Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Crimes of Fashion

I'm sure this post's title will garner a few laughs, because those who know me also know that I flat-out rejected the Gap rage of the early '90's.

"Where does this guy get off talking about fashion?"

Wherever he darn well pleases.

I've said before that life in Japan never ceases to amaze and amuse. Usually, it happens at the same time.

The entire month of November has been one big jaw-dropping shock. Hokkaido cold is cold. Really cold. But that doesn't stop the ladies in the area from wearing miniskirts with boots.

Normally, I wouldn't even think of calling this a fashion crime. In fact, I would generally encourage it among the attractive female populace. However, when I feel cold just stepping outside, and then I see exposed leg, it goes from being kinda "sexy" to being "chicken skin".

Brrr. It's cold just to look at.

The colder it gets, the more it seems that women are going with the skirt/boot look. I'm starting to wonder if it's merely a Hokkaido thing. "Cold weather won't stop us from being fancy. We're used to this kind of weather." may be. Acclimated to arctic may be. But are not. A frostbite liability? That's what you are.

Brrr. The other thing about that is that the cycle of the seasons calls for balance in all things, including fashion. As the weather grows colder, more layers are piled on and exposed skin becomes a rarity. As it warms up, the pattern reverses. You know it's spring when you see skirts start to make it out of the closet following a long winter. If you see skirts all year round, there's no joyous welcoming of spring that blossoms in the hearts of healthy young men everywhere. "Skirts again? Thank you God!"

I'm afraid I may lose some of that innocent joy.

(Excuse stomach hurts from laughing too right back.)

All better now.

Of course, I doubt nothing can top the lady I saw at the post office today. Fluorescent lime green blouse, fuzzy scarf thingy, bleached tooth-white jeans, and a red cowboy hat.

Yee-haw, indeed.

But then again, I speak too soon. For if there is one single, solitary, immutable truth about life in Japan, it's this.

Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes something new to topple your foundations.

"Oh...My...GOD, Becky. her..."

The Ramen That Changed My Life

Today's weather was a tad nasty.

Typhoon-strength winds whipping through The Quivering Gall Bladder Region of Hokkaido? Yeah, just a tad.

So, school was cancelled after third period and all the students were sent home. Except for the basketball team kids, but I think the Second Coming itself wouldn't stop Mr. Nakajima from holding basketball practice. It's the week before midterms, and all club activities are cancelled, except for basketball. I guess when basketball is one of the main activities your school is founded on, Coach's word is gospel.

We had to stay and work, of course. However, the Head Honcho (see also: principal) gave us permission to leave after 2 P.M. So I did. And so did Jack. But nobody else did. Nope. I'm not sure you could force the other teachers to leave. That can't be healthy.

I went and checked out the waves at the beach. There were huge waves coming crashing in, but at the same time, this incredibly strong wind was blowing out to sea, so you had this weird effect of spray blowing backwards off the waves back out to sea. Pretty awesome. Dang near impossible to catch well on camera.

Today was November 29th, which, with a little Japanese word play, becomes "good meat day".
1 = ichi (shortened to i)
2 = ni
9 = kyuu or ku

1129 = ii niku = good meat

Of course, common decency requires that one eat some good meat on Good Meat Day. This was a job for...The Debuwagon Duo!

That's right. Today, Eisaku and I made a culinary journey to Sapporo. I asked him if he wanted to go and grab some Japanese-style BBQ somewhere in town, and then he told me that his sister was up in Sapporo, and he was planning on heading up to visit her, so why don't I come along?

Excellent idea, Professor Eisaku. The opportunity to research culinary delights presents itself once again.

So, (probably to everyone's shock and dismay) Eisaku left work around five, and came and picked me up. Then we were off!

On the way, we realized that neither of us knew of any really good place to grab some grub, so I called up the bartender at Ippuku-Tei and asked him if he knew of any good BBQ joints in Sapporo. He asked, "What's your price range?"
Following some consultation with Eisaku: "About three thousand yen per person."

He laughed. Hard. For a long time.

When he caught his breath, he said, "If you want to eat some good BBQ in Sapporo, the meat alone will cost you five. Add some beers and other food, and you're looking at ten thousand yen easily."

I relayed this dismaying news to Eisaku. "We'll think of something else, then. Thanks!"

The bartender said, "Wait. Let me check around. I'll call you back."

As we were passing through Tomakomai, he called back and told me about a place where we could probably eat well for 2500 yen per person. NOW WE'RE TALKING!

After reaching Sapporo and doing a bit of shopping, we headed over to Susukino (gasp!) and met Eisaku's sister. He called her fatso, and she called him fatso, and I realized that siblings are pretty much the same no matter what country they're from.

So we went to the BBQ place that the bartender told me about was full. "How long's the wait?" "Well...everybody's really taking their time...and there are four groups ahead of you...I can't really say."

The heck with this, guys. Let's go get some ramen!

I've mentioned before that Sapporo is well known for its ramen, especially the ramen with a miso-based soup. This time, I suggested we go to a place called "Ittetsu".

Jack, my English-teaching comrade at Starfish High, used to live really close to Sapporo, and made the trip there about once a week. Every time he went, he would grab some ramen at Ittetsu. Each ramen shop in Japan has its own distinct flavor of soup, and according to Jack, Ittetsu's soup had a hint of barbecue flavor to it. BBQ-flavored ramen? It would be rude not to try it.

So as we walk down the arcade toward Ittetsu, the stores start thinning out along with the people. All three of us start to be a little concerned about the quality of a ramen shop located in such a sketchy area. Is Jack sense of taste working correctly? Is there some gene Canadians have that makes ramen taste better? But Jack told me, with serious conviction, that "this ramen will change your life. Trust me."

A tall order, indeed. Ramen in Sapporo has changed my life once already (Sumire). Can it happen again? The rewards are too great to pass up. So, we open the door and head inside.

For as sad as the shop looked outside, inside, it was packed. There was just enough room for us to sit down and place an order. The really cool thing was that it was more than just a ramen shop. There were lots of other good eatins on the menu. So we ordered a few things, I ordered a beer, and we sat back and waited for the food to come.

Fried pork and onion on a skewer. Fried tofu with grated Japanese radish. Hashed potatoes. Pot stickers. BEEF (Good Meat Day, after all). This was good. There was one thing I refused to touch, though.

The Squid Bomb. Yep. The Squid Bomb.

A whole squid fried up on a hot plate and glazed with a sauce made of its own guts.

Squid Bomb, indeed. (shudders)

Then came the call for last orders. Here it was...the moment of truth. We all ordered ramen. I ordered the miso-based soup. Eisaku ordered the soy-based soup. His sister ordered the salt-based soup. When the bowls came out, the soups looked pretty much the same.

I dipped my spoon in, and got some soup.

I took a sip.

Hot-diggity-dagnabbit! That! My friends! Was a DAMN! FINE! Bowl of RAMEN!

Thank you Jack. Ittetsu's ramen has indeed been a life-altering experience.

Man, it was good.

We finished up, paid the bill, and headed back to the car (after saying goodbye to Eisaku's sister). On the way back, Eisaku stopped. Panic swept across his face. "Hold on...we could have a problem." He started patting down his coat.

"What's the matter?"

"I seem to have misplaced my keys."

Oops. This could be a problem. How do we get back to Muroran now? Eisaku calls the ramen shop and asks about his keys. "We don't have your keys, but you forgot a bag with a DVD and a CD."

Eisaku: "Where is my head today? I must have been too excited about eating."

We head back to the parking garage, because there is a chance that Eisaku left the keys in the car door. If that's the case, then there's a good chance that Eisaku's car won't be there.

Except it was. With the keys still in the car door.

We're in Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido and one of the bigger cities throughout Japan. He LEFT HIS KEYS IN HIS CAR DOOR while we shopped and ate dinner. And the keys and the car were there when we got back. Wow.

We swung by Ittetsu, grabbed the DVD/CD bag, and headed for home. The drive back was not very pleasant, as it was snowing/hailing/sleeting on us, but we made it back safely.

And here I sit, at 2 in the morning, typing out this post as the wind wails outside and shakes my apartment.

Still, that was some good ramen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


I have a question for all the male readers of The Muroran Chronicles.

Have you ever been head-butted in the gonads?


Consider yourselves lucky. I was the unfortunate recipient of a well-placed head-butt to the nether regions today.

I teach at the Starfish High's kindergarten every Tuesday. Yep. We have a kindergarten connected to our school. Sometimes I want to send my students over there for some remedial social training. But I digress...

Next month is the kindergarten's Christmas Program, and I am teaching the kids how to sing a couple of Christmas songs: "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "Deck The Halls". The kids are getting pretty good. It's still funny to practice with them, though, because they're really quiet on the "Deck the halls with boughs of holly" part, but then they get really loud every time a "Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la" comes around. No difference between kindergarteners in the States and in Japan. Kids are great.

So today, I was over helping them practice. When we begin a class over there, there is a warm-up song we have called "Jump Up and Down" where the kids (you guessed it!) jump up and down. I was jumping up and down too, and a kid in front of me lost his balance and fell towards me.

You have to realize that kindergarteners are short. So when this kid fell into me, his head hit me right square in the 'nads. Needless to say, ol' Dustin-Sensei falls over, coughing and gasping, as kids crowd around to laugh at the funny white guy whose face just went red.

That hurt...a lot.

I had to sit down and direct class for a while. The teacher asked me what was wrong, and I used a very discreet term (kyuusho) to describe where I'd been hit. This led to a bunch of kids saying, "Sensei, what's a kyuusho?" Fortunately, we were able to dodge the bullet on that one.

