Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Japanese Wedding

Last night I attended my first Japanese wedding. It was on Zamami between two people who have lived here awhile, but are from the Japanese mainland. I didn’t know either of them especially well, but I was really happy to be extended an invitation.

One of the coolest parts for me was seeing all the young people of Zamami dressed up. It’s ordinarily a crowd who is clad in surf attire, or whatever they can find on the floor. There was an amusing mix of people who could count on one hand the number of times they’ve worn high heels or a suit (and hence were getting help with their ties at the event) and those who had a solid sense of fashion. I grouped myself on the conservative side of the latter group (I really wished I’d brought back my pink-and-blue tie from America). I’ve had plenty of suit-wearing experience and feel pretty comfortable dressing up.

The event went like this: (1)opening speech by the emcee (2)‘reveal’ of the couple (3) something with the parents (4) eating, watching performances by a Ryukyu (traditional Okinawan) dance, hula, and taiko drumming (5) humorous skits that were intended for people who speak Japanese (6) bride and groom go change then come out and light candles on each table then cut the cake (7) bride and groom give speeches to their parents – everybody cries (8) bride and groom’s best friends give speeches and everybody continues crying (I even felt like crying, but I didn’t know why) (9) bride and groom take gifts, which, as far as I could tell, were envelopes with money (10) bride, groom, and parents leave the room and greet us all on our way out, then give us a gift (cookies).

This was neither a traditional Japanese nor Okinawan ceremony. They were actually officially married a year ago and this was just the public ceremony. The bride and groom didn’t dress in any traditional Japanese clothing – only western attire. The event was low-key, which is why it was on Zamami. As I understand it, usually weddings are held in fancy hotels with fancy food. Our food was.. um, um… the same food that is at every event on Zamami. But something terrible happened yesterday that no doubt drastically affected some elements of the wedding: the ferries from Naha were all canceled due to high winds. I suspect they had a significant order of food and flowers coming out that were stuck in Naha.

[the groom had to come up and learn hula and sing a song with the band and do taiko, which is something he's good at]

There were two notable differences for me between this and an American wedding: (1) I paid ~$50 to attend. Everybody pays an 'entry fee' to help cover the cost of the wedding. I think it’s a great idea as it both relieves expenses from a young, poor couple and replaces wedding gifts. (2) The bride and groom didn’t do a ‘first dance’ nor did they kiss.

There was an after-party at a little karaoke place and the crowd chanted for them to kiss. She was not about to do this publicly so we had to settle for him kissing her on the cheek. One other interesting tidbit that I found out at the after-party: the bride is four months pregnant! It wasn't a secret, just not something I would pick up on.

[this is kind of an awesomely timed picture: they were lighting the candle at our table while people were pulling those little exploding streamer things]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Engrish Shirt #11

[This only qualifies as an Engrish shirt because he didn't know what it said. Otherwise, perfect English!]

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Belated Birthday Present

My good friend Erin is in the Peace Corps in South Africa. She sent me a pretty awesome birthday present on August 20, timed just right so I’d receive it 11 days later on my birthday. But it never came. A writeoff to a corrupt mail system (hers) and a huge bummer. Now I know why she was so disappointed. Exactly three months to the day I finally received the card (no apologies or explanations). Inside was the infamous Horsie card, which my mom gave me on my birthday a few years back. I regifted it to Erin two years ago and she reregifted it back this year. Along with 5 billion dollars. Yes, 5 billion. From Zimbabwe. They expire on December 31st. The horsie card and 5 billion dollars: this is the best November birthday of my life.

Running Log 11/17-30

This week was off! That’s the present I get for running a marathon last week.

Now begins the second phase of winter training: the Okinawa City Marathon on February 22nd. Although I am going to Tokyo this year, Okinawa City is my primary focus. The first goal is to beat last year’s time (3:21) and my second goal is a 3:10. That’s a lot to ask and I am more aware of the challenge after putting forth a semi-heroic effort in last week’s 3:39. Cutting a half-hour is only possible on paper right now. I can’t envision how it will happen, but I trust there is a way (other people do it, right?). It’s not as simple as just running faster. There need to be some tweaks to my training plan that I don’t want to guess at so I’ll be doing some research and asking better runners than me for advice. Only 13 weeks to go! (I figure I’m in about the same place I was a year ago at this time, when I ran the Naha Marathon 3 weeks later and 5 minutes faster than last week’s marathon.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where Do I Get My Food?

