Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Untamed Drugstore

The trouble with getting sick in another language is that you have to worry about things like accidentally knocking yourself out cold. I have not done this yet, but I could see it easily happening.

It all started 2 days ago when I developed a bit of a sore throat. It continued yesterday, so I asked my supervisor about stuff for a sore throat. He gave me some recommendations, so I trotted to the drugstore on my lunch break to try out my new Japanese vocabulary. Apparently, I need to lay off the trotting, because I wiped out on the ice again. Naturally, the top layer was somehow kind of muddy. Well, I picked myself up, dusted myself off (mudded myself off?), and resumed my travels.

Anyhoo, I was very proud to successfully find the stuff that I needed. By this time though, a little headache was starting, so I looked for something that looked like a pain reliever. The stuff with English was really expensive, so I bought the stuff next to it that looked similar. Don't worry, I asked my supervisor what it was before I took it. He thought it was funny.

Well, somehow by tonight, everything morphed into full-on sneezing, congestion, Niagara Falls, etc. Unfortunately, it was 9:00, and everything here closes super early. Well, I decided to take my chances and so I scooted over the ice to the nearest drugstore. Miraculously, it was still open. now I just had the problem of not knowing what the heck I was supposed to buy. Back home, I knew what everything looked like and would carefully scrutinize the ingredients to find the perfect combination for whatever was ailing me. Well, things worked out a little differently here. I grabbed a clerk, using my all-purpose "Sumimasen," which apparently means "I'm sorry," or "Excuse me," or "So, what do you think of the persimmon crisis in the Bronx?" Who really knows? Whatever it meant, it worked. It may also have been my confused look, I don't know. I find that combining a really confused look with whatever I'm saying seems to be quite effective.

My limited Japanese vocabulary is currently missing the words for congestion, etc, so I broke out the old faithful gestures. So, I stood there in the medicine section of Sapporo Drug miming sneezes, a runny nose, and watery eyes, etc. Somehow, the clerk knew what I needed (I think) and handed me a nice yellow box.
Now, what exactly it is, I don't know! I am not taking it tonight in case it's the knockout variety (I have to leave around 5:45am...blaaaaah). I have a feeling that my vocabulary is about to be enriched with words pertaining to colds, allergies, and sinus fun! It's amazing how the most mundane things become an adventure when they are tipped into another language!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


So, some of you (or maybe just Mom, which is sufficient in my book) have been asking about my trip to Sapporo. Well, I am happy to tell you that it involved no accidents. Therefore, I believe we can call the trip a success. ;-)
For some bizarre reason, I had a flurry of things to do at the office before I left. I had spent all day Monday at a seminar for elementary teachers and all day Tuesday traveling around and falling down. So, I did my stuff at work and mailed my first CLAIR Japanese test at lunch time. I was pretty excited about completing that test. Especially in light of what was looming on the horizon...

I took the midday train to Sapporo - we basically have three trains per day that will take us out of the frozen northland to...well, more frozen northland. Oh, well. I really enjoyed the first part of the train trip. My city, being on the coast, has had warmer temperatures than some of the inland areas of Hokkaido (which is why we keep going through the snow, slush, rain, freeze sets). Anyway, there was a point on the journey
where we went into a tunnel and came out in a frozen fairy wonderland. Auggh! It was so beautiful! It has always been my favorite part of train trips anyway, and the addition of snow just added to the charm.

Now, this picture in no way does justice to the scene (I'm not sure it's even the same area), but the problem with
trains is that they generally will not stop to let
you take pictures. Oh, and by the way, they have not started installing outdoor fluorescent lighting yet - that is a reflection in the window. Hmmm...come to think of it, that might not be a bad idea. It gets dark between 3:45-4:15 right now.

I arrived in Sapporo a little after 7:00 that evening. Going from my city to Sapporo is always a bit of a shock. I can't imagine what it is like for the people who live in towns of 1000 or so. It is really like entering a whole different world. A beautiful world of shopping meccas and Starbucks and bookstores with English books and subways and intersections where all the crossing lights at an intersection go green for pedestrians at the same time, so you can charge across diagonally if you so choose.

The cool thing about being in Sapporo is that you really could rarely go outside, yet still manage to go to many places. Ahh, the beauty of subways. Although, they do get a little crowded sometimes. You can become very well acquainted with strangers during busy times. But, when it's crowded, you don't really lose your balance when the train starts and stops. There is nowhere to go.

Sapporo is also a land where you can buy drinks like this:
Yes, in case you were wondering, it was a bad idea. At first taste, it was pretty good. But on second taste...not so good...well, I had to try it, didn't I?

