Gone Postal?

I haven’t voted in an Australian election since I was at university…which the Australian Electoral Commission reminded me of with a $300+ fine earlier this year. The fine was waived after I (AKA Mum) made a sheepish apology for failing to inform them I had moved to Japan. At least I think it was waived…they never wrote back to confirm. Anyway, I am now back in Australia and no amount of excuses or apologies will get me out of the task this time around.

Yes, I know, I already hear all you political buffs out there scorning my lack of interest in how my country is run…ready to launch into a lecture as to why I should vote for one party or another. I appreciate that to some, this Saturday, 7th September is an opportunity to stand up and have a say in who we should have leading our country. I myself, will not be one of those people. Not because I am not voting…but because I have elected (see what I did there?) to vote from the comfort of my own home, via postal vote.

Postal Vote Package

It’s a good thing too, because when I opened up my postal voting package this week, I burst out laughing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the leadership of our country should be approached with a pretty serious tone from the candidates trying to win our votes, right? That’s my view on things at least…even if I suffer political apathy, the people who actually want to lead our country need to be fairly businesslike about the endeavour. Yet here I am, with my postal ballot paper and pen, left wondering, have all the politicians gone postal?

The first party to catch my eye after skimming over the usual suspects was One Nation. No matter how much time passes, whenever I read those two words, all I can think of is Ronald McDonald and this…

Hardly a great start to my voting process for the political future of Australia. The next party option however provided me with a glimmer of hope…

Building Australia Party

Surely these guys are a bunch of tanned tradies sporting manly facial hair and getting around in sunnies and high vis shirts…because they’d get my vote for sure. But if they don’t turn out to be tool wielding superheroes paying home visits to do my odd jobs, then maybe I can look to give this next party my vote?

The Pirate Party

You know, once they are done pillaging the seas and being the only thing between Stop The Greens well, stopping The Greens. At this point as I was examining my postal ballot card, I was beginning to understand why one of my friends said it reminded her of a kids’ novel. But then again, I don’t think kids’ books contain this kind of thing…

Sex Party

And yes, in case you were wondering, I did misread ‘Shooters and Fishers’ as ‘Hooters and Fishers’…I’m sure it had nothing to do with having sex on my mind. Even if I could stop thinking of them as ‘Hooters and Fishers’ now, I recently read a piece of chalkboard wisdom saying: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll never see him again’. On that note, I’m not sure I really want a bunch of hooters and fishers running Australia.

So what are my other options then? Oh…more amphibian loving politicians…

8

I could always go for one of those very serious sounding parties nestled in next to the fisherman, but everyone knows they’ll never win…your party name has to be five syllables or less for ease of pronunciation on the national news. So I guess as a nicotine hating non-smoker, that just leaves me with one last option then…

Smokers Rights

So now you might understand when I say that while I have had this postal vote in my possession all week, I have yet to put pen to paper and choose my poison. On a (slightly) serious note, if you do want to make your vote count but like me, don’t know much about politics or the parties’ policies, head to Vote Compass. Answer the questionnaire and they will give you a guide as to which political party best aligns with your future vision of life in Australia.

Of course (hypothetically speaking), to get a valid option, you might want to avoid answering ‘neutral’ or ‘I don’t know’ to 90% of the questions…

Happy voting!

The Attack of the Cones

Road cones, pylons, traffic cones, witches hats…whatever you call them, they fascinate me. From back in my university days when I aspired to have one of my very own (mission accomplished on a late night raid of a nearby roadworks site) to my present life here in Japan, where road cones are plentiful and varied.

I mean what’s not to love about road cones, apart from their obvious purpose for existing? They’re stackable, aesthetically pleasing (no, just me?), fun to have around and as the crew from Toy Story 2 proved…everyone respects them and their authority.

Japan has fueled this fetish (let’s just call a cone a cone) and Instagram (that’s a whole other problem) has enabled me further with the forum to express the appreciation I have for these inanimate objects. They may just be hollow pieces of plastic lifelessness to you, but to me, they have character…

Zebra crossing

There was conecrete evidence of his break and enter attempt

Greenpiece

Conetemplation

‘He’s been doing lines again’

The tip off lead to his incarceration.

Conefrontation

Conecrete jungle

Why did the cone cross the road? To make a conection.

Coneverse

Living on the edge

Red carpet treatment

The Cone Ranger

Walk the line

Houdini and friend

Conwalled

Twin peeps

‘I’m tired’

Sting operation

Pole dancing conevention

Conelogical numbering

Coneposition

Leave her bee.

Conepany

Coney Island

One for cone and cone for all.

‘I’ve fallen for you’

  Green threes

Conefusion

 Barcone

Conestruction

Conecaine addiction

You coneplete me…

The ‘L’ Word

Georges Clemenceau once said, ‘Everything I know, I learned after I was thirty’. I’m already beginning to see George’s point…after barely six weeks of being thirty…

Since turning thirty, I have been on a constant emotional roller-coaster…observing and experiencing highs and lows I’ve not encountered previously. Thirty has started with a many lessons…both good and bad…and the subject I’m currently majoring in? Love, of course.

Lesson No.1: ‘I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I think one of the arteries is clogged’

A former employer once told me (in a meeting to warn me about my ‘attitude’) that if I’d had a bad trip into work, the whole office would know about it within five minutes of my arrival. Those words have stayed with me, for as much as I wanted to refute his argument, I really couldn’t.

Every emotion I ever have is aired for the whole world to see…it is a fact, I do wear my heart on my sleeve. I ‘tell it how it is’, I’m an ‘open book’, I ‘don’t beat around the bush’…some find this trait endearing, others find it abrasive (refer to previous note about attitude). I find it both hazardous and rewarding in equal measure, but it is something I have come to accept about myself over the years.

One symptom of this trait is that I fall in love quickly and I fall hard. I’ll be picking my bruised heart off the ground, brushing it off and swearing I will never go down that road again when somehow I find myself in the middle of it …all over again. I’ve often wondered if this means I am a helpless romantic…or worse, just blindly stupid when it comes to love.

What I have learned is that for all this falling in love, I only ever make it about 95% of the way there at best. There is always that last 5% (the clogged artery) that calculates all the different ways it will end, all the possible ways my heart will be injured and adds up all the reasons why it won’t work out. When I hit that 95% mark, the walls come up and my defenses are engaged. What I’ve regretfully discovered is I’m also capable of shameful and hurtful acts, all in the name of protecting my heart.

So what caused this clogged artery and will a change in diet and exercise regime see me return to full health?

Lesson No.2: ‘If I throw some of this baggage overboard, can I stop the ship from sinking?’

There is a ‘rule’ amongst women that goes something like, ‘it takes half the time you were with someone to get over them once you break up’. My logical mind only wishes there was a mathematical equation to deal with these things and the toll it takes on us. If the rule were true, then I would have been a fully recovered and functional human being back in 2008, having done the three years of ‘time’ after my longest and most involved relationship to date.

The truth is I’m still dealing with the repercussions of that relationship…and the proceeding ones. Baggage is a nasty term we give to the reality that faces everyone…as we get older, we have more life experiences, many of which are gained through relationships. Good or bad, they make us who we are and shape the way we look at life and future relationships.