My DNA receptacles have taken quite a bit of punishment over here in Japan. Apparently little kids think it's funny to smack someone in the nuts. I curse them in the old tongue when they do this.

Let's see...I've been walking down the hallway, holding hands with a second-grade girl, laughing and talking when all of the sudden...WHAM!

I collapse. She giggles. I ask, "Why, God? Why?"

I've been in the hallway at a junior high school, talking with students, when a kid comes up from behind and...WHAM!

I collapse. He bursts out laughing. I quietly judge him.

I've been in the entrance to the staff room at an elementary school, talking with some students, when my Spidey Sense clicks on just in time for me to dodge a frighteningly well-placed punt to the family jewels. He still caught the corner. WHAM!

I collapse. He laughs. Enraged, I grab for him, but a teacher runs interference. Six points go up on the scoreboard. I actually had to go to the hospital with that one. The pain faded, as it always does, but about an hour later it came screaming back. "This is new...and unpleasant," I thought. The color ran out of my face and I went to the nurse's office to get an ice pack. The Vice Principal came in and told me to go to a nether region doctor he knew. So I went in to get my Dustin Jr. checked out, and as he's saying words like "bursting" and "loss of function", I feel my will to live slip away. As it turns out, all the equipment was fine. I pulled a groin muscle (snicker) twisting out of the way of the Happy Punter. That one was scary.

It's not just little kids, either. I've gone to congratulate a friend's father on winning some big prize in some big competition, when the drunk S.O.B. turns around, winds up, and...WHAM! Uppercut to the...


I collapse. He staggers into a taxi and drives away. I picture bludgeoning him with a baseball bat. I really did. I still harbor an unhealthy hatred for that man.

These episodes are merely the tip of the iceberg. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm placing my future children in the line of danger every day I go to work. Not so much anymore (Lord be praised!) though.

Maybe I should buy a cup.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Samstag und Sonntag

(I think the German is correct...)

Yesterday, Starfish High, in a glorious fit of desperation, held another Open School. Our turnout for the previous two Open Schools did not achieve anywhere near the number of prospective students that we needed. While Saturday was originally planned to be an parent-teacher discussion day concerning prospective applicants, the higher-ups adapted it to be one more Open School Day.

We have about fifty third-year students this year, and if we can't cover the number of departing students with an equal or greater number of new students next year, old Starfish High is in danger of going under. We're the smallest high school in all of Hokkaido anyway. We can't afford to get any smaller. Plus, the majority of high school students still want to go to public schools. Private schools like Starfish High don't have the greatest appeal to ninth graders.

But we've done all we can. Now, we sit back and wait...

How many applications will come in, I wonder?

After Open School Day finished up, I piled into my car with Judy (a JHS English teacher) and Miller (a SHS English teacher) and headed for Tomakomai. Judy wanted to buy a digital camera, and she wanted my help in finding a good one. I know jack and crap about digital cameras, and unfortunately jack left town a couple of days ago looking for a better gig on the stand-up circuit. But I do speak Japanese, which tends to qualify me for a lot of things that otherwise I would have no business talking about.

Like the time I was asked to speak on a panel about river water usage, water conservation efforts, and community interaction with waterways. National government official, representative of the local fisheries union, and the white guy who speaks Japanese. I got 300 bucks for it, so I'm not complaining, but I felt like I was kind of ripping them off. I researched as much as I could about the subject matter, but I was way out of my league.

So anyway, we went to a nice electronics shop in Tomakomai, but the cameras they had there were a bit out of Judy's price range, so...

Back to Wasabi-kun and over to Seattle's Best Coffee! This is becoming a wonderful tradition!

Following some caffeinated goodness, we headed to...the mall.

This is actually a big deal. When I lived in Shimane, we didn't have anything that compared to "The Mall" back home. This may be because Shimane is the Japanese equivalent of the "boonies". Any shopping centers were more like all-purpose supermarkets than malls. The first time I headed out to the Tomakomai Aeon, it was like the sky opened up and the light from heaven shone down around me. The angel choirs sang "Halleluiah!" The Lord saw it, and it was good. Then my wallet saw it, and screamed in agony. For there is a Tower Records in the Tomakomai Aeon Mall.

The original plan had been to catch the new Harry Potter flick, but as one of our troop wasn't feeling up to it, Judy and I went and saw "The Brothers Grimm" instead.

"I... I do believe I've soiled myself."
"Oh, good... I thought it was me."

Those are probably the best two lines of dialogue in the film. I still laugh about it. Overall, there were quite a few nice subtle nods to the fairy tales we all know and love, and they were woven together into the story quite well. Dark, disturbing, yet ultimately an enjoyable movie.

But it really makes you hate the French. That poor, poor kitten.

On the way back to Muroran, I asked Judy if the British and the French really do hate each other, or if it's more something that gets played for laughs. Without a second of hesitation, "We do. Ohhhh, yeah, we do."

That cleared that one up.

Sunday, I went with the gang to an International Potluck Lunch at the Muroran International Center. Good eatins were had by all. Curry from Sri Lanka, Chinese pancakes, Japanese oden soup, Malaysian noodles...yum. It was a rather eclectic crowd, featuring several exchange students who attend the Muroran Institute of Technology (Hey! MIT!) and a few of us English teachers. Plans were made to catch Harry Potter that evening, and then we all went our separate ways.

I met up with Miyano, a fellow teacher at Starfish High, and we headed out to the pool. Finally...The Rock...has come BACK! the poooooooooooooooooooooooool.

The messed up, weird sick, taking drugs for my stomach week was followed by two really busy/tiring weeks, so I hadn't been to the pool in quite some time. I managed to get in my 500 meters, but I was really tired by the end of my workout. The old body tends to revert back to its slovenly form without CONSTANT VIGILANCE!!!!!


So much for C.V. After the pool, Miyano and I went and grabbed dinner with Sugihara (another S.H. coworker) at Steak 1. I had fried chicken, soup, and salad, and left feeling quite full.

Funny thing about Steak 1. They have a poster for the Pendleton Round-Up on the wall. Being that my hometown is only about 50 minutes from Pendleton, it was a little bizarre seeing that up on the wall. I'd ask, "What're the odds?", but after six years of living in Japan, these kind of bizarre connections don't surprise me anymore. As the narrator said in "Magnolia", "These strange things happen all the time."

Then it was off to the movies! "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire". WOW. Wow. wow.

There were at least twenty times during the course of this movie where I said, "That is SO cool." The director did a wonderful job of bringing the exciting moments of the fourth installation in the HP series to the screen. The introduction to the Quidditch World Cup. The interior of the magic tent looking just like a regular house. The dragons! The merpeople! The hedge maze! Voldemort!

This continues from the previous film, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" in making the series darker and bringing more emotional impact to the goings on at Hogwarts. Nicely done.

My only complaint was the subtitles. Voldemort's reappearance, which is the climax of the story and is set in a graveyard, was filmed as a very dark scene. It's supposed to be poorly lit and shrouded in a doom-and-gloom atmosphere. Then you have these BRIGHT WHITE subtitles at the bottom of the screen that blind out the entire area around them and really ruin the planned effect. Not so great.

But otherwise a good film, and a great way to cap off the weekend.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Today is not particularly special here in Japan. It's a Thursday, and that means your butt had better be in the office by 8:30, and that's all.

(Yesterday was a day off, though. No connection to Thanksgiving. It was the Japanese version of Labor Day.)

This is not to say that Japan does not celebrate Thanksgiving. In the fall, Shinto shrines across the country have a ceremony in the fall where people thank the deity of the shrine for the bountiful crops that year. The concept is the same. The dates are different.

Anyway, to go with the theme of Thanksgiving, here's my list of

What I'm Thankful For

I'm thankful for my health.
I'm thankful for my family.
I'm thankful for my sister, who is an absolute goof, but is the most awesome person anyone could ask to have for a little sister.
I'm thankful for my father, who would prefer to have me come back home and work for him at his company, but loves me enough to let me live my own life and do what I want to do.
I'm thankful for my mother, who never hesitates to hit me with a zinger, but loves me enough to stick up to her own father when he was displeased with the direction my life was taking.
I'm thankful for my Grandpa Nelson, who shared his experiences of serving in WWII with me, and also taught me that you can't see people in black and white.
I'm thankful for my Grandma Nelson, who is an amazingly funny person and who taught me that is isn't the gift but the thought behind it that really counts.
I'm thankful for my Grandpa Kidd, who I don't remember that well anymore, but I remember his tickle attacks when I was little and the back-stretching table he had in his workshop that was quite possibly the coolest thing my six-year old eyes had ever seen.
I'm thankful for my Grandma Kidd/Morgan, who forgave me when I acted like a little snot to her when I was younger (the more appropriate four-letter term also begins with an "s" and ends with a "t") and really is one darn fine cook.
I'm thankful for my Grandpa Morgan, whose suspenderiffic wardrobe has made for some great comedy moments at family reunions.
I'm thankful for my Grandma and Grandpa Chambers, who aren't really my grandparents, but allowed me and my sister to "adopt" them as such. G'pa Chambers convinced my dad to go back to college, and G'ma Chambers is the sweetest little old lady you'd ever like to adopt as a Grandma.
I'm thankful for my friend Hiroshi, who trusts in my ability as an English teacher enough to ask me to come up to Hokkaido and work with him at Starfish High in order to improve the school's English Program and the school overall.
I'm thankful for my friend Dave, who has honored me beyond my capacity for expression by naming his son Dustin.
I'm thankful for my friend Czar, who reintroduced me to the wonderful world of pro wrestling and is one of my favorite people to talk to.
I'm thankful for my friend P-Dog, whose mutant ability to make obvious hyperbole seem to be factual awes and shames me, and whose similarly skewed view of the world is strangely comforting.
I'm thankful for my friend Masahiro, whose words "Why don't you study Japanese?" started me on the long, strange trip I've been on ever since.
I'm thankful for my friends back in Shimane, who have greatly supported me since I've moved up here.
I'm thankful for all of the friends, teachers, and people I've met who have influenced me and shaped me into the person I am today.
I'm thankful for all the other people I've forgotten to mention. It's not on purpose.
I'm thankful for Wasabi-kun, which is the first car I've ever bought with my own money. Wasabi-kun has been a great partner on my myriad voyages across the Land of the Rising Sun.
I'm thankful that I work in a job that I enjoy.
I'm thankful that I live in a country that never ceases to amaze and amuse me.
I'm thankful for every day that I live and breathe.

