Wednesday, April 27, 2005

¥1000 face suck

Present giving is quite popular in Japan. This can be rewarding, and hence, is not undue.

My first attempt at getting a hair cut failed in a giant babble of Japanese speech. I thought it was going to work:
  1. I'd located the nearby barber shop (with his blue, red and white striped candy pole spiraling in front a bit of a giveaway).
  2. I'd met the barber inside during his open hours and perfectly cracked my phrase hair katto o onegai shimas.
  3. Then the barber did some pointing to the clippers and the sides and back, followed by the scissors and the top of my head - I'm thinking great, let's get started.
  4. Then I think he said something about running for prime minister, well he certainly gave a great speech and wasn't exactly directing me to his customer chair.
I got the low down from a work colleague, the convenient and cheap place to get the job done was right on the train station platform on your way to work. I located this salon with its English labeling on the sides, but there was not enough time last week before work to get the job done.

Finally yesterday I went early to ensure enough time. It was important as my first week observation was on at work that evening. Now you can just rock up, no appointment is really necessary at the 10 minute hair cut shop. However I only had a ¥10,000 note left and the first thing the staff did was point out the ticket machine on the wall that only accepts ¥1,000 notes. I went back through the station ticket gates, found a chemist and bought probably the most expensive toothpaste I'll ever buy in my life. Returning through the station ticket gates and back in the salon I crank a ¥1,000 note through the machine, it spits out a little receipt and the hairdresser takes it...

I still have no idea why they have this ticket system. In a mixture of ultra basic Japanese and English conversation, half-an-hour and the job is done and I look fine for work. The hairdresser has a vacuum that hangs from the ceiling and she informs me it will clean my head and face. Cool! For all my effort and patience (or maybe it's my lucky day), the hairdresser presents me with a gift of a comb that is made from recycled paper. Great! - and it's waterproof. Another big "Arigato".

I thought I'd try this hairdresser next time...

Monday, April 25, 2005

gateway to Hiroshima castle

gateway to Hiroshima castle
gateway to Hiroshima castle,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
A couple of photos from Saturday afternoon. Check 'em out.

scooter girl reality

Maybe you have, maybe you haven't seen the typically Japanese style cartoon characters of a person riding a scooter wearing a helmet and those old school flying goggles propped up on the helmet. I've seen a few of these characters in true life down town Hiroshima and at first I nearly burst out laughing. Now I just want to photograph it to show all you guys.

where's my bike?

parking - what a hassle

kinda bonsai

Oxygen can be hard to come by at times. I bought this chap at the Sunday market to add some life and fresh air to the apartment. Central Park was loaded with dozens of stalls selling tiny seedlings to ancient bonsai with a super twisted trunk costing around ¥100,000!
Hopefully my little tree stays small for the next month. We have to change apartments by the end of May.

welcome dinner

The first half of last night's entertainment was a dinner party for our branch office at Via Monte Tina. A welcome to the new branch teachers that somehow turned into just that for the new teachers except me.
For the first time since working in the branch, I could actually talk to the front line staff and ask their names! It's crazy to be working with people for over a week and not even know who they are!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

hard road

After a fantastic start to learning Japanese language the weekend before, I was looking forward to this weekend's lessons. At the Hiroshima International Centre the lessons are at 10am and 1pm on Saturdays - 1 of my days off, unlike most other teachers. Besides the fact that they are free, the girl that ran last week's afternoon session is quite cute.

This week I thought I'd really get into it by attending both the morning and the afternoon class. Not only did the morning class start before the 10am start time, it also had some crusty old man who really couldn't teach to beginners very well. I was studying the way he was teaching and making mental notes of what not to do with my own beginner students. After the crusty old man expected me to know the answers to his questions which I couldn't even understand, and respond in a language I know stuff all about, I bumped the student along side me,
"Are we in an advanced class? I feel like I'm a little behind what the hell is going on here."
I was almost about to leave when they rotated the crusty teacher out, split the class into smaller groups and introduced more useful teachers.

All was good again in the afternoon with the cute teacher and the fun games we play when we don't know shit about another language. Moral of this story is simple: if you don't like to sleep in on Saturday morning and you want the mental begeesus kicked out of you, try the morningclass; otherwise stick to cute instructors and fun games.