My baggage saw me flee my home land and I have since spent the better part of six years travelling the world, enjoying a freedom I’d longed for since I was a teenager. I have lately admitted to myself that the likely cause of my clogged artery is residual scarring from that first long term relationship. I gave myself over fully back then…100% and six years of my life. I was young, naive and at the time I thought I was going to get my happy ending.

It wasn’t a horrible relationship, there was no abuse, no infidelity, no major event to warrant the need for me to become a man hater (which I’m not, by the way), but none the less it has left me with baggage, complete with my own personal monograms. But what if all this baggage is weighing me down so much I can’t move forward?

Lesson No.3: ‘Cold as ice…can someone get me a blow torch please?’

A few weeks ago, someone (having only met me once before) made a comment that I seem ‘as tough as nails’. A younger version of myself would have found that a wonderful complement, but I must admit that my heart sank a little when I heard those words on this occasion. Sadly, it’s not the first time words of this sort have been used to describe me. Even those that have had 95% of my heart have sensed my inner ice maiden and said my heart needs ‘melting’ or that I need ‘softening up’.

I know I have become hard. I am aware that this is because I have allowed my baggage to accumulate over the years…to a point where it has become a fortress, stacked high around me on all sides. I am tough, I am cold, I don’t let people into that last 5% of my heart so I can stay safe and secure from the hurt.

It’s only in the last few weeks I’ve noticed just how lonely it is high up here in my castle of personally monogrammed baggage. Question now is, how do I start to tear down the fortress and allow people in?

Lesson No.4: ‘Is it really better to have loved and lost or should I just be blissfully ignorant?’

This is by far the hardest lesson I have learned of late. One I am still processing and probably will be for quite some time. I personally don’t believe in finding ‘the one’ or a person that ‘completes me’, but I do believe others happen on it. People do find unconditional, all consuming, selfless love and lately I witnessed each end of the spectrum when they do.

I was home recently to see my sister’s union to my now brother-in-law and the marriage of some very special friends. Little did I know when I boarded the plane that just ten short days would change me so fundamentally. There are two instances from this time at home which have taught me more about love than I have acquired over the past thirty years. Two occasions which are now etched firmly into my memory and will reside with me until the end of my days.

The first was a great shock to me as I saw my aunt for the first time since the passing of her husband (and my uncle) nine months ago. I had been told by various family members that she had not been coping well with the loss and that she was grieving badly, but nothing prepared me for what I saw. My aunt and uncle were soul mates before he passed…married for almost thirty years and spending every single day of that time together. Despite a significant age difference between them, everyone who met them could tell in an instant they were meant for each other.

Since my aunt has lost her soul mate, she has lost a large part of herself. I was reduced to tears on seeing the shell of a woman she has become without the man she tied her life and heart to. I don’t know who that woman is now, she is a stranger…so physically, mentally and emotionally altered that she is unrecognisable. The woman who I shared my deepest thoughts with, grew up aspiring to be and adored for all her warmth and compassion no longer exists. She is unable to smile, sleep, carry on a normal conversation or concentrate on a task for more than a few minutes…she is dying of a broken heart. Her loss is so great it is consuming her existence…all because she found love and she had her happy ending…

On the flip side of the coin, I observed the most joyful and heart warming sight a big sister can ever hope to see. I watched on as my younger sister, and best friend committed herself to a life with the man she admires, respects and adores most in this world. That in itself was moving enough…but the moment that I now treasure most about that day was seeing my brother-in-law’s face at the moment he set eyes on my sister. While everyone watched her, I saw the uninhibited happiness and love he has for her physically overwhelm him. His tears and the pure joy he showed in that moment filled me with certainty that my sister has someone who will walk beside her the rest of her life.

Seeing both these extremes in one day leaves me with both hope and despair about love. Even if I can manage to somehow give over that last 5% of my heart to someone…if there is someone out there I can love like that…is it worth it? Would it simply be easier for me to stay in my castle of baggage where I am alone, but safely ignorant to the elation and grief that kind of love can cause?

Lesson No.5: ‘Single is a dollar, but do I need change?’

In the seven months since my last visit home, one thing has become abundantly clear…as a thirty year old single woman, I am very much in the minority among my Australian friends now. I can count my fellow single’s club members on one hand and those that aren’t married and/or have children are for the most part planning nuptials and offspring in the coming year or so.

Here in Japan I am surrounded by other foreigners who are travellers like me…mostly single, without children and generally a good few years younger than me. The bubble I live in here allows me to forget my age and the social expectations that come with the number…it was only when I left the bubble I was made aware of just how different my lifestyle choices are to my friends back home. The gap is widening as I get older and it’s getting harder to ignore.

Nothing says ‘you’re thirty now’ like being checked out by a cute guy at the shops…then watching in shock as a toddler runs up to him screaming ‘Daddy, Daddy!’. Outside of this bubble I live in, ‘potentials’ have baggage of a whole other kind now…luggage tags stating ‘divorced’, ‘separated’, ‘kids’ and the like. How and when did this happen?!

Over the last few years as I have inched closer to turning thirty, I have heard all the warnings that I would tire of the life I have made for myself. I was told ‘my biological clock would start ticking’ and that I would ‘want to settle down and get married’. I think someone left out that part when I was made because I haven’t ever really felt the urge to get married and I can tell you that right now, kids are not even a blip on my radar. I wouldn’t trade the last six years of my life for anything…I chose this life of travel and I have loved every minute of it. But truth be told,  it has come at a cost.

The price of this path is that love for me has had an expiry date. Even as I’m falling in love, that clogged artery of mine has a purpose…it’s my reality check, the safety device, the earthing wire that serves as a reminder that love can’t last for me. I move amongst people who are transient. They will be in my life for a day, a month, maybe a year if I am lucky. I have been without a fixed home for six years. I am transient.

With this in mind, I’ve predominantly been on my own for the last six years. I’ve been spinning on this merry go round, constantly moving it’s finally starting to take it’s toll. I’m exhausted…maybe I need change?

Lesson No.6: ‘Home truths…I might be ready to click my heels three times’

Each of the last three times I have been home, it has become increasingly harder to leave. I may not have aspirations in the near future to get married or have children, but I am ready for some stability in my life. This is the most significant lesson I have learned since turning thirty. This transient life and carrying around all this baggage has worn me down.

I’ve been lost since the earthquake here in March…floating without a purpose and not really knowing what I wanted in life beyond Japan. This last trip home afforded me some clarity and I now know that I will be going home to Australia when my adventure here is over. I have returned to Japan from this trip with a purpose, a focus and very specific goals in mind. When I have achieved what I want here in Japan, I will be ready to click my heels three times and say those magic words…

I want off of this merry go round, I want to feel stability, I want to ditch this baggage and I want to work on clearing that clogged artery once and for all…I want The ‘L’ Word in my life.

‘Sex Education’ Part 2

Well the kids have been at it again. When I say kids, I actually mean the boys…whose hormones are apparently running wild 24/7 these days. Just when I thought they couldn’t throw any more surprises my way, they have delved into the depths of their creativity and come up with more priceless gems. Enough to warrant yet another entry dedicated to ‘Sex Education’…

Lunch with the 3-2 class:
Mr Arai pointing to Mr Kaneta (tallest kid in school): ‘He Mr Makkuro’
Miss Carla: ‘What is Makkuro?’
Mr Arai: ‘Very black. He very black’
Miss Carla (confused look on her face): ‘What?!’
Mr Arai, now pointing at Mr Kaneta’s crotch: ‘He Mr Black. Very big!’

