Thursday, August 12, 2004

(I am going to resend this email with the pictures not attached – sorry if this is inconvenient – it is just to ensure nothing goes wrong with the transmission.)

Ohayoo gozaimasu/ komban wa / konnichi wa! Watshi no namae wa Chris desu! O-genki desu ka?

Hey there its me again! How is the cold New Zealand winter treating you? Better than the hot Japanese summer? Was 31 degrees all day today! The humidity has dropped a little but is still enough to make you happy to see an air-conditioned room.

Had `kids training today` which involves a lot of sitting on the floor and playing games, and believe it or not singing! We are colouring, colouring, colouring….all the day long…” Luckily I have been putting a few hours in the Karaoke bars and was all warmed up for the singing task. I put a hint of Tom Jones in my delivery and a twist of MC Hammer. I was MC Jones, or Tom Hammer or something I think? Anyway now I can look forward to teaching kids their ABC`s and 123`s etc.

On the tourism front things have been quite busy. My flattie Adam has a friend over from Australia. She is on her way to China to teach English to kids. She is staying for about a week, and at the moment they are in the `Happiest Place on Earth`, no not the Hillcrest Tavern but at Disneyland. Hope they do better at finding Mickey Mouse there than we did at Fuji-Q Highland Park.

So while Lauren has been here I was tasked with keeping her company while Adam was working and for a couple of hours while Adam was (mostly successfully) battling a dose of diarrhea. We went to the NS Building in Shinjuku, which houses the worlds largest hydraulic-powered clock. It is basically a water wheel which turn a large drive shaft. The clock is made by Seiko. Incidentally the clock is housed in the same building as the Nova Head Office and it was the second time I had seen it. We then went up the building to the 29th floor and took the picture which should be attached to this email.

We then hit the Shinjuku shops. Found a really awesome bookshop which has all the stuff that will come in handy in the future, including Japanese/English textbooks, both ways (so I can learn and get private students). It also has a large amount of English academic type books and Novels. It actually reminded me of the university bookshop. Very cool. I felt smarter just going in there!

We then went off to Shibuya, which is a suburb (well city in its own right really) of Tokyo. For those in the know, this is where a bit of the filming of Lost In Translation was done. From the Starbucks which is a couple of floors up above a pedestrian crossing where about five or so sides meet together. Similar to Five Cross Roads in Hamilton but slightly more impressive. Actually the pictures I took are a bit average and don’t let you feel the vibe of the place. It is known as a real young persons hang-out, and there is so much going on there. I also have a special spiritual link with Shibuya as it is the only place that I have been able to watch the All Blacks play. Admittedly the amount I spent on one beer there was enough to buy a dozen Waikato back home, but I am apparently not in Guatemala anymore.

After baby-sitting Lauren for a few hours we met back up with Adam and went to Hachioji (closest city to our home), for some ramen (big bowl of noodles and vegetables), was very filling. We all discussed what touristy things needed doing the following day. We decided that an early start would be the best and decided getting up at about 8.30am would be best so we could maximise our sightseeing.

Got on the train at about 2.30pm the following day after a good sleep in, a session of Lauren emailing family and friends, showers, lunch, deciding where to go first, deciding what would be shut by the time we got there and balancing the advice from the Lonely Planet Guide and what we had heard from fellow gai-jin.

We decided that Oodaiba would be the best place to go, which features the worlds highest Ferris wheel (well in 1999 it did) at 115 metres high, the Toyota amusement park, a great view of the city from the harbour. Oodaiba, which is built on reclaimed land from the Harbour is accessible by the Tokyo monorail, which is quite fun to ride, very high tech and apparently doesn’t have a driver, well one that I could see anyway. I saw another passenger get in and sit in what would be the drivers seat. The fact that the man was drinking a beer made me think that he probably wasn’t going to drive the thing, unless this was his first job after being fired from Florida Air.

You will see some pictures taken from the Ferris Wheel and a picture of the Ferris Wheel as we were leaving the area, all lit up real pretty at night! We hit the Ferris wheel at dusk, but because of the cloud/smog cover we didn’t see the sun set and we were too early to see the skyscrapers lit up, although we did see all that on the monorail back home. The monorail goes over a huge bridge called the Rainbow bridge, which is actually a Double Decker bridge which the train goes through the middle of the bridge, very 21st century stuff. The train actually dose a big loop before it climbs up into the bridge.