Friday, April 22, 2005


Sharing a house with a drunkard bum is quite funny a lot of the time. When the resident turtles became the new scapegoat for waking our hung-over house-mate, I had to laugh and silently commend the underwater achievers.

domestic wilderness

Entering our apartment: after evading the avalanche of shoes and running the gauntlet of the 13 umbrellas, hiking past the volcanic mountains of recycle and rubbish, I am confronted by the native washing machine!

Strategic assistance from the house-mate's girlfriend and my laundry mission is accomplished.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

the numbers game

Back home in sunny Melbourne, my job security was left to reputation and word-of-mouth. Relying on existing clients to recommend you to further clients is risky if you intend to grow your business. I had enough work to keep me going. As often is the case though, the demand is either in flood or drought. Regardless of demand, it remains important to maintain a high standard of product to ensure your reputation continues.

My best mate and I have been contracting our services to our clients for long enough. When the time came for a holiday late last year and the opportunity for a large group of friends to visit India, we both signed up for that! The clients naturally needed to know, who will be running the projects in our absence? My usual first option is to recommend my best friend and... that really wasn't going to work this time. Who do you recommend when you don't know anyone else that could possibly do your job?

Now here in the sweaty metropolis of Hiroshima, in my new job, I am experiencing some complete contrasts:
  • I don't work by myself at all. There are several other teachers and support staff in the branch office.
  • I have been under observation throughout training and I have additional observations coming up soon.
  • The pay goes into the account every month - that's a welcome first that I'm really looking forward to.
  • We cannot prepare for any classes at home!
More than anything else, if I can't do the job, somewhere another teacher is sitting in waiting. Throughout Japan, we are a-dime-a-dozen. Just as in my old job, it will be important to maintain a high standard. However that feeling of being irreplaceable cannot exist for me now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

jelly the building

Whoah! The whole apartment building just wobbled like a jelly slapped with a spoon. I guess that was the first tremor I really felt... Eight floors off the deck... can't possibly jump that far... I should look into buying a new climbing rope...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Mr Whippy everyday?

Here, the sounds on the street, in restaurants, on train platforms, etcetera, are all quite strange or unexpected. If you close your eyes at a pedestrian crossing, you might think you are inside a pinball parlour. In Gusto, the 24-hour local chain restaurant, birds chirp when you open the front door, and when you are ready to order pressing your table-side button drives a big ding-dong out of the PA system. I'm always expecting an oversized flat-headed man to appear at my table, "You rang?"

Back at the apartment, the interesting sounds include those directly through our paper-thin walls.
What's that, you wanted to sleep in? Oh sorry, I usually only snore when I'm drunk.
But my absolute favourite is the ritual melodies cranked out of the nearby school's giant PA system. Every morning I hear the tune and I'm hoping mum has some spare change so I can drop down the 8 floors and walk out to Mr Whippy's van...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

bike police

policeI could have walked to work if I was more organised. Please bear in mind that for me, getting to work used to mean getting out of bed and walking down stairs. I'm out of time for that walk today. In true Japanese style, without a helmet and riding down the footpaths with my silver bike, basket on the front and mud guards all 'round, I rode (...actually I probably hooned a bit quicker than the Japanese ever would). I parked with about 30 others.

After a long day of work, I find the pink paper slip stapled around the handle bars. My housemate explained that the pink slip means I parked in the wrong place for too long and that if the cops would come past, they can tow it away!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

first class sleeper

Our on the job training began today and to kick us off with a flying start, we taught the first half of a 40 minute class. I was a little surprised that we would be doing so much on our very first day. We'd had a few hours of training before it though... So there are several hundred things we are all trying to jam into our heads before this first class, quite daunting really.
No, I cannot have my cuffs unbuttoned, despite the fact that the building's heating is set to over 30 degrees.
I'm trying to get used to wearing a suit to work, find my way around town, find out what tastes like good eating, absorb the techniques of teaching, learn some Japanese language myself, work out how I am going to get internet access, iron my shirt on a micro-ironing-board only 10cm off the floor...

