Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Man On Campus

One of the goals of the Japanese Exchange Teaching Programme is to introduce foreigners to Japanese culture and dispel unfounded stereotypes. Well, there is one stereotype that has been so frequently repeated to me, that it has become simply a matter of fact to me. When you think of Japanese men, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Exactly! Small penises.

During our orientation, we learned useful information like classroom culture and teaching methods, but my favorite part was our break-out medical discussion where boys and girls were separated to discuss sensitive matters. Our discussion was based entirely on the topic that Japanese condoms are too small for foreigners and that we needed to look for special boxes of condoms with either a picture of a horse or the label "Black Man Condom." Not at all subtle. I'm not sure which label is more wrong, but both are hilarious. I've seen these boxes. They do exist.

Now picture this: there were two Japanese young men giving our "health" presentation, and in broken English, essentially telling us that we are all more endowed than the average Japanese man. That must be awkward. What's more awkward, is that it is apparently quite common for high school and Jr. high school students to ask us foreign English teachers for size measurements and to occasionally grab the zone for direct evidence. I have not yet had the pleasure of either of these occurrences, but if asked, I plan to span my arms as wide as possible and say "this big!"

Of all things taboo in Japan, this matter is apparently quite common knowledge and not inappropriate to discuss. I have done some research myself in the public baths I mentioned before where men walk around and converse in their birthday suits. The Japanese have a fascinating way of showing their amazement and utter disbelief at the size of my equipment--they feign complete disinterest and often don't even look my direction. They must have fantastic peripheral vision.

There are a lot of things that make me uncomfortable in Japan. People talking around me, laughing, possibly at me. But I always find comfort in the fact that they're probably talking about my huge package. And I smile.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Kobe Misteak

I went to Kobe city a couple of weeks ago and made it to a hum dum of a hostel only after a seemingly never-ending series of blunders. The trip started at 2:00 am Saturday morning.

The plan was to leave at 3:00 AM from Kanazawa to arrive at 7:00 AM for a full day of sight seeing and pay for only one night in a hostel. However, as you will notice to be a common theme in this story, things did not go to plan. The complications began as I first left my apartment. Since I had decided to leave at 3:00 AM Saturday morning I thought it would be a good idea to go out Friday night and just stay up until I needed to head to the station since I suffer from a chronic case of badass. Well this badass left his badass headlight on and ran out his badass batteries, so I had to ride my bike illegally in the night, without a light (more badass). No sooner did I think to myself "I haven't seen a single cop car in Japan" was it brought to my attention exactly what they look like by means of the flashing lights behind me. I got pulled over on my bike. Fight or flight instincts flashed over me, but I decided to choose option C, get off my bike and use the all-purpose get-out-of-trouble word I have known to love, sumimasen, meaning "excuse me/sorry/thank you/I didn't know any better ;-)"

The nice Japanese cop, who spoke excellent English, let me off with a warning. He told me to walk my bike, but seeing as I was still a 30 minute ride from the station with only 45 minutes until my train was scheduled to depart, that just wouldn't do. So as soon as he was out of sight I was back on my steed (badass). But just as I mounted my hog, the skies opened up to rain on my proverbial parade. By the time I got to the station, I was soaked, but still on time. I went up to a man at the ticket counter, the only living soul in sight, and asked him which platform goes to Kobe, with only 5 minutes to go. He says choto matte, "just a moment," in Japanese and disappears into another room. Five minutes goes by and he's still not back, and I'm going to miss my train. He comes back holding a dictionary with his finger pointing to the word "earthquake." I assume that this means the train will not be running due to an earthquake, or my train will be departing from platform earthquake. So I ask when the next one will be and he says 6:15 AM. So I have some time to kill. So I find a comfortable piece of tile and go fetal for a quick nap in my soaked threads. I was kindly woken up by a security guard and asked to leave. So I slept outside.

I made the 6:15 train and arrived in Kobe by noon for a lovely day of sightseeing, albeit rather tired. By 4:00 pm I was ready to retire to my hostel and clock some R & R. I booked a hostal the day before, but I failed to realize just how obscure its location was. I rode the train about 20 minutes away from downtown and got off for what was described as a 20 minute walk. It turned out to be much more.

To find the hostal I used the oh-so-useful phrase doko desu ka "where is," supplemented by a map, pointing, and copious bowing. Usually this works. Not this time. I evenually made it to a river, which was on the map, and was told by a toothless fisherman to cross a bridge that was at least 100 meters in the air. You may have seen it on Discovery Channel's "Worlds Tallest Bridges" series, or the Fitness Channel's "No Pain No Gain" special on the stair master. So I climbed and crossed this behemoth and landed in an industrial park without a house or store in sight, much less a hostel. At this point I was tired, hungry, and my dogs were barking, but little did I know this was just the beginning.

I asked three school girls passing on their bikes to help me, and they were eager to assist. They called over some construction workers and an old man. They told me to go back across the bridge and then some more directions, and my heart sank. I put on a dramatic display of disappointment and moped back towards the towering bridge. A few moments later the three girls eagerly called me back. They said the old man offered to drive me. Yay! A car. I'll soon be at my hostel, I thought. I was wrong.