But most of all, I'm thankful that I've reached my 50th post on this blog. Yeah!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Unexplored Country

Last Sunday, while I was in Tomakomai Station waiting for my train to Sapporo to arrive, I checked out the train line map above the ticket vendor's window.

I'm amazed by the Japanese train system. There are train lines all over the country, and you can see some beautiful country from the window of a train.

Riding a train was a pretty foreign concept to me before I came to Japan. My extent of train riding is when I rode on Amtrak once with my family to go down to Pocatello to visit my grandma for Christmas. We had to drive two hours to the station, wait for the late train, and then, partway through the trip, we had to wait inside the train while they cleared the tracks of all the snow on them.

Compare this to a train system that is calculated out to the second. As a general rule, late trains are unheard of (unless there is a suicide/accident/really bad weather). You can set your clock to the Japanese train schedule. Plus, being able to take a train around and see the country makes it easier for me to feel comfortable about looking around. Usually, I'm driving.

I look at train line maps to see what line goes where and what places the trains will stop at. This time, I noticed a station called Hariusu. It had a footnote next to it that said "kisetsu-eki". Literally translated, this means "seasonal station", but you have to be careful about literal translations sometimes. So, on Monday, I got on the Internet and did a little research.

It would seem that my literal translation was the correct one. Seasonal stations are stations where trains will only stop for a certain part of the year. The rest of the year, they fly right by. So I looked into Hariusu Station a little more and found that no trains stop there anymore, and it is considered to be a "rare" station by a certain group of people.

These people are known as "train freaks". They are knowledgeable to the point of annoyance about trains schedules, train lines, and train stations. You see these guys setting up tripods and taking pictures of trains as they pass by some spot on the line. They take tons of pictures of stations, tracks, and trains. They can tell the make and model of a train just by looking at it. I'd go on, but I've just realized that I fit a few of these descriptions and that worries me.

Hariusu Station is a popular place with these guys. When I tried to find out a little more about it, I found a reference to "hikyoh eki", which means something like "stations in unexplored regions" or "mysterious stations". Apparently, these are train stations in places where there is no viable reason for having a station. No houses around. Hardly any people using them. And I found a homepage that ranked the top 200 hikyoh stations in Japan. Fascinating stuff. Fascinating because somebody went all over the country taking pictures of these stations that are especially hard to reach. Fascinating because a whole heck of a lot of them are right here in Hokkaido. Fascinating because the number one ranked hikyoh station is very close to Muroran.

Koboro Station.

By train from Muroran, it takes about an hour to get there. But you have to time your trip very carefully, because only eight trains stop there a day (five trains heading west, three heading east). There's no way to get up to the road, and unless you pack a boat with you on your way there, there's no way to get back home if you miss the last train. Definitely not a place I would want to spend the night at.

But from looking at photos and reading up about it, Koboro Station sounded like the perfect place to go to get away from everything. You're surrounded by nature, and while there are a couple of buildings connected with the station, there's nobody around. There's a little path down to a rock beach, where you can sit and listen to the ocean and see some amazing cliffs around you. And there's nobody around. This was what I needed. I needed to get away from life here. I needed to not think about some of the difficulties I'm having with work. I needed to be alone.

So I checked the time table, packed a few things and headed out. I decided to go part of the way with Wasabi-kun, to see if he was okay or if the engine problem was really serious. The original plan was to drive out to Rebun, the station just before Koboro, park Wasabi-kun there, hop on the train, hop off at Koboro, walk down to the beach and relax for four hours. The I would catch the train back to Rebun and drive on home.

That was the plan.

One thing I forgot: it's REALLY cold in Hokkaido. It looked nice outside that morning, but there were some clouds off in the distance that had me worried. Plus, that area around Koboro is set down in a valley, and from the pictures I saw, it didn't look like too much sun actually got down in there. If the wind were to kick up, I could end up spending an unpleasant four hours outside.

Change of plans. I drove west to Oshamanbe, going over Rebunge Pass and looking down into the valley where Koboro Station is. I just drove around, doing a little exploring, taking some pictures, and relaxing. After I researched the train schedule a little more, I decided to catch a 2:30 train from Toya Station, ride for half an hour out to Koboro, get out, take some photos, check out the area, and catch a 3:30 train back to Toya.

Only a half hour...

I made the most of it. As soon as I hopped off the train, I made my way down the (fairly steep) path to the sea. Seeing the ocean open up in front of me made me grin like a little kid. I got down there, snapped some pictures, listened to the waves for a while, then boogied back up to the station, snapped a couple more photos, and then it was time to get on the train. I was pretty rushed, but it was the most relaxing 30 minutes I have spent in quite a while.

A little research on Koboro Station revealed that it first opened up in 1987, which is strange considering that the majority of the stations on the Muroran Line opened either in the late 1890's or in the 1920's. I could understand if the station had been built around the same time as the other stations. Maybe some people actually lived down there then. But 1987? Why?

Here's my guess. The train system in Japan was originally controlled and run by the government, under the name Japanese National Railways. As with many other government-run projects in this country, JNR became a bottomless pit for taxpayers' money. More and more money got dumped into useless projects and passenger-less lines. Finally, on April 1st, 1987, JNR was broken up into regional private companies known as Japan Railways Hokkaido, Japan Railways East Japan, Japan Railways Kyushu, etc. April 1st is the first day of the Japanese fiscal year. This means that March 31st is the last day. Koboro Station opened up on March 31st, 1987, the last day that JNR existed. Hmmm...

I'm guessing that some politician passed tax funds on down the line and someone decided to use them to build an unnecessary station. Bureaucracy moves slowly here, but once the gears start turning, they grind on until the inevitable completion of the task. Budget and environmental impact be damned.

So the incessant grinding of bureaucratic gears led to the completion of Koboro Station. It still is a really cool place to visit. I think I'll go back again when it warms up. Since this is Hokkaido, I think that will be in July.

After I got back to Toya Station, I got a phone call from one of the teachers at Pure Water Hill High. A few of the foreigners in town were getting together for a Thanksgiving Party, and would I like to come?

My mom and dad are reading this and thinking, "Does a bear..."

I was SO there.

Eight of us were there that night, eating, laughing, drinking, and having a really good time.

We had salad, mashed potatoes, yams, some shells and cheese pasta, and sushi.

Nothing says Thanksgiving like some freshly rolled sushi, let me tell you.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. We had cranberry sauce.

As we say at the Kidd Family household, I was a happy camper.

I do miss Mom's Thanksgiving dinner, though.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dear God...

I just got on the Internet and saw this article.

Those kids were my students.

God, please let her be okay.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hawaii in Sapporo

Today I made the journey north, once again, to Sapporo.

I left at 9 A.M. But about five miles out, my car died. Flat out lost power and cruised to a stop. Luckily, I managed to get Wasabi-kun over to the side of the road before the engine crapped out. It took me about five minutes before I got the car started up again.

So I turned around and went back to a car shop in Muroran and asked them to check out what was wrong.

Their reply? "We don't know."


Umm, okaaaaaay. And here I thought this was a professional car store. Oh well. I got back on the road and drove to Tomakomai. No more trouble, but the return trip had me a little concerned. More on this later.

I parked my car in the big parking garage next to the train station, and then went in and bought a round-trip ticket to Sapporo.

Why drive to Tomakomai and then switch trains? Why not just hop on the train in Muroran? Better yet, why not drive all the way to Sapporo?

There is a method to this madness, my friends.

Driving all the way to Sapporo and back puts the BIG HURT on your wallet. 3000 yen for a full tank of gas. 2000 yen for highway tolls from the East Tomakomai entrance and back. Another 1000 yen (at least) for parking. Plus four hours behind the wheel. So even before you add in the shopping and food costs, you're at least 6000 yen out of luck.

Compare this to a round trip ticket from Muroran - 4200 yen.

Wow! What a bargain, and no driving! So why not take the train from Muroran?

Because I would not have been able to catch a train back home in time. I would have had to leave from Sapporo Station before 10 P.M., and that wasn't likely to happen.

Why? In a minute.

So, I checked train schedules and costs, and decided that a compromise was the best plan. An hour to Tomakomai followed by a 45-minute train ride, then an hour-long trip back, all for 2600 yen. Not bad.

So why, pray tell, was I headed out to Sapporo in the first place?

To watch Hawaiian 6.

No, it's not the name of some marginal soft-core adult film. Hawaiian 6 is a Japanese punk band on the Pizza of Death label. (Pizza of Death? How freaking cool is that name? I would have listened to these guys on principle alone.)

