting “I’s” and crossing “t’s”? Someone shouted my name. I stood and stepped forward and accepted some papers that were thrust at me. What do I do with these? Am I finished? I stood and waited patiently to be told which window to wait at. The man didn’t look up. I waited some more. In an instant I turned and left. I exhaled and looked down at the papers. I held in my hands the owner registration papers for mister ウエイド ミラー.I was now the proud owner of a car. Now that I am finished with the Office of Land and Transportation I can go back to hating the post office.

It is spring break now and the students are at home. The teachers are at work and we ordered lunch a couple of hours ago. In making my choice for lunch I noticed the kanji for parents and the kanji for children. This was the name of a dish that I could order. I asked what it was. “Parents and their children”, was the reply. I knew that already…I thought for a second and asked what was in it. “Chicken and eggs”. AHHHAAH!!! That makes sense. So I ordered it and ate, “parents and their children.”

Monday, February 25, 2008

Police, Severed Heads and Dragons

With a title like that I have a great deal to live up to, huh?
The other day I was riding my scooter to school on the usual route and I noticed something strange. Someone was standing smack dab in the middle of the road. I slid my hand off the throttle and braked slightly. As I came closer I recognized the colors of a policeman and he happened to have his hand extended. “Stop in the name of the law.”, his hand said. “Ok, I guess” I thought. I rolled to a stop and he approached me. I peered out of the narrow slit formed by my wool hat and muffler (I have been told I look like a ninja). He said something that had a hard time penetrating my helmet, and aforementioned layers. I shucked my helmet and hat and pulled my muffler down around my neck. His eyes widened when he realized what he had on his hands. A bona fide foreigner. He asked if I spoke Japanese and I wisely made a few grammatical errors in my response (a better chance he wouldn’t want to mess with questioning me--I know what you are thinking, they were staged mistakes, I PROMISE). He asked to see my drivers license and I complied. As he was examining my permit I wondered if he knew about the red light that I had run two streets back. Was he that good? Are there spies around? I couldn’t help but begin examining escape routes. I thought maybe we could fight. I have watched my share of 24 and have absorbed some serious combat skills through osmosis. I nixed that idea when I saw some other folks coming down the road. Plus I am not quite ready to get deported. I decided to wait him out. I glared fiercely at him (a bluff in case he could smell fear)
*EDITORS NOTE Wade would like you to believe he was brave and intimidating but in reality he looked like a frightened hamster.

He asked me what my job was and I told him I was a teacher. He grunted handed my license back and told me to take care. I spent the rest of the day wondering what that was all about. As with the 1,302, 213 other events that I have experienced in Japan, I never found out. Instead I did what I always do and wrote my own story line. Here’s what really happened. Bigfoot has been terrorizing the countryside and the police have been put on purple alert in case he hijacks a scooter and rides into town for some tender city folk. Therefore they have to stop and question everyone on a scooter who fits the profile. I personally, am thankful for their vigilance in protecting my safety.

I awoke 4 days ago to find that my water was not working. I had forgotten to pay the bill, of that I was certain. I packed my bags for the debtors prison and prayed for a nice solitary cell, with a window and a pinball machine. On the outside chance that there was a building wide problem I text messaged (called c-mail here in Japan) a friend a few doors down and received the reply I had been hoping for. Someone had backed into a pipe that protruded from the water tank for our apartment thus leaving the residents without water. I went to school and was brushing my teeth in the teachers room (a common occurrence after lunch but apparently illegal before) when my principal walked by and noticed that I was sawing away at my pearly whites. He looked at the vice principal then back at me and began mimicking my brushing and then held out is hands as if to say, “What in the world are you doing?”. To which I replied, “Mmym wabbba wazznnnott wooking vvvisss mornnnigng.” Silly me, he doesn’t speak English

*EDITORS NOTE Regardless of his principal’s English skills he couldn’t have understood what Wade was saying because, as you can see from the story, he sounded like a blubbering idiot and if I remember correctly had toothpaste drool running down his chin.

