Posts Tagged ‘JET’

I Was in a Play


  • Old man has an unattractive lump on his face.
  • He falls asleep in a shrine and wakes up to dancing oni (Japanese demons (in this case, ridiculously good-looking demons)).
  • He starts dancing with them. They like his style. They want him to join them the next night, so they take his lump as collateral.
  • Mean old lady hears of this and sends her mean husband (who also has a lump) to the oni.
  • When oni arrive, mean old man starts dancing. They don’t like his style.

What happens to the mean old man? Find out here!


Recently, I had the opportunity to go onto Misawa Air Base for some good ol’ American food shopping. Of course, the base boasts more than just a grocery store – bowling alley, climbing wall, movie theater, golf course, and some planes to name a few – but my primary goal was finding crunchy peanut butter. Once I passed through the automatic sliding doors, though, I found something else entirely: reverse culture shock. Now, I’ve gotten lost in a town full of incomprehensible kanji signs, contorted my body into ridiculous shapes to handle squat toilets, and had tiny fingers poked up my butt; in other words, I know culture shock. But I was unprepared and completely taken aback by its reversal. Here are a few things that may seem normal to you, but put me in a daze:


Rude (or maybe just not ridiculously nice) Store Clerks

Shopping Carts (have they always been that big?)

ESPN College Basketball


Ambient conversation I can understand



Not being a giant (or being in the proximity of other giants)

I knew it was bad when someone asked if I was in line, only to realize I had been staring at those grocery conveyer belts at the check out counters. And that was only a grocery store, just a taste of reverse culture shock (get it?). What’s going to happen when I’m back in the States and go into a sports bar…or Walmart…or an SUV?!

Thoughts on Thailand

I recently returned from a two week trip to Thailand with a few friends. Here are some thoughts:

– If you don’t mind traveling at the whims of your driver, I highly recommend taking a ride in a tuk tuk. Our first day in Bangkok, tuk tuk drivers offered to take us to a series of popular temples around the city. Having no itinerary for the day, we readily agreed. To clarify, a tuk tuk is an enlarged motorized tricycle. Nevermind the sites, the ride alone was worth it. The drivers gun these trikes through the narrowest of openings, driving the wrong way on a street before barreling back in-between two cars, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision, all the while making impossibly sharp turns that fling everyone from one end of the vehicle to the other and convincing you that the momentum alone will cause the thing to flip over. Alas, we made it to the first site, barely avoiding death. It was a giant Buddha statue; very cool. Okay, we’ve got to prepare our nerves for the next ride… “Ah, first, we go to suit shop. You need suit. Look very nice!” the tuk tuk driver said. Hmm, this wasn’t part of the plan. Although some of us were looking to get a suit in Thailand, so why not. After people got fitted and purchased their suits, the drivers happily took us to the next temple: The Golden Mountain – a big hill with a golden temple at the top. Also very cool. Alright, we’re ready for the next site. “Ah, now we go to coat shop. Very nice material. You will like.” Wait, it’s 80 degrees here – who in their right mind wants a coat?! Turns out Taka needed one for back in Shichinohe. Okay, we’ll go to the coat place. Well, Taka got his coat and off we went to the next site. Another cool temple. Okay, where to next? “Hat store. You look very good in hat!” No! We don’t want any hats! “No no, Bangkok sun is very hot. Your head get burned!” After arguing with our drivers, explaining that we all had full heads of hair so we would in fact not get burned, we agreed to just go back to where we were picked up. Per person cost of the trip: 30 cents. We learned later that the tuk tuk drivers get free gas coupons from the suit, coat, and hat stores if they bring their passengers to their shops. Admittedly, it is a clever way for stores to get guaranteed service from naive tourists such as ourselves. So maybe we got hustled. It is still the cheapest way to see the city. And you can’t beat that ride.

– The street vendors have better food than the restaurants. They have a wider variety, larger portions, are much cheaper, MUCH spicier, and have better people-watching spots. You can walk up to any cart, point to a few unidentifiable and delicious-looking foods, and bam – you’ll have a full plate guaranteed to set your mouth on fire after the first bite. We even managed to find the notorious bug cart and treated ourselves to some fried cockroaches. Crunchy.

