Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Massah Kin Learn Engliss!

We have a poster at work. It advertises some test you can take to be certified in English conversation proficiency or something. It has a bunch of blocky computer-generated cartoons dancing around the text being all excited about learning English.

I think we can use these pictures to better understand the Japanese racial consciousness:

This is a white person. White people are fat and love football. I'd pretend to be offended, but I know more than a few people I could see with that football in the crook of their fleshy arm, utterly convinced of the raw sexual power conveyed with the combination of aviator sunglasses, a mullet, and a moustache.

This is a white woman. She is fat and hilariously well-breasted. Or her arm is broken and shoved up sideways. I'm not sure, but she is funny because she is not a thin delicate Sakura blossom dancing across the wind like a Japanese woman. Ha ha.

This is a black man. He's only wearing a speedo. He looks like a supercharged little black Sambo figure, complete with the lurid red lips. Good thing he's not wearing proper clothes, or he might start to get dangerous ideas about freedom and voting in his crazed slave brain!

This baby is meant to look mentally retarded and angry. And he's wearing a helmet. Way to play it safe, Japanese graphic designer!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I Was Robbed By Two Men

An excellent way to learn English, link courtesy of dad:

They Can Only Come in if you Invite Them

Sorry about the dearth of bloggage, I've been very busy lately. This weekend was a particularly strange one, and it involved my adopted rowing team. I'm starting to notice a pattern.

After our cigarettes and scotch party last weekend, one of the guys invited me to come along to Saitama, a suburb of Tokyo, for a race. I agreed. I'm never too keen on rowing, but I'm always up for a strange experience in Japan.

I didn't know what to expect. I got vague instructions to show up at the restaurant by my apartment after work on Friday. I dutifully packed my bag heavy, since I didn't know what I was getting myself into, and sprinted out of work to make it to the meeting spot on time.

I met my friends and we started driving out into the country through dark rice fields and Meiji-period tiled farmhouses. Eventually we hit the main highway to Tokyo and got up to speed--80KPH, or about 50 MPH--blazing, by Japanese standards. We stopped at a few rest stops. Instead of fried food and meth hookers, you get vending machines and fluorescent-lit omiyage shops. I kept myself running on a steady stream of anpan (basically bread filled with sweet red bean paste) and vending machine beverages. The drive took about 6 hours. We arrived at 3:30 in the morning.

The venue this weekend was the site of the '64 Tokyo Olympics. I would have been impressed, but it was dark and I was tired. I flipped back the chair in the van and took a nap for an hour and a half. One or two other guys napped too, and everybody else wandered off to smoke cigarettes and be vampires. Fine by me, less noise around our de facto campsite in front of a random university's boathouse.

The next morning--or, about an hour from when I woke up--I looked out the van windows into a sea of swarming athletes milling around and stretching. Everyone was wearing bright spandex and I felt like I woke up in some clown's acid trip.

We borrowed a boat from someone. They took it down from a very high rack with a robotic boat-grabber. We rigged it and raced against 4 university boats filled with young and serious-looking athletes. We beat one, which seemed like it sort of surprised and delighted everyone.

After the race we had a few hours to kill, so I people-watched. Japanese rowers, almost to a person, are shredded, striated, and compact lumps of muscle. If looking fast won races, the world rowing scene would have nightmares about this small island nation. Nary a fatty to be seen.

We raced again, beat some other master's boat, lost to a bunch of universities, and called it a day. It was about 5 PM when we got back on the road. The drive back was a thick miasma of ten minute cat naps, random garish rest stop gift shops, fried food, and vending machine coffee. We arrived back in Ishinomaki at about midnight. After 30 hours, I'd had about 3 hours of random uncomfortable naps in short bursts. Not a good ratio for me, but it didn't seem to phase any of my comrades. Maybe they do this a lot.

I got back into my apartment and collapsed into a pile of ice cream and internet, drowning my sun-burned and tired body in the information and sugar it so desperately craved.

This is the robotic boat-grabber. I want someone to make me a home version so I can sit on my ass staring at the internet for hours on end without getting up for food and stuff.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Something in this Room Sucks More than the Squid's Arm

I received some food for a gift the other day. I cooked and ate most of the other stuff immediately, but there still lingered a bulging pack of 3 fat squid taunting me from the bottom of the bag. Each squid was dead and white, and surprisingly big. I've never really looked at one up close before, but they are bizarre mutant alien sea creatures. I can only imagine what it would be like to encounter a live Giant Squid in some dark crevice in the depths of the Pacific.

So, knowing that raw squid isn't going to get better with age, I grabbed my knife and got to work. I started making cuts when it occurred to me that I have no idea how to clean a squid. By this point, I've punctured some organ or other bit of random viscera and there's a mixture of what appears to be ink and thick cioppino spilling out of the squid's mantle into my sink. It doesn't smell good. I should have googled this. Now I start frantically cutting off all the bits that look like organs and shoving them in a plastic bag trying to quarantine anything that will smell like a thousand fetid corpses if exposed to Japanese heat and humidity. Then I spent a good ten minutes mopping exploded squid entrails out of the corners and crevices of my sink. At this point I have a flap of thick, but gutless squid flesh. I think I've cleaned all the offensive matter out of my sink, but I can tell you for sure tomorrow after I come home from work.