I learned of the coolness that is Hawaiian 6 through my friend Aniki, who runs the live music house Salon Kitty in Matsyama, Ehime Prefecture. Aniki is one cool dude. I met him through Number Girl, at the after-party after their show in Hiroshima. We were introduced, and he said, "Call me Aniki. If you're ever in Matsuyama, give me a call. Let's hang out." It just so happened that I ended up going to Matsuyama the following month for my school's end of the year party, and we hung out and had a generally good time. That was my first time to go to Matsuyama, but after that, I went down that way a lot. Through Aniki (which literally means "big brother" but also has some Japanese mafia connections - the word, not my friend), I've gotten to know some really cool people, including Hawaiian 6.

I saw that they would be playing in Sapporo on the 20th of November, so on the day tickets went on sale, I went and snatched one up. I'd only seen Hawaiian 6 play three times before, twice at Disco Inferno, an outdoor concert hosted by Salon Kitty (FYI: I came up with the English copy on that page!) and once at Aniki's wedding reception. All three of these sets were really short, so I was really stoked to see a long Hawaiian 6 show.

Since I had no idea how late the show would run, I didn't feel comfortable attempting the Muroran train. I compromised and went with Tomakomai, since the last train bound that way left around 10:45 P.M.

I got in to Sapporo around 1 P.M., after filling up on a Seattle's Best Coffee Raspberry Mocha and brownie. Breakfast at 11:30 just can't be beat. Especially when it's an SBCRM&B.

The doors at the club didn't open until six, so I went for a really long walk. I did some shopping at the Tower Records, and then walked around Susukino.

Now, my good buddy The Czar talks about Vegas being a den of sin. He's obviously never visited Susukino.

Walk down the right back alley in Susukino and you can find anything. And I DO mean anything. Let me put it this way: when my guy friends in Shimane heard I was moving to Hokkaido, without fail every single one of them got a sly look in their eyes and said, "Alright! Susukino!"

I walked through Susukino once before, when I came up to Hokkaido to interview for the job I have now. I was staying in a hotel in Sapporo that night, and I decided to head out and see what everyone was so excited about.

WALL TO WALL PEOPLE. Girls and guys standing on the street corners trying to convince people to go into various shops. Said shops had different "courses" listed, at varying prices. Susukino is one big whorehouse. No lie. Every single potential customer walking through Susukino was being propositioned, with the exception of one.


This was a bit saddening and a bit frustrating. Yes, I had a scruffy beard and long hair, but hey, rejecting me as a potential customer just because I'm a scruffy looking white guy? Not cool! I'm not quite sure, but I think that walk through Susukino hurt my pride a bit. Not that I was seeking that sort of entertainment, mind you. I just wanted to be the one to refuse.

That time was at night. This time, it was during the day.

I don't think I've ever been that disturbed. I couldn't see a lot of Susukino the last time because it was dark and crowded. This time, I saw the sheer amount of shops offering "services". And some of the "services" being offered were downright sickening. Yeesh. But it makes for good copy.

Now on to the main point of the post: Hawaiian 6. I walked through Susukino to Nakajima Park and found Zepp Sapporo, the club where the show was going to be that night. When I got there, the drummer for Hawaiian 6 was outside. I waved and said hi. He got a strange look on his face, which was slowly replaced by recognition.

"Kidd?" All of the Matsuyama connection people call me "Kidd". I don't mind. It's a good name. It is my father's name, and his father's before him.
Me: "What's up?"
Drums: "Not much...what are you doing here?"
Me: "I moved up here in August."
Him: "No kidding. And you came out to see us play? Thanks, man!"

We chatted for a couple more minutes. Apparently, their previous show had been in Okinawa, and there was about a 35-degree difference in the temperatures of the two places. In Okinawa, they'd been cruising around in t-shirts and shorts. Then up to Hokkaido, where they had to have heavy jackets and layered clothing. Probably not the best thing to do to your body, but that's the music biz for ya. He went in and snagged me a tour t-shirt that featured a picture of Abdullah the Butcher and a band towel with a picture of Muhammad Ali. (Don't worry, Czar. You're covered.) Thank you, HATANO!

6 P.M. and the doors open. 7 P.M. and the show starts. There were two opening acts, one of which was a surprise act. They were all right, but they weren't who I came to see. Every minute another band played brought me closer to my train's departure time. Enough with the opening acts! Bring out Hawaiian 6!

A quick sidenote on the band's name: Hawaiian has no special meaning. They just liked the sound of it. The "6"...well, see, there's three guys in the band, and they each have two...ya know, things that guys have that ladies don't. 3 x 2 = 6. I heard this directly from the band members, so it's gotta be true.

Unless they were messing with me.

So out comes Hawaiian 6, and the crowd goes nuts. I was just behind the mosh pit, which was blocked off by a bit. This kept crazy moshers from slamming into me. Good news. Their set was fantastic. Some of the songs can be a bit repetitive, and sometimes the singer's English isn't easily understood, but they play punk in a minor key, and it gives these incredibly energetic songs a distinct sadness. I'm not well-versed in the world of punk, but Hawaiian 6 is the only band I know of that does this well. The other really cool thing about their set was when they played an anti-war song.

Hatano: "War sucks. What's the point of going out and killing other people? It's a pathetic situation. But let me ask you, how many of you have fought in a war? No one? Me neither. So we sit here saying 'War sucks!' like we know all about it. We tried to write this song from the perspective of someone who fought in a war. The message is what's important. To all of you warmongers running the world right now, KISS MY @$$!" Wham!

Okay, so I didn't translate that as well as I could have. But what he said just hit me, and while up until that point I had been bobbing my head and jumping around a bit to the music, I just had to stand there and take in the song. Powerful, powerful stuff.

They came out for THREE encores. Just a great band. Really good guys too.

Once the show was over, I caught the subway back to Sapporo Station, as I only had about fifteen more minutes until my train left. I made the train, and relaxed on my way back to Tomakomai. Once I got there and got in my car, my troubles began again.

Yep! More car trouble. This time, on the way back, my car died three times. I panicked, because I had no way of getting home other than my car. The last train to Muroran had already left. I had to get my car back home. Somehow, miraculously, I made it back safely. Man, am I beat. I hope Wasabi-kun is okay.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Aah, the weekend.

Those two precious days where everything is right with the world. Unless I have to work on Saturday or Sunday.

I slept in until the P.M. today. Of course, since I was up until 4 A.M., I think I got the necessary shut-eye.

Today I made plans to go to Monster Land, a club for live music here in Muroran. The Number Girl cover band from Muroran Technical University (NON-STOP THE TRANSISTOR) was opening the show, and the lead singer asked me to come and catch them play.

Once again, it was incredibly cool to hear Number Girl songs live. Sure, NST is only a cover band, but they know their music well. I only got to see the real Number Girl play live three times, and I didn't really know enough about them to appreciate the experience.

I did get the chance to meet them, though. Actually, all three times I saw them play.


Back when I entered CWU, I attended a meeting during Freshman Week (or whatever it was called...Czar, can you help me with that one?) called "Wanna Be a DJ?" I'd taken a radio/DJing course at the vocational school in the Tri-Cities back when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed it...even though I was a pretty lousy DJ. So I attended this meeting and signed up to train to be a DJ at CWU's campus radio station, KCAT 91.5 FM.

KCAT had started out as a broadcast station, but somewhere along the line the Communications Department let the station's license run out, so when I got to CWU, KCAT was a cable radio station. So for three years, I DJ'ed as Ash (the coolest movie hero of all time). I DJ'ed the morning show for a while when I was a freshman, along with volunteering my time for lots of other available shifts, so by the time I finished up my first year of college, I was actually a pretty decent DJ. I even won the DJ of the Year award, although I think it was a sympathy vote because I just didn't do anything else except DJ. My sophomore year, I had a specialty show on Fridays called the Friday Pre-Funk, because you have to pre-funk before you get funked. Third year, me and my absolutely excellent buddy Big Radio Dave, aka Dr. Smoooth (not a spelling mistake...he had three o's in his name) DJ'ed the Friday evening show Sandbox Anarchy.

Then I went to Japan, and I figured that was the end of Ash's illustrious DJ career.

In a way, it was. When I came back, I had a fairly decent collection of Japanese CDs, and a desire to return to the wonderful world of radio, which I have a face made for. So I volunteered to help out with a show called "Kaze" which was hosted by a Japanese exchange student and featured both western and Japanese music. The Japanese exchange student had left to go on an exchange to Chile, so there was no one left to host the show. When I volunteered to help out, management told me, "The show's yours!"

I decided to not go half-assed with it, and take "Kaze" all the way. I applied for specialty show status, and said that I would DJ the show in Japanese and play only Japanese artists. I got the OK, so Fall '99 featured the debut of the new and improved "Kaze", with DJ Masa, on KCWU 88.1 FM.

While I was in Japan, the radio station got its broadcast license reapproved. But there was already a station in Pine Bluff, Arkansas with those call letters, so the station changed them to KCWU, and changed the frequency so as not to interfere with other stations in the area. "Kaze" is Japanese for "wind", which is something that Ellensburg has in abundance. I changed my DJ name to "Masa", in honor of a couple of really good Japanese friends who both had "Masa" in their names.

As a specialty show host, you get some priviledges, one of which is a calling code for long-distance phone calls. I made good use of this. Sony Music Japan has a branch in New York that was established to see if there was a market for Japanese artists in the States. I got in contact with the artist rep there, and he started hooking me up with CDs to play and to give away. He also got some of their artists to do IDs for my show. This continued for a while, and then one day, when we were talking, he told me to get down to Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest festival. Sony was planning on bringing some artists over, and the rep told me that if I could get down there, he would set me up with some interviews.

Excited, and armed with this incredibly cool knowledge that would be good for the whole station, I went to the Station Director and asked if I could get the money to go.

