The Last Snowboarding Trip

Having to delve ever deeper into the bowels of Hokkaido in search of boardable snow, last weekend saw me driving back to Nayoro and Piyashiri Ski Resort for what is almost certainly the last time I shall be snowboarding for the foreseeable future. On the plus side, I drove a different route this time, coming inland from Hamatonbetsu instead of heading South from Wakkanai, and it ended up being a much faster trip, with me making it there in just over 2 hours.

The snowboarding was, to be honest, less than awesome, as the powder is by now long-gone, with only the icy surface of the slope remaining, which in turn transformed into slush by midday. This meant that falling hurt. A lot. Also the table, rails and generally FUN trick things on the slope were removed, most probably to prevent plucky yet woefully-naive snowboarders like me from breaking our necks on the icy ice shelf of hard crystalline iceness. Nonetheless, I enjoyed just going out one last time, and it was certainly far from miserable. The ice also meant that one went a helluva lot faster than normal, so it was enjoyable regardless.

In the evening I went bar-hopping with Shelly, one of the resident Nayoro ALT’s, who in turn was hunting a particular Japanese guy she has her eye on. In the last bar we went to (‘Soul’ I believe) I met a remarkable gentlemen who turned out to be a warrant officer in the JGSDF (Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, or ‘Army’ to the rest of the world). A warrant officer being effectively the highest rank an NCO can get short of being offered a commission. Anyway, it turned out this fellow had been to Mozambique and SA back in the day on various peacekeeping capacities, and as an added bonus was also quite fluent in English. Me being the warmonger I am, we became instant friends and thus chatted along happily for several hours about all things martial and militant.

Sunday saw a monstrous hangover and drive home, and then blissful sleep.

The past couple of weeks has seen the so-called ‘spring shuffle’ in the office and schools around Japan. Anyone wishing to transfer out of Sarufutsu or their current place of employment can apply and be relocated somewhere else in Hokkaido (or Japan maybe?). What this means is a ridiculous amount of time spent at farewell ceremonies, farewell parties, and farewell speeches. Just go already damnit!

Of course now is the time all the NEW replacements come in, so that means an equal amount of welcoming ceremonies, speeches and parties. At least now I’m officially not going to be the new guy any more. So while gaijin, and thus perpetually an object of constant attention and befuddlement, I at least will not be the rookie anymore.

On that note, I also received a shiny new contract paper from the mayor (contracts run from april to april, so my JET contract and village contract are different pieces of paper) today, April Fool’s day. I don’t think anyone here would appreciate the humour in this!

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Sad Times and a LONG Drive

This weekend saw the departure of Heather, an ALT in Wakkanai and one of the few foreigners working in Japan that I could tolerate. As I was going to Sapporo regardless we made a bit of a road trip of it, but man oh man am I tired of driving now! Japan doesn’t know what Easter is, so there was no super long weekend that I normally get to enjoy. This meant that I effectively spent most of this weekend behind the wheel, driving all over the country. Nonetheless, the countryside on the way back (about a 5 hour drive) was pretty as usual and I got to see some new tiny little Japanese farming villages on the way back.

Due to a total breakdown in communication with the only person I knew in Sapporo, we stayed with a friend of Heather’s in Iwamizawa, which was also an unknown town to me before then. Aside from a ridiculously overpriced theme park, I didn’t really stay around long enough to explore it adequately, as the weekend was mostly spent just getting to Sapporo and doing some shopping for clothes, books and replacing my camera charger which has so far eluded my every efforts at locating.

One of the big things I wanted to get were a new pair of glasses, an endeavour which resulted in eventual success, but only thanks to one extremely helpful law student who offered to help me translate the kanji on the optometrist’s form. I was really battling through, so when she appeared out of nowhere offering to help, it was quite amazing to see. Normally public waiting rooms, subways and similar areas are occupied with politely indifferent occupants, much like anywhere in the world. Finding help in such a place was a miracle, and it certainly sped up the process. As a result I now have some new glasses, and a new eye prescription, which I think indicates that my eyes are only slightly worse than they were three years ago. A good sign, I think, considering how much time I spend in front of a computer screen.