Cleaning time in the teachers room with the 3-2 boys:
Mr Toita (staring at the picture of the students on the wall)
Miss Carla: ‘Mr Toita, do you have a new girlfriend? Who is she?!’
Mr Toita (grinning cheekily): ‘Yes, Miss Carla my girlfriend’

Lunch with the 3-2 class (again…repeat offenders):
Mr Ishi & Mr Haginoya (pointing at their crotches): ‘Do you like sausages?!’

During an English lesson with 2-3, learning ‘what do you think?’:
Mr Kataoka (to Miss Carla in front of the class): ‘I love you. What do you think?!’
Miss Carla (giggling): ‘I think you are crazy!’

Post English lesson with 3-2 Class:
Mr Ishi, Mr Haginoya & Mr Mashiko: ‘Do you like Masuda Sensei?’
Miss Carla: ‘Masuda Sensei is a very good teacher’
Mr Ishi: ‘No, no, no…do you like Masuda Sensei’
Miss Carla (taking the bait): ‘Yes, Masuda Sensei is very kind’
Mr Haginoya (using gestures): ‘Do you like his body, or his face?!’*

*Masuda Sensei is roughly 5′ 5″ and is as wide as he is tall…

During an English lesson with 2-3, learning ‘If”:
Miss Carla: ‘It it’s sunny tomorrow, what will you do?’
Mr Kataoke: ‘I will go date in park with Miss Carla’

Every time I pass the group of 3rd yr soccer boys in the hallways at school:
Boys: ‘Oppai’**
Miss Carla (shakes her head)

**oppai = boobs

Lunch with 3-4 class:
Miss Carla (watching Jun and Miss Nakazaki teasing one another): ‘Jun, is Miss Nakazaki your girlfriend?!’
Jun: ‘No, no, no! She crazy!’
Miss Carla: ‘Do you have a girlfriend Jun?’
Jun: ‘No, no, no. Miss Carla, will you be my girlfriend?!’

During 3-2 class:
Miss Carla (pointing to Mr Arai’s character eraser): ‘Who is this?’
Mr Arai: ‘Keshikasu-kun’
Miss Carla: ‘He is cute’
Mr Arai (grinning and pointing to Keshikasu-kun’s case): ‘Pull down, pull down!’
Miss Carla (pulling down Keshikasu-kun’s case to reveal an artfully drawn on appendage, shakes her head): ‘Not so cute’


Watching a group of 3rd year boys playing basketball one lunch:
Mr Mimura: ‘Miss Carla, do you know how play sex?’
Mr Mashiko: ‘Miss Carla, do you play sex?’
Miss Carla: ‘Mr Mashiko, do you play sex?’
Mr Mashiko: ‘No, no, no, do you know Cherry Boy?’
Miss Carla, giggling: ‘Yes, I am pretty sure I know what Cherry Boy means. Are you a Cherry Boy Mr Mashiko?’
Mr Mashiko: ‘Yes, I Cherry Boy. You Cherry Girl?!’
Miss Carla (shaking her head): ‘I am not answering that!’
All the boys: ‘Ooooooooooooooohhhhhhhh, Miss Carla not Cherry Girl!!!’
Mr Mashiko: ‘How many you play sex?!’

During lunch break:

Mr Mashiko: ‘Miss Carla, do you know ‘Give blow’?’
Mr Kobayashi: giggles
Miss Carla: ‘What? Oh…you mean ‘blow job’?!’
Mr Mashiko: ‘Yes, yes, yes. New English word!’
Mr Mashiko and Mr Kobayashi: run away

Bernie & Madonna’s Excellent Adventure

As the title of this entry suggests…this was Bernie & Madonna’s Excellent adventure…Bernie & Madonna being my parents and the adventure being a tour Japan with me for 10 days. The significant factor here being that this was the first time my parents have ever left Australia. Yes that’s right…even their honeymoon was in Tasmania (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Dad disagrees with me on this point and has been claiming that Norfolk Island is ‘overseas’ ever since we went there when I was 7. I don’t care if it is technically across water, it is considered a part of Australia…much the same way Tasmania is! Besides, in my book, an island that gives way to cows definitely does not constitute a rich overseas experience.

I am not going to bore you with the details of where we went and what we saw. I am going to let the pictures…and my parents…tell the story of this trip. Their commentary on this trip can give you more insight into the 10 days than I could ever put into words…

‘Gee, I’m good at this ‘using chopsticks’ business, aren’t I?!’ Says Dad as he stabs a vegetable on his plate and shovels it into his mouth.



‘What’s this stuff called again?’
‘It’s green tea/miso soup/cabbage/pickles Dad.’
‘Yeah, I don’t really like it.’
The following day…
‘What’s this stuff called again?’
‘It’s green tea/miso soup/cabbage/pickles Dad.’
‘Yeah, I quite like that.’


‘What’s that connoisseur do?’ Dad referring to the concierge at our hotel in Kyoto.

‘Are these like chopsticks?’ Dad picking up a pair of the wooden disposable chopsticks at a restaurant.
‘Yes Dad, they are chopsticks’.
‘I like them, they are wider than the ones you gave us, easier to use’.
‘No Dad, you split them in half’.
‘Oh’.


‘How come the kettle takes so long to boil?’
‘Because there is lower voltage in Japan than Australia.’
‘Oh, So it’s because of the low voltage then?’
‘Yes Dad.’
‘How long does it take to boil?’
‘About 10 minutes’.
‘Geez (thinking for a moment), so say if you want another cup then will it take another 10 minutes to boil?’
‘No Dad, see the red light…that’s when it’s boiling. The orange light means it’s boiled and the water is hot, so you can still use the water’.
‘So not like kettles at home?’
‘No Dad’.
(thinking again) ‘So if you have a cup of tea, half an hour later the water will still be hot?’
‘Yes Dad, it’s like a thermos’.
‘But say if you leave it overnight you would have to boil it again in the morning?’
‘Yes Dad’.

While I had a shower one morning I sent my folks to get breakfast, exchange traveller’s cheques and ask how much it would be to get their laundry done. They came back with food, money and no laundry…they had given it to hotel reception. I asked Mum how much it was going to cost…’I don’t know’. 8 hours later the clothing was returned, all beautifully washed, pressed, tagged, individually wrapped in paper and plastic with an itemised bill adding up to ¥14,600 (AUD$200). Mum later noted when she put on her freshly laundered pyjamas that ‘they didn’t even look this good when I bought them!’




‘So where did you say we are going tonight, to see the Geezers? ‘
‘No Dad, the Geisha’.

‘Gee my nails are growing long over here…I wonder why?’ as Mum admires her nails, ‘Maybe it’s the green tea love?’
‘I doubt it Mum’.
‘They are growing like a house on fire!’

As we were walking through Shinjuku’s red light district (by accident), ‘Are we in the seedy area of Tokyo?’ said Dad with a grin on his face.

‘What’s ‘hello’ in Japanese again?’
‘Konichiwa Dad’, for the 20th time.
‘Konichiwa’.
‘Yes Dad’.
‘What’s ‘good morning’ again?’
‘Ohaiyo gozaimasu, Dad.
‘So ‘kitchener’ is hello?’