I was just about to attempt to explain the situation in Japanese when he decided I wasn’t worth the trouble and walked off, vice principal in tow, headed for the morning assembly. I quickly finished brushing and hurried off to find some sort of vindication. I caught the two in just in front of the gym and offered an explanation for my actions. Here is the translation, “Last night....the car...met...water tank...kkroonngg (this was meant to invoke the deep reverberating sound of a car smashing into a water tank, I also smashed my fist into my palm for good measure) therefore...water..no...therefore..brushing teeth...school. What a success!! Except those weren’t looks of understanding...no they were looks of confusion...or was it excitement... frustration...happiness? It is hard to tell sometimes, I guess I could chalk it up to whatever I wanted, so I did...a smashing success. After the assembly the vice principal and I walked back to the teachers room. As we were entering, he announced in English that I was dirty. He did understand!!! My initial surprise was soon overpowered by my need to defend myself. He told everyone that I was dirty again, this time in Japanese. Now everyone knew who the stinky person was.

*EDITORS NOTE Wade didn’t really smell that bad as he had showered the night before. However he was silly in saying that everyone was aware of his stink only because the vice principal alerted them. In reality, had Wade been stinky, their noses would have alerted them long before the vice principal did.

“Sling some mud of your own, Wade.” I said to myself out loud.

*EDITORS NOTE I rarely understand the things that Wade writes, he tends to ramble, make up words and has has yet to master the comma, but when he states “I said to myself out loud”, I think he is referring to speaking out loud to bolster his confidence. He once told me, “When I say it things out loud I feel a little braver. Kind of like when there are monsters under my bed and and I tell them “I AIN”T afraid of you.” to convince myself and them I’m not afraid of them.”

However it hadn’t rained for awhile and we were inside to boot. I surveyed the room with fiery eyes but I couldn’t find an ounce of mud in the place so I let it slide for the 1,000th time and laughed it off. Chuckling, I loudly said, “Naw”. That seemed to square things away, so I sat down and chuckled to myself.

The other day I arrived at school to find that I had a present on my desk. One of my fellow teachers had made some beautiful origami dolls and left them on my desk. First, I had to find out who made them. I asked around and came up with a few names. My partner and I then rounded them up and brought them back to the station. We set up a lineup and had a few key eyewitnesses in to see if we could find the culprit. One in particular drew a great deal of attention and I called her into for questioning. She cracked easily, long before I had to do the good cop-bad cop routine. I thanked her for the beautiful origami and then asked if there was some cultural significance behind the dolls. There was, but I didn’t quite understand everything so I can’t explain it very well, lets just say these dolls are seen frequently around this time of year. I never know what to do with things (gifts and such) that I receive. I have put a great deal of thought into this and still don’t know how to handle this particular situation. Culturally should I leave the gift out for all to see, proudly displaying what I have received and bringing honor to the person who gave me the gift or should I carefully put the gift away and admire it later so the giver doesn’t receive unwanted attention and I demonstrate the importance of the gift by treasuring it enough to ensure its safety. Another thing and maybe the most important is the follow up, the “Thank you”. My mom always made us write thank you notes after birthdays, christmas and graduation. Since I am far away from the judicious knuckles of my mother (and the painful “Head Knock” I experienced so many times in my childhood and even as recently as when I returned home for Christmas in December) it is safe to say that I have neglected to utilize the “Thank You Note” method. I would like to first, publicly apologize if you feel I was ungrateful and second, thank all of you for the gifts that you have given and hopefully continue to give in the future.

*EDITORS NOTE It seems that Wade is trying to apologize for not writing thank you notes and at the same time offer a thank you for all future presents. He expressed to me off the record that he would like this to apply if he is ever married. He thinks that referring her to this point in time, when he publicly “Thank youed” the world, will get his wife off his back and save a lot of time. How ridiculous!!

Back to my story I chose to utilize both of the previously mentioned methods. I left the dolls on my desk until it was time to leave then I carefully placed them inside a book to protect them. Three days later when I was digging through my backpack for a pencil I came across the head of one of the dolls. Apparently there had been a vicious battle in my backpack and she had lost to the other doll (picture below).

Oh well, at least they waited until they were in my backpack to fight. It would have been awkward to explain why one of the dolls I was proudly displaying (yet planning to treasure) was missing a head.

As you know I have been carving a somewhat Japanese themed chess set. Here is an update on my progress. The board and all of the pawns have been completed and two of the knights (in the form of dragons) are finished.

*EDITORS NOTE The first dragon Wade carved looked very similar to Barney The Dinosaur and kept singing and dancing. I deemed it unworthy to do battle on any chess board and told Wade as much. He whimpered and whined but in the end recognized my logic. He was forced to revamp his dragon approach and I feel (thanks to my insight) that the subsequent dragons are much more fierce. What Wade has yet to tell you is that he has had several similar incidents while creating this chess set. Lacking the skill that some of us possess he has butchered 5 other pieces. Breaking hats or slicing off limbs is a common occurrence and I will be surprised if he ever completes this set. Just have a look at Barney and the Dragon.

