Sunday, June 28, 2009

Being an alcoholic...

Drinking must be one of the most famous Japanese culture.. They drink after work, they drink on weekends. Alcohol is sold in convenience stores, supermarkets and almost all of the restaurant.

Not being a big wine drinker myself, i never drank much back in melbourne except on special occasions. But with the vast variety of sweet flavoured alcoholic drinks here, i find myself drinking 2, 3 nights a week.

Ever since i discovered a drink called 'cashisu ', i have been addicted to it. And i refused to try anything new. But at dinner last friday, i tried a traditional japanese drink: green apricot wine'. Its sweet, and it has a fresh fruity smell.. Reminding me of spring... I drank an empty stomach, didn't know it was so strong i suddenly felt my whole body weaken.

The chef cooking behind the counter saw my reaction and started laughing. He said the apricot wine is actually 35% alcohol! No wonder my sudden reaction. He then told us that its very common for japanese families to make their own umeshu (apricot wine) at home in spring. The ingredients are all easily available at the supermarket, and the process is also very simple.

That got me all fired up.. I wanted to make my own umeshu!

When meeting up with friends for movies on sunday, i told them my idea. I asked my good friend aki to accompany me to the supermarket cause her japanese is super duper! She and Shannon has been the sweetest friends to me since i got here. They both me taught me so much... Thats for another blog i think.

So on monday when the guys went to work, me n aki went to the supermarket to get our ingredients.

To make umeshu you need the following ingredients:

1kg of green ume (unripe japanese apricot)

1kg of rock sugar

1.8litres of white liquor (vodka like alcohol)

1 large glass jar to store the wine

All of the ingredients were close together at the supermarket so it was hard to miss.

everything we bought here.

step 1: sanitise the glass jar with boiling hot water. This is to prevent any bacteria growing.

step 2: wash the ume and take out the branch on top. The black dot at the end.

step 3: dry the ume thoroughly (although i think we only roughly did it so I really hope it doesn't get mouldy.)

step 4: fill the bottom of the jar with one layer of apricot, enough so you don't see the glass bottom anymore.

step 5: fill the next layer with the same thickness of rock sugar.

step 6: fill with one more layer of ume, then rock sugar, the ume... And so on until you have finish all the ume and sugar.

step 7: pour in all of the white liquor.

step 8: cap the top and make sure its sealed tightly so no bacteria can get in.

and now we wait patiently for atleast 2 months before we can enjoy our very own umeshu!


Before i arrived in Japan, i told myself that i will not eat any international junk food while i am here. I thought, why eat something that you can get at any part of the world, instead i can eat local food with better quality and variety.

But after numerous persuasive comments from Mr. chin, i gave in to the constant ' try... Its different ...i'm serious.' and there i was sitting inside a maccas in Japan.

The menu looks more or less the same with all you big macs, mc chicken and cheese burger. But what we dont have bac home is whats called 'McEbi'. Anyone guessed what it is yet? For the ones who understand japanese, you are right, it a shrimp burger.

The size of the ebi burger is similar to that of the fillet-o-fish, so its not that terribly big. And its definitely not big enough the aussie blokes. But the size was just right for me.

And heres a picture of the half eaten burger.......

The filling of the burger tastes a lil like the prawn toast topping. Or the prawn dumping you get at yum cha, but less firm. And the taste is not bad at all.

I was told the big macs tastes much better here too, because the pattie is much fatter
and 100% less healthier. But i haven't yet tried.

My first ebi burger experience is almost one month ago now. Since then, i have been back numerous time. Its cause the chicken pieces are so cheap there. Its only 100 yen! I usually only need 2 and a salad for lunch.

So now, my no international junk mission have complete failed....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

wroking... or slaving..

It's 10:30 n Japan right now, most of you back in melbourne are probably already in bed, yet here i am still sitting on the train on the way home.

The train at this time is still packed with people, many of whom are businessmen and students who have just finished their day. All of the ones sitting either reading, playing with the mobile or with their heads dropping down sleeping. There are also a few standing chatting away, their faces bright red. Guess where they have just been?

Work has been alright. The students are great, the Japanese English Teacher is very sweet... But the company is not the best. I guess its only when you have worked for a crappy company, you start to appreciate and realise what ppl mean when they talk about a company who value their people. After i give u a quick run down, you can tell me what you think...

My working hours are from 1 until 9 tue till fri, and on saturday i work from 11 till 8. I only get paid for 25 hours a week, and i need to be at the office a min of 4.5 non paid office hours. The classes range from 40min to 60min and are always scheduled hourly. That means i dont get paid for the left over time from each class.

............... This is now the second night ............... I am again on the train, so i will continue from yesterday............

Everyday, i must be at work on time at 1, regardless if i have a class then. Anytime i don't have class beween my classes, i dont get paid. If my student doesn't turn up for class at the end of the day and he is my last class, i can't go home. I don't know why ... But i think its a very silly rule to say the least...

