Playing with Fire

Like many of my days in Japan thus far, Saturday held a lot of firsts for me.  In the morning I rode my bike to school for the first time, stopping for pictures and to send texts along the way.  Even getting a little lost, I managed to make it to my school in about 23 minutes.  I got a lot of stares on the ride, though.  Ain’t nobody ever seen a gaijin on a bright red bike before?  There was one father and daughter in a car that actually turned around in their seats just to watch me as I took a few pictures on the bridge over the river.

I think the pictures I got were worth the stares.

I think the pictures I got were worth the stares.

Not bad for my camera's phone, I think.

Not bad for my camera’s phone, I think.

When I ran into two of the teachers at school later, I asked them about it.  The younger of the two said they were staring because, “Maybe it’s because you’re wearing such a bright green shirt.  And your bicycle is red.”

The bike in question.  I mean, how can you /not/ stare? (Bike generously loaned to me by Amelia.)

The bike in question. I mean, how can you /not/ stare? (Bike generously loaned to me by Amelia.)

Ah, silly me.  They were staying because my colors were clashing!  Clearly that was the reason.  I have been here about two weeks now and I really haven’t gotten much staring as of yet.  Typically, though, this is because I go out with other foreigners who capture more attention than myself.  I’m short, with brown hair and not particularly flashy clothes (most of the time), so when I’m walking with Nico, I am sort of invisible.  Not that Nico wears flashy clothes, but he’s much taller than me.  Or Amelia, who has lighter hair.

Mostly, I think I’ve avoided stares because I have yet to really go anywhere by myself.  The lack of independence is difficult for me, but sort of necessary at the moment.  I know enough of the language to get by in a normal conversation, but even knowing the language doesn’t really help if you don’t understand the cultural scripts or the natural flow of the conversation.  Half of being able to have a conversation is knowing what questions will be discussed.  So when I was in a grocery store for the first time, checking out by myself, I was caught completely off guard when the cashier asked for my point card.

By that point in the transaction I had already committed my first cultural faux pas.  I had tried to hand the money to the cashier when I should have put it in the money tray.  I still am only half sure I’m doing it right at the grocery store because the cash tray is attached to the cash register.  Regardless, one of the English teachers had to swoop in to my rescue and respond that I didn’t have one and, at the time, I didn’t want one.  I’m starting to accumulate them fairly quickly though.  Point cards are rewards cards.  They’re free to have, so there is no reason not to sign up for them.

Another thing I may have learned in the past, but didn’t really remember: you bag your own items, for the most part.  The cashier moves the items from one basket to another and then gives you what they believe is the appropriate amount of bags for you to use at the bagging station.  This definitely makes the time spent in line faster, but I wonder why, in a country that so highly values customer service, are there no baggers.  Also, why not just have entirely automated/self service lanes like we do in the US?

Back to the biking.  I made it safely to my school and saw some of the other teachers who live at the school were there for club activities.  To be fair, at least one of the teachers I know for a fact goes home at night if only because he lives in the apartment beneath me and I see his car in the parking lot.

This is just one of five or six buildings that makes up my school.  This one in particular has my office, the biggest teacher's office.

This is just one of five or six buildings that makes up my school. This one in particular has my office, the biggest teacher’s office.

I’m not really sure if I’m supposed to be cutting across the train station on my way to work, but no one stopped me.  So I’m going to play the “foreigner card” here and go with “I didn’t know.”  My teachers did not rush to correct me when I told them how I had gotten to the school, so I am going to take that as a good-ish sign.

The tiny, but pretty, train station.  There is one train.  It goes north or south.

The tiny, but pretty, train station. There is one train. It goes north or south.

I got a little lost on the way back because I forgot to turn right after going under the train station, but it still only took me about 28 minutes in all.  When I got home, I rewarded myself with some ramune (A Japanese soda that we have in the US too, but less commonly). IMG_0069

After a shower/bath thing, Nico picked me up for some more shopping.  I feel like all I do is shop at this point, but I did not realize quite how much it takes to get settled in.  My apartments at school were both fully furnished when I moved in and I now realize how spoiled I was because of that.  (I am spoiled by those apartments for other reasons too, but let’s just focus on the furniture aspect for now.)  As soon as I get my paycheck I already have a list of other big things I need to get: a table, some chairs or a couch, a TV stand and a cheap PC.  Some of that will have to wait until my next paycheck, of course, but I’m looking forward to my apartment feeling like home.

Also on the "when I get my paycheck" list.

Also on the “when I get my paycheck” list.

Nico and I stopped in a “craft” store while out shopping.  As soon as we entered, Nico says, “Oh.  These are just the girl crafts.”  I’m not sure what he expected to find.  However, after some searching, we were able to find a boy’s sewing kit.

Note the dragon.  The dragon makes it a boy's sewing kit.  And if you can see, they are called "sewing tools" on the boy's kit.

Note the dragon. The dragon makes it a boy’s sewing kit. And if you can see, they are called “sewing tools” on the boy’s kit.

After getting a few more things like curtains, a new pillow, and a new set of sheets, Nico (who is awesome and I will have to bake many cookies for to thank him for driving me everywhere) and I went to Keith’s for something called Amazeballs (patent pending).  Basically, it’s just pancake batter in a takoyaki pan.  However, saying it like that is downplaying the diabetic-shock-inducing level of sugar involved with this gloriousness.  Inside the pancake batter is whatever you can get your hands on, basically.  Mini-brownies, dried fruit, mints, condensed milk…etc.

IMG_0086

Mmmm, diabetes.

What goes great with pure sugar filled sugar? Drinking and fireworks, of course.  In Japan you can buy fireworks just about anywhere.  We picked up some in the Lawson’s (convenience store) nearby and drove up a mountain to shoot them off.  (Neither one of the drivers had had any alcohol to drink, just to stop that line of worry.)

The result was sparkler and fire filled fun.

After mixing alcohol, coffee, and my asthma medication, I didn’t get to sleep until about 4:30 in the morning, but it was worth it.  So totally worth it.

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