His reply? "No."

Shock and despair filled my day. Then, I got some good advice from Nelson Sensei, my Japanese instructor.

"If the radio station won't give you the money, get it from somewhere else."

This led to a process of begging and pleading with heads of various departments and directors of various programs, but in the end, I was successful, and recieved enough money to pay for registration, hotel, and airfare.

So during Spring Break 2000, I cruised on down to Austin for Sony's Japan Night.

This is NOT where I met Number Girl.

The night before Sony's Japan Night, a different group was holding a Japan Night with some indie artists from Japan. Number Girl was among these acts. However, I didn't see them that night. I went and saw some freak show act called Ex-Girl that was a waste of my damn time. To think that I passed on Number Girl to see saddens the musician inside me.

So how did I end up meeting Number Girl? I'm glad you asked.

I talked with the guy managing the logistics for that Japan Night, and he told me they were going to be in Seattle about a week later. If I came to that show, he said he'd hook me up with interviews.

So to Seattle I went, and with Number Girl an interview I conducted.

I met the band's manager and promised to send them a copy of the show where I played their interview. I put together a nice package for them, with station T-shirts and copies of the photos I took.

And that was that...until 2002.

I was on my way back from the dentist's office, and I stopped in a local convenience store to get something to eat. On the wall, I saw a poster that said, "Number Girl - Yonago Belier - Tickets On Sale Now!"

Sweet! Number Girl, playing near here! I bought a ticket (see also: lucked out that the show wasn't sold out) and made plans to go see the show. About a week before the show, I logged on to the band's web page, and sent them an e-mail.
"Hi, this is Dustin Kidd! I'm not sure if you remember me, but I
interviewed you when you played in Seattle back in 2000. I'm really
excited that you are coming out to Yonago to play. See you at the show!"

I wasn't expecting a response. I just sent off the mail as a spur-of-the-moment thing. But a couple of days before the show, I got a reply from their manager.
"Kidd-san! Thanks for the e-mail! We'll be looking forward to seeing
you there. Just find me and say hi!"

HO-LY...They remember me. Cool! So I went and caught the show. Belier was packed full of people, and the AC didn't work, so even though I was way in the back, the sweat was pouring off of me in buckets. A couple people passed out and had to be escorted out of the club. It was nuts. The band came out after the show and said there would be no encore because they were all about ready to pass out themselves. As people started to clear out of the club, I went and found the manager.

Me: "Hello, Y-san!"
Y-san: "Kidd-san! Thanks for coming! Hey, since you're here, why don't you go up and say hi to the guys! They'd be glad to see you!"
Me: uncontrolled blubbering

So Y-san escorts me upstairs to the Green Room, where the band members are sitting around, shirts off (except for the guitarist...she's a lady) and looking like someone just dropped a train on them. Talk about uncomfortable.

I say hello and chat with them for a few minutes, but they all look really tired, and it just didn't feel right to be there. So I said, "Well, it was great to see you again. Take care!" and started to leave. That's when the lead singer, Mukai-san, said, "Hey, if you'll stick around for a few more minutes, we're gonna clear outta here and go have an after-party. Why don't you come with us?"

Me? (This should be read in the Looney Tunes cartoon voice where the character is being granted something unbelievebly awesome.) Getting invited after-party? With Number Girl?


So I went to the after-party and hung out with Number Girl.

Unfortunately, half a year later, the band broke up. But before that happened, I went and saw them in Hiroshima, one last time. The tour had been decided on before the break up, so the band decided to play one last tour. It was a little weird, knowing that about a week later, Number Girl would be no more. But I went and saw the show, and hung out with them at the after-party (again! SWEEEEEEEET!!!).

Number Girl. Quite possibly one of the coolest Japanese bands ever. I only figured it out a little too late.


Friday, November 18, 2005


Today was a relatively easy day at work.

First period was my only class of the day. My 3rd year Beta students are going to do presentations on their favorite movies, so I had them do some research on the Internet. I corrected some quizzes and helped them with any English questions, but it was nothing very taxing. Second period, I covered a class for a teacher who took the day off today. Third period, I watched part of "Dawn of the Dead" with Jack, because neither of us had a class. Fourth period, I covered another class for a different teacher. Lunch was provided by the lovely third year ladies, who were cooking for their Home Ec class. I got some sushi and some pork soup out of the deal. Free lunch is always a good thing, even if it is your students who are making it. Fifth and sixth periods, I helped coach a couple of students on their interview tests for their college entrance exams. After school, I took the Japanese archery club members over to the practice range, and then cruised back to help Eisaku with a high school recruitment meeting he had that evening. This time, the meeting was for the parents, not the students, so the pressure was on big time. I talked about the English program at Kaisei. My hands shook the whole time, and when I was finished, Eisaku had to fill in a bunch of information that I forgot to share. I got the important stuff out, but I felt like I kinda screwed up. At the end of the presentation, I got a good laugh from the crowd, because I had been sitting in the formal Japanese sitting style (see also: kneeling) for about twenty minutes and my legs had gone numb. SOOOO, when I tried to stand up, my legs gave me the leg equivalent of the middle finger and would not work right at all. Plus there was that uncomfortable numb prickling tickling in my feet and lower legs. I managed to stumble out of the room, making enough of an ass out of myself that Eisaku was able to cover up the fact that his legs had gone numb too. I think, overall, that helped, though. It was a genuinely funny moment. We finished and were out of the school at 7:40 P.M.

Geez. Now that I look back on it, today was kinda hectic.

After we left the junior high school, we drove out to Tomakomai. The original plan was to try and catch "The Brothers Grimm", but the timing didn't work out. So we went out and did some shopping at Tower Records. I picked up Batman Begins...and Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

It was only 980 yen.

Besides, I love Scooby Doo.

When I was little and living in Pocatello, Idaho, I was addicted to cartoons. (I can hear the peanut gallery now..."You still are!") The Smurfs, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes...and Scooby Doo.

Every day after school, I would come home and watch Scooby Doo. It was a daily ritual. I remember one time I read the clock at home wrong and was all upset that I'd missed Scooby Doo. Let me watch my cartoons, and all is well, but if I miss them...look out. I always enjoyed the episodes with Don Knotts or The Harlem Globetrotters. Classic stuff.

Then the networks stopped showing Scooby and the gang, and I moved on to Star Trek. But I've always held a special place in my heart for Scooby Doo.

Back in 2002, when I was still living in Hakuta, I took some time off during the summer and went on a two-and-a-half weeklong trip around northern Japan. I loaded Wasabi-kun on a ferry at Maizuru, in northern Kyoto, and headed north to Hokkaido. I visited shrines and temples all across northern Japan. 2600 miles later, I came back to Hakuta. I was exhausted. I'd been mainly living out of my car, stopping at hot springs to clean up and finding rest areas to park my car in so I could get some sleep. The shrines and temples were all amazing, and I learned a lot about Japanese culture, but I think I burned myself out a bit. So after I got back, I cruised over to the local theater (MOVIX Hiezu) to catch a movie.

Let's see...random Japanese period piece...Korean action pic featuring the muscle head of the month...huh? What's this?

Scooby Doo?

You know, that sounds like just the thing...

So I went in, bought a ticket, bought some popcorn and a drink, and went in to the theater to watch my childhood heroes on the big screen.

Matthew Lillard absolutely OWNED Shaggy. The voice, the movements, the overall goofiness...he had it down PAT! Scooby was great, too. The movie played around with the general Scooby Doo patterns, twisted them around, tweaked them a bit, and came up with a generally entertaining story. The fact that the villain was none other that Scrappy Doo made the experience that much better.

When the lights came up, and people started filing out of the theater, I realized that I was in Japan. The entire time I had been watching the movie, I felt like I was back in the States. The more I thought about it, I realized that not only had I felt like I was back in the States, I felt like I was eight years old and watching Scooby Doo downstairs in the old house in Pocatello.

It's a rare experience for me to get that sucked in to a movie. The Japanese subtitles usually get in the way. But this time, I didn't notice...I didn't care. It was Scooby Doo.

I enjoyed the first one so much that I picked it up on DVD. When I heard they were making a sequel, I wanted to go see it, even after I started reading bad reviews of it on the Web. When it finally came out where I was, they were only showing the dubbed version.

No way.
No chance.
No how.

I'll just wait for the DVD.

But when the DVD came out, I always hesitated. One reason was because I'd read so many bad reviews. Another reason was because DVDs are expensive over here. Which doesn't stop me from buying them, much to my father's chagrin. But I always held back from buying Scooby Doo 2.

Until today. Hey, 980 yen for a DVD is a good deal!

So I came home and watched it. I didn't get the same "time machine" effect that I got from the first one, but I was smiling the entire time I watched it. A bunch of the old "ghosts" from the TV show were featured, and I waxed nostalgic.

Shaggy's line of "Well, I'd love to do this all night, and something tells me we could, but it's time we make like your personality, and split." was genius.

Now, I'm not trying to claim that the Scooby Doo movies are the pinnacle of American cinema. I won't even try to defend them as particularly good movies. But I had fun watching them, and when you get down to it, isn't that what's important?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Crustacean Love

So, there's this girl I like back in Shimane.

Just my luck. I met her after I decided to move up to Muroran and work at Starfish High.

Hiroshi, being the great friend that he is, told me after I had agreed to move up there, "No getting any girlfriends now. I can't have you backing out of this contract because of a girl."

Thanks, pal.

Anyway, this girl is really cool, has a great sense of humor, is a lot of fun to hang out with, and is willing to give me the time of day. We hung out a lot before I left Shimane. Nothing ever came of it, but we are still really good friends.

