Saturday, 20 September 2014

The land of the rising sun...and falling masonary

Well here we are in Japan and have started what, I guess, is phase three of our relationship. First living in England, then travelling the world and now, hopefully, living in Japan for a while.

We decided to leave Tonga and fly to Japan again to actively seek out jobs. We had fallen in love with the place when we were here a few months ago and since we were getting nowhere fast applying for jobs on line we decided to bite the bullet and start knocking on doors.  We had a slightly ambiguous reply from a company we had had Skype interviews with so dropped them a line to say that we could wait no longer and were on our way to find work elsewhere.

I guess it forced their hands because about three hours after we landed in Japan and booked an apartment for a week in Osaka we received an email saying we had both got jobs… Me in a Junior High School and Rachel as a substitute teacher for the company. Yeah.

All a bit frantic as we were in Osaka and it was Sunday night and we had to get to Ageo – about 40km north of Tokyo for Training on Tuesday. Training as it happened was that comprehensive and was more about cultural integration so even though we missed the first day it didn’t matter.

We are now living in a place called Kumagaya. Towns roll into one another in this country and there is no clear distinction between them. However, we are 26km from Ageo where we work and live in a tiny apartment owned by the language supply company. It’s about 3m x 7m and is our kitchen, lounge, bedroom, hallway and bathroom – all in one room (apart from the bathroom). We have roll out futons for our bed, one gas ring for our food and have to be very tidy. Living in a Camper van for two months certainly prepared us for this so whilst it may seem a ridiculously small place for two people to subsist its actually OK – for now. On the plus side it is two minutes walk to the rail station (We have to commute 30 minutes to Ageo every day – paid for by the company). The amazing gym we have joined is 5 minutes walk as are all the shops and supermarkets. We have never lived in such a convenient place. Its very much in keeping with our just-within-reach new lifestyle.

There’s lots of little idiosyncratic things about living in Japan that I will cover in a later blog. I will say, however, that these are a very polite and proper people and it will be a challenge to conform. But conform we will. We are both trying to learn Japanese conversation which at this stage is not seeming too bad. The written world however is just bonkers….. There is Kanje – The very complex symbols which mean a whole word but mean other things when put together – Next there is Hiragana which are much easier symbols and these represent the phonetics of the language. Finally, there is another set of symbols which are called Katakana and these are used for foreign words. Looking at this in a text book is truly overwhelming. But we will try. I have to say I am trying harder to crack this aspect of Japanese than Rachel but we will see.

As ALT’s we are there to assist the Language Teachers. These teachers, however, speak fairly basic English with an American Japanese twang so the poor spoken word is passed on to the students. It’s our job to try to correct this so we are encouraged to speak to the students as much as possible and read out the passages in text books. It’s OK. We do our jobs and we go home. It’s difficult though because the Japanese work like dogs. The school day starts at 8.15 until 4.15. We arrive at 8 and they have already been there since 7.30 and when we leave at 4.15 you can bet they will all be there till 5.30. Sure they get paid more money but it is all based on this “seen to be working” shite. Effectiveness is not important – physical presence is the best way to lick ass and this will possibly be our downfall because we sure as hell won’t do it.

This is all pretty long so in closing will say that our first week has been incredibly tiring but we both feel great about what we are doing, where we are living and how our brains are coping with all the new info. Oh yeah I don’t know whether someone was trying to tell us something but on our first day we experienced our first earthquake..

At epicentre some 50 miles away it was 5.6 but in Ageo where we were it was 4. Rachel was in a third floor building so i think it was stronger for her. I was in school. Everyone’s phones had earthquake alarms sounding, then a few seconds later the shaking started, built for 15 to 20 seconds then subsided. It was like having a big lorry thundering past your house but such a big lorry that stuff moved on tables a bit. Teachers ran for their classrooms to check on the kids. But it was over pretty quick. No one seemed at all bothered. i guess they know when it’s going to get big because at the point when it started to subside they looked like they had to make a decision whether to take action of not. Obviously with lessening shake the danger had passed.

So that’s it for now. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Australia- Oh go on then!

Australia has been lurking in the Pacific Ocean on the outskirts of where we have traveled for nearly two years and finally, even though neither of us has ever had a yearning to go there, we decided it couldn't be ignored any longer. 

