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The Things I Do To Avoid Packing

Friday, July 28, 2006
The list of things mentioned in the title is lengthy indeed. For example, I wrote that title nearly an hour ago, and have since ordered parts for a computer, talked to my father on the phone, stared intently at my cat, eaten some canned peaches, and watched a lizard climb on my screen. The boxes may not all be packed tonight.

So, another short update tonight - While I have been busy, I haven't been taking that many pictures, and I have been spending a good deal of time underwater, and my camera doesn't follow me there. Anyway, yesterday.

A praying mantis on my drying pants.

I spent yesterday sitting around my house, packing a little, watching some movies and TV shows, and generally making a mess of things. There are boxes all over and that makes Neko happy - she's a fiend for boxes, loves sitting in them, sleeping in them, jumping in and out of them - she's sleeping in a big half-packed box now. Either way, yesterday I did a little Neko-in-a-box photo shoot, and here are the results.

At around 4:30, Mori called me and asked me if I wanted to go diving again. I grabbed camera, fins, mask, and headed to the boat, and we went out again. It was a lot better the second time, at 15 feet it was a bit shallower than last time, and there were corals, brightly colored fish, anemones that would suck back into a little tube when you brushed them, bright orange starfish moving around quickly, and all manner of other beautiful sea life. In all this I still failed to find any sazae - the big snails. Mori got out before I did, and he grabbed my camera and took pictures of me diving - unfortunately I had left my memory card back home, so the pictures were not recorded, and I am not preserved for all time in my diving glory.

That night was a goodbye party for me thrown by my English Conversation Class students. We had some nice conversations, and I explained the difference between "hot""cute" and "cool." For a while we discussed whether or not sashimi is cruel, as this fish came out with it's organs removed, its meat sliced into beautiful pieces, and it's mouth and fins still spasmodically moving a bit.

I don't think it's cruel - I think it's awesome.

Kind of a random picture - under the party tables - I realized in the third hour of the party that I have become totally comfortable sitting cross-legged on tatami now, not something I could say a year ago.

So today was another day that was supposed to be all packing, but ended up being mostly procrastination, along with some diving. Today Mori and I went out earlier than before, and tried three spots.

What a hunk.

The first spot was right next to the harbor. We dropped the anchor right next to the giant concrete walls and dove straight down about 12 feet, looking in the cracks between the giant boulders that the walls are seated in. I didn't take any pictures because I was too busy in the water. Mori found one sazae, and rather than grab it he called me over and we went down together so I could see where it was and grab it. Technically my first, but it didn't really count. There was no current near the walls, so as soon as we started diving down and kicking up silt, visibility at the bottom dropped to about five feet. You would dive down in pale green water, and while kicking down the light would become yellow, then almost amber. Down on the bottom felt like a dream, silent and hazy, with soft yellow light everywhere. Pulling myself over rocks, peeking into deep cracks, I finally found a sazae on my own. I had already been down a while, I was swallowing to suppress my need for air, but as soon as I saw my quarry, those concerns were forgotten. I grabbed it, yanked it off the rock, and went swimming up, shell held triumphantly above my head. There was much shouting and much high fiving between divers, and then it was back down to get more. Except I didn't get any more all day. Still, one is better than zero, and next time I will get more. For now I need a little vacation though, my ears were ringing from the constant shifts in pressure, my knuckles and stomach are cut up, and my head feels a bit waterlogged.

Sazae - they look like rocks! My knuckles are cut up because I forgot my gloves on one dive - the boat's anchor was fouled on something no matter how we hauled we couldn't get it up, so I got back in, grabbed the anchor rope, and hauled myself down. A pretty good ways down, I saw that the anchor was stuck under a big rock, so I put my feet on the sea floor, grabbed the anchor with both hands, and worked it out - once I got it free, I was completely out of air, but I made it up and we were on our way, with some bloody knuckles.

There's some stuff on the books for this weekend, so I should have material for Monday. Just a few more posts left until I go home!

A Short Interlude

Thursday, July 27, 2006
I have finally started putting things in boxes, it is about 1 AM now, and there is an enormous mess in my room. I think it actually makes Neko nervous, because instead of being curled up at my feet, she is out in the kitchen. I have to clean.

I wasn't planning on writing today, I hadn't done much and packing was looming large on my mind, but I talked to two people, and thanks to them, the blog is going on. So thank you to Brendon and Sara's mysterious English flatmate (scratch that. Friend) - if it weren't for you two, this update would not exist.

First, a random picture from yesterday.