Chessing (as I like to call it), is dangerous and the pieces have been stained with a little more than polyurethane and a clear finish. I would like to say that I am careful when I am carving but that would be untrue.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I have been neglecting my blog lately. Mainly because I am trying to regain the tiny bit of Japanese that I knew before I went back to America and forgot it all. I had a great Christmas vacation full of relaxation and family time. I was able to return home for Christmas and visit my family and a few friends. My mother didn’t know I was coming. One of my friends (Erisa) who is from Japan and is studying in America visited our house for Christmas. My mother knew that she would be there but didn’t know that I would too. After two layovers one around 8 hours and the other a 2 minute dash filled with visions of missing my flight, I arrived in OKC. I spent about a day and a half visiting family and a few friends that I could get ahold of and then flew to Lubbock with Erisa. After a short drive to Lockney I was finally home. I wondered how my mother would react. Should we call an ambulance for one or both of us? (I thought she might maim me for not telling her I was coming). I waited for a few minutes for the others to go inside and then waltzed in. It was perfect! She was so surprised. I am amazed that she didn’t find out. Everyone in the family knew and everyone in town (well almost everyone anyway). After some tears and repetitive incoherent questioning she finally settled down enough to understand that I was able to come home to visit for the holidays. I think that she thought I was bringing a wife or girlfriend home to visit without telling her. I told Erisa to expect that so she was a good sport about it. It was great to visit my family and friends and to catch up on everything that has happened in the past 9 months since I have been gone. It was strange to be back in America where I could understand everything that was going on and to be able to communicate so easily and without the nerves that always accompany using my broken Japanese.

After returning to Japan I have been trying to catch up on sleep and working on my chess set. My dad was able to help me put the board together so I feel like I am close to finishing even though I have only finished carving the pawns. I had to clean my apartment and it took awhile to sweep up all the shavings and sawdust. I still have the fresh scent of pine in my apartment (and maybe a few stray slivers of wood).
Last Monday I went exploring in Tokyo with Austin. We had a good time trying to figure out the train and subway system, asking for directions and maps and what not. We went up to the observatory in one of the buildings in Shinjuku and looked aout at Tokyo. Coming from a town of 2000 people it is amazing to me to see a city that has over 12,000,000 people. When I was counting I only saw about 11,432,891 but I am sure that the others were hiding somewhere.

EBC started back up last Sunday and it was good to see my friend and reader. He speaks excellent English and he could teach me grammar if he wanted. He asks some great questions too. You know the kind that make you ask yourself questions. It is great to get his perspectives on the Bible and life in general. He has so much wisdom but it is difficult to get it out of him. I guess that will come with time and patience.

February promises to be a busy month with two ski trips. I am excited to ski in Japan, I just hope that they have boots big enough for my hooves. Well, if I want to play chess soon I had better get back to carving. I will try to post again when I am finished (might be awhile).


So I caved and decided that I should post again before I finish my chess set. I have been convicted of forging foreign currency (there might be any English word for that but I have forgotten it). The Mito city curriculum requires that we teach shopping. I decided we needed a little boost of excitement in class so with some help from a friend or two and a website I created some American money (the 1 dollar bill) with the picture of my principal instead of George Washington. I was ready to mass produce the bills (i.e. make copies) when my principal put the brakes on. I am not 100% sure why he shut it down but I think it was because he didn’t want students to tell parents and parents to tell friends and friends to tell relatives and relatives to tell the Emperor and the Emperor to tell President Clinton (has that happened yet?) and President Clinton tell my mother and my mother insist that I come home because I was breaking the law and in need of a timeout or worse yet a spanking from the splintery ping pong paddle she was so fond of.
If that was the case then crisis averted. He asked me instead to put a picture of a statue in front of the school in place of George Washington. It looks pretty good but I think it would have been more fun the first way. After printing them out I was cutting them out at my desk and every one who saw them told me I was a criminal and I told them I wasn’t and then offered 50% to keep quiet. I don’t think my brand of humor is appreciated at my school. I am moving slowly with my comedy routine instead of breaking out at one time and giving the impression that I am loony. A joke here, some sarcasm there and soon we will have a recipe for funny.