Also in Oodaiba is the Toyota ‘Amusement Park’ which isn’t as amusing as I though it might be, someone like Brett might be able to spend a week there but for me a quick look around was ok. Some of the more exciting parts of the park were the cars that drive themselves around this large indoor/outdoor track. I think they use magnetic disks to find their way, which is fine as long as where you want to go has magnetic disks all the way there. They also showed the new way that they stack cars in these massive machines which use a fully automated forklift system to locate and retrieve your car. There must have been about 20 cars stacked on top of each other, that is two columns of ten cars. They also had lots of old cars and the newest of the new cars.

The Toyota design museum was also there which showed the advances they have made since the Corolla. There were also a lot of new things they are developing, especially in terms of mobility (cars that the seat comes out and picks you up from your wheelchair or mobility scooter and instrumentation in side the car. There was also a car from the future there which I assume is only a model rather than a working car. If not George Jetson will not be a happy man.

Following the sights of Tokyo harbour we hit the crème de la crème, of Tokyo shopping. Ginza. We didn’t stick round too long there for fear that the Gucci and Llardro people would try and charge us a few thousand dollars for looking through their window! The people were dressed up as pretentiously as they possibly could, even silly old tarts walking their toy dogs. I had to admit that I felt a bit out of place in my 2000 yen sandals and warehouse shorts, only my Edmonds Judd polo shirt added any respectability to my outfit.

We then went to the nearby Senso-ji (also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple) is a temple located in Asakusa, a central part of the Shitamachi. Shitamachi ("downtown") is the old town of Tokyo. For more information please visit Courtesy of the Japan guide website!! We hit the place quite late in the evening and all the touristy shops were closed, thankfully probably! Was quite nice there but I didn’t feel moved at all. A few good photo opportunities though! One of the pictures looks a bit spooky, is it my aura? Or is it a low light picture which I was moving too much in? I’ll let you be the judge….but if you look carefully at the grassy knoll….

Things have been patched up with my flatmate and we are talking again. He sort of apologised to me yesterday. Which in typical macho guy fashion was a handshake. Things are a bit more tolerable at home but I am still greatly looking forward to moving into the city. Having a bigger room will be good, more room to spread all my clothes over (eh mum? ;-). Also the over 2 hours each day commuting is taking its toll on my patience, especially knowing that in a few weeks when I am about a third of the way on my current way home I would already be at home!

Had my 2 month probation evaluation, I apparently got one of the highest results and my boss asked me to apply for a management job at my branch in the next few months. I have discovered that the fastest way to be promoted in a job, is to not want to be promoted. I have to say that I am enjoying the pure teaching aspect of my job a lot. The bureaucracy I can do without, but the students make teaching quite worth while. I am actually seriously considering taking some steps to become a real teacher or at least look into the possibility. So anyway it looks like I get to keep my job post probation.

I sent a couple of postcards today but I realised that I am seriously lacking physical addresses for people. Please send me your address and I will try and get you a postcard.

Sorry about the length of this letter, I will try to write more next time!!

I have no big plans for the next couple of weeks but will keep you informed if I come across anything interesting.

Oh, and I almost forgot, I found a diagrammatic depiction of what you are supposed to do when encountering a bear. I am not sure if you do that after wetting your pants or during??

Oyasumi nasai.
Purveyor of fine Bears

Friday, August 06, 2004

Greetings all!

First of all I need to say a big hello (sounds like I am a DJ) to Karen Gibson, who has kept me fully informed of all the goings on at EJ, including the wider EJ family. I am not sure how she found out about some of the gossip but I am sure that it involved hidden cameras and microphones.

I will get an email to those of you who have emailed me lately as soon as possible. As you will read things are kind hetic at the moment.

Well it has been a few days since my last confession er… um… email I mean. Kev graced his presence upon Japan and was duly extradited after 4 nights and 5 days. Apparently he was searched at the Korean airport but the only item of contraband found was a rubber horses head. The Korean authorities could find no nutritional value in the same and allowed to keep the horses head and return home.

Kev arrived on Saturday evening and was met at Shinjuku station by Adam, my flatmate as I had to work until about 5.40pm. We then arranged to meet at a fireworks celebration in a place called Nishi Tachikawa (West Tachikawa) about 20 minutes from home. In Japan fireworks are used to celebrate summer. Not quite the same thing as back home with a bag of $20 Masta-Blasta from the Warehouse.

We arranged to meet at the entrance shortly after I had finished work. Luckily we were able to find each other as the usually quiet park had turned into a seething mass of people. The Japanese take their fireworks rather seriously. There would have been people who arrived at 10am to get the best vantage points. We turned up about 20 minutes before the scheduled start of the fireworks. We were able to get a reasonable seat on the grass and see the fireworks. It is a real cultural occasion and all the wimmen-folk get dressed up in their traditional Yokata (like a Kimono but about $5000-$20000 cheaper). All of us agreed that Yokata look is rather attractive. Kev offered to model the one he bought but we respectfully declined his offer.