Lastly…I recorded a sample of Dad’s questions over a mere 2 days of the trip…read on if you are feeling strong…

How far is Narita from Tokyo?
Where are we now? (on the train somewhere between Narita and Tokyo)
So we take our shoes off at the door?
What is 1/10/50/100/500/1000/2000/5000/10,000 yen in dollars?
Will we see a bullet train?
Will we see Mount Fuji?
So does the Emperor live here? (while we were standing at the Imperial Palace)
So where is the Palace? (as we were walking through the Imperial Palace East Garden)
What’s the population of Tokyo/Kyoto/Omiya?
How long will it take to get to Kyoto from Tokyo?
So is this building apartments?
How many stops are we going? (on the Metro)
So are we in Tokyo now? (asked in Asakusa/Shibuya/Shinjuku/Harajuku)
So is this building taller than Tokyo Tower?
Is this light beer?
Do the buses have seat belts?
Are the different coloured taxis for different companies?
What’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner?
How do I work the shower?
What time is sunset?
Where is Portugal?
Where did you go in Barcelona?
Where is Heartbeat filmed?
Where did you live in London?
So can you read this? (pointing to Kanji)
What do you usually eat for dinner?
Where are we staying in Omiya?
Where is JJ from?
So we are north/south/east/west of Tokyo (station) now?
So I just write on the back and send it like this? (postcard)
Are we coming back to Tokyo?
What’s this? (usually pointing to food)
So you went to Hiroshima?
How long did it take to climb Mt Fuji?
Is this the centre of town?
So you can email on your phone?
How old do you reckon he is? (pointing to a random Japanese man)
Are they homeless?
What did we say the population of Kyoto is?
Where did you turn these lights on?
I guess people get off the train where they work hey?
What time does the Shinkansen leave?
So do we board about 9 o’clock do we?
There’ll be toilets on the train then?
Is this all still Tokyo?
The buildings just keep going don’t they
Do we have to pay for food on the Shinkansen
Where are the toilets
So you don’t know how fast we are going
When do we go to your place
When is the 27th
They put those rice fields everywhere don’t they?
It’s just like sugar cane isn’t it?
Kids must be going to school now huh?
How do they harvest the rice?
Where is Osaka from here?
Do we get off at the next stop?
How much is it costing to stay here?
Do the cabs have automatic doors?
That’s soy sauce isn’t it?
Who else uses chopsticks apart from the Japanese?
I guess they have to cut up the steak for you since you can’t cut it with chopsticks hey?
So will we be going out of Kyoto at all?
Can I get a map of the Tokyo Subway?
How did you find the hotel in Kyoto?
Did you look at a few different hotels?
So can you go back as many times as you like for more rice?
Do Japanese people eat out all the time?
Is that a cemetery?
Is this what Japan looked like way back when?
Do we need this ticket to get in?
What’s it like travelling in Europe in summer?
Is it a dry heat there?
How far is it to Nara?
Is that near your place?
We didn’t come up these steps did we?
This place would be pretty old wouldn’t it?
Where’s that Buddha? (we just walked past)
We must have walked a bit today did we?
So you have been here before haven’t you?
So where did you stay?
Do you reckon this hotel would be booked out?
Do you think businessmen would come to work in Kyoto for a day then go back to Tokyo?
What’s the winter like in Portugal?
How long can you hire those tuk tuk things for?
So are you moving to Melbourne?



Best quote of all came after my parents had returned to Australia and we were skyping for a catch up, ‘It’s a bit depressing being back home love…we might have to plan another trip!’

Tour de Japan

This year’s Tour de Japan started on the 31st July, with four competitors meeting at the starting line in Tokyo to form our team: Jon, Kevin, Carlos and I. The course was set…22 days, 9 stages and a grand tour of Japan…

Stage 1: Tokyo, Flat Stage
Some casual sightseeing and a much anticipated day at Disneyland were the only challenges at this stage, providing an steady pace for the team for the start of the tour.

Ueno Park, Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine and Harajuku were all visited so that our ‘Tokyo Virgin’ team member Jon could experience it all. The team was pleasantly surprised to discover we had also inadvertently timed our stay in Asakusa to coincide with the Samba Matsuri, complete with fireworks just metres from our hostel.


Tokyo Disneyland gave the team an opportunity to be kids again for a day and we embraced it. Big rides, gift stores, sweet stands and light shows were the flavour of the day and embraced by all.


When not embracing the big sights of Tokyo and wonders of Disneyland, the team found themselves locked in battle at the hostel…in the form of scrabble. While other tourist teams were out on the town, our determined group playing many a game in a bid to strengthen our minds as well as our bodies for the big race.

Despite all the fun in Tokyo, there was an early withdrawal from the race. Our team suffered a blow with Jon throwing in the towel a mere 3 days into the race. Unable to keep up with the peloton, the English lad bowed out of the race while Kevin, Carlos and I neared the second stage, and the most difficult, Mt Fuji…

Stage 2: Mt Fuji, Mountain Stage
This mountain stage…or as I like to call it the ‘Death Stage’ almost saw the end of the Tour for the remaining 3 team members. Blissfully ignorant and full of excitement, our Tour de Japan team boarded a bus from Tokyo to the Kawaguchi 5th Station in preparation for a night climb of Japan’s most famous natural landmark, Mt Fuji.

This was by far the most difficult stage the team faced in the tour…and possibly our lives! The 5 hour race to the top was battled out with tour groups, seasoned climbers and of course other foreign travellers like ourselves. Success was ours though and despite Kevin falling victim to altitude sickness a few hundred meters before the summit we arrived before all but a handful of other climbers.


Our elation was short lived as we realised this now meant a 3 hour wait at the summit for sunrise in freezing conditions…with Kevin in a virtually comatose state. Never were 3 people more happy to see the first rays of light on the horizon as we were that morning.


Sadly Kevin wasn’t the only one to fall victim to the harsh conditions during this mountain stage. I sustained a knee injury on the 3.5 hour descent which I then had to nurse for the rest of the tour…and which still plagues me now.

Many hours after sunrise we made it back to Tokyo and after a much needed soak at an onsen we boarded a night bus to Okayama and the next stage of the Tour.

Stage 3: Okayama, Rest Stage
This was supposedly a rest stage on the Tour after the horrors and lack of sleep incurred during the Mt Fuji mountain stage. Someone forgot to tell this to our fearless leader Kevin (AKA Dad) who had us scheduled in to do an entire day of cycling around the Kibi Plains, just outside of Okayama.

Granted he did give the team one day of reprieve where we took in Okayama-jo (Crow Castle) and the famous Korakuen (Park), but everyone knows that pain sets in on the second day. The day we spent 8 hours on the saddle of a hire bike cycling around in 35 degree heat. I now have a new found respect for competitors in the real Tour, how do they do it?!


Unlike the name implies, the Kibi Plains were not entirely flat and ‘Dad’ made sure we climbed every hill and burial mound in sight. The one saving grace that we were eternally grateful for was the comfort of our
ryokan (Japanese style) hotel room for the short duration of our time in Okayama. This alone did allow for some actual rest during this stage.


Stage 4: Hiroshima/Miyajima, Water Stage
While this stage was not taxing on our team physically, it took its toll mentally and emotionally. A sombre mood descended on the Tour de Japan team as we neared Hiroshima, knowing full well the devastating history of the city.

Our team spent the day learning more about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by exploring the Peace Memorial Park and surrounding area which was the hypocentre of the blast. The museum offered comprehensive and disturbing accounts of those effected by the A-bomb and left me feeling ashamed to be a part of the human race.