EBC started a couple of weeks ago and I have the same student as before. I am very excited that he didn’t ask for a better teacher. He could definitely teach me proper English grammar and I am a little nervous that he will soon be fed up with my ignorance. In the first few classes back we tackled some tough topics and I learned a great deal from his wisdom. Hopefully I will learn from his grace when approaching a topic or question he knows we might differ on. Bulls in china shops are not good, but bulls in Japanese shops are even worse.

Two weeks ago I caught a nasty cold and had to call in sick. That proved to be a difficult task. I called but didn’t really know what to say. So I described my condition and asked for a sick day. The phone was then handed to my principal who talks incredibly fast and I think he told me it was ok to stay home but then again he might have given me the alternative of staying home and losing my paycheck for the month or going to school. I chose to stay home and chance losing my paycheck. I didn’t leave my bed all day. The next day I called again and jumped through the same hoops, except that I received a call at noon from my vice principal, asking what my room number. I told him and then he ended the conversation with what I thought was a, “Whelp we will see you tomorrow or whenever you can come to school.” (a rough translation). Thirty minutes later my door bell rang and it was my vice principal delivering some much needed survival supplies. I was very pleased. I hadn’t been shopping in awhile and was on my last piece of bread. I was going to have to move on to ketchup and sugar for sustenance if he hadn’t brought me that food. However there was a price to pay (that and he saw how messy my apartment was). He politely requested that I visit the doctor. He brought me the address and working hours. It was very close to my apartment. I after he left I decided to give it a shop. Maybe I would get some medicine; then again I might ask for a appendix transplant if I slipped up in Japanese. I awkwardly shuffled in the door and glanced around. I made my way to what I assumed was the reception desk. I described my symptoms being sure to avoid asking for an extra appendix. After filling out some forms I sat down and waited to meet my doctor. The thought occurred to me that I had no idea what kind of doctor I was visiting. Visions of explaining my fever, ache and cough to a plastic surgeon, anesthesiologist, podiatrist, and others
flashed through my mind. They called my name. I went into the examination room. I answered a series of questions and then had my shirt wrestled up around my neck by a nurse that snuck up on me. The doctor listened to my lungs and heart and then prescribed some medicine and told me to go home and sleep. The nurse then gave me my medicine and told me the times and amounts that I should take. This proved to be the most difficult part of the excursion ( I am convinced that I have taken the correct dosage of everything, except the horse tranquilizer, (I opted out of that one) ) I walked out amazed at how easy that had been. My first doctor’s visit in a foreign country conducted in a foreign language. All that and I was only diagnosed as having a low IQ and a severe cold. The next morning I was still under the weather but began seeing the silver lining later in the day. When I returned to school the next day my classes were all cancelled and I “rested” at my desk all day. During lunch I ate with the teacher’s room staff (vice principal included). It turns out the disarray of my apartment was a topic of conversation while I was absent. When asked if I had a girl friend, a snide remark slipped from someone down the table. Loosely translated, “Of course he doesn’t, he would have a messy room if he did.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rainy Half Marathons and Such


On November 11th, I ran my first half marathon in Japan. It was a birthday present to myself. Strange? I think so too, but that is what I asked for, so that is what I got. I got some great gifts not the least was an acorn from one of my students (I am pretty sure he was just carrying it around in his pocket and when he heard it was my birthday, seized the opportunity for brownie points). Anywho, I rode to the race with three friends and to two people I had just met. As I toed the line, I looked around at all the people around me and I felt a surge of adrenaline that I haven’t felt since my last race about a year ago. I have missed that feeling. About 5 minutes before the start, it began to rain. As the gun went off we charged into a sheet of rain that succeeded in dampening our clothing but failed to dampen our spirits. That task was left to a distance of 21.1 kilometers (13.1 miles). At each turn I surprised people with my pale skin and curly hair. I heard muttering as I ran past. I succeeded in accomplishing my goal for the race. I had hoped to break 1:20 and I finished in 1:17.48. I was surprised. The last 5k was a struggle and I felt like I was teetering on the brink of cramping the last 2k. As I strode into the final 150m I realized that we were to finish on a track. The track happened to be a dirt track that had licked up the moisture from an hour earlier and had turned to a soupy mess. Sliding around the curve heading into the finish line I decided that next year I would bring a canoe for this portion of the race. As I crossed the finish line I was exhausted. It has been said that, “It is better to have run than to run”. In most cases I will agree with this statement. There is nothing like being challenged by a distance and the triumph of covering that distance pouring out your strength and soul in the process. The hazy contentment that follows a taxing effort is definitely well worth the effort. It is almost a week after the race and my body still protests to stairs and chasing children around the playground but I am slowly regaining mobility and losing the pain that has doggedly chased me the past few days. I had better recover fully because I am running a relay race on next Friday.