And I like her.

It's her birthday next week. I thought long and hard about what I should send her. When I couldn't think of anything, I called her up.

Me: "Hey, how are ya?"
Her: "I'm okay. You?"
Me: "Okay, I guess. It's cold up here."
Her: "Don't get sick!"
Me: "I'll be careful. Say, your birthday's coming up soon!"
Her: "Don't remind me."
Me: "So, whaddaya want for your birthday present?"

No one has ever accused me of being tactful, that's for sure.

She laughed, and jokingly mentioned a famous Hokkaido delicacy. I laughed back, and said, "Okay. It's taken care of. Ha ha ha!" But you see, a plan formed in my mind...

I asked the owner of Ippukutei, the bar near my house, if he knew of anywhere I could find said delicacy. "Master" knows a lot about where things are happening in the area, so I figured if anybody could tell me, it would be him.

He said, "Yeah. I know a guy. Let's go Tuesday! I'll drive."

We went Tuesday, but there were no good specimens available. "We'll try again Thursday."

So we went down to the market again today, and this time there were some decent ones for sale. I bought three of them, and then paid to have them shipped in ice packing to the girl's house in Shimane.

So now it's all taken care of. Yes, indeedy. It's all squared away.

I just gave the girl I like crabs for her birthday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

One Fine Day

It's Wednesday, and I feel good.

This is not as simple a sentence as it may seem.

Wednesday has generally been "Hell Day at Work". Middle of the week, starting to feel tired, mandatory staff meeting after school, nothing ever good on TV, plus my classes generally suck on Wednesdays.

Usually, at the end of a Wednesday workday, the above sentence becomes "It's Wednesday, and I hate everything."

Today was different.

First, let me explain a bit about my work schedule on Wednesdays.

  1. 3rd Gamma Elective - These students are a great group of kids, but it is hard to motivate them to do anything at all.
  2. 2nd Beta Elective - Most of these students would prefer to sit around and tell dirty jokes or draw pictures of cartoon characters.
  3. Open Period - I usually sit around and feel depressed about how bad 2nd period went.
  4. 1st Year Students - Time to practice the English Play! (followed by a lunch break)
  5. 1st Year Students - More practice.
  6. Open Period - I usually sit around and feel depressed about how little we accomplished that day in practice.

Followed by a staff meeting after school. Yeesh.

The English play is something that got shoved on Jack and I. Our predecessor at Starfish High felt compelled (probably by Satan, but I can't say for sure) to have the first year students perform a play last year, and because they did it last year, they gotta do it this year. The big problem with this reasoning is that Mr. Last Year had some semblance of what he wanted to do. Compare that to this year, where Jack and I are about Alicia Silverstone level "Clueless". I was in quite a few high school plays, but that doesn't put me anywhere near qualifying to direct 60 students in a play. I cover the acting bit, Jack has to cover everything else, too many students goof off, and it generally ends with nothing accomplished except giving me a colossal headache and clinical depression.

However, today was a good Wednesday. First, during the morning staff meeting, the principal tells us, "Since we don't really have anything to discuss after school today, there will be no staff meeting."


I understand enough Japanese that I am expected to participate in these meetings, but with some of the discussions, I lose track of what is going on. Either I can't follow the Japanese or the subject has no direct (or even indirect) connection to what my job. When that happens, I tend to zone out. And when I zone out, I start doing what Jeff Foxworthy calls "The Jello-Necked Head Bob". Not good. I'm getting better about it, but nothing beats not having a staff meeting.

First Period: We have a bit of English conversation, but the big comedy moment comes when one of the nosier students in class finds a set of fake moustaches. As there is not much else to do for entertainment in Muroran, this was like having a brand-spankin'-new mall built in the middle of town. Minutes of entertainment were had by all. Then, once we'd all had a good laugh, we stuck the moustaches on the wall and went back to some conversation before the bell rang.

Second Period: I found a game-show style buzzer in the English classroom and took it with me to class. We started off as we always do (lousy), but partway through class, one of the students said, "Why don't we play a quiz show game?" Brilliant! I start firing off questions, and the students start answering them (and actually participating!). It was quite possibly the best class I've ever had with those guys.

Third Period: I sit at my desk and feel good about life for the first time in a long string of Wednesdays. I also did a little preparation for...

Fourth/Fifth Period: The Play. We'd had a meeting the day before with the student directors, where we set down specific goals and made a list of which students needed to be with which group doing what. We're planning on performing one of the scenes in front of the entire school for our Christmas assembly, and things just haven't been coming together at all. So we had a meeting.

What a difference one meeting can make! The dance director was a lot happier with life today. Today, we added a fight scene and a couple of other new ideas in to the scene we're practicing, but by the end of fifth period, we had the lights and music matched up well and the overall flow of the scene improved a hundredfold. Set and prop design got a LOT of work done today. By the end of class, I was grinning and generally enjoying a feeling that I hadn't felt at all after play practice: happiness.

I had to kick myself for not setting up a meeting earlier, but now that we've got some momentum, we may be able to make something of this darn play.

Sixth Period: I sat at my desk, exhausted yet satisfied with the first good Wednesday in a long while.

After work, I went over to Hiroshi's house and had dinner with his family. His mom is up visiting from Shimane, and she called me up and told me to haul my sorry buns over to Hiroshi's place so I could eat a decent dinner. Never one to turn down a Yamane meal, I agreed.

And as always, it was good eatins.

Of course, no day can be perfect. There was one bittersweet moment of my day today.

Starfish High has a school trip for its second year students. Up until now, the trip has been to somewhere in the States (Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco, etc.). There is also an intensive languague study course available for all second-year students interested. I've been told that I will be accompanying the trip next year as a chaperone, which I thought was cool because it meant that not only would I be able to go home for free, but I would get paid for the time I spent there. How cool is that?

One problem. Apparently, this year's trip had some problems that left our principal extremely dissatisfied with the way the program was run in the States. Today, the program coordinator came to Starfish High with a guest: the principal of a language school in Cairns, Queensland. He gave us a short presentation about his school and the study/home stay program they offer. By the end of the presentation, it seemed as if our principal is leaning toward Down Under instead of The Big Fifty.

I'm not complaining, not really. I was just planning on heading home next summer and visiting the family. Now I don't know what will happen.

Still, the thought of getting paid to go to Australia for a not so bad.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Shake, Rattle, and Roll!

There’s nothing quite like the exhilarating feeling of being woken up in the morning by an earthquake.

I had the good fortune of waking up to one today.

Which, considering how late I was up last night working on this thing, may have been a good thing.

I live on the second floor of an apartment building.

I sleep in a loft which is right up near the ceiling.

I feel every little rumble from up there.

Actually, before I went to bed last night, there was a small tremor centered off the southern coast of Hokkaido. Makes me wonder…two quakes in the same general area within about five hours of each other. Not a good sign…

My first experience with an earthquake came back in October of 2000. I had just come back to Japan after graduating from CWU. While I was a college student, I came over to study at Shimane University for a year as part of the requirements to complete my Japanese major. I had such a good time that year that I wanted to come back. When I applied for the JET Program to come back and teach English, I specifically requested Shimane Prefecture.

I may be the first person in the history of the JET Program to have actually requested Shimane.

I think the sheer outrageousness of it all helped me get the job. Let me put it this way: I came back on the JET Program, and at the prefectural orientation meeting after all the newbies arrived in Shimane, the prefectural advisor came up and chatted with me for a minute. "I hear you've been here before."
"You knew what it was like here, and you chose to come back?"

I was not particularly motivated to talk with that prefectural advisor ever again.

One thing my friends would ask me about life in Japan was, "Don't you get a lot of earthquakes over there?"

My reply was, "Not in Shimane," which I always said with a self-satisfied look on my face.

I was placed in a very small town right on the border with Tottori Prefecture called Hakuta (pop. 5,500). Nice place, but very small.

So, it's October 6th, 2000. I've been teaching for all of one month. I am right in the middle of not knowing what the hell I'm doing. I'm still getting readjusted to life back in Japan.

That morning, we had a road race for the junior high school in town. My knee was bothering me, so I didn't run myself, but I did stand on the side of the road and cheer on the students.

Because of the road race, we had a shortened class schedule that day. After lunch, I was team-teaching a second-year English class with Hozumi, the craziest Japanese man alive. (I'm sure I'll get around to telling you more about him someday.) The second-years were hellions, and I always hated teaching in those classes. But there I was, standing in the back of the classroom and having the students repeat vocabulary words after me.

Me: "Restaurant."
Class: "Restaurant."
Me: "Marriage."
Class: "Marriage."
Me: "Get married."
Class: "Get married."

Then, I heard an odd sound, like a student running down the hall. But it was class time, and our students didn't run around in the halls during class...

The sound got louder. Now it sounded like an elephant was running down the hall.

Me: "What the..."
Class: "What the..."

Then, the firmament betrayed me. The one thing that I have always counted on is that the ground that I walk on will always remain firmly unmoving beneath my feet.

Not this time. The floor went left, and then shook back to the right, then back to the left again, at which point I fell over.

Everything went blank. Some part of my consciousness was taking in information, but I wasn't able to make any sense of it.

The students shot under their desks with a speed that would have impressed me more if I had actually been able to understand that what I had just experienced was an earthquake.

An announcement came over the speakers to evacuate the school and head out to the baseball field, an open area far away from tall structures that could fall over or break apart. I might have been able to understand this had my brain been functioning correctly. All of the students, and Hozumi, flew out of that classroom and were outside before I even realized that people had left.