I threw the supposedly edible chunk of flesh into a hot pan of peanut oil and pepper. The squid went from rubbery to rubbery. Now my apartment smelled like squid and hot peanut oil, and the texture was still about the same as a Birkenstock. Not a good sign. I ate a couple pieces anyway, and didn't die. So far so good. Unfortunately, it didn't taste very good.

So if you're going to try cooking squid, at least learn from my mistakes and read up on it:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Uncle Rico Wants to Go Off-Roading With You

Here's another great Uncle Rico van. This particular model is a customized 4x4. I'm not sure what the hell you do with a jacked-up, four-wheel-drive Toyota soccer mom van, but I guess Japanese people know something I don't.

Truly fantastic. Get on this trend, America.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Warning: this post will be boring if you've never rowed.

I made a tactical error today.

We went out for a row this morning, did our workout, and took it back in. The practice lasted about 90 minutes, and had maybe 5 max-pressure 20s, and some steady-state rowing as well. Nothing too hard, you're thinking. And you're right. Still, my overall fitness at the moment is merely "not horrible," and my rowing fitness is "horrible," so practice is still fairly tiring (and my soft soft hands are getting turned into ground beef in short order).

The point is, I was kind of tired, but whatever. Then I notice the ergs. And if you know me, you know there's nothing I like better than doing 2ks. My standard out of shape time is around 6:36, and I can usually do that without too much trouble. There's no one around...I sneakily slide over to an erg and start a 2k piece, holding 1:37ish no problem.

Within 250 meters, a small crowd has gathered around me, exactly as I've feared. Everyone loooooves to watch other people do 2ks. So here I am, getting stared down, and starting to feel the pressure. And then, this decrepit old erg I'm using suddenly jumps from 1:37 to 1:55 with no change in effort by me.

So now I look like the world's biggest fly and die-er, all because no one changed the batteries in this thing in the past decade. So I start to try harder and harder, and by the time I'm nearing maximum effort (this is about 750 meters in), the monitor is displaying a huge 1:45. And my maximum effort, even out of shape, is normally enough to get me a hell of a lot better than a good freshman in high school's 2k split...

Of course I can't explain that the monitor is wigging out to the people around me, nor would they believe me if I could (I certainly never believe people when "the monitor makes them slow"), so I cut my losses, stopped at 1000 meters in, and looked like the world's biggest non-erg-monster.

I'm going to need to do at least 1 face-saving sub 6:20 2k in the next month or so.

Japanese Culture Encourages Laziness

To be specific, it encourages laziness in me. Here's what happened:

I was teaching class yesterday, as usual. This particular class involves a big freezer bag stuffed full of common objects like combs, coins, brushes, comic books, and other objects for the students to practice vocabulary with.

So of course I take this giant plastic bag of stuff and dump it all over the floor. Everyone takes an object, and we start making sentences like "I have a key," etc. When we're done, everyone throws their stuff back into the already-huge pile of crap, and we move to another part of the room. The mess of objects is untouched, because I don't feel like picking it up.

And you know what happened?

Like magical elves toiling away in secret, without me noticing, the kids picked up, organized, and placed every single bit of scattered junk back in the big plastic zip-lock. THEY COULDN'T HELP IT. There was a bag, and a bunch of stuff that fit nicely into the bag, and thus, they had some primordial urge to arrange everything. And that's just fine with me. Organize away, my friends.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Uncle Rico Wants to Sell You a Hot Dog

This particular Uncle Rico van is a 4-wheel-drive model equipped with all the facilities needed to cook and serve hot dogs.

Now I ask you this: If this sketchy-ass van pulled up next to you all slow and some guy leaned out and asked you if you wanted the best hot dog you ever had, would you accept?

Yeah, the hot dogs are right back here...nope, further....further. Heck, just climb on in! Yeah, good. Now smell this, smells cream. You do like ice cream, don't you?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

First Practice: The Japan Jacket Might Have Been Weird

I woke up this morning at 5:15AM and promptly thought to myself "I've made a huge mistake." Plus I didn't have any coffee--truly a crushing blow on an early Sunday morning.

I got to the boathouse at six, passed out some business cards to dudes in spandex (apparently Japanese people like business cards, so I took the shotgun approach), and we got started. I was given the choice of any type of boat. Given that I haven't rowed in any capacity whatsoever for a year and a half, I picked the eight. I actually couldn't remember what side I usually rowed at first.

Now, my plan was to lurk in the bow 4 somewhere and watch how these guys row. They had different plans and I was plopped into 7 seat. Crap! Luckily, it went okay. I have no idea what level these guys normally row at, technically, but we didn't flip and the boat was kinda set a couple of times, so I'm considering it a success. We did some 20s and it was really hot out. I drank an entire gallon of water when I got home.