We fly to Sydney which, as pretty much everyone says, is a great city. Modern but a good amount of older Victorian buildings. Water is all around and the pleasant harbour fronts and and parks make for interesting walks. And walk we did - covering all the main points of interest - National Gallery, Observatory, Bridge, botanic gardens, Regents Park, The Rocks, St Mary's and, of course, the Opera House. This, however, we do in style by going to see the Sydney Symphony Orchestra play various pieces including Janacek's sinfonietta (Rachel and I have both just finished reading Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 - a surreal book in which the piece is frequently mentioned and had therefore intrigued us). Such a thrill to be in the Opera House, in Australia sipping bubbly and feeling sophisticated as opposed to our normal grungy selves. We even went out for a posh meal!! 

Another day we catch the double-decker train from central station and go to a town (can't remember its name) that sits on the edge of canyon. There is a an impressive drop to the floor which is covered in trees and alive with parrots, cockatoos, budgies and we walk along the precipice for several miles looking to the distance and the Blue Mountains. So called because of their colour which is attained by being surrounded by forests of eucalyptus trees that give off an oil that creates a bluish mist. 

We had no specific plans for Australia and when we woke on our 5 day we decide to see if we can get a camper van relocation. This are campers that need returning to their original location and can be hired for just a $1 a day. 30 minutes later we are furiously packing in order to get to the depot as we have a 5 day relocation to Adelaide. These deals are something of a double edged sword. On the one hand you have transport and a place to live so you can enjoy athe country with a degree of freedom. On the other hand, there are fairly short delivery times so travelling just under 2,000kms in a short time is a bit of a schlep! Even so we set off (this time in a much smaller beast than those of NZ) down the South coast to follow the Great Ocean road to Melbourne then on to Adelaide.

This part of the country is fairly well farmed so although there are patches of scrub and national reserves more often than not we are driving through fields of crops or more common - cows or sheep. These field stretch on to the horizon in every direction and unlike the stunning scenery in NZ (which I would argue to be Australia's richer and more interesting cousin) they are fairly dull. The principal point of interest on the roads is the overwhelming amount of large road kill that litters the hard shoulder. We have never see so many carcasses - rabbits, wombats and dozens of kangaroos. Occasionally we see a live Roo bouncing along which gives us hope that at least some get across the fairly empty roads.

Did you know that a big kangaroo can weigh 300lbs, stand 6ft tall and can jump nearly 10ft in the air. Couple that with the evidence we used to see in Skippy of them operating radios and flying planes and it's a surprise that they don,t rule the land given that there are millions of them.

We travel along through various towns of little interest plagued by a strong wind and showers lots of the time. occasionally the sun does come out and instead of shivering we can enjoy the one thing synonymous with Oz. The great coast road runs from Melbourne towards Adelaide and is quite nice. There are some pretty views and some cool limestone and sandstone stacks in the sea to break the journey but time was forever pressing. We do a lighting tour of Melbourne which is heralded as the culture city in Oz. It probably is but we were not there long enough to sample more than a quick lunch and walk around the main area 

around the impressive Victorian station. There seemed to be lots going on due to a charity festival but that aside it is a pleasant and friendly city and certainly one I would go back to to explore more thoroughly.

Our final night in the van is spent on the edge of a quarry lake and to kill a little time we spend an hour in the small towns one horse saloon and chat to Dave, a stockman on a large dairy farm and the publican, a large racist with a ridiculous moustache. It is really surprising how rascist a lot of Kiwis and Aussies are! The temperature is 0 degrees and since we ditched are warm charity clothes in NZ we are freezing and I end up wearing a scarf and hat in bed to keep warm. 

We deliver the van in adelaide the following morning and have three days to spend there in a warm comfy bed before flying out. We could have done a workaway stint on Magnetic island and followed the beautiful peoples trail on the Gold Coast. We could have got a relocation to Perth and were even considering driving through the middle from south to north. But, in truth, we had had enough of Australia with its it's intimidating distances and high prices and didn't really want to waste more time before getting ourselves back to Japan to look for a job. 

Whilst here, however, we had a nice time. Another vibrant and interesting city. Not as in your face as Melbourne or Sydney. A bit more laid back with less high rises and some great walks through 

extensive parklands. Certainly the highlight was a fun evening we spent with two women we had met in Kerrala in India a couple of weeks after leaving England in 2012. We had spent an afternoon with them exploring the backwaters and had swapped details and kept in touch. It was therefore great to hook up again after so long and swap a few memories. We finished the evening with a tram ride back to the city and a weird confrontation with a drunk and high Aussie dressed as a shiek who was alternately the king of Scotland, the queens cousin and in special ops and wanted to kill all the Arabs and torture them in various ways. Plainly mad and a bit scary but entertaining nonetheless.

So goodbye Oz. Next stop Osaka