Despite all this, it was heartening to see how the people of Hiroshima have rebuilt their city and tried to move on from that horrendous day in their history. After the sad day in Hiroshima, our team retired to the seaside town of Miyajimaguchi in preparation for our exploration of Miyajima Island the next day.


Miyajima was spectacular and a welcome change of scenery for our team. In the blistering heat of summer the sight of water was refreshing and the giant Floating Torii made it all the better. The glorious orange beacon did not disappoint and despite Carlos having to stave off swarms of killer tick-deer, we had a wonderful day seeing all the other sights on the island too.



This put our Team in good stead for the next stage of the tour and one of the most anticipated, Kyoto.

Stage 5: Kyoto, Flat Stage
It needs to be noted here that on our way from Miyajima to Kyoto, the Tour de Japan team took a pit stop in Himeji. Sadly this was one of the most disappointing blows the team took on the Tour…a visit to Himeji Castle. Despite prior psychological preparation for what we were to witness, Kevin and I were still devastated to find the castle covered in scaffolding. Under renovation until 2015, it’s fair to say that our team might sadly not see the castle in all it’s glory again.


Kyoto proved to be an opportunity for our Team to take a travelling breather. Our team was going to split at the next stage for individual time trials and we had 5 days in Kyoto all told, so we took to a casual pace. It was also in Kyoto that I encountered my one break in the weather too…the only day of rain over the entire course of the 22 day race…a nice change from the constant heat and humidity.


Kevin, Carlos and I indulged in seeing two of Kyoto’s popular attractions: Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and Fushimi Inari shrine. The former was rather unimpressive as it was never completed and so despite its name, isn’t actually silver. It’s more famous cousin, Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion, which I saw with my parents a week later) is far more majestic as it actually lives up to its name. Fushimi Inari shrine was amazing though and our peloton enjoyed an afternoon navigating through the maze of orange torii on it’s grounds.



There was a clear highlight to Stage 5 of the Tour though: geisha spotting in Gion. Our Tour de Japan team went into Gion with low expectations…knowing we were stalking a rare creature. I had actually forgotten our reason for going to the area when there in front of me appeared one of the illusive treasures! A Maiko (apprentice geisha) in all her white faced, red collared glory was shuffling quietly along the lane way with everyone clearing a path for her like she was royalty. She was the perfectly demure and elegant picture of a geisha that I had expected…we had seen one of Japan’s ‘unicorns’. If that wasn’t enough about 10 minutes later we saw yet another…!


Stage 6: Osaka, Individual Time Trial
There is no ‘I’ in team, but there are the letters ‘M’ and ‘E’ and it was during Stage 6 I took some ‘me’ time. Leaving our peloton I headed off to Osaka while Kevin and Carlos stayed on in Kyoto for a few more days.

This individual time trial was a chance for me to get in touch with my inner ‘archinerd’ and fulfil one of my lifelong dreams; to do a pilgrimage to see the architecture of Tadao Ando. Sadly the Renovation Gods were out to beat me in this leg of the Tour so I sadly missed out on seeing my favourite of his buildings…The Church of Light. That said I still managed to see the Sayamaike and Chikatsu Asuka Historical Museums designed by the great man, thus achieving a personal best time for the stage.



Stage 7: Nara, Flat Stage
After my individual time trial, I met back with the team in Nara as we neared the end of the Tour and yet another one of my favourite sights in Japan.

Kevin decided to shun our team’s uniform (i.e. whatever we most felt comfortable in) and spend the day in Nara kitted out in Japanese style…a Jimbei (a shorts version of a yukata) and geta (wooden thongs). Kevin was in his element but it was rather tortuous for Carlos and I, as his fellow team members…we had to deal with the clip clopping all day and the looks from the locals as if to say ‘why are you with crazy?’!


Kevin’s outfit aside, I can happily report that this stage saw me complete yet another personal goal…to secure my spot for enlightenment (again). In Todaiji’s Diabutsuden, there is a column with a hole in it said to be the same size as Buddha’s nostril. If you can climb through the hole, then it is said you will reach enlightenment. I managed to squeeze through when I was 16 and with the encouraging cries of ‘gambare (do your best!)’ and applause from the crowd I did it again!


Stage 8: Mt Koya, Medium Mountain Stage
Unlike the Mt Fuji Stage, this was a an enjoyable journey to the top of Mt Koya via the funicular railway. This put the team in high spirits to begin with…which were further elevated when we set eyes on our overnight accommodation…

The team enjoyed a wonderful night in temple lodgings, complete with monks and morning prayers. We had a whole ‘wing’ to ourselves and lapped up every minute of it. The highlight for Kevin, Carlos and I being the vegetarian meals we received…fit for a vegetarian King! I doubt I will ever experience tofu quite like that ever again.


When our team managed to drag ourselves away from our temple lodgings, we explored Mt Koya’s Oku-no-in (cemetery), where I was in awe of the stunning Toro-do (Lantern Hall). This beautiful building houses hundreds of gold lanterns, including 2 which have been apparently burning for over 900 years. Sadly no photos were allowed and words can’t do it justice…so you will just have to go and see it yourselves.


Stage 9: Tokyo, Individual Time Trial
This was the last stage in the Tour de Japan and another individual time trial as I farewelled Kevin and Carlos before departing to Tokyo. I had 4 days in which to complete this time trial before my parents arrival in Japan.


Much like my time other individual time trial in Osaka, I used this opportunity to indulge in more design. Tadao Ando was on the list again and I sprinted straight for the International Library of
Children’s Literature to see how my Japanese skills stood up to children’s books. Impressed by both the building and it’s contents I moved onto another of Ando’s gems, 21_21 Design Sight, a gallery in the heart of Roppongi, complete with an exhibition about ‘The Definition of Self’.



To round off my Tour de Japan, I detoured to Yokohama
for a day to take in the sights of the port city and it’s somewhat Old-World England atmosphere. Meandering through the streets, I watched the rides at Cosmo World, did some window shopping in Akarenga Soko (red brick warehouses converted into funky stalls selling hand made goods), saw silk worms at the silk museum and visited the very international Yamashita-koen area, complete with international cemetery, school and shops stocking Tim Tams!




Achieving personal best times in all stages, I completed the 9 Stage Tour de Japan on the 21th August…just in time for Bernie & Madonna’s Excellent Adventure to start…

‘Sex Education’

A week into my official summer holidays I feel I now have the strength to write this entry. I am not sure if it was the heat or the kids knowing me for almost 3 months…but in the last few weeks they reached a certain comfort level with me. I comfort level where they (as in the boys) thought it was time to give me some ‘sex education’ lessons.

Going beyond the usual ‘do you love me?’ and ‘Miss Carla is beautiful’ the boys thought it time to up the level and test me out with new material. The frequency and audacity of these lessons increased as the mercury level did…to the point where it was a relief to know that a 6 week break was imminent. Don’t get me wrong…the kids are great…but nobody, least of all a blonde Australian, wants to be around a pack of (let alone 200) horny teenage boys.

The sex education lessons began with my first years…lunch with Mr Uruno and Mr Aita…of course. These 2 are going to get me into serious trouble before my time at Omiya Junior High is over, I just know it. They constantly try and get each other into trouble during class and take great pleasure in trying to induce giggles from me when Kurosawa Sensei has her back turned on the class.

