Sunday, July 31, 2011

Week 31

I'm currently surrounded by half-packed bags in preparation for my imminent trip back to the States. I leave at 2:30pm tomorrow from Osaka, travel for 19 hours, and arrive at 7:30pm the same day in Detroit. I'm quite excited at the prospect of being home for the first time in over 18 months but (as usual) I'm not really looking forward to the aforementioned 19 hour flight (or the fact that I have to make said flight again to get back to Japan.)

I spent the day last Tuesday doing laundry and cleaning my apartment. I got a free ticket from a friend and went off to see one of my favorite local bands in the evening. The venue was really nice and the band rocked hard as they usually do. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday was spent souvenir shopping as well as getting my weekly karaoke practice in.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were special shifts at work; regular classes were canceled for a week and we all did demo lessons for perspective new students in the fall. All-in-all it was a pretty easy week to have right before vacation.

Saturday night I met up with my girlfriend who made my favorite "taco-rice" and watched some movies with me. I'm going to miss her terribly for the next two weeks but luckily in this age of technology she's really just a click of the mouse away.

Yesterday after work I went with some co-workers to an exhibit of some videogame concept art done by one of our favorite artists. It was a small collection, but was free and had some nice pieces on display. This was followed up by dinner at yet another new mexican restaurant. This latest place was a bit pricy but had some interesting things on the menu (like mole).

Look forward to next week's update coming to you straight from America!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Week 30

So, I left off last week thinking I was going bowling with my girlfriend's family but plans changed once more after I uploaded my post and we ended up going to the Osaka Aquarium instead. In retrospect going to the Aquarium on the "Ocean Day" holiday was a bit silly as it was super busy/crowded. In the end I think everyone had a good time though. My girlfriend's nephews (3 and 6) are really energetic and had fun looking at all the fish. My girlfriend's mother is also pretty energetic and spent most of the day chasing down the kids. Ater seeing all that was to be seen inside we sat outside (most of the day's rain had passed at that point) and ate a boxed lunch my girlfriend had prepared. Late in the afternoon my girlfriend's brother came in his van and took the kids and my girlfriend's mother home. Back at my apartment my girlfriend and I talked for a long time about various things and were having a good time until, right before she went home, I... caused some drama again, which took some time to resolve making it a very late night for both of us. (Lesson learned: don't ask questions about the future out of the blue and without context.)

Tuesday last week I walked around the electronics district with one of my co-workers who was shopping for a new lens for his camera and wanted my advice. Once we had found what he was looking for we adjourned to a karaoke box for a few hours of singing. Later, after ramen for dinner, we hit up a cool "video-game bar" which is home to a bunch of classic video game consoles, all free for customer use.

Wednesday was a relax/rejuvenate day and ended with a spectacular after-the-typhoon sunset which I watched from my balcony while sipping tea and reading a good book on my iPad.

Thursday before work I headed over to Osaka's latest fast food joint: Burger King. The Osaka outlet is just as good as any of the one's in Tokyo but not quite as good as the one's back in the states (that might just be nostalgia talking though.) The two main differences between Japanese Burger King and it's American cousin are 1.) the fries, the one's in America are crunchier and more flavorful 2.) In America you can get a shake with your meal, in Japan you can get a Heineken. All-in-all it's nice to have another alternative to McD's around.

Friday I went out for dinner with my girlfriend for the first time in a while. We went to a "hamburg" restaurant that essentially served hamburgers without the buns. Afterwards we did some light shopping and had a drink at my girlfriend's favorite bar before parting ways.

Saturday after work I wandered around the city were my Saturday school is killing time before the school party that was scheduled for that evening. But my wasting time turned out to be just that as only a few students showed up for the party. We still had a good time and I got to know a little more about my supervisor on Saturdays, which was nice.

Yesterday I came home from work and watched the week's recorded TV shows until bed time. Oh, right before bed there was a magnitude 4 quake in Miyagi Prefecture (maybe, 100 miles away) which made my building jump and shake. Never a dull moment in the land of the shaking sun.

Nothing too big scheduled for this week. Partly because I sent all my spare money home this month and partly because I've still gotta start packing. I can't believe there's only 8 days before I'm back in the States.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Week 29

I didn't think I'd have time to update at my usual time this week but I get a message at the crack of dawn from my girlfriend noting that the incoming typhoon has started dropping rain early than anticipated and that our plans to go to the park with her family needed to be altered. While I'm waiting her decision as to what we're doing instead, I might as well get this out of the way.

Quite a busy week last week or at least a busy "weekend."

Last Tuesday, while out for lunch, I stopped by the cell-phone shop and upgraded my iPhone. My old one's battery was dying and I've wanted a new one for a while now. As with all new technology I spent most of the rest of the afternoon getting it updated and in working order. In the evening I headed off to the baseball park to watch a game with some friends from work. This was a different group than the one I went with last year and not quite as... experienced as the other group. First, the last person to arrive was the one holding the tickets, and she showed up late. Next, it was already the top of the second by the time we found out seats... in the away section. You could feel the eyes digging in as we, dressed up in our Hanshin Tigers clothes, sat among the Tokyo Giants fans. Oh, and the Tigers were down by one too. Fortunately after the third inning we spotted an un-occupied section of seats in the home section and moved over. The game was much more fun after that and the Tigers ended up winning two to one.