I was alone inside my school, with no idea of what to do.

It still hadn't quite sunk in that I had just been in an earthquake.

Not just any earthquake. It was a 6.8 on the Richter Scale, and was officially named the Western Tottori Earthquake, as the epicenter was in Saihaku Town, the town right next to where I lived.

Gradually I grasped the idea that maybe I should get outside. As I had only been at the school for a month, I had no idea of the evacuation route or evacuation procedure. There hadn't been any emergency drills since I'd arrived.

So, I did the only thing I could think of: I headed down the stairs and out the main entrance.

On the way down those stairs, the first aftershock hit. This was a big one as well. I sat down on the stairs and waited for the stairs above me to come crashing down and crush me beneath their weight. When that didn't happen, I stood up and continued hobbling down the stairs. (Bad knee.)

When I got to the entrance, I took off my indoor shoes and put on my outdoor shoes, then headed outside. I assumed that this was standard procedure, because that's what I always had to do whenever I went out of the school building.

Apparently, in emergency situations, it's actually okay to go outside with your indoor shoes on. As long as you wash them off before you go back inside.

I hobble out to the baseball field, where the girls are all huddled around crying, and the guys are trying to time jumps with the next aftershock. "Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes...NOW!" Jump. Apparently this was entertaining.

Water was bubbling up from under the field. I found out later that when the junior high had been built, they filled in a river to make the baseball field. The river was still flowing underground.

So, I finally made it outside, where everybody else was. Students came up to me and said, "Your face looks dead." Which pretty much described how I felt. I walked across the grounds to the elementary school and said hi to some of the students there. They said, "Your face looks dead." I actually started to get concerned. Maybe those stairs had collapsed on me back there, and I was imagining out my life like a bizarre episode of The Twilight Zone (then again, was there any other kind?).

I had gone in to the staff room a grabbed my cell phone before I went outside. The staff room looked like it had been shelled. Papers and books all over the place, computers on the ground, chairs overturned...very otherworldly. With my trusty cell phone in hand, I tried to get a hold of people, but as luck would have it, so was every other schmuck with a cell phone in a thirty-six mile radius. So, no luck getting through to anybody.

After the aftershocks had calmed down a bit, the principal let us back in to the school to grab what we needed and then boogie on home. I hopped in my car and drove back to my apartment. I was not looking forward to seeing what had happened inside. After I opened the door and stepped in, I realized that the damage was not as bad as I had imagined. I suppose that the fact that my apartment was an absolute mess before the quake hit helped. Some stuff had fallen out of cupboards, but that was the main extent of it.

I spent the rest of the day at home, alternating between cleaning, spacing out, and trying to call my parents. I did a real good job of spacing out, but was not so successful at the other two goals. I don't remember when I finally got through, but the message I left on my folks' answering machine was apparently so funny that they saved it until a power outage wiped out their answering machine's memory three years later.

The next month and a half exists only as vague memories. I remember waking up one day in mid-November and thinking, "'s November. How'd that happen?" That's how out of it I was after the earthquake. Late night aftershocks that send you bolting for a doorway will have that effect on you.

The Western Tottori Earthquake of 2000 was a big one, but there were no deaths, and not that much property damage, relatively speaking. This is because there aren't any buildings and hardly any people living where the earthquake happened. Taught me not to brag about an absence of earthquakes, though.

A funny side note: I actually got used to the quakes after a while. I remember one morning where we had a 3 quake hit twice in a row, and the only thing I did was lift my arm out of bed to keep my radio from falling over. Then I went right back to sleep.

It just makes me laugh that the first, and biggest, earthquake I ever experienced came right after I said, "Get married." I keep wondering if somebody was trying to tell me something.

Monday, November 14, 2005 the Desert...of the Real

Thank you, Morpheus, for that lead-in!

Tonight, Jack, Betty (one of the other English teachers at Starfish High), and I went out for some yakitori and drinks. I was the designated driver, so I had tea.

We were discussing life in Japan over our various brews, and Jack and I started talking about how bizarre life in Japan can be. Betty just looked at us and laughed most of the time at our stupid ramblings (she's Japanese).

Life in Japan as the Bizarre Experience. Let me explain.

The majority of foreigners that come over here don't have that great of a command of Japanese, and Japan is not well known for its population having a spectacular command of English. Quite a few of us live an unreal experience where the world goes on around us yet we are generally oblivious to what is happening. Hence, the Life as Bizarre/Unreal Experience claim.

Also, as foreigners living in Japan, we are held to a different standard than Japanese people. Natural, perhaps, but not necessarily good. We are held to the "eh, they're foreigners, and they just don't understand Japan or its culture" standard. You can get away with stuff over here that you wouldn't dream of doing in your own country. Why? Because whatever you do, aside from drug possession or riding your bicycle drunk, is shrugged off. "Hey, he's just a gaijin. Whaddaya expect?" Most people, once they get away with something simple, will test that line and push it a little farther each time. And that line has a lot of give.

You have the always good for quality humor "Zero-to-Hero" factor. This is the guy who couldn't get the time of day in his own country, yet the second he arrives in Japan, starts feeding off of the "oooh, a foreign guy!" vibes that can be found in the dodgier areas of Japan, like Roppongi, Susukino, or, my personal favorite, Daikan-cho. Z2H types are easy to spot because they give off an aura of being utterly pleased with themselves at all times, anywhere. It's not a big deal to enjoy life in Japan, but to exude a smarmy, "I LOVE it here!" attitude 24-7 is, shall we say, a bit suspicious. You, sir, qualify for membership in the Z2H Club. CB JB ETC

You have the people who play the "dumb foreigner" card. This is an easy card to play. Allow a slightly lost expression to cross your face, deny any knowledge of the Japanese language/culture, and you can get out of pretty much any sticky situation you find yourself in. Like getting pulled over for having five people in your four-person-only car, and flat-out lying to the officer when he asks, "Do you speak Japanese?" This offense would generally result in losing a large amount of points off your license and a hefty fine. But, reach into the old deck, rummage around a bit, and...

BOOM! I'll see your police questioning and raise you one "dumb foreigner"!

"Don't let it happen again, sir. Please drive safely." (All in stiffly-phrased English)


I still feel really bad about that. I panicked.

But there are people who play that card all the time...

All of this, and sooooo much more, contributes to a feeling that this can't possibly be real. It's too bizarre, too outside the realm of possibility, too damn weird...

But then, that's what I love about being here.

You can never get too used to what's going on, because Japanese reality will come along and WHAM! UPSIDE THE HEAD!

and put you in your place.

Why the (ever-so-small) party? Well...

Today, Starfish High hosted the regional preliminary English Speech contest for the All-Hokkaido Contest that will be held in January. We had two students participating. One took third, and the other took first! So Starfish High will be representing the Trembling Gall Bladder region of Hokkaido next year. One reason for the party was to celebrate that.

The other was to congratulate Betty for doing such a good job getting the darn thing organized. She was freaking out in the week leading up to the contest. But with it over, the pressure off, and the added good news of our students doing a damn fine job, it was party time.

No beer for me though. I had enough on Saturday. I don't need to have Hirohito knocking on my door again any time soon.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Nina, The Pinta, and the Santa Wasabi

Today was an eventful day.

Up early and over to Pure Water Hill High, where I participated as an interviewer for the STEP Test, an English proficiency exam that a lot of junior high and high school students take. I conducted the Pre-1st Grade Interview Test, which is the second most difficult level, guessed it...First Grade.

Personally, I don't like the use of the word "grade" because it sounds too much like elementary school when you talk about the tests. Just nitpicking, though. Like I always do.

The test was divided into two sessions, the morning session and the afternoon session. There were a total of around 330 students interviewing for the Pre-1st, 2nd, Pre-2nd, and 3rd Grade tests. Most teachers were interviewing around 20-30 students. I had to interview a total of...(drum roll, please)...4 students!

And one didn't even show up!

So I interviewed all of three students and was done within half an hour. And the rewards were...well, let's just say that I wish my regular job paid an hourly wage as good as the one I got today.

I even got a free lunch! Life was gooooooood this morning.

And it got even better in the afternoon.

I hopped in Wasabi-kun and set off exploring (hence the title). Since I've done most of my exploring to the east of Muroran (Sapporo, Mukawa, Cape Erimo), I decided to "Go West". Life is peaceful there, after all.

I headed over to Lake Toya. Lake Toya is a caldera lake located about an hour's drive from Muroran. It is allegedly one of the clearest lakes in Japan. I can neither confirm nor deny this claim.

I took Rt. 37 west from Muroran, through Date, and then turned north and headed up into the hills toward Lake Toya. On the way, I stopped off by Showa Shinzan (translation: the new mountain of the Showa period).

Now, Showa Shinzan is an interesting volcano. Apparently, until about 1943, the area where Showa Shinzan is now located was a rice field. Flat, low-lying, rice-raising...very non-volcano-like. Then, one day, the field started to rise up. Earthquakes accompanied by a gradually rising area. Then, in 1944, the eruptions began, destroying fields, railroad tracks, and houses. Geologic activity with the mountain continued until 1945.

Here's the interesting thing, though. The military covered it up. That's right. They didn't let anybody know that a volcano was forming during the middle of World War II. I don't know the reasoning behind it, but according to one of the signs at the mountain, that's what happened. The longer I'm here, the more the Japanese military's activities during World War II freak me out. The Rape of Nanking and experiments on human subjects with biochemical weapons are fairly well known. There was also the forced relocation of Okinawans in southern Okinawa to an island that was known to have rampant malaria. Lots of people died needlessly. Very sad story. But then, the whole WWII Okinawa story is an incredibly sad story any way you look at it. Seen as the enemy by the U.S., yet not seen as Japanese by the Japanese, the Okinawans were trapped between military powers, and they paid dearly for it.