– The street food is delicious, but it does have consequences. After leaving Bangkok, we intended to go to Sukkhothai and see the ruins of the former capital of Siam. However, either the cockroach-eating, or the brushing-with-tap-water, or any other questionably sanitary activity we partook in in Bangkok caught up with us on the train ride. I felt bad for the other passengers, as we were visiting the bathroom so much that I doubt anyone else on the train had the opportunity to go. Instead of seeing Sukkhothai, we were cooped up in our hotel, those of us feeling less miserable venturing out to the market in search of sustenance for the others. If nothing else, that night reinforced our camaraderie. Fortunately, that was the worst of the food sickness and the next day we were off to Chiang Mai.

Note: The street food is definitely worth any consequences.

– Chiang Mai is awesome. On our first day, some of us went zip-lining through the jungle while others played with baby tiger cubs at the Chiang Mai zoo. Then we all went on a two day trek through the Bong Duet National Park. We climbed to the top of a waterfall,walked around a giant ant hill, made our own bamboo cups, took the everyone-enthusiastically-jump-at-the-same-time picture at the top of a mountain, spent the night at a hill tribe village, made a fire, were mesmerized by the brilliant stars, drank hot chocolate from our bamboo cups, rode elephants, navigated a river on bamboo rafts, and received a plethora of mosquito bites to remind us of it all. Chiang Mai is awesome.

– A 20,000 person party really feels like a 20,000 person party. After Chiang Mai we took a flight down to Koh Samui, an island on the east side of Thailand’s southern strip. From there, we ferried to another island, Koh Phangan, for the Full Moon New Years Party. Every full moon, thousands of travelers surge to this island for a night of body-painted mayhem. December 31st didn’t actually have a full moon, but I imagine the island’s party gods let that one slide. We walked down to the beach around 11:30pm and were hit with an amazing sight – 800 meters of coast packed to the gills with pulsating half-naked bodies. In about 20 locations there were giant speakers set up, pumping out thumping music, and stages built (or just sand) to support the mobs of people partying. As you dance your way down the beach, you transition from reggae, to trance, to hip hop, to techno, to more techno. Nearly everyone was on some sort of substance, with our group’s poison of choice being The Bucket – a nostalgic sand-castle bucket from one’s youth, stripped of all its innocence and replaced with a concoction of 10 parts whiskey, 1 part soda, topped off with a Red Bull and a handful of straws. If the night were to be abstracted into an attempted alliteration, it was fun flushed foolery with friends, fire, and fellow frolickers.

Now I’m back to 2 ft. of snow in Shichinohe. Went skiing last weekend; still doing the “pizza”, but slowly learning the “french fries.” Earlier, one of my students came to me and exclaimed “Your monster is stronger than mine!”, laughed hysterically, and left. An excellently structured sentence. Either Pokemon or anatomically related. Either way, I’m not sure how to respond.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know this blog is a sorry substitute for me actually being there to wish you a Happy Turkey Day, but I’m afraid until Skype comes up with person-to-person teleportation, this is the best I’ve got. My friends and I are desperately searching for a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner in Japan. We may have to settle for quail. In the meantime, though, here are a couple videos that, like Thanksgiving, make you feel all warm and gooey on the inside.

Courtesy of John, Yes, Yes I could
Courtesy of Courtney, Christian the Lion

Low and Behold

The morning after writing the “Day in the Life” post, what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a bundle of snow to greet a systems engineer.




At least my Christmasy blog theme makes sense now. Still haven’t spotted Santa or his reindeer.


Day in the Life of the White Giant

Due to Christine and Janny’s wittiness and my uncreativity, I have decided to hop on the bandwagon with my own Day in the Life…

6 am: Half-awake to the daily Shichinohe morning melody blaring from speakers strategically located within hearing range of every sleeping Shichinohen. Three tunes are played throughout the day: 6 am (wake-up), 12 pm (lunch time), and 6 pm (dinner time. This also happens to be my favorite of the three; it has a sweet two-part harmony section). Big Brother-esqe if you ask me. Promptly fall back asleep.

7 am: Alarm goes off. Spend 5 minutes willing myself to desert my warm blanket cocoon and face my refrigerator of an apartment. Why does it resemble a fridge, you ask? 1) Shich is on the cusp of winter; snow should be arriving any day now, 2) Japan does not believe in central heating, and 3) it wasn’t until very recently that I discovered my A/C unit can reverse itself and act as a heater. WIth the knowledge of a working heating device, though, I still wake up to a frigid apartment because I have yet to convince myself to run the A/C through the night. Sometimes, I think I am too frugal for my own good.

7:40 am: After downing breakfast (the only meal I’ve stubbornly kept American: cereal and banana or toast and yogurt), I throw on a jacket and gloves and head off for school on the Road Warrior.

