Sunday, April 27, 2008

Free Stuff

Free stuff is the best. Especially when it's stuff you need. I try to avoid buying 'new stuff' when I can. There are things - like fishing hooks, garbage bags, and the 2008 Zamami school tshirt - that are just not available on the used market. But fishing lures and poles and clothes and camera gear are all selling right now on auction sites. A little more searching through second-hand shops and classifieds will often yield super deals (ask me about my yogurt maker and my oven).

I've had the word out on Zamami for months that I'm in the market for a used bike. And I'm willing to pay. Preferably something nearing the end of its life, both because I only need it for coasting down hills and I thought my chances of finding a discarded near-death bicycle were better. But nobody was in the market, despite the hundreds of bikes on Zamami. Finally fate relented and a rusty contraption came my way this week. The gears and brakes and wheels work, but it is built for a stature considerably shorter than mine.

I was also the recipient of a healthy contribution of fresh onions and garlic and a head of cabbage. Hurray for generous people!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Engrish Shirt #5

I'm unsure if this qualifies as Engrish, it's pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cockroach Season

This is my 103rd [dead] cockroach since August.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Super Ultra Man

Those Japanese... always one-upping us.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Relative Hardship

Yesterday I got my water back after it was mysteriously missing for 3.5 days. And I have those loud, smelly cats. And that barking dog. And those biting mosquitos. And cockroaches, which don't actually bother me.

[Not my friend]

This would be a typical, if not minor list of complaints for a Peace Corps Volunteer. I didn't have hot water or access to a refrigerator in Palau. My friend in South Africa is the target of racial attacks, both verbal and physical. I experienced a similar physical attack during my service. And all of that came with no paycheck. Hardship was an expectation of Peace Corps.

So why am I suddenly so entitled? Why do I, touter of the "Use Less Stuff" mantra (credit: Wren), feel like I deserve better than my 10+-year-old tatami? Why do I let these cats and dogs get to me?

I think it's because this is not an expectation I had of Japan. I didn't have many outward expectations, but I think 'first-world' would've been one of them and within that, channels for dealing with public nuisance problems would exist. I also think that my annoyances are really valid. As I type now (at 9:40pm), the dog is frantically barking just 100 feet away.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I am hyper-conscious of my paycheck. I don't want to let it dilute the 'below the poverty line' skills (and attitude) I've learned over the last six years. Relatively speaking, my pay increase puts me amongst the wealthy, but my hardships haven't been inversely reduced. Why am I correlating them?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Beachcombing is awesome. Here's my haul over the last few months:

No, those planters didn't come with dirt and vegetables already growing, but most came with perforated bottoms built for drainage. There are six large glass fishing floats, three of which I found Sunday on one side of one island. There's a Nalgene bottle, a stainless steel insulated thermos (that had some ooold coffee inside), two smaller glass fishing floats, and a new baseball. Not included are the Darigold milk container (they are officially everywhere) and the new leather basketball I had to stash Sunday to make room for the fishing floats.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The "Beach Opening" Ceremony

This weekend was the official prefectural 'opening of the waters' to swimming for the summer. Aka and Geruma families came over for the day-long event at Ama beach on the west side of Zamami. The morning consisted of some droning old people singing and beating on a drum, then the requisite speeches, then eisa, then hula, then the showcase event: little kids chasing [mostly] live fish around an excavator-built pool.

Keiko-sensei prepping ichi-nensei (first grade) for their time in the pool.

Kindergartners go first, then 1/2 grade, 3/4, and 5/6. They keep dumping hundreds more live fish in as the event goes along. I was rather surprised at how tenacious and successful the kids (of both genders) were.

In the afternoon the students played games made for the beach, such as this awesome twist on tug of war. There are 5 ropes and about 20 members of each team. The first team to get three ropes back across their starting line wins. Usually one or two ropes were snatched up immediately, but the remaining three wars saw members continuously jostling between ropes trying to ally their strengths and give up hopeless battles.

I turned around once and saw this nice scene.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The New School Year

Our two-week spring break ended Monday when we came back to a new school year. For reasons that seem nothing short of arbitrary to me, Japan begins the school year in April. The first day we didn't actually have any classes, but instead had many 'welcome back' ceremonies. One of the more important events is the induction of the new first-graders. Full-time school is a big adjustment for them, so for the next two weeks they'll only go to class for three periods and eat lunch during fourth period. Then a week of four periods and lunch. And that will be the end of half-days in their lives. Here they are on their first day:

Early grooming for stoic posing.

The most beautiful woman on Zamami. And her son. Sigh.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Northern Exploration

I went fishing Sunday morning and accidentally stayed out until noon because the winds were light. I had one 10+ pound bottom fish hit my lure just 4' from my kayak, but the lure popped out only a couple seconds after he started his run. I also explored a little beach in a cove, where I found yet another large glass fishing float (that's three!). That'll be my second income.

Doesn't this look like a scone?

My kayak is in the lower right.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Japan High School Baseball Championships

We watched the high school baseball playoffs at work all week. The games were held during the day so work was always put on hold to watch. Okinawa gradually made it through the playoffs and into the championship game where they routed Saitama, a city north of Tokyo, 9-0. This picture reminded of me of something you would see in a western Caribbean country, everybody in the neighborhood gathered around one television cheering together:

I watched the entire nine innings while standing on this stairwell.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pretty Ladies and Appealing Exchanges

If you live in the U.S. then the only exposure (nice pun, huh?) to the devaluation of your dollar may have been hearing about the recent parity it had reached with the Canadian dollar. But the dollar is really weak in most of the rest of the world. My paychecks come in yen, so this is good news.

I've been spending a lot of time at the post office this week. There's a new girl working there who is attractive (and she signed the papers on her marriage this morning - yes, my timing is that good), speaks a little English, and is willing to participate in playful banter (I asked if she had any sisters, she suggested her mom). Also, the Mariners opened their season yesterday. Games start 11am here, so I can catch a few innings of the game at the post office or the hospital waiting room.

[The post office staff, who insisted that I was only
taking this group picture for Ayaka. They were right.]

The third reason I have been visiting the post office is because that's where my bank account is. Japan Post does a lot more than just mail things. For 2500 yen, I can send money to my US bank (who also charges me $12). Every day at noon the post office takes the spot rate, adds about a yen, and that becomes the rate at which I can transfer money. The dollar reached a fourteen-year-low of 95 yen:$1 about two weeks ago, just three days before I got paid. Since payment, it has been hovering just over 100:1 (down from over 120:1 six months ago). I have been trying to nail a sub-100 rate, but also carefully watching the markets every day just before noon. Turns out today the U.S. market surged and the rate climbed to 103:1, but yesterday's rate was 99.8:1, so I will be sending money home this morning.

[They demanded a picture of just the two of us.
Just like me, she's more beautiful in real life.]