Two things were staggering about the fireworks, firstly the quality of the fireworks. It was a free display which went on for about 2 hours, with an intermission. The sheer number of fireworks was impressive. I am not sure if it was set to music but it was almost poetic. Some of the fireworks were designed to look like animals. I don’t know how they do that but I am sure that there are teams of scientists working on it somewhere.

However the display itself was not as impressive as the number of people that were watching. I think the number in the park was about 500,000 or more people. So if half the people in Auckland decided to converge in one place you would have some idea of the numbers we are talking about. No visible security or any problems. It was difficult to decide where to look when the fireworks went off, at the fireworks or the mass of people!

We decided that it would be best to leave the park before the mass of people left. We did get caught up in the first rush of people but luckily it didn’t take too long to get to the pub. Made some friends with the locals at the pub. Hopefully the pics are attached to this document, or will follow shortly after.

Got home at about 3am and set the alarm for 6.25 so we could go to Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park. If you wanna see then this is the link

At about 8.30am we awoke, realizing the alarm needs to be switched to on to work, and plugged into the wall. We didn’t let a late start stop us, or the hangover. We then set off for Fuji-Q.

The first port of call at the park was the machine to take your photo for the all you ride pass. Of course Adam, Kev and I decided to have a ‘who can pull the funniest face competition’. I don’t know how to feel when the mad house operator offered to buy my photo.

Our first ride was the newest and most popular one. A two hour wait earned the park the name Fuji-Queue Park!! (thanks for that one Adam) but this was to be the worst wait and was actually way better than my waiting experience at Disneyland in LA. The ride which isn’t mentioned on the website, well the English one anyway is called Dooom Dooom Dah, or something like that? Maybe a bit got lost in the translation.

The ride is basically a compressed air rocket ship. That shoots you over a 1189m course in 60 seconds with a max speed of 172km/hr max acceleration of 4.25 G’s a 52 m drop at 90 degrees. Un-be-lievable. Was almost as scary as meeting the bear, made me forget all about the beer the previous evening too!

My hands were shaking for about 20 minutes after the ride. The Roller Coaster afterwards was almost as scary. At one point it was the worlds tallest rollercoaster. Called Fujiyama……oops sorry for those of you who aren’t up with their Japanese Geography, Fuji-Q park is under the shadow of mount Fuji (or Fuju Yama as it is known locally). The ride Fujiyama is modeled (loosely) on the real thing.

There were many highlights of the day, which I won’t go into too much detail. One of the low lights was when I wet my pants. On the water ride of course. Adam and I decided to be the toughest guys in Tokyo and ride the water splash ride without a rain coat. Turns out we became the wettest guys in Tokyo, for the rest of the day.

We all had a look at my pass ride photo and totally forgot about being wet. We were pretty tired at the end of the night and caught the train back to Takao, about 2 hours or so.

On Monday after my Japanese class, Kev and I went on a bit of a sight seeing expedition and saw the Imperial Palace gardens. Not too exciting but I am sure there is some tour you can take to see the Bonsai trees. We did a bit of shopping around the central Tokyo area, and Kev managed to buy a horses head, a la Mikey Havoc (from TV), (channel 2)…….(yeah well he hasn’t heard of you either)! Kev said that it was for his ‘sister’. Yeah right.

Tuesday was spent recovering from Monday night. We hit The Pong (Roppongi). The unspeakable things which occurred on Monday night will remain unspeakable. Although at the end of the night we ran into a few Kiwis, who insisted that I wasn’t from new Zealand because of my English accent. A short rendition of Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Loyal’ put pay to any question of my kiwiness. I wasn’t counting on the rest of the group breaking into song in the subway rush hour. The locals didn’t know what to think. Adam didn’t know what to think either, the rest of us just weren’t thinking.

After a short sleep managed to get a bit more shopping in. Had a quiet night on Tuesday and Kev made the plane home on Wednesday, sans lots of cash but it was ok because he had a rubber horses head.
Well I had beet go and get some sleep almost one in the morning here and I have to be up at 8, to start work at 10am!

Once again thanks for the emails and I will reply as soon as possible. I am genuinely appreciative of the info that I have been getting from down under, and New Zealand (sounded funnier in my head… the echo)

Son, brother, compatriot, neo-liberal and the guy you saw at the pub with no pants.