Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I miss the dumpster. They throw all sorts of great stuff out here, but you can't get to it, because they lock up their dumpsters. THe amount of produce should be just awesome, but it's really hard to get at because it's behind closed walls or they keep it inside. Also the level of fish consumed in this country sometimes makes it pretty ripe around the rubbish bins. We just got a letter from Doug describing one of the better hauls at the ol' dumpsterama near Whole Foods, i presume. It sounded blissful. Food here is so damn expensive, it's like shopping in Switzerland. Lots of selection, if you like miso and if you can afford it. The fruit is really the killer. I've seen $100 melons in the grocery stores. Apples can be pretty pricey too, like 300 yen a pop. I think it's because of all the manual labor that goes into the production of food here. A rice farm can be like 2 acres and the guy is out there with his little roto-tiller and rice picker. Apple orchards are ridiculous, they put little pieces of paper over the apples to keep them from ripening too early. THat's probably why you can get apples the size of your head in the grocery stores. Everything is smaller here except for the produce.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Thanks to my thoughtful and crafty sister Claire, i just fininshed watching the Return of the King in beautiful laptop/pirate format. While i was a super big fan of the other two, this one left me wanting a little bit more. I think that it was primarily that the visual effects couldn't take precedence in my apartment the way they would on a big screen full of entranced viewers. As far as my personal viewing pleasure goes, i'd have to say that the first movie really was the best for me, principally because i was soooooo blown away by the visuals and the fact that anyone would tackle the greatest fantasy story of modern times.
My gripes about the series are pretty par for the course:
The acting was at times a little lacking, but realistically Tolkein doesn't give a whole lot of character development in the books. It's a saga afterall, not a personality study.
Gripe number 2 is the cheesy music at importune times in the movie. I didn't really care for the "holy music" that popped up oddly. Maybe it would have been better had it not been for my computer speaker setup, but I doubt it would have jived with me anyway.
Gripe 3 is principally one with hollywood in general and is closely tied to gripe 2: too much gratuitous sound effect. Some ones that i got kind of irritated with were primarily Frodo's excess gasping in Mordor and elsewhere. Realistically, when you're super thirsty you're going to try to make as little noise as possible to conserve the moisture in your mouth, and you won't sound like a fish out of water. The other one that pissed me off was the shelob web spinning noise, it sounded like taking a poop, and it just kind of ruined the effect for me.
I would also have liked to see some of the cleaning out of the shire, but that could have easily stretched into another hour, which would be totally insane.

Anyway, the overall effect was great, just like in the books, i was sad to have the story end. Middle earth is no more, and in fact it just existed in one schisophenic mind to begin with, complete with its people, its customs and mythology. I honestly think that most people would be happier in a world like that with issues in black and white. I know our president would, since he casts it that way in his head already.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