These 2 little delights (who granted, are hugely entertaining and highly amusing) decided I needed a strip show with my lunch this particular day. Just how they came to this conclusion I have no idea, but before I had swallowed a mouthful of rice, I could hear belt buckles being undone and cries for my attention. I desperately tried to avert my eyes from the boys until I realised they were quickly rousing the suspicion of Ms Yamada at the front of the class. Mr Aita stubbornly stood square in the middle of the classroom with his pants around his ankles until I shot him a death stare…sadly catching a glimpse of his red and blue boxer shorts in the process.


Mr Aita (boxer shorts, playboy bunny) with the more innocent Mr Kato and Mr Nogami

This first lesson was quickly followed up by a second…during a second year lunch the following week I was treated to some friendly molestation between Mr Yutori and Mr Komori. I had heard stories from other ALT’s that the boys will grab each other’s nether regions at school (JJ has had the pleasure of a first hand experience…so to speak), but I had thankfully yet to witness it. Turns out, it was a sight I could have done without entirely.

Either the boys really didn’t want to talk to me over lunch or they had some private vendetta they were carrying out against each other because they spent the entire 20 minutes grabbing at each other’s crotches! Needless to say I lost my appetite.

Just when I thought Mr Aita had treated me enough with his little strip show during lunch, he provided me with more sex education…during a lesson that same week. This kid is obviously going to be a repeat offender as he attempts to make English amusing for all involved.

This fateful day I was standing innocently in my usual position to the right side of the classroom while Kurosawa Sensei reviewed the sentence structure of the day on the board. I was idly perusing the kid’s faces, trying to remember names when I spotted a playboy bunny in the class. I did a quick double take and realised this Japanese playboy bunny, complete with skimpy underwear and bunny ears was staring at me from where Mr Aita’s face should have been.

As the shock registered on my face, Mr Aita peeked out from behind his plastic playboy page protector, revealing a cheeky grin. He knew he had me as I started to get the giggles…this was going to be an interesting lesson.

The rest of the class quickly caught on to what was happening and egged Mr Aita on all the more. Every time Kurosawa Sensei turned her back on the class I was flashed with the playboy bunny. What ensued was a game of cat and mouse…I was going to get that thing out of Mr Aita’s possession before he got me into serious trouble.

I was successful too…using devious tactics during a ‘who am I’ game later in class I snatched the offending picture from Mr Aita when he thought my gaze was averted…the kid didn’t account for my excellent peripheral vision. Mr Aita spent the rest of class looking dejected as I had stolen his only source of female company and begged for her return when class ended.

Not to be outshone by the 1st and 2nd years, my 3rd years upped the level on my sex education on the last day of school. Having already had many discussions with the 3rd year boys about ‘deers f#cking in Nara forest like lesbians’ this came as no surprise really.

This lesson was led by the boys in my 3-2 class. I know these kids pretty well because they are Masuda Sensei’s form class (my main JTE) and they clean in the teacher’s room every day. Sadly this means they are quite comfortable with me now and try and test the boundaries…which they did on this particular day.

It started in class on this very hot and humid day. The stench Masuda Sensei was emitting alerted me to just how hot it was…the wilted looks on the kids’ faces was the other dead give away. The class literally groaned when Masuda Sensei mentioned the words ‘criss cross’ when we entered class…his favourite (and only) warm up game. Last thing these kids wanted to do was answer questions from me like ‘how’s the weather?’. We all knew it was hot, we all wanted to be somewhere else…

Masuda Sensei went about writing the date on the board while I stood there fanning myself and motioning to the kids that I was enjoying this torture just as much as them. Mr Ishi and Mr Mashiko noted my reaction to the heat and decided they would take it upon themselves to display to me how they would like to cool down.

Exchanging cheeky grins, they both started removing their shirts when I glanced in their direction! My eyes grew wide in surprise as I couldn’t fully comprehend what was happening…where do they get their audacity?! Thankfully the strip show only made it as far as their belly buttons before Masuda Sensei turned back to the class to start teaching.

The last lesson I received in sex education quickly followed this incident. A gaggle of the 3rd year soccer boys (who I have noted are a collection of the best looking and vain boys in the school) were gathered near the entry to the teacher’s room. One of the loiterers was Mr Ishi…one of the strippers from my last ditty.

The 3rd year soccer boys: Mr Haginoya, Mr Ijima (‘curry rice’, deers f#cking), Mr Toita, Mr Ishi (stripper), Mr Tobita and Mr Nogami

Obviously dissatisfied that he didn’t get to give me a strip show in class, Mr Ishi egged on his fellow team mates to speak to me in English. Now as amusing as these boys are, they either speak little to no English, or if they do, they are far too cool to let on to their mates that they do. Thus the only word that they manage to project in clear and perfect English to me was ‘sex’.

After all of these incidents I am thankful I have another 5 weeks break from these kids!!!

The Travelling Test

I am the first to admit that I am not the easiest person to travel with. I am a stickler for an itinerary, a Nazi about punctuality and don’t even think about getting your hands on my map when we are sightseeing. If you don’t adhere to my strict expectations of travelling etiquette there is a fair chance I will never travel with you again…ever.

From prior experience I have determined that travelling with a member of the opposite sex usually poses the most challenges and is riddled with the most dramas. Men on the whole are disorganised, think communication is a nicety rather than a necessity and despite all their claims are more often than not terrible with directions.

So when my fellow ALT and friend Cheyne suggested we check out Sendai for a weekend I understandably had my reservations. But in the spirit of ‘Yes Man’ I feel that my time in Japan is limited and I need to make the most of it…throwing myself at every opportunity I can. So I thought on the proposal for a good 10 seconds before agreeing to meet in the city that is somewhat of a midpoint between our two home towns in Japan.

Little did Cheyne know, but the weekend was a test of sorts. A test to see how my travelling tolerance has improved but more importantly, a test to see how Cheyne would perform as a travelling companion. Could he disprove some of my theories of travelling with men?! It was only 2 days right? Surely it couldn’t go too wrong…

Cheyne’s prospects did not start well when I stepped off the Shinkansen at 11.15pm Friday night and he was not there to greet me as planned. Under normal 21st Century circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem…I would have just called him to find out where he was. I would have, but Cheyne, in a bid to keep his life simple and relatively technology free (ironic coming from one completely obsessed with computer games) does not own a mobile phone. Strike 1.

After a scan of the platform area, I deemed the Sendai Miyagi station far too large to search for Mr Mattos without a team of trained beagles or the like. I concluded that he must be running late and therefore the best course of action was to head for the hotel and wait for him there. After all, I had my trusty iPhone on me so he could call or email me…so long as he wasn’t lying dead in a ditch somewhere.

At 2am Saturday morning, Cheyne arrived at the hotel looking like a man returned from war. In my sleepy haze I heard the words ‘forgot to bring the hotel details’ and ‘couldn’t find a pay phone’ and ‘no internet cafes’. No bother to me really…I hadn’t lost any sleep over the matter…literally…I had been sleeping peacefully while Cheyne wandered the streets of Sendai for 3 hours.