It's been cloudy and rainy every day for the last week - I suppose that's part of the reason that I haven't been taking many pictures. Either way, the sun peeked out for a moment yesterday while I was hanging out at the new half pipe yesterday so I took this picture. That's about all the story that goes with it.

And that brings us to today. Suddenly it was boiling hot and humid again, and I spent most of the day buying boxes, cleaning, and getting ready to pack. At about 5:00 I was going to the store and figured I would stop and see what Mori was up to. He was just finishing cleaning his boat, and he proposed that we go diving for shellfish. I had my mask and flippers mailed to me expressly for this, so I cancelled my plans to go to the store, and we got ready to go.

My scooter, equipped for diving.

Our boat.

We stopped to pick up Takenobu, Mori's friend who works at the factory island. He had just gotten off work, and he wanted to come along. His birthday was last weekend, so Mori got him an excellent birthday present.

I kind of think this picture is amazing.

And this is where we were diving.

Arriving. Takenobu with present in hand.

Yes! The current was so strong that we actually had to pick up the anchor and go get him when it was time to go back.

So the diving. We were diving for these big snails, maybe seven inches in diameter, that hang on to the bottom and sides of big rocks. The current was pretty brisk, and the visibility in the water was probably two meters. Frankly, I didn't have the chops for it. First, you had to swim pretty hard to get lined up over a big rock outcrop. Once you found it, you did a dive and swam down probably 20 feet. It was far enough that if you didn't equalize your ears on the way down, you were in too much pain at the bottom to concentrate. Once you reach the bottom, you grab onto a rock to prevent being swept away, and then there - ears pounding, lungs screaming for air, work gloves barely protecting you from sea urchins and whatnot - you pull yourself over and around the rocks looking for these snails. Mori got three in a half hour, I got a rock and a sinker that somebody lost. I refuse to accept defeat, we're going back out soon - to an easier spot, says Mori.

It was fun and exciting, and really hard! I am looking forward to going again. Next time I'll get five.

Coming home, Takenobu was pretty excellent, so here is a little photo shoot to end it off. I hope I have something to show on Friday.

Today I have officially been here exactly one year. Wow.

I Should Be Packing

Monday, July 24, 2006
I will try to avoid sentimentality as I write, sitting at the Board of Ed on my second to last day of work. I actually don't have much to write here, so I will post some pictures and see what happens.

First up is my going away party, thrown by Higashino Junior High. We had a reservation at the Seifukan beer garden, attached to the island's one big hotel. I had never been to the hotel before, and it was decidedly surreal. A giant lobby is staffed by people in tuxedos, it has its own gift shop, bus service, and restaurant. It is visited mostly by big groups of businessmen who arrive in giant coach buses and are taken directly to the hotel, which they never venture out of. Kind of depressing, actually. Either way we had our party at the beer garden.

By "beer garden" they mean "table on a patch of grass with a keg on a cart and a nice view." It was incredibly windy at first, but then it calmed down. The beer garden was kind of ridiculously situated, because just to the left was the men's onsen, so during the meal we kept seeing naked men getting in and out of their hot spring bath. They were behind a little hedge, but not much was hidden. Lovely.

The assistant principal. We were talking about Japanese warplanes and ships, and he told me that his father was an engineer for Zero fighters. Not only that, but he was an engineer on an aircraft carrier, and he prepped planes and worked on them at Pearl Harbor. After Pearl Harbor, his father's ship fought at Midway, where five Japanese carriers were sunk. Two escaped, one of which was his father's ship. They escaped by steaming into a squall, and then staying under the heaviest part of the storm, following the clouds until they had escaped the American dive bombers that had so thoroughly defeated the Japanese torpedo planes.

Questions for me during the evening included: "Don't you think America is selfish, trying to force 'freedom' on everyone?" "What gives America the right to be a world police force?" "Why did America drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima?" After dealing with these questions in a pleasant and hopefully informative way, I feel like I am prepared for any job interview I could ever face. The questions sound nasty and mean when written out, but in person they were honest and curious, and they just wanted to know how I saw these things.

After the first part, a second party of course. We went to Yoisa, the bar that Mori and his friends frequent.

It was funny, seeing my co-workers sleeping in front of the walls that Mori and his friends painted.

The next day was the first summer festival of the year, in Kinoe. Kinoe is the oldest town on the island, and also the sleepiest. It stretches along the water, jammed between mountains and sea, a line of houses snaking along the coast. I don't have much business in Kinoe, but my schools are around it and going from one to the other I pass through it very often. Kinoe is a sleepy town, you can usually pass from one end to the other seeing only a couple cars and maybe an old woman pushing a cart. The shops all look closed and the houses seem to lean on each other for support. I took the scooter over on Saturday morning to see the preparations for the festival, and it was wonderful.