You know this SARS really isn't as bad as people think. Sure, i've got a mild case of it, but really nothing to worry about. I find that the dry cough kind of punctuates my speech well, gives it the importance of a consumptimatic sage. As for the fever, it really helps cut the chill at night. Normally we turn the heater on for a short time before bed, but since coming down with SARS i just take off my shirt and radiate into the apartment. After 1 or 2 minutes the place is as toasty as can be.
Yeah, the dizzyness, headache, bodyache and fainting all have their downsides but realistically, I think we should welcome this new year of SARS with open arms and no worries.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I now officially declare my website more interesting than Alf's because I actually post and I really care about my readers. Please support my move upscale in the blogger community. Alfie may have pictures but i've got content.
I've had an interesting week. On monday coming back from the train station, i was propositioned for the first time since i was in boyscouts. A woman came up to me as i was walking and looking deeply into my eyes, she said, "japanese japanese japanese MASSAGEIE" which we all know means sex, right? Anyway, i told her in my best stilted japanese that i was fine and i had to go. I don't know if i just look lonely, randy or rich but it was somewhat exhilirating to be accosted in the dark like that.
The second interesting/disturbing thing for the week was yesterday in my highschool class. I was teaching a bunch of 16 year old girls a bunch of nothing (because they don't learn, i swear to god) and i was making the rounds of the room trying to encourage them to work, rather than screw off. A difficult proposition, ask any higschool teacher, let alone one who can't speak the language. Anyway, as i went back into the bowels of the student body, i went to this group of 3 girls. It had seemed that earlier the two "cool" girls had been picking on the less cool of the three, but i don't know anything here and i figure that they will just have to fend for themselves because i'm not willing or able to deal with much crap. The un-cool girl was in the middle of the other two and was the only one of them who had a text book. I walked over to indicate that maybe they should read the damn directions which were easily accessible to them in japanese and that maybe they should do the work and i noticed a significant amount of doodling in the book. This is pretty normal since the majority of highschoolers double as Manga animators in their spare time, at least that's what i must assume from the copious volumes of stylized pictures they have scrawled everywhere. What i wasn't quite prepared for was the type of doodle. Now i'm used to the usual sex graffiti present whenever boys are around, but i was certainly not quite up for seeing 3 different and equally detailed renditions of the female genetailia "doodled" on the pages of the poor girls textbook. It was kind of a, "Hey what nice drawings there, you've got a bunch of stars and a....OH MY GOD...we'll just put your pencil case over that one, won't we." followed by some female hysterics from the two "cool" chicks.

As i think about it today, i probably should have reported this to the head English teacher, but at the time i was a little unsure about what to do. After listening too Paul, my english co-worker, describe his satisfaction after chewing out a student who told him to "DIE" (the effective equivalent of "fuck off" in Japanese) and hurl a piece of chalk at him, I'm pretty sure that I should start kicking ass, if at all possible. The only problem is, i really don't care. If they don't want to learn, i'm not in the position to motivate them, and i pretty much don't give a crap. They're all going to be boring pregnant wives paying for English lessons from guys like me in 10 years or less, so they can pretty much screw off if they want.
The children here are amazing. I mean, little five and six year olds here can speak perfect Japanese. How many American kids that age know a foreign language? The crazy thing is that kids here love speaking Japanese so much that you'd swear they didn't know how to speak normally! Weird, i know, but it's just one reason why this is called the "Switzerland of Asia".

Monday, January 19, 2004

I tried my hand at a little mountaineering this weekend.
Since i couldn't get a ride to go skiing with Lara and Shane, i was in a dour mood all saturday. Some may well know that i'm quite the sourpuss when i don't get to do what i want, particularly since the weekends here have a sort of precious quality that any real job lends them. I decided then that on Sunday i would attempt to find my own snow to ski down. So, I loaded up my skis, boots and poles into my backpack and headed up the mountain on my bike.
I've become inured to the weird looks from the locals here. I pretty much get stares from people whenever i'm anywhere but at work, in the building. The looks are always very discreet, but occasionally you'll catch people looking, or more frequently, purposefully not looking at you. It's become so regular that i have started to give less and less attention to how I look in public, figuring, "I already look ridiculous, why bother trying to look slightly less so?" I've taken to leaving my helmet on in stores, not taking off the pants bands that keep my ankles from snagging the chain on my bike and I'll even leave on the little yellow gaiters that i've begun to use when the pants bands weren't enough. At any rate, i pretty much expect japanese people to look at me funny.

You definitely get some funny looks when you're wearing tights, carrying skis on your back and riding up a mountain in the snow, probably regardless of what country you're in. I certainly have had that experience.

My aim was to cycle as far as i could and then hike up the mountain further to try to get to this patch of snow that you can see from our apartment. No problem really, there was a logging road that allowed me easy access to the base of the snow field, which was unfortunately almost completely unskiiable because it was only a snowfield in winter, in summer i'ts full of huge boulders which were only mostly covered with snow now. I hiked abotu halfway up and then decided that it was stupid, so i tried to ski down, crashed once (a minor one) and then i skiied down the logging road back to my bike.

Overall, it was a rather abortive expedition. Now if i had some snowshoes...