With such unfair working conditions, the only thing keeping me sane are my students.

i have students of all ages and types. The young ones are so young that they still have bladder control in class. There are also university students who study at the nearby Nagoya university. Then there are housewives who want to study for fun... Lastly come the business men who come because of work .. I even met a CEO today.

The kids classes are the easiest to prepared, they dont require that much thinking. Its mainly playing games and maybe a few new words per lesson.

The adult lessons are the ones that require more thinking. Planning to have time for games, theory, listening and lastly practise.

The private one on one lessons are the ones where i try to do the least talking. I plan a little, but i want to talk the least so they can practise. Some topic a actually quite interesting.

So this is a summary of how work has been so far... Its late dinners and late nights... But i'm keeping myself busy... So busy that i don't haemorrhage time to breath! Looking forward to terminator this sunday and transformers next sunday!

miss u all lots...

Trekky Not..

After being deprived of the cinemas for 6 months, we went there with a few friends last saturday. This was the first time going to the movies in japan for both of us.

The bigger cinemas are in the city, so we made our to way nagoya city. There are a few huge shopping malls near nagoya station, each with their own high end brands. The movies were located on the top floor of one of these places, i couldn't remember the name of it.

We bought the ticket to watch the 1pm session of 'Star Trek'. Like all places japanese, you cannot be late for the movies. You need to be seated about 10min before the movies starts. That gave us jst 40min to grab something to have for lunch.

There are always many restaurants in the main train stations. In Nagoya station there's a ramen street where there's 8 stores each selling their speciality with ramen and soup of different thickness. We chose one that had no queue and one that had cold noodles. It cooled us down from the humid weather on that day.The lunch must have only taken us 15min max.

Movies are more interesting with popcorn n ice cream. Here they have caramel coated ones! They are not like the ones you have back in melbourn where they get stuck to your teeth, this one is crunchy n sweet.. I loved it.

Surprisingly enoguh, the movie itself was pretty good. I actually enjoyed the whole 2 and half hours of it. This does nother mean i've become a 'Trekky'.

The movie ended at nearly 4... We headed for some at a local chain like starbucks but slightly cheaper with the price. We found our conversation were never ending, and decided to continue onto dinner.

Dinner location was recommended by ken's aussie work mate the night before. He said it was the best japanese food he's ever had. I'm not really sure about that...

We reached the so called 'drunken racoon' simply because we didnt know the name of it, but it did have a huge red sign with a racoon holding sake. Entering the place we expected to be greeted n seated, but no one appeared. Instead we had a choice of 6 different types of mini eat outs each with a chef and about 10 seats surrounding the counter, there was sushi, yakiniku, things on sticks, teppanyaki and others i don't remember.

We managed to find our man, he had an Aussie flag hanging on the wall. He did teppanyaki. We had all the recommended dishes.. Cheese crepe, butter scallops, aussie beef, butter pipis... Plume chicken.. And i couldn't really remember the rest. The food was good but defiantly not not the best i've had. The company was much better! Here are my new met melbourn friends.

It was a great day out with my new friends... But i definately have not forgotten about you.

Mt Fuji..

Our last trip before ken's parents left was to visit the oh so famous Mt. Fuji. Initially it was only going to be a one day trip, but after realising that the drive there was going to be a whole 4 hours, an over night stay was a better plan.

The best time to see Mt. Fuji is in winter where less condensation occurs, so less clouds surround the mountain to block the view. Our guide didn't really think we would be to see anything as the season is approaching raining season, so lots of clouds. But as we drove closer n closer to our destination, this amazing view appeared. Worried that i wont be able see it after the next bend, i must have taken 30 odd pictures of it.

As you can see, the mountain top is still covered in snow. As the weather gets warmer, all the snow will eventually all disappear. When that time comes, we are actually going to climb it! Being as unfit as i am, i will soon start working out or i might just get stuck at the half way point.

The weather forecast had said it was going to rain the next day, which in that case we can't see anything at all. So the mountain viewing was all to be done today.

We arrived at the Fuji viewing platform. But after arriving at the top of the platform via cable car, the clouds were starting to attack the mountain. The beautiful view i took earlier were not as pretty anymore.

We waited for a lil while hoping the clouds would slowly float away. But after 20min or so it just didn't look like it, so we took what we could. The pictures were not as nice as the ones i took in the car.

Leaving the viewing platform slightly dissapointed, we headed to the next tourist attraction.. The music box theme park. For all those of you who don't know yet, i love music boxes. There's something childish yet memorable about a music box. Next time you cant think of a present to get for me.. I would love a music box :).

The park was like a imaginary fairytale world, with a man made lake, church, concert hall etc.. It felt like i had just walked into a fairytail, except my prince charming did not meet me on a unicorn dressed in white.