But the fact that the military covered up a volcano I really don't know how to react to that one.

After checking out Showa Shinzan (which is continuously smoking), I headed on down in to the Lake Toya area. My main goal was to hit the hot springs in Lake Toya. I hadn't been to a hot spring for quite a while, and I felt like it was time to go. Besides, the place I wanted to go to had a hot spring in a cave, according to the sign out front. This is where I should have been cautious. Yet, I still went in. At the main desk of the hotel with the "cave" hot spring, as I was paying my entry fee, I looked over at a sign and saw some words that made me shudder.

"no yoh na"

Loosely translated, this means "like". So, since the sign said, "dohkutsu(cave) no yoh na", this meant that the hot spring that I had been so excited to hop into was all a lie. It was "like" a cave. It was a shallow representation of a cave hot spring. Devastating. It was actually a pretty nice bath, though, and the "cave" part did seem "like" a cave, so I guess you couldn't really get these guys for false advertising.

A quick note on the area where I live: Japan, as a country, is one of the most geologically active places on the planet. Earthquakes happen all the time. There are active volcanoes all across the country. There are also lots of hot springs, which means lots of geothermal energy. Muroran, where I live, is bordered on the west (25 miles to the west) by the active volcano Mt. Usu (more on this later), and bordered on the east (30 miles to the east) by the active (and nearly ready to pop, according to a lot of scientists) volcano Mt. Tarumae. To the south is the ocean, but this is actually a bay that was formed by a volcanic eruption. In fact, it's known as the Eruption Bay.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is, I really know how to pick places to live.

So, after my geothermal-powered hot spring bath, I hopped back in Wasabi-kun and headed south toward one of the craters of Mt. Usu, which last erupted in 2000. There are some places around the volcano's craters that are preserved as hiking trails. You can walk right up close to the still-smoking craters and see some of the damage that the 2000 eruption (and the 1977 eruption) inflicted on the area. You can see buildings that were damaged or destroyed, and you can see how the land changed after the eruptions.

Mother Nature is not one to be trifled with.

Unfortunately, the hiking paths are closed for the winter, so when spring rolls around (which apparently is sometime in June) I'll head back and hike around. Even though the path was closed off, the entrance was close to a kindergarten that was damaged by the eruption. It's still there, and it is a very creepy place, even in the daytime.

Also, I found out that one of my students lives near Mt. Usu, and just before she was sent to enter junior high school, the volcano erupted and destroyed her house. Pretty crazy stuff. Rocks crashed down through the roof and destroyed her family's piano. Ash and mud coated everything. But her school uniform was still in its plastic packing, so she was okay there.

It was weird to have her talk about it so matter-of-factly in class.

Then it was on through Date again, on my way back to Muroran. Before I headed back home, I swung by Usu Zenkoji Temple. It is a really beautiful temple right near the Usu Fishing Port. I was able to catch a bit of the sunset, and then walk around the temple grounds. It was nice and calm, and I really enjoyed it there.

Then I drove back home.

Altogether, a really nice day.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I feel like Mel Gibson near the end of "Braveheart".

No, I don't feel like the British have me tied up and are publicly ripping out my intestines with a sharp instrument in front of the peasant masses.

I feel like yelling, "FRRREEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!" at the top of my lungs.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I am a free man.

(And no, that's not a desperate plea for a girlfriend...hmmm...although...I might have something ther...huh? Oh, um, never mind.)

I am off of the pills.

I went to the doc on Monday to get my system checked out, because some strange stuff happened over the previous weekend. He gave me a bunch of pills ("These are to calm your stomach, these are some pain killers, and these are your antibiotics.") and put me on a diet of gruel. As of lunchtime today, I finished off all of my pills and all of my gruel.

No more taking five pills with every meal.

No more sloppy rice porridge gruel.

At last.


(looks around nervously)

(sees that coast is clear, sighs with relief)


For a second there, I was worried that the British would come kick down my door and publicly execute me. Hey, ya never know.

I have a good buddy back in Izumo who goes by the code name of The Don. As in mess with him and you'll be sleepin' wit' da fishes in Hiikawa River. Which, as far as rivers go, isn't all that deep, so if you can break your cement galoshes, you might just survive. He's a sporting The Don. But The Don has no love lost for Senor Gibson. "It just seems like every movie he makes bashes on the British."

Well, let's see...we've got "Braveheart." Check.
"The Patriot." Check.
"Gallipoli." Check.
"Pocahontas." Check.
"Conspiracy Theory." Hmmm. Patrick Stewart plays the bad guy. Patrick Stewart is British, so...check.
"Hamlet." Written by a Brit. Check.
"Lethal Weapon 4." Hmmm. Well, the British did control a large part of China for a long time, so...check.
"Lethal Weapon 2." Hmmm. Replace "South African diplomats" with "the British", and...check.
"The Passion." Replace "The Jews" with "The British", and...check.
"Signs." Replace "aliens" with "the British", and...check.

Wow. Mel really has it in for the British. I can see where The Don would feel a little threatened.


Well, I'm off to celebrate my newfound freedom. No steak, unfortunately, but I am going to brave the cold gusts outside and walk on down to Ippukutei, a local bar that serves up some good yakitori (grilled chicken, and only in Muroran, pork, on skewers). Oh yeah, they also have beer.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Carne Empanada

I got a comment from my good buddy The Czar about yesterday's "Gruel" post.


Hey maybe instead of steak. I can send you over my recipe for Carne
Empanada! LOL That would make your stomach feel great!Take care brotha!


This requires a little explanation.

The Czar and I have been friends since college. We both joined CWU the same year (Fall '95). I lived in Kamola Hall, one of the "study dorms", and one of the oldest buildings on campus. Kamola's claim to fame was Lola, a ghost who has haunted Kamola since she committed suicide during WWI. The Czar lived in Hitchcock Hall, one of the six "Bassetties" dorms. Hitchcock's claim to fame was that everyone referred to it as a "three-story tall (Hitch)****". I don't make these up, folks. I tell it like it is. [Note: It has come to my attention that The Czar lived in Meisner Hall. Unfortunately, there are no fun jokes about Meisner Hall's name.]

Anyway, that first year, there was a "Mr. Kamola" contest in my dorm, with the winner going to the Mr. Central competition. I ended up winning, by some odd fluke, or maybe there was a wormhole that twisted the fabric of space and changed the laws of physics long enough to squeeze out the victory. Anyway, I won.

On to Mr. Central. There were three parts to the competition: costume (it was close to Halloween), sports outfit, and talent. For the costume, I came out as The Diet Coke Guy. I borrowed a length of pipe and a hard hat from my Dad's company and came out in some Levi overalls. I got a decent reaction from the crowd for that one. For the sports outfit, I borrowed some of my Dad's golf equipment and came out as a golfer (cleats and all!). The talent? I did a dramatic reading of "Stairway to Heaven". Because I'm a geek.

Why do I tell you all this? Because The Czar was Mr. Hitchcock. [That would be Mr. Meisner.]

This chance meeting was the beginning of a great (albeit slightly bizarre at times) friendship.

Sophomore year of college. The Czar became an LGA (a dorm adviser). I became an IPA (a student advisor for Japanese exchange students from Asia University who came over on the Asia University America Program). LGAs and IPAs had to work together, and while I was IPAing away over in Kamola, The Czar was slinging LGA duties for The Man over in Sparks Hall (another of the Bassetties). We talked a bit, because I would go over to Sparks to chat up Captain Chrome, the Sparks IPA.

Junior year rolls around. I was assigned IPA duties to Davies Hall (yet another Bassettie). The dorm boss was none other than the one, the only, The Panamanian Dynamo, The Czar!

So we worked together over the course of the year to plan dorm events and help the Japanese students and regular students get along well. One of these events was an International Food Day. The AUAP students cooked up some Japanese food, and The Czar cooked up some Carne Empanada. (I did actually come around to connecting the title with the story!)

I think Carne Empanada is Spanish for "This meat is going to rip you a new one." I could be wrong, though...have to check with The Czar for confirmation.

From what I remember, Carne Empanada is slices of beef coated in spices and then fried up in oil. Good times. My mistake was eating a plateful of the stuff. It was so good, I just couldn't stop. The Czar laughed at me as I ate. "You will pay for your foolishness, young Paduwan."

I laughed back. "I've got a cast-iron stomach. I don't know what you're talking about. I'll be..."

I broke off. A slight grimace. "I'"

BUUURRRRP. The Czar grins.

"I'll..." Grimace. "" Grunt. "...ffffff..."

Sheer panic runs across my face like every single competitor in the Boston Marathon.

"Oh Lord. I'm screwed."

I sprinted out of The Czar's room and headed straight for the bathroom. I didn't leave the bathroom for the next week.

When I emerged from my ordeal, The Czar was there to smirk at me. "I told you, man, you were being foolish. But did you listen? Nooooooooooooo."

TO. THIS. DAY. He refuses to let me forget.

Senior year, I went to Shimane University for a year, while The Czar calmly ran things back at Central. When I came back, we roomed together for a bit, and The Czar introduced me to the wonderful world of...The Rock. (Back during the second heyday of the WWF.)

Currently The Czar is teaching at a high school somewhere west of the Cascades. I am here in Muroran. But we still curse the moment we met each, I mean, we still keep in touch and reminisce about the good times.

To The Czar, I say, "Salud!" And I'm waiting for that plate of Carne Empanada. That which does not kill you only serves to make you stronger.