Thursday, January 15, 2004

It's all about expectations. For example, yesterday I had the expectation of a really easy day, 1 class, and an easy class at that. It was going to be great, nothing much to do, and Jennifer was home on a "sick" day so we would have gotten to hang out, I was going to go for a run and things were in general, going to be good and simple.
My class happened to be out of the office, held at a business south of Nagano and when I got back to the office, I discovered that I had to teach 4 more classes that day, one of which was starting immediately. One of the other teachers fell and screwed up her already injured knee and couldn't walk, which somehow prevented her from teaching. Actually it wasn't so much the teaching as the getting to school that it prevented. Anyway, my glorious easy day was shot to hell. It's not really that the day was difficult, but I had the expectation of an easy one.
No problem, yesterday pissed me off, but today was going to be no trouble since the girls highschool was supposed to have tests today. I love test days, nothing is better than watching the students who give you grief all class long suffering under the labor of their test materials. I imagine that my dream job would be a study hall monitor in a Japanese highschool. As it turns out, it was a damn good thing that I prepared a lesson "just in case".
Such a bunch of crap! Paul (fellow teacher) asked them yesterday if I was going to have to prepare a lesson for the 3rd year (senior) highschool classes. The Japanese teacher said, "No, 3rd year students have tests tomorrow." What the guy really meant was, "Everyone except 3rd year students has tests tomorrow." SURPRISE! My lesson went off smashingly mediocre non-success.
I had another class this evening out of the office. I had expected to be driving the company car to class and consequently didn't get ready as early as I usually do when I'm taking the train. Unfortunately, my boss informed me that I was instead to take the train as I normally do. Groovy. Also, I had to buy my own ticket this time as he was fresh out of them. Groovy. So I got on my bike and hauled-ass over to the train station, sprinted up the stairs, hurriedly bought my ticket and nearly missed the train by about 10 minutes. I had a nice time in the unheated station waiting for the next train, 20 minutes later, but now I know that if I miss the first train and run quick-like from the station I can get to the class only about 2 minutes late, maybe less if it isn't icy and I'm in better shape.

Overall, I'm really looking forward to the weekend at this point. Let's hope that no one else decides to mess with my expectations.

Monday, January 12, 2004

To be read as if it were funny:

I am fine in this country. Despite what i may say or write in this blog there is nothing bad here, everything is fine. The glorious Emperor is great, all praise to Him. Long live the Japanese Empire.
What? Of course this is Aaron Evan Ritz writing this blog. How dare you question my authority and veracity!!
No, nothing could be further from the truth. THis is not some sort of Eastern hell hole or gateway to Apocalypse! I don't understand how you got that idea.
Well, yes, i know that my blog entries have been rather melodramatic.
No, no i don't think that we're really all screwed like i posted earlier.
Yes, like i said, everything is FINE!
Great, thanks for calling. I'll write more later.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Nothing satisfies a craving for meat better than a nice mushy block of tofu. When you're thinking about protein, animal husbandry, warfare and politics, there is not a food in the world better than Tofu. It's white, squishy and it has all of the nutrients that you'd ever imagine could come from a soybean packed into its cheap, easily slurpable exterior. I've recently switched to free-range tofu because of my concern for the living conditions of some of the soybeans out there. Did you no that for the "silky" style tofu, they actually put the beans into a pen, and prevent them from moving, all the while they force feed them on fertilizers and manure? It's kind of disgusting to think about, really.

The soybean is an amazing animal, and i'm pretty sure that without it, japan would be totally up shit creek without a paddle, either that or their food would have a whole different flavor. The soybean can be turned into almost any type of food, from a main dish, to an appetizer to a condiment, to a soup, the soybean does it all. My big question recently is, "How do they get the milking machines onto the little beans in the first place?" I like soymilk a lot, and i'm really curious whether or not the process is humane. Do the beans suffer? Please leave comments if you have any answers.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Well, my love affair with peanut butter has faded. Now i'm in love with this band that i discovered all by myself, with no one else telling me that they were cool. All i needed was the POWER OF THE INTERNET and the wonderful file sharing program Kazaa. The band is The Shins and while you can't see much from their website, they really rock. THey're kind of reminiscent of Yo La Tengo, equally good and i'm currently swooning to their alternative indie rock coolness.