We got in the car and the old man and everyone was having a blast. The old man was the iconic, hunched, toothless, adorable type and he smoke about 15 cigarettes in the first 15 minutes in the car. We drove back across the river and after examining the map, they decided that the hostel indeed was on the side of the river where we just were. Ha ha, we had a nice laugh, but at least I wasn't walking. We drove back and drove for about 20 minutes. I thought we were way to far, but hey, these people are from around here, they must know where they're going. After all, the map had landmarks like train stations. However, as I streets in Japan don't have names, which continues to irk me on a daily basis. Whoever made the map must have had no intention for anybody to find the hostel. The only landmarks were convenient stores, which as it happens, are on every corner. So we would find a 7-11 and go two blocks south, but it would be there. Repeat at the next 7-11. Well, after stopping and asking directions at a hotel, it turns out we were on the wrong side of the river again.

So we drive back and go to a building that had nothing inside but a phone. By now it had been over an hour since we got in the car. They called someone on the phone and then handed the phone to me. I looked at them in disbelief. Are you kidding me? Mind you, they all spoke no English, and handed me a phone with someone who spoke no English on the line. He said konichiwa, I said konichiwa, and that's the only real communication we had. The person on the phone continued to speak and I just hung up after a couple thank yous. Back to square one. We eventually found the hostel located above an auto mechanics shop. Lovely.

The next day went well with a bike rental, a trip to the zoo, and an excursion up a mountain for a hot spring. However, things took another turn for the worse when I got up to the top of the mountain and realized I didn't have enough money to get back down the way I came, not to mention buy some food. I took a very long, roundabout path with a series of buses. When I parked my bike to get onto the first bus to go up the mountain, I took a picture of the name of the bus stop. Well, it turns out the words I took a picture of were just the words "bus stop." So I had some trouble finding my bike. By the time I was able to return my bike and get to the train station, the earliest I could get back to Kanazawa was 8:15 am the next morning. So I slept on the floor of a train station again and I was late to work the next day.

All in all, it was a long and challenging weekend. Normally I'm all for my fair share of adversity to make things interesting, but this trip was a bit over the top.

Pictures of Kobe can be seen here:

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rand of the Lising Sun

The accent here is so adorable. The most noticeable feature is the mixing up of L's and R's. It's not an outright replacement of L for R and vice versa, but instead an oh-so-entertaining occasional slip for one or the other. For example, I was at the leggae (reggae) music festival at the beach the other day where everyone was fans of Bob Marry (Marley).

I went to an English summer camp for high school kids and one activity was that the kids had to make skits. My group made a skit with a witch with a pretty funny quotation I filmed (over and over). See below.

In other news, I have an awesome cell phone. First of all it was free with my contract, which is only $10 a month, and it came with free fireworks (respect that). It has all the normal functions of a super sweet phone, plus some utra-mega-double sweet features. It has two cameras, one on the outside and one on the inside so you can have a video call or film your ear, for all you ear freaks out there. The camera can scan bar codes which sends the web browser to details about the product. The camera also scans text, both English and Japanese. All phones here have infrared laser beams so you can just laser your info to your buddy. And play laser tag. Of course there are other features that I'm not allowed to discuss at this time.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Finding my way around town

After much trial and some error, I have finally gotten my bearings in Kanazawa. The first time I went out on my bike I got lost and started asking people where my street was, and by that I mean I rode up to people sweaty and out of breath and said "Liberty Hill" to only receive the look of confusion and fear I have since grown accustomed to. As it turns out, Liberty Hill is the name of my building, not my street, because THE STREETS DON'T HAVE NAMES IN JAPAN! That still blows my mind. People use landmarks to give directions. Apparently my apartment isn't a known landmark.

So after my first time out I only went on bike rides in one direction and retraced my path backwards. Soon I mustered enough courage to turn when I went out bike riding with a map and compass, but I still got lost, repeatedly, only to find out the next day that north is left on my map. Now that's just mean.

During the second week I had to go to a few different orientation events around town, so my supervisor drove me around town to show me where they were. So as we were driving (recklessly and on the wrong side of the road) I was jotting down "turn left at green building, road forks, take the 'cuter' street, etc." So that's how I got to places for the first few weeks, but now I have a decent bearing, and I know how to say "where is," which has proven very vital, although still quite limited: example, today I was talking to two cute Japanese girls on the beach and all I could say was "I am Majeed. Where is the train station?" They were not impressed.

Here's a video of some highlights of my first two weeks.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Gettin Settled

So I moved out to my city, Kanazawa, on the Sea of Japan. The first day was a whirlwind of errands--getting registered with the city, opening a bank account, etc. My apartment is literally the smallest apartment I have ever seen. I think it might be a miniature scale model of the actual apartment I'm going to be getting at some point. It's like living in an RV, but not a fancy one. The apartment was stark empty when I got there, except for a futon mattress, so my supervisor drove me around town to equip the pad. Now I have a Japanese style table in the single room so I've been sitting on the floor.

I have a roach infestation. These are monster sized cock-roaches. Record-setting big. Of course, they seem even bigger relative to my doll-house sized apartment. I met the first of them when I came home the first time alone, sitting in my kitchen, greeting me, as if to say "Hello Stranger. What the hell do you think you're doing moving all this stuff into my place?" And then I crushed him. The first night I went to sleep without an alarm clock, worried I would sleep too late. That problem was of course solved when I woke up the first morning with a giant killer cock roach crawling on my arm. Please take a moment to imagine that...I jumped up, flung it across the room, and instead of it scurring away like a nice, small, American cock roach, it chased me around the room. In the end, however, it was the roach that suffered a crushing defeat.

Today's Japanese lesson:
  • arigato-thank you
  • awhellnah-this appartment is too small!