They’re as Big as Golf Balls!

They really are! It’s been snowing once or twice a week for a month now, but today I woke up to the first snowfall that actually STUCK to the ground. “Big whoop” I hear you mutter. Well for someone who grew up in Durban, this is a big whoop! The whoop is so big, in fact, that I spent most of my work day simply staring out of the window at the office, craning my neck to impossible angles so I can see giant snowflakes swishing about.

I had to maintain an air of professionalism, of course. So I didn’t quite sprint out and throw snowballs at the kids. But They’d best be on their guard, because soon this Gaijin will enact Western-styled aggression fueled by a snowball arms-race and cold war-esque escalations of firepower.

Soon my pretties… soon.

Written by admin in: Things Japanese |

Driving in Japan

I’ve ranted before about how damned confusing the road system here can be for a foreigner, but something more interesting than mundane Kanji signs is the strategies of driving over the speed limit (60 or 70 km/h) while still remaining immune from prosecution.

The speed traps don’t work anything like SA, in that in order to be fined, the Japanese authorities need a picture of your face at the wheel of the car. What’s more, stationary speed cameras are mounted on giant overhead steel girder-like constructs, preceded by at least 3 giant yellow signs warning of the impending speed trap. And it’s understandable. The penalties for speeding are harsh. Anything over 30 km/h will require a visit to court to have your fine determined by a judge, while anything 40km/h over the limit can lead to prison time. Scary indeed…

… Of course that’s in theory. In practice, everyone drives at least 20km/h over the limit, and the police don’t even bat an eyelid. I guess they’re busy harassing Russians (and are probably justified in doing so!) What this results in is a rather curious game of ‘follow-the-leader’ with the lead car on the highway forging the way ahead.

So basically it’s of the highest interest to be trailing behind the lead car, who is usually going a goodly speed, because, should a speed camera or even a police car in the bushes be trapping the road, it is only the lead car that will be prosecuted, as it’s kinda hard to snap pictures of the drivers behind him or her in quick succession. Great times! But it gets more complicated than that.

I find that often cars in the lead will slow down enough to make you overtake them, and they thus accelerate behind you in a cunning feint. I’ve since learned to do this myself, as it can lead to catapulting  ahead the draconian speed laws. Slow down enough to frustrate the tailing car to overtake you, and then accelerate behind them for a good ride at speed.

Of course the police know this as well, and apparently use undercover cars to do the same tactic to lure unsuspecting motorists into breaking the law. It seems a bit ruthless for the police to actively encourage motorists to break the speed limit just so they can catch them, but I guess it yields results!

What this likewise means is that often you find a long gaggle of cars tailing behind the lead on the suspicion that the rather nondescript leader might be a police car. Given that many motorists deck their cars out with 22 inch rims, dvd screens and giant aerial arrays on their rooves, whereas the police/govt cars are plain old skedonks, it takes a while for someone to overtake them. Of course, when the first car in line does so and isn’t arrested, a flood of overtaking ensues, with a new leader and a reset of the pieces on what can only be described at road chess.

And driving on the speed limit is, ironically, often more dangerous, as I have countless times encountered cars who woosh past me at almost twice my speed, resulting in reckless countermeasures from both myself and the moonbat who overtook me. In Japan, on either engages in this elegant dance of give and take, or risk being impaled by one of the many giant SUV’s roaming the Hokkaido road network.

Written by admin in: Things Japanese |

Trying Not to Sell Us Short

The week has pretty much been a normal educational cornucopia in rural Hokkaido. The usual constant ‘gaijin’ aura of weirdness that draws stares from everyone, including coworkers (the PE teacher looks at me like I’m some sort of hamburger. It’s… unnerving.), elementary school visits, replete with tiny Japanese kids screeching their favourite slogans and trying to scare the bejesus out of me at every turn. On one such occasion, my vigilance was momentarily down as I was walking towards the lunch room, chopsticks in hand, when one Ninsei kid (2nd grade elementary school, so I think about 7 or 8 ) jumped out of thin air and made me scream out like a little girl. Yes, I think I left my dignity sitting next to my pride at OR Tambo!

I neglected to mention in my post on the school festival that afterwards there was a celebratory enkai, or drinking party basically, to enjoy all the hard work done in making everyone cry. Following that was the nijikai (sp?) where we shuffled off to the principal’s house and partook of more foamy beverage and chitchat. From what my JTE english partner teacher Eizo translated, albeit embarrasingly, included the topics of “underhair” and whether I loved Japanese women more than South African women. No pressure!

But then it was my turn to be embarrassed. The science teacher, who also speaks pretty damned good English, and Eizo asked me various things about what I studied (Strategic Studies, which in simple terms means I studied war and conflict!), and how different SA is to Japan. Unfortunately for me, they knew that SA has the highest murder rate in the world (this honour sometimes shared with Brazil) as well as rampant crime across the board. Should they come to SA? The diplomat I’m supposed to be on the JET programme should say ‘sure! It’ll be great!’, but the pragmatist I am realised that, were they to visit SA as tourists, the chances of them being mugged, hijacked or murdered was a very real possibility. My reply? “Sure!”, I said, “But make sure you go with me.” Because while I’m just as likely to be a victim of crime, I would at least know not to go traipsing around Hillbrow at any time of the day with an expensive camera looking obviously foreign! Out here of course there’s no such thing as crime. And what little of it there is is largely committed by those dirty soviets in Wakkanai, so it’s very hard to try sell the positives of SA, of which there are myriad, when the very real chances of them being another statistic weighs heavily on their thoughts.

 It’s tough, but it’s the reality, and I told myself before even coming here that I wouldn’t try and sugar coat the reality of our country’s problems, no matter how much I love it. Before I sound too much like a whiny ex-pat, which I certainly hope I’m not, I would dearly love for the Japanese to see the country I love and live in. As much as Japan has been a major awakening for me, so too would SA blow their mindhole!

Besides, I can’t teach them how to pronounce wildebeest, so I’m just going to have to show them one!

A Wildebeest, in case anyone wondered…

Written by admin in: Things Japanese |

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