7:42 am: Realize I forgot my indoor shoes…again.

7:50 am: Arrive at school amid various cries of “Oooooh, Brandon-sensei! Dekai!” (Huge!)

8 am: The school bell rings. Teachers rise in unison, bow to each other with “Ohayo gozaimasu” (Good morning). Everyone sits down and I enjoy my warm cup of green tea as the teachers meeting commences (none of which I understand).

8:30 am: Walk into my first class. 5th graders. Receive the usual giggles as I exaggeratedly duck beneath the doorway so as not to bump my head. Today’s lesson: Fast Food. Go over vocabulary (hamburger, drink, fries, etc) and phrases (“Can I take your order?”, “What would you like to drink?”, “For here or to go?”). When they have the pronunciation down, I don my cashier’s cap and students practice placing their orders. They give me imaginary yen and I give them their imaginary meal. Then they usually pour their imaginary drinks on one of their classmates’ heads.

9:30 am: 3rd graders next. ABC’s. The teacher pops in the CD. All the students sing in unison as I point to each letter. My finger goes rapidly over LMNOP in accordance with the song I’m singing in my head. The students, however, all pause on N. They look confused; the teacher peers dubiously at me. I kick myself for forgetting the Japanese unrhyming version of the song.

(Quick detour into the Day in the Life of my Vice Principal)

11 am : What’s for lunch today? There is 55,897 yen in the PTA account. The red ten goes on the black jack…I am never going to get this done. Looks like I’ll be putting in another 13 hour day. Darn! Ah, why don’t I try out the new hip slang word one of the English teachers taught me. Brandon’ll be so impressed!

(Back to me)
11 am: At my desk studying the days of the week in Japanese. Suddenly, silence is interrupted by the vice principal’s voice ringing loudly and clearly. “Hey Brandon-sensei! You’re hot!” The Japanese-English teachers burst out laughing. My vice principal looks proud of himself. “Umm, right back at ya!”

11:10 am: 1st grade. We play one of my favorite games – Fruit Basket. Each student has taped to their shirts a picture of a piece of fruit (or whichever vocabulary topic I’m teaching that day). They put all of their chairs in a circle. I stand in the middle and say, “I like…” and shout out the name of a fruit. Kids wearing that fruit get up and quickly run to another chair.  The last student standing is the new person in the middle. Kind of like a cross between Musical Chairs and Monkey in the Middle. Except when the person in the middle shouts “Fruit Basket!”, everyone runs into the circle, colliding heads, forming a 7 year old mosh pit, and resulting in several trampled students. It is quite fun.

12 pm: Lunchtime with the 5th graders. As usual, they are amazed at my ability to use chopsticks. And how much rice is in my bowl.

1 pm: Bike ride to one of my favorite places in Japan: Shichinohe Kindergarten.

1:10 pm: Spend the next hour performing the JET Workout Plan a.k.a. lifting up squealing kindergardeners over and over again. These kids are seriously the cutest things on Earth. I know some of you are thinking, “No way can they be cuter than puppies!” But trust me, they are.

2:30 pm: Kindergarten lets out. Barely pull myself away from the gleeful youngsters. Head to the yakuba (town office). Spend the remaining hours of my work day sipping tea, eating cookies, and use a mixture of English, Japanese, and hand gestures with my supervisor to converse about the weather, school life, and how I need to get winter tires for my car.

4 pm: Head home. Struggle up the massive hill that separates the yakuba from my apartment. Hear a cheerful “Konnichiwa!” as grandmothers pass me on their electric scooters.

4:30 pm: Halo with Taka. Get whooped, as usual.

5:30 pm: Reheat some rice and curry I made the night before. Sadly, the pumpkin centerpiece from the dining room has been sacrificed for an experimental new curry flavor. It is…interesting.

6:30 pm: Pick up Courtney and head to taiko practice. Spend the next two hours banging on massive drums until our arms give out. Oh yeah, and the average age of the taiko class is around 12. Nothing like banging some beats with elementary schoolers.

9 pm: Check e-mail, Facebook stalk, maybe watch an episode of 30 Rock. Truthfully, I am pretty much doing this all day anyway.

10 pm: Turn on the water heater.

10:05 pm: Check the water. This is usually when I must make the most formidable decision of my day: Whether or not I’m willing to take a shower in luke-warm water. Chances are about 50-50. (For those of you suffering from automysophobia, just kidding. It’s more like 60-40)

10:30 pm: A few pages of light reading, then lights (and A/C) out.

It’s about that time again…