While in the past my esteemed colleague Alf has eschewed Indie Rock for being too whiney, i personally am a big whiner and therefore can really identify with musicians who speak my language.

Now i must change my socks as they stink something fierce.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I've recently fallen in love again. It's been a while, but at last i know where my heart lies...


Peanut butter is soooooo good. You can eat it on almost anything, if you're on a survival mission, there are few foods that combine as much nutrition, flavor, packability and pure calories than dear old peanut butter. I should really pause to thank Jean McMaken here, since she had the good sense and good grace to airlift us some peanut butter a while back. It'd been sitting dormant in the cupbord and i hadn't been eating it much since we haven't bought bread as frequently as we used to. Since buying a loaf of japanese poofy white bread, i've been on a PB binge. I can't believe how much i've missed you, Peanut Butter, but it's been too long.

I'm hearkening back to the fall semester of 2000, a good and bad time; my achilles was screwed up and jennifer was in chicago, but i played a lot of guitar and brewed my first batch of beer with Alfie. I also had a sordid affair with peanut butter, not the petiet variety in the 8 oz jars, but the big 4 lb jugs of it, of which i consumed 3 in the course of 3 months. Ahh the wonder years.

I don't think i'm going to be able to (physically or logistically) eat quite so much in the subsequent months, but i'll be damned if i won't savor every mouthfull.

I realize that last post had a reasonable number of swears in it. While I really love it that my parents, their peers and my aunt and extended family all have been reading from time to time, it makes me a bit apprehensive about my less literary posts. I guess i've got to hope that all of you love me through my potty mouth as well. Sometimes the F-word conveys exactly the point that i'm getting at. Certainly a useful, if crass addition to the english language.
At times it's insanely easy to impress japanese people, in particular japanese housewives. I was discussing my past weeks activities which included cooking chili for a selection of gaijin on sunday. I'll always get, "Really, you can cook? Do you like cooking?" When I respond, "Yes," i always get a wide eyed look of wonder and some crooning. "Oh really, that is great, i wish that you were my son/husband/etc." Even my male co-workers are amazed by me, "You're really going to ride your bike home in this?" Or maybe, "You mean you're really going to eat that Kim-chi and Mayonaise sandwich?" The answer is YES people, niether of those things are that bad!

Back to housewives: The japanese housewife has kind of a shit existence in many ways. While it's also the case for western women, the japanese housewife is really little more than a servant much of the time. You would marvel at the complexity of the boxed lunch, the dedication to the evening meal and the complete lack of authority that most housewives here have. I suppose that's why the mainstays of the adult english education industry is in fact the housewife and the spinster. i've heard it theorized that english class is a way to escape the doldrums of life. It's like a secret identity for some people, i think.

On a side note, here's a little bit about my intellectual life these days: Nothing much doing.
i've been an intellectual bump on a log recently. I haven't read anything interesting in quite a while. Most recently i Read "Road To Omaha" an entertaining, if pulpy book about some stylized characters in their attempt to scam the corrupt US government. I tend to put off reading books with the thought in mind that it will keep me from studying japanese, but since i don't study japanese ever anyway, it's hardly a problem. I have had a mean craving to write some songs on the guitar, but maybe that's just an excuse to get myself a guitar. Consequently i've been plumbing the depths of the internet for music, lyrics and overall entertainment. As i write this, i'm listening to Yo La Tengo's version of "Nuclear War" by Sun Ra. It's a cool cover. Wheras the Sun Ra version is kind of a cool jazz version made interesting particularly by Ra's strong Jive accent as he repeats the refrain, "Nuc-lar War, it's a mother-fucker, Don't you know, if they push that button, your ass got to go," the Yo La Tengo version has a techno style background with their singer leading a chorus of gradeschool children through the same lyrics.