The gift shop was filled with music boxes of all shapes and sizes. I wanted to buy everything from there, but i didn't end up buying anything. There were also a museum that had ancient music boxes or it was called 'polyphones' then.y. The most interesting ones were ones that had a violin n a piano and were able to play a few songs. This was how record players originated.

By the time we left the music box theme park, it was getting late. We planned to savour some local udon. But trust me to not read the guide properly, and only realising that the restaurant does not open for dinner after we found the place closed. But the Mt Fuji view cleared, and here's an amazing shot.

Driving away hungry, we decided to go to the next appealing restaurant. And to our amazement the random restaurant we decided to go was really nice. I had an interesting rice dish with raw tuna, yam and okra. Here's what I had...

We booked our hotel at a completely different place. Its another town thats famous for Mt. Fuji viewing, but there were mountains n mountains in between, so it took us nearly 2 hours to reach. The hotel site was right next to a huge lake, it was even at the end of our gps map.

It took us a little while to find the reception as the whole site had many cabins too. Funny enough when we did finally manage to find the reception, the lady who came out to greet us was sure that we were at thw wrong location! She kept saying that the check in reception was on the other sde of the site! After our guide persuaded her that this was our hotel, she finally allowed us to check in. It was a rather strange incident. She wasnt at all rude, just kept assuming we were at the wrong place!

Oh, i forgot to mention where our hotel is actually located. Its at a place called 'Hakone'. Because of it close proximity to Tokyo, its known as the relaxation get away mecca of Japan. With that said, the essential relaxation necessaty for Japanese is their 'Onsen' or hot spring.

I was excited to know that our hotel had its own outdoor onsen! If any of you have been to the mineral springs at Morning peninsula before, onsen is similar but better! And the one other big difference is everyone is naked! There's no choice given, you have to be! My desire to have an onsen experience overrode the would be awkwardness, and because we were so late there were hardly anyone there.

After putting your shoes away at the entrance locker, you proceed to your assigned locker where you can keep your clothes. When you have bared all, you are allowed to enter the first part of the onsen. This indoor area has a central spa with little cubicals surrounding it. Each cubical is equipped with: shower essentials, wooden seat and a wooden bucket. You are suppose to sit on the tiny wooden seat and wash yourself from head to toe before you enter the central spa. (i only discovered this after watching everyone else)

The main part of the onsen is actually outside, so once you have adjusted yourself to the water in the one inside, you are now allowed to take your naked body outside. The feeling outside is really undescribable. Its relaxing, and soothing, and the evening breeze cools you down from the heat. Just writting about this makes me want to sit in one right now.

Took from the website.. (not so clear)

What i missed out at night, which i managed to find out when i went back the next morning was the incredible view of the lake from the onsen. There were really only a bunch of bushes keeping the fishermens out. i sat there wits the view of the mountain n the lake, i didn't want to leave.

If any of you are coming to japan, onsen is something you shouldn't miss. But note the men n women are completely separate. I heard there are mixed baths, but they are relatively far from the city.

Lucky we had done all the Fuji viewing the day before, but the second day was cloudy n drizzling. The view outside of our hotel was amazing...

There are lots of activities to do around the lake, but unfortunately the weather limited them to only a few.

After our morning onsen session, we checked out n started our journey. There were red tori gates around the lake. Not sure what they meant, but we had our toyota moment there.

The rain started to get heavier, and our adventures were coming to an end. This was the last adventure before i officially start work. Because my day offs are on sunday n mondays, it will be harder to get away. But i will keep you posted of my one day adventures.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Training Day

Somehow i can never wake up when i need to do something during the day, and today was no different. I felt extra extra exhausted when the alarm went off in the morning. If i go back to sleep, it probably means i would be 100% late. Being late in Japan is definitely a no no, so i need to change a lil n be on time, so i dragged myself out of bed.

I'm teaching in a language tutoring school called 'GEOS'. They are one of the big four language schools in Japan. My working hours are tue till sat 1 till 9pm. The school itself is about 40min train ride away.

One of the training managers met me at the station, and walked with me to the school. Its about 15min away, thats further thats n i'd have preferred. I think i will start to bring a change of clothing, atleast comfy walking shoes so i can run for the train at night.

The training started with the manager going through the different levels and book. Then we made a few lesson plans we had for later.

The first class we had was with these young kids who were around 10. You should see the faces of the parents when they were introduced to me. They were all shocked to see the Native English Teacher (NET) looking more like a native japanese chic w dyed hair n size of a peanut.

The rest of the day was not too bad. There were 3 classes altogether, one for little ones as i mentioned earlier, another one with intermediate level (one high school girl n a 30 year old lady who was obviously not impressed with the fact that I was Japanese looking) and the last class was with advance students who knew what they were doing. Another class was cancelled due to whatever reason which is good news for me.

The latest class finished at 9, by the time the manager tried to teach me to do more paper work, it was 20 past. I ended up catching the 50 past train home.

Here i am blogging on the train back home, still haven't had dinner yet. Its been one long day, cant wait for food the bed!

my classroom