Now the rowing: there's a famous urban legend that gets passed around high-school rowing clubs in the US, about this one time that this Japanese team rowed at like a 70 the whole way down the race course and then THEIR HEARTS EXPLODED AND THEY ALL DIED. True? who knows? Probably not. However, I will tell you this: within 20 minutes of practice starting, I was taking desperate half-strokes at a 50 as we did a Japanese super power ten.

My last surprise came when this dude brought his single in and racked it next to our boat. Now, I wasn't wearing my favorite Japan Junior team jacket because it's still in America, but if I did, this guy might have given me a strange look. Why? Because he's the Japanese junior team coach, and he was in Duisburg in 2001, and I probably saw him when I was trading with one of his rowers. How this massive web of improbable occurrences conspired to make him and I meet again in a random semi-rural area of northern Japan confounds me. Small world, huh?

A Trip to a Japanese Beach

Believe it or not, Japan has many beaches. Today, we went to one. I was impressed--good sand, no rocks, lots of neck-high water, and a buoyed-off section to cut down on waves. Like many things here, the beach was very tidy and well thought-out. Still, I miss the Oregon coast. The freezing water and rough-hewn wilderness landscape has a cool vibe. Unspoiled, if you will.

After we swam, we went out for lunch. I've forgotten how spending a half hour in the sun and saltwater can inexplicably make one exhausted and ravenous. Has anyone done any research on the whole "sea air" being good for your health/appetite thing? I remember lots of scenes in old books about sickly patients being sent to the coast for recuperation, and I'm wondering if that's based in any science?

Here are a few pictures:

This is whale meat. It is but one delicacy which was greedily shoveled down my throat. The texture was kind of a cross between beef and tuna. It wasn't bad.

This is the ocean. I had some thrilling landscape shots, but I thought I'd give you a temporary break from those. For now.

Who can resist a picture of a flower?

That's all for now, I have to go to bed early since I'm getting up at 6AM for my first row. I'm predicting some hilarious language-related mishaps involving me catching crabs and not stopping when everyone else does, etc...maybe I'll see if I can just erg...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rowing in Japan. YA RLY

There's a rowing club on the path next to the river. I saw a guy walking a single into the boathouse a few days ago. Hm, I thought to myself, I know how to row. I should go check it out.

So yesterday, I told my boss about wanting to look into the matter. He said sure, let's go see what's up.

We drove over to the rowing club today and walked inside. There was a middle-aged guy finishing his erg workout, so my boss started chatting with him. There was some staccato Japanese, lots of business cards flying back and forth, some bowing, and now I've apparently joined a rowing club. My first practice is this Sunday, 6:00AM. Wait, WHAT?

The strangest thing about the whole scenario was when I asked about coming in to use the ergs sometimes.
"So, I can come work out here?"

"Yes yes yes, you can come work out whenever you want!"

"Oh. So, who do I talk to in order to get permission to come in?"

"Nobody! You can just come in whenever you want!"

"Uh, don't I have to have a membership, and pay a fee to join? How do I get into the building?"

"No no, it's free. And you can get in any time! I think guys from the paper company come here in the morning. Just come in when they are here! Maybe if someone thinks you are trustworthy, they will give you a key!"

"That's their security?" I could scarcely believe this, thinking back to the dire warnings I received in high school and college--something along the lines of, you little bastards better make sure to lock the door at night, because each one of these boats costs more than your life.

"Ha ha," my boss replied, "you don't need much security for a place like this! Who is going to steal a boat? What would you do with it?"

Is this surreal to anybody else? This is what it's like living in a country governed by semi-socialist politics where the population refuses to commit crimes.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Japan Rambo

It's a lazy Sunday in Japan, so what do you do? You and your hooligan buddies drink some beers and bring your enormous gas-powered airsoft machine gun down to the river to blow up Dr. Pepper bottles, of course! That's what these guys were doing, so I stood and watched. They all had awesome airsoft machine guns, but this guy had the coolest one. Clearly he was the leader. I took his picture and he laughed really hard and said "Crazy Japanese! Taliban!" And then him and his buddies continued to rain plastic BBs towards a couple bottles out on a pier. Good times.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Festivals Aplenty

The beginning of August is festival time here in Ishinomaki. First up was the city fireworks show. We saw that yesterday, and it was damn impressive. It's apparently a huge point of local pride, and a lot of businesses kick in money to make it happen every year. Over 100,000 people showed up--so basically over half the city was there, clogging up the tiny patches of land bordering the river.

It was kind of like an American fireworks show, but everyone was less rowdy, smelled good, and picked up after themselves when they left. Here's a few pictures from yesterday:

Okay, here's one thing America kicks probably every country on earth's ass at: the air show. Japan made do with what it had, and sent out 6 F-16s for a very nice routine that included smoke cherry blossom figures and some good synchronized manuevers. Still, nothing compared to having your gut drop as a bunch of enormous bombers thunder over head at the Hillsboro air show, followed by the Blue Angels, followed by several billion dollars more of tax-funded aerial awesomeness.

Japanese civil servants doing their American brethren proud.


Fourth of July, Japan style!

I went to another festival tonight, but I'm too tired to put up pictures. Instead, I'll leave you with the most awesome picture my camera has taken to date--check out his mud flap.