Both are good, both are powerful and both relate to my current belief that we're all fucked and it's going to be sooner rather than later. I think that the world will be a very confusing place in the not too distant future when China emerges as the new superpower and the US fades into relative obscurity. I suppose that our parents and grandparents and their parents etc. all felt the same way, but at the same time, maybe they were right to feel so, we're all just getting fucked-er and fucked-er, it just takes a while to notice.

Meanwhile, i'm feeling somewhat lonely and sorry for myself as i sit in the safest country in the world in my nice apartment typing on my $1000 computer. I'm an armchair doomsayer.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

I keep twisting my damn ankle. THe past 4 runs i've been on, i've twisted the damn thing. Today was the worst, i am actually having difficulty walking on it. Today's sprain resulted in some swearwords, notably the F-enheimer and a lot of groaning. It always seems to happen just as i'm about to turn around at the farthest point from my apartment. It was a long damn walk/hobble/run back home.
Strangely, i'm starting to feel like my body doesn't heal up quite so well as it used to. It's probably the first step in getting old. I'm going to be 25 in the near future. Attaining the quarter century mark has been a great ride so far but at this point I'm well past time to have made something of myself. I remember watching professional athletes on TV and always in my youth they were old to me. Now it seems like half of them are 19 or something. Pretty sick. Here i am farting my life away in a foreign land when so many other people are making real contributions to the world. I recon i'm just destined for a my niche: mediocracy.
This is a minor gripe in the great scheme of things, but i'm just feeling a little bit bitchy and lonely today. Jennifer's been gone for like three weeks. I feel a little dependent when i say it, but it's not as fun to be here without her around. I suppose i would never want her to leave if we didn't share a tiny apartment. I think with one more room it would be perfect, but as it is it gets rather cooped up feeling here sometimes. Currently, however, i've adjusted myself quite well to the lack of female influence. I smell bad, eat poorly and play a lot of computer games. Well, one in particular, but i play it a lot.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Back from skiing and I didn't really hurt anything except my pride and my wrist. Crashing a lot will do that to a fella. I had a total of 4 days on the slopes. The first day we went to the combined resort Hakuba 47 and Goryu. This is a pretty nice place with two sides of the mountain covered in lovely snow. We also discovered a great scam; if you wait until about 2:00 you'll see the first trickle of people who are done for the day and they go to return their electronic passes for their 1000 yen deposit. Well if you're persistent, you can buy the passes off of the skiiers for abotu 1500 yen, making 3 hours of skiing cost you 500 yen when you get back your deposit. This totally rules. Nothing feels better than getting an unexpected windfall, particularly in Japan, where bargains are few and far between. We did this for two days and i also spent 2 whole days skiing. Overall, it cost me a little less than i had anticipated, which was totally great since my paycheck was a little lower than last month because of all the holidays involved.

We stayed in a cabin sort of thing for the 3 nights. The place was fine except for the terrible stink emanating from the pit toilet. It was a olfactory killing field in the bathroom. I did appreciate the interesting slang that i learned from my british compatriots as a result of the stink. It is truly amazing the variation of the English language between different areas of the world.
The best illustration of this point for the trip was Eddy of Halifax, Yorkshire. It was nearly impossible to understand the guy sometimes. It was truly hilarious. My favorite of his sayings was, "Minging," prounounced ming-en which apparently means something like, "nasty," or "disgusting." The first night Eddy introduced himself to this guy Andy and the interchange went something like this:

Eddy: Nice ta meet ya, Muh neam's Eaddeah.
Andy: Yeah, Andy, and your name is?
Eddy: Iahm Eaddeah, you're Andeah?
Andy: Andy, right, what's your name again?
Eddy: Eeddeah, you knoo Ead!
Andy: Oh, Eddy! Right.

Its just amazing to hear all the diffferent variations in my own language. Pretty hilarious to think of these people as english teachers however. How the fuck are japanese people going to understand them if I can't.