So, the next day we actually had to get to work. Day 1 of the conference was mostly whole-group lectures. There was some good stuff, though, and it was fun to meet up with old JET buddies!

That night, we did some shopping and went to the German Christmas Market, which was pretty amazing. I had...wait for it...a hot dog, tater tots, and hot cocoa! OK,
I think they called it a sausage, but it was basically a hot dog. It was pretty amazingly good, though! I had eaten udon noodles for lunch...word to the wise - don't eat udon noodles when you are in full business it was nice to eat something I could successfully consume without wearing half of it. :)

There were also some pretty Christmas lights in the park. Here is a view of the park from the TV tower observatory:

The strangest thing happened while we were at the Christmas thing. I was walking around with one of my JET friends, and a group of people (maybe around age 19 or 20) came up to her and started showing her a camera. I figured that they wanted her to take a picture of them, so I stepped away. They pulled me back, and we finally figured out that they wanted to take a picture with us. So, we graciously obliged. After we took the picture, I wasn't really sure how to properly disengage myself from the group, so I did the American smile, giggle, try to have a little conversation, smile again. So, this cycle went on for a little while, and then one of the girls grabbed my arm and there was a stampede for my other arm. Once my other arm was claimed, they took another picture. Turns out the group was from China. Maybe they don't have any foreigners there either?? I thought that maybe they thought we were German or something, but we told them we were American. It was pretty funny, though. Bizarre, but funny.

The next morning was the workshop where I presented with one of my JTEs. Can we say fear and trembling??? We had 52 participants scheduled to come. It kind of felt like there were 502 in the room! :-) If I had to be completely objective, I would say that it went fairly well. Presenting to one's peers is can be rather frightening. The rest of the day was enjoyable, and it was soon time for the conference to end!

Once the conference ended, I moved to another hotel that was a little bit cheaper with the other ALTs from my city. To my surprise, the new hotel was nicer than the one we vacated. That night, I went out with one of my JTEs and some other teachers and an ALT from the area. We went to this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served completely awesome food! The first
thing we got was a dish that kind of looked like pickled brains - which concerned me. It was good, as was everything that came after it! There was a big ol' crab, edamame, sashimi, salad, uni (sea urchin), and maybe some other stuff, too. :)

The next day, I basically moved into Starbucks to cram for my exam the following day. It was so nice to sit in a coffee shop, consume copious amounts of caffeine and sugar, and study. Partway through the day, another sucker, er, fellow test taker, joined me for a study session. She's a fellow JET (well, she's actually a girl...hahaha...never mind).

Sunday morning, we got up, had breakfast, and checked out of the hotel. Pre-test breakfasts always remind me of the breakfasts Mom used to fix for me before I took an ACT. This breakfast was decidedly weirder than any she made for me.
The hotel buffet had a "Western" section, which includes salad, corn (!), and french fries. Oh, well. Why not? I decided to have a fusion breakfast. I had salad, french fries, miso soup, ham, fish, and coffee. It was a little bizarre. Anyway, at that point it was time to wend my way to the test. I did a dry run the night before (this is a good thing to do when you have directional difficulties).

Unfortunately, I arrived at the test center too early, and found myself shepherded into a test room. I was over an hour early, and did not really want to just hang with the proctors, so I staged an escape. My plan failed. I was basically shepherded to the bathroom, where I hid out for a while, then I wound up back in the test room. Maybe I looked lost? I can just see their thoughts..."Oh, one of the Level 4's got out again. We better put them back before they go and get lost. Sigh. Level 4's." Seriously, though, there were points, where test staff would come into the room, deliver a long speech in Japanese, and look at us expectantly. I was like, um, "Konnichiwa?"

The test itself was pretty doggone difficult! Woah! Double woah! Auggh! That pretty much sums it up! I totally have empathy now for all those people who are not good at standardized tests. On the first section, I almost ran out of time. I just had to randomly bubble in the answers to the last ten questions. There will be more to come on this subject later!

Post-test, I was able to do some shopping and see a Sapporo friend before catching the last train back home. I arrived home around 11. when I went to charge my cell phone, which had died on the train, I discovered that I had left my bag containing my cell phone charger on the train. Waah! I determinedly set off on foot for the train station before realizing what a dumb idea that was. So, I went home again.

Anyway, that was pretty much it about my journey to the big city. I'm sure it's much more than you wanted to know, but NaNoWriMo is apparently still infecting my fingers..."Oooh, a computer keyboard! Ready! Type every thought that comes into your head! Go!"

So, if you have made it this far, I am amazed! If I had prizes, I would give you one. Ooh, I do still have some Genghis Khan caramels...!!!