Saturday morning things began a little better…namely we were in the same location. We started the day with a plan to find the Sendai Loople bus which would take us to all the main sites of Sendai….apart from the whiskey factory Cheyne wanted to see. On our way to find the said bus, we stumbled on the food markets we also had wanted to check out…serendipity? Things were looking even better. We marvelled at the curious and bizarre array of fruit, veg, fish and miscellaneous produce, walking away with some jumbo inari for breakfast. Cheyne’s travelling companion stocks rose a little with food in my stomach.


With rice to sustain us, the bus was found and we happily made our way to our first destination… ‘The Site of Sendai Castle’. Unlike the title suggests, there isn’t actually a castle there…it was destroyed in WWII. But Cheyne and I were still sufficiently entertained by a Japanese wedding at Gokoku Shrine and a little man producing hand crafted wares in the gift store. I must admit, Cheyne gained brownie points here too for being as equally excited about the random assortment of souvenirs as I was.



Next was Osaki Hachimangu Shrine where we took in the spectacle of it’s ornate rainbow awnings and intricate shingled roof. A shrine like most others it was serene and had the obligatory mountain of stairs to climb to its entry.


It was at this point we decided it was time for Cheyne to pop his cherry…his ‘Loft’ cherry that is. We had both spotted the glorious yellow signage next to Sendai Station on arrival and having heard my praise of the stationery store, Cheyne was willing to take a look. This is when his travelling compatibility rating went through the roof. Anyone who is willing to step over that yellow threshold with me deserves a medal…seriously. After a quick ramen to bolster us for the adventure we headed straight for the sticker section of Loft and followed it up with the stationery and toy sections. Again Mr Mattos rose to the occasion and proved that it’s not just me that loves this store as I found myself dragging him away, a full shopping bag in hand.

Post Loft we hatched a new plan, to go in search of some umeshu. Cheyne and I both have a sweet tooth and the plum wine was beckoning after all those stairs and shopping. We dropped our purchases back at the hotel, showered, changed and headed in the direction of the action.

A few blocks later we found ourselves in the main covered shopping drag of Sendai, Ichibancho….looking at shoes. A slight detour from our main mission, Cheyne humored my need to look at (and buy) another pair of Converse All Stars. This earned him bonus points as a) men hate shopping and b) Cheyne has a size 33 foot…there was no way he was going to find anything in that store for himself, even if he wanted to. One of the sales assistants confirmed this by practically laughing at Cheyne when he asked for his size in one of the shoes…

We eventually made our way out of the shopping area and found ourselves surrounded by bars and restaurants. Which one to choose?! I bravely left the decision entirely up to Cheyne and after a few failed attempts, he came through with the goods. Just as my patience was wearing thin and I was about to take control of the situation, he found us a little gem of a bar called ‘Amber Rondo’. A short time later we were happily sipping our scrumptious umeshu while waiting for our chorizo pizza to arrive (which was tiny, just like the bar).


Sunday we returned to the shopping area and decided to have some fun in one of the arcades. I knew this was dangerous territory. There was every chance Cheyne was going to undo all his good work over the weekend and sabotage any future travelling potential with me. Arcades are Cheynes thing. Computer games are Cheyne’s thing. These are not my things. Though he lured me in with the promise of a purikura (photo booth) opportunity so I was powerless to say no. Purikura is my thing.

I endured a whole 5 minutes of watching Mr Mattos play Gundam before politely excusing myself to use the bathroom and get a drink. Gundam is definitely not my thing. Post Gundam, Cheyne was happily charged up on game adrenalin and willing to head to the purikura where I must admit, he was subjected to at least 15 minutes of torture. I say torture but I am pretty sure I saw delight in his eyes when he discovered you can add pretty bunny ears to your pictures…


As we parted ways later that day at Sendai station I did a mental tally of Cheyne’s travelling compatibility points from the weekend. On the whole he performed pretty well…for a guy. I might just be able to travel with him again. Though I did hear he caught the wrong train going home…

Itadakimasu!

Friday marked the end of my first round of school lunches with the students. A week for each grade, a day for each form class. My experiences of these 20 minute pockets of time have been as varied as the lunch menu itself. Mostly palatable, sometimes surprising and on the odd occasion absolutely terrible…


June 1st – 1st Year – 2nd Form (1-2)
My second lunch with the kids brought home the true meaning of the saying ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’. I had the pleasure of sitting with 2 of my favourite 1st year students…Mr Kasai and Mr Kikuchi. Both are a little mischievous and are quite good at English. The other thing they have in common is that they are probably the 2 smallest kids in the school (yes that’s including the girls).

About a second after the word itadakimasu* was uttered, it was abundantly clear that these 2 were not going to be speaking to me though…or anyone else for that matter! In place of conversation, I was treated to a spectacle unlike any other I have witnessed. I watched in awe as Mr Kasai (who was sitting opposite me) inhaled not one, but two bowls of ramen without even blinking. At least I know where this kid gets his energy from now.

June 9th – 2nd Year – 3rd Form (2-3)
I saw the look of absolute terror in Miss Mitsugi’s eyes when I placed my lunch tray on the desk opposite her on this fateful day. Apparently her worse nightmares had come true…she had to eat with ‘the ALT’. I did a quick check to see if I had grown a 2nd head since I last looked in the mirror, then put on my best smile as I sat down.

To be honest I did feel for the poor kid. I mean heck, she sits at the front of the class so I have probably picked on her a few times to read new words during English lessons. Compounded with the fact she has probably never seen a blonde, blue eyed person before in her life, I probably am very scary. Come to think of it, why aren’t more of the kids petrified?!

Things didn’t improve as Miss Mitsugi and the other 3 kids in my lunch group flat out refused to look at me, let alone the magazines and photos I brought to show them. So 20 minutes of stone cold silence ensued, despite a few fumbled attempts on my behalf to speak Japanese to them.

As the word gochisosamadeshita** escaped from my mouth I breathed a sigh of relief that my penance was over and I was free to leave. I figured that Miss Mitsugi and her team of mutes would be just as excited to see me walk out of that classroom. However as I stood up and went to pick up my lunch tray, Miss Mitzugi quickly launched across the desk to take it from me. She looked at me, smiled and as I quickly thanked her she happily went about clearing away my dirty dishes.

Perhaps she didn’t mind me being there after all?

June 10th – 2nd Year – 4th Form (2-4)
After the previous day’s nightmare with Miss Mitsugi, I figured I had experienced the worst that could happen during school lunch. Looking back that’s probably true, but this lunch comes in a very close second…saved only by an awe inspiring feat by Mr Hiroki…

It was a bad start when I was seated with a group of boys…one of whom is possibly the worst English student in the school (and that includes my special needs kids). Mr Tanuma avoids all kind of contact with me during class time…so I knew there wasn’t a chance he was going to give me a second of his precious free time.

That factor aside, the boys at school tend to be so focused on eating they have little time to talk at lunch anyway. Mr Hiroki was a prime example of this. Tofu was on the menu and it was pretty clear Mr Hiroki likes tofu. Actually, to say he likes it is a huge understatement. Before we had started eating, he had stacked up 4 blocks on his tray…gladly commandeering the rejects of his fellow classmates. I was intrigued by this and wondered if he could rival Mr Kasai’s ramen effort from the previous week. Just to challenge him, I offered him my surplus tofu, gained in the teachers’ room due to staff absences.