Wednesday I slacked off all morning and worked on 'tagging' old photos after lunch. In the evening I headed to the Dotonbori canal to watch the Dotonbori River Parade. The parade was supposed to go from 6:30 to 9:00 but started half an hour late and ended thirty minutes early. The short time the actual parade happened was pretty cool however. The first two boats were rowed by a team of older guys and a team of younger guys. The following "floats" were all motor driven barges with people from various companies partying onboard. I think the last float had a famous hip-hop star on it, as the crowd went wild, but I'm not really sure who this guy was.

I was awakened Thursday morning by the ominous sound of fire engines... a lot of them. I looked out my window to see the neighboring block surrounded by firefighters. (I suppose fortunately) I couldn't see and smoke or sign of fire however. Being that I was already up I decided to start my day. I went out later to buy some new video games that were just released as well as a new album by my favorite Japanese band. On the way home I did my weekly grocery shop.

It was a short work week this week (as today is Ocean Day, a national holiday) and it felt pretty short.

As my girlfriend was at her parents' house all weekend again Saturday night I went alone to see the latest Studio Ghibli movie. I really enjoyed this new piece, though I'm not sure if it would have the international appeal as "Spirited Away" or "Howl's Moving Castle". It's a more 'realistic' (non-magic) story about a girl in Shouwa-era (50's/60's) Japan who has lost her father. As with most other Ghibli movies it's a coming-of-age movie at heart. I really enjoyed it but, then, I think Studio Ghibli can do no wrong.

Yesterday (Sunday) was spent eagerly awaiting today's activities... and I've just received word that plans for today have changed to going to a bowling/sports center called Round One down near my girlfriend's hometown. I suppose I should shower, shave, and make myself presentable.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Week 28

Despite being a terribly hot week here in Osaka I still managed to have some fun while not getting sun-burned.

Last Tuesday I woke up with the desire to go out exploring and the idea that I hadn't yet been to Kyoto's Eiga-mura (Movie-village). I got to JR Kyoto station with relative ease and decided to walk across town to the small street-car terminus that led the rest of the way to Eiga-mura. In the "it seemed like a good idea at the time" category, I underestimated the unrelenting force of the sun bearing down on me and by the time I arrived outside my destination I had no energy left to go inside (also the entry fee of 3,000yen was a bit steep). Instead I turned around and took the closest train back to Osaka. I disembarked at Osaka Station and took a look around the newly opened Osaka Station Plaza. The 'North building' is really nice and includes several roof-top gardens with spectacular views of the North side of Osaka. I also stopped by Osaka's newest Krispy-Kreme doughnut shop in the basement but in the grand tradition of such new shops in Osaka there was an hour wait to get in so I grabbed a bagel at the empty shop across the way instead.

Wednesday was a laundry/clean the house day but as I got all my chores done before noon I went and practiced karaoke for a few hours in the afternoon before coming home and watching movies the rest of the day. My electric bill is gonna be pretty high from all the AC I'm using this month, but it's worth it. (I've also discovered that my apartment is a heat-trap that is routinely 3-5 degrees C above the outside temperature.)

The work week went pretty well with a day of rain cooling things down on Thursday. I received my first 'observation' of the year yesterday and got generally good feedback. It's always nice to hear, "You're doing a good job, keep it up."

In a rare alignment of calendars I got to see my girlfriend twice this week. Friday we met up, ordered a pizza, and watched an old Studio Ghibli movie. Saturday we went over to two of our friends' apartment for dinner. My girlfriend, one of our friends, and I recently celebrated our birthdays. In addition the two friends recently go married, so we had a general celebratory dinner party. The food was outstanding with spare-ribs in a soy-sauce based sauce and some sort of mushroom and pasta-gratin. Much merriment was had by all.

Looking forward this week: I may-or-may-not go see a baseball game tomorrow depending on if a friend can get an extra ticket. A new Studio Ghibli movie comes out this weekend (which I'm excited for.) And next Monday is the first national holiday in almost two months and will be a much needed respit from my terribly hard-driving schedule.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

week 27

Lots of excitement this week with a big birthday and a big test.

Although I celebrated my birthday with my girlfriend last Saturday, I had another party on Tuesday (my actual birthday) with all my friends. The fun started at the local watering-hole. A good time was had by all. Around midnight some of the party had to catch the last train and those remaining decided that it was about time for karaoke. Karaoke lasted until 5:30am when the karaoke place closed. The "evening" was capped off with a delicious breakfast at McDonalds.

After a few hours of sleep the rest of Wednesday (and the rest of my free time for the week) was spent in a run-up review for the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam wich I took yesterday. I had only a vague idea of what the test would look like going in and was happily surprised that, although the time given for each section wasn't that long, there also weren't that many questions in each section. The three sections covered Vocabulary (30 minutes for 35 questions) Grammar/Reading (70 minutes for 39 questions) and Listening (40 minutes for 27 questions). I was also happy to learn that I hadn't forgotten all my standardized test taking skills from my school days. It turns out that some of my friends were also taking this test so we all went out and celebrated our perceived success afterwords. ("Perceived" in that a 52% is considered passing... but we won't get results until September.)