Then it's on! The bell rings and in we all go to our booths, 2 students waiting in mine. We do brief introductions then one of my students appears to be falling asleep! Shit! No! I wanted to wake him and say
Hey, not now, I'm being observed by my superiors.
Here have a Red Bull!

banking in the high tech world

In my most comfortable but least touristy non-work clothes I dropped in to Hiroshima Bank. After the first staff realised my lack of Japanese language, she quickly walked me to a counter and shrugged off another staff to round up the most proficient English speaker. Now comes the paperwork and the catch is, although this staff could translate for me the information required for each box, the writing had to be mine.

A signature would never suffice to open my new account. Instead we had to use a personal hanko stamp issued to us at orientation yesterday. The forgery possibilities are limitless. My friendly staff assisting me next verified my name; it seems I am destined to be called "Burnin'"! After a moment she produced the Japanese katakana character translation and asked me to practice first then write it myself in the form box... For all I know I could've been writing Elbis Presley's name!

After sitting in the waiting area for a few minutes, she calls me back, "Burnin' Fowler." She presents me with my new account passbook and explained in her best visual demo that I need to actually insert the passbook in the ATM for transactions!

A big "Arigato" to my helpful bank staff.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

the Miyajima experience

For those outdoor minded folk, Miyajima island is a gorgeous haven, only a short train and ferry ride from my apartment in Hiroshima. The hike to the summit of Mount Misen sounds easy at only 530metres. Let's see how your legs feel for the next few days though! Check out some of my photos from Miyajima...

Friday, April 08, 2005

signs of life

Interesting signs...
Just something I spotted while walking and trying to locate Craig's work branch.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

the apartment

Sapporo beer girl welcomes everyone!

Tim has been stuck in the apartment alone for a little too long..?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

land of the rising sun & underwear from vending machines

機Hope you had a good fright. The plane seemed fine and the airport is quite safe. The scariest part so far is my personal stench - I am in dire need of a shower.

Like a giant platypus bill, the nose of our bullet train pushes through the thick, grey Osaka air with a Japanese efficiency...

Amanda and I are escorted from the platform by Sharon Travers. Sharon's Celtic accent has been pounding the ears in Japan for the last 10 years!

welcome arrivalLike Melbourne, we have a few trams here in downtown Hiroshima, but without the lane-sharing madness that causes so many Melbournian driver blunders. My expectation of streets thick with human traffic goes unmet. A 1 minute walk to Amanda's chilly abode and then a 2 minute walk to my Nikko building. There's no doubt this is a blokes' flat.

Sharon guided us through the alien registration after lunch at Gusto. After my misunderstanding a month ago, I was happy to order tonkatso from the picture menu. Amanda also shares a strong passion for food - instant way to put yourself in the good books of most men! Our serves of Tonkatsu arrive each with a chilled poached egg in a side dish...

The fascinating aspect of our apartment toilet is the hand wash basin above the flush water tank. Flush the loo and the pump drives the wash basin tap and drains into the fill tank - amazingly economical use of water for a country that will never have a drought.

With beer in hand it doesn't take long to be entertained by wrestling blairing out of the pay TV. Tim is my Australian flat mate and Craig is the Scottsman. The word for groceries is messages according to Craig which turns into our running joke for the night.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

memories from down under

This photo was taken a long time ago in a land not so far away, on one of numerous trips with some of the A-list of hiking friends! Saying farewell to Paul and Karen over dinner last night was sad, but I know we'll meet again, and more than likely on another grand adventure!

My favourite neighbourhood Thai restaurant had customers spilling out on the street. It's a few other people's favourite too! We hoed in to a grand feast at Singh's Indian Restaurant and followed up with no other than a 2-scoop from the Gelobar. And remember, you can only have desserts before main course when mum isn't around!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Japanese Jenny Craig

Chunky Soup: The Sumotori Diet
These guys have a scary appetite!

I'm always interested to try a new restaurant though. Last night my friend Melanie, organised a farewell gig at the Italian Waiter's Restaurant. Great food... I will miss Italian cuisine somewhat over the next 12 months.

We knocked back a couple of pots first in the bar downstairs. The rather uncreative name 20 Meyers Place is quite a trendy little bar, as you might expect for this end of town. With Stella Artois and good ol' Carlton Draught both on tap, who can really complain. Did you know that Carlton Draught is Australia's biggest selling tap beer? Loop across the laneway is a bit more flashy and loungy.

It was fantastic to catch up with some of the greatest friends I'll ever have and work-family and my aunty and uncle too. Thank you all for a great night and for making the time to farewell me on my way.