After many days of praying and thinking I have decided to remain in Japan for another year (until April 2009). It was a tough decision but God has given me peace about it and I feel like God led me to right decision. It is tough to miss out on so many things in America, but God has carried me this far and he will continue to do so.

My newest project (as if running, teaching, studying the Japanese language and Kanji and my many other responsibilities weren’t enough) is creating a chess set. I love to carve and make things out of wood. I have found it to be very relaxing. The results are pictured above. So far I have completed 8 pawns (1 has a chip in his head so it should only count as 7, but you don’t know that, except for I just told you.). My plan is to use some bamboo to make the board. Wish me luck. I have been at it about a month so if I stay on pace I might be finished in the next year. I really enjoy carving in my room. There is something strangely satisfying about making a huge mess and knowing that you don’t have to clean it up at that moment. I guess that is one of the perks of bachelorhood. I don’t know many women who would let me whittle away for hours on their hardwood floors, leave it for 10 or so days and then sweep it up at my leisure. If you know of any let me know.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


The other day I had a very enlightening conversation with my Kouchou Sensei (Principal). He informed me in the restroom that he would be coming to my next class. I didn’t understand what he said until about 4 minutes later (he talks fast and in anither language to boot). He arrived and waited on the class to come. Unfortunately they did not come. We chatted (more like speaking on his part and grunting on mine). He told me they weren’t coming and we should go back to the teacher’s room. I followed him and sat down at my desk. He pulled up a chair and we shot the bull for about 45 minutes. It was the longest conversation that I have had in Japanese. We talked about fall in Japan, apples, salted fish, salmon, hot coffee, iced coffee, winter in Japan, snowboarding being a young man’s sport and skiing and old man’s sport. We talked about ramen, miso soup and salmon eggs (I told him that in America we used them for fish bait and he laughed and said he loved to eat them. I don’t really love to eat them (they are really juicy in your mouth) but I have definitely eaten worse things.) I really enjoyed the chance to talk to him and he helped me with my Japanese. I have had a hard time adjusting to the work environment here in Japan. It seems much more serious to me. I do have a skewed view of things because I don’t understand what people are talking about most of the time so I am sure it seems much more serious than it actually is.

I have been training for a half marathon on November 11th. I hope that I don’t completely fall apart. It is strange to me to be away from the college running scene and away from so many of my running friends. I usually run on my own unless I plan far ahead and invite some friends along. I am really excited about racing again and I think it will be interesting to race among so many Japanese people. In the races I have run I usually stick out because of my height and frame. I can only imagine what it will be like to be running in a pack of Japanese runners. I think that I might win the awkward award and I will definitely be a lock for the Clydesdale award. I also plan on running an ekiden (a Japanese style relay race) on the day after Thanksgiving. We get Nov. 23rd off of school and a friend of a friend asked us to join their team. From the results last year I think that we might have a shot at winning. Because of the races I have planned I decided to purchase some racing shoes. I looked all over town and on several Japanese websites but I was hard pressed to find anything that was remotely close to my size. I had to order shoes from the US. I was hesitant to do so when I noticed that it would cost around $60 for shipping only (the shoes weigh less than a pound). I decided to ship them to my parents house and then ask them to ship them to me (hopefully I can weasel my way into having them send me some goodies too.)

If you happened to drive by Kencho a couple of nights ago and caught a glimpse of someone walking beside their scooter, it was probably me. I have recently noticed that my scooter hasn’t been quite itself. I decided to take it for a walk. It broke the leash that I put it on, so from then on I had to push it. We strolled along enjoying the evening air. I stopped to let some children pet it but they weren’t interested (neither were their parents from the scowls they gave me). When we got back home I tried to start it up but no luck. The next morning I had to leave her at home. She kept whining when I tried to start her. I rode my bike to school and when I came back I walked her down to the gas station. Have you ever walked a scooter into a gas station? The looks that I received were interesting to say the least. I even tried to sit on it and get a rolling start so it looked like I was pulling in. No luck. Fred Flintstone must have been really strong to build up any kind of speed in his car because after three seconds of “Flintstoning it” I was exhausted. I got off and accepted the walk of shame to the nearest pump. As you may have guessed some delicious fuel was all she needed. Maybe I should get the fuel gauge fixed, along with the odometer and the speedometer.