I have three sources: our smallish store on Zamami, ordering from Naha, and going to Naha. I also grow or make a significant portion of my food.

For most things, I order them from a Naha store called the Co-op. I think this is more a name than a store model that resembles what we Westerners know as cooperatives. It's a real supermarket in Naha that distributes a weekly catalog to people living on the islands. Every Thursday I go online and submit my item numbers and quantities, get the order confirmation, then get that food the next Thursday. A generous woman I work with at the Board of Education picks up the food from the ferry at noon and brings it back to the BoE, where I get it after school.

[the catalog is about 30 pages long]

The Co-op prices are usually in between what I would pay at Zamami's store and Naha, plus I pay a 2% delivery charge (but that sneaky Co-op charges more in the catalog than in their store for the same products!). For all items that are similarly priced, I buy from the Zamami store to support them. There are a select few items that I buy in Naha when I'm there (olive oil, honey, tea).

[$88 worth of groceries]

I placed my order two weeks ago and was surprised last week when I went to get the food but nothing was there. Apparently the order didn't go through. But yesterday, I found out it did go through. After the deadline. Somehow I just missed it. Which meant that this past week I had two orders in - one intentional and one unintentional. So all those order numbers from the previous week's late order bought me $44 worth of surprise groceries. I ended up with tons of tomatoes, tiny orders of onions, 5 bags of tempura batter (instead of flour), fancy little cheeses, individual yogurt (I would never buy this because of all the packaging), mayonnaise, and two refrigerated items that I couldn't identify. I gave them away. It all made for a good laugh.

One interesting note is that when I enter in my numbers there is a confirmation screen where I can see what I have ordered, but most things are written in kanji I don't know. So if I could read kanji I could've prevented this, but... this is the joy of living in a foreign country!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Meaghan Pimsler, Licensed Kickboxer

[Sorry the pictures aren't great - the lighting and ring ropes made exposure and focus difficult.]

On Sunday my friend Vaughn and I decided to finish off the best weekend of the fall term by attending our other JET friend’s kickboxing fight. Meaghan had martial arts experience prior to coming to Okinawa, but joined a gym here a few months back. She had her first fight in September and, after watching the video of her knockout, I was really intrigued and hoped to attend the next match.

Vaughn and I fortunately arrived at the somewhat sketchy facility just after the doors opened. We got great general admission seats and sat through all sorts of interesting fights, saving our cheering for Meaghan, whose fight was the last before the Double Main Event (which was freakin’ awesome). Two-thirds of the crowd was military and they really got behind the white guy in each of the fights (they all happened to be American vs. Japanese). But they really got behind Meaghan.

[Meaghan was around 150lbs. a year ago; she had to get down to 114 for this fight]

Meaghan appeared to be winning, but, short of a knockout, neither Vaughn nor I know much about how fights are judged. At the end, the announcer read two of the three judges’ scores and Meaghan took them both, giving her the win.

[the extent of Meaghan's post-fight celebration]

I haven’t gotten the details from her since the fight, but she told me last Thursday that if she won she would get her professional Japanese kickboxing license (there were apparently people in the crowd who came down from the mainland to observe her for this). The next step would be to have the organizing body fly a mainland fighter down to take her on in Okinawa and if she won that fight, she would then get flown to the mainland for fights. And of course she would be getting paid for all of this. How cool!

[how would you like your daughter to bring home either of these two guys? (the one on the left was a world champion from 2000-2004 in his category.)]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Running Log 11/10-11/16

11/10 off
11/11 5:23am 13k 1:08.15
11/12 5:32am 11k 1:00.08
11/13 6:13am 6k 40.39.8
11/14 7:00am 4k 25.00.0
11/15 3:00pm 42.195km 3:39.32

Here are the watch statistics for the marathon:

heart rate average: 171
range: 71-189

time spent above 160bpm: 3:32
time spent below 140bpm: 4.50

ascent/descent: 680’
high: 138’
low: 49’

Monday, November 17, 2008

Iheya-jima Moonlight Marathon, 2008

I had written a pre-marathon post for the blog but couldn’t find internet! Essentially I listed some thoughts and expectations, including a time between 3:40 and 3:45 and that the last 10k would be exceptionally difficult because my endurance probably suffered from the three-week America trip gap.

