Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dr. No

They tell us from day one that we shouldn't make friends with our students.

"It's messy. Too many problems could arise. It's best just to maintain a professional relationship."

Well that's all well and good, but reality dictates otherwise. As teachers, we create a bond with our students. We are supportive and friendly, and sometimes we connect to them outside that "strictly professional" relationship. And I'm not trying to suggest anything pervy here. Simple human connections are formed. We meet them for drinks. We share personal information. We talk. The word "bonding" comes to mind, but I don't like it.

Anyways, there is a student at one of my schools who has taken a shine to me. He's an exemplary student, always does extra homework, and makes a genuine effort to learn. I like him. I admire his ability (mostly because my inherent laziness says I could never be as good as him). In his day job he's a doctor, and a brilliant one at that. So when he requested more lessons from me, I was happy to oblige, despite my co-workers teasing that he was interested in "more" (that means my BOOBS, for those of you too dense to tell).

One day I was walking home from work, I take a deliberately long route home since it's the only legitimate exercise I get, and he pulls up in his SUPER expensive hey-look-I'm-a-doctor-car alongside me and offers me a ride to the station. I declined, since I was genuinely interested in my walk and trying to maintain that professionalism that the company is always pushing. Although a week later was a different story; I had seriously bad blisters on the backs of my ankles from a misadventure involving wet running socks the day before, and I had just missed the bus.

So I was walking in a constant state of pain, and seriously considering hailing a taxi- when he pulls up again, with the same offer and a cheery smile. I practically jumped through his window. What happened next was perfectly appropriate and nice. He was a gentleman; making small talk and talking about English lessons. He drove me to the station (I made a point of not letting him drive me all the way home), and said goodbye.

Flash-forward a couple months. Every Saturday, and sometimes Sundays on my walk home, he pulls up in his SUPER-AWESOME-SUPER-EXPENSIVE-MERCEDES-CONVERTIBLE and offers me a lift. And now, after accepting 5 or 6 rides, I can't say no. We've created a bond. We're friendly (and still always courteous). But sometimes I WANT to say no. Sometimes I want to say "please fuck off, I'm having a grand old time walking down this street, and yes, I'm fully aware of how ridiculous it looks."

So now I kind of dread walking home. Which is a shame, since it's one of my favourite parts of the day. It's my 5 km moment of solitude- away from overly-cheerful children, and fake-smiling Japanese moms constantly judging me. I catch myself looking over my shoulder for that oh-so-f*cking-beautiful imported car. I'm torn between this super nice doctor and his shiny automobile and my moment of bliss. But then yesterday, SHIT GOT WEIRD.

It was pouring rain (because in Japan, it rains in November, apparently). I was waiting at the bus stop to go home, but I had 30 minutes to kill before it got there. I decided to check out the bus schedule on the other side of the street, heading in the opposite direction, since they both ultimately end at a train station, and even though it would take a little longer, it would eventually lead to home. While I was on the wrong side of the street, I saw the doctor in his white mercedes driving down the route I would usually take to walk home. Which means that I missed him- my opportunity for a ride home that day, in the pouring rain. I wasn't particularly opposed to the idea of missing him, but I definitely saw HIM driving HIS CAR down the street away from me. I then proceeded to cross back to my side, and wait for the bus.

10 MINUTES LATER, HE PULLS UP. IN FRONT OF ME. As if I hadn't seen him drive off earlier and he was just "in the neighbourhood." Now, this set off some alarm bells in my head. Why the hell had he doubled back? This is a one lane road with nothing interesting on it. HE WAS LOOKING FOR ME. Now, am I total dick for thinking of this as suspect? Are my years of cynicism finally catching up to me? All signs point to yes... but then again...

So now I'm conflicted. Should I cut off all contact with this doctor-fellow before he gets the wrong idea? I have absolutely no interest in him other than for friendly discussion, and of course, the occasional free ride. But as they say... Gas, Grass or Ass; Nobody rides for free. I'm truly conflicted.

ON A TOTALLY UNRELATED NOTE!!!!! I HAVE DISCOVERED A COVEN OF FOREIGNERS IN UTSUNOMIYA. They are fantastic, and welcomed me with open arms and a rather overly-complicated hazing ritual, which involved capture-the-flag and a pizza parlour. It turns out that I am NOT the only white chick living here, as I once suspected. There are five of us. Here is photographic evidence;
Technically, this is only one person. But proof of one will have to be proof of all for now. We went to a sushi-train restaurant. This is how much sushi we ate. For serious.

This place is adorable. Little plates of food pass you by constantly, and you can pick up whatever you like and eat it. If you like, you can order something special, and it's sent out on a yellow bowl just for you, and it makes music when it reaches your table. Each plate is 105 yen. T'was awesome. T'will be back.

There was also an incident with a highly aggressive and territorial fish at a restaurant, but that's a story for another day.

The human did not win the staring contest.

Then there's this;
 "Pungency." For all your highly aromatic-tea needs.
 Pretty trees in November. Autumn makes me miss the maple leaves back home, but then I realize "Hey, it's November, and you're all freezing your a$$es off knee-deep in snow right now."

And this is a new friend. She says goodnight :)


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chikan, Yakuza, and the Obsession with Bicycles

Many expats (gaijin) living in Tokyo have never actually witnessed this disgusting phenomenon, but it happens every day. Over-crowded trains are a reality, and in these masses of sweaty, overworked people, the Chikan lurks. These men, usually the stereotyped "Salaryman," stands very close to a girl with a short skirt (usually a school-aged girl), and cop a feel. The sickest part is that most of them seem to GET AWAY WITH IT. Which of course, has created an epidemic of these DOUCHEBAGS to grope their way from Kanagawa to Saitama. No one says anything, not even the girls being molested. Japanese people are hardwired to be non-confrontational, and this is a crime that is difficult to prove.