It was like the town had come alive. It wasn't bustling and crazy, but there were people out in the streets. Parents and children were stringing paper lanterns up along the roads, men were hoisting banners, flags, and bigger lanterns over the streets. Old folks sat in the shade, watching everyone go by. I don't think I have ever said more konnichiwas in my life, nor have I ever felt more comfortable or happier greeting groups of old Japanese people who - as I approached them - stared at me as though I was some sort of rare wild animal. As I walked off, I inevitably heard someone informing the rest of the group as to my name, where I was from, and what I was doing on their island.

Last year, the prospect of walking down this street alone would have been terrifying. This year it was the best part of my day.

Downtown Kinoe. I'm not joking. It's one road, and there you can see the buildings on either side of it. Something about this picture looks old to me.

My favorite spot in Kinoe. This ancient little harbor is dry at low tide and full at high. To my right is a big old hotel.

On Kinoe's main street.

Side streets. I love side streets.

In an open door in Kinoe. I have taken long road trips to see houses like this one.

At one point I passed a spot where the road I was on split off, the bigger road I was on going straight, and the smaller one angling off to the left, and then continuing parallel to the road I was on. You see that a lot here, the old main road being bypassed by a little bit by a bigger road better able to handle two lanes of faster traffic. I had never been on the old road before, and so obviously, I started down it. I didn't get far before I realized it was completely wonderful, so I parked my scooter and got off and walked.

Some of these alleys were just barely wide enough to fit through.

Some of them had shrines.

I don't know if this shop was open anymore, but they had a huge amount of beautiful onions hanging on the second floor.

So that was wonderful, feeling Kinoe alive again, festivals and decorations around some beautiful old and sagging buildings. I went home as the weather turned grey, and then that night I played volleyball. After volleyball I ran home, grabbed my tripod (the worst tripod ever made) and my camera, and jumped on my scooter and went back to Kinoe at unsafe speeds. I got there right at the end of the big fireworks show, the booms and flashes echoing across the island as I went zipping along the empty roads. I got into town for the last ten minutes of the show, and managed to take all of about two pictures before the show ended. Here is one.

I parked my scooter and got my camera and walked down to the water. The entirety of Kinoe was out, strolling, talking, laughing, and just enjoying being out, together, as a town. I waved hello to elemetary schoolers, some of them dragging me by the hand to meet their parents. My middle school girls, forever stuck in the too-big white blouse and knee-length navy skirt at school were all out in their summer kimonos, beautiful brilliant fabric and hair all done up. The guys were all wearing their coolest clothes, pretending they weren't too shy to talk to the girls. Everyone was happy, watching the men row long wood boats, eating fried octopus balls, and suddenly I got what summer festivals were all about.

Last year, just after I arrived, I went to a few summer festivals with Cory and Megan. At the time, I thought they were nice, the fireworks were always impressive and loud, and everyone seemed to be having fun, but I didn't really get the appeal. The fried octopus balls were not my favorite, the festivals seemed short and kind of chaotic, and without any great appeal that I could see. Last weekend in Kinoe was different, and I finally understood.

The festival is familiar. It happens the same way every year, but it's not about the events, or the food, or any of that - it's about the town being together. Everyone is out, walking the beautiful old streets, faces lit by paper lanterns, the shouts of sake-fueled boat racers floating across the water. The girls get a chance to really dress up and go out with their friends. The parents walk together, or just stand and watch the boats, the lights reflecting on the water, the dark mountiains rising up into the night behind the town. In a town where the last bar closed years ago, the population is slowly dwindling, and the biggest shipyard in the middle of town rusts away abandoned, on that night it was vibrant with life and community. Everyone together, living and existing in this tiny beautiful place, enjoying a summer night together.

Of course, pictures can't hope to capture any of that - but here are a few.

Those are the boats that were sitting on the mud earlier that day.

Some middle schoolers of mine. Actually, not any more, I guess.

Kinoe town shrine, all lit up and smoky with incense.

Inside the shrine, the mikoshi - like the one I carried last year.

After the shrine I lost a good 20 minutes because I lost my camera bag somewhere in the festival. I went walking up and down the streets, trying to remember where I had left it, and as I was looking, the festival ended. I found the case near the shrine, placed on top of a bush, but the festival was over. The town may well have been more beautiful after everyone left, quiet and peaceful, but with the decorations and memories of the festival still lingering.

Four girls walking home.

By now it was so quiet that I could hear someone walking towards me while they were still three or four blocks away.

And then, as I set up this picture the lights went off, the night got deeper and softer, and I took this picture and went home.