The marathon was Saturday afternoon at 3pm. There were two of us running the full marathon, six running the half, and two just spectating. One interesting note was my friend Vaughn, who was called Saturday morning at 9am and told that our friend Emily signed up but wouldn’t be running so there was an open slot. It had been months since Vaughn had run, but he hurried across the mainland to catch the last afternoon ferry and he finished the half marathon under Emily’s name.

The start was hot. Hot enough that I thought to start slow and reserve energy until it cooled down later. But I struggled a lot in the first 15k – not with pace but with feeling good. I’d drank some electrolyte drinks that were causing me to burp and my insides just weren’t settling nicely. My pace was decent and consistent: I finished 5k in 24:22, 10k in 48:47, and 15k in 1:13. Numbers-wise, things get a little fuzzy from there, but I do remember how beautiful the course was. It was a gradual undulation around the exterior of the island all the way to the finish.

I finished 20k just under 1:40 and was a little disappointed to not see a halfway marker (km markings were an issue on this course as they only showed up every 5k), but I guessed myself to be crossing it around 1:45. From there I gradually picked off runners in front of me, passing about six people en route to the finish. It started to get dark at 6pm when I crossed the 35km marker (almost 3 hours exactly). At 36km (35km-42.195km were marked at every km) the running started to become pretty difficult. This is ordinarily a challenging part of the race, but it was slightly compounded by two respectable inclines just before the end. The top of the first incline was lined for a couple hundred meters by clear Christmas lights, which was a neat touch. (The second incline was lined with cheering spectators, an even better touch.) At 38k I began the inevitable countdown to the finish, but it’s really, really hard to say something to yourself like “only 25 more minutes of this excruciating pain.” (The answer is, of course, “isn’t 3 hours and 10 minutes enough?”)

The finish line was in a stadium with many spectators. My friends Cliff and Emily ran alongside me for the last 100m, which was really nice. I recall saying something to Cliff to the effect of “life sucks right now.” After the finish (3:39.32) I was in rough shape. The junior high school volunteers are instructed to put a medal around the runner’s neck then direct them to the drink table and over to the timing-chip-turn-in/certificate-receiving table, but I was having none of that. I grabbed my medal and wandered around for a few minutes before following instructions.

Recovery was slow. Fortunately I have run enough marathons that now I plan better for my post-race condition and what I will need. This time I wisely brought a change of clothes to the finish line, which I changed into after discovering hot showers. I learned to stick to my own food as I nearly threw up from the free beef stew – fortunately I did bring food.

I have a mixed reaction to my performance at the race. While I came in almost exactly where I predicted, I was hoping to finish a few minutes faster. But considering everything working against a good time (missing the most important 3 weeks of my training plan, a hot first hour, and an evening start), I probably did just fine. It was really hard to believe, though, that (a) I ran a 3:21 at Okinawa City nine months ago and (b) that I want to beat that time in 3.5 months.

By the way, I finished 8th overall, which is pretty cool. There were 164 marathoners, of which about 130(?) were men (my ranking is exclusive of women).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tokyo Marathon

I just got this email:

''Congratulations! You have been selected to run the Tokyo Marathon 2009.''

This is important because it's relatively hard to get accepted. Last year they claimed to have 125,000 entries for 25,000 slots. The entrants are chosen by lottery. You really have to be thinking ahead on this marathon as lottery registration closes in mid-September and the race isn't until late March. This year the race happens to fall on a three-day weekend, too, which is great for my travel up there.

My concentration remains the Okinawa City Marathon in late February, but the possibility exists that I could be in superb shape by the end of March.

Running Log 11/3-11/9

11/3 5:26am 13k 1:12.43
11/4 5:31am 13k 1:09.04
11/5 5:33am 13k 1:09.15
11/6 5:22am 13k 1:09.47
11/7 6:06am 6k 31.44.4
11/8 6:30am 8k 41.46.1
11/9 5:37am 26k 2:14.46 (1:07.17 and 1:07.29)
Total: 92k

This was a purposely intense week, being that I have a marathon next Saturday and I hadn’t run in the previous three weeks. I ran 26k more than what the training plan called for and I felt it: my legs have been sore enough to make stairs challenging all week.
Sunday’s run was the worst of the year, weather-wise. The wind and rain were driving into the north side of my apartment as I stalled by drinking tea and stretching. But eventually I had to leave and, as is usual with terrible weather, the hardest part became the time I spent in my apartment thinking about it. The rain was only cold for the first five minutes and the wind only helped to distract me as I posted, back-to-back, the two fastest times of the year on the 13k route. I also tested a new secret (legal) supplement that I may give partial credit to, but it needs more testing.