Mr Hiroki did not disappoint…watching him eat was like watching art in motion…very, very fast motion. He took meticulous care to inscribe each of the five blocks of tofu with a precise grid pattern, then poured the soy sauce over each one so that no drop was spilled. Skillful? Yes. But the real talent was Mr Hiroki downing those 5 blocks of tofu faster than Usain Bolt can run the 100m sprint…

June 11th – 2nd Year – 5th Form (2-5)
I find myself smiling even now as I think of this lunch. Regular followers of Paper Doll will already be familiar with Mr Oga…the little delight who invited me to the movies a few weeks ago? This kid has quickly become one of my favourites, despite lacking a natural talent in English. He always puts in 110% during class and is super cheeky which constantly keeps me entertained! He has taken to saying ‘very beautiful’ to me every time he sees me in the halls now and accompanies the words with a fake fainting motion…it makes me chuckle every time.

When Omori Sensei announced to 2-5 that I would be joining them for lunch in our morning lesson together, I could see Mr Oga’s eyes light up with anticipation, all the way from his seat at the back of the room. Just to make sure he had heard correctly he confirmed with Omori Sensei in Japanese that it was in fact true. I already new it was going to be a good lunch!

So it was no surprise when I turned up at the door to the 2-5 classroom at 12.40pm that Mr Oga was waiting there to greet me. ‘Miss Carla, Miss Carla’ announced my arrival to everyone else as he took my tray and proudly put it down at a table amidst his lunch group. Just how how he conjured up a spare desk at his lunch group I am not quite sure…

Mr Oga was anxious to get conversation under way and was not at all discouraged by the language barrier…happily using the other students as translators! Miss Watari and Miss Fujihara, bless them, humoured Mr Oga and helped out by facilitating the Q&A segment of the lunch conversation. Once Mr Oga had attained the information he required (Did I have a boyfriend? Where do I live? What was I doing that weekend?) he ditched the translators.

Wanting a more personal approach, he whipped out his English textbook, hoping to find inspiration. Much to the delight of all of us, he stumbled on the set phrases laid out in the back of the text and quickly blurted out ‘let’s have a party tonight!’. Without batting an eyelid I retorted ‘at your house?!’. He looked to the girls to translate and when they did, a sly smile came across his face…’sure!’.

I’m not sure who enjoyed that lunch more, Mr Oga or me.

June 11th – 3rd Year – 1st Form (3-1)
Last Monday was my inauguration into 3rd year lunches and boy did it start with a bang. I had high hopes going in as it is Isono Sensei’s form class…the tennis coach who speaks excellent English and has taken a liking to me.

I was blessed(?) with the company of Mr Ijima (‘curry rice’ comic genius from Paper Doll’s ‘Engrish’ entry) and Mr Sekine for the duration of my meal. These boys are in my advanced English class so I breathed a sigh of relief that at least there would be conversation during lunch. Little did I know that I would be begging for silence by the end of those 20 minutes…

I sat down and proceeded to have a very civilised conversation with Mr Sekine, discovering that he wants to become an English teacher in the future. I then moved onto asking Mr Sekine and the other kids about their trip to Kyoto, hoping to engage all of them. This seemingly innocuous conversation started out innocently enough, but with the addition of Mr Ijima’s thoughts it quickly spiralled out of control!

Somehow we went from discussing ‘how beautiful Kinkakuji Temple is’, to ‘how there are lesbian deer f#cking in a forest near Kyoto that smell bad’ in the space of 5 short minutes!!!

Like a CSI at a murder scene I have tried many times to retrace the events of that day and piece together exactly what happened. The memory of the conversation demise is a complete blur…however the acute sense of fear I remember well. As Mr Ijima and Mr Sekine bacame more excited about the topic of conversation, they became more animated…and a lot louder. Eager to communicate their point to me, they took to repeating themselves over and over…only encouraged by my look of sheer terror.

I spent the last few minutes of lunch looking over my shoulder checking if Isono Sensei was aware of the conversation and trying to silence the boys from saying ‘deer f#cking’…over and over and over.

Thankfully I have lunch in the teachers’ room this week…


*itadakimasu: said before a meal meaning ‘Bon appetit!’
**gochisosamadeshita: said at the end of a meal meaning ‘thanks for the feast’

‘Tea for Three’

‘…and the Oscar for best ‘Japanese woman impersonation’ goes to….Carla Sensei!’.

Yes, that’s right, last week I had the pleasure of starring in my own little skit at school. I like to call it ‘Tea for Three’ and I am currently in negotiations with Hollywood to make Origami Carla into a sitcom series.

The Cast (as themselves):
Carla Sensei (Assistant Language Teacher)
Kocho Sensei (Principal)
Yamazaki Sensei (Head Teacher)
Kataoka Sensei (Math Teacher)
Nakajima Sensei (Art Teacher)
Watahiki Sensei (3rd Year Head Teacher)
Kocho Sensei’s Guests x 2

The Set:
Omiya Junior High School Teachers’ Room and Kocho Sensei’s office

Background:
Carla Sensei is a young Australian ALT new to Omiya Junior High School in Hitachiomiya. At the school to help teach English, Carla Sensei is desperate to be accepted by the Japanese teachers. In a bid to win them over (and get invited to an enkai) she has been trying her hardest to adapt to Japanese culture and make a connection with them.

Plot Synopsis:
Two guest arrive at the door to the teachers’ room, requesting an audience with Kocho Sensei. Parched and weary from their travels, they rest in the comfort of Kocho Sensei’s office. But alas, something is amiss and trouble is brewing. Omiya Junior High’s tea lady, Seki San is absent for the afternoon, so who will rise to the challenge of providing tea for the guests?! The teachers’ room is quiet and Carla Sensei sees an opportunity…

Script:

OMIYA JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS’ ROOM

6 teachers are in the teachers’ room, all working quietly at their desks. 2 guests arrive at the door to the teachers’ room and introduce themselves.

YAMAZAKI SENSEI: Dozo…
(guestures towards Kocho Sensei’s Office)

KOCHO SENSEI: (as the guests enter his office) Dozo…
(closes the door to his office)

Yamazaki Sensei returns to his desk.

Carla Sensei scans the teachers’ room for signs of movement. Carla Sensei realises that none of the other teachers are racing to make tea for Kocho Sensei and his guests. She quickly rushes to the kitchenette from her desk. Carla Sensei pours three green teas, placing them thoughtfully on a tray. She walks nervously up to the door of Kocho Sensei’s office and knocks tentatively…

CARLA SENSEI: Sumimasen (excuse me)

Carla Sensei opens the door, balancing the tray in one hand.

CARLA SENSEI: shitsurei shimasu (sorry for the rude interruption)

Kocho Sensei looks up, surprised. He turns to explain to his guests who Carla Sensei is.

KOCHO SENSEI: Carla san wa, A-L-T desu. Kanojo wa Osutoraria kara kimashita. (Carla is our ALT. She is from Australia).

Carla Sensei places the tea cups on the table and bows.

KOCHO SENSEI: Arigato gozaimasu (thank you)

Carla Sensei bows again and leaves the office. As she shuts the door behind her she looks up to find 4 sets of eyes looking at her. Yamazaki Sensei, Kataoka Sensei, Nakajima Sensei and Watahiki Sensei grin broadly and shake their heads in disbelief.

SENSEIS: Subarashi!!! (wow, fantastic!!!)

The Senseis break into spontanious applause as Carla Sensei blushes and returns to her desk, having successfully served ‘Tea for Three’.

END SCENE.