One of the bigger problems with catching these men in the act, is that no one can usually see them doing it, since everyone is wedged into a moving train like cattle; you can't even turn your head, let alone your body. The authorities have posted signs telling girls to scream, cry, call attention to themselves, anything to help catch the perv in the act. But in the request, lies a problem. YOU HAVE TO CALL ATTENTION TO YOURSELF. You have to submit to thousands of stranger's eyes glaring at you in your weak moment. You have to publicly admit to being humiliated, in front of 500+ people. So most girls just try to ignore what's happening to them, which is a F*CKING SHAME.

The Tokyo transit system, in all its over-bloated glory mentions installing cameras to deter the Chikans, but the likelihood of getting caught is so minimal, that it would be millions spent and little done. But I can tell you this; if some dirty little suit-clad gremlin ever tried to touch me inappropriately in a moving vehicle, I would not stay silent. Let's just say, my voice would be the least of his problems.

Fat-fingered douchebags aside, I will be moving back to Tokyo in the new year. I miss the city! It's like I'm living next door to a really, really, REALLY great party and I've got homework to do. Utsunomiya is beautiful, and I've had my fun here, but let's face it; IT'S FREAKING TOKYO. So I've found some nice apartment options (within a reasonable price range) and I will be headed there soon.

But on the topic of Utsunomiya, I'd like to mention something I've noticed about where I live. There seems to be a few choice apartment complexes in my area that don't quite fit in. Cue the "one of these things is not like the other..." Sesame Street song. There's one building in particular that stands out just a little bit. The building itself is pretty boring, with some (seemingly) closed businesses on the first floor. But then there's the Lamborghinis and Porches always pulling up. And the older men that sometimes hang around, dressed in $10,000 suits. And the gold plated lettering on the signs. A friend of mine explained that gold is the Yakuza's colour, and most of their buildings have the signs painted accordingly. There's also the occasional 3 story mansion, complete with surrounding wall, spattered in with the rest of the medium-to-low-income housing.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm pretty sure that Utsunomiya is home to the Yakuza. No one talks about it outright, but it's implied CONSTANTLY. Utsunomiya is also home to an UNBELIEVABLY low crime rate, which seems very much like Tampa, Florida, in the States. The mafia (allegedly) raised their families there, and the "don't sh*t where you eat" rule applies. Since I have no beef with the crime syndicates, I have no problem with them being here. But Japan, as a national government REALLY DOES have a problem with them. There has been a push to eradicate them from society completely, which is not an easy task. The government has now made it illegal to do business with them, going as far as banning printing companies from producing their business cards. There are mixed feelings among the Japanese people as to whether or not this is actually a good thing. If you remove the organized crime, who or what will replace them? The Devil you know...

On a completely unrelated note, I made a pleasant trip to Yokohama the other week, to see the sights of the southern point of the city. It actually reminded me a great deal of my home in Toronto, with the beaches and tidy apartment buildings squished up against the hustle and bustle. Please observe;

 If you look very carefully, you can see mount fuji against the skyline.

We found the ferris wheel just in time for the sunset, which made the whole sight breathtaking. Definitely worth the hours spent on the train getting there. Fun Fact: this is also the largest CLOCK in the world.

We also visited a ramen museum, where you can choose from 9 different restaurants, set in a realistic-looking underground recreation of 1900's Tokyo. It was pretty cool to see the little ramen shops and obviously taste the food;

They had painted the ceiling to look like an evening sky, which really added to the effect. The 1950's billboards and hanging laundry were also nice touches.

We also made a stop in Chinatown, where we didn't eat much, but we really should have. The food looked AMAZING. At least, the plastic models of the food in the windows did;

 Plastic food.
 This is NOT plastic food. Vegetarians, avert your delicate eyes. Everyone else, view the classic duck-hanging-in-a-Chinese-restaurant picture.
 Heh, heh. Fat.
 Terrifying robot panda that sings happy birthday while it walks in circles. There was an alleyway full of these little monsters, and their metallic squeals echoed off the walls. It was the most emotionally uncomfortable window shopping I have ever experienced.
 Wooden carvings of food!
 More plastic food in windows. This place was ridiculously expensive. 980 for veggies in meat sauce??!? 
 The beautiful passage way to Chinatown.
 Creepy statue #17

 Creepy (but cute) statue #18
 So that's that. The trip was well worth the time and money. My friend left to go home to Canada a couple days ago, but not before taking this picture;

If the backstreet boys could get any whiter, this would be it. Notice how they're all wearing the same outfit and everything. In the second picture, it looks like he's touching himself off camera, and everyone else is watching. True homo-erotic backstreet boy style.
There were also these moments; I'll never scrub them from my mind;
 That's my boss. He dressed up as the creepiest "Dr. Horse" character ever. He walked around little children wearing that rubber horse head all day. He pulled Halloween candy from the horses mouth, and never spoke a word the whole time. I have a new-found respect for this man.
This is the latest brand of cigarettes in Japan, named "Viv Pianissimo Menthol." Marketed as "hard-core girly." I don't know if I want to applaud or puke on this one.
 My co-workers, and their (somewhat misguided) interpretation of what Halloween should look like.
 A Peruvian panflute band! The gerbils are coming!!! (For those of you who don't get the joke, watch southpark).
And finally, Japanese Santa. Because all white men look the same.

Konbawa de Gambatte!

P.s. there are still flowers blooming here. It's the middle of November. :)