Running Log 10/7-10/9

10/6 off
10/7 5:24am 13k 1:08.43
10/8 4:54am 17k 1:30.23
10/9 4:22am 21k 1:57.50
10/10 off
10/11 to America
Total: 61k

These were the last three runs before I left for America. It was a pretty intense 3-day schedule, all done on school days.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Poor Judgment

One of the highlights about my return from America is the presentations I get to give in my classes about the trip. I brought back pictures, videos, deer antlers, pheasant feathers, empty shotgun shells, elk teeth, and tons of Halloween candy to be used during the presentations.

I started yesterday with the 7th graders and had technology trouble so things didn’t go off very well. Then I had sixth grade and I was able to just gather them around my computer and run through the whole Powerpoint presentation.

Today the Zamami English teacher talked to me right away. She and the sixth grade teacher talked last night and concluded that there were some unacceptable elements to my presentation, namely the videos that show blood and dead animal parts.

I wish I could defend myself, but she is right. While claiming trauma in the students might be a slight overstatement, expecting the kids to go home and exclaim (boys) or complain (girls) to their parents is not. Parents might call, and if they do, it’s the Japanese English teacher who has to explain what the ‘point’ of the lesson was. Which is what she asked me this morning. I stumbled around and offered that I wanted to show my hobby and show something they won’t see in Japan (I nailed that part), but honestly I don’t know why I felt the need to show blood other than I thought it was cool.

While I do firmly believe that there is an important lesson to be learned through experiencing [animal] death, especially for those who eat meat, my English lesson in a Japanese school is probably not the best place for that. This has been a humbling lesson that I am capable of pretty poor judgment. (But just between you and me, I may skip the blood but I’ll probably show dead animal pictures on Aka and Geruma in the next two weeks – those kids aren’t so soft.)

[update: While I was typing this blog post I got talked to again and now I am not allowed to show any pictures or videos with dead animals nor am I allowed to pass anything around nor am I allowed to give out the pheasant tail feathers as prizes (which was extremely popular yesterday). Thankfully I have video of a bear and a porcupine...]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cold Showers

I stopped using hot water last April with the goal of making it until I left for my trip home in October. That last week at the beginning of October was starting to get a bit chilly during my morning showers, but I prevailed. Now I am back, and the water is pretty cold. A bit too cold. But I realized that I don't even know how the hot water works at my new (recall I moved in June) apartment. It's an on-demand water heater, as most in Japan are, but I couldn't get it to work.

Yesteraday I asked my supervisor and he sent a maintenance guy right away. I was curious how he was going to solve it so I watched as he tried all sorts of ideas (ideas I'd already tried) then settled on opening up a pipe and removing some sort of filter. Whatever the reasoning was, it worked! (But now I feel guilty for using hot water and the fossil fuel that is heating it.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Returning Home

I’m back in Japan. Home. The flights were fine, I timed my plane sleep well and I feel really great.

It was a little comforting to go from the overweight, overwhite offcoming traffic in Honolulu to the waiting room for my flight to Osaka, which had 200 Japanese and four whites.

Making quick jumps between cultures offers an interesting opportunity for comparison. Something I noticed about my time in America was an unfair expectation of mine that, after spending a year in Japan and getting used to the great things about this country (public transportation, healthy food, a superb trash/recycling system, tiny cars), America would have adopted these sensible practices into its society. But of course that’s ridiculous, things don’t happen so fast - or because I want them to.

Some of the obvious ‘reverse culture shock’ experiences include visits to the grocery store and the righteousness with which many Americans regard their freedom and opinions. What’s more fun are the surprises I experience. One of those was the size of American vehicles. I knew they were big, of course, but after hearing about soaring gas prices, shrinking cars, and families in financial trouble for a year, I thought huge vehicles had magically disappeared. They haven’t. Neither, apparently, has the status one associates him or herself with regarding the car that person owns. I saw a lot of young guys driving monster trucks through cities, sometimes with trophy girlfriends leaning up against them. This attitude is just not present in Japan, where cars are seen as more utilitarian (and thus they’re smaller).

Any expectations I had of change would be slightly skewed by the fact that I spent most of my time in rural places, where I think change is a bit slower to catch on.