But it was sad to see Heather go. We generally hung out quite a lot on the weekends with the other person whose company I actually enjoy, Chris, so her presence shall certainly be missed! Living this far out in the middle of nowhere doesn’t really allow for an abundance in friends, so losing even one is a bit… crap. Likewise driving past towns like Nayoro, Otoineppu and roadside convenience stores that we’d been to many times before just reminded me of how alone I ultimately am. There’s still Chris, thank goodness, so I shouldn’t whine too much, but when you have only 3 friends in a country, losing even one is quite significant.

No matter! With April just around the corner, and a 2 week office imprisonment ahead, my time in the JET organisation is fast approaching its end. I have to start brushing off that CV and start collecting application papers in anticipation of a glorious return to Africaland. In the meantime, however, I at least have some new books to keep me busy, as well as some glasses to read them with!


Below is a photo I got from the Chiraibetsu Elementary School after their last English lesson for the year.

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The Politics of Boredom – Or the Boredom of Politics

Sitting at the office with no classes to attend to, I am sometimes left with virtually nothing to do for an entire workday. Normally I’m not one to complain for an abundance of idleness, but too much idleness can get excruciatingly, mind-sappingly boring! Nonetheless, I found myself reading up on some local Japanese political shenanigans, and realised that it, much like office days, is just as horrendously grey and boring.

I suppose it’s a good thing when the largest debate being held in parliamentary chambers is whether to raise or lower the petrol price, or whether to send the refuelling ship (note the singular) back to the Persian Gulf to provide free fuel for the coalition fleet, but it kinda takes all the fun out of politics. I think that if I had studied in Japan instead of SA, I would not have chosen Political Science, much less Strategic Studies, as a major. There’s none of the controversy over big issues, like rape trials, chiefs of police being arrested or rolling blackouts. To be certain there’s all the fuss made. Last week’s fracas over the upper and lower house of the Diet caused uproar in local media circles, but much like my elementary students, it’s a lot of tears over nothing in particular!

Being a student of politics makes one dull and uninteresting almost by default, and it takes a lot of noise and beer to be anything otherwise, but I must wonder what on earth kind of human being would willingly subject themselves to such a god-awfully boring career. There must be a hell of a lot of money being made by these politicians, or else they truly do relish sitting in endless debates about redundant policies. When ten people got food poisoning after eating some Chinese-imported dumplings, an emergency session was called, TV stations went into overdrive and the nation shook and trembled at this national crisis. Meanwhile, back in reality, I sat in front of my TV munching aforementioned dumplings (not the Chinese ones, according to what little lettering on the package I could read) shaking my head. I wonder how a Japanese MP would handle being dumped into Pretoria, forced to fend of corruption, rape and fraud allegations while simultaneously figuring out how on earth to lower the highest murder rate in the world. Black and white, methinks.

At last week’s graduation ceremony, for example, the village mayor was given his traditional seat of honour (next to the town policeman, deputy-mayor and town-elder), and proceeded to nod off while the principal gave his traditionally HUGE speech. Then it was the Mayor’s turn. A man of almost emaciated frame, the mayor shuffled up to the podium and delivered an even longer-winded speech to the hundred or so students and parents (mostly tearful mothers, watching their cherubs graduate from what is essentially primary school), and shuffled back down. His head constantly shakes (I think he suffers from Parkinson’s or some such) unless he tilts it at an angle, making for a rather odd, yet entirely dull experience. Imagine then a Japanese government full of pensioners eagerly awaiting their turn to out-do each other at the speech-Olympics, delivering round after round of over-dramatic drivel about poisonous dumplings and the complete lack of Chinese oversight into the matter (well, duh).

And then it was my turn, at the post-graduation party, to deliver a speech, to which I tried for the first time to do in Japanese. I said something roughly along the lines of this being the first ceremony of the kind I had ever seen, that it was great, and that the teachers can be proud of their efforts. Arigatou Gozaimasu, and a quick Kampai (cheers!), and I had left my audience stunned at my amazing ability! Well, they were more amazed that I could even say anything in Japanese, given my complete ignorance 8 months ago, but it was a good feeling, and I think I notched up a few more levels of respect after that!

So boring politics aside, not much is happening at the moment. The schools are winding down after the 3rd graders went on holiday and I plan to go to Sapporo this weekend to get some new glasses, replace my awesome cap which was stolen by some no-good louts on a train in Thailand, and buy some liquorice. In that order, I think.

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