Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Happy 233rd!

The Fourth of July, brought with it a strong taste of home. At noon, about 15 ALTs and friends of ALTs, converged at a park a couple blocks behind my house. This was convenient for me, as I biked there with a grill in hand. The grill always takes about an hour to get going. The available charcoal is simple burnt wood. A nice burn, but a pain to set fire to. In the meantime, there were plenty of other potluck options.

I then set up the lawn game. Earlier that morning I went to the big hardware store, Jumbo Encho. Its like Menards, but not owned by a jerk (I have no idea who owns Jumbo Encho). In addition to a box of charcoal, I was hoping to find some form of driveway marking stick. There are few driveways in Japan, so I was not sure how to communicate this. Finding some wooden dowels was easy. Tracking down an employee was difficult. Once I had someone, I showed him the dowel, and asked for a plastic version. He understood instantly and took me to some corner. The clear plastic tubes he showed me were expensive, questionably flexible, and a meter at best. These would not do.

I was making to leave when another possibility caught my attention. Long, brown, organic, I eyed up some bamboo sticks. I am not sure what their purpose was, perhaps fishing rods. All I cared, was that they were cheap and absolutely perfect for the best yard game since the advent of gaming in yards.

I widdled a couple feet off each of the four sticks. I then placed them in pairs a frisbee and a fist apart, and approximately 25 feet from the other pair. The game is Cups, and I learned it at an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in college. I have played very little Ultimate Frisbee in recent years, but Cups has become a staple. Until I came to Japan, I was always in possession of one, maybe two, sets. Upside-down plastic cups are placed on the sticks. Players throw a frisbee and knock off/catch cups for points. Simple, and great for people of any frisbee ability.

I teamed up with a Canadian, Rob, and we went 3-0. We probably could have kept the court all afternoon, but we opted to let more folks try. Playing Cups for the first time in eleven months, was seriously an exciting event. Lawn space is sparse, but I hope to get many more games in.

Once the grill was finally ready, I threw on my black bean burgers. Something about the Fourth of July demands grilling, and I abide. Folks were curious about my meatless burgers, but anxious to try. I was so busy running around, that I let the patties go a bit dry. Fortunately I was able to wash it down with a fine selection of American brew. I stood outside that morning, waiting for the import store to open so that I could buy up their entire selection of American beer. I came away with Anchor Steam, Brooklyn Lager, and Samuel Adams. Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi... Take a hike!

The day ended by doing something very un-American. We went to a soccer match. My friend Mark had some free tickets, and I had wanted to see a game for a while. Even though I had threatened Mark all week long with tar & feathering if he came to the Fourth of July (he's British), he still shared his tickets. What a chap!

I did purchase a package of fireworks, we launched a few bottle rockets and blasted a couple of roman candles. Most of my explosives remain, and so I will have to find other events to commemorate with combustion. There was no big fireworks display for the Fourth, but the big boom season is just around the bend here in Japan. Late July through August has plenty of fireworks shows in nearby cities. I am certain to be satiated of any sulfurous lust.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

...the news

Way back in the beginning of February I was presented with a rather tough decision. Upon making up my mind, I began telling friends and family, but I neglected to make any large announcement. Then I just started assuming everyone knew. Some friends have recently asked about my upcoming plans, and I realized the lapse in my communication.

My English teaching position works on a yearly contract, and I can extend it up to five years. While some folks come here with five years in mind, I was quite resolute about staying for only one year. I was only six months into my contract when the paperwork for the following year came due. It was a simple sheet of paper that required date, signature, and a circle of yes or no. I signed and dated it, and then I stared. I stared at it up until the last moment of submission.

YES. I am staying in Shizuoka, Japan, teaching English until August 2010.

Coming here was easy. Deciding whether or not to stay, tore me apart. I am exceedingly grateful for my time abroad, but I do long for home. I have a great job, a good living situation, and the whole eastern hemisphere to explore. Economic security is generally not a significant factor in my decision making process, but now seems a proper time for exception. …Times is tough.

Alas, my triumphant return to the States is postponed to the tune of one year. I will be back. In the meantime, for those of you hankerin’ to see Japan, the window for visitation has now been extended.